The Irish kick of the 2011 football season on Saturday facing a very talented South Florida team. The Bulls will bring a very stout defense to Notre Dame Stadium this weekend, and an explosive quarterback who has certainly gained the attention of the Irish defense.
Junior quarterback B.J. Daniels will lead the Bulls offense on Saturday, and he’s undoubtedly a weapon who the Irish have focused on in preparations for Saturday’s game.
“It's been a challenge for every single opponent that they've faced every time he's ever been at quarterback,” said Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco of Daniels. “He's an outstanding, athletic player, and he's not just fast. He's got vision. He has not only short-sprint quickness, but he's got long speed, and he's a big player, so he's got contact balance. It's a challenge. It's a problem. We work to manage it. Any time you’re in battle with a great opponent there is going to be where they get theirs and we get ours.”
Facing an explosive and elusive quarterback can create problems for any defensive line and Irish d-line coach Mike Elston says his unit is well aware of the problems a quarterback like Daniels can create.
“You’ve got to spend some time on it, but anybody that you play that has a quarterback that breaks contain or has designed plays to break contain, you’ve got to prepare for that,” Elston said. “We spend a lot of time with the defensive line on understanding what the rush lanes are, and who is responsible for what. That wouldn’t change if we were playing Denard Robinson or Andrew Luck. You’ve got to make sure he doesn’t break contain and get on the perimeter and hurt our defense.
“We have to be locked into our assignment. We have to know if we’re contain or the inside pocket-pusher on the left or the inside pocket-pusher on the right. We have to stay in our rush lanes, even if he breaks contain. There’s a lot of sprints and a lot of (bootlegs). Keeping our rush lane responsibilities are important. Having guys fresh……. because chasing a scrambling quarterback wears you out, so making sure that we can keep guys fresh and they can go full speed at all times.”
Senior defensive end Ethan Johnson has watched a lot of film of Daniels and he agrees that the Bulls quarterback is a talented player.
“He’s very dangerous,” Johnson said of Daniels. “He’s got some great jukes. He’s a fast guy. He can throw the ball on the run and while he’s in the pocket, so we’ve got to be able to play both.”
Developing a Pass Rush
The Irish finished the 2010 season with 27 sacks on the year---ranked No. 54 in the country in total sacks. The Notre Dame defense would love to increase those numbers this season starting on Saturday versus the Bulls and Daniels. Seniors Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are both hoping another year in the Irish defense, plus some added strength and quickness will help equate to more sacks and quarterback pressure in 2011.
Elston says his unit has focused on developing a better pass rush this fall, and he believes we’ll see more production out of his unit and Johnson and Lewis-Moore this season.
“We work on technique first,” Elston explained when asked what they’ve done to improve pressure on the quarterback this season. “Making sure the guys understand the different types of moves they can use, and then clue them into the situation. I think there were a lot of times last year where the guys didn’t understand what the situation of the game was to really cut it loose. We can help them with some calls, but at the end of the day they have to look at the sideline and see the down and distance and have a plan. (You) have a plan for how they’re going to attack the opponent.”
“I think you’re going to see two improved guys….to what level, we’ll find out on Saturday,” Elston said of Johnson and Lewis-Moore. “They’re definitely more comfortable carrying their weight around than they were a year ago.”
The weight is the added pounds both Lewis-Moore and Johnson were required to gain last season in this new Irish defense. Both players had to gain considerable mass in 2010, and now both say they feel much more comfortable carrying the extra pounds this season.
“I feel like I move so much better now,” Johnson said. “I’m in so much better shape. I just feel so much better than I did last year at this time. I feel so much stronger. I’m just excited I can knock the blockers back, like I struggled to do early on last season. I became a much better knock-back player against the run and transition into pass a lot faster because of that knock-back ability. I feel like I’m going to have that this year.”
“When you get a little bit stronger you can bull-rush a little bit,” added Lewis-Moore. “I feel like I can go inside or outside.”
Both players feel just being in the system one more year will be a big advantage for them on Saturday and throughout the 2012 season.
“I think we’re a lot smarter,” said Lewis-Moore. “That’s something we’ve been kind of focusing on. Watching film from last year, that wasn’t really our strong point as a defensive line. We’ve got to get pressure on the quarterback. That’s something that we’ve really been working on.”
Lewis-Moore also believes working against one of Notre Dame’s top offensive linemen will help him as well on Saturday.
“I’ve been going against Zach (Martin) for a very long time,” he said. “He’s a great offensive lineman, and he helps me get better, and I feel like I help him get better. I feel like Zach’s the best offensive lineman that I’m going to go against. He knows everything I do, and when I’m going to do this and when I’m going to do that. Zach’s been helping me out a lot.”
Johnson says just understanding your role in the defense and having another year in the defense will really help him on Saturday.
“I think just the fact that we’ve been in the system another year and we know what the coaches want from us, and the coaches have identified certain guys that that’s their knack to do, and it’s going to be a lot of fun getting after the quarterback.,” he said.
“I’m going to do my best to be one of those guys,” Johnson added.
Many expect freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt to also add a great deal of pressure on opposing quarterback this season. Both players have opened a lot of eyes among the Irish defense including Johnson and Lewis-Moore.
“They’re learning at a very fast pace,” Lewis-Moore said of Lynch and Tuitt. “They’re getting the job done, and I think they’re going to be very good. They have talent through the roof.”
Johnson agrees both are very talented, but he also added that practicing and playing in a game are two different things---something he quickly learned his first game playing as a true freshmen.
“It’s a different speed than even 1s versus 1s,” he said. “Guys aren’t trying to really get after each other in 1s versus 1s. Game day is just something different. Double teams are faster and harder. It’s just faster.
“When I was a freshman I got in on third downs and that was about it. I got my butt handed to me a few times. I wasn’t that strong or as strong as I am now. Even in warm-ups, I think someone pancaked me because they were going a different speed because it was game day and I didn’t realize. Warm-ups, you’re getting prepared for that game speed and it’s different. I’m glad I got pancaked on my first warm-up and my first play.”
The Irish certainly have the talent to develop a great pass rush this season. They have very strong and more agile veterans returning with a lot to prove in 2011, and some very talented freshmen who also want to make a name for themselves and gain some playing time this season. This is usually a great recipe for future success……we’ll see how much success starting Saturday.