Film Study: What January’s Fiesta Bowl Matchup Can Tell Us About Notre Dame’s Game Plan for Jim Knowles’ Defense

There are a lot of unknowns for Saturday night’s game between Ohio State and Notre Dame.

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The visiting Irish will be led by a 36-year-old head coach, Marcus Freeman, who served on the sidelines once before the game at Ohio Stadium. Also, true sophomore Tyler Buchner was Freeman’s choice for the ND offense under center, the first start of his career, and he attempted just 35 passes in his career at the collegiate level.

Of course, their opponents still have plenty of questions to answer.

Jim Knowles was brought in with much fanfare and is expected to return to a moribund defense immediately, keeping the program from reaching its lofty goals over the past two seasons. But there are plenty of Buckeye fans out there who must be wondering how quickly his presence will be felt.

In most cases, a match like this in the first week would lead many writers like this to give a Bosa bro ¯_(ツ)_/¯ when asked to predict the outcome ahead of time. This time, however, we can expect a pretty clear blueprint when the Irish try to shift the ball to Knowles’ defense, as we can simply turn on footage of their last game.

Although most readers of this site remember January 1 as Jaxson Smith-Njibage After his record performance in Pasadena that night, different OSU fans recalled that day for different reasons. Oklahoma State’s victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl was hailed as the biggest victory in program history, after the Cowboys beat Ireland 37-35 by 21 points in Freeman’s head coaching debut.

While the former Buckeyes linebacker has made some adjustments to the coaching staff since officially taking over as Brian Kelly, the offensive think tank has largely remained the same, with Tommy Reese calling for the game for the third straight season. While his opponent Knowles has left Stillwater for Columbus in preparation for the bowl, the rest of his staff remains in place, like the player who won one of the nation’s best defenses last year.

“You just have to prepare for what you see in the movies,” Rees said of Knowles’ departure ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. “I can’t imagine in 14 games they’re going to deviate from what they’ve had. They might have a few wrinkles, but at the end of the day, you have to be prepared for what you see in the movies and be prepared to deal with what they throw at them. any of ours.”

For those familiar with Knowles’ Cowboys defense, the situation looked largely the same against the Irish without him. Longtime defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements doesn’t appear to have changed much since taking over coordinator duties on an interim basis, proving Reese’s predictions about what to expect are correct.

“They have different players on all three levels. When asked about his preparations for the Cowboys, Rees added that what they did was varied.” Three down, four down, three high Safe…you have to really prepare for the unknown. There’s a lot going on in their plans, and you have to make sure you’re preparing for what they keep coming back for. Be prepared and adjust for it. ”

Regardless, Reese’s assessment is correct, and the Irish appear to be well-prepared for the system Knowles devised, at least early on. Without running back Karen Williams, the Irish turned to attacking Oregon State through the air, breaking Wisconsin’s pre-Jack Cohen career high with 68 attempts that afternoon in the desert.

After leaving Madison for the 2020 season and moving to South Bend for his final year, Cohen struggled to find a rhythm early in the season. But by the time the Fiesta Bowl rolled in, he had clearly grown more comfortable in Reese’s system, and the 30-year-old was looking to attack weaknesses in the Cowboys’ system.

Corners played softly in their game as OSU safety played aggressively early in the game dormitory If the Irish chose to throw the ball, they knew they were actually on the island, the report said. Coan seemed more than happy to hit and break the ball repeatedly near the sideline, using these wide pads to move the ball with ease throughout the first half.

During Kelly’s first few seasons, the Irish could easily be described as a “professional spread” offense, combining a larger base staff (often using two tight ends in place of the more common three-catcher look) and the usual Options concept.Ian Booker has provided a sizable running threat at the QB position over the past three seasons, and these options are typical District reading Concept everywhere.

The Irishman, however, has turned into a solid man with the mobility-impaired Cohen under centre RPO Teams, often pack fast modes, such as the obstacle seen above with inside runs.

Against the Cowboys, Reese was more crafty, running effective triple-select games in which All-American tight end Michael Meyer became the pitcher, taking horizontal arrow lines into those unprotected flats.

Reese seemed more than happy to take what the Oregon State defense gave him. With the Cowboys middle school putting seven or eight defenders in the frontcourt matchup, and aggressive passing rushes looking to break pockets, the Irishman easily picked up chunks of yardage through delayed running back screens.

Without Williams, backup Kristelli may have struggled to move the ball on the ground, registering just 18 yards on six carries. But as demonstrated above, he was very involved in Ireland’s passing offense, completing six passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.

