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Playmakers Wanted: Zeke Motta

Mar 9, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

Zeke Motta

(Note: This is the third in a series of fictional memos from Notre Dame’s No. 1 fan to key players for the 2012 Fighting Irish. The first featured senior wide receiver John Goodman, the second WR Daniel Smith.)


To: Zeke Motta
From: Goldy Domer, #1 Irish Fan
Subject: Your NFL audition season


I feel like the timing couldn’t be better for this letter. With Spring Break coming, you’ll likely head back home to Florida, enjoy some time in the Vero Beach sun, and get to thinking about the days ahead. You’ll probably even dip your toes in the Atlantic. Not to get too poetic, but it’s a little like your time in that wide open pool called the Irish secondary, where you’ve seen your fair share of time. But here’s the thing Zeke, I think you’re ready to dive in head first. Not just the ocean — the water temp is a balmy 73 degrees — but into the secondary. It’s your time now, Zeke.  Some people might worry you’re not quite ready, but I think you’re going to be just fine.

Sometimes us fans forget these things, but you were the man coming out of high school. Turning down Clemson, Florida State and some guy named Urban Meyer to head to South Bend? We ought to have a party just to celebrate that occasion. (Looks like you did.) And while some Irish fans think of you as a forgotten man, I haven’t missed you in action. All us Irish fans remember is the last loss, but when we had safeties dropping like flies in 2010, I saw you flying around out there. Even if it was a learning experience, finishing seventh on the team in tackles is nothing to scoff at, and you were basically the starting safety all season. (Remember that Kirk Cousins INT in the end zone? I hope the NFL scouts do before they take him in the second round…)

While we all focused on Harrison going from the doghouse to the penthouse, some people forgot you’ve had some great moments. Thanks to the internet, we can all watch them, too. (Looks like you’ve got another No.1 Fan, Zeke.) Nobody wants to remember that Champs Sports Bowl, but I remember that scoop and score. And I’ve got a feeling that come spring time and next fall, we’re going to be reading a bunch of articles reminding us how we’ve got another 6-foot-2, 215-pound safety that likes to play the role of a Zeke-seeking missile. (Not bad, right?)

Maybe it just feels like you were the odd-man out last year, but it’s not like this is going to be your first rodeo. You took over 69 percent of the snaps last year on defense — that’s more than Prince Shembo, or Dan Fox, or Big Lou, or Aaron Lynch. Maybe the guys at the BBQ that like to sound like ND football experts or those geniuses on the message boards will think of you as a back-up, but somehow you and Jamoris both spent a whole lot of time out there, with his 573 snaps just 10 more than you played.

Imagine what you two will be able to do together out there. If you don’t see me peeking my head through the gates at spring practice, it’s because I’ll be busy thinking up nicknames for one of the hardest hitting safety duos in recent Irish memory. Motta & Slaughter. Just sounds like a house of pain for opposing wide receivers.

Your second biggest fan,


  1. nudeman - Mar 9, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Sorry if I’m a tad skeptical, but I didn’t see a whole lot from Zeke last year that makes me believe he’s got another gear to shift into for 2012. Did he have any INTs? Serious question, because I know Smith didn’t.

    Smith and Motta might have been the least effective safety tandem in D-I in terms of being ball hawks.

    Zeke seems like a good guy, great story about picking ND over the football factories of the southeast. And I’ll concede maybe I’m missing something here because I don’t have a ready supply of D stats at hand. But I saw every min of every game and he didn’t stand out in a good way.

    • cc2x4bills - Mar 9, 2012 at 8:27 PM

      nudeman – I think you are spot on.

      Doubters – If you go back and watch the end of the michigan game you’ll see that it is Motta, not the proposed goat Gary Gray, who is looking lost and not making the play on two of the long passes. Even the play that everyone heralds as his coming out party against FSU, all he did was pick up a ball on the ground and score. All that being said, he needs to learn how to play in space better, and trust his instincts and show a little speed (watching his coverage break down in the secondary its hard to tell if he is over thinking or just really is a step slow – something never said about Smith), else he will get passed up on the depth chart by Collinsworth by the end of the year.

      But who knows, kid could break out. He better, we just signed 4 safety’s.

  2. ct16nj - Mar 9, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    Nickname = Bacardi & Cola?

