Hanging Around

IrishEyes weekly two-part Tuesday column reviews the defense's effort as two timely red zone stops aid the Irish in the first half vs. the Trojans.

Below is our play-by-play recap of the Notre Dame defensive effort vs. the Trojans.

Opening Drive

The Irish began in a 4-3 base defense. Gary Gray and Darrin Walls begin the drive at CB. John Ryan is the starting RDE. Kerry Neal subs for Ryan in the team's Nickel package that also includes S Sergio Brown. The Trojans netted 6 yards on 3 official plays (plus a first down due to a penalty on the Irish). USC 0 ND 0

  • Gray squatted on the first hitch route and a little more field experience might result in a Pick 6 rather than a (correct) pass interference call.
  • Nice effort by Darius Fleming on 1st and 10 to knife through from his Nickel LDE position and drop Joe McKnight for a loss of two yards.
  • Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, and John Ryan all flow left and are sealed by Trojans linemen as McKnight cuts back left for 5 yards. Walls takes a shot (but did well to stay home) and McCarthy cleans up the mess. Manti Te'o did well not to over-pursue but he did get caught up in traffic a bit due to a shallow angle.
  • After a false start, USC faced a 3rd and 12. The Irish employed their Nickel package and a well-timed blitz off the left edge (and subsequent avoidance of a Stanley Havili backfield block) by Sergio Brown forced Barkley into a quick throw and incompletion. Gray had decent coverage on the play and Fleming's strong inside rush was also a factor.

2nd Trojans Drive/1st Quarter:

The Irish played a base 4-3 defense for the duration of the drive. Gray and Walls remained at cornerback as did Ryan at RDE. USC traveled 88 yards in 5 plays (2:09 time of possession) for the game's opening score. USC 7 ND 0

  • Ryan is pancaked, Williams is controlled, and Fleming is sealed on McKnight's run off right tackle. Brian Smith does a decent job of shedding a block to slow McKnight and McCarthy makes a downfield tackle after a 9-yard gain.
  • Williams is bumped from his gap by RG Alex Parsons while C Kristopher O'Dowd and LG Jeff Byers control Irish DT Ethan Johnson with an effective double-team. Te'o sheds a lead block and Smith slips one (by FB Havili) to take down McKnight after 2 yards (and a USC first down). Ryan was controlled again on the edge.
  • Johnson is initially controlled by Byers but spins to win, putting late pressure on QB Matt Barkley who shifted to his left in the pocket and threw back down the right seam to a leaping Anthony McCoy. Breakout game as expected for the Trojans tremendous senior tight end. Ryan dropped and Te'o's backside blitz was picked up by Havili LT Charles Brown, giving Barkley room in the pocket. Nice design by the Trojans, running McCoy deep (with Fleming over the top of him) and the outside right receiver hooked up, a route that gave Walls brief pause before he broke late toward McCoy downfield (scheme error here, as Fleming can't run with McCoy or get out to the flat in time to cover a hooking receiver). Harrison Smith's false step up as the post-safety didn't help.
  • Barkley is given time vs. a 5-man rush and the Trojans "high-low" ND with a post-corner left to a slotted Damian Williams (behind a squatting Gray, who stayed with his receiver on a hook and in front of McCarthy, who was a bit too far back in coverage). Walls lined up over Williams in the slot and has to either stay with him or pick up Gray's coverage outside, in which case Gray would drop back to take the corner route behind him. My educated guess is this was Gray's responsibility in the zone scheme.
  • Williams runs his favorite route, a step to the fade (corner) and hard in to the post vs. Gray in solo coverage. Gray turns outside on Williams' fake just as the talented receiver broke hard to the post and Barkley delivers a fairly easy pitch-and-catch for the score. Fleming is cut down on a backside blitz by Havili.

