Tackling issues plague Irish defense in romp
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 02:01
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — After his unit had underperformed in a 42-14 drubbing at the hands of Alabama following elite play all season, nose guard Louis Nix sat in the Notre Dame locker room amidst a throng of reporters, cameras and notepads.
The 340-pound lineman languished in the game’s aftermath, but stood firm in his explanation for the unit’s poor play.
“We missed tackles,” he said. “There isn’t any other way to explain it. We missed tackles and they got yards.
“We just didn’t play our ballgame, man. We missed tackles. Everything we did or had lined up should have worked, but we didn’t make tackles. That’s the ballgame.”
The Irish defense, which had allowed 20 or more points in just one game this season, yielded 21 on Alabama’s first three drives. Crimson Tide running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon ran wild on the Notre Dame defense for a combined two touchdowns and 248 yards, many of which were amassed after initial contact.
“We didn’t tie up the ball carrier, and that’s what happens,” Nix said. “They did not dominate us. You can call it what you want.”
Forty-four days passed between Notre Dame’s regular-season finale at USC on Nov. 24 and the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7, seemingly a day for each missed tackle registered by the Irish defense. But Notre Dame players steadfastly rejected the layoff as a reason for the lackluster performance.
“We needed to make plays but we didn’t,” junior linebacker Danny Spond said. “Coaches put us in positions where we had chances to get them down but we didn’t. We didn’t execute the way that we have all year.”
The 82-yard opening drive marked the first touchdown drive of more than 75 yards by a Notre Dame opponent this season. The two first-quarter Crimson Tide touchdowns — they completed a third on the first play of the second quarter — were the first touchdowns allowed in the opening stanza by the Irish all season.
One of the feathers in Notre Dame’s cap that propelled it to a 12-0 regular season also proved to be its downfall when it mattered most: its ability to jump in front of the opposition early.
“It is something that we are not used to, but not one time did we get our heads down,” Spond said. “We kept encouraging each other the whole time and I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates.”
Kelly said he attributes much of the tackling issues and defensive woes to Lacy’s playmaking ability, but that several factors played into the sluggish output.
“I think it’s a combination probably of three things,” Kelly said. “One, outstanding back; Lacy made us miss. I thought his ability to shake us down was outstanding.
“I have to evaluate whether I did a good enough job as the head coach in getting tackling done for our players. I think everything is on the table when you see so many missed tackles.
But again, that will require a little bit of research and looking at it a little bit more in depth. But I would put most of it on a really outstanding back in Lacy and the way he ran. I was very impressed with him tonight.”
The overwhelming vibe in the locker room following the game was of regret for the uncharacteristic performance.
“It’s disappointing. You feel bad,” Nix said. “You don’t want to go into a big ballgame missing tackles and causing your team to lose. Now it’s time to get better.”
Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o said he was disappointed the team did not represent Notre Dame the way it could have.
“ What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger,” Te’o said. “The best thing about this experience is it creates fire. It creates fuel for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving. And everybody here, everybody here tonight will be better because of it.”
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