Eye in the Sky: First Half Offense

A detailed review of Notre Dame's offense and the 13-3 lead it forged in Saturday night's eventual beat down of Miami.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly continues to work freshman Chris Brown into the mix. I think Brown was cut-off in his attempt at post route to start the contest though game announcer Mike Mayock believed Tommy Rees' first pass was intended for Tyler Eifert…It looked like Brown never bent his route inside and the ball fell dangerously incomplete…Eifert lost his balance a bit in space and running back Theo Riddick was slowed on a developing shuffle pass to the right side…

Rees' third-down offering was behind an open DaVaris Daniels who broke open down the post for first down yardage but the redshirt-freshman couldn't secure the back shoulder pass -- Daniels will settle and make that catch in 2013...

Miami can't get out of its own way with a (questionable) roughing call leveling Ben Turk and two plays later hitting Robby Toma late after a garden-variety out-route gains 12 yards with 15 tacked on for the extra action…That's two penalties, one affecting possession, and 30 yards on the opening drive…

Golson had plenty of zip on his throws Saturday; his second offering a play-action fire to the field side on a T.J. Jones comeback for 16. Nice route by Jones…Golson followed with his first read-option keeper of the season, deke-ing the unblocked defender on the right edge before cutting back behind a cave-in blocking effort from right tackle Christian Lombard, right guard Mike Golic, and center Braxston Cave, with Eifert contributing as well to the 12-yard burst. Normally a willing blocker, running back Cierre Wood failed to touch either defender he encountered…

A left side handoff to Riddick is limited to three yards (tackled in space) before Golson gains nine more, this time on a designed delayed draw over the left side. Down without question, Golson fumbled the ball trying to stretch over the plane of the goal line. It was a poor initial call by the officials, because had Golson not been down, it should have been a touchdown with the pigskin breaking the plane of the goal…

Riddick handled the dirty work on the next play, barreling behind tight ends Troy Niklas (in-line) and Eifert (motion) as well as left tackle Zack Martin for six. A pulling Golic secured the final crucial block just long enough to give Riddick room across the goal. Notre Dame 7 Miami 0

After a nine-play Miami drive ended with the Hurricanes only score of the contest, a 28-yard field goal, Golson and the Irish took possession at their own 25-yard line and 5:32 remaining in the first quarter. What followed was a 13-play, 70-yard drive and a matching field goal by sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza.

Key to the time-consuming march was the following:

  • An 11-yard comeback from Golson to Daniels with the former firing his third well-time sideline route of the contest's first 10 minutes...
  • A sublime 15-yard scramble by Golson to turn a 2nd and 16 into 3rd and 1: After left guard Chris Watt lost his interior block in protection, Golson split two would-be sackers (with the help of an instinctive stiff-arm) then absolutely froze safety Gionni Paul in space with an ankle-breaking shake cut to the left sideline. Golson allowed the ball to be poked out as the run ended -- a reminder that ball protection still plagues the youngster

  • Following late mass substitutions and a resulting Irish timeout, George Atkinson's 3rd and 1 conversion run behind Golic and Cave was almost blown up when Martin missed a down block in space. Riddick gained four on a check down route before Toma caught his second pass of the first quarter, another 11-yarder to the field side out.

  • After Atkinson lost four on a shuffle pitch from Golson (an expertly timed corner blitz by the defense the culprit), Golson's athletic ability took over, first on a 9-yard scamper when pressured in the pocket, then on a well-thrown fade route to a covered Tyler Eifert who made a spectacular leaping catch on the left sideline. Golson's pre-snap read was accurate: a 6'0" college cornerback vs. 6'6" future NFL tight end -- he threw it in the air on 3rd and 5 and the result was a 23-yard gain and Eifert's 100th career catch…

  • Runs by Riddick (3) and Wood (3) gave Golson a 3rd and 4 from the Miami five but his corner route throw was behind Toma who had a step on the cornerback on his sprint from the field side (right) slot. Its a catch a taller player such as Eifert or Michael Floyd would make (back shoulder and behind both he and the defender), but not a smaller player like Toma, who was open had the ball been thrown to the far pylon as designed.

Brindza's ensuing field goal gave the Irish a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.

After a 5-play Miami drive ended in a touchback (punt), Notre Dame marched another 65 yards on 14 plays but again settled for a field goal and its last score of the half. An end around to Toma gained eight yards thanks to a late seal by Daniels on the outside (Daniels avoided an unnecessary hold as well)…Golson hit consecutive passes to tight ends, first Niklas for a 7-yard hitch on 3rd and 2, then Eifert for 8 on a quick out from the boundary (thrown a touch behind -- dangerous against a better defender).

A 5-yard stretch run left by Riddick gained five as Eifert blocked despite losing his balance and Golson fired for his third straight completion on a designed roll right and throw to Jones on the far sideline…Following a Golic false start, Golson found Riddick for 7 yards thanks to Toma's blocking effort vs. a bigger defender in space. Riddick then ripped off nine yards on 3rd and 1 as Niklas, Martin, Watt, and Cave bulldozed in unison to the right to open a gaping hole.

Atkinson added nine more on a shuffle pitch left with NIklas and Eifert both securing blocks in space (a dominant effort by Niklas) then Golson gained four on a read-option keeper, faking the unblocked strong side linebacker in space for a first down. After Golson intentionally threw the ball away to Jones on a far side comeback, Wood barreled for 6 yards through the middle thanks to Cave's power block up front.

Faced with 3rd and 4 at the Miami 15-yard line, Golson held the ball too long looking to his left and after dancing backwards had no recourse but to dump the ball to Wood for no gain and another Brindza field goal, this time 32 yards, was the result, giving Notre Dame a 13-3 lead with 5:07 remaining in the half.

Following an Irish three-and out (two incomplete passes from the shadow of their own goal line, and a subsequent defensive stop of the Hurricanes despite starting position at the Irish 35-yard line, Golson executed his first one-minute drill, moving the Irish from the ND 30 to Miami 17 yard line in 1:01.

Following a stretch run to Wood that gained 3 and took a full 22 seconds off the clock, Golson completed a field side comeback right to Jones for 11 yards, a field side comeback left after a half roll, again to Jones, to stop the clock with 11 seconds remaining at their own 46-yard line…He then hit his third straight come back, this time to Daniels for 13 yards on the boundary (left), taking the play-clock to 0:06.

Golson's next offering, a field side (right) to Goodman took the clock to one second, earning a shared smile from Golson and his head coach as Brindza came on to kick a 34-yard field goal which he promptly pushed right -- breaking a streak of 8 straight field goals by the sophomore.

Additional First Half Observations

Golic improved when moving his feet to locate blocks…Koyack's technique and focus need work if the Irish are to beat the rush defense's of Stanford and BYU in the coming weeks….Technical kinks remain regarding Golson -- the Irish were forced to call two timeouts on one second quarter field goal drive…Watt has been good but not great to date -- a 5th-year is likely in the offering and he could be outstanding by the end of it…

Nice to see former Miami greats Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis on hand Saturday night to watch how a real running game works…Wood was bailed out by Martin who dove to recover the latter's late-half fumble near the 1:00 mark…

NBC's Mike Mayock notes Golson appears better in "basketball on grass" situations (reminiscent of the Charlie Ward/FSU approach in 1993). I think Golson throws better in a hurry-up offense too. Look for the Irish to unleash a quicker tempo at times vs. Stanford on Saturday.

Note: Part II, a review of Notre Dame's dominant second half offense, is forthcoming.


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