The Eye in the Sky: 1st Quarter

The Eye in the Sky: 1st Quarter

IrishEyes begins its weekly film breakdown with a review of the offense's performance in the 1st Quarter vs. the Cougars.

Below is the Part I of IrishEyes full game-tape review of the Irish offense vs. the Cougars. Today's film review will be broken down by Quarter (rather than Half).

First Notre Dame Drive:

Breakdown: After stopping the Cougars on three snaps, the Irish offense took over at its own 44-yard line and drove 45 yards and 10 plays (4:23 time of possession) before settling for a 29-yard Nick Tausch field goal. ND 3 WSU 0

  • (2-TE): The Irish employ a pass play run by the Huskies, Trojans and Eagles in prior weeks, as Jimmy Clausen's play-action roll right draws the defense while tight end Kyle Rudolph runs parallel to the line of scrimmage (left to right) and slips out of the backfield for an easy 15-yard catch-and-run. WSU backside DE Casey Hamlett stayed home (didn't fall for the play-action fake) but Clausen was able to deliver the pass on the move. Second tight end Mike Ragone delivered a blow vs. hustling LB Jason Stripling on the sideline (clean) and center Eric Olsen was called for a personal foul at least 25 yards away from the play (and out of camera view).
  • (2-TE): On 1st and 9 after the Olsen penalty, solo-back Robert Hughes took a draw hand-off from Clausen between Olsen and right guard Trevor Robinson and rumbled 15 yards for another Irish first down. The first defender to touch Hughes did so after the ‘back had already gained 10 yards. Left guard Chris Stewart executed a nice seal block in space though his assigned defender did make initial (weak) contact with Hughes.
  • (3-Wide): Clausen hits Tate on a 10-yard out to the left and Tate, as usual, looks for yardage after the catch (corralled after a short gain). The Irish front line provided a perfect pocket for Clausen vs. a four-man WSU pass rush.
  • (2-TE): Clausen hits Rudolph for a quick slant/short crossing route for a catch-and-run that gained 11 yards and another first down. Rudolph, who powered through WSu tackler's for an extra three yards, lined up in a three-point stance to Ragone's right, followed Ragone upfield for two yards, then curled inside to receive the pass from Clausen (a natural pick route)
  • (Power-I with James Aldridge as the lead fullback): Behind strong down blocks by Robinson and left tackle Sam Young, Hughes follows Aldridge through gaping left tackle hole (Rudolph, lined up to Young's right, and motion wide receiver Duval Kamara sealed the outside linebacker to provide a running lane). Aldridge threw a solid block in front of Hughes who barreled into Aldridge and a pile of Cougars defenders for a four-yard gain. This play might be tweaked in the future to allow Kamara a blocking assignment downfield in an effort to spring Hughes for additional yardage.
  • (2-TE): Clausen hits freshman WR Roby Toma in the right slot on a bubble screen for an 8-yard gain to the sideline. Toma received a huge block from Rudolph (split wide) but was stopped by Cougars safety Chima Nwachukwu.
  • (Offset-I with Mike Ragone staggered at fullback): On 1st and Goal at the Cougars 6-yard line Hughes gains two yards on a direct handoff over left tackle. Ragone delivered a fine lead block and both LT Paul Duncan and G Chris Stewart executed their blocks. The Cougars just outnumbered the Irish to limit Hughes on the play.
  • (2-TE): Facing 2nd and Goal at the WSU 4-yard line, a toss-right to Hughes is destroyed by SAM linebacker Andy Mattingly, who causes a fumble (recovered by Hughes) and 7-yard loss on the play. RT Sam Young was assigned to Mattingly on the play but in fairness to the Irish senior tackle, Young had no chance to execute his block as Mattingly read the formation and play and timed the snap perfectly. Rudolph (outside Young) and a pulling Olsen had otherwise finished blocks downfield.
  • (3-Wide): A fade route thrown toward Kamara to the back right pylon falls incomplete out of bounds. Clausen either threw a tick too early or Kamara was late getting to his spot as the pass had no chance. The Irish settled for a Tausch field goal and 3-0 lead.
  • Skill position subs on the drive: John Goodman and Toma in 3-Wide sets; Aldridge at fullback. Mike Ragone started as the second TE and played most of the drive.

Second Notre Dame Drive:

Breakdown: Leading 30, Notre Dame took possession at its own 28-yard line and drove 19 yards in 6 plays (3:05) before punting back to the Cougars. ND 3 WSU 0

  • (2-TE): Hughes runs a draw over right guard as Robinson (power) and Young (sealing his defender outside) team well to provide a rushing lane. Olsen and Stewart double-team the Cougars nose tackle and Hughes again runs untouched through the first level. Unfortunately, Duncan lost his block and a hustling Casey Hamlett tackled Hughes from the backside on a 4-yard gain and the big ‘back landed on Robinson's right ankle. The sophomore guard suffered a low-ankle sprain (as announced by Charlie Weis) on the play, ending his day. Backup G/C eventually replaced Robinson at RG (after debuting in the game at center for his initial play).
  • (Power-I with Aldridge as lead fullback): Olsen (right guard) blocked down on the nose and Hughes follows Aldridge (effective lead block) behind right guard for a gain of 5 yards. Rudolph kicked out with a fine block on Mattingly. Junior DT Toby Turbin made a nice play, shedding Wenger's initial block and tackling Hughes in pursuit after shedding a block at the line.
  • Offset-I (with Ragone as staggered fullback): On 3rd and 1 at their own 37-yard line, Hughes follows a Ragone cut-block (on Mattingly) over the left side to power for the first down on a 3-yard gain. Duncan blocked down effectively and Kamara secured his defender from the slot.
  • (Power-I with Aldridge as lead fullback): Clausen has ample time vs. a three-man pass rush but can't find a receiver and is eventually sacked (after stepping up) for a 1-yard loss (Young's assigned pass rusher, but this was a coverage sack).
  • (3-Wide): Hughes gains 8 behind Duncan (strong seal) and Stewart (big kick-out block). Olsen received help from Wenger on the nose and the Irish center then found an extra block downfield. Tate engaged his defender with a solid push, but Hughes' inside run brought the action directly to him.
  • (3-Wide): On 3rd and 3 from the 47-yard line, Clausen fires a rocket off the right shoulder pad of Rudolph who appeared to get his head around a bit late coming out of his break on the hook-route. Clausen appeared upset but he probably should have moved onto his next progression rather than force it to his double-covered tight end.
  • Skill position subs on the drive: Aldridge at fullback and Goodman in both 3-Wide sets. (Dan Wenger replaced Robinson at RG)

