Eye in the Sky: Irish rushing attack

Eye in the Sky: Irish rushing attack

Our first of four offensive film reviews looks at Notre Dame's first-half rushing attack in Saturday's contest vs. USF.

Players reviewed: Left tackle Zack Martin, left guard Chris Watt, center Braxston Cave, right guard Trevor Robinson, right tackle Taylor Dever, wide receivers Michael Floyd and T.J. Jones, tight ends Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone, running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, quarterback Dayne Crist, defensive end Ethan Johnson and linebackers Steve Filer and Carlo Calabrese. The latter trio was part of the team's initial goal line package.

First Quarter – The Fatal Fumble

The opening swing pass to Cierre Wood is an extension of the team's rushing attack – nice cut block five yards downfield by center Braxston Cave and Wood did the rest, intuitively cutting back across the grain, running through traffic for a gain of 31 yards; USF safety Jon Lejiste saved at least 10-15 more yards by playing off Michael Floyd's downfield block to make the stop in space…

Wood's first official rush came with Crist under center, sprinting over the left side for nine yards behind a tremendous drive block by tight end Mike Ragone while Cave expertly pulled and secured his man in space at scrimmage to lead the way; Ragone had some help from left tackle Zack Martin then took his man 10-12 yards downfield and never lost the block through the whistle…

Wood looked comfortable on his first inside run as well, cutting back through the middle for 5-6 yards thanks to a good push from Martin, Cave, and first-time starting left guard Chris Watt…Cave and Watt gave Wood another lane for a power run up the gut, gaining four yards down to the three-yard line. The Irish would advance no further over the next two snaps including Jonas Gray's fumble (below)…

Jonas Gray's first rush was hesitant into the line and left tackle Zack Martin lost his block late as the senior was stymied in the backfield; Gray could have hit it up the middle for 3 yards or over the right side for 3-4…His second carry marked the worst play of the season to date: stripped at the goal line on third down with a resulting 96-yard return by the Bulls…

Both of Gray's carries occurred with Crist under center.

Jumbo Package with three defenders: The insertion of defensive end Ethan Johnson and linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Steve Filer for the team's "Jumbo" goal line offense was curious though both Filer and Calabrese sealed their assigned defenders; Johnson appeared to lose his at the last minute and that contributed to the tackle just short of the goal line. Calabrese sealed his man on the next play (Gray's fumble), Johnson completed his block, but Filer missed as the lead fullback in space.

Wood continued to run hard on the team's second drive, finding a cut-back lane behind a nice seal from tight end Tyler Eifert and right tackle Taylor Dever (7 yards)…The sophomore showed great feet and vision gaining 14 yards to the field side as well, following a perfect Martin seal block outside; Watt's inside, and a nice downfield effort by wide receiver T.J. Jones…A lost block by Robinson resulted in Wood's first nothing carry…Eifert lost a block late after good initial effort, limiting Wood to three yards on a delay – the Irish punted two snaps later after Crist threw short on third down…

Jonas Gray's first carry after his costly fumble gained nine yards on first down up the gut thanks to Watt, Martin, and Eifert opening a hole over left tackle…The play marked the only rush of a three-and-out on Notre Dame's third series with Crist missing a third-down slant to an open Floyd to end the drive…

The 12th (13th if you count the opening swing) and final rush of the first quarter yielded 18 yards thanks to right side blocks by Dever and Robinson and a downfield jam from Floyd. Wood gained 10 yards prior to being touched and was tackled at full speed by the Bulls last defender, Jerrell Young.

Statistic of Note: The Irish gained 67 (98 w/swing) yards on the ground in the season's opening quarter, though also gave up 96 and 7 points thanks to Gray's fumble. Notre Dame ran just 17 more times over the next 63 snaps.

Second Quarter – Perimeter Penalty Costs the Irish

After a dump pass to Ragone gained 10 yards, Wood rushed six consecutive plays, picking up two first downs including a 3rd and 1 conversion, and also scoring a touchdown called back by penalty…

After hammering into the middle with no gain, Wood appeared to score on a read-option dance to the right (boundary side). Dever sealed his man inside in the backfield while a pulling Cave completely took out Bulls linebacker DeDe Lattimore – Wood ran untouched into the end zone but a blatant hold by Floyd at the six-yard line negated the untouched score. Without the hold, Wood would have had at least 10 yards and a first down…

Crist's first scramble escape of the day was his most productive rush, escaping a backfield sack for six yards near the marker…Wood converted on 3rd and 1 due to a tremendous push from Cave, Robinson, Dever, and Eifert over the right side…Wood lost three on the drive's final rush (1st and G at the 5-yard line) when Cave missed badly on a scrimmage block, dropping Wood for a three yard loss. Robinson missed in space as well while Dever shoved his assigned defender all the way to the (boundary) sideline…

The drive ended with a potential touchdown thrown behind T.J. Jones and a terrible pass intercepted in the end zone. Jones could have helped Crist by making the tough touchdown catch prior to the quarterback's ill-advised soft-toss interception.

Already trailing 13-0, Crist's error likely contributed heavily to his eventual second half benching.

Ensuing drives unproductive: Gray's second rush following his fumble gained 10 yards on 1st and 15 but Crist fired consecutively incomplete to force an Irish punt…

Following a sack, Wood gained 10 yards on a draw to set up third and 11 but Crist again threw incomplete. The only other Irish run of the half ended Notre Dame's final drive: a 1-yard give-up on 3rd and 10 deep in their own territory prior to a third consecutive punt.

First-half Analysis:

  • Taylor Dever was much better than I initially thought; if he's solid vs. the pass as he was as a run-blocker, I'll owe the 5th-year senior an apology. I thought he struggled live and in my initial review late Saturday night/Sunday morning.
  • Wood was the team's best player in the first half by a large margin. He's elusive, quick through the hole, and impressive in the open field
  • Jonas Gray's first goal line carry in Ann Arbor is the most important play of his Notre Dame career.

    Click here for the second half review

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