Eye in the Sky: Offense

Our first of two film reviews examining Notre Dame's offense details head coach Brian Kelly's half-ending success through three games this season, the lack of finishing power in the fourth quarter by the Irish offense (two 10-play drives, two field goals), and provides a detailed breakdown of the offensive line's highs and myriad lows Saturday night in Indianapolis.

Ending the Half in Style, Again

Three games, three half-ending touchdowns. If the Irish offense keeps up this pace, it's goodbye Orlando, hello Pasadena.

Saturday night, an 8-play, 70-yard half-ending drive began with a play call that illustrates Kelly's feel for the game: A designed draw by Everett Golson. Easy eight yards, and with 2nd-and-2, Notre Dame was able to dictate to Purdue's defense.

A few tell-tale signs from this drive ensued:

-- A left-to-right slant route to Will Fuller is the early-season bread-and-butter for Golson. He puts that on a receiver beautifully on a consistent basis, and Fuller runs that particular route surprisingly well.

-- A bailout throw off his back foot to Chris Brown (inc. short) was a sign that Golson doesn't trust his protection. And I don't blame him. He had another second, but the clock in his held told him differently.

-- A 32-yard strike to Robinson on a "banana" from the slot (picture the fruit, that was his route from the boundary side right) was made possible by a tremendous leaping catch from the six-foot-five Robinson and a well-positioned back shoulder throw from Golson as the safety came over front side. Also key: Irish RB Greg Bryant running a short hitch in front of Robinson, the route froze the cornerback who had to monitor Bryant as Robinson sped past.

-- A sack and loss of three yards ensues: Golson again a little skittish, expecting pressure. Purdue did not disappoint -- the Irish O-Line did.

-- All EG: Golson follows with a 15-yard touchdown sprint to the vacated right side. Outside pressure was contained by right tackle Steve Elmer, but Golson chose not to hang in the pocket (and throw a potential post TD to an open Will Fuller), instead breaking at full speed to the right pylon. Thanks to junior wide receiver Chris Brown, Golson's decision pays off for six points. If a wide receiver receives credit for catching a touchdown pass from his quarterback, I'm perfectly comfortable awarding Brown half-a-touchdown for his block on this play.

Lesson for future foes: don't give Golson, Kelly, and this Irish offense any time or semblance of field position to work with: they'll score with time to spare:

-- Rice, began at own 47-yard line with 0:21, scored with 0:05
-- Michigan, began at own 44 with 1:24, scored with 0:50
-- Purdue, began at own 30 with 3:00, scored with 0:13

Saturday night's was the most important, turning a 14-10 deficit into a deflating 17-14 lead at the break.

A Two Field Goal Fourth

Accepting the fact that Notre Dame has held leads entering the final quarter of each contest, it's nonetheless disconcerting that the Irish offense hasn't done much to put games on ice in the final 15 minutes. (The defense has done all the heavy lifting in that regard.)

Holding a 24-14 lead Saturday night, Kelly's offense put together two strong drives, both totaling 10 plays, but finished with just six points to show for it.

Both drives featured positives from the skill positions coupled with inconsistencies up front:

Beginning at their own 30-yard line, a first-play first down

-- Play-action from the pistol formation and Golson puts an 11-yard hitch in Chris Brown's hands on the field side. Excellent throw vs. tight coverage.

-- Tarean Folston is limited to one-yard thereafter, no push from the offensive interior…

-- Folston gains six after turning a boundary stretch run upfield with authority. Right guard Matt Hegarty allowed major upfield penetration that almost destroyed the play…

-- Golson with a first: a tunnel screen to deep threat Corey Robinson slant for five yards and a first down. Robinson's not taking one of those far, but using him in a variety of ways will help him grow as the season progresses.

