Eye in the Sky: 4th and OT

Our final look at Notre Dame's offensive effort vs. the Spartans Saturday night.

Below is the conclusion of IrishEyes' full game-tape review of the Notre Dame offense vs. the Spartans.

First Notre Dame Drive/4th Quarter

Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 48-yard line with the score tied at 21 and 14:49 remaining. Skill position players for the drive included 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 remained at quarterback.

  • (1st and 10 at the ND 48-yard line): Armando Allen gains 8 yards on an inside draw run between Cave and Robinson, both of whom execute seal blocks while a pulling Stewart helps Robinson with DT Jerel Worthy. Dever missed at the second level but did make his assigned defender run around the block while Rudolph sealed the outside.
  • (2nd and 2 at the MSU 44-yard line): Allen powers for 3 yards behind Robinson and Dever, who completely controlled Spartans DE Tyler Hoover outside.
  • (1st and 10 at the MSU 41-yard line ): Crist's attempted flair to the near right side is batted down by Tyler Hoover
  • (2nd and 10 at the MSU 44-yard line): Crist executes his second left-handed shuffle pass of the contest to Allen, this time for 17 yards as Allen patiently cut left and outside for initial yardage before another cut and burst to the far sideline took the pigskin to the Spartans 24-yard line.
  • (1st and 10 at the 24-yard line): Crist hits Floyd for a stop-and-go touchdown from the near slot. Floyd froze Marcus Hyde with a hesitation near the 20-yard line before out-leaping Hyde along the back line for the score.

Drive Summary: He's playing very well, but right tackle Taylor Dever has failed to cut on flair passes at least twice (if not three) times this season. Safety Marcus Hyde had a very tough day in coverage for the Spartans.

Second Notre Dame Drive/4th Quarter

Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 19-yard line, holding a 28-21 advantage with 10:44 remaining. Jonas Gray entered the contest at tailback in place of Armando Allen.

  • (1st and 10 at the ND 19-yard line): Jonas Gray is held to no gain over the right side as Trevor Robinson misses his block in space vs. backup linebacker Jon Misch and Chris Stewart failed to cut NT Kevin Pickelman.
  • (2nd and 10 at the ND 19-yard line): A go-route to Floyd is broken up by cornerback Chris L. Rucker. Floyd lost Rucker with an inside shake and had Rucker by at least a step but Crist's pass hung and the gritty Spartans cornerback positioned one hand between Floyd's, deftly pulling the ball to the turf. A better pass results in either 40 yards or 81 and six points.
  • (3rd and 10 at the ND 19-yard line): Crist's scrambling pass to T.J. Jones is deflected on an athletic play by Spartans safety Marcus Hyde, whose leaping tip of Crist's against-the grain throw detours the ball away from the sliding (and open) freshman receiver who had settled between Spartans defenders. LT Zack Martin was also called for holding on the play; beaten by a spin move from Jon Misch. Martin has rarely exhibited such poor footwork through three contests as he did on this play.

Drive Summary: The missed opportunity to Floyd was costly. Crist has struggled with both distance and arc of his deep throws to date.

Third Notre Dame Drive/4th Quarter

Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 33-yard line with the score deadlocked at 28 and 7:38 remaining.

  • (1st and 10 at the ND 33-yard line): Allen gains two yards up the middle as no one secures an outside run blitz by Misch. Quite a game for the backup Spartans linebacker.
  • (2nd and 8 at the 35-yard line): Crist gains six yards on a scramble to his left, evading two would-be sackers before sprinting out of bounds. There was at least one more yard available to Crist on the sideline had he decided to run with more purpose toward the sticks.
  • (3rd and 2 at the 42-yard line): An old-school (shotgun) option play to the left is limited to two yards as Crist keeps following a brief fake pitch to Allen breaking toward the near sideline. Crist stuck his head in for the first down but was stopped by an unblocked Marcus Hyde, who covered a lot of ground coming forward to make the play. Chris Stewart also lost his block vs. Pickelman which also somewhat altered Crist's run toward the first down marker. The pitch to Allen would have gained 1st down yardage but it wasn't an easy angle for Crist as a natural right-hander.
  • (4th and 2 at the 42-yard line): Head coach Brian Kelly decided to forgo a punt with just over 6 minutes remaining in his own territory. The ensuing play had little chance as Crist bailed on his progression in the face of a five-man rush and was stopped short of the first down line on a hesitant scramble and fumble up the gut (the ball was knocked out of Crist's hands by left tackle Zack Martin who had maintained his pass protection for several seconds). Riddick broke open late in the play. Strange decision by Kelly to go for it

Drive Summary: I completely disagree with Kelly's choice to go for it with the game tied at 28 from his own 42 yard line. We're now 0-2 in alignment on such calls, the first of which was the oft-discussed FG/TD decision to end the half vs. Michigan. I assume Kelly at least "considered" kicking this time. Call it contrarian; call it aggressive; call it ill-advised…but "stupid" is apt as well. If that were Charlie Weis, he'd have been crucified nationwide.

