Eye in the Sky: Two-headed monster

Our first of five film reviews examines Notre Dame's running back duo and a dominant performance by the offensive line.

In tandem, junior Cierre Wood and senior Jonas Gray combined for 317 scrimmage yards (286 rushing) on 37 touches with two touchdowns. Both showed brilliance in space and power throughout the contest, but it was the effort by Notre Dame's front five that dominated and disheartened the Boilermakers defense.

Cierre Wood and the Offensive Line

Wide receiver Michael Floyd is the team's MVP through five games, but the notion that Wood belongs in the conversation is a best-case scenario for the 2011, 2012, and possibly 2013 Irish.

Notre Dame fans were already familiar with Wood's ability to make defender's miss (whiff, I might add) in space, but Saturday's performance was off the charts in this regard. He turned a second drive check-down pass into a 22-yard gain, making numerous Boilers appear lost in space.

Following a perfect pulling block by right guard Trevor Robinson, one that sealed an unblocked defender four yards deep in the backfield, Wood gained 18 on a sprint to the left sidelines (15 more were added due to a hit out of bounds that seemed to fire up the junior more). Wood deftly sidestepped a tackler prior to scrimmage, then followed left tackle Zack Martin downfield – Martin makes every downfield block seem easy; no small feat for a 300+ pounder….

He showed his special ability to make a defender miss in a short space on a first quarter delayed draw play that should have lost six, but gained a weaving nine instead.

With the Irish leading 14-0, Wood authored his personal three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive:

  1. First an old-fashioned toss pitch to the field side (right) gained 12 yards. The side was vacant thanks to a seal block by right tackle Taylor Dever and a duo of Boilers defenders who thought better of mixing it up with the pulling Robinson. Michael Floyd secured his block on the perimeter as well. Of note, center Braxston Cave was looking for someone to block: the 2011 Boilers are one of the least physical defenses I've seen on the perimeter…

  2. AN inside hand-off results in 12 more yards for Wood, again behind a pulling Robinson and tight end Tyler Eifert who battled the entire run. After left guard Chris Watt opened the original alley with a seal block (Robinson pulling from right to left behind him) Wood showed great vision to cut-back against the grain, and benefited from another Martin gem – this time getting to linebacker Joe Holland at the second level and pushing him 10 yards out of the play (best run block of the day)…

  3. Wood caps the "drive" with a 55-yard burst behind another Robinson pull over the left side and an unbalanced line that featured a seal block by Dever (at left tackle) and by Martin, aligned outside Dever on the left edge. Another quick cut back inside by Wood at the second level beat a would-be tackler and allowed his sprint to pay dirt.

Wood contributed to the opening scoring drive of the second half as well, gaining 11 yards to the boundary behind a pulling block by Cave and Floyd's crack back in space…Wood used a second level move to gain seven yards, again behind Cave and again over right guard…He added four yards up the gut behind Watt, who routinely grades road in his path…

Another 16 yards arrived courtesy a Dever block in space (pulling again); backup guard Andrew Nuss added a solid block as well as the third quarter closed…

Regarding the hurdle over cornerback Robert Marve in the 4th Quarter: ill-advised and awesome. It's a good way to get on Sports center, to (properly) embarrass/dishearten your opponent, and to get smashed by oncoming traffic…Robinson (pulling) Martin, Nuss, and wide receiver John Goodman cleared the lane for Wood's highlight, photo-op running leap…

Wood's vision on draws in the open field is tremendous, but his ability to run through arm tackles is a key change from last season; he gained 11 yards after taking a shot to the knees in the backfield, barely losing stride…

Wood appeared a little tired on one of his last carries, a four-yard gain in which he landed on top of the tackler but offered no move in space – the emergence of Jonas Gray will save Wood over the course of the season.

Jonas Gray and the offensive line

Jonas Gray looks shorter this year – a high compliment for a player whose main issue as a runner was a high pad level inside prior to 2011.

Saturday was easily Gray's best game to date. He ran with authority around the edge and between the tackles; used one quick cut and a burst to gain yards on the edge, and with one exception, finished every perimeter run as the aggressor, including a lethal stiff arm on his third carry:

Gray's first run, an 8-yard burst to the left side came courtesy a Cave pulling block; Martin heads-up on his defender, and Chris Watt's seal/wham block as Gray scooted around the edge…His longest carry, an 17-yarder to the left edge was paved by a beautiful pull from Robinson, another seal and fight (the defender battled) by Watt, and Gray's best move to date: a full-speed sidestep in which he barely broke stride. Had Michael Floyd not uncharacteristically missed his block downfield, Gray would have scored…

A 13-yard scamper, this time to the right side, followed pulling blocks by Watt and Cave, as well as a detached Tyler Eifert who cleared his defender out of a bunch alignment. Floyd added a seal block and Gray finished with 5-6 extra yards following a textbook stiff-arm…Gray had a 20-yard gain to the left wiped out by a tripping penalty vs. right tackle Taylor Dever. The infraction wasn't on camera and I missed it live because Dever was nowhere near the play…

Gray's short touchdown run (the second score of his career and in as many weeks) was behind an unbalanced line, with tight end Tyler Eifert at left tackle (Martin was opposite at right tackle – running away from their best blocker a deceptive, effective maneuver in close…

Gray's score was aided by Cave who cleared off a hanging tackler, allowing Gray forward momentum for the score. Watt pulled from left to right to throw the key (seal) block backside and Dever got a late shot in as well…Eifert keyed the score by sealing his man outside…Robinson threw two additional pulling blocks to open paths for Gray as well, though one was cut down by an impressive backside safety blitz…Gray also followed Robinson and Cave around the right side (pulling gain) and earned a face mask penalty at the end of the carry…

  • Two brutish Gray runs offer hope his Week Five effort is the new norm: first bulling for five with both hands covering the football up the gut; then erupting for 16 behind Watt's pulling block in the backfield and seal efforts from both Cave and Robinson. Gray added a spin move in space to beat the first tackle and received a good crack back from John Goodman as well…

OL Notes

The game was Trevor Robinson's best to date, especially in space, his name littering my game notes for both Wood and Jonas Gray's best gains…Zack Martin, though beaten once near the goal line by an anticipatory Joe Holland, dominated his assignments: he's simply better at blocking in space than 90 percent of his opponents are at shedding blocks – not just in West Lafayette, but weekly…Dever found three solid blocks in space as well…the fifth-year senior is much better on the move; he seals the backside on runs well, too…

Cave continues to play better each week; he should return next year (5th-year) though to continue his progress…There are scores of better blocking teams at the point of attack in college football but there can't be more than a handful that match this quintet's effectiveness in space…

Watt is a beast as a first-year contributor to the rushing attack. He'll be a dominant force in 2013 and rank as the second best lineman next year as a true senior…He was, however, beaten by an inside move by defensive tackle Bruce Gaston that nearly got Wood killed…Why did it take so long to get Christian Lombard action at tackle? I think a 35-3 lead entering the fourth quarter is fairly safe…

Dever was present on another gain by Gray, 5 yards behind he and Robinson on a straight power rush...Cave allowed Boilers nose tackle Kawann Short to shed his block, diving to trip up Gray from behind after a short gain (should have been 6-7 yards but was limited to two on 2nd and 3…The botched handoff between Gray and QB Tommy Rees late in the first half appeared to be Gray's fault: he saw the run blitz bearing down and instead of securing the ball and covering up, he froze – the Irish were lucky to maintain possession ….

Did Purdue secure the edge once in the first half?

Wood was likely the game's MVP, but more appropriately, it was Notre Dame's rushing offense that paved the way to the season's most convincing win.


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