Eye in the Sky: Observations on O

Across the roster observations of Notre Dame's offensive contributors Saturday vs. Temple.

No three-and-out series until the fourth quarter. Just one false start, just one holding call (and not on an offensive lineman). 14 plays in excess of 10 yards. Three for three converting third downs of four yards or less entering the less-than-competitive fourth quarter. 543 yards of total offense with a 35-27 blend of run and pass (23-20 entering the final quarter before the Irish began to run out the clock).

Notre Dame's offensive output was less frustrating on film than live when it seemed missed opportunities kept the score down significantly (for both teams, I might add).

Unbalanced lines, slot-backs, motion that indicated a Jet Sweep is in the future, myriad personnel groupings (including an all-freshmen WR trio), *formations (at least seven with 3-wide the most-often used) and backfield alignments (Pistol, standard spread, under center) all contributed to a 543-yard day, the third-highest of the 40-game Kelly era.

(*Click here for a detailed breakdown of offensive coordinator Chuck Martin's formations and his usage of the Pistol Saturday.)

Rees and the Receivers

Notre Dame's season-opening procedure penalty was more bad luck than preparation -- T.J. Jones had a helmet malfunction and when he stopped to fix it, he was technically removed from huddled players…C.J. Prosise's first block attempt at the college level helped provide Amir Carlisle 45 yards down the sidelines, but his second was cast aside and third incurred a holding call. He'll be asked to clean that up entering Big 10 play over the next three weeks…

Rees' first incompletion might have been his best pass of the day, a high strike over a defender to DaVaris Daniels on the sideline and Daniels narrowly missed a toe-tapping finish…Rees' two touchdown passes to Daniels, while perfect in execution and read, were two of the easiest throws he'll be asked to make this month…

Rees' tunnel screen to Carlisle in the first quarter was easy to discern pre-snap (and it showed in a 1-yard loss). Look for an adjustment from that formation (Carlisle wide left behind the line with two receiver inside him) vs. Michigan, perhaps a release on the backside post…Rees' first real miss of the day was a wheel route to Jones who had plenty of room between the corner and safety down the far sideline…

One series later Rees expertly hit Jones as he broke open on a second level crossing route from the slot, gaining 26 including 12 after the catch…Rees later missed Fuller high (way high) on a 12-yard hitch during the same drive, though its plausible the rookie ran his route too short…Daniels' pulled groin cost him and Rees a third touchdown, that was a nice throw by Rees but Daniels had to pull up lame before he could accelerate through the ball…

Sophomore Chris Brown has a fixable tendency to jump when he catches hitch routes, whether the ball is just above his helmet or at his chest…Rees' 33-yard sideline gainer to Brown on 3rd and 4 was a classic modern example of relying on an athlete to win one-on-one. Brown's leaping catch was reminiscent, it pains me to say, of a great Alvin Harper catch that helped knock my 49ers out of the 1992 NFC Title Game, but I digress…

The Irish gained 68 yards on two passes from the Pistol backfield on passes to Jones aligned as an old-fashioned slot-back (Navy uses the slot-back in its option offense)…The bubble route Jones ran behind Niklas and Smith worked to perfection (51 yards, than 17)…Rees hit Jones for two field-side (wide) hitch routes, both to start drives deep in Irish territory, one gained 16, the second 7 yards…There'll be tighter coverage in such situations Saturday in Ann Arbor, forcing Rees into a second read at the shadow of his own goal...

Rees' second quarter miss high of Niklas on the near hash was the result of the tight end getting redirected and thus stumbling downfield…The better read would have been the fade to Robinson in one-on-one coverage. In fact, I'm stunned Rees eschewed that option to try to fit a pass down the seam in traffic...

The Irish are asking their slot receiver to crash inside and secure an inside 'backer on delayed runs. They appeared to pitch an "0-fer" employing the tactic, 0-4 getting there with Jones, Niklas, Smith, and Smith, respectively in the first three quarters…

Good to see George Atkinson easily handle a well-thrown field-side swing route for 14 yards. It's a ball he has to catch, but turning back inside while sprinting toward the sidelines is not intuitive for a running back…Nice read by Rees and Jones to pick up an easy 20 yards on a back-shoulder stop-fade, aka, the most annoying route in football if you're a man-to-man cornerback…Rees missed a read on his similar throw to Brown later in the contest. The senior triggerman seemed to have Jones open from the opposite slot down the seam, but turned away from it when Temple's safety took two steps in Jones' direction at the snap...

Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin employed a few *Jet Sprints (motion receiver runs between center and quarterback) pre-snap, first with Daniels as the decoy, then Daniel Smith (who could be effective blocking from the formation). Look for Daniels (or Jones) to take one to keep defenses honest in the future…

'Backs and O-Line

Atkinson again proved he can take a hit. If an Irish player gets up from a better one this fall, God Bless…I felt most of the off-season that "pad level" critiques of Atkinson, whether accurate or not, were lazy, especially for a guy with just 54 career carries entering the season. But if he's going to keep getting lambasted at the second level as he did on the season's second snap Saturday and in the Blue Gold Game by Carlo Calabrese, they're going to continue to dog him…

What I'm afraid Atkinson might lack is the natural wiggle present in most great runners. Randy Kinder (1992-95) didn't have it, either, and he had a very good Notre Dame career, one based on raw speed and the resulting power of it. Right now, Atkinson is Kinder without the impressive resume…

Speaking of wiggle, Cam McDaniel's north-south style is going to ensure a job this season: he might be the short-yardage back (very good balance and ability to stay low through a hole) and could finish second on the team in total rushes because he's dedicated to getting what he can, when he can. McDaniel won't make something out of nothing behind scrimmage, but he'll turn plenty of 4-yard gains into 10-plus, and that's better than turning one 10-yard gain into 60 -- pending the opponent of course…

Zack Martin was his usual outstanding self. The captain was tremendous on 18-yard run by McDaniel from Pistol while left guard Chris Watt kicked out to dominate his 'backer. Nick Martin turned his man inside, completely out of the play from the center position. It would have been for naught if not for McDaniel's vision approaching the hole. He bounced it to the right without hesitation, maintaining a line upfield. While he might lack straight line speed, McDaniel is blessed with first and second-step initial quickness…

(Nick) Martin was winning at the point early, a good first start…Watt, Martin, and Martin all won on 3rd and 1to provide Atkinson a first down and four yards up the gut from the Pistol…

After executing the most important block on Rees' first 32-yard touchdown pass to Daniels, new right guard Christian Lombard was worked over by a simple rip move to the outside resulting in the game's only sack…Lombard needs to finish blocks vs. linebackers in space, especially when uncovered at the snap (he gets his man, but doesn't dominate him, allowing the defender back into the play) and I'm a bit concerned with Lombard giving up inside moves to power players when the team buses north next weekend…

I like the fight first time starter Ronnie Stanley shows in pass protection. When he's more polished, he'll be tough to beat. Better footwork will make his long arms weapons instead of intriguing attributes…He was a touch late on one zone read play to the opposite side and his assignment made a backside tackle...

Notre Dame tried to hit backside Temple inside 'backer Tyler Matakevich with a sprint-draw, misdirection hand-off to Atkinson. The play went for 32 yards last year at Michigan State but I haven't seen it work since (0-3 to my recollection)…

Tight end Troy Niklas was the game's best blocker in space but asking him to sprint from a detached position to secure an inside 'backer on an interior run, no less, might not yet be in his arsenal…

The Irish showed a two-tight end/two wide receiver formation with an unbalanced line to the field side multiple times:

- Initially on 3rd and 1 (Atkinson picked up 4 yards up the gut), later on 2nd and 2 (Atkinson picked up 14 yards opposite the tight ends aligned to his left). They ran power from it again (Carlisle picked up 3 yards on 1st and 10) and again away from the phalanx of blockers for 16 yards by McDaniel to the boundary (the 2 tights and 2 wides again lined up to the field)…Kelly followed up with the formation again, this time bringing receiver Daniel Smith in motion to help lead block for Atkinson's strong-side two-yard touchdown...

As noted in our first film review, Kelly/Martin employed this set with a Pistol backfield on nine snaps. Look for the Irish to hit something in the passing game from this set over the next three weeks.

Across the Roster

Carlisle's quickness through the initial hole is the best on the team…McDaniel was 2-for-2 in pass-blocking situations that I noticed Saturday…Chris Brown wasn't a bad blocker at 172 pounds last year (he aided Cierre Wood on a 68-yard score vs. Wake Forest). But his block to spring Carlisle on the game's opening play was a thing of beauty and will keep him in the rotation despite the presence of several promising players behind him…

Notre Dame needs DaVaris Daniels at full strength to beat Michigan; he and Jones are the nation's most undervalued 1-2 punch…You'll see more missed throws by Rees if Daniels isn't in the lineup as the young receivers won't adjust on the fly as well as Rees' Camp Shiloh roommate when shown a variety of coverages…

I'm stunned 170-pound Will Fuller played Saturday, but he entered early and was involved relatively often. The Irish are apparently going 8-deep this fall…Fuller was my favorite among the incoming foursome on Signing Day, I just assumed he was too slight to make a first-year impact…(And yes, he was overtaken by Robinson as the object of my future wide receiver affections during the spring)…

I know Notre Dame can't balance five runners throughout the season, but I'm not sure sitting Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston until mop-up time is the best tactic, either…Both look promising and I doubt either will be involved in the game plan in Ann Arbor…

I didn't notice Alex Welch from scrimmage Saturday; odd because we've been told he's a better in-line blocker than is Ben Koyack, who enjoyed at least eight snaps (and a start)…

I might have overestimated how much competitive game action Hendrix would get in relief of Rees this fall...


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