Eye in the Sky: Offensive Backfield

A full film review of Irish quarterbacks and running backs in Saturday's contest vs. the Wolverines.

A closer look at the play of the Irish offensive backfield in Saturday's loss to Michigan.

Dayne Crist

First attempt was batted down by Ryan Van Bergen on the left side; Crist had spring game issues with batted balls at scrimmage and they've continued early this fall…Stood strong in the face of pocket pressure to deliver a downfield strike to Kyle Rudolph for a 3rd and 14 conversion on the opening drive…Executed a perfect spring-option fake to Allen, then burst over the vacated right side for 19 yards to the UM 18 for a first down; the ensuing collision proved to be the cause of Crist's blurry vision for the remainder of the half…Missed Rudolph down the seam one play later with NG Mike Martin barreling in; Crist threw to Floyd instead but put no arc under his corner route throw…

Showed good mobility to elude Mouton on an uncovered blitz, then incredible poise, strength and quickness to score a touchdown (called back) on a cut-back run from the left hash to the opposite end zone pylon…Scored on first of what should be multiple QB sneak touchdowns to stake the Irish to a 7-0 lead on opening drive.

Sat out the remainder of the half with blurred vision in his right eye.

Second Half: Fired a tad outside of Michael Floyd on his first second-half pass but Floyd could have helped him out with the catch…Followed that throw with a semi-roll right and sideline strike to T.J. Jones for a 53-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 21-14; looked like a dropped coverage by the Wolverines' secondary, either that or terribly late help from the field side safety…Again escaped the rush, this time hitting Floyd on a scramble and comeback for an 11-yard gain…

Drilled a skinny post to Floyd for an 11-yard gain to the Wolverines 6-yard line; a tad earlier and inside would have allowed Floyd to catch, brace, and look to break a tackle rather than lunge for the catch…Threw high and outside of Rudolph in the back of the end zone on 2nd and goal from the 6-yard line – it appeared Crist had room to run but his concussion/blurred vision likely played a part in the decision…

Became the second Irish QB of the day to be victimized by Mouton in pass coverage as his scrambling pass downfield to Rudolph was tipped by the talented weak side backer and intercepted by safety Jordan Kovacs. Crist has spun to extricate himself to the left of the pocket prior to the throw…Could not escape a delayed, unblocked blitz from his right side as Michael Cox threw him to the ground for an 11-yard loss while Crist attempted to spin out of the tackle; a momentum-killer that resulted in 3rd and 18 with one play remaining in the 3rd Quarter.

4th Quarter: Poor two-handed shuffle to Allen caused the mishandle, but Allen gained 5 with authority anyway…Fired a bit behind a wide open Kyle Rudolph down the right seam for a gain of 20 yards; Rudolph had 30-35 with a perfect throw…Bounced a pass behind a wide open Rudolph two plays later but I think that one's on Rudolph for not recognizing he was open and turning his head for the easy pitch-and-catch…

Missed Floyd on a makeable throw with room to the corner, overthrowing deep…Rushed/miscommunication on a throw to Riddick down the right seam the following play when he had Floyd open on a slant from left to right and T.J. Jones uncovered outside right…Threw too early – he had a perfect pocket – and missed Rudolph by 10 yards after the big tight end split the post deep, though he would have needed a nice throw to the outside shoulder for a completion; Crist had Floyd breaking open on a delayed in-route underneath…(Crist struggled in the pocket on this set of downs, a 3-and-out)…

Showed incredible patience in the pocket before he unleashed a perfect 45-yard seam pass to Rudolph for Notre Dame's play of the season: a 95-yard go-ahead touchdown catch and run that shook the House that Rockne Built to its core.

Strike to Floyd outside left then outside right to begin the final drive…Inexcusable to end the game with a pass from the 27-yard line into the stands as Crist must give his athletes a chance to make the catch.

Observations: I still prefer Crist outside the pocket more often than not…Strong and elusive in the pocket, Crist will be a superstar if he stays for a 5th season through 2012 (and awfully good in 2011, I might add)…Bad throw by Crist and a less-than-inspiring play call by Kelly on the game's final play.

Armando Allen

An ill-advised (and obvious) block-in-the-back disallowed a fantastic scrambling touchdown run by Crist on the first drive…Nice "anger" tackle of Mouton on the latter's interception, driving him to the ground…Stopped for no gain at the line on Nate Montana's first snap: UM simply put an extra man up front, outnumbering the otherwise well-blocked play…Failed to cut Craig Roh on Roh's pass breakup of Nate Montana's first career pass…

2nd Quarter: Made the first defender miss then ran for three extra yards on his first run to daylight: a 10-yard carry with just over 7 minutes remaining…Followed with an incredible 13-yard run to the short side; for the second straight week, I'm noting this as one of the five best runs of Allen's career: Allen made two defenders miss, the first with a vicious cutback, the second by spinning under a tackle – both behind the line of scrimmage. He finished the run by putting safety Cameron Gordon on his backside out of bounds…Later showed speed to the outside forced a horse-collar tackle penalty on Jonas Mouton, giving the Irish new life and a fresh set of downs near the end of the half…

