The Eye in the Sky - Offense

IrishEyes' weekly look back at the TV tape shows more evidence that the Irish offense won't stop scoring in 2009.

Note: This column was published near the dinner hour for most subscribers. As a result, IrishEyes will perform the public service of breaking down (no pun intended) Notre Dame's defensive effort vs. the Wolverines at a less objectionable time with Tuesday morning's "Rank and File" column. Enjoy your evening...

First Quarter

First ND Drive:

For the second consecutive Saturday, Notre Dame put on a first-drive clinic, mixing personnel groupings (four in nine plays), formations, and a run/pass balance (not to mention passes both inside and outside the hash marks) that kept the defense off balance.

Unlike last week vs. Nevada, the Irish couldn't capitalize in the red zone.

Notes from the opening drive:

  • (Right Guard) Trevor Robinson and (Center) Eric Olsen with excellent lead blocks – Olsen on UM middle linebacker Obi Ezeh – to clear a lane for Allen's career-best 24-yard gain.
  • Facing a Cover 3 defense, tight end Kyle Rudolph had safety Troy Woolfolk beat on deep seam route but Clausen missed him.
  • The 3rd and 4 quick hit pass to an uncovered Rudolph in the 5-wide receiver set was ridiculously easy.
  • Tate with another nice cut block on the bubble screen to Duval Kamara: very patient effort to take down his assigned defender.
  • Allen does a nice job of hitting a crease. Olsen pulled but didn't locate a defender to block… Michigan strings out toss left too wide but Allen managed to fight for five yards.
  • Key 2nd and 5 at the 10-yard line and Clausen missed a wide-open Tate, who then complained to the official (I assume Tate felt he was held).
  • 3rd and 5 draw was a good call (full disclosure: I actually mumbled "QB Draw" before the snap, so of course I liked the call), but Clausen wasn't patient in his deception (drop-back) and was victimized by a D-Line stunt from Brandon Graham (LT Paul Duncan couldn't get to Graham in time).
  • First Nick Tausch field goal attempt looks familiar –sails wide right form 28 yards out.
  • Second ND Drive

    Play-action to Floyd displays a lack of faith in power game despite a 3-TE personnel group. The Irish manage eight yards and a 43-yard punt to the UM 21-yardline.

    Third ND Drive

    Following a Brandon Minor touchdown, the Irish regained possession at the Michigan 27-yard line.

    Drive Notes:

    • Great lead block by Bobby Burger as an offset-I fullback; nice kick-out by Rudolph and down block by right tackle Sam Young. Michael Floyd executes an in-line block (practiced daily during the media's viewing period) (practiced) to blow open a hole leading to Armando Allen's 14-yard off tackle run.
    • Tate fights for extra yards after leaping to catch a bullet pass from Clausen
    • Good lead block by fullback Robert Hughes and a subsequent broken tackle by Allen gains four yards to set up 2nd and 6.
    • The screen pass was an absolutely perfect call and was set-up beautifully. Kamara blocked two downfield defenders; Left Guard Chris Stewart cleared out another, but Allen had to wait for Olsen and Stewart and he positioned himself too close to the sideline. The play goes for a touchdown but is called back to the 22-yard line as the replay official deemed Allen's foot out of bounds. This one's on Allen, though Olsen should have shot out faster and put a body on someone.

      Still a baseless overturned call with no conclusive video evidence showing Allen to be out of bounds.

    • Irish set up with 1st and 10 at the 22-yard line…not sure what Olsen was doing on toss sweep to half back Theo Riddick as the senior guard meekly threw his shoulder at the eventual tackler. Riddick needs to quit leaving his feet.
    • Nice job by Clausen to follow his progressions and find Allen underneath, but CB Donovan Warren made a solid open field hit to drop him for a five-yard gain.
    • A poor pass by Clausen sails out of bounds with Michael Floyd one-on-one vs. an overmatched Boubacar Cissoko. Clausen didn't give Floyd a chance, though if Floyd would have read the coverage he might have stopped for an easy first down underneath.
    • Nice to see Tausch bounce back on his next kick, nailing a 34-yarder to cut the Wolverines lead to 7-3 with less than one minute remaining in 1st Quarter.

    Fourth ND Drive (Following UM Kick-Return TD)

    The Irish faced a 14-3 deficit after the usually-reliable kick coverage unit allowed a 94-yard return touchdown by wide receiver Darryl Stonum.

    Weis explained Sunday (in a nutshell) that the third Irish defender approached a little to far to the right (this appeared to be David Posluszny)…the fourth defender in turn approaches a little too far to the left (looked like Scott Smith) and the safety (Leonard Gordon) came over unblocked but missed the tackle (Gordon appeared to overrun the hole a bit.

    And, as Weis concluded, "From there its to the house."

