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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Key Plays on Defense against Clemson

November 10, 2020

Clark Lea’s defense wasn’t at their best against Clemson on Saturday. That largely had to do with the opponent, though. The Tigers presented problems that the Irish had not had to deal with prior to this game.

The biggest problem was running back Travis Etienne. No player had more explosive plays in all of college football heading into the game and Notre Dame wanted to make sure he didn’t beat them.

There were times that Clemson used the focus on Etienne to their advantage and they tried to again in double overtime. It ultimately ended up backfiring in a big way. I looked at why it did with Notre Dame’s two sacks and a couple of other key plays on defense.

Screen to Etienne

I’m showing this play because it was supposed to set up another in overtime for Clemson. It’s a screen to Etienne with three receivers blocking in front of him. They’re just trying to get easy yards on a play like this hoping Etienne will break a tackle.

Shayne Simon (33) does a nice job attacking the tight end, although you’d like to see him get off this block. Etienne cuts it up inside of the block, but Drew White (40) is screaming over there quick. He arrives and makes the tackle before Etienne can convert the 1st down.

The very next play Notre Dame stuffed Clemson on 3rd and short and forced a punt.

Take a look at Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6). He’s not involved, but you see him running to the ball and reacting to the screen. Also take a look at how Nick McCloud (4) plays this. He is attacking the block. File that away for later.


Bracketing Rodgers, Powell toasts Bracy

A lot of times when a receiver beats a cornerback deep, there’s an assumption that some sort of double move is involved. That wasn’t the case here.

Cornell Powell is running a post here. He gives a head fake and then flat out runs by TaRiq Bracy (28). This was the last play Bracy played on defense.

If you were watching this and wondering why there was no safety help, it has everything to do with the threat of Amari Rodgers in the slot. He’s been one of the best receivers in the ACC and has been fantastic against one on one coverage this year.

Much like Lea gave extra attention to Etienne, he also showed that same level of respect for Rodgers in certain situations.

JOK is on Rodgers, which is an extremely tough cover for any linebacker. Even one as athletic as him. To combat that, Notre Dame had Shaun Crawford (20) play over the top and you can see him matching Rodgers here. They are trying to bracket him to keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

It worked, but without Crawford playing the deep half, that left Bracy isolated in a one on one situation with Powell. That clearly did not work out for them.


Fake screen to Etienne

Here is that exact same look that Clemson showed on the third play from scrimmage. They have three receivers to the right and they want Notre Dame to attack this thinking it will go to Etienne.

While Simon and Daelin Hayes (9) are focusing on Etienne, McCloud is playing off. This play is supposed to be a touchdown call to the tight end, Davis Allen. Allen engages and then quickly releases from Simon. If McCloud had attacked this like the first screen, then Allen is running open and the ball is out of DJ Uiagalelei’s hand quickly.

That is where he is looking. When he doesn’t see that open, he is forced to look elsewhere. He doesn’t have time to do so, though, because this time Lea had sent JOK on a blitz. That forced Uiagalelei to shuffle in the pocket and he moves right into Ade Ogundeji (91) who beat left tackle Jackson Carman with a great counter.

Clemson got greedy here. They chose more of a gadget play to trick the defense hoping that Notre Dame would sell out to stop Etienne. They didn’t and it blew up in Clemson’s face.


Too cute again for Clemson

Now it’s second and very long and instead of trying to get into a 3rd and manageable, Clemson again is going for a shot play to try and score. It had a real chance of working out for them, except that they asked too much of their center.

They are faking the pitch to Etienne and Kyle Hamilton (14) bit on it. Whether he was focusing on Etienne or the pulling back side guard, he was thinking run and stepped up because of it. That meant Allen was leaking down the seam and he was going to be open for six if Uiagalelei could get him to him.

He didn’t have time and it had to do with the pulling guard.

That guard pulling might have influenced Hamilton, but it left a huge gap for the center to cover. Notre Dame was in their Dime defense and Hayes was lined up as a 3-technique (outside shade of the left guard). It was going to be impossible for the center to get over there if Hayes was coming directly up the field.

It worked out even better than that for Notre Dame with Hayes in the process of running a stunt with Ogundeji. You can see Ogundeji step up field and then looking to come back inside, but he never gets there because Hayes hit this so quick. He is stepping to the tackle, making it even tougher for the center, and then ricochets back to the quarterback.

BOOM. Sack just like that without being blocked.

Two more plays remained after this, but this essentially made it game over. Too cute for Clemson and it cost them dearly.


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