Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 3, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 20 of 55 OCT. 3, 2016 21 O ne of Notre Dame's biggest defensive is- sues through the first three games of the sea- son has been its inability to tackle consistently. The Irish defense has had more than 40 missed tackles in the first three games of the season, which is a big rea- son opponents are averag- ing 198.7 rushing yards and 439.3 total yards per game. On top of giving up a lot of yards, Notre Dame's de- fensive players have missed out on several opportuni- ties for big plays. In the Michigan State game alone, freshman cornerback Julian Love missed a sack and se- nior cornerback Cole Luke allowed Michigan State to pick up a first down inside the Irish 10-yard line. Fixing the Notre Dame defense will not be easy, but simply getting the defenders to tackle better will make an immediate positive impact. Making changes in the middle of the season is not ideal, but there are several things the Irish defensive coaches could try to help improve the team's tackling. SIMPLIFY THE SCHEME Defensive coordinator Brian Van- Gorder has talked about the com- plexity of his defensive scheme, and the problems it can cause opponents. The issue for Notre Dame in recent seasons — and especially in 2016 — is that it has created problems for his own players as well. In order to execute the complex scheme, Notre Dame — like all teams that run similarly advanced schemes — must devote a great deal of prac- tice time to lining up, making the correct pre-snap calls, and getting comfortable with the checks based on the alignment of the offense and with the diverse post-snap calls. This takes away from time spent in practice focusing on the funda- mentals of how to play the game. Narrowing its focus from a scheme standpoint will give the Irish defense more time to spend on technique. Simplifying the scheme will also al- low the Irish players to go about their business with far more confidence. It would likely result in less thinking and more reacting, something that has kept the Irish defense from play- ing as fast as it can and should. Playing faster will result in the de- fenders being more physical. BACK TO BASICS Whether or not Notre Dame sim- plifies its scheme, it will certainly focus on the basics of tackling. Head coach Brian Kelly has said as much in recent interviews, noting the need for his defensive players to start playing with better fundamentals. There are several things the Notre Dame defenders must start doing to improve their tackling. First and fore- most is starting to play under control. Kelly has talked about the need for his defenders to get in "proper posi- tion and going from speed to power." What Kelly is saying here is that his defenders are not doing a good enough job of breaking down and getting ready to make sound tackles. Far too many Notre Dame players are going in too fast and are out of control when they look to make a tackle. This results in them either be- ing juked, or when they arrive at the ball carrier they do not have the nec- essary lower body power to make a strong tackle. Expect the Notre Dame staff to spend a great deal of time re-teaching the play- ers the proper tackling form of coming to a balance and then exploding their hips through the point of contact. Notre Dame's players have shown a tendency to stop their feet when they make contact, which can also be addressed right away. The Irish defenders have also shown a bad habit of trying to tackle ball carriers high around their chest. Working on getting them to aim lower — near the ball carriers mid- section — will also improve the team's tackling. TACKLING IN PRACTICE During a mid-week player press conference following Notre Dame's 36-28 loss to Michigan State, several Irish defenders noted the practices that week were far more physical than they were used to. Amping up tackling in practice is difficult to do for an entire season, but it can certainly serve an immediate benefit. With the defense about to face several talented running backs in up- coming games — including Stanford's 2015 Heisman runner up Christian McCaffrey and Miami's 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Yearby — the Irish need to challenge themselves in practice. Notre Dame's defenders need to be able to apply the basics of tackling on a more consistent basis, and only tack- ling in games makes that difficult. By being more physical in practice and al- lowing defensive players to have stron- ger contact, the defenders will be able to emphasize the necessary tackling technique in more live game situations. This type of practice can also help the offensive players, who have not been as effective at breaking tackles and making defenders miss as have opposing ball carriers. ✦ Improving Tackling CHALK TALK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at The Irish defenders need to play with better fundamentals after compiling more than 40 missed tackles in the first three games. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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