Opening Notre Dame Drive:
Coach Weis opened in a 5-WR, empty backfield (no RB) set and the Irish marched an unfettered 84 yards in four plays for a 7-0 lead on a 13-yard touchdown run by halfback Armando Allen. Personnel included Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, and Golden Tate.
Notes from the Opening Drive:
- Getting Parris (or any backup receiver) in the flow immediately was a smart first play, as Clausen hit him on an out-route for six yards.
- Great job by Clausen stepping up in the pocket to find his last option, tight end Kyle Rudolph as an outlet receiver on the sideline. Rudolph ran a bubble screen route and smply hung out on the sideline when he didn't receive the initial throw. Rudolph followed with a bubble screen reception for 8 yards on the right side of the formation.
- Allen, with junior tight end Mike Ragone as the H-back, runs nearly untouched up the middle of the defense for the easy score. Each of the Spartans three linebackers bit (way too hard) on Allen's fake hand-off to Golden Tate in motion, and Sam Young shot out from his right tackle spot to seal the only Spartans LB that could have had a shot at Allen.
Second Notre Dame Drive
The Irish stayed 5-wide/empty and continued their clinic on no-huddle efficiency, driving 55 yards on 5 plays (all 5-WR sets) and a Clausen-to-Floyd 22-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 13-0 advantage (after freshman kicker Nick Tausch missed the PAT).
Second Drive Notes:
- Another bubble screen (this time to Tate for 6 yards) and another heads-up effort by Clausen, stepping up in the pocket and running 9 yards for a first down.
- Clausen fired a 17-yard out to Floyd (who lined up in the slot) for another first down (Clausen throws the best out-route in the nation).
- Rudolph runs a third bubble screen and is finally stopped, gaining two.
- Floyd ran a perfect corner-route for a 22-yard touchdown. Terrible coverage by MSU and an even worse scheme with WLB Eric Gordon lined up over Floyd in the right slot. Spartans safety Trenton Robinson was toast, reacting late to Floyd's corner cut.
Third Notre Dame Drive
With a 13-0 lead and solid field position at their own 34, the Irish opened the drive with three consecutive 5-wide sets, gaining 18 yards, giving the Irish 152 yards in 12 first quarter snaps. The downward spiral of Quarter No. 2 was about to begin.
Third Drive Notes:
- Bubble screen No. 4 to Rudolph who rumbled behind a nice seal from Tate and tremendous downfield block by Kamara (who pushed his defender out of bounds) for a gain of 12 yards.
- A quick hit to Tate in the slot for 4 yards as the Irish continue to chip away at the Spartans in soft coverage. Clausen gained two on an up-field scramble on the next play as the quarter came to a close.
- Two Allen rushes, the first from the Wildcat on 3rd and 4; the second a Power-I pitch to the right on 4th and 1 for an Irish first down. Tate then loses a yard on what appeared to be a run-pass option to Clausen - who was covered. My question: why have Tate roll right to throw when he's left handed?) The Irish had 2nd and 11 at the MSU 44-yard line when things turned ugly:
- A false start on right tackle Sam Young
- A hold on sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson on an Irish screen
- A sack of Clausen (and poor blitz pickup by sophomore halfback Jonas Gray), who crumbled awkwardly after hurting his toe/arch on the play. Center Eric Olsen was confused by the two Spartans inside linebacker-blitz and missed his block as well. Two plays later, the drive ended mercifully with a 49-yard Maust punt.
Fourth Notre Dame Drive
The Irish responded to a MSU touchdown (and recovered onsides kick) by forcing a fumble (great hustle play by LDE Kapron Lewis-Moore to strip the runner) and grinded for 55 yards and a much needed 22-yard field goal to extend their lead to 16-10 with 3:14 remaining in the half. The drive signaled a switch out of 5-wide/empty sets to predominantly 2-TE personnel groupings but with four players lined up as wide receivers (including backup TE Mike Ragone) as well as the presence of Allen in the backfield in an effort to protect a now-hobbled Clausen.
Fourth Drive Notes:
- The first official pass thrown to TE Mike Ragone in nearly 22 months results in an ugly dropped pass, Clausen's first of the game.
