Eye in the Sky: Offense

Riddick and the Irish were stuffed at the goal

O'Malley looks at two extended opening drives that yield six instead of 14 points, inefficiencies from the offensive line vs. Pittsburgh's front seven, a momentum-killer to end the half, and a carbon copy from November 2011 to start the second…

Uncharacteristically shaky defense for the better part of 42 minutes contributed greatly to Notre Dame's 20-6 third quarter deficit to an inspired Pittsburgh team Saturday, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly was spot on when he noted the following:

"I think with the way the game swung, first half we left points out there that should have been on the board," he said post-game. "Two very good drives early on that did not result in score and touchdowns in particular."

Opportunity Lost -- Again

Notre Dame has played five home games this season. In each, its offense has committed a penalty on its opening series. In four of the five games, that penalty was pre-snap and Saturday, there were two.

"I just think that's focus and attention to detail. We had a penalty when we just didn't have our "W" (receiver) on the line of scrimmage," said Kelly. "It's like from day one you've got to be somebody that is not concentrating for a penalty like that to occur.  So, yeah, I attribute it to the guys have just got to be sharper."

But intermixed was a 16-play drive that included eight "wins" by the Irish, including a pair of 11 yard passes from Everett Golson to Tyler Eifert -- the latter on 3rd and 10 to move the chains -- as well as completions to Robby Toma (7 yards on a well-timed out), DaVaris Daniels (11 yards on the first of four bubble screens Daniels caught on the day), and enough a run/pass balance (five combined carries by Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick) to keep the Panthers defense on its heels.

Key to the field goal rather than touchdown conclusion were three errors:

1.) At the Panthers 15-yard line, a crucial 3rd and 7 false start called on RT Christian Lombard could have gone to LT Zack Martin. Mayock indicated it was likely Golson's cadence at fault. Regardless, it was the second penalty of The Opening drive (they overcame the first, noted below), and forced a 3rd and 12 situation.

That 3rd and 12 at the 20-yard line ended with a straight drop-back pass play -- no motion or misdirection made it, in my estimation, a less-than-ideal call as the offense has to expect eight defenders to drop into coverage and that's exactly what Pittsburgh did, the end result a Golson throwaway and subsequent fourth down field goal from 37 yards by Brindza…

2.) Two snaps prior from the 18-yard line, Golson had a two-route read: Eifert detached boundary right and Troy Niklas attached next to right tackle, and inside Eifert. Eifert ran a wheel route, both defenders were drawn to his burst down the sideline, and the 6'7" 260-pound Niklas ran uncovered down the seam with only grass and crisp autumn air in his path. Golson never looked at him, bailed on the pocket and threw away left sideline out of bounds.

An easy score and 7-0 lead missed.

3.) Following the missed opportunity and prior to Lombard's false start was a missed hole by senior Cierre Wood. One false step outside limited Wood to 3 yards instead of 7-8 on cutback inside where the run should have gone. Small in comparison, but it resulted in 3rd and 7 (and Lombard's false start) rather than 3rd and short.

The above is an illustration of offensive coordinator Chuck Martin's notation that all 11 players need to finish their job each play for the offense to succeed.

First Drive Notes

A nice seal by Brown on Daniels' first bubble screen to gain 11 yards…Golson throws the field out to the left with incredible precision and zip…Great seals by Martin, Watt, and Cave at second level, but Golson allowed 5th-year linebacker Joe Trebitz -- in his first start, no less -- to defend both he and running back George Atkinson who was dropped for a 2-yard loss when Golson could have kept the ball…Good analysis by Mark Mayock' who noted Golson's arm bailed him out when he floated unnecessarily to the right in a solid pocket, completing a boundary out to Eifert for 11 yards on 3rd and 10…

Riddick's low pad level remains the key to his senior season; he's a 4-5 yard machine between the tackles…Atkinson still slows to cut in scrimmage traffic…The W receiver, Daniels was the perpetrator of an illegal formation (5 men in the backfield). All he had to do was check with the side judge two yards to his right…

Watt looks a touch slow pulling in space, though he ultimately executed a backfield block to give Golson room on roll-out pass for seven yards…Eifert and Martin excelled in space for Wood's first run of 9 yards over the left side…Lombard offered a solid seal block on a four-yard Riddick gain… Cave showed power on an Atkinson run brought back due to Daniels' procedure penalty…Riddick added five yards as Mike Golic stayed with his block; Lombard dominated, and Eifert and Niklas won while Cave failed to get to the second level for his assignment…Golic and Lombard double team standout DT Anthony Donald but the extra blocker occupied allows for a clean fill by linebacker Todd Thomas to nail Riddick after yards...

More Frustrations in Close

The Irish responded to Pittsburgh's tying field goal with an 89-yard, 18-play march that ended in all-too-familiar fashion: three points.

