Tim Prister’s Tale of the Tape

With four of the best red-zone defenses in the country coming up on the Irish schedule, Notre Dame will seek to improve its No. 85 red-zone touchdown percentage.

(Editor’s note: This week’s edition of Tale of the Tape is fully contained in this one article.)

KIZER’S HALF-/GAME-ENDING DRIVES

What DeShone Kizer has done in seven games/six starts as a red-shirt freshman is remarkable. Not only has he led Notre Dame to a 6-1 record – beginning with his game-winning toss in relief to Will Fuller at Virginia – he’s now led six scoring drives at the end of the first half/game.

These things don’t happen with this level of frequency by accident. The kid truly relishes and embraces the challenge.

Notre Dame’s six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive – capped by a 17-yard scoring toss to Fuller in the 24-20 victory over the Owls – was the sixth end-of-the-half scoring drive led by Kizer. Three have come at the end of the first half (Georgia Tech, UMass and Navy), two have led to a victory (Virginia and Temple), and one (Clemson) gave the Irish a chance to tie with a two-point conversion.

The first clutch play in the game-winning drive against Temple came on a 3rd-and-4 from the Notre Dame 31 with under four minutes remaining and the Irish trailing by three. Forced to bail out to his right, he hit Fuller for seven yards as he was retreating.

Three plays later, Kizer found freshman tight end Aliz’e Jones for 45 yards on a beautifully-designed play. Fuller was wide left, serving as the ultimate decoy underneath. That allowed Jones the space to roam on the second level with the underneath attention on Fuller and Chris Brown running off defensive personnel on the opposite side of the field.

Two plays after that, Amir Carlisle lined up in the right lot with Fuller to the top of the formation. Fuller ran by cornerback Tavon Young into the end zone. Carlisle ran his route up the seam while strongside linebacker Stephaun Marshall -- playing zone coverage underneath -- released Carlisle to the back end of the Temple defense. Strong safety Will Hayes had no choice but to respect the threat of Carlisle, which allowed a quick-releasing Kizer to zip the pass to Fuller before Hayes could fully close the gap.

It sure looked as if Hayes reacted quick enough to put himself in position to step in front of the pass. But he didn’t react well to the ball in the air. He took a shallow route to Fuller, and when he got there, Fuller was by him and reaching up for the easy catch.

Kizer said after the game that the safety in Cover Two had been true to his reads the entire game. Kizer believed he could get the ball to Fuller before the safety could get there in time to make a play, and he was right.

The first of two Kizer interceptions was an errant pass under duress, although Chris Brown was open. Kizer tried to make a play and, because of the extreme pressure, couldn’t make an accurate throw to Brown.

The second interception was a nice play by cornerback Tavon Young. But Fuller had inside position on Young and didn’t take full advantage of it, at least not like Temple’s Brandon Shippen did on Joe Schmidt for the Owls’ second-quarter touchdown.

On Kizer’s 79-yard touchdown run, the Irish were aided by a 3rd-and-1 situation as the left side of Temple’s defensive front crashed down on the read-option fake to C.J. Prosise, which allowed a clear path out of the backfield for Kizer.

Wide receiver Chris Brown, who is having a spectacular season blocking on the perimeter, occupied cornerback Sean Chandler effectively, which is no small feat. (Temple’s defensive players get off blocks extremely well.) That triggered Kizer to realize early in the run that if he ran as hard as he could for the next 70 yards, he could keep Chandler and safety Alex Wells safety in his rearview mirror. Chandler never narrowed the gap and Wells lost yards on Kizer during the chase.

For big plays to happen against Temple, you need some things to fall your way, like Tyler Matakevich getting caught in traffic, which he did as right guard Steve Elmer engaged him with a head of steam.

It’s the longest run by a Notre Dame quarterback since Oct. 25, 1980, but that’s a bit deceiving. Blair Kiel, Notre Dame’s quarterback and punter 35 years ago, raced 80 yards for a score on a fake punt against Arizona in Notre Dame’s 20-3 victory over the Wildcats in a night game in Tucson.

KIZER’S RUSHING WORKLOAD

Kizer – as Notre Dame’s top short-yardage threat – is running more and more since the UMass game. (Keep in mind sacks are included in rushing attempts.)

He ran just five times against Georgia Tech in his first start, and then nine versus UMass, followed by 14 against Clemson, nine in the Navy game, 14 versus USC, and a career-high 17 times for 143 yards against Temple.