-- Golson to Prosise for 17 from the slot and the junior shows nice balance after catch but the Irish are whistled for illegal formation. It appeared to be Folston (this is an educated guess) aligned far left. Kelly was miffed post-game because whomever was at fault simply had to check his pre-snap alignment with the official and never bothered to do so…

-- The penalty, plus an ensuing sack of Golson kills the drive. Golson lost five and was technically sacked by Elmer's defender on a speed rush though the sophomore right tackle did well to push his defensive end up the field. Hegarty was overwhelmed inside and that made Golson slide up and left in the pocket. The trickle down effect was Golson basically tripping into a sack. Ben Koyack didn't help with an indecisive route up the seam. As Mayock pointed out: "Choose a side." (Left or right) so Golson can release the pass with confidence…

-- The drive officially ends with an incomplete prayer on 3rd-and-15 as pressure comes through Conor Hanratty's left guard gap. Was that Hegarty failing to pick up a stunt? Seemed like it again, and Kyle Brindza boots one through from 48 for a 27-14 lead.

A second and final (meaningful) fourth quarter drive begins at midfield. With a chance to put an exclamation point on a 34-14 win, the offense stalls after 10 snaps gain just 28 yards.

-- After an incomplete deep ball to Fuller, Golson hits Prosise with a tunnel screen left to Prosise, an athlete that consistently gains yards after contact, 13 this time as Hanratty and Martin make some contact downfield on block attempts (Hanratty got there, not clean; Martin did enough to get his man to the ground briefly.)

After a miss to Prosise, Golson goes for seven on a sprint to his left. It'd have been 10+ had Martin secured his block on the edge…

A conversion pass to Koyack is followed by a hold on Chris Brown, who actually had his man secured but lost late and grabbed some jersey in front of the official. A bit sloppy by Brown and he heard about it from Kelly…

. -- Golson point blank missed an open RObinson on a go route. The sophomore won off the line and a back end zone throw would have been six. Underthrown and defended instead.

-- 3rd and 8 end incomplete to Fuller -- Golson escaped a heavy blitz (blocked fairly well, the Irish were simply outnumbered -- Bryant with a nice blitz pickup) but no one was open. A 39-yard field goal ensues and the 30-14 score holds up thereafter.

Notre Dame's lack of closing power offensively is directly linked to the section detailed below:

Bailed Out by Ev

Through three games, Notre Dame's offensive line evaluation can be summarized as such:

The effort is there… the execution is not.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered in his Sunday teleconference that the bye week would determine what shuffling, positional or personnel, or both, would occur prior to Game Four against Syracuse on Sept. 27.

A guess: Your left to right line will show Ronnie Stanley, Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer, and Christian Lombard. Yes, Elmer wanted to be put at one position and work at it. Yes, Lombard considers himself a guard in the final stage of his college career (13 starts at RT in 2012; 7 at RG prior to injury in 2013), but the line as currently constructed won't hold up vs. Stanford and Florida State. (Or ASU or USC.)

Saturday night was a struggle for sophomore RT Elmer in pass protection and for senior RG Matt Hegarty in his relief effort of injured 5th-year senior starter Christian Lombard (ankle).

Though Elmer continues to get an intermittent push in the running game, he's been susceptible to the outside speed rush each week. It seems his best recourse is to guide the opposing edge rusher behind quarterback Everett Golson -- a worthwhile tactic save for the fact that Hegarty, center Nick Martin, and LG Conor Hanratty aren't consistently holding the interior in pass protection, either.

The result is that Elmer's designated man, even if pushed behind Golson, still impacts the play as the quarterback cannot consistently step up in the pocket and find a clear path or throwing lane.

Inconsistent pass protection (I could argue "faulty" as a better descriptor) has impacted Golson's decision, i.e., his desire to hang in the pocket past a 1-2 profession onto No. 3 and No. 4. It was 1-2…consider 3 and go for Golson Saturday night.

O-Line related notes

It's relevant to note that a large sampling of the offensive line's best moments were denoted above (or will be in an ensuing column regarding the passing game), but the preponderance of negative notes below is troubling nonetheless.

-- Quality seal block by tight end Ben Koyack and a nice lead by field-side receiver Chris Brown in space to allow Tarean Folston 12 yards over the left side…

-- Great jump cut by Folston at scrimmage. His feet found a way to gain four yards on 3rd and 3 to set up Notre Dame's first touchdown inside the Boilermakers 10-yard line.