That touchdown is worth pointing out because it was due to one of the weaknesses of Knowles’ method. The veteran defensive coordinator is known for going all out on the third knockdown, and Clements followed suit on the 3rd and 7th early on.

Trailing 14-0 and looking to regain momentum at the end of the first quarter, Clements dispatched seven defenders for an all-out blitz, leaving only four defensive backs to cover alone. But that blitz was supposed to stay behind to help stop the blitz, rather than slipping through for one of the easiest 53-yard catch runs we’ve ever seen.

The Cowboys were reluctant to call that pressure after that lengthy touchdown, but Reese continued to dial in passing concepts that benefit his personnel. As it turned out, Mayer was nearly unguarded in the red zone, proving he was capable of escaping the safety of the Cowboys in single coverage…

…and when fighting for the ball near the goal line, he also uses his big frame and great hands to surround smaller defenders like McAllister.

“We knew he was going to be a big part of their offensive plan,” OSU safety Colby Javier Peele said of Mayer after the game. “You don’t really realize how big he is until you go out and try to cover him.”

But as the game went on, the Oklahoma State guards who seemed caught off guard early on started playing more and more. Reese only has so many tricks, and after the Cowboys saw it once, they proved capable of stopping it a second time.

McAllister, who followed Knowles to Columbus and is expected to start at the same spot in the Buckeyes on Saturday night, had multiple strong second-half performances, diagnosing pre-steal alignment and simply overtaking opponents to play. .

More notably, the OSU corner no longer uses such a large pad, taking away those quick throws to the edge, which not only helps ND move the ball but also seems to get Coan into a good rhythm.

“In the first half, they had a lot of quick play, a lot of quick play, and we played for about seven or eight yards,” Cowboys cornerback Jabbar Mohammed said of his team’s halftime adjustment. “The whole point at half-time is that we have to stand up and face them; we have to be aggressive. That’s what we do. I think that’s what we should do from the jump. That’s us.”

Although there were many concepts at their disposal in Knowles’ vast playbook, the Cowboys made their way through the second half by employing a large number of simple Unattended coverage (cover 1), betting their officers against the more touted Irish. While Notre Dame seems to have been recruiting Oklahoma State, the veteran defenseman, who has long been mentored by Knowles, has proven to be quick to read and react.

There’s no better example than an interception by senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez late in the fourth quarter, effectively sealing the Cowboys’ comeback win while playing robber Role in other-to-people programs.

“We knew they ended up with a lot of empty plays, and they were hitting the hashtags,” Rodriguez said of his key pick. “We’re in one’s freedom and I kind of lured them to a receiver. And I know – like I said, they hit the hash mark. I kind of got into the hash and he ended up throwing it in the ha Hope.”

The 5-foot-11 quarterback Rodriguez was the 1,529th recruit in the class of 2017 after high school. But the Cowboys’ senior leader made the most of the school’s biggest win by keeping it simple.

“Joe Bob [Clements] And the defenders want to be more aggressive,” Rodriguez added when asked about his team’s turnaround in the second half. “We went to our basic calls. It’s one of those things we throw punches at the line of scrimmage. We pressed. We played in the first half and it didn’t work. So we came in and adjusted a little bit and went to face them; we wanted to play aggressive, but it worked in the end. ”

Perhaps because this focus on fundamentals and intuition has proven to be the difference between his former team and his upcoming opponent, Knowles downplayed the importance of the Carnival Bowl game as he prepares for Saturday’s game against Notre Dame sex.

“It’s been a great game to see what Oklahoma State does, to see what our opponents do, but it’s just another game,” Knowles said this week. “It’s just one of the many games you see.”

Unlike the seasoned crew of Reese and the Irishman, seen in Glendale, Arizona, eight months ago, Knowles has only a few months to train on his new charge. While the Buckeyes defense may be talented on paper, it remains to be seen whether they can respond in a well-crafted game plan like the rest of OS.

Luckily for them, Rees isn’t playing with a proven veteran, which means he’s likely to play a lot less minutes than he did in his final game with a 5th-year senior. Much, as was the case in January. But it’s still a coordinator who has proven capable of igniting a program Buckeye fans are so excited to see as Cohen threw for 509 yards in the desert that day, 202 more than the previous high the Cowboys capitulated all season. code.

Despite Reece’s team’s massive yardage confrontation with a sane system a few months ago, the young OC still has a lot of respect for Knowles and can speak from experience as he discusses the challenges ahead of the Irishman on Saturday night.

“They’ve done a really good job of mixing up the front line, and I think they’ve done a really good job of keeping their players simple but complicating the offense,” Rees explained last week. On the page, you can operate. Coach Knowles does a great job of creating indecision for the offense.”

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