Tempe, AZ (UHND.com) — The same defensive deficiencies that haunted the Irish over the past few years reared their ugly head Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl letting Irish fans know that there is still a lot of work to be done before the Irish are considered elite.
The work that Weis and staff have done this year has been outstanding, but in the end we learned tonight that Notre Dame still lacks an ability to rush the quarterback and lack speed and ability in the defensive backfield.
Troy Smith is a pretty good quarterback, but the Notre Dame defense made him look like a combination of Michael Vick and Peyton Manning as Smith used his athleticism to escape the little pressure Notre Dame got on him and picked apart an over matched Notre Dame secondary.
On Ohio State’s first offensive drive, Ambrose Wooden was locked on Ted Ginn man to man but looked to jump and underneath route to Santonio Holmes leaving Ginn wide open for a 56 yard touchdown.
Wooden also missed a number of tackles and looked nothing like the corner we all saw progressing throughout the year. Getting his confidence built back up and fixing the mistakes we saw tonight is going to be a major concern heading into the Spring.
The Irish safeties also showed again that they might not be best suited for the positions they are in now. On Smith’s 85 yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes, Chinedum N’Dukwe bit pretty badly on a fairly weak play action which allowed Holmes to get behind the defense.
All season N’Dukwe and Tommy Zbikowski have been overly aggressive at times and it cost Notre Dame dearly on the Holmes touchdown. N’Dukwe was at apache for a while last Spring, will he return to the position with David Bruton stepping into a starting role next year?
The Irish will be getting an infusion of talent this year at defensive back which should help the secondary, but its usually not good practice to rely on true freshmen. Will Darrin Walls or Raeshon McNeil be able to come in and make an impact at corner next year?
The Irish also failed to pressure the quarterback with their defensive line and even when they blitzed they were fairly ineffective. This gave Smith the time to pick apart the secondary which could not cover Holmes and Ginn.
With the Irish still pursuing the nation’s best defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy, it is clear that he might be the most important recruit in this class because the Irish need to bolster their interior defensive line.
The Notre Dame linebacker’s weren’t exactly stellar against Ohio State either. When they were sent on the blitz, they weren’t exactly effective. Linebacker is the only are of the defense that will lose starters for next year with Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte exhausting their eligibility.
Incoming recruit Toryan Smith has stated in the past that he’s been told he was recruited to come in and play right away in the middle, but who will step up at outside linebacker? Does Maurice Crum slide over to the outside to fill the void left by Hoyte if N’Dukwe moves down to apache?
The Fiesta Bowl left the Irish will plenty of question marks and plenty of things to work on in the Spring. Heading into the Fiesta Bowl people were predicting Notre Dame could be a preseason #1 but that won’t be the case anymore. The will have too many question marks on defense heading into the season challenge for the top spot, but right now I would say the Irish will start somewhere between #5-10.