In many ways, the Irish season will hinge completely on the efficiency of the defense. The failure of Jon Tenuta’s unit to play merely average football was the downfall of the 2009 season, and while the Irish offense struggled with its consistency (especially in the red zone), the football team lost six games largely because they were unable to stop teams.
One of the more puzzling parts of last year’s effort was the lack of deception and creativity that was used when Tenuta called plays. The amount of blitzing the Irish did, and the way they actually went about doing it was shocking. In the days before Notre Dame played USC, Pete Carroll actually mentioned how risky the Irish defensive strategy was, and how easy it was to exploit it.
“They’re the most aggressive they’ve been,” Carroll said. “Last year they started really coming after people, and this year they’ve picked up on that. They’re pressuring well over half of the time which is a tremendous percentage of pressure from the defense. In certain games they’ll get it up higher than that.
“So what that causes is they’re taking chances to come after you. It’s very aggressive, and they cause bad plays. You can protect really well, then there are some are opportunities, because the coverage is more limited.
“There’s risk and reward here. When you’re committing people to the line of scrimmage, there is more space in the secondary... The whole point of pressuring is to disrupt the offense. If you can minimize that there are opportunities to make plays.”
It was pretty clear to Carroll, and just about every coaching staff that Notre Dame played last season, that Tenuta was sending blitzers on just about every down, and the offensive staffs made adjustments to counter the pressure, and merely exploited the space in the secondary to make big offensive plays.
If you’re looking for one reason why the Notre Dame defense will get better, Bob Diaco offered it Tuesday when he spoke to the media after practice. While Diaco never mentioned any of the problems that plagued the Irish defense last season, he diagnosed perfectly what went wrong.
“The one thing that has to happen for sure, you’ve got to ask the players to do the things that they can do well... But with that said, if you get too one-sided in particular, then you’re just too easy to attack.
“On the one hand, you understand that through self-scout that you need some more multiplicity and do some different things and activate some different things, and at the same time, you know in doing that, you may be asking some players to do some things that aren’t their greatest assets. I think that there’s a point in time that you just have to do it, so you don’t become too particularly one sided.
“I would say that from one year to the next, I’d like to think we can move that way. It seems like there are players that can do a lot of different jobs.”
One of the things that baffled me the most was that Charlie Weis never seemed to be able to self-diagnose the problems that plagued the defense, when even the most average football minds (i.e. all of us) could see it plain as day.
Sure, Weis never coached defense, but his two mentors, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, were great defensive tacticians, and it hardly takes someone with a Hall of Fame pedigree to see that Notre Dame was dying a slow death by the blitz.
While Diaco did his best to answer the question from a far different perspective, it’s clear that this Irish coaching staff self-scouted the personnel they have, and understood the problems that sunk last year’s defensive unit.
I supposed we’ll find out soon enough if they solved the problem.