He’s built for it. He really has taken very few big shots on 72 rushing attempts/sacks/tackles for loss, although he was favoring his left ankle after one late run against the Owls. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he absorbs most hits well.

The amazing stat of the game: between his 143 yards rushing and 299 yards passing, Kizer accounted for 94.6 percent of Notre Dame’s 467 yards total offense.

Not only was Kizer good against Temple, he was even a bit fortunate at the end of the game when – in an effort to run the final seven seconds off the clock – he was stripped of the ball, picked up the perfect bounce, and pushed a pass forward as time mercifully expired.

The kid’s good.

THE RUN GAME BOGS DOWN

When you play a defense as good as Temple’s, and Owls defensive coordinator Phil Snow comes into the game with a plan to heavily load the box with a bunch of talented, cohesive football players, it’s going to be difficult for virtually any team to run the football effectively and consistently.

There are exceptions, and most of those exceptions don’t possess as potent of a passing game as Notre Dame’s. It’s difficult to be great at both.

Clearly, Notre Dame has one of its best offensive lines since the Lou Holtz era. But the Irish had trouble with Temple’s undersized/quick defensive ends, a long and disruptive jack-of-all-trades in Matt Ioannidis, active linebackers, and a secondary that willingly gets involved in attacking the football in the run game.

(If they get beat deep, they take an aggressive and fearless approach – readily absorbing interference penalties – which is why they’re 106th in the country in penalty yards per game. It’s a good strategy.)

The Owls run-blitzed frequently against the Irish with seemingly good instincts (or game planning) for when the Irish were going to turn to C.J. Prosise. When choosing to run Prosise without the deception of the read option, it was difficult for him to generate much behind an Irish offensive line that carved out just 25 yards rushing on 14 Prosise carries.

Prosise is to blame, or rather, Prosise is not equipped for the power running game because he is a) a patient, elusive, breakaway back who doesn’t know how to shift mid-stream from elusive to power and b) he’s only played the position for eight games.

There was reason to believe that Temple’s rush defense – which allowed 92.1 yards rushing per its first seven games and 3.0 yards per carry – had ballooned its stats against inferior offenses. Central Florida, Penn State, Tulane and Charlotte have some of the worst offenses in the FBS.

The reality is Temple’s run defense is legit and it is effective against bad and good offenses.

It should be noted that the Irish had 467 yards total offense and 168 yards rushing. Notre Dame out-gained Temple by 172 yards total. It’s not like Temple shut down the Irish offense.

If Notre Dame has more success in the red zone, it’s a double-digit victory. But the Owls were prepared to take away the threat of Prosise and then take their chances with the rest of Notre Dame’s offense. With one of the top red-zone defenses in the country, it was a great game plan.

Kizer and the rest of Notre Dame’s offensive buttons were pushed just often enough to pull out the victory.

RED ZONE TURNOVERS/ISSUES

After back-to-back games of two touchdowns in five red-zone appearances, Notre Dame fell to 85th in the country in red-zone touchdown percentage at 57.8 percent.

Against USC, Justin Yoon added two field goals to make it 20 points in five red-zone trips. Against Temple, Yoon had a 23-yard field goal. But DeShone Kizer’s two interceptions limited the Irish to 17 points in five red-zone appearances.

In the first six games of the season, the Irish scored touchdowns on 15-of-23 trips to the red zone (65.2 percent), including a perfect 4-for-4 against a good UMass red-zone defense.

It was startling to hear that since the beginning of last season – 21 games – no FBS team has turned the ball over in the red zone more than Notre Dame with 11. Six came in 2014 and Nos. 4 and 5 of the 2015 season came against Temple.

Last year, Notre Dame ranked 45th in red-zone touchdowns with 40 on 62 trips (64.5 percent). The schedule featured some of the best red-zone defenses in TD percentage allowed, including No. 4 Louisville, No. 10 Syracuse, No. 18 LSU, No. 22 Michigan, No. 29 USC, No. 30 Florida State, No. 39 Arizona State, No. 44 Stanford, No. 45 Navy and No. 48 Northwestern.

Say what you will about Everett Golson’s turnovers in the red zone. With Golson at quarterback, the Irish had a pretty high percentage of touchdown conversions in the red zone.

