Eye in the Sky: Part II

Our concluding offensive film review examines Tyler Eifert, Everett Golson, and a family affair along the Irish offensive line.

Click here for Part I and a look at the Irish receivers plus Cierre Wood and the rest of the offensive backfield.

Better Still?

One (highly) ill-advised throw off his back foot into the end zone. A couple of technical mistakes on deep balls. A missed post-corner he probably hit 10 times out of 10 last week.

There's not much to nit-pick from Everett Golson's sterling performance vs. Wake Forest that helped move the Irish to 11-0. Its intriguing, nonetheless, that even a non-coach's eye could see a few easily correctable errors for the redshirt-freshman heading into Notre Dame's "semi-final" game vs. USC this Saturday.

First, the myriad positives.

Golson fired passes down the seam, two in fact, gaining 24 and 22 yards respectively, both on 3rd and 11, both to Theo Riddick, only one was low and away and one high and with plenty of zip -- both necessary due to the coverage. (The first conversion set up Cierre Wood's 68-yard rushing score one snap later for a 7-0 advantage.)

He unleashed bullets to the field side out to T.J. Jones; three of them -- then struck with and out and up to Jones, expertly set up by a season of throwing for 9-11 yards outside thereby baiting the cornerback for an easy six.

He threw low and away to Daniel Smith for a first down, then zipped a field-side hitch to John Goodman despite pressure in his face, the result of a failed cut-block by the enigmatic Wood. He made up for a terribly lazy fade pass to Tyler Eifert who had inside position on a box-out route, with a perfectly placed offering on the next snap for a two-yard score and 14-0 lead -- this time to Eifert who sealed his defender inside with nary two yards of space between he and the end line. A harder throw, a better throw, a score.

That's Golson at present, able to bring a pump fake, roll to improve his position, and fire -- to the initial intended receiver -- with enough zip that the pass isn't even challenged. A player able to slip on a play-action boot as his receiver John Goodman breaks open deep downfield, then gather himself with the presence of mind to adjust the trajectory of his 50-yard throw: a moon-beam rather than laser shot thereby allowing Goodman to make a play vs. a flailing, trailing cornerback.

Of course, Golson failed to see (or disregarded) an uncovered Troy Niklas 20 yards downfield and clearly in his line of site on the touchdown toss. Niklas would not have been touched until at least the 15 yard line if at all with two blockers and two defenders downfield.

Golson is a work in progress, but one that's progressing rapidly. He threw late for at least the third time in as many games to speedster Chris Brown down the post, perhaps trusting his arm to make up for the designed timing of the throw.

He later found Jones for the aforementioned out-and-up score, expertly faking the throw to the out with one hand, reloading and tossing an easily catchable ball with pace ahead of a trailing defender for the score.

Upwardly Mobile

Golson hits far more than he misses; creates at a better rate than he chooses poorly; wins more than he loses when he trust his playmakers to do their jobs as Eifert did on a late and poorly thrown jump ball down the seam in which the All-America tight end simply crashed into and took the ball from a would-be-interceptor: 38 yards the hard way if you're a coach. All as planned if you're the two playing pitch-and-catch.

His tendency to throw off his back foot will inevitably bite him vs. either USC or Alabama/Georgia as it did Saturday on a forced pass to the deep corner, one intended to give senior Robby Toma a chance at the score but instead easily picked off by a two-deep safety Golson ignored.

But positive tendencies far outweigh the negative. He routinely connects with moving targets on full and half-speed sprints and bootlegs left (15 yards for Eifert; another 15 to Jones). He continues to buy time in the pocket while looking for targets at the second level and beyond (27 to Toma with a healthy 15 after the catch).

And though it wasn't part of Saturday's plan, he's the team's best chain mover with his legs over the last six games.

He still occasionally holds the ball too long inside the opponent's 10-yard line, a reality that's turned 7 into 3 too often this fall. Golson sometimes fails to recognize the immediately open tight end down the seam (Troy Niklas twice in the last two home games, both for would-be scores), and he likely has one more major mistake on the immediate docket as he learns the position from his taskmaster coach and mentor.

