Eye in the Sky: Rees and the Receivers
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees
Publisher
Posted Oct 10, 2011


Our first of two film reviews for the offense examines Tommy Rees' career-best effort and that of his quintet of targets.

Rees and the Receivers

Sophomore Tommy Rees’ ninth start at Notre Dame was his best, and not just in terms of his impressive final numbers. He strung together completions (10 straight, with the 11th a throw-away), missed only one obvious read, and patiently checked down to secondary targets such as Theo Riddick underneath (much more on Riddick below).

When an Irish QB can hit two receivers for more yards and receptions than he does Michael Floyd, but the star receiver remains the focal point of the offense, you know the attack is clicking…

One missed throw of note: Rees looked for tight end Tyler Eifert who had just a half-step down the seam early, but the pass was tipped at the line. The sophomore has nearly as much confidence in his junior tight end inside as he does Floyd on the perimeter…

Rees still struggles to muscle out-route throws (to both the boundary and field side), likely because he doesn’t trust his arm to cover distance faster than the opposing cornerback’s break (discretion here is indeed the better part of valor)…

Rees’ fade to Floyd for a 34-yard boundary touchdown was an intriguing call – an incomplete pass would have put the Irish in a predicament: 4th and 9 or a 51-yard field goal. Of course, anytime Floyd is one-on-one with a freshman cornerback (Bobby Watkins), you take your chances. Floyd lined up in the near slot and ran a banana (wheel) route under Eifert who burst down the post from the sidelines…Right guard Trevor Robinson held strong vs. a bull rush over his right side to allow Rees time on his first touchdown toss (to Floyd) – the tactic has been effective vs. the senior each week this season…

Rees was pressured into a throw-away on a boot to the left, his two options included Floyd high and Ben Koyack underneath but the play was destroyed when the backside end stayed home – credit the defense…The sophomore bounced back with a 3rd and 4 touchdown strike to Eifert on a simple post vs. zone coverage…

Rees made one poor read in the first half, forcing a seam-route into double coverage to Eifert when he had a 3 vs. 2 advantage to the field side, one that included Michael Floyd…Rees threw a short cross that ended in a 24-yard touchdown run by Theo Riddick on the ensuing snap.

Of Rees' nine missed passes, two (potentially three) were intentionally thrown away with two others rushed by oncoming defenders...

His final completion of the game was a strike to T.J. Jones who plucked the pass at full speed, gaining 22 yards on the perfectly timed slant.

Unless you consider the offensive line as a unit, Rees was the no-doubt player of the game Saturday vs. the Falcons.

Receivers and Tight Ends

A quick look to Floyd for a 1-yard catch and 12-yard gain; there’s just no chance for the cornerback to tackle Floyd in this situation, especially with his consistently effective stiff arm…Theo Riddick finished the first of four short crosses in the first half with authority, barreling through a tackler for the final yard of a 9-yard gain on third and 8. Riddick’s early assimilation into the attack Saturday was the perfect antidote for his intermittent struggles… Riddick and Cierre Wood lined up in the backfield together on the next play, the former collecting a swing pass in the right flat and, with key blocks from Floyd (pancake) and Eifert (cut) ran through the Falcons defense for 23 yards...I believe that was the first instance with Wood and Riddick flanked in the backfield this season...

Another short cross results in 11 more hard-earned yards for Riddick (cross #2) to keep alive the second scoring drive…

A fake hand-off to Riddick (in motion from the far side) resulted in a back side (field) screen to Wood and a tricky 11-yard gain (in other words, the play went back to where Riddick began, the fake hand-off going away)...I think this play was intended to go the distance (from midfield) as the Irish employed a sextet of blockers but four defenders won the battle. Watt got in a good pop but lost his block at the end…

Only in the third offensive series at this point, the Falcons collective heads must have been swimming due to the myriad formations and mis-direction plays employed by the Irish...

