Eye in the Sky: 10 Questions

In the first of two parts, O'Malley takes the 10 most interesting, pertinent, and/or entertaining emails for this week's offensive film review.

I received more email (all rosy, of course) this weekend than any since the Pittsburgh win last fall.

Most of them were game-related, and specific to Saturday's contest. A special. Eye in the Sky: Reader's Edition, is the result:

#1 -- "Is the Jig Up with Tommy Rees?"

From D.M. in St. Louis -- "It seems every defense has figured out how to take advantage of his deficiencies, and the staff is blind to that reality. And where does "The Jig is Up" come from, anyway?"

Incidentally, that's the best tangent/follow-up question from about 110 emails, good times. (*Answer below).

It's fair to say that Notre Dame's tendencies offensively (passing from the empty set all but once this season, with no real threat if they don't) coupled with Rees' limitations put the offense in a jam in plenty of passing situations. That's why they have to stay ahead of the chains.

Notre Dame went with an empty backfield on 3rd down ten times vs. Oklahoma: two completions, two interceptions (the TD and the tip late in the second quarter), a pass interference penalty on the offense, two offensive penalties, and just two conversions. That's 2 of 10 on 3rd down from Empty, with both conversions occurring in 3rd and manageable (six yards to Daniels, 4 yards to Jones, both gained plenty after the catch).

I can't figure out why they employ Empty with Rees, even in 3rd and 15+, because the lack of a 'back in pass protection there is even worse: blitz and you guarantee a quick throw.

Rees is better than he's looked of late, but he can't miss the simple passes -- the slant to Jones was high, you can't throw high on a slant, even if timing is a touch off. And you can't miss backfield flares like he did to Folston on a play that would have gained somewhere between 20 yards and a touchdown over the right side. Rees' best has come from play-action out of the Pistol and in offset formations ('back aligned to either side).

I'd say the greatest criticism of play-calling, Brian Kelly, Chuck Martin's, or the combination of the two, is that they put too much on Rees. Every time you ask a quarterback that needs help to throw more than 30 times, you're tempting fate.

Rees ended the game 0 for 8. He's missed 43 of his last 58 passes and when the Irish go empty, they come up as such. I don't blame Rees for not beating good defenses with his arm and legs just as I don't blame myself for not dunking on the fast break.

(*As to your follow-up: Apparently it has something to do with not believing a fisherman has a fish on his hook, or not believing until "the jig is up out of the water." Come to Irisheyes.com to learn more about football and idioms next Monday!)

#2 -- "Did Kelly Abandon the Run…Again?"

Unattributed because it was asked about 50 times. He stuck with it more than I thought he would in the second half, but let's look at "abandoning" vs. "establishing" and "having confidence in."

Consider this: Notre Dame's best day running the football since Thanksgiving Weekend 2012 ended in defeat -- and it likely could have been avoided had the Irish forced the issue from the outset, because they were down 14-0 before they attempted run No. 2 on the day!

(Though I wonder if Kelly took note of previous slow starts at Michigan and Purdue where two runs were followed by a pass and subsequent punt, and looked to a few short passes for a spark?)

The Irish ran more than they passed in a loss for the first time in the Kelly era, so his intentions were there. And after the forward pass and its inherent drawbacks put the Irish in a 14-0 hole, Kelly got the game down to 14-7 and 27-21 by running more than throwing.

The issue I had, and it's more a situation of philosophical differences, is that down 35-21 with 12:24 remaining, Notre Dame ran the ball --- one more time.

The final 8:03 included six incomplete passes and no runs. The final three drives were eight incomplete passes from Empty, two tipped, a miscommunication downfield, two offensive line errors (penalty, quick snap), and a bunch of very well covered receivers.

So I'd say when running was still an option, the Irish predictably tried in vain to toss it around the yard.

#3 -- "Who were some unsung performers Saturday?"

This was Tommy from Tenefly, N.J. much nicer version of a previous email that asked, "Who didn't stink?"

Two previously panned played what I have as their best film reviews to date: tight end Ben Koyack and right guard Christian Lombard.