Regardless, he can make up for his mistakes with his right arm and feet, and that makes his continued development in the midst of a still spotless start to his playing career the chief storyline of the offense this season.

All in the Family

Notre Dame's best offensive lineman this decade is Zack Martin. The best offensive lineman on George Atkinson's otherwise innocuous 9-yard touchdown run to extend the Irish lead to 38-0 was his younger brother, Nick.

Aligned at left guard and to his brother's immediate right, Martin 2.0 executed a down block (in congress with his brother's perfect seal outside) to afford Atkinson an easy lane for the score. Credit Daniel Smith and Niklas for quality blocks as well).

Told post-game his younger brother "might have had a better block than you did" on the play, Martin noted, "We'll see on film."

Joining the Martin's up front late in the third quarter were the Golic's, with tight end Jake contributing a block on third-and-one to help Theo Riddick move the chains. Starter Mike Golic was in his usual right guard spot for the snap, his pull from right to left helped seal the small hole for Riddick to move the sticks.

While Zack Martin is a dominant player in space, Golic has been the surprise of the season in the run game, consistently executing pull blocks over the right side. Even when challenged physically by quicker players as he often is on stretch runs to the left side, there's no doubting Golic's effort. Even when he misses, he's not lazy in his approach…

Speaking of too quick, 5'11" nose guard Nikita Whitlock was just that against center Braxston Cave and a later Golic on an early tackle that dropped Wood for a three-yard loss. Wake Forest couldn't hold up at the point without an extra man in the box, but they were disruptive attacking from the perimeter nonetheless…

Joining Golic as a pull-block weapon of late: right tackle Christian Lombard. I saw two instances in the first three quarters, the highlight an absolute stoning effort in space to free Wood for a 43-yard gain. Lombard was in the game at the 8:39 mark with the Irish leading 38-0 -- that's how *thin ND is in its varsity backup ranks, and that's why five offensive linemen became a necessity in 2013 with four more likely on tap for 2013…

(*Four Irish OL were lost since camp with LT Jordan Prestwood transferring; G Brad Carrico going on medical scholarship, and RT Tate Nichols lost to another knee injury. Also out: center Matt Hegarty - undisclosed, non-football ailment.)

Chris Watt had another solid outing -- he's often used pulling from his left guard spot to the right side as a personal protector on Everett Golson's play-action bootlegs. Watt absolutely hammered one would-be-tackler to the turf in the second quarter on Golson's interception. Still, he's occasionally a touch off balance in free space as he was on an early second quarter Golson boot in the end zone (pass completed to Jones), and will be challenged to execute such blocks vs. Alabama/Georgia should the title shot come to fruition.

Top Target

NBC's tight end graphic illustrating Tyler Eifert's record-breaking 129th reception was another good recruiting tool for the IRish at the position. Of the four names joining Eifert in the top four were the three tight ends that preceded him chronologically: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, and Anthony Fasano -- all currently n the NFL.

Eifert should break Ken MacAfee's yardage record next week in Los Angeles and its plausible he could score two more touchdowns to tie the legend's mark of six in a season at the position, though I've said that every year regarding Eifert and formerly Rudolph. MacAfee has a force field around that touchdown mark, with none of the myriad future pros even scoring five touchdowns until Eifert did last fall.

MacAfee's 15 career scoring grabs might be out of reach as Eifert enters his final two outings with 11.

Bigger Loss? I'll be the first to say it: Notre Dame's passing game needs Eifert next year more than it needed Michael Floyd in 2012.

Sure Golson will be better. So too Will Jones, Smith, Brown, DaVaris Daniels, et al. Niklas, Ben Koyack, and Alex Welch are capable and potentially more. But Eifert is one of the 10 best pass-catching tight ends I've seen at the college level. He's a 6'6" 255-pound wide receiver that always competed as a blocker and by his senior season, became proficient.

Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija -- all explosive, outstanding pass catchers and better overall receivers for the program because of their speed and requirements of the position. But if I needed a tough 15-yarder between the hash marks, I'd choose Eifert over them all.

(But not before Derrick Mayes.)

Jones will lead the 2013 team in receptions, but Look for DaVaris Daniels to be the biggest 15+ yard threat next fall in Eifert's absence.

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