  3. 88irish - Mar 9, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Murda and Slaughter

    I think our DB’s aren’t as bad as it appears…once we get a legit defensive front, I think our DB’s will look a whole lot better and get picks etc… I think when we can consistently pressure the QB (without a blitz), the backfield will look much better. In the past, our pass rush reminds me of playing in the backyard with a 7 Mississipi rush and being able to stand back there until your brother cuts back 7 or 8 times and gets open for the TD. Can’t cover somebody forever

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 9, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    He had quite a bowl game and I hope he can carry that success over to the season. Also, Keith, I’m not feeling the nickname. Wouldn’t a Zeke-seeking missile be seeking a Zeke, by its very nature? And if he IS the Zeke, well, you see my confusion.

  5. irishdodger - Mar 9, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    The scoop & score was a memorable moment in a game where ND snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, but it doesn’t translate to him being a top notch pass defender b/c that’s what ND needs. He really looked lost in coverage last year. Even vs BC he looked bad on their 2nd TD. Not to say he can’t improve & I hope he does, but I predict Collingsworth earns some 1st team reps this season. If Motta doesn’t improve over last season, Collingsworth will be the starter by season’s end.

    • nudeman - Mar 9, 2012 at 2:50 PM

      Exactly. He looked lost too frequently when covering.

      jerseyshorefan, “quite a bowl game”? C’mon. To his credit he was near the ball. But really, anybody not in a wheelchair could have picked that up and run it in.

      Zeke is a “legacy” guy from the Weis era when not much thought or time went into recruiting top notch D talent.

      • rambler09 - Mar 9, 2012 at 3:13 PM

        Nudeman, that last comment about Motta is just incorrect. I refer you to his rivals profile-

        Ranked #54 overall nationally? I’ll take that every time.

        Let’s see what happens with this kid with a new and experienced secondary coach. I don’t think it’s fair to count him out.

      • nudeman - Mar 9, 2012 at 3:21 PM

        I’ll concede the point there. Did not know he was that highly regarded coming out of HS.

        My mistake.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 9, 2012 at 8:12 PM

        Nude, anytime that your safety can put the ball in for 6 is quite a game in my mind. It’s all about being in position to make a play when you’re the safety and when Manti strips you gotta be there to scoop. It may have looked easy but then again most of it does from our recliners.

      • 9irish - Mar 10, 2012 at 6:27 AM

        I’ll have to lean towards rambler on this one…
        Never a question of talent, just not very well coached, I don’t think…the guys can do the job, just didn’t seem like they knew where they (or the ball) were at the time.

        we’ll see…other than turnovers, the secondary cost them several games last year

        Go Irish

  6. irisheyesinsd - Mar 9, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    ND plays a lot of cover-2 and I think it’s fair to say more medium range and deep balls were thrown to Motta’s side of the field than Smith’s last year. As a result, Harrison did not get as many int’s as he did in 2010. Unfortunately, Motta did not cause/create a lot of turnovers despite having more opportunity to do so. He wasn’t a fantastic playmaker, but he wasn’t awful either. Obviously, this is why the “memo” was written–we need more productivity from Motta. Not just tackles, but some fear factor with bone jarring hits and getting in opposing qbs’ heads with some ints.
    Can we expect an uptick in play? Someone made the point that we have a new safeties coach with a lot of experience, but Chuck Martin fit that description also. I’m not convinced coaching is the issue. I don’t think work ethic or motivation is either. He has the experience.The question is, can he assimilate everything from the past two years and take his game to the next level. We’ll find out this year.

    • nudeman - Mar 9, 2012 at 10:26 PM

      I simply do not understand why posters make apologies for Smith and Motta. 2 starting safeties on the field for 80-90% of the defensive plays and they make ZERO INTs? Huh???

      Come on.

      Let me put it this way: I’m a Bears fan, they need a safety, and I do NOT want to see them draft Harrison Smith. And next year I definitely don’t want them to draft Zeke.

  7. turknd - Mar 10, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    How many interceptions did the corners have? A safety is just that, the last line of safety to the end zone. If corners are a little lacking as they seemed to be last season, would a safety take the chance of going for the ball or the tackle? Not saying I analyzed it that in depth, but just a thought that crept into my mind.

    • nudeman - Mar 10, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      I know the corners had more than the safeties, because Motta and Smith combined for ZERO.

      But what is your point? If the corners had 20 or if they had zero, it doesn’t change the fact that Motta and Smith DID NOT DELIVER terms of takeaways. ND was close to the bottom of the NCAA in turnover margin for two reasons: 1) they fumbled and threw a ton of INTs; and 2) they didn’t take the ball away on D. Sorry, but the safeties share in that.

      Zero interceptions? How can anyone defend that? Safeties frequently play center field and over the course of a season you’d expect them to at least luck into a couple picks.


