Eye in the Sky: Running Backs and O-Line

Our second film review from Saturday's Irish victory over Rice examines the Notre Dame offensive line and running backs.

O-Line: Up and Down in Opener

I thought Irish head coach Brian Kelly was spot-on in his Sunday assessment regarding the offensive front:

"It was okay. It wasn't as consistent as we would like. I thought at times we did some pretty good things. But I think we would tell you in our first game, you know, we would like to say game two needs to be more consistent across the board. We have to protect our quarterback a little bit better at the tackle position. We have to be a little bit more consistent inside.

"But all in all, again, when you have the balance that we had offensively, we did enough good things. But I know talking to (offensive line coach) Harry (Hiestand), and my observation, I think what we're looking for is a little bit more consistency out of the five."

A look at the inefficiencies, including five official QB hurries and a sack allowed:

-- Right tackle Steve Elmer was late recognizing a corner blitz on the opening play, forcing Golson to check down to a covered Will Fuller at scrimmage for no gain. In fairness to Elmer, it appeared he was first assigned to double inside with right-side mate Christian Lombard, and the delayed blitz caught the Irish in the right alignment.

- Two plays later, another delayed blitz, again over the right side of the Irish front forces a scrambling Golson to throw it away after avoiding a sack despite his ankle in the grasp of a pass rusher…

-- Elmer appeared to be a touch off-balance at times in his pass set but his strength is evident and he often made up for it -- might not be the case when the Irish aren't playing Rice…

-- A snap infraction by center Nick Martin (these are often the fault of the quarterback, Kelly has often noted) is followed by the Owl's only sack of Golson. Elmer didn't force his pass rusher wide enough in a one-on-one situation and the result is an 8-yard loss.

-- First-time left tackle Ronnie Stanley was beaten badly, he "overstepped," as game announcer Mike Mayock aptly described the error, and Cam McDaniel is tackled for a loss.

-- Both tight end Ben Koyack and Elmer miss their assigned targets in open space on a boundary shovel to McDaniel that thus results in no gain. A field goal ensues. I'm not sure that's an assignment a 315-pound right tackle should be asked to handle…

-- Add a second snap infraction (Martin or Golson) and those are the only seven plays in which I noted egregious errors. But it's the minor errors known to Hiestand and Kelly that likely give the staff its annual early-season cause for pause heading into Week Two.

OL Highlights and RBs

-- It's evident that fifth-year senior Christian Lombard's struggles last season were due at least in part to his back injury (Lombard played through pain for two months before undergoing to surgery). He's much stronger, as evidenced by his ability to absorb an initial shot from a pass rusher on his inside shoulder, but recover and win the play…

-- Lombard at times dominated Rice's top player and future NFL Draft pick Christian Covington in crucial one-on-one situations…

-- I like the physicality senior left guard Conor Hanratty brings to the running game -- and have since last November when he first saw extended action…

-- Good lead block by Koyack from the offset fullback position on a Greg Bryant 13-yard gain. Hanratty buried his man, Stanley sealed the outside, and Bryant did the rest, gaining five of his 13 yards after contact. "After contact" should be a new stat tracked for the redshirt-freshman bruiser.

-- Good vision by McDaniel to hit a hole over the right side for 12 yards as Martin and Lombard open a lane…

-- Good to see Stanley square up his DE and afford Tarean Folston a chance to bounce outside. I love Folston's smooth style -- has some Amp Lee (FSU) to him for you fans of the early 1990s college runners. As Hall of Fame broadcaster Keith Jackson once mused, "he just aint got no handles on him."

-- Stanley and Hanratty secure blocks and Bryant shows great feet for another 13 yards. Bryant's quick feet, combined with raw power and that compact frame -- it's quite a skill set to bring to a college football Saturday.

-- Good pull action by Hanratty to open a lane for Bryant who'd have done some damage over the right side if not for a well-timed shot on his ankle by a diving Rice defender…

-- Koyack almost completes his second block; regardless, he's perfect on his first, a combo with Elmer to provide Bryant five yards and a first down over the right boundary…

- Bryant's only minimal rush (3 yards) was the result of a nice crash down scrimmage by an uncovered outside backer. Remember, the opponent offers scholarships, too…

-- Lombard (at the second level), Martin (secured immediately) and both Koyack and Elmer cave in the right boundary for Cam McDaniel's 23-yard gain, the longest of the day by any running back. Lombard secured his target for 18 yards downfield. McDaniel ran through an arm tackle at about 10 yards -- Bryant and Folston aren't the only Irish runners that cause problems after breaking through the first level...

-- Looked like one zone-read keeper by Golson was set to be a play-action attempt downfield but Rice's secondary didn't bite. Kelly might have been better served saving that for a time, and an opponent, for which it was needed. (It's on film, now.)

-- McDaniel eludes a backfield tackle on a shaky zone-read handoff from Golson. I thought the operation was a bit sloppy at times when Golson was forced to choose to keep or relinquish the pigskin…

-- Bryant uses his off hand well when running through traffic at the second level --- and that leg drive is not that of your average 'back…

-- Slippery runner that Folston -- love his jump cuts. Maybe not Amp Lee…Former Pittsburgh star and Irish killer Ray Graham? I can't put my finger on it...

-- Anyone notice McDaniel make three guys miss on a middle screen? It resulted in 7 yards instead of 1-2…

-- Another carry that features compact, brute power by Bryant. Man: 5'9" 210 pounds of muscle...

-- Good to see Kelly get Folston involved in some heavy north-south running late, first power over left guard for four yards, followed by his inevitable bounce to the outside that gains 19 to the left side. Great feet by Folston on the cut-back, but did you notice redshirt-freshman Durham Smythe pancake his man to make it possible?

-- Stanley got a huge push on the ensuing 4-yarder by Folston; another zone-read from Golson…

-- 10 yards for Folston out of the Pistol this time with both guards firing off the line. Smythe sealed his man and Koyack won as well…

-- Folston's straight power run with Smythe as an offset fullback gains three but Koyack lost at the point -- might have been wearing down at this point after a long day…

-- Smythe eventually missed (this time in space). Looked like he hurried instead of coming to balance and Folston is again limited to three yards…

-- Nice debut play for Malik Zaire, whose 56 yards were made possible by a quick move to scrimmage and a vicious cut-back in space, but also due to right guard Matt Hegarty, right tackle Hunter Bivin, and center Mark Harrell cleaning up at scrimmage. Justin Brent made his way across the hash marks from the boundary WR position to secure a final block to spring Zaire. Had Zaire been involved in a play or two prior he likely wouldn't have had rubber legs at the end and might have scored. 56 yards will have to do…

-- Two plays later from the Owls' 17-yard line, Hegarty, Bivin, and Harrell blow open a hole for Bryant, and one cut does the rest as he dives into the end zone for his first collegiate score….

This stat courtesy CSN's J.J. Stankevitz: Total snaps with the first unit offense: Folston 21, Bryant and McDaniel 19 apiece.

Note: Defense and special teams film reviews are forthcoming…


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