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Defensively Speaking: Notre Dame review

by Kevin Bruce

This was a game when the defense was not at its best but still good enough. When combined with our explosive plays the outcome was a rewarding smack down of this Notre Dame football team. Btw ND #99 we all have very long memories…see you next year my friend. As for the defense our results were mixed and ex-explosive plays this was shaping up as a real slugfest. But in 17 seconds after three straight punts by our offense and despite unbelievably poor officiating this game was turned around. This happens to Notre Dame on very special occasions in the LA Coliseum (1974 below as a reminder).

The key metrics from yesterday that are really interesting include:

  • The team’s first pick-six this season. Thank you Ajene Harris!
  • Really nice job by Cam Smith leading the team again in tackles with 10 totaling 79 so far for the season
  • Gustin, Smith and Nwosu accounted for 25 tackles which tells you that this was a smash mouth inside the tackle offensive game plan by ND.
  • The defense forced five 3-n-outs vs. our 1. Our 1st and 2nd down defense was generally effective.
  • The defense gave up four touchdowns (one after a Jackson fumble) which is why the TOP battle was see-sawing back and forth. However when we needed to smack ND with TOP in the 4th quarter the team responded with 10:25 while forcing two of the five 3-n-outs we nailed ND with. This allowed us to flip the 3rd quarter TOP battle we lost around. This is a monster improvement over last year as we got ground down in the 4th quarter in South Bend but not this season. Nice.
  • Six sacks against ND was clearly a season high though two sacks were more QB runs that were TFLs. Hey, it’s all good from here.
  • 3rd/4th down conversion defense held ND to 7 of 19 (37%) which while respectable is below the run rate from the prior 3 games.
  • Turnover war was won by our defense with a pick-six (Harris) and a lateral pass that was tipped and recovered (quick whistle took six off the board btw). AJ lost the fumble on a punt return.
  • The Big Hit of the game goes to…Matt Boermeester (was that not fun or what??!!)

The X’s and O’s:

The game within the game was fascinating. I have to say that ND did a pretty good job for a team coming in with a 4-7 record. Our plan as it unfolded was of course great first and second down defense (usually against the run) and force longer 3rd down conversions. We held ND to 7 out of 19 3rd/4th conversions. But the scheme that CP used was pretty unique and different than any other game this season.

Part of Pendergast’s plan was to pressure QB Kizer with A-gap pressure combined double safety and/or nickel back blitzes. He went after the TE side (if there was a TE) which is also a departure from norm contrasted to prior games when the pressure would come from the nickel back and the offside CB on a read blitz. Regardless of formations including 3-n-1 (trips) or 2 & 2 (2 WRs each side) CP still dialed up safety pressure. We also saw some twists from both Nwosu and Gustin (both of whom are really improving this season). If this sounds a bit fuzzy I could draw it better but the long safety blitzes were pretty easy to see and were new for this defense. Effectiveness was clearly mixed but generally good.

What didn’t work well was A-gap control. ND isn’t a true power team though they may want to rethink their offense along those lines. The ND offensive line is a handful and the quick traps into the A-gap they ran were very difficult for us to handle. Again our defense is better designed and equipped to handle the sophisticated QB centric teams in the Pac-12. Power teams will continue to give us issues with current personnel and scheme.

Net, net this was a fun game with all the darker undertones that usually accompany a Notre Dame football game. We don’t like them; they don’t like us. They lost and we won. It’s great to be a Trojan.

PS: #99 see you in South Bend in 2017. Wear all your gear…you’ll need it.

Kevin Bruce played linebacker at USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA.


Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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