Robert Blanton has made his presence felt the past two games in coverage, highlighted by his excellent interception last week against Boston College. With a secondary hobbled by a lack of depth in the first four weeks of the season, the Irish defense is now back to full-speed with safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy healthy and Blanton getting more and more comfortable in the nickel package.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s comfort level with his personnel was epitomized by the sack Blanton got on unsuspecting Boston College quarterback Mike Marscovetra, a rare cornerback blitz after a season of continuous pressure from the secondary.
Diaco was asked about the play of the secondary and some of the flexibility he has now that he’s got a healthy set of defensive backs.
“I would say that there’s been moments this season where it hasn’t been all hands on deck, there hasn’t been availability of the full personnel,” Diaco said. “When the players are available to do different things and the opponent allows us the opportunity to match up, we’ll do whatever we need to do to match up against the opponent.”
One of the great things about having a comfortable lead for most of the second half was that McCarthy and freshman Lo Wood were able to play significant minutes, with both chipping in a tackle during defensive play.
As the Irish take on another inexperienced quarterback, a full allotment of defensive backs gives the Irish the means to trick and confuse a Pitt offense that will try to keep things as vanilla as possible with Tino Sunseri at the helm. While stopping the run will be paramount for Diaco’s crew, making life miserable for Sunseri will be a major plotline as well.
Head coach Brian Kelly has made it known that he prefers safeties as the nickel back traditionally, but it’s clear that Zeke Motta’s best work isn’t done in pure passing situations. The emergence of Blanton has been a great break for the defense and working in a guy like McCarthy — who at first glance seems to have better center field skills than Motta — might be something that we see more of as the Irish schedule progresses.