Notre Dame Ready For Michigan State's Press Coverage
Some quarterbacks shy away from throwing to receivers in press coverage, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer said. There’s an intimidation factor there for quarterbacks with receivers in tight isolated coverage.
The Irish wideouts will see plenty of it Saturday against Michigan State, and it’s a defensive scheme that Kizer is confident the Notre Dame offense can exploit.
“We have an opportunity with receivers that we recruit to kind of expose that island,” Kizer said.
Press coverage was one of the hallmarks of former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi during his tenure from 2007-14. He took that same philosophy and applied it as head coach at Pittsburgh, and Irish senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. said he watched last year’s game against the Panthers while preparing for the Spartans.
For Narduzzi, as well as MSU head coach Mark Dantonio — who climbed the coaching ladder as a defensive assistant — press coverage simply matches the team’s identity.
“Our front is an attacking front and the press corner fits the mentality of the defense,” said Narduzzi at a 2011 coaching clinic.
At the same clinic, Dantonio was quoted as saying it actually takes a better player to play off the receiver than in press coverage.
"If the corner can run and has good balance, he will be a better press player than an off-player," Dantonio said.
Notre Dame saw plenty of press coverage in its matchup with Michigan State in 2013, a 17-13 Notre Dame win in which the Irish drew numerous pass interference penalties. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he feels this year’s group of receivers is in a better position to make plays against that coverage.
“I think we have a way to get off the line of scrimmage against anybody,” Kelly said. “We work hard on it every single day. You know, in terms of being balanced, if you can't get off the line of scrimmage, you can't throw the football. So it's something we do every single day, and I'm not concerned with releases with our wide receivers.
“We're going to get off the ball. What we have to do is we have to throw the ball and we have to catch it. We're going to be in those positions where we're going to throw it and catch it. We're going to have to make some catches against man-to-man coverages and we're going to have to be accurate throwing it. I'm not concerned about getting off the line.”
Kelly’s advice to the receivers getting jammed at the line of scrimmage: run, run, run.
“Really we've just got to run, like Coach Kelly said, man,” said Hunter, who missed the Nevada game after suffering a concussion against Texas. “Just be as physical as they are, because they're going to be physical, they're going to try to push you out of bounds, they're going to grab and hold, and they say they're not going to call the pass interference plays that are out there. But they're going to do it every time and test you just to see what your manhood is like. So we've got to go out there and be just as physical as they are.”
Under third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, the Irish haven't been a press coverage team for the most part, though this season they are playing it about a quarter of their snaps.
Junior receiver Corey Holmes sees less press coverage matched up in the slot, though he said he feels prepared having seen plenty of it in practice.
“It shouldn’t be any different; just a different face in front of us on Saturday,” Holmes said.
The receiver talent to beat intense press coverage is there, Kizer said. His job is to deliver the ball accurately and on time, and take advantage with slot receivers like Holmes and sophomore C.J. Sanders getting zoned off.
Picking his spots outside against the press and taking advantage is the key.
"We have the receivers who are playing at a high level right now who have seen press coverage all offseason and in camp against some of our guys who have been successful against press coverage," Kizer said. "We've got to make sure we get the ball out there when the time comes.
“I mean, we play against press coverage every game. We've been playing against press coverage all the time. (Michigan State) is just a team that's known for it. They like to play it a little bit more than others, but it's not anything we haven't seen before.”