Eye in the Sky: Pass Offense

A breakdown of Everett Golson's attempts, his protection, and all of his targets in Saturday's win over #10 Michigan State.

Another touchdown rushing, another touchdown passing, his first turnover-free collegiate contest, and this in a game during which he set a personal best for passes attempted with 32.

Everett Golson may rush some throws. He may take a few chances on routes often acquainted with Pick 6 opportunities for defensive backs, but make no mistake -- he's Notre Dame's quarterback, and his God-given strengths are doubtless more important to the success of a college offense than his myriad technical weaknesses.

Among his 14 completions, Golson hit for gains of 21, 14, 36 (TD), 12, 20, 14, and 15 yards: six first down tosses plus one scoring strike that accounted for 132 of his 178 passing yards on the day. Exactly half of his completions resulted in Irish first downs or touchdowns, as did one of his only three rushing attempts, a 6-yard scamper around the left side that made the score 14-0 Irish.

The following is a list of film notes from each Golson pass attempt in Saturday's win over Michigan State, with additional commentary when necessary:

First Half

After a rough start that included 10 men on the field on for the first snap, a five-yard penalty as a result, and a timeout, all before the first series technically began, Golson offered a portent of the day's proceedings with a 21-yard back-shoulder fade throw to T.J. Jones. Jones deftly nudged his defender before turning to haul in the purposely under thrown pass. The back-shoulder fade" might never go away as a passing weapon in the college game…

Tremendous blocking by tight end Troy Niklas vs. All-America candidate William Gholston afforded Golson ample time for a down field post route to freshman Chris Brown. Brown sprinted past the secondary down the right seam before bending to the post but Golson missed the speedster by a good 3-4 yards too deep…

One series later, Golson wisely threw away on a roll left when double outs to the left were well-covered. It appeared Davonte Neal was the initial target…An out to Toma one snap later was good for a first down, and set up by Toma's hesitation in space to freeze an already cushioned coverage. Nice savvy route by Toma…

Following a short run by Theo Riddick, a textbook cut block by Cierre Wood on Gholston dropped the massive pass-rusher to the round near left tackle; Golson (the quarterback) sprinted right and pulled up near the right hash before firing back across the field to John Goodman for a 36-yard touchdown. The play was made by right tackle Christian Lombard who did just enough (barely) to give Golson running room, Wood's perfect and oh-so-close to dirty Navy style cut block, and Golson's athleticism/rocket arm -- throw in the best catch of John Goodman's career (a one-handed grab despite pass interference) and you have the highlight play of the year to date for the Irish offense…and a 7-0 lead

Toma caught his second pass one series later, good for 12 yards on a tunnel screen to the left that could have gone for more if center Braxston Cave hadn't run into Toma's path attempting to block downfall (Cave looked like he was assigned to the backside safety downfield but got caught up at the line securing his initial hit…Nice job by Mike Golic on a solo effort vs. 6'2" 330 pound DT Anthony Rashad White, his effort gave Golson time on a play-action pass down the seam to Jones, again slightly overthrown…

Blitz pressure by the Spartans over right tackle (2 vs. 1) and likely missed check by Golson results in a QB hurry and Irish punt. If not a Golson blitz-check issue, Golic would be at fault for not helping Lombard, through the 5th-year senior guard had a defender over his face at the snap…

Golson fired down the right sideline to begin the next series, connecting with a toe-tapping Toma who showed beautiful footwork after running the playground-legend "banana" or chair route for 20 yards and the prettiest pass play of the evening…

Golson's next two throws showed his inexperience, rushing a throw high to Riddick on quick look left, then putting too much mustard on a swing pass to Riddick in the flat. Riddick was well covered on the play and might have been the only option with the rest of the perimeter blocking downfield…The drive ended when EIfert couldn't corral a low-and-away throw from Golson who escaped heavy pressure and put the ball where only Eifert could catch it. I'll call it a drop by Eifert, who deserves a different set of standards than the mortals. It was a nifty scramble by Golson to escape, plus perfect ball placement on his final pas of the first quarter...

