Eye in the Sky: OL and RB

A full film review of Notre Dame's offensive line and running backs during Saturday's loss to the Naval Academy.

Offensive Linemen

The Notre Dame offensive line was beaten badly by the Academy version of the Fearsome Foursome: Jabaree Tuani, Shane Bothel, Billy Yarborough and super sub Chase Burge. Tuani is the biggest of the lot at 265 pounds.

For the second consecutive season, Navy destroyed the Irish up front, proving again the old football adage: Low Man Wins…

Right Tackle Zack Martin: Perfect on his initial deep-set pass-drop of the game but the right side failed Dayne Crist who scrambled for 13 yards…Missed his block on an otherwise well-called QB draw from the Navy 8-yard line and Crist was limited to two yards; the Irish QB had a hole if not for this tackle from behind…Along with Chris Stewart, opened a nice hole for Cierre Wood near the goal line on 3rd and 4 but Wood was stopped just short of pay dirt…Perfect cut block to open an outside lane for T.J. Jones on a speed option run. Jones came in motion and hit the corner at full speed for 8 yards…

Poorly executed cut block on the third offensive series helped limit Allen to 3 yards over the left side…Shoved DT Chase Burge (who had a productive game) 10 yards inside two snaps later to aid Allen on a 12-yard gain and a 3rd and 1 conversion past mid-field…Couldn't get to an outside blitz by OLB Aaron McCauley and Crist was forced to throw incomplete on 2nd and 14 from the Navy 16-yard line. One of the few instances this season in which Martin was beaten wide (as a left tackle) on a speed rush.

2nd Half: Nice backside cut block on an 8-yard gain by Allen…Solid effort at the point to spring Allen for 19 yards around the left side after the Middies took a 35-10 lead…Held his edge block on Notre Dame's key 4th and 10 attempt late in the quarter - relevant in that no one else did.

If pressed for an answer I'd offer Martin as the team's best offensive lineman on Saturday.

Right Guard Trevor Robinson: Stood up at the point by ILB Tyler Simmons (237 pounds) and Allen is stopped for no gain…Got just enough of his block during Allen's 18-yard gain, but contact was minimal for Robinson downfield…Tremendous block in space, securing the middle ‘backer to pave a path for Cierre Wood up the gut on a 13-yard gain down to the Navy 8-yard line…Was the only offensive lineman to execute his block on a 3-yard gain by Allen (third series). Robinson cut his man adroitly in space.

Missed a pulling block in space on a read-option run by Crist who was limited to five yards when there was at least 10 available had Robinson shielded his defender.

2nd Half: Absolutely stoned linebacker Tyler Simmons on a pull to his left to pave a path for Armando Allen and a 7-yard gain to midfield. Best block of the day by an Irish O-Lineman…After a seal block on the next play that helped gain 8, Robinson failed to pick up a looping stunt by RDE Billy Yarborough, who pressured Crist into a poor throw intercepted (but ruled out of bounds) on the right sideline…Bullied into the pocket during 4th and 10 pass protection by Navy nose guard Shane Bothel (252 pounds) and the determined Midshipmen defender buried Crist: the definitive kill shot in the contest with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Robinson was simply outmuscled and overwhelmed by a defender listed as 43 pounds his junior…Pancaked within one second of the snap on Cierre Wood's 2-yard touchdown run over the right side. Robinson consistently failed to finish his blocks vs. the Midshipmen and was overwhelmed far too often for a three-year starter.

Center Braxston Cave: Completely dominated RDE Billy Yarborough on second handoff but teammates didn't follow suit and Allen gained just four yards…Failed to secure nose guard who slid down the line to stop Allen for no gain…Fair effort (considering it was 16 yards downfield) on a screen play block vs. Navy safety De'Von Richardson…Nice seal block on RDE to aid Wood on an opening drive gain of 13-yards…Tremendous cut block in space on the next snap but play gained only two yards behind him…Along with Chris Stewart, afforded Crist NO room on 4th and G QB sneak. Inexcusable effort by 650 pounds of offensive line vs. 490 pounds of Midshipmen with true grit…Dominant effort on 2nd and 3 block to pave a path for Allen's 4-yard, chain-moving run.

