The Notre Dame staff is as close to a “dream team” of linebackers coaches as any college football program.
They have an experienced NFL linebacker coach as a defensive coordinator, a former Butkus Award winner as a graduate assistant, and the head coach is the former defensive coordinator who coached linebackers in college. for over a decade. There are very few college football programs that can match this level of experience as a position coach.
That’s why it’s all the more puzzling that Notre Dame linebackers haven’t played near expectations this season. Over five games, the linebackers contributed just 7.5 total Havoc plays.
The linebackers totaled 39.5 Havoc plays as a group in 2021 and 46 in 2020. If that pace continues, it would be a drastic drop in production. That would be less than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah self-produces in a single season.
It’s not just a lack of play either. Notre Dame’s run defense hasn’t been very good. They are currently 83rd in yards per carry against and 112th in EPA (expected points added) per carry. It’s not all about the linebackers, but they take some of the blame.
Is it the staff? Maybe, but there are things I’ve seen from all the players playing now that suggest they’re capable of being much better.
Jack Kiser tripping and shooting wide to make a tackle for loss on this play is a perfect example. It’s the kind of play we’ve seen Drew White play many times at Notre Dame. Kiser doesn’t wait for the guard to come to him. He sees it and leaves.
It’s the same kind of thing here with Marist Liufau. He’s downhill, shooting through the A gap and disrupting this play.
JD Bertrand must take a block here, but he does not expect it. He hits the guard and throws the block quickly to make a tackle.
That’s what everyone wants to see from linebacker. There just aren’t enough.
There are many more that look like this. Here is a split zone run for BYU where they run blocking the zone one way and bringing the tight end in to block the back end.
I think a lot of people looked at this piece and wondered what the hell Liufau was doing here. Why doesn’t it flow with the area? He’s unlocked, so why isn’t he filling up to make that tackle? He should be the one making this game.
It’s pretty clear that he’s playing the potential quarterback guard. Maybe he sees the tight end shooting and thinks the tight end is coming in and leading for the quarterback. It’s something Notre Dame did a bit with Tyler Buchner (although I don’t remember seeing it from BYU).
The Vyper on this play, Isaiah Foskey, sees the zone the opposite way and he also thinks he’s being read by the quarterback, which is why he’s not crashing harder on this block.
Only Liufau and the staff know what’s going on here and whether or not they insist he needs to be ready for the quarterback to keep him, but he’s not filling in for a reason. He’s also not helped by Jayson Ademilola, the defensive tackle at his side, who is behind on the ball here and gets washed out by the double team.
It’s also a split zone later in the game and Bertrand is the inside linebacker here. He doesn’t play quarterback, so maybe it was a tweak they saw that was corrected earlier or Liufau was just plain wrong in that previous game.
Bertrand plays this right, but he hits the back from three meters and it ends in a gain of six meters. Nobody wants to see that much after a contact when a linebacker is unblocked.
It must be said that the defensive tackles are still too far from the ball here. The inside linebackers weren’t getting much help from them and it’s a fact that a linebacker’s job is much easier when the defensive line in front of him is disruptive. They weren’t there.
And that end game is another example of how the forward doesn’t help the linebackers. It’s the split zone again and Gabriel Rubio is behind on the ball. He blocks too easily and finds himself on the ground and eliminates Bertrand.
Bertrand also needs to react quicker to that wide area and maybe he won’t get caught if that happens, but again better defensive tackle work in front of him gives him a better chance to play.
What is DJ Brown doing here running with the tight end not playing the run? He could have been there to tackle if he had stayed home, but he’s clearly assigned to cover that tight end in men’s coverage and that’s what BYU does.
They lead play action out of the wide area and have hacked up defenses with it over the past few years.
Brown sees the exit tight and it’s just instinct taking over because he’s probably seen a lot of looks similar to this on a movie where it was an action game. I think it’s more of a smart wrinkle on BYU’s part to have that tight end to mess up the safety than it’s a big mistake by Brown.
Linebackers need to be better for Notre Dame against the run. They should be better. Defensive tackles not named Howard Cross should be too and they weren’t great in this game.
There are glimmers of hope with the players playing right now. Those flashes need to turn into consistent play, though, or we’ll continue to see a lack of play from linebacker.