In the prior article we graded out the Irish offense and what they should be able to accomplish on the field against the Crimson Tide defense in the BCS National Title game. In the 2nd of a 3 part breakdown we want to focus on Notre Dame’s defensive line and linebacking corp. In order for the Irish to pull out a win, they will need to be successful in all three phases of the game. While we believe the defense most likely will live up to its reputation, and the offense will open some eyes and surprise some people, the special teams may be a different story. Once again the focus will be on certain individuals that we feel could have a major impact on the outcome of the game.
While the media has been reluctant to give credit to the Irish squad as whole over the 2012 campaign, the same media has rightfully given respect to the Irish defense all year long. The defensive squad is widely considered one of the best defenses in the nation, if not the best. If we would have told you that this Irish defense would have faced goal-line stances 24 times and gave up -28 yards before the season, you would have assumed we were talking about the digital Irish in EA’s NCAA football video game. If we would have told you the Irish defense would only allow 2 rushing TD’s on the year(Oklahoma-Pittsburgh) you would have advised to leave the basement and take off the homer glasses. In fact this same defensive squad has only given up only 9 touchdowns on the whole year, and allowed only 10.1 points per game. Needless to say this group deserves every accolade that has been thrown at them, and probably more. Let’s now take a deeper look at this defensive squad not as a whole, but as individual groups.
Louis Nix III
You have to start any conversation of the Irish defensive line with their star nose-tackle Louis Nix. Nix is a disruptive force in the middle and one the leaders of this vaunted defense. Nix provided 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5 passes defended in the 2012 campaign. Beyond the numbers though, Nix causes headaches for opponents offensive lines, requiring double-teams which is extremely important in the 3-4 style defense the Irish play. He consistently opens holes for the linebackers to find their way into the backfield in stopping the run and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. We cannot overstate the importance of Nix in the BCS title game as he will have to have a major impact in slowing the down the rushing game of Lacy and Yeldon to allow the Irish a shot at winning the game. If Alabama’s center Barrett Jones can find a way to neutralize Nix’s effectiveness on his own, it could cause major problems for the Irish defensive effort.
Not far behind Nix you will find Stephon Tuitt. The sophomore recorded 42 tackles, which 13 were for losses and also recorded 12 sacks in the 2012 campaign. For a 300 pound big man, Tuitt moves pretty well and is only going to get better. The only small weakness in his game right now is in the run category and at times his path can be dictated and controlled by a physical offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Tuitt will have against a very strong offensive line in Alabama, but we would not bet against the young sophomore. While the line of the Crimson Tide is used to facing physical big men up front, we are not sure if they have faced a better trio of Nix, Lewis-Moore and Tuitt this year. If this group can create havoc up front it will allow the linebacking corp of Shembo, Te’o Fox, and Spond to do what they do best.
The quiet leader of this pack would have to be Lewis-Moore and while his numbers are not quite as impressive as the before-mentioned Nix and Tuitt, that doesn’t mean he is any less important. He will be facing one of the emerging stars in of college football, Bama’s sophomore left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio is finally starting to live up to his billing as a blue-chip recruit and is as physical as they come. It will be a tough task for Louis Nix III to pull a double-team of Jones and Warmack, but if he can accomplish that consistently than that will allow a one-on-one battle between Lewis-Moore and Kouandjio.
While Lewis-Moore does struggle a bit with his pass rushing abilities, he can shed a block with the best of them and is great at the point of attack. This will be one of the more intriguing match-ups, and also one of the more important ones.
Manti Te’o –
The Heisman runner-up and All-American linebacker for the Irish has proven game in and game out that he is one of the best to ever run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium. By shedding 15 pounds over the summer, the senior leader of this Irish defense has added the ability to play side-line to side-line and a become a dominant factor in not only the running game, but also pass defense. As one of the nation’s leaders in interceptions this year with 7, Te’o has proven that he really has no weakness in his on-field repertoire. If the defensive line can execute up front this will really help Te’o in stuffing the run, keeping an eye on Yeldon out of the backfield, and limiting A.J. McCarrons success on quick dump off passes. Alabama loves to throw to the outside, utilize their runningbacks on screen plays and wheel routes and Te’o will be a major factor in all of that. He will be a busy man on January 7th, but he hasn’t let Irish fans down yet in 2012, and we would assume that the BCS title game will be no different.
While his name doesn’t quite attract the publicity that his teammate does in Te’o, the junior linebacker can be quite a force to be reckoned with. Quietly Shembo put together a 2012 campaign that included 48 tackles with 10.5 for losses, and 7.5 sacks. While his numbers are very good, they do not tell the whole story. The young man out of Charlotte, NC has speed to burn, and can be a factor in the opponents backfield, in pass defense and cover both sides of the field. With his size, speed, and athleticism he can create match-up nightmares at times for opposing offenses. Now we hope it doesn’t sound like we are trying to oversell his abilities, but if Alabama is smart, they will not underestimate the type of factor that #55 can be on January 7th.
Could also have an impact: Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
Next week we will take a deeper look at a young but talented Irish secondary, and a special teams group that has been mediocre and inconsistent at best in 2012.