Players reviewed below include: LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, C Braxston Cave, RG Trevor Robinson, RT Taylor Dever, Tight End Tyler Eifert, wide receivers Mike Floyd, T.J. Jones, and Theo Riddick, running back Cierre Wood, and quarterback Tommy Rees.
Second Half – Rhythm ReturnsRees benefited from plus-field position and responded with a get-in-the-groove throw to the boundary on a hook to Michael Floyd for seven yards – a wise call by head coach Brian Kelly to get his backup rolling…Rees completed another quick boundary side hook to Floyd for five yards, then was bailed out on a high slant to the field side as Jones leapt for a very difficult catch to set up 3rd and 1 at the Bulls 25-yard line…
Following a stuffed run, an offside penalty gave the Irish a new set of downs rather than field goal attempt and Rees responded with a slot-screen (scored as a running play by the staff) for 15 yards down to the USF 5-yard line…
The first major error of the second half followed as a slotted Jones crossed to the boundary side but never located the football and Rees' hot throw hit him in the shoulder for a deflection and interception. Rees throw was a tad behind Jones who was at fault for not looking for the ball on a crossing route (no set of excuses works here; its akin to cutting to the hoop in basketball but not looking for a pass).
Kelly had a word or 600 with Jones following the sophomore's drive-killing mental error.
Rees' second series started with a pair of incompletions: a tipped tunnel screen to Riddick and a miscommunication with Floyd (Rees threw deep sideline and Floyd hooked up at 12 yards)…The sophomore responded to his first 3rd and 10 of the season with a strike down the seam to Eifert, hitting the 6'6" tight end in stride for a 37-yard catch-and-run down to the USF 29-yard line. A tremendous pass with plenty of zip by the focused Rees who had previously challenged his head coach following the second incompletion (for you lip readers, Rees used Kelly's word du jour to explain his though process)…As game announcer Mike Mayock noted, an effective blitz pickup by Wood allowed Rees a passing lane…
Rees checked down to Wood for a short gain then again found his star target Floyd, this time for a 24-yard fade route on the boundary side for Notre Dame's first touchdown. Floyd separated from one-on-one coverage at the last moment for the easy pitch-and-catch score.
Kelly wisely kicked the PAT down 16-6 – never chase points in the third quarter, especially with 7:12 remaining and momentum on your side.
USF 16 ND 7
Following a USF punt, Rees found a slotted Riddick with beautiful touch on a seam pattern for 27 yards to the Bulls 40. Two snaps later, Rees hit Floyd for 15 yards on a field side slant; Floyd expertly pivoted on the catch to his back shoulder, gaining nine yards after the catch…A boundary-side tunnel screen to Jones followed but was limited to one yard. Rees subsequent 3rd and 4 pass was thrown intentionally out of bounds due to solid coverage by the Bulls.
Mr. Automatic David Ruffer then joined the physical mistake brigade, missing a chip shot 27-yarder that would have cut the Bulls lead to 16-10. USF scored on its ensuing drive to extend their lead to 23-7 early in the fourth quarter.
Stats to note: Rees completed 10-14 for 140 yards and an interception that bounced off his receiver. The Irish mixed in four rushes for 19 yards though two slot screens at the line of scrimmage will be scored as rushes by the ND staff.
Fourth Quarter – Airing it OutRees fired 20 passes in the final period, hitting 14 including a touchdown and a damaging interception on a poor throw behind Floyd.
The sophomore mixed the distance of his throws well on the team's first fourth quarter scoring drive, hitting four passes under 10 yards but also connecting on three throws between 11 and 22 yards.
Riddick dropped a field-to-boundary side crossing pattern that ate him up, glancing off his left hand before he fell to the ground with no contact.
Rees overcame the drop with a pair of boundary-side hooks to Floyd for 11 total yards and a first down…Rees' field side throw to stand-still Jones bounced in front of his classmate incomplete – the throw illustrated the occasional lack of arm strength displayed by Rees when he fires to the wide side…
Rees again responded, this time with a 22-yard boundary side fade route to Floyd who made his requisite leaping spectacular catch to secure the connection…A quick-fire seam connection with Eifert for six yards followed; then an 11-yard field slant to Floyd set up the Irish with a first down at the USF 21-yard line…RB Cierre Wood came dangerously close to a late-hit, drilling a standing Bulls defender near the pile…
Rees missed a boundary fade to Floyd way deep (past the safety as well) before a 15-yard strike to Jones on the far sideline. Rees bought time on the play, scrambling right out of the pocket to lessen the distance on the throw. A 5-yard strike over the middle to Riddick (nice leaping catch despite a big hit) set up a Cierre Wood TD plunge two plays later.
Following a timeout, Rees' two-point conversion pass was thrown too high to Floyd on a boundary fade – had Rees thrown to Floyd's back shoulder rather than high and outside it would have been an easy conversion completion. I disagree with Mike Mayock (the best technical analyst in the business) that the ball should have been squeezed deeper to the back pylon. (For those wondering what a back shoulder fade is: remember Jimmy Clausen's goal line throws to Floyd and Golden Tate.)
USF 23 ND 13
Following another weather delay, Rees' worst pass of the day is intercepted by safety Jerrell Young at the Irish 30-yard line, 4:08 remaining in the contest.
Under difficult circumstances (the initial play after a 76-minute game delay) Rees threw late over the middle – a freshman mistake – to a triple covered Floyd. The 2nd and 6 play call might have been better served as a draw or screen to re-acclimate Rees to the contest. Mayock pointed out that Rees had Eifert one-on-one down the sidelines for a wheel route.
The Irish held, regaining possession inside their own 5-yard line, and other than a 1st Down sack, Rees' final 10 snaps were pass attempts, including seven completions for all 99 yards on the team's final drive.
Jones bailed Rees out of a jam at the 1-yard line with a leaping sideline grab for 25 yards and an Irish first down, taking a huge hit in the process – a tremendous catch for Jones who played well with the exception of the game's second-biggest glaring mistake.
Eifert then secured a leaping catch behind him down the seam for 18 yards with a minute remaining, but another Riddick drop down the seam at the 13-yard line followed. The junior slot receiver absolutely must get off to a fast start next Saturday in Ann Arbor…
Eifert snared another for 15 yards from Rees who was absolutely hammered on the play. According to a colleague, freshman QB Everett Golson, not Crist, put on his helmet when it appeared Rees might not continue, but I've been unable to confirm that with anyone in authority…
Rees shook it off and found Floyd reeled in an 8-yard field side slant for score, cutting the Bulls lead to 23-20.
Too little too late as a well-executed onsides kick was nonetheless secured by the visitors, ending the contest.
- Rees' leadership and toughness are two of his key attributes, but his fade, corner, and seam-route passes are generally on the money as well. Accuracy is nearly as crucial as toughness and grit in the modern college game.
- Of Rees' 34 throws, 15 were to the boundary, 11 to the field, and 6 down the seam/post. Of his 24 completions, 16 were to the boundary or middle.
- Rees struggles a bit with throws to the outer hash (field), though that can be overcome by bringing the X (field) receiver inside or at to the post often and down the far sideline as a change-of-pace.
- Floyd is an un-coverable pass-catching machine. He and Rees connected for 10 receptions, 117 yards and two scores in second half.
- Theo Riddick had what will be the worst game of his football career
- The offensive line played much better than I credited in my initial game review (it's called "At First Glance" for a reason: I need a second look…)
Tommy Rees earned the right to start Saturday in Ann Arbor.