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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Notre Dame's Problems vs the Run

November 29, 2022
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USC rushed for 204 yards and Austin Jones rushed for 6.2 yards per carry against Notre Dame. If you’re a box score guy and look at that, you’d automatically make the assumption that they dominated the Irish up front.

That wasn’t what actually happened. There’s no viral clips of USC O-linemen pancaking Notre Dame defenders because that wasn’t happening. The Irish front three or four weren’t disrupting the play enough, but they weren’t getting embarrassed out there.

USC ran so well on Notre Dame because of how the Irish chose to defend them, good scheme by the Trojans, and poor tackling by several defenders. They came in as the top graded tackling defense in the country according to PFF. They had by far their worst tackling game of the season and missed several chances at making tackles for loss (in addition to the five times Caleb Williams escaped being sacked).

The Trojans came in as the highest ranked rushing attacking in EPA (expected points added) per rush. They’ll stay at number one because RB Austin Jones rushed for 105 yards and 4.2 per carry after contact. That pretty much sums up the kind of day it was for Notre Dame’s run defense.

I picked out four plays that I think are worth highlighting to show why USC had the success they had.

Good scheme by USC

The first is a play that shows how difficult it can be to defend a Lincoln Riley offense. Back in the day an offense would run a simple counter trey with the backside guard and tackling pulling, but this has two more pieces involved with it.

There’s the motion of WR Jordan Addison coming across and running a bubble screen and there is Williams having the potential to pull the ball and either throw that screen to Addison or keep it and run it himself.

Notre Dame has six in the box and there are five blockers here, but there are two running threats with the back and the quarterback. Justin Ademilola has to respect the potential keep from Williams so he is taken out of the equation on this run. If he was able to crash down and there was another defender to that side responsible for Williams, then Ademilola makes this tackle.

There can’t be another defender there, though, because the safety, Xavier Watts has to run with the motion and defend the possibility of the screen. The opposite side safety, Brandon Joseph, was originally closer to the line of scrimmage and he would have been able to help out on this run, but he drops back when the receiver goes in motion.

That means that it is even numbers up front and the only way for Notre Dame to stop this is for someone to win. It has to be Jayson Ademilola fighting across the face of the center to make the tackle or JD Bertrand being more patient scraping to the football and avoiding the pulling tackle.

Neither of those two win on the play and it’s a huge gain.

Marist disrupts, JD misses

This one is pretty simple. I know plenty of Notre Dame fans get frustrated with Liufau’s lack of tackle production, but disruption is production. This is a play that should have been made because of him. That’s part of the purpose of blitzing him.

This is out of the 3-3 look Notre Dame ran where Liufau is blitzing. Maybe to some it looks like a wasted body with him blitzing up the middle, but part of his job is to act like an extra defensive lineman and plug the middle with a blitz. That’s exactly what happens on this play where the blitz forces the guard to stay in to pick him up rather than get out to the second level to block Bertrand.

Liufau essentially takes up two blockers here. Bertrand is free and he has to make this tackle in the hole. It’s set up to be a tackle for loss, but it ends up being another first down gain.

Missed call?

Now, this play is a different story with Liufau. To me, this looks like he either missed a check or didn’t know the call because Bertrand is doing one thing and he is doing another. And that’s just inexcusable.

The staff must have thought so too because they took him off after this play.

It looks like Bertrand is running the Cross Dog blitz that the Irish have run frequently this season. He is sprinting downhill at the snap to the opposite side of the formation. Typically Liufau would be following that up by blitzing to the other side and if that happened, he’s running right into the back here for a stuff.

Instead…well…I have no idea what is going on here. The right tackle pulls so I don’t know why Liufau would step that direction. It’s baffling to me.

There is no explanation that I can think of and I know Notre Dame fans will point to this as a reason why they need someone else playing. Based on this play, it’s hard to argue against it, but I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t seen other linebackers look lost on a handful of plays as well this season.

Right call, Mills has to make the play

There can’t be a more frustrating feeling than calling the right play that should work and then have it not executed properly by your players.

This is a T-E (tackle-end) stunt up front. It’s Rylie Mills at end who is stunting inside and should be running right into the back for a TFL. He has to step upfield and then get inside quicker than he does. He’s late, ends up cutting off Bertrand in the process, and neither makes the tackle.

Mills looks gassed here and he probably was after chasing Williams around on a scramble just before this. His effort on that play suggested that he probably should have been subbed out.

Regardless of that, he’s in the game here and this call is set up for Notre Dame to get a havoc play. It ends up being a missed opportunity, which is what a lot of the run defense for Notre Dame looked like on Saturday night.

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