Swinney breaks down the Irish's defense
Trevor Lawrence and the rest of the Clemson offense better be on their P’s and Q’s when they face the Notre Dame defense on Dec. 29 in the 83rd Cotton Bowl Classic.
Head coach Dabo Swinney says the Irish do more after the snap than any defense the Tigers have seen this season. It’s one of the main reasons why the Irish are so efficient on defense.
“That is where we really have to do a good job with our preparations,” Swinney said as the Tigers continue bowl preparations for the College Football Playoff Semifinal. “They give you one thing pre-snap, but post snap is when all the magic happens. So, they do a nice job with some of their disguises.”
Notre Dame (12-0) is led on the back end by All-American cornerback Julian Love, who had 15 passes broken up this season. Safety Jalen Elliott leads the team with four interceptions and has broken up six passes. Corner Troy Pride has two interceptions and nine PBUs.
“They play a lot of one safety, but they have different techniques with how they do that,” Swinney said. “Sometimes they line up in it and they play it, and sometimes they end up in it. There is a lot of two-man, a lot of one-man, a lot of quarters coverage. They will get into some quarters hash stuff.
“They do a nice job of mixing it up and they mix their techniques up with it as far as whether they play up and press you, or they are off and they come in. We have to be really schooled up on these guys post snap. This is a big game where there are post-snap decisions that have to be made by everybody, not just the quarterback.”
The Irish are allowing just 198 yards a game through the air, while their defensive passing efficiency rating is 100.8, the fourth best mark in the country.
They have broken up 56 passes this year and have allowed just seven touchdown passes. Even more impressive is the fact six of those were allowed in the red zone, which means they have been beat 20 yards or longer on a touchdown just once all season.
Of course, a lot of the success on the back end of the Notre Dame defense is due to what it has been able to do on its front end. The Irish has 31 sacks this year and 19 of those have come from one of their four-defensive linemen.
That means most of the time they do not bring any more than four players at the quarterback and they still get after him.
All-American defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is a big reason why. At 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, Tillery pushes the pocket and creates one-on-one matches on the edges for defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem.
“They do a good job with their pressures up front,” Swinney said. “They are a four-man front, but they stand the end up most of the time, which is a little different. You can easily think they are an odd front, but they play mostly a four-man front, but then they do a good job post snap.
“We’ve got to be locked in up front. They do a nice job. This is the best D-Line we have played across the board. They do a nice job of scheming up your protections and things like that.”