Eye in the Sky: Losing Up Front

Our first of two film reviews of Saturday's offensive side of scrimmage shows how badly Notre Dame's offensive line was beaten by Purdue's front, but also the adjustments made that allowed the Irish to move the ball on three long drives and total 376 yards of offense.

The first snap offered a portent, with former Irish prospect Bruce Gaston running over right guard Mike Golic at the snap, and burying Everett Golson after the throw (a 22-yard fade to Tyler Eifert). The play went in Notre Dame's favor, but two seconds into the game and the offensive line already showed its first chink in the armor.

In the end, the unit that dominated Game One could receive nothing better than a D-minus for its play in Game Two.

While Golic was singled out by most observers as a player who could experience intermittent struggles, its disheartening to see a senior captain such as Zack Martin play so poorly on the edge.

In addition to a false start, a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds, and another (declined) for a crucial illegal hands to the face penalty on 3rd and 7 in the fourth quarter, I had Martin as partially responsible for Sack #3 (miscommunication with Troy Niklas in protection), a missed cut-block on Kawaan Short that helped limit Riddick to two yards, a missed block on the edge that forced Riddick to spin out of trouble and gain just five yards, rather than much more around the edge, and an instance in which he abandoned his seal block on a Toma reverse that contributed to Toma's need to cut back inside rather than sprint outside for the first down.

To his credit, Martin executed two key blocks on Notre Dame's penultimate drive, both gave room to Theo Riddick as the Irish tried to milk clock. Riddick continues to impress and will be an even better player when working in congress with senior runner Cierre Wood as the season progresses. Riddick finishes runs with authority, is a willing blocker downfield (he hammered 300-pound Bruce Gaston with a crack-back block late in the contest) and goes north-south after the first sharp cut.

If he had a costly error Saturday it was a spin move in space that allowed cornerback Josh Johnson to cut him down for four yards on what should have been a leap and 10+ yard gain. Its relevant in that Everett Golson fumbled three plays later, leading to Purdue's tying score.

Wreaking Havoc

But the story of the day wasn't Martin's game regression or the five penalties attributed to the Irish offensive line; rather, the dominant efforts of defensive tackle terrors Kawaan Short, Bruce Gaston, and by proxy, the rest of the Purdue front seven that controlled Notre Dame for the bulk of the contest.

The pair were undoubtedly the two best players on the field when Notre Dame had the football Saturday, caving in the Irish interior and aiding the unit in its five sacks (of the five, four led to Irish punts, the other a lost fumble thereafter) and six quarterback pressures, one of which kept seven points off the board when Golson was forced to throw too early and missed long of a wide open Troy Niklas down the post. Seven points became zero when sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza shanked his first career kick (but to his credit, not his second or decisive third)

The following film notes attempt to describe the duo's impact on the contest:

Gaston blows through Golic to drill Golson on the game's first play…Sack #1: On 3rd and 6, Short goes right by Cave who appeared to except help, though Watt read a delayed blitz elsewhere and Golic had his hands full with Gaston who beat him outside. It was 5 -on-5 up front and Short beat Cave to force a punt…Short runs through senior right guard Chris Watt to force an incomplete pass…Gaston pushes Golic 3 yards deep before Golic can execute his angle block and Riddick is stopped for 2…Gaston all over the field forces Golson out of pocket…LDE Ryan Isaac unblocked because Gaston is double teamed, limits Riddick to short gain; Short not even on the field on the stop…Gaston too much for Lombard and Watt forces Golson roll for minimal gain...

Pressure #3 Short goes right over Watt who's shoved back…Sack #4 follows false start by Lombard, which followed an Irish timeout -- Short blows past Golic in matchup from hell… Lombard whiff on Short allows Reynolds free shot at Riddick for loss…5-man Purdue front whips eight ND blockers as Golson takes sack rolling left -- gotta throw it away…

Aside from that, how did you enjoy the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Golic, Cave, et al did enjoy moments of success vs. the Gaston/Short combo, including the game's crucial running play as the Irish positioned Brindza for a chip-shot field goal.

