A breakdown of each offensive series, contributing players, and key plays in Notre Dame's 35-0 opening-game rout of Nevada.
Run it Again
The Irish offense featured two familiar plays in the season-opener, the first was designed for a touchdown while the second resulted in a score. On the first play from scrimmage head coach Charlie Weis turned to a 2005 play-call from his first game as Irish head coach in Pittsburgh: In Pittsburgh '05, Irish QB Brady Quinn faked an end around to WR Rhema McKnight then looked deep to one downfield option, backside WR Maurice Stovall. Quinn saw Stovall covered and threw back to McKnight for a 27-yard gain down the sideline.
Saturday, a first-play fake end-around to Michael Floyd was designed to draw the safeties closer to the line while backside slot receiver Golden Tate ran a deep route. Both Tate (deep) and Floyd (never got into his route) were covered and Clausen scrambled for an 8-yard gain.
Familiar Play No. 2: Michael Floyd's first touchdown Saturday, a 24-yard post route from the left hash, was the identical route assignment and personnel grouping that resulted in a Floyd touchdown last season vs. Pittsburgh. In both cases, the opposing safety chose to double-team tight end Kyle Rudolph who ran down the seam and into the middle of the end zone.
Let's Talk it Over
Notre Dame's first two touchdowns, the aforementioned score by Floyd and the first score of the season, a 19-yard post pass from Clausen to Rudolph both came after a break in the action. Rudolph scored (on 3rd and 16) after an Irish timeout and Floyd after the end of the 1st Quarter.
On Rudolph's season-opening score, the Wolf Pack were caught in a Cover 2 defense (with both Safeties helping on Notre Dame's outside receivers), leaving middle linebacker Mike Bethea in a no-contest matchup down the post with the 6'7" Rudolph.
Opening Drive Recap – Improved Blocking in Space:
12 plays, 67 yards, 6:18 time of possession and two quality blocks on the game's opening drive by non-linemen:
- Robby Parris on the game's second play, a tight end screen to Rudolph, with a solid cut block (taking a Wolf Pack defender to the ground) during the 11-yard gain.
- An effective 1st block as a collegiate fullback by James Aldridge on the game's first drive allowed Armando Allen a lane to the sideline for a 10-yard run.
First Drive Observations:
- Left Tackle Paul Duncan fired off the line to open a lane for Allen on the junior's first carry (5 yards).
- Clausen's first of three total incomplete passes was a result of the quarterback's discretion, as Floyd broke open late on a Clausen fade pass to the Irish sideline.
- Both Duncan and right tackle Sam Young were fired up after finishing blocks with a little extra-curricular activity during the first drive by both players.
- The Irish converted on their first 4th and 1 attempt of the season from a 3-TE set with fullback James Aldridge as the solo-back. Young threw the play's key block and came up helmetless while emphatically signaling first down.
- Duncan was bull-rushed by a gimpy Kevin Basped on Clausen's dangerous, ugly lob pass in the backfield to Allen
- Rudolph couldn't catch up to backside DE Dontay Moch – though Moch caught up to Allen from behind, dropping the Irish junior for a loss on what was an otherwise perfectly blocked "Wildcat" formation (direct snap to Allen with Clausen at WR).
- As mentioned above, a middle linebacker vs. Kyle Rudolph is a mismatch the Irish offense can exploit throughout the season. (For those of you following the pre-season predictions: Rudolph is 1/5 of the way to catching more touchdown passes as an Irish tight end in a single season since Ken MacAfee's six TD grabs in 1977. 7-0 Irish
Second Drive Recap – Too Many Weapons
9 plays, 78 yards, 4:24 time of possession and two 3rd down conversions:
- Great job by Young in pass protection vs. Moch on the 36-yard sideline pass from Clausen to Tate.
- Duncan's concentration and willingness to stick with blocks (or find an extra block) is a far cry from the player we saw start 12 games in 2007
- Absolutely terrible holding call on third TE Bobby Burger during Allen's second "Wildcat" run. The Irish featured an unbalanced line with Duncan to right of Young and Rudolph as the left tackle. Burger's technique was almost perfect clearing a path for Allen. Note: Even Weis referred to this as a "phantom block" in his Sunday press conference.