2nd Quarter: Golson hit on his first two throws of the second quarter, the first a comeback route by Jones that went for 14 yards on a play where Golson sprinted right and threw back left as Jones simultaneously pushed upfield and sprinted back to scrimmage for the catch and run. Troy Niklas was the key blocker, dominating senior cornerback Johnny Adams in space -- the theme of the day for the highly touted Spartan.

After beating the MSU defense to the boundary pylon, Golson's only other completed pass was a strike to Daniel Smith on the right sideline, one that followed the quarterback's escape from pocket pressure.

Golson's final four throws of the half were touched by Spartans defenders, including an overturned interception by Chuck Bullough when Golson was pressured off the edge (a poor block by Ben Koyack the trigger). Golson had two other passes knocked down and another interception dropped, though this off the hands of Jones who couldn't come up with a low throw he tried to dig from the turf.

Golson trusts his arm a bit too much at this stage, as his final throw of the half was a late comeback to the far hash intended for John Goodman, one that could have been intercepted.

Second Half

Golson's third quarter effort offered a mixed bag: a bubble screen to Toma for 7 yards with Niklas and Smith offering excellent blocks in spas, then a roll-out incomplete after leaky line play from Golic and Lombard…Another bubble screen, this time to Riddick, was limited to six yards when Koyack lost his block at the last mount on the outside, while the next pass to Riddick showed Golson's athleticism and awareness in the pocket as he escaped pressure and delivered to a wide-open Riddick while being flung to the ground (the effort came up two yards short, forcing a punt).

Jones caught another hitch for 9 as Golson fired across two hashes but missed high and outside later to Toma as the Irish line fell victim to a line stunt with Cave getting pushed back into the pocket. The ever-improving Niklas finally messed up an assignment, hesitating in space on a tunnel screen to Riddick -- the defender didn't hesitate, running by Niklas for the stop and the Irish were again forced to punt.

The best pass play of the fourth quarter was either a go route to Eifert that drew pass interference as Eifert deftly slipped inside his defender as the corner turned to run, thereby gaining position, or the only true completion of the fourth quarter, a sideline strike to Jones for 15 yards on Notre Dame's 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive that featured nine rushing plays with 6:21 bled from the 4th Quarter clock (described here.)


Its amazing how well ND played considering the first few seconds made it seem like they were a bunch of strangers that got together in the parking lot before the game and decided to suit up and play a football game…

After the first quarter featured two false starts and one offensive timeout due to confusion, the Irish played a nearly spotless game thereafter, with just one false start penalty in the 2nd Quarter and no offensive penalties after halftime…

Notre Dame won despite a 1 for 14 effort on third down largely because of Golson's playmaking ability.

Judging from his under thrown 41-yard completion to DaVaris Daniels vs. Purdue (should have been an easy score), his two overthrown would-be touchdowns down the post to Brown and Jones, respectively, in East Lansing, and his flat out failure to see a wide open Robby Toma streaking for a score on his side of the field on a much tougher (and more physically impressive) touchdown pass to John Goodman Saturday, its fair to assume Irish fans will lament Golson's deep ball accuracy often during his first season as a starter.

Golson's pass targets Saturday included the following:

T.J. Jones: 8 targets, 4 receptions, 59 yards (one throwaway included in targets)
Robby Toma: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 56 yards
Theo Riddick: 7 targets, 3 receptions, 16 yards (two throwaways included)
John Goodman: 2 targets, 1 reception - a 36-yard touchdown
Tyler Eifert: 2 targets, 0 receptions, plus he drew pass interference (so 3 targets)
Chris Brown: 2 targets, 0 catches - wide open for a would-be TD; also targeted on Golson's overturned INT on another go route down the seam
Daniel Smith: 1 target, 1 catch for 9 yards
Ben Koyack: 1 target, 0 catches
Davonte Neal: 1 target, 0 catches - a throwaway
Throwaway: No idea on the intended target

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