Eye in the Sky: Offense

Part One of our weekly film review examines the season's best opening drive in South Bend, Cierre Wood's dominant afternoon with a nonetheless luke-warm post-game reception, as well as a breakdown of Notre Dame's game-changing "chunk plays" of 20 yards or more.

Better than 16 yards per completion, more than seven yards per rush, 430 yards prior to intermission, and eight plays on the day in excess of 20 yards including three for touchdowns.

Notre Dame fans are unlikely to see a better offensive performance as their team chases a BCS crown, and it was all made possible by a 2012 season first: an opening drive touchdown in the House that Rockne Built.

Key to the four-play, 91-yard drive were two snaps:

1.) Facing 3rd and 11 from his own 8-yard line, quarterback Everett Golson fired down the left seam to running back Theo Riddick for a 24-yard gain. Riddick used a simple shoulder shake to the inside before bursting free down the seam to secure the intentionally low throw to move the chains.

2.) One snap later, Golson ran option right to the wide side with senior Cierre Wood and after a well-timed pitch, Notre Dame's phalanx of blockers did the rest with Tyler Eifert and right tackle Christian Lombard winning on the move at scrimmage, and wide receivers T.J. Jones, (initial seal outside), Daniel Smith (a straight up block 15 yards down field), and backside wide receiver Chris Brown battling a defender 50 yards downfield to allow Wood a free run until he was finally touched crossing the goal.

7-0 Irish and the rout was on…

Chopping Wood

I'll miss watching Wood run if these are his last two games in an Irish uniform. A second quarter outside zone run from midfield epitomized his style, with Wood taking a handoff left, breaking back inside and navigating through traffic for 16 yards. At his best, Wood doesn't run, he glides…

Vision, balance, patience, speed, a knack for the open field -- and tremendous blocking -- afforded Wood the longest touchdown rush of his career in the first half, his 68-yarder described above. Though he was untouched Wood's ability to cut at full speed was instrumental in breaking past and through potential defenders on the long sprint…

Wood also hit for 20 yards in the first quarter, taking a stretch run to the left from the Wake Forest 21 to the goal line thanks to zone blocking by Eifert, LT Zack Martin and LG Chris Watt, not to mention a nice kick-out at the second level by C Braxston Cave, and some winning football on the perimeter by both Daniel Smith and a motioned T.J. Jones…

Tight end Troy Niklas missed assignment on the ensuing snap, resulting in a one-yard loss by Wood. Niklas also took away some potential yardage from Wood later in the day, missing an assignment and causing Wood to be dropped for a short gain when it appeared he had cut-back room through the middle...(Niklas improved in the second half for those scoring at home)…

Wood's final big run was a 43-yard delay left with right tackle Christian Lombard throwing a key pull block (a new wrinkle for the Irish offense as right guard Mike Golic, Jr., is usually the move man from right to left. Both Martin and Niklas sealed their men to give Wood room at scrimmage and when he hits that second level, its over for most defenses. Goodman gave him a seal to the outside and Wood fired down the left seam and sideline for his 150th and final yards of the day with nearly six minutes remaining in the third quarter…

Said Kelly of Wood post-game:

"Cierre continues to do the job we ask him to do. He ran North and South, which that is the one thing that he's continued to work on as a football player. He's getting better. I mean, he's got a long way to go, but he had a great night tonight.

"I think we blocked well up front. He saw the things necessary to put his foot in the ground and play North and South. He's a better football player when he goes North and South. I think he's starting to understand that as well."

It's clear Kelly has lingering trust issues with Wood, because from the untrained eye, the senior is the team's difference maker in the backfield and its best natural runner by a wide margin (Riddick is likely an all-around better offensive player with his receiving ability and power approach inside).

Chunk Plays

Notre Dame's six games in excess of 200 rushing yards is the program's best in more than a decade and proven a crucial, consistent competent of Brian Kelly's offense. But its the ability to hit for chunk plays -- gains of 20 yards or more -- that afforded the Irish offense a chance to compliment the team's defense as the season progressed.

First seen in a 20-3 win at Michigan State, then repeated on the road vs. Oklahoma, long gains reappeared as part of the attack Saturday in South Bend, with seven of note accounting for 245 of the offense's staggering 430 first half yards:

Theo Riddick seam route for 24: Described in The Opening paragraph, the catch was Riddick's fifth third-down chain mover of the season through the air.