- Allen runs a draw out of 4-wide (Ragone split right) for 12 yards and a first down. Allen continues to run with a forward lean through arm tackles, gaining five yards after first contact.
- After a run for no gain, Allen broke off consecutive 8-yard runs, the first on a misdirection (to the right with his lead back Robert Hughes motioning left); the second, a shot-gun inside handoff to the left side on 3rd and 2 for an Irish first down. Left tackle Paul Duncan and tight end Kyle Rudolph threw two tremendous blocks while left guard Chris Stewart moved into space and got just enough of Spartans star LB Greg Jones to open a lane for Allen.
- Consecutive plays involving Parris, the first a quick look (bubble route again) for a gain of 5 yards from the right slot; the second, a 15-yard gain over left tackle by Jonas Gray. Parris executed a perfect in-line crack-back block on WLB Eric Gordon to allow Gray the outside. Duncan and Tate also contributed with strong blocks on the edge. Gray added 11 yards to his carry with a fine stiff-arm.
- Clausen's fade-route touchdown pass to Floyd is ruled, well, not a catch, which begs the question: what is a catch? The call is fittingly upheld in the replay booth by the Big 10 replay official. Floyd is lost for the season with a broken collarbone upon landing.
- After a 6-yard gain out of the Wildcat by Allen on 2nd and Goal (good blocks by Paul Duncan on the outside right of the unbalanced formation, as well as seal blocks by Young and Robinson and a pull by Chris Stewart, who probably should have continued through the hole as Allen's lead blocker), Clausen fumbles the C/QB exchange on third down and the Irish are forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
Fifth ND Drive
After the Spartans take a 17-16 lead with 1:01 remaining. The Irish drive 22 yards on three plays but a Hail Mary pass by sophomore backup QB Dayne Crist was intercepted at the MSU 10-yard line to end the half.
Fifth Drive Notes:
- Weis mentioned in his Sunday press conference that Crist was inserted to throw the Hail Mary because Clausen's toe could have made it difficult for him to step up in the pocket and get the necessary drive behind the 55-60-yard throw downfield.
Halftime Score: MSU 17 ND 16
2nd Half - First Drive
Six plays, four different personnel groupings, and a 70-yard drive helped the Irish regain the lead, 23-17
- Bubble screen (quick look) pass to Tate in the slot, but the Spartans are all over it, limiting Tate to 4 yards on first down.
- Robinson executes a fine block out of the Wildcat formation; Stewart pulls and helps out Young on a lead block to provide 5 yards for Allen over the right side. Clausen sneaks for a first down behind Olsen and Stewart.
- Tate, lined up in the left slot, runs a deep crossing route as Clausen executes a perfect play-action fake. The O-Line gives JC ample time to scan the field and the junior QB finds Tate on the deep right hash for a 54-yard gain at the Spartans 5-yard line. Right guard Trevor Robinson is the unsung hero on the play, completely stoning Spartans DT Jerel Worthy in pass protection, which allowed Clausen to step into the downfield throw.
- The Irish are outnumbered on a stretch run to the left (though Parris delivered another solid in-line block). The Irish responded with the Wildcat formation and Allen hit Parris on "block-and-run" skinny post for an easy touchdown. Clausen was open as well his defender blitzed from the weak side. Weis explained in his post-game press conference that the Wildcat allows the Irish to play "even" vs. the Spartans defense that is designed to outnumber the offense in power running situations.
Allen added (post-game) that he indeed does have two reads on the play: Parris and Clausen.
2nd Half – Second Drive
The Irish extend their lead to 26-17 but gain just 18 yards on 10 plays (after beginning with excellent field position on the Spartans 47 thanks to a 23-yard punt return by Tate). Tausch drilled a career-best 46-yard field goal to give the Irish a 9-point cushion.
- The Irish begin with a right-side fade to Parris that falls incomplete. The obvious difference between Floyd and Parris on this route cannot be understated.
- Allen follows another solid block by Robinson and a nice (shove) by Olsen for an 8-yard gain. Spartans MLB Greg Jones failed to diagnose the play and ran himself out of Allen's inside running lane. On the ensuing play, Allen hammered for 5-yards over the left side on 3rd and 3 behind stout blocking at the point from Olsen, Stewart, and Duncan. Stewart and Duncan simply blew their opponents off the ball.