Notre Dame will be seeking answers in the red zone over the final four games, and it’s going to have to come against four of the best – No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-of-17, 47.0 percent), No. 17 Wake Forest (11-of-25, 44.0 percent), No. 2 Boston College (5-of-18, 27.8 percent), and No. 39 Stanford (13-of-25, 52.0 percent).

Notice how few times Pittsburgh (17) and Boston College (18) have allowed teams to enter the red zone.  

Temple is No. 6 (9-25, 36.0 percent). Virginia is No. 23 (15-of-32, 46.8 percent). Clemson is No. 43 (10-of-19, 52.6 percent).

So where does Notre Dame’s defense stand in terms of touchdowns allowed once the opponent reaches the red zone? The Irish are 93rd (14-of-21, 66.6 percent) after finishing 116th (35-of-50, 70.0 percent) in 2014.

KEIVARAE RUSSELL AND HIS GAME

It happened in the Rutgers game. That’s when KeiVarae Russell – and many college football observers -- decided he was one of the best cornerbacks in the country heading into ’14. Much of that was based upon his performance against a .500 Rutgers team that was 64th in the country in passing yards per game, 99th in completion percentage offense, and 94th in passer rating.

Russell had three passes broken up, an interception, and an overall suffocating performance against Rutgers.

Russell was not able to follow-up his bowl performance in 2014 due to his season-long suspension. But he returned for his senior season in 2015 with plenty of confidence and bravado as to his standing among the nation’s cornerback elite.

After a slow start to the 2015 season – acknowledged publicly by Brian Kelly --Russell turned what was an otherwise sub-standard performance against USC into a dynamic performance when he came up with a fourth-quarter interception and a tipped pass that led to a Max Redfield interception.

He struggled against Temple as well, although he came up with his second interception in as many games, which basically sealed the 24-20 victory. Russell was indignant when questioned about his performance against the Owls prior to his interception, claiming he hadn’t been beaten earlier in the contest.

On a 21-yard read-option run by Temple quarterback P.J. Walker that led to the Owls’ go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, Russell crashed down on the handoff, but so too did Romeo Okwara. It appeared that Russell had quarterback responsibilities on that play. Brian Kelly screamed, “Do your job!” after that play, which by the video evidence seemed to be directed at Russell.
 
On Temple’s trick play – a throwback from Jahad Thomas to Walker, who completed a 26-yard pass to Robby Anderson – Russell diagnosed that something was happening on the play. But when he undercut Anderson’s route, he was slow to flip his hips and couldn’t catch up as Anderson peeled off toward the sideline.

Russell says he’s his own worst critic. He openly talks about his game and considers himself to be one of the best cornerbacks in the country. And yet he admitted to Kelly – per Showtime – that he was not giving 100 percent through September.

Russell’s two interceptions in the last two games played an integral role in Notre Dame defeating USC and Temple. That’s a great sign as the Irish head down the stretch. Russell has now come up big with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. That’s a big-time talent stepping forward with his team’s playoff berth on the line.

He needs to play a better all-around game in order for the Irish to continue their march to and through the playoffs. He’ll also need to raise his professional profile that he has taken upon himself to place on the highest level.

The reality is Russell likely needs another year of college competition – of cornerback play – for the NFL’s opinion to match his own.

SHUMATE’S TARGETING PENALTY

There’s no denying that Elijah Shumate’s hit on wide receiver Romond Deloatch involved helmet-to-helmet contact. You needed to see a couple of replay angles to verify that, but ultimately, Shumate’s hit coincided with the rule in place for contact with a “defenseless” player. The American Conference officials ruled correctly by the letter of the law.

But the rule needs adjusting. Shumate was not leading with his helmet. He led with his shoulder and, since the head/helmet is attached to the neck, which is attached to the shoulder, there was bound to be some helmet-to-helmet contact, especially when a split-second before contact, the receiver’s helmet was in a different place than it was when Shumate made his initial descent.

Removal from the game, and worse, removal from the first half of the next game, is too harsh of a penalty for something that – in many instances – simply cannot be avoided.

THE KELLY-GRIMES AFFAIR

“It has very much reinforced for us the decision we made a couple years ago to focus on our digital media capabilities, to be able to tell our story because in the modern media world, it is increasingly up to you to tell your story.”
-- Jack Swarbrick on decision to participate in Showtime’s “A Season with Notre Dame Football.”

That was a statement made by Notre Dame’s Vice President/Director of Athletics last week in an interview with Irish Illustrated.

