Eye in the Sky: Offense, Part II

Everett Golson took over the offense in the second half, guiding the Irish to a 29-26 triple overtime comeback win over Pittsburgh

Notre Dame

Click here for Part I and a look at Notre Dame's offense through the better part of three quarters en route to a 20-6 deficit vs. Pittsburgh.

One-Man Show

It's relevant to note that with 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and his Irish trailing 20-6, senior tailback Theo Riddick took a handoff over the right side behind a Mike Golic block for seven yards on first down.

Why is this otherwise innocuous run notable? Its the last time during an Irish possession in which quarterback Everett Golson didn't run with or throw the pigskin until 6:18 remained in the fourth quarter, a span of 19 consecutive snaps.

Golson hit for 8 yards on a boundary-side bubble screen to DaVaris Daniels, his classmate's third such catch totaling 32 yards and three first downs. Golson followed with 11 more to the left boundary, this time to senior Tyler Eifert -- the player who sprung Daniels on the previous snap. Golson hit the Panthers for a nine-yard scramble thereafter, bringing the Irish to the Panthers 36-yard line in the process as the third period ended.

What followed offered a likely portent for Golson's progression in the offense: a go-route to Eifert (incomplete down the right side), a check at scrimmage and fade route to T.J. Jones down the left side (incomplete), a rush for 7 yards on a 4th and 1 shotgun draw in which the redshirt-freshman scrambled through bodies for a crucial first down..

After throwing to a well-covered Daniels deep right, Golson found his newly trusted target for seven across the middle before again trying the Panthers secondary deep, this time to Jones down the right side.

All of these incomplete shots deep forced a 4th and four situation at the Panthers 23-yard line and the Irish were bailed out by a pass interference call drawn by Eifert against K'Waun Williams. Williams decidedly did not interfere, but the official could have been fooled by incidental contact between the pair's feet during the pattern, action that caused both to stumble…

Afforded the opportunity, Golson responded with a throwback tunnel screen to Jones, blocked expertly by Cave and Eifert, who gave up his body to get enough contact to free Jones for an alley down the left hash. (Credit Niklas and a well-time play-call by Kelly after some curious repeated shots deep)…

In keeping with the manner of the contest, kicker Kyle Brindza missed the extra point (Jordan Cowart's snap was high but handled well by holder Ben Turk; Brindza has to hit that) and the Irish faced a precarious 20-12 deficit with 13:40 remaining.

15 plays, 91 yards, and Nothing to Show…

With 12 of 15 plays under Golson's control (that makes 35 of the last 41 with six Theo Riddick/Cierre Wood rushes intermixed), Kelly's scrambling offense took the ball from its own 9-yard line to the precipice of the Panthers goal, only to end in fashion similar to 2011: an interception in the red zone -- on 2nd Down, no less -- to kill the drive.

After hitting Robby Toma on an out of of the slot (a clutch grab by Toma on a pass thrown high and behind him near the pursuing cornerback), Golson then danced the Irish out of trouble, earning 27 yards on a scramble over the right side vs. a 4-man Panthers rush (Golson either didn't see a crossing Jones directly in front of him for first down yardage or knew he could take a bigger chunk with his legs)…

Golson hit for 15 more on a 3rd and five designed draw over right guard with Golic, Lombard, Cave, and Eifert all earning A+ efforts on the block and Toma an A-minus (lost his block late for the stop)… Toma came back with another out-route reception, again on the field side left for seven yards…The bubble to Daniels was finally shut down -- a loss of two after gaining 12, 11, and 9 with three first downs previously…Golson found five more on a scramble to his left with great field awareness to move the chains, extending the ball over the sideline marker…

After Cierre Wood rambled for eight yards (Eifert, Martin, Watt, and Daniels all with quality blocks) and Riddick another six following a patient cut-back when his initial hole over RG wasn't' there, Golson mis-read a wheel-route down the left side to a double-covered Eifert as Robby Toma broke free down the post from the opposite slot -- a case of Golson throwing to his best player regardless of the coverage…Golson made up for it with an 11-yard laser to Eifert on 3rd and 10, ovine the IRish to the Panthers 10-yard line…

Riddick gained three (Cave lost his block late while Golic won opposite, and in a big way; Watt and Eiert won as well, a frustrating reality of a three-yard gain that should have been more. The net result was 2nd and Goal from the Panthers 7 and Golson's oft-discussed ill-advised throw to Troy Niklas in the back of the end zone that resulted in a K'Waun Williams interception…

Golson was correct post-game when he noted it was a bad throw (too shallow to the 6'7" target). And if he's accurate that it was the right read, he was also way late. As Mark Mayock noted, Eifert was open early on a goal line hitch route…

Said Kelly to Golson when he came to the sideline: "It's Bracket!!" (You can't throw flat into 2-man bracket coverage)…

Reprieve

Thanks to a three-and-out forced by the Irish defense, Golson and the Irish offense received a final shot at redemption. The talented two-way threat wasted now time -- well, after he wasted his first opportunity, that is.

A 15-yard dig route by DaVaris Daniels in which the 6'2" target broke open was unnoticed by Golson, but after buying time and scrambling to his left, Golson uncorked a 55-yard throw in the air down. Daniels, who had broken deep and behind his defender, came under control to make his leap, shielded his flailing foe with is body, and secured the catch on the way down to set up the Irish with 1st and Goal at the 5-yard line.

