First Notre Dame Drive:
Breakdown: Trailing 3-0 and following an illegal block-in-the-back penalty on the ensuing kickoff, ND took possession on their own 9-yard line and drove 43 yards in 9 plays (5:15 time of possession) before punting the ball back to Pittsburgh. The Irish began the drive in a tight formation with its receivers aligned much closer to the tackles (rather than split wide). Pitt 3 ND 0
- (2-TE): Aided by a solid trap block from TE Mike Ragone, Armando Allen gained six yards up the gut. Both guards, Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart executed seal blocks for the initial hole while left tackle Paul Duncan added a strong kick-out block vs. weakside linebacker Max Gruder in space. Center Eric Olsen found middle linebacker Adam Gunn but Gunn held up and arm tackled Allen as he fell under Olsen to the ground. Right tackle Sam Young also performed his assignment perfectly on the play.
- (3-Wide): On an end around (from right to left) to a slotted Golden Tate, Ragone appeared to consider a scrimmage block on Gruder but continued down the line looking to spring Tate downfield. Tate was tackled by Gruder after a gain of seven and a first down. Tate likely could have done more damage had Ragone neutralized Gruder.
- (2-TE): Tate lined up near left (hugely reduced "split" in that he was near the tight end and left tackle) and ran a corner route to the left side. Jimmy Clausen simply trusted Tate to make a play and the nation's best with the ball in the air did just that, leaping for a 22-yard grab between two defenders. There is no better receiver in team history at catching the ball in traffic than Golden Tate (arguments can be made for Derrick Mayes and Tim Brown in my viewing lifetime).
- (2-TE): Allen gained six more over right guard thanks to in-line blocks by Young, Olsen and Duncan and kick-outs by Robinson and Stewart. A motioned Duval Kamara also sealed his defender by wide receiver John Goodman did not touch his assignment, safety Jarred Holley who's dive at Allen's ankles helped end the play.
- (3-Wide): Clausen uncharacteristically missed an open Allen in the left flat on a well-conceived screen pass (three ND OL vs. two Pitt LB, though admittedly, ND's linemen did not appear slow in their releases).
- (3-Wide): Timeout Notre Dame.
- (2-TE): RT Taylor Dever entered and lined up as a second tight end outside RT Sam Young. Dever executed a tremendous down block to clear the right side for Allen's first down run. Young lost his block (took one in the chin) from WILL LB Max Gruder who dragged down Allen after a gain of eight yards. Robinson adequately executed his kick out block in space. On the outside right (to which Allen ran), Kamara completely controlled his cornerback: had Young not been beaten Allen could have had a significant gain on the play. Kudos to center Eric Olsen for winning as well.
- (3-Wide): With Michael Floyd (detached tight end), Ragone (swing tight end off the line) and Tate (lined up detached and behind Floyd's left) bunched on the left side, Allen is held to two yards as neither Olsen (had to secure MLB) nor Stewart (heads up on his defender) win the battle. Good job by Duncan and Ragone executed a wham block moving to the right to stop a backside defender.
- (Shotgun Split-backs): Clausen is sacked for a loss of 14 yards (replay overturned a completed pass that lost seven yards). Neither Robinson nor Young held his block long enough on the right side (the play was a screen to left halfback Theo Riddick but it was going nowhere anyway). For what its worth, this ranked as the first play call that appeared obvious to the entire defense and unfortunately, those seated near me in the press box.
- (4-Wide): Facing 3rd and 22, Allen gains eight yards on an inside draw to set up an Irish punt. Stewart offered a nice block as a pulling guard, though obviously Pitt allowed the minimal yardage on the play. Not a bad call to maintain field position at this point, though a go-route to Tate or Floyd has little downside from this spot on the field (ND 44-yard line).
Skill position subs on the drive: John Goodman and Duval Kamara entered as wide receivers; Theo Riddick at halfback (Allen remained in the contest); Taylor Dever as a second tight end.
Second ND Drive/1st and 2nd Quarter:
Breakdown: Taking possession at their own 13-yard line with 1:00 remaining in the opening period, the Irish managed just four yards on three plays before punting back to the Panthers to begin the second quarter. Pitt 3 ND 0
- (Wildcat - Tate as shotgun QB): Tate fakes a handoff to Riddick and keeps for a loss of three yards over the left side. I doubt Tate ever "reads" the defense post-snap (it appears he always has his mind made up to handoff or run) but Riddick had a clear lane (one-on-one vs. CB Aaron Berry with Clausen out there as well) had he received the football. Tight end Bobby Burger executed a cut block in space but Tate had no chance.
- (Wildcat): Tate telegraphed his handoff to Riddick this time for another loss of three yards, again to the left. Pitt's talented DE Greg Romeus simply beat Stewart outside to cut off Riddick's lane to the outside and the freshman's necessary cutback was swallowed up by the Panthers defense. Burger and Kamara executed outside blocks in space and once again, Riddick had a shot to do some damage if not for one missed block.
- (4-Wide): Facing another 3rd and 16, Clausen hits Allen over the middle out of the backfield for a 10-yard catch-and-run, well short of the first down marker to force a punt.
Skill position subs on the drive: Riddick and Burger in the Wildcat; WR Robby Parris on 3rd down. Kamara participated in each snap.
Three 1st Quarter Observations:
- Nice to see Dever perfectly execute a crucial in-line block as the (redshirt) junior ranks as Sam Young's likely replacement at RT entering the spring.
- I think complaining about the use of the Wildcat on this drive is a case of 20/20 hindsight, though I do like Allen as the decision-maker ("QB") with Tate as the handoff option if the goal is to get a first down out of the shadow of your own goal line.
- He'll never be a breakaway back, but Armando Allen is a tough inside runner and the team's most improved skill position player.