Notre Dame’s defense was brilliant in the team’s 45-3 beat down of Pitt. The Irish thrived in every phase of the game, shutting down the Pitt run game, handling the pass game, and thriving on third down. Notre Dame also turned the ball over three times, and each turnover gave the offense a short field and led to points.
Here are my grades for the Irish defense:
COACHING — A
Notre Dame’s defensive game plan was perfectly designed. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea masterfully used his strengths to shut down Pitt’s strength, while also exploiting Pitt’s weaknesses.
Lea created sort of a building block game plan. He put a lot on the shoulders of the defensive line, asking that unit to shut down the run game, which they did. There were pressures, but they were less than we’ve seen in recent games.
If the defensive line played well it would allow the linebackers to flow more freely to the football, and Lea could use them more in the pass game. That then allowed him to keep his safeties back more, which helped them protect against the deep ball, which is the best aspect of the Pitt offense. Lea used the cornerbacks to play tight in coverage, which limited the effectiveness of the quick game, which is the second best aspect of the Pitt pass attack.
It all worked out perfectly, as Mike Elston’s defensive line was dominant against the run, and the linebackers were active and productive. Notre Dame dominated Pitt on early downs, which then set them up for great success on third down.
Pitt averaged just 2.2 yards per rush and 3.6 yards per pass attempt. It went just 3-13 on third-down and did not reach the red zone once in the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE — A-
The line was brilliant against the run, the pass rushing production was more inconsistent.
Senior end Daelin Hayes played quite well, and he was the best pass rusher throughout the game. Hayes didn’t register a sack, but he used a variety of pass rush moves to get good pressures throughout the game. Hayes was also outstanding against the run, on both plays at him where he set the edge with force, and on plays away where he showed top-notch pursuit. When asked to drop in coverage he was excellent, getting quick depth and jumping underneath Pitt’s quick throws and out cuts.
Senior end Adetokunbo Ogundeji had multiple flashy pass rushes, but overall his pressures were inconsistent. It was against the run that Ogundeji did his most damage. He was extremely physical at the point of attack on strong side runs. It was almost impossible for Pitt to get any stretch when the ball was run to his side, and his ability to set the edge with force resulted in Pitt’s backs having to make quick cuts.
When he stepped into the lineup for Ogundeji, junior end Justin Ademilola was outstanding against the run. He was every bit as physical as Ogundeji, he made plays on the ball and his backside pursuit was top-notch. Ademilola played with a great deal of fire and energy, and it was arguably the best game of his career when it comes to making plays on the ball.
Neither Isaiah Foskey nor Ovie Oghoufo were able to do much with the pass rush for most of the game. Foskey didn’t show the burst off the edge we’ve seen in past game, and he often ran right into blockers instead of using his quickness to get to the edge, or to set up a secondary move. Foskey also didn’t get enough width or depth on base downs when asked to drop into coverage.
Only one defensive tackle played more than 20 snaps, and Elston used five different defensive tackles during the first three quarters. Being able to limit the snaps and using all of his interior weapons allowed the defensive tackles to stay fresh, and as a unit they were outstanding in this matchup.
Senior defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa had battled a knee injury for much of the season, and he missed the Florida State game and played just six snaps against Louisville. He looked fresh against Pitt, and his play was excellent. Tagovailoa-Amosa looked like the guy we saw early in 2019 when he was arguably the team’s best lineman. He was quick off the ball, constantly beating the Pitt blockers up the field. Tagovailoa-Amosa also graded out well for his ability to use his hands to get off blocks in pursuit.
Junior Jayson Ademilola played the most snaps (23) of any defensive tackle. He was the starter inside in the dime package and he also played some during base downs. Ademilola was an impact pass rusher in the game, ending back-to-back drives with pressures; one ended with an Ademilola sack, the other ended with a pressure that forced an incompletion. The more he ate up blocks the more effective the linebacker pressures became.
Senior nose tackle Kurt Hinish had a solid game. He made a strong backside stuff early in the game and he held his ground at the point of attack. Sophomore Jacob Lacey was especially effective at eating up blocks and getting a push at the nose. Freshman Rylie Mills looked confident, and his quickness off the ball was difficult for the Pitt guards to handle.
