Report Card: Army vs. Notre Dame

In the first football game played at the new Yankee Stadium, Army was badly outclassed and out played by Notre Dame, 27-3. After stopping the Irish's opening drive with an Donovan Travis interception, the Black Knights drove 77 yards for a field goal to take the lead. That was essentially it for the Army offense as they produced...

...a paltry 97 total yards against the Irish's 4-4 wishbone defense scheme the rest of the game. It was a bitterly disappointing performance on a national stage for an Army offense that entered this game averaging 31 points per contest. The loss drops the Black Knights record to 6-5 and while Notre Dame improved to 6-5 and became bowl eligible.



Notre Dame

Army opened the game with Trent Steelman running waggle action and hitting Davyd Brooks with a short pass for a 27 yard completion. That basically was Army's passing offense for the night. Steelman completed only 2-of-7 passes for 39 yards and threw two costly interceptions. Steelman drew some criticism for running and not passing to Jared Hassin who broke open in end zone on the first drive. In fairness to Trent that play was a run pass option with Hassin's used as a blocker on that play. Hassin ad libbed into the pattern after the play started to breakdown so it wasn't in Steelman's check down read to look for Jared. Notre Dame played a 4-4 wishbone defense with the safety spying the Army motion back and the two corners playing press coverage. It was clear early that Army didn't have the speed at receiver or the time to create separation down the field. Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields tried to attack Notre Dame's coverage by rolling away from pitch back motion that was drawing the safety out of the middle of the field in the second half. It didn't work as Steelman poorly threw two passes that were intercepted. On the first drive of the second half Steelman badly overthrew slotback John Crucitti. Cornerback Darius Walls intercepted the pass and returned 42 yards for a touchdown and essentially ended Army's hopes. He threw backside where Raymond Maples was well covered on a wheel route and was intercepted. Wide receiver George Jordan had a nice diving 12-yard reception for the only other Army catch. The offensive line's pass blocking was respectable since the Irish had sacked the box and then Army did throw it was often five blocking seven players The Black Knight front allowed no sacks. Backup Max Jenkins attempted one pass which he badly under threw.
Army ran for a season low 135 yards and averaged just 3.1 yards a carry. Don't believe the TV hype that Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco reinvented the wheel or at least how to defend the option. Diaco had his team run a conventional 4-4 wishbone defense cover 3 with the free safety taking the pitch man. ND covered up the guards and tackles which helped their linebackers to run free. There were some openings but after the first drive something always seemed to breakdown for the Black Knights. Quarterback Trent Steelman made a number of poor reads during the first half on three consecutive three and outs. He made some head scratching decisions reading the option making the Fighting Irish job easier. Steelman ran for only 24 yards on 14 carries. He showed quick feet on a quarterback scramble he turned into a 16-yard run avoiding two ND defensive linemen. For the first time this year, when healthy, Jared Hassin was a non factor at fullback. Hassin produced just 23 yards on 8 carries with his longest run being four yards as Notre Dame committed to taking away the fullback. Brian Cobbs ran well on the opening drive. Brian made a nice move to slip the Irish safety Smith but was shaken up and didn't play much after that tackle. Cobbs carried five times for 23 yards. He also missed a cut block in the first half that prevented Raymond Maples from getting a first down. With Cobbs out and Malcolm Brown still unavailable Army just wasn't able to get to the corner. There were way too many missed blocks on the perimeter. Plebe Jon Crucitti has played well in spot duty this year but seemed a little overwhelmed in the spotlight as he dropped an option pitch and uncharacteristically badly fanned on a few blocks. On the opening drive Crucitti probably would have had a touchdown if he went outside Pat Mealy's block instead of cutting inside and getting tripped up. Pat Mealy carried six times for 31 yards. Mealy isn't running as well as he did earlier in the year since he hurt his knee. Raymond Maples ran five times for 10 yards but rarely found any room. Army's offensive line was beaten at the point of attack as the Fighting Irish did a great job limiting their ability to get to the second level and cut block linebackers and safeties.
The Black Knights weren't unable to generate any pressure and as usual when that happens they aren't the same team. Notre Dame's quarterback Rees had plenty of time to pass as he completed 13-of-20 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. Josh McNary is playing hurt and isn't the same player right now. Early in the game he flushed Rees from the pocket only to see him run away from him for a five yard gain. McNary hasn't recorded a sack in the four games since he hurt his hamstring. Notre Dame's tight end Tyler Eifert beat Army on two deep patterns. First he outran rover Steve Erzinger, who didn't have bad coverage, and made a diving catch at the one to set up the Irish first touchdown. Later in second quarter Eifert raced past Stephen Anderson, and Donovan Travis was slow with help over top to score, on a 31-yard touchdown pass. Anderson deflected a pass attempt on the opening drive that Donovan Travis, who had four tackles, and1 pass knocked down, intercepted in the end zone. Richard King, who had five tackles, drew Irish star Michael Floyd often and had some trouble but limited the damage and kept Floyd out of the end zone. SAM safety Donnie Dixon made three tackles. Jordan Trimble had five tackles. Cornerback Josh Jackson did a solid job in coverage.
Army battled all game despite being over matched up front and spending an inordinate amount of time on the field. The Fighting Irish ran for 155 yards and averaged 4.1 yards a carry. Mike linebacker Stephen Anderson led the Black Knights with ten tackles. Jarrett Mackey had a good game making seven tackles. Whip linebacker Chad Littlejohn, after being easily outrun by Cierre Wood on the opening drive was replaced by Bill Prosko. Prosko had the best performance of his career as he posted eight tackles. Rover Steve Erzinger made six tackles and forced a fumble.
Alex Carlton hit a 20-yard field goal on the opening drive. Jonathan Bulls first punt was a costly shank that traveled just 12 yards and set up an easy 40 yard touchdown drive for Notre Dame. Bulls punted well the rest of the game. For the game Bulls punted seven times for a 37.3 yards per punt average. He hit a 48-yard punt and placed two inside the 20-yard line. Army's coverage teams that had a rare bad day against Kent State were once again outstanding against Notre dame. The punt coverage team allowed only three of seven punts to be returned for a negative four yards. The kickoff return team allowed an average of 14 1/2 yards on two returns. Josh Jackson returned five kickoffs 86 yards including a 31 yard run up the sideline he nearly broke. Jackson didn't return any punts. Bulls' shanked first punt was costly but the rest of the night the special teams played so well they deserve a B grade.
Offensive coordinator Ian Shields adjustments to Notre Dame 4-4 wishbone defense with the safety mirroring the pitch back didn't work. After the first series Notre Dame had their corners play press coverage as they moved ten defenders into the box at times. Shields' attempts to run waggle action roll outs failed as receivers didn't create separation and Steelman threw two interceptions. With the Irish defense using a four man front covering the guards and tackles the Black Knight line wasn't able to get to the second level. Notre Dame was able to run the alley and force deeper pitches that went nowhere as the A & C backs ran into a wall of Notre Dame defenders. I thought Shields would have been better served if he switched to the double slot formation of last year to help block on the perimeter. I understand why he did it, since they're were nearly ten Irish players in the box, but I didn't like the second and third down passes to open the second half. The interception return for a touchdown killed any Army hopes. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland used the flex front to try to create pressure but the Irish did a good job picking up their stunts inside. Without a healthy McNary the Army defense has struggled to create pressure and negative plays.
Army's defense was on the field a very long time yet yielded only 20 points. The offense did virtually nothing after the opening drive. The special teams after the disastrous first punt did a great job making Notre Dame drive the field. This team doesn't have a ton of talent and Notre Dame was better but its failure to execute on offense was disappointing.

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