First Drive/3rd Quarter:
Breakdown: Notre Dame drove 43 yards in 9 plays (4:54 time of possession) before being stopped on a 4th and 1 plunge at the USC 27-yard line. USC 13 ND 7
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Eric Olsen, then Chris Stewart are both beaten by a Jurrell Casey spin, but the resulting off balance DT is moved 5 yards forward by a hard-charging Armando Allen. Trevor Robinson and Sam Young both executed solid backside blocks…Stewart traps and seals Casey (who then spun into an assisted tackle) and Robinson neutralizes Armando Armstead as Allen powers forward for another 5-yard gain. Olsen and Duncan were both slipped by opposing linebackers who brought Allen down at the ND 35-yard line…Parris could not execute his block on Tate's bubble screen…Olsen and Stewart execute at the point while Paul Duncan blocks down, then kicks into the gap to nail two blocks while Allen follows a pulling Robinson through the B-gap (guard and tackle hole) for a gain of 7 yards to the SC 36-yard line. TE Kyle Rudolph performed a perfect seal block and Kamara battled his defender for the entire play as well. Armstead shed Stewart at the last moment to corral Allen from behind with one arm before falling on the hard running junior…Olsen can't handle Casey and no one blocked RDE Everson Griffen (sheesh). The Trojans outnumbered the Irish 7-6 in the box on the play as Allen lost 3 yards due to Casey's penetration…USC puts 8 in the box, the Irish interior line gets no push (and was badly outnumbered) on a failed 4th and 1 attempt by James Aldridge. Stewart never got a hand on Gallippo who was credited with the scrum tackle. Credit Casey for a "low-man wins" effort that submarined both Olsen and Stewart.
'Backs and Receivers: After 5 yards on his first carry up the gut, Allen bounced off two tackles to gain 5 more for a 1st Down…Jimmy Clausen delivers a 5-yard hitch to Duval Kamara who wheeled outside and added 5 more yards for another Irish first down…A completely uncovered Tate gained 6 yards on a quick bubble screen…Allen showed great vision on his 7-yard B-Gap run (described above) but a quicker burst would have resulted in a bigger gain…Allen stood no chance vs. Casey, then Griffen, in the Irish backfield (lost 3)…Parris comes back to help a rolling Clausen for an 11-yard gain on 2nd and 13. It appeared Parris went down to a knee to catch the ball out of habit. He likely could have stayed upright and backed/fallen for the 1st down. Clausen's initial read: a slant to Golden Tate, was destroyed by CB Josh Pinkard who shoved Tate to the ground while the shockingly athletic Griffen dropped into the flat to give Pinkard help inside. Rudolph was well-covered on a cross to the same side…Allen is met in the hole by Chris Gallippo on 3rd and 2 and limited to a yard. Credit Allen for keeping his feet longer than most, but Gallippo would not yield…FB James Aldridge needs to keep his feet as he's easily stopped on 4th and 1 (no push from the Irish interior line, either).
2nd Drive/3rd Quarter:
Breakdown: Trailing 20-7 after a USC bubble screen TD, ND drives 78 yards in 4 plays (2:11 time of possession) to cut the Trojans lead to six. USC 20 ND 14
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Robinson whiffed on a delayed inside rush by a standing Everson Griffen (who attempted to bump TE Kyle Rudolph before rushing into the pocket) as the talented pass-rusher flushed Clausen to his right for a one-yard loss…Nice blitz pickup by Allen on Parris' reception/fumble (detailed below)…Allen again gives Clausen an extra half-second, this time helping Rudolph with a chip on Malik Jackson who otherwise might have disrupted Clausen on his TD toss to Tate (below).
'Backs and Receivers: Clausen is flushed to the right and sacked for a one-yard loss, but Griffen is hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty (well-deserved) for his post-play posing … USC's front four got a solid push, but Clausen again appeared to bail from the pocket too early, this time stepping up and running for 11 yards and a sliding first down. Clausen was hit from behind in his slide. Clausen could have received an extra 15 yards for the Irish as he was hit from behind by Gallippo during his slide (though Gallippo did try to hold up at the end)…Parris catches a delayed turn-out from the slot and made a strong move through traffic for first down yards. Parris, however, fumbled on the play, but was bailed out by Golden Tate's on-the-spot recovery. Poor ball security by Parris who had made an otherwise nice play after the reception…Clausen hits a leaping Tate for an acrobatic 45-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. Tate, per usual, made a fantastic catch at full-speed with a corner hanging on him and the nation's most talented safety, Taylor Mays bearing down on him at the last moment. Mays, in fact, delivered much less of a blow than he should have on Tate who nonetheless kept the Irish in the contest with yet another athletic play. The touchdown was the first surrendered by the Trojans pass defense this season.
3rd Drive/3rd Quarter:
Breakdown: After another USC touchdown, ND managed only five yards on four plays (2:43 time of possession). USC 27 ND 14
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Duncan is again beaten by a Horton spin move as the redshirt-freshman DE takes down Clausen (who had stepped up in the pocket) for a two-yard loss…Two plays later, Duncan was beaten by Griffen (slightly) and committed what was probably a needless hold as one strong push (or continued footwork by Duncan) would have moved Griffen wide of the rolling Clausen…The Irish line gave Clausen ample time on his 3rd and 6 incompletion to Parris (looked like it could have been caught in tight coverage).