With the Irish backed up to their own goal and facing 2nd and 10 with 2:35 remaining, a designed keeper by Dayne Crist is limited to three yards as Cave whiffs on LB Max Blue in space. Quality blocking by the rest of the line (Robinson and Stewart especially) and by both Duval Kamara and Tyler Eifert on the play that had 12-14 yards written all over it. (Crist threw a pick on the following snap).

2nd Half: Strong effort on the nose, and then again at the second level but Allen gained just three yards up the gut due to unblocked (apparently unassigned) backside pursuit…

Left Guard Chris Stewart: Lost his initial block on the opening play vs. 240-pound DE Billy Yarborough (figured I'd announce his weight early in the column) and Allen was limited to two yards up the gut. Cave found his block in space and Robinson won his matchup as well…Allowed middle linebacker Max Blue to slip his block and help limit Allen to four on the following carry…Gave the Midshipmen a dose of their own medicine with a borderline cut block on Allen's 18-yard screen catch-and-run…Awful effort on 4th and Goal QB sneak (but Crist didn't help matters).

Failed to control nose tackle Shane Bothel in space and Allen was limited to three yards over the right side as a result.

2nd Half: Whiffed on a backside cut block (didn't bring his feet) but Allen gained 8 yards the other way…Won at the point on Allen's 19-yard sprint left one series later…Received help from Cave to control a bull-rushing Chase Burge but Dever and Robinson were beaten badly on a drive-ending sack…Received credit for a pancake block of a falling defender when he actually failed to execute his assignment in space. At least CBS had a chance to highlight him as the Scholar-Athlete of the day following the play.

Left Tackle Matt Romine: Executed a fine seal on the initial stretch run to the right side as Allen gained 4 yards…Good base initially but was then pushed into the backfield by RDE Jabari Tuani (impressive player) to force Crist out of the pocket for a 13-yard scramble and Irish first down…Ran directly into Chris Stewart (who had his defender controlled) on a pull attempt down the line (Wood gained zero)…Lost his block on the next play, a stretch run to the right and Wood is again limited to one yard…Shoved back into Crist by Jabaree Tuani on a 2nd and 10 snap from the Navy 28-yard line and Crist failed to gain on the necessary scramble forward…Again overwhelmed by a Tuani bull rush on the following play and Crist's scramble to the right and ensuing lob to T.J. Jones fell incomplete. Tuani was simply too much for the Irish on successive plays.

2nd half: Returned to start the second half and was able to ward off the outside rush of Tuani, allowing Crist time to find T.J. Jones on a shallow cross and 13-yard gain on ND's first possession…Pushed back into the pocket on Crist's poorly thrown pick intended for Duval Kamara to open the second half. Returned two series later (Notre Dame's final offensive drive) and was promptly controlled on the edge, then shed by Tuani who slammed down Cierre Wood for a 5-yard loss…Helped pave a path for Cierre Wood on his 2-yard touchdown run to finish the day offensively for the Irish.

Observation: Offensive line coach Ed Warinner and head coach Brian Kelly have noted that the spread offense allows for side flexibility among its offensive tackles (and guards). That has not played out on the field on game day as Romine struggled mightily in his first game on the right side and Martin was below his expected level in his two-game switch as well.

Right Tackle Taylor Dever: Made his debut on Notre Dame's third drive and was late on a kick-out block on the near sideline; Allen limited to the minimum 7-yard gain as a result…Late again later in the drive and his assignment helped slow Allen on a 12-yard gain…Beaten initially but adjusted nicely with a last-ditch cut block to give Crist a 3rd and 3 throwing lane for a 1st Down to the Navy 27-yard line...Hit in the mouth and shoved to the ground by a Jabaree Tuani bull rush. Crist was forced to roll right and his ensuing ill-advised throw was picked off at the Irish 30-yard line. Bad decision and throw, but it's the little things that ruin plays for average football teams.