    Fourth Drive Notes

    • The "Wildcat" formation results in a shotgun handoff from Allen to Tate. The play is well-blocked by Floyd and Burger but the direction (to the short side of the field) naturally bottles Tate after a five yard gain.
    • Left Guard Chris Stewart is beaten by nose tackle Mike Martin who limited Allen to four yards, setting up 3rd and 1 at the ND 33-yard line.
    • A toss right: though Olsen ensured the first down, effectively double-teaming a backfield defender, had the senior center continued through the hole he could have sprung Allen for at least 10 more yards as Allen's momentum likely would have carried him beyond the initial defender. Regardless, the result is a five-yard gain and Irish first down.
    • Great protection for Clausen on a stop-fade to Floyd for a gain of 37 yards…Rudolph broke open over the middle as well…Cissoko gave Floyd a huge cushion.
    • Clausen again receives tremendous protection and finds Tate, throwing an absolute laser square-in pass for a gain of 15 yards. Tate hung on after taking a shot in the back.
    • Excellent power by Allen on 1st and Goal from the 10-yard line for a gain of six, though the replay did show solid, continuous blocking by the OL while live it looked as if Allen made something out of nothing.
    • Timeout Clausen
    • For the 3rd time this season, the Irish score a touchdown immediately following a timeout, as Clausen hits Tate for a too-easy stop fade and ND cuts the Michigan lead to 14-10.

    That's the way to answer a KR TD, with a patient, seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive on the road.

    Fifth Notre Dame Drive – 1st Half

    Another nice screen brought is nullified as Young is called for holding negating a 12-yard gain. Following a delay of game penalty, the Irish start with 1st and 25 from their own 16-yard line.

    • Clausen responds with a 33-yard go-route to Floyd's back shoulder as Cissoko continues to give Floyd a huge cushion.
    • Clausen's ensuing bomb to Tate (55-yards in the air) is broken up (with the benefit of an arm-bar no-call) by Donovan Warren.
    • Young and Kamara clear a lane for Allen off right tackle. Solid outside block by Floyd as well, burying Cissoko.
    • Jonas Gray pounds ahead – might have been room outside but a 1st down gain of four yards is not to be frowned upon.
    • An out-route to Tate is spot-on as usual by Clausen, resulting in a first down. Wolverines middle linebacker Obi Ezeh is called for roughing the passer, setting up the Irish at the UM 12-yard line.
    • A one-yard run by Gray sets up Clausen's 2nd down pass to a leaping Floyd for an 11-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone and ND's first lead, 17-14 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half.

    ND Final Drive – First Half

    Drive Notes:

    • Clearing a path, Robinson, Young, and pulling left guard Dan Wenger dominate the Wolverines up front, clearing an opening for Allen for a 15-yard gain.
    • Olsen and Rudolph both whiff on the ensuing snap as Allen is dropped for a loss of one. Asking Rudolph to block down on Brandon Graham is a design flaw.
    • Allen was then stopped on stretch play to the left due to safety run blitz on the outside (the play was actually well-blocked, ND was just outmanned and it was the right call by Wolverines' defensive coordinator Greg Robinson).
    • Another perfect screen – another penalty, this time an illegal shift on Golden Tate for not clearing the tight end in motion.
    • Clausen's bailout pass to Gray is compete for seven yards but a solid solo tackle by UM freshman Craig Roh results in a 4th and 8 and 42-yard field goal by Tausch. The Irish take 20-14 lead but leave Michigan too much time as the Wolverines 48-yard drive culminates in a 39-yard field goal, cutting the Notre Dame lead to 20-17 at the half.

    Third Quarter Struggles –

    First Irish Drive – Second Half

    The Irish began the third period with a holding penalty, added a fumble in Michigan territory, were victimized by what became an 86-yard holding call on Sam Young, and managed just 9 plays for 22 yards.

    The culprits:

    • The Fumble: "That was on Jonas," Weis explained. "Steve Brown was standing on the outside to our right; on that play he looked like he was going to drop but then he came (blitzed) and Jonas just tried to do too much. He was trying to cut to the left before he had the ball. He was trying to rush a little bit."
    • The 86-yard hold: I was actually watching Irish tight end Mike Ragone on the play so saw the "hold" first-hand. Ragone came over to chip the defensive end (who Young was blocking). His chip sent the defender to the ground and Young rode him the rest of the way (grabbing his jersey in front of his shoulder pads as the two hit the turf). It might have been a poor call, technically, but understandable to the naked eye if the official simply saw the action after Ragone's effective chip block.

    The Wolverines dominated the quarter with 144 yards on 24 snaps, erasing Notre Dame's 20-17 halftime advantage with a 5-play, 26-yard touchdown drive and 31-yard touchdown run by Forcier at the outset of the fourth period.

    Fourth Quarter – Nearly Unstoppable

    The Irish responded to an 11-point deficit (31-20 after Forcier's 4th and 3 escape for the aforementioned 31-yard score) with a 140play, 80 yard drive that took just 4:30 off the game clock.