'Backs and Receivers: Kamara's in-route draws an interference on Josh Pinkard, who made a fairly athletic attempt coming over the top of the Irish junior…USC's coverage forces a Clausen (possibly early) throw-away as the pocket collapsed late…Clausen delivers a 14-yard square-in to Tate but the Irish playmaker is corralled by two defenders after the catch…Parris needs to make the tough catch as Clausen fires a rocket to the senior on an out route. This was one instance in which keeping his feet would have helped the 6'3" Parris who looked awkward trying to corral the pass.
Three 3rd Quarter Observations:
- Floyd's absence reared its ugly head as the Trojans were able to man up both Kamara and Parris with little threat other than a hitch route. ND's failed 4th and 1 saw 8 Trojans in the box with solo coverage on Tate and Parris and one Safety in the post. That's a touchdown/interference drawn in most cases for either Tate or Floyd if both are on the field.
- Regardless of Weis' reasoning, a 44-yard field goal attempt is a better call than Aldridge vs. an 8-man box. So is a play-action pass and/or the Wildcat, for that matter.
- I'm still stunned ND recovered after back-to-back crippling USC scores to end the 3rd/Begin the 4th. Impressive grit showed by the squad.
Notre Dame 1st Drive/4th Quarter:
Breakdown: Trailing 34-14, Notre Dame drives 68 yards in 7 plays, while burning just 2:20 on the series to cut into the Trojans advantage. USC 34 ND 20 after the Trojans blocked Kicker Nick Tausch's extra point.
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Solid blocking up front on both of the drives first two plays: a 21-yard dump to Allen and 9-yard delayed out from Parris who fought but could not gain extra yards on the play…Young and Robinson both seal the right edge while Rudolph kicks out nicely to spring Allen for 8 yards off right tackle…Tate delivers a strong cut block to help spring Parris for 9 yards on a bubble screen…Olsen, Stewart and Duncan all win a the point as Allen gains 4 yards on 3rd and 1 to the SC 2-yard line…Duncan sealed inside and Griffen came too hard down the line as Clausen's fake handoff to Allen and subsequent QB keeper results in an easy score for the hobbling quarterback. Griffen's penchant for pursuit was the obvious target of the play.
'Backs and Receivers: Allen snuck out of the backfield for a catch-and-run (including a stiff-arm) of 21 yards, drawing a 15-yard personal foul on Taylor Mays on his near-sideline hit out of bounds. The Irish might have caught a break on this call…Allen falls after attempting to spin out of a Mays' tackle and an 8-yard gain over the right side…Clausen throws a 1st down fade to Tate into the drums (better to go for the pylon and let Tate dive for it). Tate hits the drummer's hovering drum while getting up (someone keep Tate away from opposing bands from this point forward, please)…Allen again runs with inside power, converting a 3rd and 1 to the SC 2-yard line…Brilliant call on the designed QB sprint-option left by Clausen for the diving TD.
2nd Drive/4th Quarter:
Breakdown: Trailing 34-20, ND junior CB Gary Gray interceptd a tipped pass and returned the offering 30 yards to the SC 13-yard line. Three plays later, Clausen hit Tate for a touchdown and the Irish cut the Trojans lead to 7. USC 34 ND 27
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Tight End Mike Ragone cannot handle Griffen in pass protection and the talented pass rusher sacks Clausen again. Who dialed up that coverage scheme? (Robinson and Sam Young doubling Armstead inside)…Give Young credit for taking on an inside rush by Griffen, then recognizing and getting a piece of a delayed blitzer on Clausen's TD toss to Tate. Allen also picked up a Trojans blitzer on the touchdown.
'Backs and Receivers: Clausen came up limping after a 1st Down sack…No quit in Tate but the Irish receiver lost yards fighting to stay upright after catching an in-route on a Clausen scramble. USC dropped eight defenders into coverage on the play…Clausen fired a bullet to Tate who showed his strength, bouncing off a hit by Taylor Mays on a 3rd and 12 post-touchdown. Again, I feel Mays should have delivered more of a shot. Tate stared at the fallen Mays and continues to walk the line, a half-second away from his first big taunting call.
Final Drive/4th Quarter:
Breakdown: Trailing 34-27, the Irish took over after forcing a USC punt with 4:18 remaining, and drove 74 yards in 17 plays, eventually being held at the goal line as time expired.
Offensive Line and Key Blockers: Stewart errs badly in his assignment leaving ARmstead unblocked to force a Clausen throw away on 2nd and 3 with under 3:00 remaining…Great protection by the line as a whole on Clausen's throw to Goodman with 2:35 remaining…The Irish line looked tired on Allen's 2nd and 1 run for a (one-yard) first down…Tremendous protection on the ensuing play as Clausen throws low to Goodman coming back to help over the middle…Again, excellent protection, this time vs. five Trojans, on Clausen's square-in to Tate (below)…Robinson lunged and was beaten badly by Casey who flushed Clausen from the pocket, forcing a hurried throw to Allen incomplete…Duncan was bull-rushed into Clausen on the 4th down completion to Parris. The remainder of the game is detailed in the section below.