I have to apologize to Lombard, as I noted the senior as a potential weak spot on a radio show Friday. He was excellent up until a late bull rush that resulted in a Rees pass getting tipped at the line. I had Lombard for five key blocks on running plays, springing George Atkinson for gains of 9 and 7 on stretch runs, 14 on a pulling block, and Amir Carlisle for 10 on another pull from left to right.

Lombard also got a backside seal at the second level on Atkinson's 80-yard sprint for a score.

Aside from an odd no-show block (of anyone) after motioning on 2nd and Goal at the 3-yard line (the result was Andrew Hendrix was held to 2 instead of a score), Koyack put forth what had to be his best game in an Irish uniform.

I noted him for five key blocks on running plays, one in which he drove a defender 10 yards downfield to allow Cam McDaniel eight yards (stretch run to the boundary), one where his crucial outside seal afforded Tarean Folston room in the backfield on a 36-yard run down the sidelines, another where he combined with Troy Niklas, Chris Watt, and Zack Martin for a power run that gained six, and also a solo effort in which he handled Corey Nelson, Oklahoma's play-making defensive end.

Koyack provided the crucial outside seal block to begin Atkinson's 80-yard score as well.

I'll do a Top 10 overall for the game, plus honorable mention, and both Koyack and Lombard will make the top 10. Other offensive players are Atkinson (MVP), and Niklas, who was also a star in the run game. Those making honorable mention are Z. Martin, Watt, Jones, and Folston.

#4 -- "Why didn't we see Hendrix Prior to Game 5?"

Also unattributed, but since poster Irishchamps88 asks it weekly, he gets credit.

I'm surprised we didn't, from the outset, when the team got inside the red zone. And by that I mean inside the 20 or 25-range, not necessarily inside the 10.

I thought he provided a nice spark, the change-of-pace Kelly hoped for. But it's worth noting that plays involving Hendrix included the following (and just one pass attempt):

  • One yard run for Carlisle
  • Incomplete right, and on a play he missed a wide open, uncovered DaVaris Daniels left for an easy touchdown
  • One yard for Atkinson
  • 36 yards for Folston
  • 2 yard keeper for Hendrix
  • A false start
  • 6-yard keeper
  • Gain of 1 (Atkinson)
  • Gain of 7 (Folston)
  • Dropped for loss of 5 on 3rd and 3 keeper
  • 4-yard keeper to boundary on 3rd and 1
  • 5-yard keeper on power left where he cut inside for 5 more

Why didn't Hendrix take a snap in the second half? Because Kelly doesn't trust him with a forward pass. He's going to have to do so to take full advantage of what he presents: a limited run/pass and/or scrambling option.

I can't imagine that in Year Four, Hendrix can't have a two route option to both sides, read one side, then run. It can work as well as an empty set, and maybe they'd avoid 3rd and long more often if Hendrix takes 10-12 snaps per game in a run-heavy attack.

As noted previously, if there's any quarterback that should be comfortable coming in and out of a game, it's Tommy Rees.

#5 "What's Notre Dame going to do with 4 'backs?"

Simple, run it more.

And I don't mean it's Everybody Gets a Trophy Day, and I don't care if they're all happy, but if you have four guys you like, and it appears they do, use them. I see three advantages to this tactic (while acknowledging it can be tough to get in a rhythm with sporadic carries):

1 -- They have varied skill sets: Including Carlisle, Folston, and McDaniel in the passing game, why can't you use two 'backs at times with Atkinson, or whomever is the hot runner du jour. Which reminds me…

2 -- Go with the hot hand: If you run enough (35-40 minimum), you'll get one of the four guys in rhythm. Ride that player that Saturday. Again, if someone's feelings are hurt because they run 15 times vs. Arizona State but four times vs. USC, there's the bench, sit on it. Or run better and make Kelly play you.

3 -- If you're running, you're not passing: I think I've made these feelings clear. Notre Dame is now 2-12 when they run 30 times or fewer under Kelly; 29-1 when it's 31 or more.

Note: Part II will be posted tonight

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