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Blitzes and pressure a two-way street

Sep 17, 2013, 9:27 PM EDT

Stephon Tuitt AP

If Stephon Tuitt was still wondering, life is more difficult being on everybody’s All-American list. A season after exploding onto the scene with 12 sacks during his breakout sophomore campaign, Tuitt has found out that it’s much tougher to impact games when he’s one of the main targets in an opponents scouting report.

For those wondering if Tuitt’s weight gain or recovery from offseason hernia surgery has been the problem, it bears mentioning that everybody’s lock for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney, who spent all preseason being discussed as perhaps the greatest-college-defensive-end-in-collegiate-history, has just one more sack than Tuitt through three games. That’s the price you pay for being on every opponents radar.

The focus on Tuitt and fellow All-American candidate Louis Nix has made for some interesting growing pains for the Irish defense. With both linemen looking like double team candidates, it’s opened things up for Sheldon Day to be a little be more productive from his slot at defensive end. But as the Irish focus on getting more pressure on the quarterback, Brian Kelly talked a little bit about the risk reward that comes with bringing pressure to get after the quarterback.

After watching the Irish get burned in man coverage when they brought heat after Devin Gardner, Kelly spoke candidly about the balance of manufacturing pressure on the quarterback.

“The easy answer is probably what you already know. That when you bring pressure, you’re either giving up some zones and zone pressure or you’ve got to play man‑to‑man,” Kelly explained.  “I still think we are not where we want to be defensively in terms of what that structure is going to be yet.”

Structurally, the battle appears to be between three and four man fronts. To get the team’s best players on the field, Kelly often shifts to a four man front, engaging Prince Shembo or Ishaq Williams as a down linemen, while sending four or five rushers to get after the quarterback.

But those blitzes put more pressure on a group of players that aren’t quite as experienced. Having Danny Spond as a field side linebacker in coverage is a lot different than Jaylon Smith or Ben Councell, two guys who are seeing things for the first time. Losing Manti Te’o from the Irish’s zone coverage underneath is like losing a centerfielder that plays daringly shallow. That’s been painfully obvious as opponents have beaten the Irish on screens and picked apart their underneath coverage.

“If you bring more pressure, you’re giving up some zones,” Kelly explained. “So you either have to play some three‑under, three‑deep, which vacates some zones and you’d better get there, or you have to play simply some more man coverage.

“Within that man coverage there’s a lot more technique that goes in, because it’s not simply you line up wide.  It’s bunched formations; it’s picks; it’s fighting through all those complexities of playing man‑to‑man coverage.”

We’ve seen those complexities not quite grasped, with Elijah Shumate and Cole Luke learning the hard way in coverage. Even starters KeiVarae Russell, Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley haven’t logged a lot of minutes, leading to a situation that’s almost counterintuitive: Playing to the Irish’s strength up front might expose one of their bigger weaknesses.

“We’re probably getting back to finding more about the personnel that we have on the field and what we can and can’t do,” Kelly said.  “We are still trying to find what those groupings are to maximize their potential.”

  1. NotreDan - Sep 17, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    Would just like to see Diaco try a 4-3 with Jaylon Smith with a hand on the ground.

    • NotreDan - Sep 18, 2013 at 6:08 AM

      The other parts of success with the blitz are disguise, instinct on timing and creativity in play calling. Even the best athletes can’t succeeded without them. Hopefully its more fine tuning than broken parts.

  2. don74 - Sep 17, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    It’s going to be interesting to see if Day’s ankle sprain from Purdue inhibits him. Kelly said he was in a walking boot today but should practice tomorrow. His ability to play at 100% will be a factor

    For everyone that wants Malik to play, BK said he may go down to scout to give the D better looks.

    Interesting stories about BK and D’Antonio on a ManCave podcast

    (Sorry Keith to but I’ve a couple of Jameson’s with herring)

    I thought Kelly was pretty good in today’s presser.

    Not to sound like dick but the martini after a long day is making me more incoherent than usual. Time to have a second

    • dickasman - Sep 17, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      Don, easy on the drinks would ya? It’s only Tuesday and school night.

      Hang in the tuittski, it gets better. its not just you. dont worry and just keep working life will and does get better. Don’t do like don does and drink on school night.

