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What To Watch For: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

CAN LOUISVILLE EXPLOIT NOTRE DAME’S INEXPERIENCE UP THE MIDDLE

Notre Dame will be replacing 261 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, and 15.5 sacks between their two defensive tackle spots and their inside linebacker spots. That’s a lot of production and experience to replace and there aren’t guys on the roster that fit the bill to just step right in and play at a high level. That’s not to say that a young guy can’t step up or the veteran players that have been waiting their turn won’t work out well. It would just be a bit surprising to see that happen.

Louisville only has two true running plays but they run them out of different formations and with different pre-snap motion. Outside Zone and Inside Zone is it and the interior players on the defenses have to be able to make plays to stop those run plays. having disruptive tackles is key because they can beat blockers to the spot and force the back to make their cut up the field before they want to. The linebackers have to be there on Outside Zone because your edge players will work to force the runner to cut inside if they play it right.

While the edges of the Irish defense are very good, Louisville will have to force them to prove that they were able to just reload at these key spot in the middle. The offensive line will be key to everything Louisville does on offense this year and they will get a very good test to build some confidence early on.

WILL BRYAN BROWN’S DEFENSE FIX THE ISSUES WITH STOPPING THE RUN

Louisville had one of the worst run defenses college football has seen since at least 2014 and I’m not exaggerating. When it comes to power five teams only; Oregon State and Cal have allowed more than six yards per carry over a full season over the last five years. It was bad and the single biggest question facing this defense is if they can fix the issues that led to all of the awful stats they put up.

The biggest issue with the run defense last year was run fits. Run fits are pretty much what they sound like as they are fitting gaps so that the running back can’t just run through an open hole. Here’s a good example of good run fits using App State’s game against PSU last year.

You can see how the line slants to the right and the safety comes up to fit the vacated gap on the left side. You can also see how the middle linebacker on the right side loops around a bit to get into the gap that the right end vacates. They essentially create a wall where the running doesn’t have a hole to run through. Seems simple but it takes everyone doing their job.

The Louisville front was the main issue with fits because instead of attacking gaps they just attacked the blocker in front of them. They allowed themselves to be washed out of the play and the linebackers just had to guess where to go. Bryan Brown’s defense has run fits built into the defense so that when a linemen goes a specific direction it is because they are attacking a gap and allowing the linebackers behind them to fill the vacated area. We never saw that last year and we all saw the result. If Brown has all of his guys on the same page and the buy in that we have all heard about is real, we could see a major improvement in the run defense.

LOUISVILLE WILL UTILIZE MOTION AND MISDIRECTION ON OFFENSE

Scott Satterfield’s offense has did a great job last year of utilizing misdirection in the scheme. They used orbit motion really well in my opinion because they could run the option out of it and they could mix in some trick plays. I expect them to use that motion a lot with Tutu Atwell in the slot as well as Javian Hawkins. The goal will be to get as much speed on the field as possible as well as forcing Notre Dame to react to everything they see. Some offenses use motion to get a hint on what type of coverage the defense is in but this offense will use it as a weapon.

The offense will feature jet sweeps, triple option plays, and basic run plays where the motion man is used as a dummy or to pull players out of the middle of the field. Louisville will put a ton of “eye candy” out there for ND to react to and sometimes that’s all you need to spring a guy loose. Louisville has very few advantages in this game but they have some guys that have the speed to break a big play. The misdirection aspects of the offense will help them do that.

NOTRE DAME’S EDGE PASS RUSHER COULD BE HELD IN CHECK

Below is a gif of the type of pass protection that I think we will see a lot this year.

It felt like the vast majority of the pass plays they ran last year had this zone play action scheme to it and it usually led to a very clean pocket for the quarterback. The line blocks like they would normally block Outside Zone and the h-back and running back take the backside of the play to double team the defensive end. I also saw a different blocking scheme where the backside tackle kicks the defensive end out and up the field with the back and h-back taking on the void left in front of the quarterback.

To me, it seems like this blocking scheme could actually neutralize Julian Okwara because he does his best work as an outside edge rusher who uses his speed to get around the edge. That’s a much harder thing to do when you have to get around this type of scheme. This all doesn’t work too well if the running game isn’t going but you can essentially slow down the pass rush and give Jawon Pass a lot more time to make a decision.

CHASE CLAYPOOL WILL BE A PROBLEM FOR LOUISVILLE

Louisville had plenty of issues covering receivers last year and I think the main issue was actually the lack of a pass rush. I’m not so sure that the pass rush will be improved to the point that they will be able to contain Ian Book. That part is key but having a 6-4/229 wide receiver like Claypool who is also very experienced and has shown improvement every year he’s been in South Bend. That’s just a tough matchup for anyone and if Book is able to sit comfortably in the pocket or if he’s able to slip out and extend plays, Claypool will be his main target.

What is rally worrisome is that ND uses Claypool to run the entire route tree. He will run everything from a shallow cross to a deep nine route down the sideline. He is also a much better runner after the catch than you would expect from such a big player. He’s the same size as the Irish’s second string tight end but runs like a slot guy. If the coverage issues we saw are still there, Claypool will go off and the same could be said if tackling is still a problem.