The Irish hit the ground running with Riddick gaining 6 behind Watt and Martin, then 9 thanks to down blocks by Martin and Niklas as well as another nice pulling block from Golic (right to left). What followed was an official gain of 6 yards by Wood on what was actually a 58-yard cutback and burst over the left side negated by a holding penalty on Daniels. Daniels had jersey, but he probably didn't need to with Wood already streaking by…Cave gave Wood a textbook cut block in space while Watt executed a tremendous seal as well…

The Irish overcame the penalty thanks to an 8-yard scramble for first down yardage by Golson (though he appeared to give up on an open post route to Chris Brown that broke open when the pocket was still strong), and two clutch throws to Eifert (10) and Riddick (9), the latter with a nice high stab and a defender at his waist….Golson hit Toma for 14 on another field side out (he makes it look easy) and Wood ran for 4 (Golic lost his solo block on Donald late) then 5 yards before Riddick added 11 as Golic recovered after giving up an initial surge to bury his man. Efiert executed a seal but Lombard blocks no one -- that no one tripped Riddick who might have glided through an alley for a 17-yard score rather than 11-yard gain…

Set up first and goal at the Panthers 2-yard line thanks to obvious pass interference by 5'10" cornerback K'Waun Williams against Eifert who ran a playground box-out/jump ball route, the Irish failed to capitalize with Riddick gaining 1 (a touchdown rightfully overturned as his left knee hit before he extended the ball), then 0 and finally minus 4 yards to force another Brindza field goal…

The 2nd and 3rd down stops from the one-yard line were particularly vexing in that Golson could have likely scored on consecutive QB sneaks, but the Irish appeared hell-bent on getting Riddick his touchdown back. The 2nd and goal failure was a case of being outnumbered on a handoff play, but Cave losing at the point and Lombard failing to execute a down block vs. Donald didn't help…On 3rd and Goal, Pitt's run blitz overwhelmed the Irish as Eifert chose to block outside with untouched blitz penetration coming inside him and a pulling Golic had NO CHANCe to get to linebacker Shane Gordon who buried Riddick…

32 plays, 149 yards, and 15:58 off the clock on two drives: 6 points.

2nd Drive Notes

Martin and Niklas are down-blocking animals when pared on the left side…The Irish double-teamed Donald most of the day, freeing inside 'backers Joe Trebitz and Todd Thomas for 24 combined tackles…Golic and Lombard both watched DE Shayne Hale blow through them untouched to stop Wood for a three-yard loss…Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand teaches at every opportunity…Lombard and Koyack executed great seal blocks on Riddick's called back TD; Daniels did his job too while Golic lost his block late to contribute to the stop…Golson missed a streaking Chris Brown for a likely post-route score as the freshman target had run by his defender in solo coverage. Play-action by GOlson worked but his deep throw was too far inside, short, and late…

Rees Redux

After Golson stepped into what was likely an unnecessary sack and lost his helmet in the process (necessitating Tommy Rees' entry for one play), Kelly decided to stick with the junior backup to end the half, and Rees response with a 24-yard drive that included the following: a 10-yard cross to Riddick (pretty), an ill-advised gain of 8 to T.J. Jones short of the marker to force Kelly into his last timeout, a drop by Jones (took his eye off it and crossed his hands), and a well-timed boundary out to Daniels for 6 yards that set up a 43-yard field goal for Kyle Brindza as the half expired…

As he did vs. Miami one month prior, Brindza missed the kick, and considering it followed a 4th and 1 stop at midfield (a major error in judgement by Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst), the failure negated any end-half momentum the Irish might have gained…

Rees started the second half as well and his two series were a carbon copy of end-season 2011: too many defenders dropping into coverage for short throws to work, the field cut in half by his initial movement from light pressure, and an ill-advised turnover that set the opponent up with field position on the Irish half of the field…

Notre Dame was continually behind in down-and-distance situations in the third quarter, and a passing game that turns predictable and one-dimensional with Rees was shut down as a result…

Notes as the Irish scuffled through the 2nd and 3rd

Cave had a poor first half, missing at the second level, allowing Donald to blow by him for a three-yard TFL on Wood, giving up pressure on a three-man rush, and using lazy footwork circa 2008 on a looping stunt that resulted in a Golson sack (Golic was abused on a 2nd and 3 bull rush that contributed to the sack as well)…Opposing defensive tackles have wreaked havoc vs. the Irish in South Bend this season…Golic also allowed Rees to be pressured quickly on an immediate roll right with Tyrone Ezell blowing through a turnstile move block. It appeared Rees was looking for Jones on a comeback and didn't see Eric Williams, though play-by-play man Dan Hicks noted the pass was for Riddick (if so, it was 10 yards behind him and 5 yards past)…

Both Toma and Jones do a good job of looking for yards after the catch with Jones far more successful…A really nice effort by Jones to collect a field-side out route from Rees (almost picked) included the junior keeping his feet for another 9 yards down the Pittsburgh sideline and a gain of 17…Daniels is becoming adept at firing north-south after catching the bubble screen -- he gained a combined 23 yards on his first two, both behind Eifert blocks…The old-school "Rocket" (tunnel) screen to Jones gained 11 thanks to blocks by Lombard, Toma, Eifert, and Cave and a nice initial cut by TJ...

Riddick dropped a short pass on the move for the second time in as many weeks…I thought Eifert failed to recognize/adjust to a hot route underneath coverage when a zone blitz came off slot across his face. Golson through it away on 3rd and 12 as a result...A three-man rush with eight defenders dropping will plague the Irish and Golson whenever faced with 3rd and long situations -- in 3rd and 7 or less, his feet are too great a threat for the defense to drop into coverage…

Golic was beaten twice on one pass rush by defensive end Brian Murphy -- the three-man rush ended in a sack of Golson to help kill another Irish drive, this with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter…Daniel Smith appeared to run too deep on a comeback route that sailed behind him from Rees on 2nd and 12…Golic responded to a rough earlier series with a nice pulling block that would have afforded Golson about 20 yards up the middle (downfield blocks had been secured by Riddick and Toma) but the redshirt-freshman instead bounced outside for a short loss…

Pittsburgh tacked on a field goal on the ensuing drive and from thereafter, it was Golson's game to win with a major assist from the Irish defense.

Note: Part II (a far more rosy film review session) will feature a look at the comeback engineered by Everett Golson Saturday in South Bend.

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