2nd Half: Beaten by a Tuani countermove and the Midshipmen DE hit Crist's wrist just as he threw, setting up 4th and 10 at the Navy 24-yard line with the Irish buried in a 35-10 deficit…Beaten by a Yarborough spin move that would have resulted in a Crist sack on the next play but Trevor Robinson's assigned defender had already felled the Irish QB.

Observation: Not yet fully recovered from his Week Five hamstring injury: Dever showed what Kelly noted was an issue in practice since the injury occurred in Chestnut Hill, that Dever can't execute a proper set in his pass drop. Like Romine, struggled giving up too much ground to Navy's vastly underrated pass rusher who had a counter for his highly effective bull rush.

Running Backs

Wood danced early but improved and played hard when the game was decided (you want that from the team's future) while Allen performed admirably at far less than full strength. Senior Robert Hughes did not receive a carry vs. the undersized Midshipmen.

Armando Allen: No room on his first three carries as either Stewart, Cave or Robinson lost a block on separate occasions…Gained an gingerly 18 yards on a well-designed screen play during the first drive but showed little of his pre-hip injury quickness on the play. It was apparent early that Allen was not at full strength (there were at least 18 yards to be gained on the play…he gained the minimum)…Sat out the end of the first series following the play and the entire second Irish drive but re-entered on Notre Dame's third series (early 2nd Quarter) and immediately gained 7 yards on a near-side screen…Plowed ahead behind a big block by Braxston Cave for four yards on the ensuing 2nd and 3 snap…Best run of the day: a 12-yard cutback over the left side in which he ran through three ankle tackles to easily convert a 3rd and 1 over midfield.

2nd Half: Good quickness through the hole on 1st and 10 to gain 7 but Allen was again felled by an ankle tackle in pursuit at the second level…Ran through contact on the following snap for 8 yards and a first down. Allen received a good push from Cave, Robinson and Romine on the play while Martin executed a backside cut (Stewart somewhat hit his)…Showed patience followed by a decent burst around the left side for 19 yards after Navy extended the lead to 35-10…Aided Dever by chipping the left shoulder of Tuani on a designed roll left that resulted in a 9-yard cross to Mike Ragone. Allen had missed a similar block near the end of the first half that resulted in a knockdown at the line…

Cierre Wood: Five yards on his first carry to the short side (about all that was available) then hit the hole with authority for 13 yards up the gut on his second carry of the contest, taking the rock to the Navy 8-yard line; Wood ran through his first tackle attempt and got all he could out of the play…Got in a nice pop on a downfield block the following play but Crist was dropped for two yards well behind him…Stopped just short of the goal on a 3rd down gain of four yards behind Stewart and Martin (Irish failed on 4th and G).

Most dance recitals are completed Saturday mornings but Wood showcased his own on Notre Dame's second drive, missing a huge hole over right guard while failing to gain…Wide open on a 3rd and 10 conversion that would have extended the drive (or resulted in a 28-yard touchdown) but Crist failed to see Wood who made himself available perfectly as the outlet target…

2nd Half: Made his second half debut on ND's first drive of the fourth quarter and immediately gained 11 on an underneath route in which he ran through two arm tackles to gain extra yards and an Irish first down…Made a nice reaching grab of a Tommy Rees pass one series later, making one defender miss and finishing his catch-and-run of 24 yards…Nice cut block to pick up a delayed blitz in pass protection two plays later; not always easy when the game is decided…Finished off the drive with a touchdown run up the gut, the second of his college career.

Robert Hughes: DNP-CD

"Armando and Cierre are 1-2," Kelly said when I asked about Hughes on Sunday. "If we were going to go to a third ‘back he'd be the third ‘back. He played against Western (Michigan) because Armando was not healthy so he was the second ‘back.

"This is still consistent in terms of who the top three guys are. We got behind in the game and Cierre gives us a little bit more in the backfield."

No argument here, but if I were looking to string together a series of plays as Kelly noted on Sunday, I'd consider a one-game exception (two, including Army) for the north-south style of senior Robert Hughes.

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