Fourth Notre Dame Drive/4th Quarter

Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 9-yard line, deadlocked at 28. The loss of field position a direct result of the decision to go for it from their own 42-yard line one series earlier.

  • (1st and 10 at the ND 9-yard line): With good pocket protection, Crist throws too far inside of a covered Armando Allen incomplete.
  • (2nd and 10 at the 9-yard line): Allen sprints for 14 yards an a well-designed sprint draw to the left. Crist broke hard right before handing off to Allen running inside him to the offense's left. The senior runner used down blocks from Martin and Stewart to rumble untouched for nine yards before being corralled at the 23-yard line. Floyd held his outside seal block for the duration of the run.
  • (1st and 10 at the 23-yard line): Crist finds Allen for 10 yards on a flair to the near side. Floyd lost his block on the sidelines at the tail end after Rudolph and Martin both executed in Space (though Martin probably blocked the wrong man as Greg Jones was in the vicinity and made the stop; Martin chose the safety Hyde farther downfield). Allen again fumbled, this time out of bounds, at the end of the run.
  • (1st and 10 at the 33-yard line): A rolling Crist fires intentionally incomplete and out of bounds over a well-covered T.J. Jones.
  • (2nd and 10 at the 33-yard line): Crist finds Riddick for 6 yards on a quick slant in traffic. Riddick's 10th grab of the evening.
  • (3rd and 4 at the 39-yard line): Jones secures a three-yard catch but is popped one-yard short of the marker. Jones had to come back to receive the pass as Crist fired too far outside the initially open frosh. Riddick was open for an easy first down in the slot for the bulk of the pattern.

Drive Summary: The Irish still don't make the extra block downfield and don't seem to (noticeably) be the better conditioned team – at least not against either the Wolverines or Spartans. Notre Dame's pass-catchers stopped creating space in Saturday's 4th Quarter.

Final Notre Dame Drive/4th Quarter

Breakdown: The Irish began from their own 27-yard line due to a tough call vs. freshman Lo Wood. Wood's "near" block in the back negated a John Goodman punt return to midfield that set up the Irish offense with just 15-20 yards of necessary field position in order to attempt a realistic field goal. Instead, the Irish began deep in Spartans territory, nearly assuring overtime.

Facing a Cover 3, Crist threw high incomplete on 1st down (intended for Floyd over the middle). Center Braxston Cave was bulldozed by DT Jerel Worthy who had timed the center's snap count. The Irish then ran out the clock (Allen for 6 yards) to head to overtime.

End of Regulation Score: Notre Dame 28 MSU 28

Notre Dame's Overtime Possession

Breakdown: The Irish lost the toss and thus began at the MSU 25-yard line.

  • (1st and 10 at the 25-yard line): Crist pass to Riddick on a short hook is tipped at the line by Jerel Worthy.
  • (2nd and 10): Allen gains 7 yards off two impressive cutbacks to put the Irish in position for a crucial third down conversion.
  • (3rd and 3 at the 18-yard line): Crist fires an out from the slot to Rudolph but the all-star tight end ran his route one-yard short of the marker. Crist threw too early as both MSU defenders covered Rudolph, leaving Floyd wide open for an easy hook route on the left hash mark. The Spartans force a 4th and 1 on Notre Dame's first, and only, overtime possession.
  • The Irish take a 31-28 lead with a 33-yard field goal by David Ruffer, who has hit on nine consecutive attempts dating back to last November.

Fourth Quarter and Overtime Observations:

  • The Irish pass targets (receivers, ‘backs and tight ends) looked unusually sluggish in their routes in the final period Saturday.
  • Though this decision was far less controversial, I'd have utilized Crist on a (direct snap, not shotgun) quarterback sneak on 4th and 1 (it was actually less than one yard between Crist and a new set of downs) rather than going for the field goal. Kelly's decision, however, did not technically backfire as the Irish defense held the Spartans offense, forcing the well-publicized fake field goal touchdown that determined the contest on the ensuing possession.

Final Score: MSU 34 ND 31


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