--Koyack with another good lead, but Elmer whiffs in space as Cam McDaniel gains 11 to boundary right. McDaniel might have finished for 15 with one more block….

-- Golson escapes as Elmer takes a speed rush upfield. An example in which the Irish interior did its job, allowing Golson a running lane…

-- McDaniel limited to one yard as Hegarty fails to sustain his block, but one was all that was needed on this 2nd-and-1 conversion.

-- Notre Dame faked multiple Jet Sweep handoffs over the season's first two games. It was put to use Saturday in Indianapolis and Greg Bryant took the motion handoff from Golson for 16 yards over a vacated left side. Bryant though turned what could have been a 25+ yard gain into just 16 by badly misreading perimeter blocking.

-- I'm all for Bryant getting more reps to eradicate such mental errors…

-- Bryant for seven yards, and it was all Bryant, including a great move in space on Purdue's solid safety, Taylor Richards.

-- Bryant limited to two yards at the goal line as Richards pops him. (Didn't miss that time!). Nice stick as Bryant takes it to within a foot of the goal.

-- Zero, and I mean zero push up front as Bryant loses a yard, 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Right tackle Ronnie Stanley allowed inside penetration and Bryant had no chance with a wall in front of him thereafter (Stanley was the best of the Irish OL Saturday, but this was his miss).

-- Later in the second quarter, Folston loses two has Hanratty is late in his attempt and Elmer misses in space. It was painfully clear that Purdue's defensive front seven was far quicker than Notre Dame's offensive linemen. (So Florida State might be a touch quicker as well, eh?)

- Golson sacked on basic looping line stunt. It was Martin's gaps, but the Irish center was engaged with a bull-rush from the nose tackle. Thus, the fault is Hegarty's, I assume, as he doubled to his right as the stunt went left.

-- Early in the second half, there's no short boundary corner available as Elmer is pushed back and Koyack can't seal, but Folston gains four yards, regardless…

-- Folston loses 3 as he runs a field side stretch to wide receiver Will Fuller's side. Fuller, who never came close to executing his block, is also called for holding. The penalty is declined as Boilermakers linebacker Sean Robinson runs down Folston from behind.

(Folston has a tendency to pick his way through space rather than running to daylight. He was caught from behind twice Saturday night, including by defensive end Ryan Russell.)

-- Golson sacked on 3rd and 13 -- Elmer's man, decent pickup by Tarean on delay blitz, Golson would have escaped by speed rush came all the way around, hit ground and Golson basically stepped on him. Folson's guy too. (Brown, Ezechukwu)

-- Bryant picks his way for 3 yards up the gut -- Elmer has not do e well getting to second level LB in space…

-- Elmer loses Russell on stretch run to the boundary, turning a potential five yards into two...

-- Good pocket formed for Golson (Elmer really took on Russell this time) but Golson throws wide of a crossing C.J. Prosise who tripped at second level; Golson appeared to have an open Koyack crossing opposite (right to left; Prosise was left to right and deeper) underneath…

-- McDaniel gains 4 as Elmer pulls through the left guard gap with authority. He misses Robinson who adroitly eluded his block but the big man gets a solid piece of defensive end Jalani Phillips, low…

-- McDaniel loses a yard as Hegarty is not close on a pull attempt (slow to get there) and Hanratty doesn't sustain, either. Nice play by the Boilers front, with Phillips and nose tackle Danny Ezechukwu definitively winning the snap….

-- Best block of the day by Hegarty occurs as the Irish go power on their final possession, pulling over left guard to give McDaniel four yards. Hegarty began striking better, late…- -- McDaniel is limited to two yards on 3rd and 3 -- Stanley lost his block but the reality of this run was Purdue had more hats in the box and the Irish front doesn't get enough of a push. COrrect, purpose-driven play-call by Kelly late, trying to challenge his line. They just didn't win.

-- Stat of the Day: 13 of 22 rushes by Irish running backs ended with gains of three yards or fewer. That doesn't include two short-yardage conversions by the running backs in which the short gain benefited the offense.

The Irish running game needs work entering a four-game stretch of defenses better than that of the Boilers…


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