Third Notre Dame Drive:

Breakdown: Taking possession with 3:14 remaining in the 1st Quarter, ND drove 80 yards in 6 plays (3:04) on a drive that culminated in a Clausen-to-Kamara TD pass. Tausch's PAT was blocked. ND 9 WSU 0

  • (2-TE): Tate is held on a slant route (six-yard penalty and a new first down).
  • (2-TE): After showing play-action to Hughes, Clausen checks down and finds the running back over the middle for a gain of 8 yards.
  • (Wildcat with Golden Tate as QB): Tate fakes a handoff to freshman Theo Riddick (coming in motion from the right slot) and keeps over left tackle, running behind Duncan and Young (who shifts to the strong side in the Wildcat) and a pulling Wenger but the backup Irish guard could not secure Cougars LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis in space and Tate is stopped on a strong arm tackle. Had Wenger executed his block it was a 66-yard cutback touchdown by Tate rather than a pretty 10-yard gain.
  • (Wildcat with Tate as QB): A nearly identical set-up, run over the left side, and cutback by Tate, who this time slips an extra arm tackle and gains 33-yards cutting back to the right sideline to give the Irish a first down at the WSU 23-yard line. Wenger does (somewhat) shield Hoffman-Ellis this time but Duncan made the play, executing his initial down block then firing out into Tate's running lane to shield FS Xavier Hicks and allow Tate a cutback lane to the right. Tate does the rest, stopping on a dime to beat an over-pursuing Brandon Jones (CB) before being stopped by Terrance Hayward downfield. (If you're re-watching and wondering, Weis allows Tate to keep the ball in his left arm at all times due simply to Tate's comfort level. Proper technique suggests ball carriers switch to their "outside" arm depending on the side of the field.
  • (Wildcat with Hughes as QB): Hughes fakes a hand-off to Riddick and runs behind the following: a diving cut block by Ragone in the backfield allows Hughes room inside; a perfect seal by Duncan on Mattingly; dominant down blocks by Young, Olsen, and Stewart away from the ball; perfectly executed block by left slot receiver Kamara downfield (the junior just removed SS and leading tackler Chima Nwachukwu from the play) and an impressive block in space by a full-speed Riddick. A pulling Wenger has no chance to get to his assigned block vs. the MIKE LB but Hughes offers a stutter to lose the uncovered defender and finishes the run with a gain of 12 yards to the Cougars 11-yard line.
  • (Wildcat with Tate as QB): Hughes again keeps after a fake to Riddick and powers over the left side behind Duncan, Young, and Ragone for 4 yards. Wenger (pulling again) blocks no one (again) but this appears to be the wrong assignment for the senior lineman. There's also a chance a week of practice will help Wenger's "urgency" level in these situations vs. Nav. Had Hughes continued outside, Wenger had lined up a seal block and WR Duval Kamara had buried his defender at the 8-yard line (to the ground with trash talk included post-play). Riddick once again executed his block (cut this time outside left).
  • (3-Wide): Following a Notre Dame timeout, Young and Duncan hold up well vs. outside pass rushers. Young eventually seals inside as Clausen rolls right and finds a wide-open Kamara in the back of the end zone for a score. The TD catch is Kamara's first since Week Two 2008.

Note: Live, I thought Weis had a stroke of genius and unearthed an old-fashioned 7 vs. 7 play with Kamara running a "wrap" around the back end zone outside (on a wrap, the receiver runs to the back pylon, then comes across the back of the end zone) and Rudolph, lined up slot left, running a "smash" route: hooking at the goal line then running an out along the goal line. Unfortunately, on tape, Kamara ran a delayed post (well-covered) behind a Rudolph hook (also well-covered). Clausen simply found the open man by buying time with his legs amidst five general-vicinity defenders. In other words I give no credit to anyone but Clausen on the play...Genius deferred.

Extra Point: Terrible technique by interior blocker Matt Romine who is overrun on the PAT by DT Toby Turpin. The resulting blocked kick is returned to the Irish 5-yard line by Nwachukwu, but a hustling (and fast, I might add) Mike Ragone corrals the Cougars strong safety short of the goal line (probably an illegal horse-collar tackle, actually). Tremendous effort by Mike Ragone to save two points for the Irish.

Skill position subs on the drive: Theo Riddick in the Wildcat and John Goodman in 3-Wide.

Four 1st Quarter Observations:

  • The Irish running game will miss right guard Trevor Robinson, who needs to find a way to play in Pittsburgh vs. a solid defensive front.
  • Kamara and Riddick deserve additional mention for tremendous blocking out of the Wildcat formation.
  • Ragone wins the Hustle Play of the Year Award to date with his full-field sprint after Nwachukwu.
  • Notre Dame scored its fifth touchdown immediately following a timeout this season on Clausen's back end zone bullet to Kamara.

First Quarter Score: ND 9 WSU 0

Note: The 2nd Quarter review will be published mid-morning.

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