1.) Riddick gains three yards on 3rd and 2 thanks to a three tight end alignment in which Watt and Cave handle Short on a double team and Golic pulls to the left to aid Martin in a key block on defensive tackle Greg Latta.

2.) Golic gets off the snap quickly and wins big vs. Gaston to help Riddick gain 7 over right side. Niklas and Lombard execute a double team on the edge…

3.) Golic and Cave execute a perfect double-team block vs Short that gives Riddick a lane for 10 yards -- a crucial 10 added to Brindza's field goal distance on the game-winner. Koyack and Lombard execute as well though the latter held Gaston (no call). T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith do their job in space as Riddick bangs ahead for the game's final first down…

Notre Dame was beaten soundly up front, a major surprise at least in its totality. But the two 5th-year seniors who struggled the most won in the end, providing Brindza a 27-yard attempt rather than tenuous 37-yard effort.

Inside the Game: Sluggo and Shuffles

How did the Irish attack Purdue's defense when no room to roam could be had inside?

Two play-calls, six snaps, and 106 yards of total offense. That's the total gleaned from two Slant-and-Go passes to Tyler Eifert (29) and DaVaris Daniels (41) respectively, and four shuffle passes/pitches to Riddick (16, 9, 6, and 5 yards) over the course of the contest.

Riddick gained 53 yards on 15 carries, but three of his four shuffle-play runs were ruled as receptions: you can add 27 yards and three carries to his true rushing total (18 carries for 80 yards greatly aided the Irish offense)

Golson's Pass Targets:
Tyler Eifert - 9 with four completions for 22 yards. Eifert left the game near the 5-minute mark of the third quarter after suffering a concussion following a successful crack-back block
Theo Riddick - 6 with four receptions for 44 yards, though as noted above, three of the receptions and 27 yards were basically runs on shuffle plays from the backfield
DaVaris Daniels - 5 with four receptions for 70 yards. Daniels left the game near the 9:02 mark of the third quarter with an ankle injury
T.J. Jones - 4 with four receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown
Robby Toma - 2 with two receptions for 19 yards
Daniel Smith - 2 with two receptions for 14 yards
Troy Niklas - 2 - with one reception for 30 yards
Ben Koyack - 1 with one reception for 5 yards

Tommy Rees' Pass Targets:
T.J. Jones - 2 neither completed
Robby Toma - 2 both completed for 25 yards including a 21-yard gain on 3rd and 10 to set up the game-winning field goal
John Goodman - 1 completed for 10 yards on 3rd and 6 to begin the final Irish drive
Troy Niklas - 1 fell incomplete
2 spikes to kill the clock.

Both Niklas and Eifert drew pass interference penalties during the contest (not included in the totals above)

Offensive Sets

It should be noted the preponderance of 2 tight end sets included Tyler Eifert split wide. He's part tight end, part wide receiver at this point in the season.

3 TE: 9 snaps - 55 yards including the 41-yard slant-and-go to Daniels. The touchdown run by Golson was also from a 3-TE set.

2 TE: 46 snaps - The bulk of the offense saw 218 of 376 total yards gained with two tight ends on the field. As noted, Eifert was generally split wide in this package.

3-wide/2TE Empty backfield: 11 snaps - 67 yards of offense including a 6-yard loss for sack on Golson

4-wide empty backfield: 7 snaps - 36 yards of offense, though 45 gained under Rees. Golson had just one snap with 4-wides in an empty backfield and he lost 9 yards on a crucial 4th Quarter sack.

(Rees' two spikes not included in the totals: 2 TE both times. In the future, an occasional extra snap or two will be included to show pass interference penalties that aid the Irish offense. Those aren't technically snaps.)

Note: In Part II - General observations of the Irish offense vs. the Boilermakers

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