      • don74 - Sep 17, 2013 at 10:25 PM

        Every day is Saturday…’s college football season.

      • dickasman - Sep 18, 2013 at 1:27 AM

        DOH! You sound like LSU/OSU fan. Ok, just don’t be smokin no synthetic marijuana n runnin around naked. Just keep it to a martini, shaken not stirred. Tell me, you like it dirty, don’t cha?

      • dickasman - Sep 18, 2013 at 1:28 AM

        Les Miles will be recruiting your azz soon.

  3. yaketyyacc - Sep 18, 2013 at 5:27 AM

    cannot understand how you can be going into your fourth game of the season and say, we haven’t figured out the structure of the defense yet. well, hello, Michigan State has! yes, we know that blitzing leaves zones open. isn’t the purpose of the blitz to rush or sack the quarterback, so that the open zones do not matter, or, have I missed some tidbit on using the blitz.
    and isn’t it the job of a safety to be fast enough to cover those zones? to say we do not know the structure yet, is double talk for, we do not have a good defense. and judging from the first three games, evidently, we do not.
    hey, it’s ok, for we are beginning to understand that the real wizard came from Oz, not Cincinnatti.

    • dmacirish - Sep 18, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      my opinion on what Coach is saying is that they anticipated having the ability to do some things based on the practices they have had but going into the games has shown that they need to make some adjustments.

      as much as they might try to practice at game speed, it never actually is, and any good coach has to be able to know when they need to adjust. i think nd has a good defense but the coaches need to give them the ability to be great by putting them in the right position. defensive play calling is not much different – metaphorically speaking – then offensive play calling. if Coach would continue to call quarterback runs with tommy back there we would all say the offense is no good when in reality the play calling would be horrible.

  4. domerboyirish - Sep 18, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I think our problem on defense right now is that we are thinking too much and not playing. We have speed but look lethargic. If Nix and Tuitt are each double teamed, then we have 4 O-linemen on 2 DL’s. I would think that a 9 on 7 advantage with the remaining players would give the opportunity for the line backers to attack and fill gaps and make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. There is no excuse for making tackles three to five yards downfield when you have Nix and Tuitt double teamed. I know this sounds simplified but we’ve seen it work before. I just don’t know why our linebackers, especially in the middle, just seem lost in space.

  5. mtflsmitty - Sep 18, 2013 at 9:54 AM


    No one can be watching our team perform well this year, and be feeling too well about it. But I am amazed at how quickly opinions shift regarding BK.

    12-0 seasons have been a rarity in South Bend for 30+ years. BK has earned my respect as one hell of a coach. I’m thrilled to have him leading our team, and it will take more than a shaky start to this season to disregard the cred he’s earned over the last 24 months.

  6. ndcanuck - Sep 18, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Where the hell is Max Redfield? A five-star all everything stud can’t crack this keystone-cops secondary?!

    • ibleedirish - Sep 18, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      He’s probably building up his “knowledge base” while trying to get a crack at one of the “personnel groupings”. He first has to “maximize his potential” and “learn to practice”, making sure to “consistently do the little things” that make the current “personnel groupings” so successful.

      I’m sure its the same reason Bryant, Folston, Robinson can’t get on the field, but fuggin Daniel Smith and GA3 can.

  7. ndfenian - Sep 18, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Prince Shembo needs to ramp up his game Saturday. Maybe someone will steal his bike again and piss him off.

  8. 1historian - Sep 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    The D is learning the hard way – the best way. The talent is there, the experience is not, so we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and hang in there.

  9. irishdog80 - Sep 19, 2013 at 8:05 PM

    I agree completely. The strength of our defensive line has made teams game plan to get rid of the ball quickly, roll the QB out away from pressure and other tactics that generally mean that your linebackers have to be on their A game. We have talent at LB, but they are not playing as a disciplined cohesive unit.

    On another note, I have always thought that Farley is a good player that is ultimately undersized to be a big time safety. He also does not always take good angles in coverage and coming up in run support. That said, we are 2-1 with tough but still very winnable games against quality opponents in the coming weeks. We will get better as the season progresses. I do believe we need to start integrating some of the potential freshmen playmakers than we have… Bryant, Folson, Redfield, Robinson, etc. to realize our full potential this year.

    Go Irish! Beat Spartans!

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