Those kinds of statements make people in the media business cringe. The media believes it’s their job to tell the story of Notre Dame football and every other sport because their vantage point will be fair and balanced and get to the truth of what transpires on the battlefield as opposed to the biased spin one’s own program would create.

But who can blame Notre Dame athletics and any other sports organization from increasingly finding the need to “tell our story” because sometimes, when left in the hands of the media – particularly the national media – fair and balanced reporting is disregarded.

In today’s national media, a snapshot is all they need to declare right or wrong. No context, no knowledge of the situation – other than a video clip – with the flimsiest of “evidence” to declare good guy, bad guy, or right guy, wrong guy.

The situation that occurred between Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and assistant strength and conditioning coach David Grimes is something that happens within the heat of battle when playoff spots and careers are at stake. It would be better to not conduct business that way when the cameras are rolling. Brian Kelly certainly would agree with that.

But that’s not how it always works. Kelly is combustible. It’s a gene that some coaches have. It’s a gene that can be controlled but never conquered.

For the most part, Kelly has become one of the calmer “combustible coaches,” particularly since the TJ Jones blowup in 2011. Kelly has done a remarkable job of keeping his cool since the infamous picture that captured the face of a different hue.

He’ll jump on his players and berate an official. But it’s nothing compared to guys like Steve Addazio every week and Pat Narduzzi last week against North Carolina. Addazio begins whining at the start of the game and stay in the mode for all 60 minutes, which is what Narduzzi did against the Tar Heels.

And yet for Kelly, it only takes one moment of weakness, and that weakness was caught by the ABC/ESPN cameras Saturday night in Philadelphia when Kelly was upset with Grimes for harassing field judge Rick Santilli about either an offensive interference call on Nic Weishar or a tripping penalty against Nick Martin.

The broadcast showed a replay of what had happened and it was unclear which penalty or exactly what Grimes was complaining about. A member of the media was told by a source that the official believed Grimes to be an injured player.

Refs will take an extreme level of grief when it comes from a coach. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that coaches say to refs. But if it’s a player, he’s going to tell the coach that if he doesn’t quit complaining, it will cost your team 15 yards, which was 15 yards Notre Dame could not afford against Temple.

Everyone within a football program has a role. David Grimes’ role does not include berating an official from five feet away. He does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the Notre Dame team to an official in that manner.

Kelly reacted – overreacted by getting physical with Grimes – but that’s who he is, and Grimes’ audacity to exceed his parameters triggered the really angry Brian Kelly.

Strength and conditioning coordinator Paul Longo was trying to keep Grimes quiet, but to no avail. You see him engaging in conversation with the official with his right arm reaching back to quell Grimes. When that didn’t happen, Kelly used his authority to make sure it did.

Those who condemn Kelly for his actions choose to look at the reaction to the offense as opposed to the offense. Grimes’ actions triggered Kelly’s reaction.

It would be in Kelly’s and Notre Dame’s best interest if he didn’t react that way. Anyone can agree with that. But it was Grimes who initially crossed a line, and it struck a nerve with Kelly when he saw who was creating the disturbance with the official.

Coaches yell at players. Coaches yell at coaches. Coaches really yell at people within the organization who don’t know their place. Bosses all over the world get upset with their employees. Very few have to conduct their business in front of the whole world to see.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said Notre Dame is embarrassed by Brian Kelly, which is an unsubstantiated, false opinion. He’s had a couple of embarrassing moments, but he’s been an ambassador for Notre Dame football. He has a temper and a ton of ego, like most head coaches, but he has represented himself, his team and the University in a first-class manner an overwhelming majority of the time.

When Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser and Mark May and Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith and anyone else who has a platform can take a snippet of information – a speck of the big picture – and make a determination on any topic in sports, it distorts a profession that was intended to weigh the evidence and make a reasoned, balanced analysis

It’s no wonder that coaches distrust today’s media. Proof and evidence many times are inconsequential. An impression, a passing glance, an isolated piece of evidence are more than enough to opine about any and every topic that relates to sports.

The people of whom we speak don’t have much choice but to spew opinions. How could they? There’s another show to be taped today and their mandate is to debate at all costs. An opinion is mandatory, and it’s preferred that the opinion is different from the guy from which you’re sitting across.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if a member of the national media who is expected to declare right and wrong on any daily topic in sports would just once say, “You know, I really don’t have a definitive opinion on that, because on one hand, I see this side, but on the other hand, I see that side. They both make a good case.”

