On Saturday, the Irish gave one of the best defensive efforts of the Brian Kelly era. A lot was made of Notre Dame's struggles against Navy and the supposed grudge Paul Johnson was harboring for Brian VanGorder. But the Irish came out with a solid gameplan that they executed flawlessly.
Notre Dame used three main defensive formations against Georgia Tech.
First, a standard 4-3 formation with two safeties.
Second, a 4-4 formation with a single high safety.
And third, the funky 3-5 formation with the single safety we saw last year against Navy, which Notre Dame used the most often on Saturday.
It should be noted that Notre Dame lined up in these three different formations on the first three defensive plays of the game, probably to give Georgia Tech something to think about early on.
Schematically, Notre Dame didn't do anything out of the ordinary. However, they did mix up assignments on the option every so often, switching responsibilities on the dive and quarterback or on the quarterback and pitch.
One thing Georgia Tech did to combat Notre Dame's defense was to take a page out of last year's Navy game. Last season, Navy lined up in a trips formation with one A-back lined up as a slot receiver on the same side as the other A-back. This pulled one of the Irish linebackers outside, but the other linebackers did not shift to compensate.
Navy then ran veer to the weak side where they had a numbers advantage.
On Georgia Tech's first third down, Tech lined up in their typical spread formation and then shifted to a trips formation. In response, Elijah Shumate shifted to cover the slot and Drue Tranquill moved from the outside linebacker spot to the safety spot.
This must have surprised Justin Thomas because he started making checks at the line and ultimately had to call timeout.
After the timeout, Tech runs the same shift and then runs counter option to the weak side.
The guard will block Joe Schmidt with the pulling guard blocking Tranquill. Thomas will option off Greer Martini.
But before the snap, Schmidt and Martini shift to the outside to balance out the formation with Tranquill moving from outside linebacker to safety.
The offensive guard expects Schmidt to be at the red star. Instead he's diagnosed the play and scrapes to the outside. This gives the Irish a numbers advantage. Schmidt, Martini, and Tranquill take on Thomas, Qua Searcy, and the pulling guard. The guard can block one defender and Thomas can option another, but someone will be free.
Martini trips but is able to force the pitch from Thomas. The pulling guard has two unblocked defenders in front of him and chooses to block Schmidt. Tranquill is loose and makes the tackle for loss.
This shows a nice adjustment by BVG and Bobby Elliot after getting burned by this formation repeatedly against Navy last year.
The biggest weakness of these single high safety defenses is its susceptibility to counters and misdirection. If the offense can block that safety or get him moving in the wrong direction then there should be a lot of room to run on the edges.
So Tech started running counter plays out of the trips formation to get the safety moving the wrong way.
Georgia Tech lined up in the trips formation and then put the slot man in motion. He then turned around and ran a pitch route on a counter option.
The goal is to get the safety moving the wrong way to get him out of the play. Tech then options off the defensive end and the outside linebacker, with the tackle blocking the middle linebacker and the A-back blocking the safety that was covering the slot receiver.
Shumate shuffles a few feet in the wrong direction. I'm not entirely sure what the offensive guard is doing. This play might be designed to go outside and the guard is blocking Sheldon Day.
Martini forces the pitch, but Searcy has room to run. Tranquill actually keeps his feet after the cut block attempt and forces Searcy inside towards Shumate. Georgia Tech still picks up an easy five yards.
There's not a lot more to go over schematically. But putting all of the X's and O's stuff aside, this game came down to a lot of individual plays, both good and bad.
Here's an examples of a good play.
Georgia Tech is running a veer and has Notre Dame beat already. The offensive tackle will block Shumate and the offensive guard will block Martini, while Thomas options off Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith. Joe Schmidt (circled) has to make a play from his backside middle linebacker position.
Jaylon is stuck between the QB and the pitch with no backup. But Schmidt is there tracking Thomas.
Schmidt makes it to Thomas from his backside position. Thomas has nowhere to go and Schmidt makes the tackle. I circled Shumate in this picture because he actually did a really nice job avoiding the cut block.
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, they had a number of issues in blocking. This led to several plays where ND had unblocked defenders.
Here, both the offensive guard and the offensive tackle block Greer Martini. This leaves Mathias Farley unblocked on the edge.
And here, Joe Schmidt runs right between the guard and tackle on a veer.
The tackle falls down and the guard block no one. Notre Dame ends up with three unblocked defenders on two Georgia Tech players.
These mistakes led to short gains or tackles for loss. This led to longer second downs and third downs, which ultimately led to punts.
So that's my breakdown of the game. Notre Dame fans should be very pleased with how the defense played against the option. Clearly, mistakes from last year's game against Navy were corrected. The defensive line took the B-back position out of the game and forced the ball to the sideline on almost every play, where the Notre Dame linebackers and safeties could use their speed to swarm to the ball. And when Tech made mistakes, the Irish were able to punish them.
Now let's hope this carries over to the Navy game.