Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 3, 2016

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

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6 OCT. 3, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY MATT JONES F ollowing a brutal defensive per‑ formance against Michigan State, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly faced many questions afterward about his team's poor tackling and what can possibly be done to fix the issues. The Irish defense was exposed for the second time this season in the 36‑28 loss to the Spartans, a game in which defensive coordinator Brian Van‑ Gorder's troops surrendered 501 total yards (including 260 on the ground). "We have to do a better job coming to balance," Kelly said. "Tackling to me, there is a sense of control within tackling. Sometimes we're not in a good base with our tackling. We've got to do a better job coaching it." There were many glaring examples of Notre Dame's inability to tackle against Michigan State. To name a few … • Senior cornerback Cole Luke's whiff against wide receiver R.J. Shel‑ ton on second‑and‑10, which set up the Spartans' third touchdown. • Freshman cornerback Julian Love's out‑of‑control blitz on second‑and‑five midway through the second quarter. • Junior safety Drue Tranquill's missed tackle on running back L.J. Scott on a touchdown run up the mid‑ dle to make it 29‑7 in the third quarter. "I think we're a little bit out of con‑ trol in our tackling," Kelly said. "Our safety position has missed some key tackles. We've got to be in a better position on run fits and tackle. We're just a little bit out of control, quite frankly. We've got to come to balance and just be fundamentally a little bit better in terms of our tackling fits." The same questions were raised to Kelly after Notre Dame's season opener against Texas. In the 50‑47 double‑overtime loss, the Irish had trouble bringing down powerful run‑ first quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and running backs D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren. The Notre Dame players said af‑ ter the game that tackling was an increased focus in the lead up to the Nevada game. "That's something we're going to have to work on a lot moving for‑ ward," Luke said of the tackling after the Texas game. "… It's not where we wanted it to be obviously, and you could see that it took advantage of us at times. I can't really harp on it too much, we've got to move forward." The Irish responded with a better defensive performance against the outmanned Wolf Pack in a 39‑10 vic‑ tory. But the issues popped up again against the physical Spartans, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry against Notre Dame. Kelly does not believe that safety measures in the game of football — less tackling in practice, etc. — have led to Notre Dame's struggles this season. The most drastic example of changes in the sport is the Ivy League eliminating in‑season tackling in practice this season, an aggressive move designed to combat growing concerns about brain trauma and other injuries in the sport. "I don't believe that the safety has anything to do with the poor tackling," Kelly said. "That's just my opinion." Instead, it boils down to a lack of fundamentals on the part of the play‑ ers, which highlights a need to coach better. "I tracked all of our missed tackles, every single one of them is just poor fundamentally," Kelly said. "Out of control, not being in control of their body. And if we're just in a better position, a better football position, if we just put ourselves in front of the ball carrier and get run over and hold on for dear life, they're only going to get another yard or two. "I think we have alternatives to teach it safely. They're just too anx‑ ious. They're either behind the play and they're just late in recognizing and trying to make up for it and they're out of control, or they're try‑ ing to block tackle and should be in a good fit tackle position." Kelly used the phrase "speed to power" when describing the right way to tackle, something the Irish have been inconsistent in doing. Too many times, Kelly said, Notre Dame players do not break down, going "speed to speed," which leads to the missed tackles. Notre Dame typically does not do "thud" practices during the season, meaning players go through the speed portion of the technique but instead of hitting they just "whiz" or run by the ball carrier. That changed in the week leading up to Duke. The Irish spent 20 min‑ utes hitting each other, which they normally don't, doing thud tackling. "I'm just looking to coach better," Kelly said. "So we're going to thud up everybody, which is going to put us in a power position on everything that we whistle off. "If we just make some tackles on Saturday, we're in a much better po‑ sition." ✦ UNDER THE DOME FUNDAMENTALLY BAD Brian Kelly and the Irish focus on improving the tackling Notre Dame's defense struggled to tackle against Michigan State, leading to 260 rushing yards allowed in the 36-28 loss. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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