3rd Trojans Drive/1st Quarter:

The Irish begin in a 4-3 base (Sean Cwynar in for Ian Williams at NT) and switch to the Nickel package with Steve Filer as the RDE on 3rd and 7. USC is held to 4 yards in 3 plays (1:14 time of possession). USC 7 ND 0

  • Ryan stunts inside and is shoved to the ground by Brown. Johnson initially beats O'Dowd with a knifing inside rush but the powerful center recovers to hold off the Irish DT, allowing Barkley time for a pump fake (that froze Harrison Smith on the sideline) and a throwing lane. The freshman puts too much air under the ball and Smith recovers to backpedal for a pass break-up. USC should have gained at least 27 yards on the play (assuming McCarthy makes the saving sideline tackle).
  • The Trojans run their first of several toss plays, this time off right tackle to Allen Bradford. McCarthy goes low and Brian Smith is credited with the tackle three yards downfield. LDE Kapron Lewis-Moore and SLB Darius Fleming are perfectly sealed. Smith actually hit the gap on a run blitz (and was thus too far inside), but used his speed to eventually make the play. The troubling aspect: Smith should not have shot the inside gap with so much traffic in the middle. Te'o could not shed the talented O'Dowd's kick-out block.
  • A stunt by Fleming (LDE) and Lewis-Moore (inside Fleming) forces Barkley out of the pocket to his right on 3rd and 7. After dropping in coverage, Te'o cleans up Barkley on the sideline to force a Trojans punt. One of the few promising aspects of the Irish defense this season: when Te'o has a chance, he goes for the kill shot.

Three 1st Quarter Observations:

  • Gray had a very rough start. It's impressive he was able to bounce back in his first extended action with a strong finish (and really solid "bulk" of the contest).
  • ND's 4-3 base can't handle a team with a talented tight end.
  • The Irish clearly wanted the ball in Matt Barkley's hands rather than blitz him and test the Trojans playmakers. They got what they wanted, but the freshman QB delivered.

End of 1st Quarter Beginning/2nd Quarter:

After a Notre Dame touchdown, USC drives 80 yards in 11 plays (3:20 time of possession) to re-take the lead with a 24-yard field goal. The Irish began in a base 4-3 with Cwynar at NT and Robert Blanton joining Gray at CB. Ian Williams eventually replaces Cwynar and the Irish later go to the Nickel, with Brown and Kerry Neal entering. USC 10 ND 7

