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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Oklahoma State Defense

December 22, 2021
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Notre Dame played one top-five defense this season when they went up against Wisconsin. While they put up 41 points that day, a lot of that came from the defense and special teams. They only managed three yards rushing and averaged 3.51 yards per play.

Oklahoma State is the second top-five unit the Irish offense will face this season and they are every bit as good as Wisconsin’s defense. The numbers are impressive. 3rd in EPA per play, 4th in YPP, 3rd in points per drive, and the 3rd ranked defense in the nation according to F+. Only one team has scored more than 30 points against them and it’s the same number for those who have averaged over 6.0 YPP.

If you’re expecting Notre Dame to put a big number on the board, then you’re very likely going to be disappointed. Yards and points are going to be tough to come by.

This will be a difficult test for an offense that improved exponentially in the second half of the season.

Expected Strengths

This is a fast, attacking defense. The line plays assignment sound and the linebackers are all downhill players.

The run defense has been elite. They’re 4th in stuff rate (runs of zero yards or less), 3rd in power success rate (stops on 3rd or 4th and short), and teams only average 2.74 yards per carry against them.

The pass defense is just as stingy (15th in pass efficiency), but it really comes down to the pressure they put on the quarterback. They are 1st in the country in sack rate and lead the nation in sacks with 54.

What stands out about them is that they have so many good pass rushers in their front seven and when there are so many that can win one on one matchups, it becomes especially tough to handle when it comes to protection.

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They finished 2nd in the country in 3rd down conversion rate. They do an outstanding job with pressures and mixing up different looks that the opposition has to contend with.

Potential Weaknesses

There aren’t many obvious weaknesses, but there will be some opportunities to attack the safeties in man coverage. Starter Jason Taylor gave up a 137.5 passer rating in man to man. Thomas Harper, who plays about 20 snaps per game, gave up a rating of 139.6. Those are two who can be challenged, but in general Notre Dame will have to take their shots down the field when they get an opportunity and convert enough times to make it worth it.

It’s a physical group and if the refs are going to call it honest, there will be penalties drawn by Notre Dame’s receivers.

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Base defense for them is nickel so the Irish could have opportunities to play heavy and run the football. Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma) and Bijan Robinson (Texas) both averaged over six yards per carry against them. It will take some patience to stick with it, but I could see the Irish grinding them down later in the game and having success running the ball.

Winning 50/50 balls in the passing game will be critical and they haven’t given up too many of them or else they wouldn’t be ranked as high as they are. However, the Irish have Kevin Austin and Michael Mayer, both over 60% on contested catches for the season.

Scheme

They mix it up a lot, although the base is a 4-2-5 with three safeties on the back end. I would expect a lot of three down linemen as well and not just on 3rd down. They mix fronts, have late movement with alignments, and generally are trying to confuse blocking schemes on as many downs as possible.

Jim Knowles was the defensive coordinator, but he left to take the same position at Ohio State. He had the reputation as a heavy blitz guy, but I think what made him a great coordinator is how unpredictable he was. We’ll see if the next guy, it’s undetermined who that is at the moment, can be the same.

It would be fair to expect a lot of simulated pressures where someone is dropping out and they are bringing a linebacker. So it may not always be five rushers, but the protection has to be prepared for the rush to come from anywhere.

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The linebackers are fast and great at blitzing from depth as well so just because they don’t show it doesn't mean that Jack Coan and the protection has to be aware of potential threats.

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The backs will have to be able to react quickly to adjust to the late blitzers.

The corners are in man coverage over 40% of the time, but they do disguise things well so tempo can be the friend of the Notre Dame offense to keep them vanilla in that sense.

I’d expect them to attack the mesh with Tyler Buchner in the game. That’s something Notre Dame has to be ready for.

Key Players

LB Malcolm Rodriguez - PFF’s ninth best grade at linebacker. I’m surprised he didn’t make more All-America teams. He’s a missile as a blitzer. 22 Havoc plays on the season.

LB Devin Harper - 35 pressures as a pass rusher and he can turn the corner when rushing off the edge.

Edge Collin Oliver - His 21.7% pass rush win rate is outstanding. Smaller (225), but probably the best individual pass rusher on the team. Put up 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse - All-Big 12 and very physical. Has been called for seven penalties, though. That is something to keep in mind. He’s good, but not someone Notre Dame can shy away from.

S Kolby Harvell-Peel - Another All-Big 12 selection. Third on the team in tackles and led the Cowboys in interceptions with three.

Key for Notre Dame

Create Explosives

Whether it’s those deep throws and winning 50/50, hitting on a screen at the right moment, or mixing in some misdirection in the running game, Notre Dame has to find a way to produce explosive plays. Driving down the field and planning to convert on 3rd down frequently isn’t a solid plan against this defense.

It will have to be a team effort to get this done, but players like Austin, Mayer, Chris Tyree, and Lorenzo Styles Jr. are going to be counted on to make drives shorter because trying to play perfect in this matchup will likely prove too difficult to accomplish.

 
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