First Notre Dame Drive
Breakdown: The Irish began the contest from their own 24-yard line. Skill position starters include Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, Kyle Rudolph and Armando Allen. The offensive line (from left to right): Zack Martin, Chris Stewart, Braxston Cave, Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever. Dayne Crist took every snap at quarterback on Saturday.
- (1st and 10 at own 24-yard line): Crist receives good protection (only Dever ever relinquished his block) and hit Riddick on a short cross. Appeared to be the right read vs. a two-deep zone though Riddick was hit immediately and dropped for a two-yard gain.
- (2nd and 8 at 26-yard line): Behind a rolling pocket to the right, Crist hits T.J. Jones on a quick out just before the marker, gaining 7 yards to the far side.
- (3rd and 1 at the 33-yard line): Allen picks up a first-down up the gut thanks to seal blocks from Cave at the point and Martin moving down the line as well as a second level hit by Stewart on Spartans MLB Greg Jones. Rudolph aids with a backside wham block in motion and Robinson made enough contact with WLB Eric Gordon to ensure the yardage.
- (1st and 10 at the 37-yard line): A quick tunnel screen to Allen split right gains 8 yards. Dever lost his block vs. Gordon in space and Rudolph lost Greg Jones on the backside (was actually running a decoy route, not blocking) or Allen could have done some damage.
- (2nd and 3 from the ND 44-yard line): A quick out to a slotted Riddick gains 4 yards and an Irish first down. The Spartans showed solid tackling after the catch early vs. both Riddick and Allen.
- (1st and 10 at midfield): Crist's swing to a slotted Rudolph to the open right side is behind the target. A "near" lateral but ruled incomplete. Poor throw by Crist though a trailing Greg Jones had diagnosed the play anyway.
- (2nd and 10 at midfield): The Spartans limit Crist to 3-yards on a quarterback draw. ND exacerbates the upcoming 3rd and 7 situation with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on 5th-year senior Chris Stewart, who took exception to Gordon's post-tackle treatment of Crist (he appeared to stand over him, though briefly). The ill-advised push in Gordon's back after the play (if you're going to protect your quarterback, do so with a shot that the defender will remember) costs the Irish 15 yards, setting up 3rd and long, killing the promising opening drive.
- (3rd and 22 at the ND 37-yard line): Crist hits Rudolph for a gain of 7 yards on a quick slant. Crist bailed on the progression too early, though the Irish patterns included four shallow slants, and were thus looking to save field position after a strong start to the contest.
Drive Summary: Stewart's penalty was representative of a Christmas-Day bowl program. Protecting your quarterback is essential: but do so with a vicious hit at the echo of the whistle over the next few plays, not a two-handed shove to the back…
Second Notre Dame Drive
Breakdown: Following a Michigan State punt, the Irish began from their own 39-yard line (Kelly's safe call on 3rd and 22 the previous series paid field position dividends).
- (1st and 10 at the ND 39-yard line): Allen gains 4 pushing forward through the tackle of Chris Norman. Cave found Greg Jones late in space on a pulling block, but no one accounted for the Spartans safety Norman on a run blitz. Zack Martin completely sealed Colin Neely on the outside.
- (2nd and 6 at the 43-yard line): Crist missed Riddick to the outside as the slotted receiver ran a short out. Not an aggressive set of routes by the Irish who ran a pair of hooks at six yards with a pair of short outs underneath them. Crist failed to go through his progressions as both hooks would have resulted in catches at the 1st down marker.
- (3rd and 6 at the 43-yard line): Crist executes a deceptive left-handed shuffle pass to Allen (between two unblocked blitzers); Allen does the rest with a quick cut through traffic and a gain of 18 yards down the left seam of the Spartans defense. A good block in space by Riddick and a nice cut block outside by T.J. Jones provided Allen a running lane. As has been the case with most draws or delays this season, Zack Martin executed his block, this time sealing the RDE inside.
- (1st and 10 at the Spartans 39-yard line): Crist throws incomplete to Rudolph on a designed roll. Good throw by Crist that drilled Rudolph in both hands…maybe a bit too much heat behind the pass, but Rudolph can handle those throws.