Robby Toma scored the first touchdown of his Irish career on his second catch of the season – Toma would have had an easy score last week but an apologetic Rees misfired badly in the end zone. This time Toma secured an easy five-yard pass in the seam and barreled in the final five for the score…

Riddick’s first bubble screen gained only five yards when normally reliable perimeter blocker T.J. Jones missed his block. That’s two misses on bubbles for Jones in less than 18 game minutes…

Eifert as a possession receiver on short outs, especially from the boundary side, is basically an extension of the running game. He caught one to set up Toma’s touchdown (above) and another for 13 yards on the ensuing series that placed the ball at the 12-yard line setting up Jonas Gray’s score later in the half…

Jones missed his third double-screen block (never secured it after initially winning) and Riddick lost a yard. A shame, as Eifert had secured his block and Riddick would have been one-on-one in space – I should point of that this is rare from Jones, but when it happens repeatedly, there’s no reason not to insert Toma, of whom receivers coach Tony Alford noted is a solid in-space blocker…

Eifert’s fourth out-route reception over six total catches (through 22 game minutes) resulted in another third-down conversion – it was his third reception that directly led to an Irish score on the next play (Wood from 8 yards out). Considering he added a touchdown of his own, it wasn’t a bad effort for the nation’s top collegiate tight end, either setting up or scoring on four of the team's first five touchdowns…

Leading 35-16 with just over a minute remaining, Kelly looked to capitalize on myriad bubble screens shown during the first halfm and first five games, but the Falcons didn’t bite, wisely staying with Floyd down the sidelines following a Rees pump fake. The intentional throw-away by Rees broke his string of 10 consecutive completions…The third short cross of the day to Riddick followed for eight yards after which Riddick wisely strolled out of bounds, setting up ND at the UAF 34-yard line with 1:08 remaining…Eifert’s seventh reception came next, and another third-down conversion for the massive junior target...

Following a poor read and incomplete pass by Rees to Eifert, 41 seconds remained – but only nine were needed as Riddick gathered his fourth short cross of the first half and turned a two-yard catch into a 24-yard score, running past or through five Falcons defenders in the process. Credit Eifert with a backside block, though I doubt the defender would have tracked Riddick in space…

42-16 Irish at the break. Backfield motion by Riddick allowed Rees a clear passing lane to Floyd on the boundary for 16 yards to begin the second half. Riddick’s motion caused the short zone cornerback to peak inside while Floyd sat between him and the safety for an easy gain…Three plays later and following a tripping penalty, the Irish failed on third-down (3rd and 14) for the first time as Rees missed Floyd on an option route underneath. The replay showed a rarity: five lazy routes by five Irish receivers with no one breaking remotely open..

A post-corner route by Floyd ended with obvious pass interference on the defense and two plays later, a brutish Floyd gained 12 yards on a bubble screen, this time aided by Eifert’s lead block inside…Three plays later, Jonas Gray hammered the Falcons defense for his second score and a 49-19 lead (Gray's runs are detailed in Part II).

Miscellany

Ben Koyack earned his first career start as part of a two-tight end set. The Oil City, PA-product replaced X-receiver T.J. Jones at the game’s outset…A blitz pickup by Cierre Wood afforded Rees time on the game’s first third down conversion: a nine-yard catch-and-run by Riddick…The Riddick/Wood split backfield could cause major issues for Notre Dame’s next pair of opponents…Riddick’s “dead-leg” cut is his best open-field weapon, that and the acceleration that follows…

Why was Floyd’s touchdown ruled good, because his toe hit the pylon while he had possession? I’m not sure I like that rule (not the “ruling” the actual rule)…

Notre Dame’s first drive was perimeter heavy, with four of seven passes thrown horizontally and a fifth downfield on the sidelines (Floyd’s score)…

Floyd not only enjoys blocking, he appears to relish dominating his foe and letting him know about it as the whistle echoes…

Eifert’s third straight game with a touchdown is a portent: the junior will, as predicted in the summer, become the first tight end to score more than four touchdowns in one season at the program since 1977…

It’s a good sign that Toma got the leaving hell beaten out of him after his first career score, courtesy dozens of extremely happy teammates (Floyd might have given him a concussion with downward smacks to the head). His high school teammate Manti Te’o offered what must have been a welcomed hug instead…

Note: Part II of our Eye in the Sky review will examine the Irish running game and offensive line, as well as a look at each of Andrew Hendrix's snaps as the change-of-pace quarterback.

An overview of Brian Kelly's Irish offense over the first half of the 2011 season will be published mid-week.


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TE Tyler Eifert (profile)
WR Michael Floyd (profile)
WR Tai-ler Jones (profile)
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