  • Ryan holds up on the right side while Harrison Smith and Blanton stay home. Te'o sheds a lead block by TE Rhett Ellison and stops McKnight for 2 yards.
  • Blanton gives to much room to the speedy Ronald Johnson (bail coverage, but corners have to have more confidence than Blanton showed here in his own speed), but Johnson awkwardly drops the pass in his first action of the season (Johnson had missed the first five weeks with a broken collarbone).
  • Yet another high-low vs. the Irish, this time Brice Butler runs from the slot to the corner. Brown (covering Butler initially) either did not get enough depth on his drop or he expected Gray (covering the outside receiver who again hooked) to drop into that zone. Barkley delivered a pretty pass between a Gray, a leaping Brown, and McCarthy. Judging from McCarthy's initial reaction (live), Gray was supposed to drop to take away this route. But if that's the case, Brown had no chance of covering the outside hook (that Gray would have had to abandon to cover deeper). Confused? I suppose that's the point of the combination routes by the Trojans…
  • Cwynar got upfield pressure on Barkley, forcing the freshman to step up and fire to a crossing Williams. Blanton, in man coverage from the slot, broke nicely on the ball that ricocheted off his hands and face-mask, and again off his hands as he dove but the ball fell incomplete.
  • A toss left to McKnight gains 25 yards down the USC sideline. Te'o was victimized by a poor angle (crack back block by Brandon Carswell); Ryan is controlled by McCoy outside; Harrison Smith takes away the outside (blocked that way as well by Havili) and Blanton's false step outside (he simply had to fill and tackle McKnight cutting inside) results in an extra 15 yards down the sideline.
  • Pre-snap confusion (Brown looking backward at the snap) and another toss, this time off right tackle to Bradford who gains an unmolested 8 yards before McCarthy dives to angle him out of bounds. Brown is credited with the tackle without contact. Brown turned after the snap and took two steps back and inside as the action came to his vacated slot. Fleming (RDE) was sealed by McCoy and Williams got just enough of Te'o to give Bradford an outside lane. But pre-snap confusion was the main culprit on the play.
  • O'Dowd controls Cwynar, Byers the same with Johnson, and McCoy handles Te'o as Bradford runs up the gut from the Power-I for 23 yards before McCarthy makes the downfield dragging stop. Brian Smith followed the Trojans FB into the right B-Gap (between guard and tackle) but Bradford scooted up the gut behind the talented Trojans interior. Parsons then simply shoved Smith (who might have recovered) out of his tackle attempt. Bradford absolutely trucks Harrison Smith in space (low man definitely won) to allow 15 extra yards on the play. An all-around ugly play as LDE Lewis-Moore is collapsed by RT Tyron Smith with some quick help by Parsons (who then blocked Brian Smith).
  • Blanton's physical bump-and-run coverage on Williams delays the receiver enough and Barkley's pass to the (eventually) wide open receiver sails out of the back of the end zone (Williams shed Blanton at the last moment and broke straight downfield as Harrison Smith was forced to cover McCoy running an out).
  • The Irish go Nickel, but Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson are controlled inside while Brian Smith takes two steps to the right as Bradford cuts back around a caved in left side (Neal rushed too far upfield and Sergio Brown is simply bumped out of the way by the slot receiver. Blanton stays home to make a tough ankle tackle vs. a Bradford stiff-arm as the ‘back could not turn the corner on the Irish sophomore. Harrison Smith took a terrible angle late in the play.
  • Following a Trojans timeout, on 3rd and 5 from the Irish 6-yard line, Brian Smith and Kyle McCarthy show good coverage on a McCoy double-move (and Barkley pump) to the post. Well-scouted by ND and excellent coverage on four Trojans options as well as McKnight out of the backfield (vs. Te'o).

2nd Trojans Drive/2nd Quarter:

The Irish again begin in a 4-3 base defense and eventually employ both the Nickel and (for one play) Dime packages. ND plays mostly Nickel on the drives final six snaps. USC drives 53 yards in 10 plays (4:31 time of possession) and is again held to a field goal. USC 13 ND 7

  • Te'o sheds a block; Blanton sacrifices himself outside, and a physical Gary Gray and Te'o combine to stop McKnight for one-yard on an already too-familiar toss play. Nice D by the Irish perimeter.
  • Trojans WR David Ausberry earns his 5th recruiting star, going low to catch a 6-yard pass on the sideline. Zero pass rush by the ND front four.
  • Blanton hits Williams early on a hook but a diving catch by Ronald Johnson gives the Trojans 13 yards and a 1st Down on 3rd and 3 from their own 35-yard line. Decent break, but a bad angle by Blanton (same mistake Gary Gray made on the game's first play).
  • Backside DE Kerry Neal completely loses sight of the ball as Barkley fakes a Power-I handoff right and rolls left. Johnson notices and recovers from a solid McCoy crack back block to pressure the freshman who throws 30 yards past any Trojans receiver to the post.
  • The Trojans first "Bubble" formation shows Williams offset and behind two lead receivers (including TE Blake Ayles) on the right. ND counters with Fleming and Blanton, but no 3rd presence. USC plays pitch, catch, and block as Williams gains 9 yards before contact. A hustling Lewis-Moore (from RDE) makes the downfield tackle from behind. Though Fleming and Blanton are taught to take on the two lead blocks, ND MUST have a 3rd player come up to help. Immediately. USC had 8 players in the box as did the Irish. I have no idea why Harrison Smith would play so far back defensively (but it was by design). USC would kill Notre Dame with the Bubble look for the remainder of the contest.
  • Facing 3rd and 1 from the ND 43, the Trojans sneak McCoy down the seam as McCarthy arrives late in coverage (and actually set up too far to the right pre-snap). Its worth pointing out that USC was open on a shallow cross and go-route from the slot as well.
  • SLB Scott Smith sheds a backfield lead block by TE Rhett Ellison, (and gets away with a backfield face mask) on Bradford's overturned fumble. Good backside hustle by Lewis-Moore to make the hit and force the fumble. Yet another recovery by John Ryan (though the play was rightfully overturned).
  • On 2nd and 11 from the ND 21-yard line, a toss right to McKnight is destroyed by Nickel defender Sergio Brown, who blows up a lead block by RT Tyron Smith and submarines McKnight for a one-yard loss. Best play of the season for Brown. Brian and Harrison Smith had also read the play and were in position behind Brown. Fleming (at LDE) had been sealed by McCoy on the play.
  • USC oddly runs a toss left on 3rd and 12 and the Irish hold, forcing a 4th Down field goal. Neal (at the point), Brown, Blanton and McCarthy all read the play. USC played both for the field goal and on the chance they'd catch the Irish defense off guard, relying on McKnight's speed and open-field ability to pick up an unlikely first down.