- Top-notch team pass-blocking on the play-action comeback to Tate for 8 yards.
- Rudolph openly wiffed vs. weakside ‘backer James-Michael Johnson, who limited sophomore halfback Jonas Gray to one-yard. Aldridge through a decent lead block on the play.
- Rudolph with a physical pick on 3rd and 5 to allow an easy pass to senior Robby Parris for a crucial first down. Rudolph delivered blow to FS Jonathon Amaya that was about a half-yard inside a pass plays legal blocking zone.
- The only sack allowed by the Irish in the opener came after Clausen had a solid four seconds to throw. It appeared Young lost track of Nevada LB Ryan Coulson but Young's internal clock likely had something to do with it…more of a coverage sack.
- A 3-TE bunch formation on a 2nd and 16 toss sweep to Allen gained 7 yards: Great block by Rudolph; solid block from Ragone; a perfect block by Burger; and excellent pull block by Olsen. Young had two players in space and really didn't get a hit on either, though I don't think Allen would have run any farther, regardless.
- I-formation after the end of the quarter and Clausen hits Floyd on the previously mentioned 24-yard post pass touchdown. 14-0 Irish
Third Drive Recap – Too Much Floyd
Two plays, 79 yards, and 0:46 off the clock:
- Aldridge the solo-back with Allen line up in slot – Left Guard Trevor Robinson and Center Eric Olsen with a strong double-team block to open a running lane for the senior fullback while Young baits his rusher too far outside to make the tackle; Rudolph missed a block in space but Aldridge ran by the unblocked defender before being run down by the speedy Moch in pursuit.
- The Irish run the "Bubble Screen" to perfection with two effective, if not inspiring blocks by Tate (the first cut-block was strong) while the second "shoulder-throw" did the trick as Floyd galloped 70-yards down the sideline for a 21-0 Irish Lead.
Fourth Drive – Crist Gets a Look
Coach Weis offered that Crist's one play was designed for a big gain but Nevada stayed home on the throwback to Rudolph (below). Three plays, 1-yard, 2;13 time of possession and Notre Dame's first punt:
- Three tight end set with Clausen split wide. The Irish run in from the sideline (without a huddle) and Dayne Crist at quarterback. The play was designed, as Weis said later, "to go to the pylon" (end zone) but he (Weis) guessed wrong and the Wolf Pack's back side defense stayed home to make the tackle.
- An end-around (to short side of the field) to Golden Tate gains just three yards though junior wide receiver Duval Kamara absolutely destroys a defender on a crack back block.
Eight plays, 80 yards, 3:45 time of possession:
- A solid block in space by Rudolph and an in-line block from junior TE Mike Ragone allows Allen 6-yards off left tackle. Paul Duncan cleared his man into middle of the line of scrimmage with a strong solo-block.
- Nice block by backup right guard Andrew Nuss and by Sam Young to provide Allen an easy 5-yards for a first down.
- The line had great protection when Clausen missed Rudolph over the middle.
- The Best Screen Play of the last three seasons: A 26-yard gain by Allen is made possible by the following: a nice downfield block by a pulling (left guard) Chris Stewart; one defender taken down by center Eric Olsen who said of the play, "He tried to cut me, that wasn't a block," and Duval Kamara who blocked his man, DB Adam Liranzo, 25-yards downfield and eventually out-of-bounds. Kamara executed two different hits on Liranzo then drive him the final 15 yards. Andrew Nuss chipped in with a backside cut block (that afforded Allen a few extra yards). The only downside? Duncan was beaten by Basped (too quickly, even for a screen pass) around the edge and Clausen took a major shot and was driven to the turf.
- Stewart, Duncan and Tate offered quality blocking on Jonas Gray's 6-yard cutback run to the left side.
- Gray's gain of 19 yards showed quality blocks (on a toss-sweep right) by Nuss in space, Olsen (great pull-block burying his defender), Young, and Floyd downfield. Ragone and Robinson were also solid on the play. Duncan probably should have continued downfield to look for a block rather than stop, turn, and look for a backside block 20 yards away from the play. In fact, Duncan could have shielded the final defender who stopped Gray just short of the end zone at the pylon.