- An Allen rush for one yards and a Gray draw carry (Robinson and Olsen with fine blocks yet again) for four yards set up the Irish with 3rd and 5 at the Spartans 30-yard line. Clausen hit Tate on a short out from the "bunch" formation on the left side and Tate did the rest, breaking two tackles for an Irish first down.
- Robinson got away with a hold on a three-yard gain but Duncan was nailed for his one play later, forcing 2nd and 17 from the Spartans 20.
- Tate ran a perfect post-corner route but dropped his third pass of the season (on an absolutely perfect pass from Clausen). Tate will need to put his obvious concentration issue behind him over the next 10 contests. He's simply too good to drop these throws.
2nd Half – Third Drive
After a Spartans touchdown drive that cut the Irish advantage to 26-23, ND moved 30 yards in 9 plays but the drive ended in a Maust punt to the Spartans 14-yard line.
- Clausen started 2-3 on the drive, hitting Kamara for 10 yards outside and two plays later, Rudolph on a short-out for an 8-yard gain as the Irish entered the fourth period with a 26-23 advantage.
- Allen began the final period with a 3rd and 2 conversion, running hard downhill on a stretch pay to he right. Allen showed his quickness when he beat speedy Spartans MLB Greg Jones who had diagnosed the play and shot the gap.
- Two more Allen runs (5 yards on a nice lead block by Bobby Burger; and for 7 yards off right tackle with strong lead blocks from Rudolph, Young, and Burger again) are for not as Clausen is sacked for a 6-yard loss (Gray whiffed in blitz pickup). Clausen's slightly underthrown 3rd and 14 pass to Tate was broken up by Chris L. Rucker, who made a nice play on the ball.
2nd Half – Fourth Drive
The Irish began the drive trailing 30-26 with 9:33 remaining. Clausen, Rudolph, and Tate were the heroes in the 8-play, 73-yard score that provided the final margin, 33-30.
- A patient call by Weis running Allen on over left tackle on first down for a gain of three yards.
- Nice concentration by Allen to pick up the first down as the Clausen swing pass arrived upon his turn toward Clausen.
- Clausen, Tate, and the Irish receive a break when Tate stops his route and Spartans WR Chris Rucker drops a sure interception downfield.
- Lined up offset right (just off the line in a two-point stance), Rudolph runs a simple crossing route to the left sideline and broke a tackle for a gain of 13 yards and a crucial first down.
- Clausen hit Kamara on a short cross from the right slot for eight yards … and Allen rushed twice (2-yards for a first down on a delay and 4-yards on a run in which he should have lost at least a yard) to set up 2nd and 8 at the Spartans 33-yard line.
- Clausen threw an absolutely perfect deep ball to the back left pylon and Tate held on for the go-ahead score. Tate proceeded to swan dive into the Spartans band (he later mentioned he didn't realize it "wasn't his band."
The dive brought chuckles to the press box and surely the fans, but could have easily been whistled for a taunting penalty. Regardless, I enjoyed it, despite the inherent stupidity…
2nd Half – Final Meaningful Drive
After the Irish defense forced a Spartans three-and-out, ND took over at its own 19-yard line with a three-point lead and 4:48 remaining.
- Another strong run by Allen, this time for five yards behind Robinson, Young, and a pulling Stewart … but a ridiculous personal foul penalty on Sam Young moves the ball back 15 yards setting up the Irish with 2nd and 17. Just a terrible mental mistake by Young in his 41st career start
- Tate Bailed out his elder teammate's error with a 10-yard comeback route on the left sideline. The junior playmaker broke the first tackle, eluded two more, and gained an 18-yard Irish first down and provided much-needed breathing room for the Maust punt four plays later.
- Tate ran over Allen on a comical Wildcat effort (I wish I could explain how that can happen). Allen gained nine over left tackle (sophomore wide receiver John Goodman through a strong block) but Clausen's 3rd and 6 out-route to Goodman glanced off the receiver's hands and the Irish were forced to punt.
Offensive Notables: Sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson; junior halfback Armando Allen; senior left guard Chris Stewart; junior tight end Kyle Rudolph; junior wide receiver Golden Tate.
Offensive Game Ball: Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen.