Saturday's game had plenty of game-changing plays. For today's OFD films review, I'll break down several of the biggest. With plenty to talk about, let's get right into it, and see what we can learn from Notre Dame's game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Here we see the pre-snap look from OU that the Irish saw plenty of on Saturday. One of the strong safeties is walked up to the line at the top of the screen, showing a 5th rusher against ND's 5 wide set. ND should slide the protection to the left to account for the extra rusher, and even if he doesn't come, it's still 2v2 on the right side of the line.
Adding to the predicament, OU stunts on the overloaded side of the line, further drawing Zack Martin's attention away from the edge rusher, expecting to have to take over for Chris Watt.
Two blockers on one defensive lineman, and a free rusher equals bad things. And TJ Jones was open. Bad start for the Irish.
Here, Notre Dame is going to run a rub route on the outside. This is a useful route against man and zone coverages, and gets TJ Jones wide open here.
You can see in this image that Rees has thrown TJ into a great window, where he should be able to come down with the ball, and have a shot at a first down...
The only problem is the throw is high and too far in front of Jones, requiring him to adjust mid-route just to get a hand onto the ball. The ball is tipped into the air, and OU's safety makes a good tip drill catch. This was a great route and play design, but a bad throw from Rees.
Oklahoma's 11 Yard TD run from Damien Williams
The Sooners, taking a page from the Irish playbook last week, come out with an unbalanced line. Notre Dame's defense is not aligned correctly before the snap. From the bottom of the screen, Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson are aligned correctly, but the rest of the defense is one gap too far to the weak side of the formation, starting with #44 Carlo Calabrese (red line). What this results in is the gap between the receivers not having a defender, and Blake Bell checks into a wide run to take advantage of the misalignment.
Here we see Jaylon Smith coming up to meet the lead blocker. He is the only player who has a chance to keep this play inside of the hashes, and force it back into the waiting arms of Nix and Tuitt who have done well to hold up the point of attack. He'll have to make a great play to take on the blocker and shed to the outside in order to keep contain to make up for the initial misalignment.
Smith is cut by the lead blocker, and is unable to recover in time to keep contain. The play can still be kept out of the end zone if KeiVarae Russell keeps secondary contain and forces the run back into the 5 waiting Irish defenders. Instead, he moves to the inside to attempt to shed his blocker.
The edge is lost, and Williams trots in for the score.
I'm not 100% this is the route combination that was called, but given the one that was run isn't a real combination, I'm going to assume the call was for a "drive" concept. The outside receiver runs a 3-5 yard drag route, while the inside receiver runs a 10-12 yard deep in. This puts the shallow defender in a tough spot, having to choose to cover the deep in or the shallow drag.
We can see almost immediately that Davaris Daniels has left his route and headed upfield. He was bumped at the beginning of his route, so there's a chance he is simply following his momentum and reading the QB's eyes to continue on the new path. The biggest issue this creates is removing what the drive concept is meant to create, a tough read for the shallow defender (in this case the defender on Daniels).
Without needing to defend a true shallow threat, the defender on Daniels is able to make a play on the ball, effectively defending both routes by himself. The throw was intended for TJ Jones, but Daniels' defender was still able to make a play on the ball due to the proximity of the receivers.
We see the throw is certainly to Jones, but the poor route by Daniels leads to another interception. Rees is not without blame for this throw, as recognizing the poor route jamming the middle wasn't totally out of the question. Especially in field goal range, it is important to protect the ball if there is any doubt.
George Atkinson III 80-Yard Touchdown Run
In this image, you see the Irish in the Pistol formation with a TE to each end of the formation. Out of this formation, the Irish are going to run the simplest play in their playbook, the inside zone. Take note of Chris Watt, who makes the first of two key blocks on the play.
Just after the mesh, Watt has ALREADY reached the second level, to engage the LB looking to fill at the line. At the top of the screen, notice Daniel Smith moving to the middle of the field looking for a crackback block. Atkinson has noticed the solid blocks of Ben Koyack (who graded out very well this game) and Zack Martin, and has picked his gap.
Watt has completely washed his LB out of the play, and Lombard has done well to seal off his responsibility as well. Atkinson is now reading the block of Daniel Smith.
Smith makes the crackback block on the safety, and Atkinson hits the afterburners for a huge touchdown run right after the half. There were plenty of these types of blocking performances throughout the day by the offensive line, a really positive sign following the struggles so far this season.
Oklahoma's 55-Yard Touchdown Catch and Run by Sterling Shephard
Notre Dame is looking to stop the QB run here on 3rd and 3, while still respecting the pass. They dial up a zone blitz, which is a great call against the call of the offense. Bennett Jackson is going to come from the boundary untouched at Blake Bell. What is important to note with this play is the defense of the bunch formation at the top of the screen. The bunch will be running a smash and drag concept, combining a zone beating combination (the smash, yellow and blue above) with a man beating route (the drag, green above). The offense is hoping that any way the bunch is defended, one of the concepts will result in an open receiver.
The bunch formation gives tons of headaches to defensive coordinators, especially in college, where defenders aren't as disciplined or experienced as in the NFL. Most coordinators will defense this with three defenders over the bunch: one responsible for the first outside route (KeiVarae Russell, blue above), one responsible for the first inside route (Jarrett Grace, green above), and one responsible for the final route to either side (Jaylon Smith, yellow above).
The general rule for the inside defender over a bunch formation is to keep inside leverage. This is never more important than when your team is blitzing, and the ball will need to come quickly from the quarterback. If the inside throw is taken away, the check will be to a longer-developing outside throw, giving the team's blitz a chance to get home. In the image above, we see that Grace is even with the inside receiver, but his shoulders are still turned to the sideline. He is lost in coverage at this point, and even the best defenders wouldn't be able to recover from this position. He broke the first rule by giving up the inside, and Notre Dame was made to pay even more since it happened while the Irish were blitzing, allowing a quick throw that led the receiver into the blitz-vacated zone, with miles of space to operate in.
I don't care who you have playing ILB, no one is catching the receiver from this position. The player cannot give up the inside when it is your responsibility, especially on a blitz. Tough play for Grace that could have been avoided with a bit of patience in avoiding any move toward the outside. As it was, he got caught in no-man's land, and paid the gridiron price.
Overall, the Oklahoma game was a step in the right direction for many units, especially the run game, but the QB play and the defense did leave something to be desired as we can see from the plays above. I do take some solace in the fact that the defensive issues can be corrected with simply some adjustments. We're not overmatched, just lacking in execution. Against a team like Oklahoma, those mistakes in execution are enough to cost you the game. These plays should give the Irish some of the keys they need to improve in order to win against an Arizona State team built similar to Oklahoma run at warp speed. Notre Dame has the athletes to compete, now we need to see the execution take root on both sides of the ball if we want to see a strong second half of the season.