"It was like recess," said Daniels of the play. "I was open early I thought, but that's when our offense is at its best. When things break down and we just play."

Golson did just that on the next two plays:

Touchdown Pass: When his designed middle draw did not fool the Panthers 4-7 goal line alignment, Golson drove forward then bounced backward (his pet move at present) before breaking right, buying time, and finding Riddick for a 5-yard touchdown grab. Credit Riddick for concentrating on the lofted pass, dragging his feet, and collapsing to the ground to ensure the catch on the sidelines.

Two-Point Conversion to Tie: The 2-point play was a three-read option: 1.) a roll-right, quick out look to Daniels (supposed to be Toma, who wasn't in the game); 2.) a clear-out and delay back left to Eifert, who ran a smash inside but was covered, and then 3.) Golson using his feet to create in space -- the third read was the charm as the latter's dive to pay dirt tied the score at 20 with 2:11 remaining.

Additional Notes: Golic executed a key seal on Golson's 4th and 1 scramble for seven yards early in the 4th…Daniels didn't earn a free inch down the sideline on his incomplete go route down the right side…Jones might have scored two plays later down the same side had Golson fired to the back pylon rather than putting air under the ball…How did the game officials initially rule a fumble on Daniels' 6-yard cross? There was no part of him that wasn't down…

Why not call a running play after Golson's 27-yard scramble to give him a play to catch is breath (he bailed from the pocket and threw out of bounds)…Golson still scrambles into pressure on the edges a bit too often -- I don't think he trusts his right side line…Lombard got away with a hold on a 5-yard out to Smith…

Golic stepped on Golson's foot causing a stumbling 8-yard loss late because he was shoved into the backfield off the snap: poor footwork/low base by a 5th-year senior…

Does Golson struggle to see open receivers inside the hash marks? Saturday vs. the Panthers he never threw to the following open receivers: Niklas down the seam (easy 15-yard TD), Brown down the post, Jones on a short cross (easy first down/27-yard gain by Golson on the run), Toma to the post on a stutter-go (threw a fade to double-covered Eifert), Eifert on a hitch (interception to NIklas), and finally, Daniels on the dig route after which he eventually hit him for 45 yards in a scramble situation.

I had no idea Davonte' Neal muffed that late punt (running down six flights of steps from press box to field). Wow…

Overtime Highlights

I was surprised to see Kelly begin each of his three overtime possessions with a pass play (each incomplete), especially the first -- a controlled empty set read from the pocket…Brindza's first field goal from 37 was a clutch response to Pittsburgh's strike from 41…There's little doubt Wood lost the ball before he crossed the plane of the goal in OT #2 -- it appeared contact with Chris Watt's back was an ancillary cause along with a low hit as he dove…There was a tremendous backside cut block by Eifert to allow him leaping space along with quality drive blocks by Martin, Watt, Cave, and Golic -- to no avail…

Golson completed just one of four passes in the nine-point overtime sessions...

Pittsburgh "should have" won with a 38-yard field goal just as Notre Dame "should have" taken that 7-point lead and likely won with Wood's end zone dive…For you pained fans of recent Irish lore, Wood received a second chance not afforded to Jeremy Sample and Pete Bercich in 1993 and Pat Dillingham/Ryan Grant/Marcus Wilson in 2002…

First OT Notes: Odd to see Kelly start with an empty-set pocket pass play (incomplete on a check down to Daniels). Perhaps the exact opposite of Golson's comfort zone? Did Riddick miss cutback lane left on first OT run? Limited to one yard and he seemed to have some space late left. Probably easier to see on TV though, eh?…Give cornerback K'Waun Williams credit for fighting and eventually beating Eifert after solid blocking in-space, eventually stopping Golson on designed boot right to force opening field goal (tie)…

2nd OT Notes: Golson nearly picked off on tunnel screen to T J Jones with a terribly sloppy throw, though Jones stopped as the route wasn't there and tried to make himself available…Wood follows Eifert (seal), Martin (in space), Watt dominant, and Daniel Smith (pancake outside) for 11 yards on 2nd and 10…Irish gain 4 yards (Riddick cut back behind Eifert in motion and away from unbalanced front right), 3 yards (Wood tackled from behind by LB Joe Trebitz), and 3 yards (Wood running hard but cut down by Trebitz again) to gain a 1st and Goal prior to Wood's fumble...

3rd OT Notes: Post-corner by Jones was there but Golson way late and forced to throw safely to the sidelines and low out of bounds…Riddick gobbled up 11 barely contested yards on a hesitation route in the middle of the field -- way to use personnel to your strengths…Riddick added seven yards on runs of 3 (nice cut left away from trouble) and 4 yards (right), before Golson plunged for 6 yards on 3rd and 3 from the Panthers 7-yard line as Lombard completely dominated his seal block responsibility outside with Golic a touch too late to clear an end zone path. Nice job by Cave to recover after absorbing a hit upon the snap. His fight gave Golson room over right guard…

Golson's QB sneak on 1st and Goal should be the M.O. for every Goal-to-Go situation at the one-yard line over the next 3.3 years…No reason to ever turn and handoff when you're one-yard away…Cave, Watt, Martin, and Niklas (pancake) pave a path for Golson for the winning score.

Dominant late defense, a dual-threat under center that put the team on his back, a little luck and a whole lot of desire provided win No. 9 for Brian Kelly's Irish over a Pittsburgh team that deserved a better fate as well.


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