'Backs and Receivers: Following a procedure penalty (1st and 15) Allen gains extra yards after catching a check down pass, cutting inside for 7-8 extra yards on 1st down…The Irish catch Griffen in over-pursuit again, as Clausen's sprint-option run to the right gains six yards and an Irish first down…Parris again runs the (designed) "lazy" delay from the slot, catching a bullet from Clausen for 7 yards…On 3rd and 3, Parris runs a slant from the right slot underneath a detached Rudolph and takes a hit, gaining 3 yards and an Irish first down…On the ensuing play, Clausen expertly steps up in the pocket (fine protection) and hits John Goodman for his first career reception on the sideline. A fine catch by Goodman is temporarily marred as the ball is popped loose, but a hustling Allen dives to recover the fumble (with one outstretched arm) and save the Irish. Goodman cannot hold the ball away from his body at this level…Allen picks up a 1st down on 2nd and 1 despite complete pocket disruption by Malik Jackson…Goodman could have helped Clausen with a tough fingertip "dig" catch over the middle…On 2nd and 10, Tate goes high to make a phenomenal catch in traffic for 13 yards and an Irish first down. Tate is the definition of a playmaker…Clausen's fade to Goodman was likely thrown intentionally too far wide. Had that been Floyd (or Tate), Clausen could have trusted his receiver to make a play on a ball closer the field of play…Clausen is flushed and throws low to a sliding Allen who looked (from the press box) as though a lead pass might have gone the distance. No way to verify on TV though…Poor throw by Clausen on the one-on-one fade to Tate as the ball landed well out of bounds. Not a good call (or check down by Clausen) on 3rd and 10…Parris, solo right, runs a square-in and makes a heroic 4th and 10 catch over the middle for a first down and takes a late helmet to the head shot from Taylor Mays (personal foul). Parris injures his leg on the play and is lost for the duration of the contest. The next 35 seconds are detailed below.
Final 35 Seconds/One Timeout Remaining
- 1st and Goal at the USC 8-yard line: The clock begins to run as the ball is marked for play (after the penalty) and the Irish break the huddle with 30 seconds remaining; Clausen's first survey of the defense is at approximately 25 as he barks instructions to his receivers/backfield in the interim; the ball is snapped as the clock hits 16 seconds: USC drops 6 defenders with a 7th backfield spy; Clausen bailed too early and threw the ball away but drew a Roughing the Passer penalty on Malik Jackson.
- 1st and Goal at the USC 4-yard line: An ingenius pre-snap design allows a detached Rudolph to sneak from his standing position to wide right vs. solo coverage (CB T.J. Bryant). Clausen goes under center with Hughes barely a yard behind him but Clausen's intentionally high lob is thrown with too much air and SS Will Harris is able to disrupt Rudolph who had a shot at the game-winning tipped touchdown.
- 2nd and Goal at the USC 4-yard line (0:04 remaining): Because you want to run two plays, a slant or "box-out" hook is necessary (a fade/lob would take at least 4 seconds). Tate, however, ran a poor (not to mention delayed) slant and it was expertly jumped by Pinkard. There was clearly one second remaining.
- Final Play at the USC 4-yard line (0:01 remaining): Notre Dame did not change its formation following a USC timeout; Six Irish protect (including Ragone right) while Hughes runs a circle route from the backfield (covered); Tate receives double-coverage right; Clausen's arm comes forward as Kamara slips out of his break and the pass goes through the open window incomplete. Rudolph did beat his defender (Pinkard) who slipped at the line, though a throw there by Clausen would have been contested by SS Harris who was playing a square-in. Had Rudolph been able to site-adjust and run straight back (or in any way toward the corner), it's an easy score. However, that's a risk on what is surely a heavily practiced and exacting play. Rudolph did not make eye contact with Clausen as Pinkard slipped (still head down in his route).
ND took too much time (no matter the reasoning) as the clock hits 0:09 for a new set of downs. No play should take 26 seconds, especially given the benefit of a conference/huddle while an injured player is examined.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Harris broke off his coverage (Mike Ragone) as soon as Clausen looked outside. Ragone had no one near him for an easy over-the-middle TD.
4th Quarter Observations:
- Had Rudolph been called in-bounds initially (49/51 odds he was "in" live), the call would not have been overturned. It was that close.
- With 9 seconds, my personal play-calling if the intention is to use 3 plays: Stop-Fade to Tate (with CB likely playing the fade); the "Purdue" play, only hitting Kamara on the backside with attention paid to Rudolph in such a familiar set; the last second jump ball lob to Rudolph (the play called on 1st down).
Of course, that analysis and a quarter won't even buy you a phone call…
Final Score: USC 34 Notre Dame 27
2nd Half Groupings:
- Three-Wide Receiver Sets: 41
- Two-Tight End Sets: 2
- Power I-Formation (with a lead fullback): 3
Offensive Game Balls: Clausen, Tate, and Parris. Allen deserves mention for a clutch all-around 4th Quarter.