It’s been a while since I’ve stepped into the 18 Stripes film room. I apologize for my absence over the last year; I’ve been sequestered in a top secret facility, deep in the Canadian backcountry, training grizzly and black bears to be defensive linemen. Although, I’m not at liberty to share much in the way of details, I can tell you our work is going well. The foraging and mauling levels have been exceptionally high. If we can just get one of these bears into school, I think we’ll turn the college football world upside down.

This past Saturday the Notre Dame defensive line decided to forgo foraging and instead focused on mauling the Wolverine offense. The end result was a dominating performance that led the Fighting Irish to their first victory of the 2018 football season. In particular, the Irish used a variety of pre-snap looks and stunts to confuse the Michigan offensive line. Let’s take a look at the film and I’ll show you what I mean.

1st and 10 late in the 4th quarter. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea comes out with a pre-snap look designed to confuse the Michigan offensive line. They show a traditional 4-man front but add linebackers close to the line of scrimmage (yellow arrows). At this point, it’s hard for the Michigan offensive line to know if the linebackers will rush or drop.

The linebackers drop into coverage and Notre Dame uses a pretty standard 4-man rush (red arrows) with Daelin Hayes (# 9) and Julian Okwara (# 42) at defensive end and Khalid Kareem (# 53) and Jerry Tillery (#99) at defensive tackle. What’s interesting here is Kareem lining up in the interior, it almost seems like Notre Dame is setting something up.

It’s 2nd down after an incomplete pass by Michigan on the previous play. Look at the pre-snap alignment here. At first glance, it looks similar to the preceding screen shot in that there is a combination of down linemen and players standing up in a two-point stance close to the line of scrimmage.

However if you look a little more closely, this pre-snap alignment is actually quite a bit different from the pervious play. Okwara is now at the top of the screen (white arrow), Kareem remains lined up in the interior (green arrow), Hayes is lined up in the interior, in a two point stance (yellow arrow), while Jerry Tillery is lined up like a defensive end to the outside (red arrow). I sense Clark Lea is going to dial up some defensive line tomfoolery with a pre-snap alignment like this.

When the ball is snapped, Okwara is going to take a traditional outside pass rush (white arrow). Kareem is going to get crazy and loop all the way around to the outside (green arrow). Daelin Hayes is going to engage the guard and rush inside (yellow arrow) and Tillery will rush hard up field, engage the offensive tackle and then work to the inside (red arrow).

A fraction of a second after the snap. The non-traditional pass rush scheme the Irish employed has already created confusion on the Michigan offensive line. One of the guards (blue circle) is in no man’s land, lonely, hoping a defender will show up so he can make a block.

The confusion has spread. Our lonely guard remains lost (blue circle), still looking for someone to block. The funny thing is, before this screen shot he actually started to help block Okwara, however he quickly abandoned that strategy so he could return to covering an empty part of the field. The offensive tackle (blue arrow) lets Tillery go so he can focus on Kareem on the outside. Oddly enough, the center (purple arrow) completely ignores Tillery (red arrow) and for some bizarre reason chases Kareem on the perimeter. This reminds me of that scene from the movie the Other Guys where Will Ferrell’s ex-girlfriend chases him across the city. This odd decision leaves Jerry Tillery (red arrow) unblocked.  That seems like a bad idea.

Yup, that was a mistake. That’s Jerry Tillery (red arrow) knocking the ball (yellow circle) out of the quarterback’s hand as the rest of the defensive line closes in like hungry bears on a bloated moose carcass. Game over, the Irish win.

Final Thoughts

Talent and scheme are a deadly combination. There is little question that the Irish have talent on the defensive line. Based on early observations, it looks like Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea has developed a scheme that will compliment that talent. In back to back plays, the Irish provided a confusing pre-snap look. In one instance they came with a traditional 4-man rush, in the other they used a non-traditional pass rush that included a defensive line stunt. I think it might be a lot of fun watching the Notre Dame defensive line torture opposing offensive lines this year.