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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Constant Disruption from Notre Dame's Pass Rush

December 1, 2020

It’s been a crazy few years for Clark Lea. He’s not that far removed from being the linebacker coach at Wake Forest, but he’s now considered to be one of the best defensive minds in college football.

He keeps proving why he deserves it too with this latest example coming against North Carolina’s top-five offense.

There is no need to rehash all of the impressive stats from that day (go back and check my Rewatch Notes for more on that). Let’s jump right into the film instead with several examples of how Notre Dame’s defense got the job done against the Tar Heels.

No action on play-action

Everyone knew that North Carolina’s running game was something to worry about coming into the game. They have been efficient and explosive with two great backs. They’ve also benefited from that success running and utilize play-action on over 45% of their passing plays.

Sam Howell has been awesome off of play-action fakes. He’s averaging 12.1 yards per attempt and over half of his total passing yards have come off of play-action.

Correction: Howell had been awesome. He was not in this game because Notre Dame gave him nothing to work with.

Here’s 1st and 10 and after Howell’s fake, he is looking to hit that inside receiver on a slant play. That read is taken away from Bo Bauer (52) dropping in front of it and there is no time for Howell to have a chance at his second read because of the pass rush.

The Irish are running a T-E stunt on the right side with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (95) and Daelin Hayes (9). MTA takes the guard with him and Hayes does a great job of coming underneath tight to MTA. He has a free run at Howell.

He’ll have to beat Ade Ogundeji (91) there first who beat the right tackle clean for the sack. Kurt Hinish (41) had the right guard beat as well. All four guys up front won their matchups.

There is nothing Howell could do about that once his first read was taken away.


No shot at the deep ball

UNC wanted to take more of those deep shots that they took early in the game with Dyami Brown. That was it for them, though. Howell didn’t attempt one other deep pass.

He didn’t have the time to do so. This is play-action again and Lea had started to call early down blitzes with his linebackers. The one who shined doing so in this game was Marist Liufau (35).

Howell wants to hit Brown on a post, like the one he threw earlier in the game, but Liufau is in his face as soon as Howell hits the top of his drop. Liufau ran through the blitz pickup and forced Howell to shift in the pocket where he first had to avoid Hayes coming off the edge and Drew White (40) was also blitzing. Liufau and White were running a Cross Dog with White as the trailer.

Howell had no options on this play.


Late blitz disrupts the RPO

This is not play-action. This is an RPO from UNC where they are running a counter trey out of a two back look with Howell having the option to pull.

It wasn’t an incorrect decision to do so when you consider that Isaiah Foskey (7) was coming off the edge and would have made a tackle for loss if Howell had handed this off, but he had no good options again because Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) perfectly timed his blitz and was in Howell’s face immediately.

JOK jumped to take away the throw when he saw Howell pull it. He had to bring it back into his body so quickly to avoid JOK that he was going to stumble to the ground for a sack even if Foskey wasn’t there to tackle him.

The throw that Howell wanted to make was to the inside receiver on a pivot route, but Kyle Hamilton (14) sprinted there at the snap to take that away. He didn’t show it pre-snap so Howell thought this would be open. Lea did such a great job of not just bringing the inside linebackers on early downs, but also JOK to mix it up. He also didn’t show too much pre-snap to confuse Howell’s reads as well.

Even if he wasn’t doing that, the rush was getting to Howell so quickly that it almost wouldn’t have mattered.


No shot at the deep ball again

1st and 10 and UNC wants to come out with an explosive play to kickstart a drive. That’s why they are max protecting this with seven blockers including the tight end and the back.

Lea continued with blitzing on early downs to disrupt things, though. Liufau is moving downhill like a freight train and he has the tight end on skates, which forces the back to help out. In addition to that, Justin Ademilola (19) and Ovie Oghoufo (29) are helping to close the pocket on Howell. White is coming on a Green Dog once he sees the back engaged as well and it forces Howell to escape the pocket.

He can’t and is sacked again.

Even when had seven to block for him, Howell didn’t have a chance to get the ball to where he wanted to throw it.


Pump and no

The game is over at this point, but UNC is not going to give up. They’re going to try and take one last shot to see if they can make a miracle happen.

They dial up a “pump and go” faking the bubble screen to the back and looking to catch Notre Dame biting on it. The goal is to hit a receiver deep.

The Irish did not bite. With three deep safeties on the field, they weren’t going to be overaggressive with anything thrown underneath.

Even if they had snuck a receiver open down the field, Howell once again didn’t have a chance to throw it. He pumped and then was immediately hit by Ogundeji who had long armed the right tackle and came off of that for a sack.

This was against a three man rush.

I don’t want to say I felt sorry for Howell, but these plays basically describe the day he had. Notre Dame’s front four, with some help from some blitzes, overwhelmed UNC’s pass protection and eventually Howell. It was a terrible day for him and a great one for Lea’s defense.


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