- (2nd and 10 at the 39-yard line): Allen gains five yards on a counter to the right side, following Stewart's pull block over right guard and bulling his way through two tacklers.
- 3rd and 5 at the 34-yard line): Crist's accurate slant route bounces off Floyd's hands. Tentative route by Floyd.
- (4th and 5 at the 34-yard line): The Irish fail to get the play off, changing the distance to 4th and 10. This penalty was rightly attributed to Crist (more on that later). The Irish are forced to punt in an effort to maintain a field position advantage. Ben Turk's offering bounced off the side of his foot, dying at the 19-yard line…a net gain of just 19 yards.
Drive Summary: Neither of Crist's potential All-Americans helped him on the drive; then a late audible killed a makeable 4th and 5 opportunity. The Irish have yet to stress the Spartans secondary with a legitimate deep option through two series.
Third Notre Dame Drive
Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 20-yard line following a 62-yard boot by Aaron Bates. Tailback Cierre Wood and wide receiver Duval Kamara replace Allen and Jones for the start of the drive. Junior wide receiver John Goodman briefly replaced Michael Floyd after the latter was shaken up following a diving attempt.
- (1st and 10 at the ND 20-yard line): With no crease in front of him, Wood gains minimal yardage into the line of scrimmage.
- (2nd and 9 at the 21-yard line): Crist hits Floyd on a near side slant for a gain of 12 yards. Strong, leaping catch by Floyd though he fumbled on the way down (and made an impressive, tough one-handed recovery).
- (1st and 10 at the 33-yard line): Crist throws behind and incomplete to Riddick on a bubble screen. Two poor throws on lateral screens by Crist: this particular play could have gained yardage had Riddick broken one trailing tackle.
- (2nd and 10 at the 33-yard line): After looking to his right for a flair pass to Wood, Crist wheels left and hits Riddick on a tunnel screen. The former running back does the rest, unleashing an ankle-twisting spin move vs. safety Marcus Hyde to get to the second level, then running through the trailing backers and defensive backs for a gain of 17 yards and an Irish first down. More impressive: Riddick's second cut made All American Greg Jones miss badly in space. The play of the year (at that point) by Theo Riddick.
- (1st and 10 at midfield): Crist throws incomplete to Floyd deep down the left sideline. Not a bad toss but Floyd looked a touch slow getting into his final steps (and dive) for the leading pass.
- (2nd and 10 at midfield): With great pocket protection, Crist hits Rudolph on a 17-yard square in from the right slot. That particular zone coverage was a recipe for disaster for the Spartans – a shallow cross by Riddick drew middle linebacker Greg Jones up to the line of scrimmage to carve an easy passing lane for the Irish.
- (1st and 10 at the 33-yard line): Following an Irish timeout due to play signaling confusion (appeared to be the on-field players fault, not the sideline's), Crist misses Rudolph on a flag route to the left corner. Rudolph was a bit late in his break and Crist made a wise choice to lead the receiver with a safety coming over to help deep.
- (2nd and 10 at the 33-yard line): Armando Allen's blitz pickup provides Crist with good protection and the junior hits Rudolph on another right-to-left cross, this time for 17 yards to the Spartans 16-yard line and an Irish first down. An excellent catch in traffic by Rudolph and good protection up front by the Irish. A personal foul (roughing Crist) takes the football to the MSU 7-yard line).
- (1st and Goal at the 7-yard line): Crist throws a far side fade into single coverage to Michael Floyd, who deftly pushes off and makes a nice grab despite mistiming his jump (while sailing away from the football).
Drive Summary: Floyd should catch 10 more touchdowns in that manner this season as a wide-side receiver. A near-side Floyd is simply too easy to double cover. (Jones caught his square-in TD vs. Purdue as a wide side, outside receiver as well).
First Quarter Observations:
- An impressive effort in the opening period; with three sustained drives in three chances. The Irish should have had points in the opening drive as well but a stupid personal foul penalty by a smart player cost the offense.
- Armando Allen is quite simply a quality football player.
- Rudolph is an inside force…the Irish should make an effort to get T.J. Jones involved early as true freshman generally benefit from an early dose of confidence. It was obvious Brian Kelly wanted to get Theo Riddick off to a quick start as Crist targeted the sophomore for five passes in the opening period.