LINEBACKERS — A-
Senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah played far, far better than his numbers might otherwise show. Yes, he had the interception, but he made just one tackle in the game. That doesn’t do justice to how impactful he played.
In the few instances where Pitt tried to get a quick stretch outside, Owusu-Koramoah teamed with the ends (Ademilola, Ogundeji) to blow up the edge, forcing the runners back inside. He played a major role in shutting down the Pitt perimeter screen game and swing passes. On throws to the backs he jumped all over the routes and forced incompletions. On bubble throws he often beat blockers to the perimeter, or he forcefully engaged and allowed other defenders to eat up the pass catcher.
Owusu-Koramoah was outstanding in coverage. Of course the interception was the flashy play, but there were actually several more snaps where his coverage of backs and slots was even better.
Senior Drew White had a bit of a bounce back game. He was active playing downhill and was gap sound. White attacked the run game effectively and was a force in pursuit on perimeter runs.
Junior linebacker Bo Bauer had an outstanding game. There were two big knocks on Bauer in the past, and it factored into him not playing much. One was his inability to be assignment correct, and the second was he was often a liability in coverage. Bauer was assignment sound against Pitt, he was an effective pass rusher and Lea used him to jump the middle zones. Bauer did a very good job getting depth in the zone coverages, eating up the in cuts. We saw that on the interception, but that was not the only snap where Bauer jumped routes over the middle.
Sophomore Marist Liufau had an active game for the Irish. He attacked aggressively downhill, showed impressive range and he was effective in coverage. Junior Shayne Simon was a bit better playing the run, but he still needs to be more decisive and do a better job getting off blocks. Simon also whiffed in space on a draw play early in the third quarter. Where he shined was in coverage. Pitt tried to go at him several times, which makes sense based on the Louisville film, but Simon stepped up and handled himself quite well in coverage.
SECONDARY — B+
Lea mixed up how he used the cornerbacks, and his coverage adjustments were tremendous. On early downs he used them to press quite often, which helped limit the Pitt quick game, a staple of their first and second down pass game. With the corners taking that away, Pitt was often forced to look downfield on early downs, and outside of two early deep throws the corners showed excellent coverage.
By using the linebackers effectively to play underneath the in cuts and drag routes, the safeties were allowed to be versatile in their usage. The safeties were especially effective taking away the deep throws.
Senior Nick McCloud got beat early on a deep route, but that was more about a well-designed play, an accurate throw and a great catch than it was him getting beat. McCloud was excellent in press coverage, and the Panther wideouts could not get any separation against him. McCloud was good coming up on the edge in the run game and screens as well. Of course, his second half interception played a role in Notre Dame blowing the game open.
Freshman cornerback Clarence Lewis bit on a double move on Pitt’s opening drive, and that resulted in him getting beat over the top. The safety was late coming over as well, and it helped set up Pitt’s only score of the game.
After that, Lewis was excellent in coverage. He jumped the quick throws, was all over the comebacks and did a good job staying in position on deep throws. Lewis also graded out quite well in the run game and perimeter screen game.
Free safety Kyle Hamilton got a bit too aggressive in coverage on a couple of snaps, and he was flagged for a pass interference in the first half. Outside of that, Hamilton played quite well. He was all over the Pitt slot players in the pass game, and Pitt surprisingly went after him on multiple occasions in the pass game, but they had no success. Hamilton was also active coming downhill against the run.
Veteran Shaun Crawford was excellent coming downhill in the run game and against the screens. He took good angles to the football, was forceful taking on blocks and he tackled well in space.
His coverage grade was much lower.
On the deep throw against Lewis, Crawford took a bad angle on his help and slowed up when approaching the receiver instead of either drilling him or making a play on the ball. Crawford also got beat deep on a seam route but the pressure from the front forced an errant throw. Crawford was playing a shorter route, and he got caught flat-footed when the wideout ran by him. If the pressure had not arrived or the ball had been thrown more accurately it would have been six for the Panthers.
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