    Drive Notes: <.p>

    • Quick throw to Kamara to gain six sets up 2nd and 4 for Allen, who patiently waited for an alley to clear before bursting through for a five-yard gain and a Notre Dame first down. The play showed decent (being kind) blocking by Young and Olsen pulling and Duncan sliding to his left. Stewart got out for a quality block on Ezeh (MLB) to aid Allen's effort.
    • After consecutive incomplete passes to Tate outside (the second a dropped, perfectly-thrown touchdown pass that traveled more than 55 yards in the air), Clausen slid to his left and found Floyd on a square-in from the slot for 14 yards on 3rd and 10 for and another first down. A quick slant (slot again) to Floyd (again) picked up 12 more
    • After another delay-of-game penalty, Clausen found Tate for 10 yards on a sideline comeback route, setting up 3rd and 5.
    • Credit Kamara, Rudolph and Olsen leading Allen for a 7-yard gain on a toss left for a crucial first down. Once again, Allen displayed vision and patience before cutting back and accelerating through the crease for a first down.
    • Tate dropped another touchdown (the impact of the ground certainly played a part this time) setting up Shaquelle Evans' first catch of his college career on an 8-yard stop route the following play.
    • Allen (2 yards) and Clausen (1-yard sneak with a nice drive block from Wenger at LG and Olsen at center) set up Clausen's third touchdown pass to Tate on the series…this time the junior held on to the 21-yard offering, cutting the lead to 31-26 after a failed two-point conversion.

    Irish Go-Ahead Score

    With the Irish still trailing 31-26, Clausen marched the Irish 36 yards in 7 plays for the go-ahead score and subsequent two-point conversion.

    Drive Notes:

    • A quick out to Rudolph netted eight yards. Two plays later, Olsen lost his block on Ezeh but Allen powered through the leg tackle for three yards on 3rd and 2.
    • Floyd injures his knee on a leaping catch out of bounds…Evans catches another hook-route and fought for every inch on an 8-yard gain.
    • Allen finished the drive with two determined runs, the first a 9-yard carry running over left tackle on 3rd and 2 at the Michigan 17-yard line (excellent blocking by Duncan at the point and Wenger, Tate, and Kamara in space). The second, the go-ahead touchdown behind a powerful drive block eight yards downfield by Olsen and solid cut block in space inside the 5-yard line by Duncan).
    • The perfectly executed (copied from Boise State's 2007 game-winning Fiesta Bowl conversion vs. Oklahoma) "Statue of Liberty" two-point conversion afforded the Irish the necessary three-point advantage. Duncan (dominating at the point) and Wenger (moving outside to take on an outside blitz) opened a huge hole to aid the play's deception.
    • Though it appeared Allen's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was the result of his "shhh" to the student body, there have been two separate rumors regarding what actually caused the flag to be thrown. Having no knowledge (or audio) of the play, I can only offer that the official did appear to throw the flag extremely quickly (if it was indeed in response to the "shhhh" gesture). It certainly could have been something Allen said on the way into the end zone (directed toward the Michigan Student Body) that prompted the flag.

      Which begs the question: Are unsportsmanlike conduct penalties often called on players who yell at end zone fans/students? Because I can't recall one in a three-decade span…

    The penalty forced the Irish to kick from their own 15-yard line and resulted in excellent field position for the Wolverines, who began the drive at their own 41-yard line with 5:13 remaining.

    Final Possession

    • 1st and 10 at the 16-yard line: Allen ran over left tackle for a gain of 13 yards (Rudolph might have held on the edge, by the way).
    • 1st and 10 at the 29: Hughes runs for no gain. Duncan was assigned to block down on Graham and in fairness to the big left tackle, had no chance at getting to the quick defensive end pursuing the play (Hughes would have gained four prior to first contact if not for the backside play by Graham).
    • 2nd and 10 at the 29 Clausen throws a site adjust fade down the left sideline to Tate (Tate's route was either a quick throw if the cornerback played off him, or a fade route if pressed. Donovan Warren played press coverage and Tate ran deep). The underthrown ball fell incomplete as Warren adroitly (again) used his left arm to hold Tate.

      (Live I felt there was no way the referees would call pass interference…not at that critical juncture of the game. On replay, it was obvious pass interference on Warren. Still, that call is rarely made at the end of a close contest. Further hurting Tate's case was his constant complaining to the officials after each play in which there was any contact between he and the defender).

    • A wide-open Shaquelle Evans failed to come out of his break with any urgency on what would have been an easy out-route conversion on 3rd and 10 and the Irish were forced to punt. Also wide open on an inside route from the slot was senior Robby Parris.

      The shanked 29-yard punt set up Michigan at their own 43-yard line with 2:13 remaining and two timeouts...and you know the rest.


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