      As for the FSU fumble pick up by Motta, come on. Bounced right to him and he ran unabated into the end zone. Do we really consider that a “great play”?

      Go ahead and defend Motta, but you’re kidding yourself. I’m sure he’s a great guy, and yes, he hits hard on running plays. He’s not a bum. But he isn’t the type of guy a top 10 team has starting at safety.

      • turknd - Mar 11, 2012 at 11:42 AM

        Nude, what do you mean “what is your point”. I think I spelled it out pretty clearly and am not defending anyone. I was wondering out loud if the lack of corner coverage had anything to do with lack of the safeties having interceptions. I don’t have in depth knowledge of the relationship between the corners and safeties, but I would have to assume that if the corners are lacking coverage it would take away from the aggressiveness of the safety. Or maybe it was the coaching? We’ll see what the pro scouts think when Harrison gets drafted. Or will you advise them not to draft him?

      • turknd - Mar 11, 2012 at 10:48 PM

        ok armchair, I just looked it up. Blanton and gray had 2 intierceptions each, Lo woods had 1, motta had 1 and one of the linebackers had.1.So you in your infinite wisdom thinks that a safety should have more interceptions than a corner. Why not just leave the corners out of the game game and just hae the safeties do all the work. You are dealing w/ half a deck.

  8. degosavage23 - Mar 10, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    I will say this, I definitely agree with the earlier post that if the defensive front-seven does what we expect them to, it will definitely take a lot of pressure off the secondary.

    In regards the the FSU game, I was one of the critics that did not understand why the staff decided to basically “abandon” the blitz in the 4th quarter when it had worked tremendously in the first three quarters. I live in the South Bend area and have had some great talks with my barber who’s shop is right next to campus. For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, he cuts a majority of the ND players hair, and his dad cuts Brian Kelly’s hair and has done so for most of the previous coaches. To get back to my argument I spoke with my barber about how I didn’t understand the logic behind “abandoning” the blitz. He explained to me that he had been cutting Manti T’eo’s hair one day after the game and Manti had told him that there was one pass play where FSU had picked up a nice chunk of yardage and the staff was basically afraid that those kinds of plays would continue to accumulate throughout the 4th quarter (maybe thinking FSU’s offense had finally been able to handle the intense heat the front-seven had been putting on them all night). Either way, I think they should have found a way to still incorporate the blitz whether they ran some zone or not, just my opinion.

  9. NotreDan - Mar 11, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    Ya know…. its frustrating. Seems like the same old pointless and never ending negativity from the same source. Keith, I think this is what you were aiming at. ND may not be the national champ this year or next, but the constant negative bent from nude is either a USC fan in sheep’s clothing or someone with a different axe to grind. Guys like him, clearly not actual ND fans, are what drove me away and just 1 article later its more of the same Debbie downer. His posts are clearly aimed at a cloaked attack that can’t be taken down on its face but nonetheless suck the oxygen from the locker room.

    • joeschu - Mar 14, 2012 at 8:52 AM

      NotreDan – I understand the frustration, but I think you’re way off base.

      Nowhere was the expectation set that every comment be a mindless, cheerleading, ball of optimism. Discussion generally requires people with opposing points of view explain themselves rationally, which Nudeman does regularly.

      There are a lot of us here who are ND alumni and fans. Just because the diploma on my wall says ND doesn’t mean I think the football program is immune from criticism. In fact, I’m a big believer that getting the issues on the table and discussing the flaws and weaknesses is the only way to fix them.

      Nudeman isn’t being negative and is no less an ND fan than you. He’s simply pointing out that he hasn’t seen enough evidence from Zeke Motta to believe that this will be a position of strength this year. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you he hopes he’s dead wrong. However, sticking your head in the sand and screaming that this is a perfect-season, BCS Championship season isn’t really helping anything.

      • nudeman - Mar 15, 2012 at 11:18 AM

        Thank you. I’ve posted LOTS of stuff that is overwhelmingly positive about various aspects of the program, whether it’s players, coaches, recruiting, the academic first approach … whatever.

        There will always be guys who will take offense, even if someone posts 99 comments of favorable to 1 unfavorable. If some want a cheerleading board, so be it. I think it’s for intelligent football discussion, some of which will be critical.

        On Motta, there are positives. He’s apparently a very hard worker and a hard hitter. But he has not been – MY OPINION – very good in coverage. Maybe it’s due to the weakness at CB or OLB. Maybe he’ll have a breakout year. Could happen. Hope it does.

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