Eye in the Sky: Pass D

Part II of our defensive film review examines Notre Dame's effort vs. Tim Jefferson and the Falcons passing attack.

This week's Eye in the Sky defensive review will be broken into three distinct parts, each crucial to the Air Force offense:

Defense vs. the Pitch
Defense vs. the Pass
Defense vs. the inside run

For Part I and a look at Notre Dame's rush defense on the perimeter, Click here.

Players reviewed: Outside linebackers Jamoris Slaughter and Darius Fleming; inside linebackers Manti Te'o, Dan Fox, and Carlo Calabrese; safeties Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta; cornerbacks Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, and Lo Wood; defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis Moore, Aaron Lynch.

Air Force QB Tim Jefferson, TB Asher Clark, Cody Getz, and Darius Jones; FB Wes Cobb and Mike DeWitt, TE Daniel Pickett; and WR Mikal Hunter and Jonathan Warzeka are the key offensive personal for the Falcons.

Irish vs. the Pass

The Falcons first play was an option pitch to the right that gained 29 yards but ended in a strip by Slaughter and fumble recovery by Blanton. Notre Dame led 7-0 when Air Force regained possession with 8:21 remaining in the opening quarter.

1st and 10 at AFA 20: QB Tim Jefferson's fake pitch to the field side brings safety Harrison Smith three steps forward and to his right – just as slot receiver Jonathan Warzeka breaks up field at Smith, then bursts to the post (inside and away from Smith's break). Smith wheeled back to drop him but not until a 24-yard gain.

1st and 10 at ND 35: Jefferson attempts to hit WR Ty MacArthur on a wheel route after his full-speed motion sprint across scrimmage, but Jamoris Slaughter shows perfect coverage, turning his head at the last moment to deflect a pass at the Irish 5-yard line. A tremendous play by Slaughter on a play that was designed to score vs. man coverage…

2nd and 11 at ND 23: After dropping a mis-direction run for a loss on the previous play. Manti Te'o reads a short pass to the flat and records a pass breakup. Te'o could have intercepted and been in a footrace vs. Jefferson as a result. Prior to the snap, Te'o read the formation and adjusted LDE Aaron Lynch's alignment, pushing him outside.

The drive ended with a run short of the marker and ensuing field goal, cutting ND's lead to 14-3

3rd and 7 at AFA 23: Now trailing 21-3 and following a tackle-for-loss by Te'o, Jefferson converted without the aid of play-action, hitting TE Joshua Freeman for a gain of 17 yards on a square-in strike in front of Zeke Motta. Freeman was simply the first player through in a three-man bunch – a bit soft in coverage by the Irish, regardless of the full-game strategy to limit big gains. Darius Fleming took down Jefferson at the legs after the throw.

1st and 10 at ND 28: Following six consecutive rushes for 32 yards, Jefferson hit WR Zack Kauth for 13 yards down to the Irish 15-yard line. Kauth ran a post-corner but then hooked in front of Blanton's zone coverage for the easy pitch-and-catch. Aaron Lynch applied pressure on Jefferson despite a fake-reverse in the backfield prior to the throw.

The quarter changed and Air Force scored four rushing plays later, due largely to a Lynch offside penalty on what would have been a 27-yard field goal. The Falcons trimmed the lead to 21-9 with 13:41 remaining

1st and 10 at AFA 20: The Irish don't bite on a fake hand-off to the fullback as Gary Gray says home on the boundary and Carlo Calabrese converges on a flare to Asher Clark, who dropped the pass anyway…

3rd and 11 at AFA 19: In the shotgun, Jefferson hits Freeman again, this time on a corner route for 15 yards in front of Smith. Freeman ran a post-corner from the inside slot with a hook outside and another out-route underneath him. Basic design with patterns run perfectly. Smith seemed far too deep considering the two-deep look.

1st and 10 at AFA 46: Following four consecutive runs (12 yards), including a 4th-down conversion, Jefferson attempted to hit a field side swing pass after mis-direction, but Jamoris Slaughter made the play of the day, reading the swing, breaking on the route, and tipping the pass in the backfield before diving and catching it inches off the ground – his second career interception.

Irish regained possession with a 28-9 lead and proceeded to score six plays later.

Trailing 35-9, Air Force's next drive covered 80 yards in 12 plays with four passes intermixed including the touchdown.