Second Half: Took a toss-pitch right 29 yards over right tackle to begin the half's second series. Allen stepped out of bounds at the UM 44-yard line or he would have taken the carry inside the 10-yard line (where he simply veered off balance out of bounds). About eight yards downfield, the senior set up cornerback J.T. Floyd with a hard juke inside before bursting down the sidelines…Followed that with a 12-yard gain to the same side, running behind a pulling Robinson, another fine block from Eifert and a good lead by Robert Hughes…Made an unblocked Mike Martin miss in short space the next play, turning a 2-yard loss into a 3-yard gain up the middle…

4th Quarter: Gained five yards after fumbling a toss pitch right, first retrieving the ball, then making a contain defender miss outside before absolutely pounding Michigan safety Cameron Gordon to the ground to finish the head first run, dislodging Gordon's helmet in the process.

Observations: Absolutely must stay healthy this season or the Irish running game will be a 50/50 proposition each week…Armando Allen is by far the team's best running back at this point; its not even up for discussion.

Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes

Inserted late in the first quarter, Hughes was overmatched in a 2nd and 7 solo situation vs. Jonas Mouton, who shed the senior to stop Allen for no gain outside…

Second Half: Nice burst by Gray on a delayed draw to gain 10 yards over the left side on the half's second series…Though it appeared to be his assignment, Hughes blocked no one (Eifert took care of S Jordan Kovacs) on Allen's 9-yard gain to the left side. Had Hughes, aligned as a fullback left, simply continued to search for a block he'd have picked up Allen's eventual tackler and there was no other defender on the left side: that's how a 20 or 40-yard gain is reduced to 9…Gained 13 yards as an outlet receiver on 3rd and 19, including at least six after the catch while making two defenders miss in space. The Irish were forced to punt to end the 3rd.

Observations: Hughes' early role is far less prominent than I anticipated; I'd like to see Gray work in five or more carries per game. His hands and run-after-catch skill in the screen game could help with two road games on tap over the next three weeks as well.

Cierre Wood

Nowhere to go on his first carry as the only unblocked defender, Jordan Kovacs, slipped around the outside edge for a form tackle; Wood looked for a cutback lane early but found nothing.

2nd Quarter: There was little room vs. the 8-man front, but Wood danced too much on his first carry of the second period; sometimes you have to stick your head in there and get two yards rather than cut outside and duck your head…

Observations: Ran tentatively and received no second half carries as a result. Wood will need to bounce back in a tough environment next week in East Lansing.

Nate Montana

First career pass batted down at the line by the athletic, 6'5" Craig Roh…Showed good deception on first zone-read keeper, then toughness after a 7-yard gain but Irish had to punt facing 4th and 3 deep in their own end…Another pass batted down, this time by an uncovered blitz by OLB Brandon Herron

Hit his first career completion on a cross to Rudolph but the tight end was stopped one yard short of the marker after fighting for six yards and the Irish were forced to punt (a hustling Mike Martin made the play downfield from his nose position after initially attempting to rush Montana).

2nd Quarter: Dangerous throw on the run to Tyler Eifert but the sophomore tight end bailed him out with a tough catch in traffic – the first of his career…Showed good pocket presence on a scramble and throw to Riddick (complete but out of bounds, nice grab, incidentally), but Montana appeared to miss a relatively open Floyd during his roll to the right side (then again, that technically would have been a throw back over the middle, which is frowned upon)…Terrible decision on his interception: Montana tried to fire one late through a UM defender to a double-covered Floyd…

Bounced back with a controlled roll to Kyle Rudolph for 9 yards…Threw poorly and low to Rudolph four plays later on a short out vs. zone coverage to force a punt…Ran hard on a designed draw for 1st down yardage in the final minute but the play was called back due to holding…Overshot Floyd high on a roll right with 24 seconds remaining (also threw too far outside to Floyd's covered shoulder)…

Escaped two sacks in the pocket on the following play and found the sidelines to stop the clock…Had Riddick for a touchdown on his roll left but the ball sailed toward the boundary for a 37-yard completion at the 3-yard line…Caught a case of the "yips" on his final play, throwing into the stands to end the half; Rudolph was open on the dig route inside but Montana tried a corner to Floyd, a no-no vs. zone coverage.

Observations: Look for an offense that keeps Montana on the move (rolling pocket; read-option; bootlegs) should he return in relief of Crist this season.

Tommy Rees

Reportedly made the wrong read during his flea-flicker interception, checking down from a far side post-pattern to a seemingly covered (or at least the CB was in position) T.J. Jones down the post and instead attempting to hit Theo Riddick on a right-to-left cross; the pass was intercepted on a fantastic reactive pass drop by Jonas Mouton, who initially bit on the handoff to Allen, but expertly dropped back into his zone and made the play on the ball. Great play by Mouton; late throw by Rees, but decidedly not the wrong read (Jones was completely covered). The mistake was that he patted the ball and thus threw late over the middle.

Pulled the string on his second pass, missing low and outside to Riddick on a shallow turn out from the slot – his last throw of the contest.

Observations: Put in a tough position and was victimized by a fantastic play from a strong college linebacker. Rees will be fine, but too much was asked of him on his first college series.

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