January 4, 2007 // Notre Dame Football

Irish Defense Carved Up Again

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New Orleans, LA (UHND.com) – Last year Ohio State piled up over 600 yards of offense on the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl. Last night LSU nearly duplicated the Buckeye’s success with 577 yards of their own in their 41-14 romp over the Irish in the Sugar Bowl. Two bowl games into the Weis Era and the Irish have surrendered almost three quarters of a mile of offense.

At times over the past two years Rick Minter’s defense has surrendered more than its fair share of big plays. Some times the big plays have come with players in position to makes plays, but last night that was not the case. LSU receivers ran wild through the Irish secondary and most of time Dwayne Bowe and Early Doucet found themselves all alone without an Irish defender within 10 yards of them.

The whole talent versus scheme debate has been going on since last year’s Fiesta Bowl and while it is clear Notre Dame’s defense isn’t stock piled with impact players, last night showed that talent is not the only issue plaguing the Irish defense.

After tying the game at 14 with just over two minutes remaining the first half, LSU marched 82 yards down the field and scored what turned out to be the game winning touchdown in only five plays highlighted by 58 yard bomb to Early Doucet.

On the play, Doucet, as he was most of the night, was wide open behind the Irish secondary. How did he get so wide open? Well, for starters, he was being covered by safety Chinedum N’Dukwe and linebacker Travis Thomas. Yes folks, LSU’s big play was being covered not by a corner, but by a safety and linebacker.

All the recruiting in the world won’t solve problems like this for the Irish defense because there isn’t a linebacker around who can keep up with a receiver like Doucet 50 yards down field. Breakdowns like this come back to Rick Minter’s scheme.

Another familiar theme of the post game press conference was “miscommunication” in the secondary. This was supposedly addressed over the summer when the defensive coaches figured out Minter’s scheme was too complex. Minter was said to have simplified things this year to eliminate the miscommunication, but 13 games into the season and 25 games into his reign as defensive coordinator they still exist.

One has to ask just how complex Minter’s scheme must be that the secondary is still having breakdowns left and right under his guidance. If his scheme is so complex that these players haven’t picked it up after 25 games, I have bad news for Irish fans – its likely they won’t pick it up.

At times the Irish defense did a very good job containing the LSU offense and even forced an early turnover which should have turned the momentum in the game. Notre Dame managed no points after Travis Leitko’s fumble recovery set up the Irish offense just outside the LSU 20 after a three and out ended with a Carl Gioia missed 34 yard field goal but that’s another article all together.

The problem with the defense is part depth and talent, but at the end of the day, its becoming increasingly clear that the defensive philosophy currently being executed, or not being executed, is by the Irish is just not working.

Some people will argue that the Irish simply don’t have the athletes on defense to compete with teams like LSU and USC, and they are partly right. The lack of recruiting by the previous coaching staff has resulted in a lack of depth along the defensive line and a number of players playing out of position. However, when you continually have opposing wide receivers running free game after game, the lack of talent argument starts to lose a lot of weight.

If the Notre Dame secondary was simply getting outrun by fast wide receivers or getting picked apart by outstanding quarterbacks, it would be one thing. But these opposing wide receivers are simply running wild. They don’t get jammed at the line and are taking advantage of a secondary that is apparently still miscommunicating.

Another example of the miscommunication was Brandon LaFell’s 58 yard third quarter touchdown. Freshman Darrin Walls was in the game and LaFell ran right by him with Walls looking unsure if he was supposed to stay with LaFell or let the safety pick him up. The safety help from N’Dukwe was very late, as was the case most of the night, and LaFell was about as wide open as you can get.

It will be interesting to see if any changes are made to the staff or if the staff makes any philosophical changes this off-season. Despite some popular opinion, there will be plenty of talent, albeit young talent, to work with on defense next year especially in the secondary, but unless some sort of change is made, opposing quarterbacks and receivers will be building the Heisman resumes against the Irish defense.

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