Cierre Wood 68-yard burst: Also explained above -- Wood ran untouched for 67 yards on the longest touchdown score by an Irish player this season.

Wood for 20 yards (1st half) and Wood for 43 yards (second) Detailed above as well.

Goodman for 50 yards (TD): The 5th-year senior secured his first Stadium touchdown reception in his last appearance, beating Merrill Noel deep on a go route (slight hesitation move inside, then Goodman blew by) before securing the moon-beam offering from Golson in the end zone. (Goodman quickly corrected me when I noted it was his first Stadium TD: "First reception" he pointed out, in reference to a 32-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd vs. Western Michigan in 2010.

Toma for 27: The senior target began slotted left, ended up far right as the result of an extended Golson scramble, then gathered a cross-field bullet from his quarterback, faked out two would-be tacklers for an extra 15 yards after the catch. It was Toma's longest gain of the season and tied the longest of his career.

Riddick for 22: Again 3rd and 11, this time in the second quarter, this time down the right seam, and instead of low and away, Riddick caught some high heat from Golson before burying his head into an oncoming defender for the first down.

Jones for 34 and a score: Already the recipient of two field-side out routes, Jones ran a school-yard out and up, easily distancing himself from outside coverage for an unmolested 34-yard score behind the defense. The offense's seventh big play of the half provided a 28-0 cushion in a game never in doubt.

The Irish added eight pass receptions of between 11 and 16 yards along with another rush by Wood for 16.

Perimeter Observations

T.J. Jones is developing into the type of receiver that gave Notre Dame's defense fits over the last decade-plus: he's crafty, quicker than fast, shows courage inside, and simply has a knack for breaking free by running a crisp route. Nothing fancy, just productive and improving each week. (Foes such as Boston College's Rich Gunnell and MSU's Blair White, both in 2009, are comparative examples that come to mind.)

Jones caught three field side outs, one stop-and-go touchdown (as a result of those outs), and also bailed Golson out with a nice sideline grab coming back for the ball as the former through from his own end zone while avoiding pursuit…

Jones' classmate Daniel Smith executed key blocks on both of Wood's long touchdown runs this season: Saturday vs. Wake Forest and on the senior's 62-yard untouched sprint at Oklahoma. He's the Pat Eilers of the 2012 Irish…

Goodman has made the most of his six receptions this season with three touchdowns and the oft-referenced 3rd and 10 bailout catch of Tommy Rees to keep the game-winning drive vs. Purdue intermixed. Goodman also recorded a sideline reception vs. Miami with one second remaining in the half to set up an Irish field goal following a tremendous late drive but Kyle Brindza missed the kick…

(The reaction on classmate Kapron Lewis-Moore's face congratulating Goodman on his score is priceless).

Riddick will make my Top 10 Irisheyes.com player list at season's end. His effortless shoelace catch followed by an immediate shake in space to gain first down yardage is unique to the offense, maybe in recent seasons. I can't think of a player other than Golden Tate capable of such hand-eye effort, balance, and burst….

Riddick and Wood both started Saturday for Senior Day…TJ and Goodman had big days as downfield blockers, but both missed crack-back blocks at scrimmage that resulted in ND rushers getting belted on swing passes… Wake's backside pursuit held ND's running game in check on all but about five big runs. Of course, that determination to stop the run afforded Golson his best day as a collegian...

Chris Brown executed a key late block on Wood's 68-yard score, but he'll have better days as a pass catcher (maybe in LA next week?). Brown needlessly hopped, then dropped, a would-be first down in his gut in the third quarter. He appeared unsettled from the moment he broke until the ball touched the turf...

Its been tough for athlete George Atkinson to find a consistent role this fall. He needs to plant and go as Kelly noted he had done earlier this season. When Atkinson stops to cut he loses any momentum or physical presence -- not a good thing for a 6'1" 210 pounder buller…It's a bad sign Riddick had to replace Atkinson on 3rd and 1 with a 31-0 lead to ensure the chains moved…

The upside for Atkinson in 2013-14: former Irish speedster and straight-liner Randy Kinder. The downside? Amir Carlisle might be Riddick with straight-line speed. The latter would be good for the Irish as a whole but likely cut into the still-learning Atkinson's playing time.

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