But that doesn’t happen anymore. It would be too objective. It wouldn’t create debate, and debate over substance and validated truth wins out 100 percent of the time on the national stage.

AROUND THE GRIDIRON

Temple’s Oklahoma drill in pre-game was an interesting little warm-up…It was interesting to see Will Fuller get right in the face of cornerback Tavon Young after Notre Dame’s first offensive play. The give-and-take between the two teams obviously started before the opening kickoff…That being said, it doesn’t matter what the opposition says or does. There is no place for a Notre Dame student-athlete to taunt the opposition, including flapping the wings to imitate Owls, Eagles or whatever DeShone Kizer was doing…Agree with Kirk Herbstreit: “I really believe that the emergence of Chris Brown, to take some of the pressure off of all the attention Will Fuller gets, has really come on here the last two or three games.” Brown continues to come up big in the passing game on third down and his perimeter/downfield blocking has been brilliant…Do not see how that was offensive pass interference against Nick Martin…Tyler Newsome’s first-quarter punt was not blocked, but he was much too deliberate, which led to a shank. He also dropped the next snap. He seemed to be allowing his momentum to go backwards when receiving the snap, which is a bad habit for a punter to get into. What’s with the one glove on his left hand but the gloveless right hand?…Saw it in the East Carolina game. This Temple defense swarms and they’ll hit you. They get off blocks as well as you’re going to see in college football…Huge break for Temple on the shotgun snap past quarterback P.J. Walker. That easily could have rolled into the end zone for a safety and an early 9-3 Notre Dame lead…

Matt Rhule’s headset takes a lot of abuse…Speaking of Rhule, it’s confusing as to why he was talking to Cole Luke at the end of the game, prompting Luke to hold upturned hands (like, “What’s he doing?”) and the official to lead Rhule off the field. In the third quarter, after a Jaylon Smith tackle of Walker near the Temple sideline, Rhule made a beeline toward Smith and seemed to be directing his words at the Irish linebacker. Was Rhule talking to the Notre Dame players, and if so, why?...Why is Temple 106th in the country in penalties? Cornerbacks Tavon Young and Sean Chandler picked up interference and holding penalties on the same play. They really use their hands on receivers…Not a hold on Chase Hounshell on a kick return when he engaged Temple’s Nick Sharga in a block…Corey Robinson’s left ankle was rolled badly on Amir Carlisle’s 31-yard tunnel screen. To his credit, he returned to the game…Mike McGlinchey was favoring his left wrist early in third quarter…Long-snapper Scott Daly made his first tackle of the season on a third quarter punt…Shouldn’t Temple’s crucial 4th-and-1 conversion early in the fourth quarter have been nullified by tight end Kip Patton’s step forward before the snap?…Why Nick Baratti on the goal line after Elijah Shumate’s ejection and not Matthias Farley? If the ball is at the 50-yard line, it’s understandable. But why on the goal line? Baratti, who has had shoulder problems for the last three years, got a fingertip on Jahad Thomas’ left thigh pad when Thomas cut back against the grain for the fourth-quarter touchdown…

Proper unnecessary roughness penalty against Nick Martin. Slamming into the pile when the pile is stopped and the runner isn’t getting away warrants a flag…Temple’s only win versus a top 10 team came against No. 10 Holy Cross in 1945. The Owls are now 1-42 vs. Top 10s…Now here’s a stat that makes sense: Notre Dame came into the Temple game having scored 140 points in the second half while allowing 58. Temple came into the Notre Dame game having scored 137 points in the second half while allowing 29. Saturday, they each scored 10 points…Love Tyler Matakevich’s game. He’s brilliant at getting off blocks and being around the football. As Pete Sampson said, he’s having a Manti Te’o-type senior season…Isaac Rochell absolutely abused right tackle Leon Johnson. Sheldon Day was credited with six tackles, and all six led to gains of two yards or less (despite an obvious left shoulder issue). Romeo Okwara played one of his better games in a Notre Dame uniform. Notre Dame’s defensive line was outstanding against Temple…Really don’t understand Steve Elmer’s inconsistent development. He’s now played in 31 games with 25 starts. At times against Temple, he was flopping around like a fish out of water. He was on the ground much too often. His body language does not reflect the confidence that a player with his experience and talent should have.


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