3rd Trojans Drive/2nd Quarter:

Holding a 13-7 advantage, USC takes possession with 2:49 remaining in the half. The Irish began in a base 4-3 (Scott Smith in for Fleming at SAM LB and Cwynar on the nose in place of Ian Williams) and hold the Trojans to 19 yards on 5 plays (2:09) and force a punt from the USC 31-yard line. ND employed its Nickel defense, including Filer again at RDE, for the final three plays of the drive. The Irish offense runs one play before taking to the tunnel for the half.

  • Lewis-Moore fights off a block by RT Tyron Smith to stop McKnight (cutting back) for one yard. Scott Smith flirted with face mask call No. 2 after taking on Rhett Ellison's block. Solid penetration by Cwynar from the nose.
  • Barkley hits backup TE Blake Ayles for 10 yards and a Trojans first down. Te'o was beaten by the necessary half-step on Ayles shallow cross.
  • Barkley is sacked by Filer (RDE) and Ethan Johnson (DT to his left). A Lewis-Moore inside stunt greatly contributed to the play. Barkley is called for intentional grounding on the play, negating what appeared to be a key fumble recovery by Te'o. Barkley tossed an underhand pass to right guard Alex Parsons (obviously illegal). Filer showed excellent speed after his initial shed of LT Charles Brown's block as the Irish sophomore burst inside to take down Barkley.
  • Filer (RDE) is shoved 5 yards out of the play by Brown but Gray fills from his corner spot to undercut Havili after a 5-yard gain. Johnson was also controlled by LG Jeff Byers on the play. O'Dowd expertly engulfs Te'o on the play as well. O'Dowd is a great college center.
  • McKnight is stopped for an 8-yard gain on 3rd and 10 to force a Trojans punt. Lewis-Moore and Filer show good penetration but a tremendous backfield cut by McKnight helps him get around the corner. Gary Gray holds up vs. a McCoy block on the edge and despite taking a shot, forces McKnight out of bounds (could have been a key play with 0:56 remaining but USC gets off a 59-yard punt).

2nd Quarter Observations:

  • It's painfully obvious USC knew it could beat the Irish coverage with simple high-low routes outside.
  • It's equally obvious USC knew it could seal the edge vs. Notre Dame's defensive ends and nickel back Sergio Brown as the toss play began to control the tenor of the contest for the Trojans.
  • USC has a tremendously talented offensive line.
  • USC has dominated the 2nd (and 3rd) Quarter all season. Just look at the number of bullets/text above.

Halftime Score USC 13 ND 7

A review of the 2nd Half will be published late this afternoon after Coach Weis' press conference.

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