  1. 2nd and 6 at AFA 24: Carlo Calabrese reads a crossing route, dropping into coverage to breakup (could have intercepted) a pass intended for Kauth crossing into heavy traffic…

  2. 3rd and 6 at AFA 24: Jefferson converts with a 7-yard out to a motioned Warzeka who simply outran Calabrese to the sidelines – no chance for Carlo who began the play 5 yards inside the receiver and then combined with Gary Gray for the pop at the marker…

  3. 3rd and 6 at AFA 35: Jefferson's pass is knocked down at the line by Stephon Tuitt who got his hands up while being double-teamed. The Falcons converted on 4th and 6 with a fake punt that gained 19 yards…

  4. 3rd and 4 at the ND 6: With Macarthur aligned at fullback behind Jefferson and Warzeka motioning left, Jefferson's mis-direction pitch and subsequent boot right results in a short dump to the sidelines and touchdown for Macarthur. Dan Fox had the initial coverage, but peeled off as Macarthur continued to the sidelines – probably better to stay with a streaking receiver near the goal line, regardless of your secondary responsibility at the second level.

    Macarthur broke Gary Gray's tackle attempt at the 2, barreling in for the score. (The receivers behind Fox were covered: this was on Fox and Gray.)

Trailing 42-16 after an Irish score, Jefferson finished the half hitting consecutive passes to Warzeka for 11, then 15 yards before missing twice at the final gun:

  • Following defensive holding on Gary Gray (10-yard penalty), Jefferson found Warzeka on a hook underneath a two-deep zone with 14 seconds remaining. He then connected with Warzeka on a comeback past midfield – just 8 seconds remaining. Jefferson missed high on a deep in route then his Hail Mary was knocked down by Smith in the end zone as time expired.

In the first half, Jefferson completed 8 of 16 passes for 108 yards with an interception and a touchdown. Of his eight completions, six resulted in first downs or a touchdown, including four on 3rd down conversions.

Second Half

Jefferson would complete 4 of 8 passes in the second half for just 29 yards.

His first two passes fell incomplete, forcing a punt. Gary Gray broke up the first – would have been a nice one-handed pick down the sidelines – while Darius Fleming's pressure caused Jefferson's ensuing 3rd and 7 throw a bit low and behind Warzeka, who could have made the catch.

The Falcons next possession included a 2nd and 18 incompletion, the result of a zone-read and eventual sprint left in which Jefferson misfired high (Smith would have made a play on the receiver had the ball been catchable). Jefferson finally connected on his fourth second-half offering – a hook that appeared to have a lateral set up behind hit but Calabrese made an immediate tackle, negating the potential pitch to the outside on 3rd and 17.

Trailing 49-16 with 6:49 remaining in the 3rd Quarter, Jefferson completed 3 of 4 passes for 23 yards on an 18-play drive that culminated in a field goal. He first connected with fullback Mike DeWitt on 2nd and 7 for nine yards, his play-action pass and roll left open because Slaughter stumbled in coverage. Five rushing plays followed before Jefferson mis-fired to Drew Coleman, directly into the hands of Gary Gray who expertly dropped from his flat into coverage behind him. EBC: Everything But the Catch.

Another three-yard cross to Warzeka was snuffed by Slaughter with a fine open field tackle.

The drive's final passing play was a simple 11-yard gain on an out from the slot that took the ball from the Irish 24 to the 13-yard line. Gray was playing off, as instructed.

Air Force breeched the Irish 11-yard line but Jefferson's 3rd and 8 pass play took a second too long on a flood to the boundary and Kapron Lewis-Moore defeated his cut block for an engulfing sack of the Falcons triggerman. Stephon Tuitt broke through late as well, and Air Force settled for a field goal and 49-19 deficit at the outset of the fourth quarter.

Trailing 52-19 upon their next possession with 10:12 remaining, the Falcons inserted backup QB Connor Dietz, summarily ending our passing-game film review as the Irish emptied the bench defensively as well.


Both Falcons cheap-shot personal fouls (clipping to the back of an Irish defender's legs) were called and led to Air Force punts…

Notre Dame had a clear shot at three interceptions (Gray, Calabrese, Te'o) with an outside shot at another (Gray). It recorded one: an improbable tip and diving grab by Slaughter on a swing pass...

Notre Dame's backup defenders allowed 65 passing yards in mop-up duty including a 36-yard catch-and-run for a score with 4:32 remaining. Previously, Air Force's longest gain through the air was 24 yards on its first pass and second play from scrimmage…

Though head coach Brian Kelly noted his third unit – the group that allowed two late touchdowns – hadn't practiced vs. the option this season, the sobering aspect of the sloppy ending wasn't garbage-time points, but the appearance of disinterest by defenders that should have been much more engaged in their opportunity to play.

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