- A 3-TE set and I-formation backfield resulted in an easy one-yard touchdown run by Allen over the left side. The key block was thrown by Burger while Aldridge initiated enough contact to allow Allen an outside lane. Notre Dame 28 Nevada 0
HALFTIME 28-0 Irish
Notable halftime statistics: Clausen 11-13, 210 yards, 3 TD; Floyd 3 receptions, 101 yards, 2 TD; Allen 11 carries, 53 yards, 1 TD.
First Drive/Second Half – Floyd Strikes Again
With the ball resting on the Notre Dame one-foot line, the Irish turned to three consecutive runs, all by Armando Allen, who gained:
- 4-yards – On a nice cutback by Allen at goal line
- 5-yards – With fine blocks by guards Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart and seal blocks by Ragone and Olsen
- 2-yards – On 3rd and 2 from the 10-yard line for a key first down with a hard run by Allen, who ran with a low base and drove forward for the first down. The O-Line did just enough, keyed by Young and Burger staying with their blocks on perimeter. Young's effort gave Allen a lane for the first down.
- The now famous, game-sealing "Go Route" to Floyd, who was again in a head-shaking, one-on-one mismatch situation a helpless Doyle Miller. A catch for Floyd in this situation is nearly assured – but it was his ability to maintain his balance on the leaping catch with the defender falling to his feet that allowed the super soph to score.
Two Remaining 3rd Quarter Drives – Cruise Control
Notes: Aldridge's shoulder injury (on the second carry of the drive) looked bad – I'm assuming he'll be kept out of the Michigan contest Saturday but we'll know more after Tuesday's press conference. Also:
- Nice to see freshman Shaquelle Evans get his feet wet with an appearance in the slot
- Clausen's 4th down audible to Tate (Weis informed us it was to be a slant route) for a "Go-Route" results in the end of the drive and a nice pop to Clausen.
- Later in the 3rd Quarter, Duncan, Ragone, Rudolph and Tate offer strong blocking on the left side to spring Allen for 14 yards.
- Burger through a great block when backup center Dan Wenger was called for holding…
- Great blocks by Rudolph, Ragone, Duncan, and Tate again on the left side for Jonas Gray's 15-yard gain.
- Entering the 4th Quarter, a fine comeback route by Tate for an Irish 1st down. Tate searched for extra yards back across the middle and took a pretty good hit.
- Gray stuffed on 3rd and 2 – either poorly designed/executed right side blocking or Gray went the wrong way and was stuffed as a result.
Final Two Drives – Crist, Riddick and Hughes
Good delivery by Crist on comeback route to Walker for 15 yards…big smile by Crist for his first real completion of his college career (and Walker's first reception).
- Nice cutback by freshman Theo Riddick on his first career run for 9 yards; Riddick then made unblocked defender miss just enough to pick up first down.
- Parris, Burger, Young fine blocks on Riddick's "hurdle-run" for 8 yards – Burger got his man and helped to pancake Parris'
- Not enough push by Stewart for Riddick to get first down on 2nd and 2; then a loss of one of 3rd and 1 to force a punt (Rudolph appeared to fire out and block wrong man).
- Hughes with an anxious leap into defenders to get a yard or two on his first carry – that's what happens when you sit for three quarters; running behind backup OL held to one on inside run.
- Hughes running behind lead by FB Bobby Burger and quality left side hole fights for first down on an 8-yard gain.
- Final three carries for 3 yards, 4 yards, and 2 yards on 3rd and 3.
Irish Feature Multiple Looks in 35-0 Explosion
The following is a breakdown of Coach Weis' personnel groupings during the team's 35-0 start (through Clausen's time on the field):
- Two Tight-End Sets: 17
- Three Tight-End Sets: 10 (one touchdown – the one-yard Allen run was also an I-formation backfield as noted below).
- I-Formation or offset I-Formations: 11 (four touchdowns)
- Three Wide Receiver Sets: 10 (one touchdown)
- Five Wide Receiver Sets: 0 (Allen began a couple of plays in the slot but motioned back next to Clausen in the shotgun).
- Shotgun Split-back: 1 (with Gray and Allen in the 1st Quarter)
- Wildcat: 2 (both using two tight ends as well).
Later today: The Eye in the Sky returns with a film review of the Irish defense.