Notre Dame had just given up a late touchdown and needed the offense to come up big. Following a kickoff out of bounds, they had great field position to work with. Let's take a look at how they did it.
Drive video (for reference and feel-goods):
|1ST & 10||ND35||3:01 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - Curls/Post||Nickel - Quarters (Cover 4)||Incomplete - Robinson|
The first play of the drive was a good one to test the waters to see how Stanford would play the rest of the drive. Immediately, it is noticeable that Stanford's free safety is playing 20+ yards off of the line of scrimmage. Corey Robinson runs a post route designed to beat the defense deep, but Everett Golson recognizes the depth of the safety and corner and throws the ball to keep Robinson underneath the coverage. Thrown a little quicker, this would be an easy first down pickup. Good job by the O-line to pick up the stunts by the D-line.
|2ND & 10||ND35||2:55 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - 4 Verticals||Nickel - Cover 1 Overload Blitz (Spy)||11YD Pass - Fuller
Notre Dame's bread-and-butter passing play. Fuller reads the corner playing off man coverage against him and sits down past the sticks for a first down.
|1ST & 10||ND46||2:33 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - Triple Slants||Nickel - Quarter,Quarter,Half||Incomplete - Carlisle
This was a perfect read by Golson, and a just-less-than-perfect throw which caused a drop from Carlisle. I really like this playcall from Brian Kelly. He had seen two straight plays of a SUPER deep safety and off coverage from the other DBs -- if one of Notre Dame's WRs makes a catch on a slant and makes one man miss, he's already 15 yards down the field until the free safety can come up to make a tackle.
|2ND & 10||ND46||2:30 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - Curls/Post||Nickel - Cover 1 Overload Blitz (Spy)||Incomplete - Robinson|
Back to the initial play of the drive, again looking for Corey Robinson in front of the free safety. This is a much harder throw than the first, as he has to lead him away from the corner who is playing man against him, but still keep it in front of the deep safety. Golson makes the correct read, but not the right throw.
|3RD & 10||ND46||2:26 4Q||3x1 Bunch Shotgun - Snag/Dig||Nickel - Cover 2 Man Under (Spy)||17YD Pass - Robinson
The snag concept (or triangle concept) from the bunch formation is one of my all-time favorite passing concepts, and it is used here to absolutely no effect (see what happens when I like something?). Stanford comes out in man coverage, which is why Golson moves to the backside of the play to find Corey Robinson on a deep dig pattern in front of the safeties (who again are playing a million miles from the line of scrimmage). Great job by Golson realizing Stanford had manned up against the bunch formation and moving to the backside route by Robinson.
|1ST & 10||STAN37||1:57 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - Sluggo/Slants||Nickel - Cover 1 Overload Blitz (Spy)||Pass Interference|
Remember play 3 of the drive? The dropped pass by Carlisle? Here's the counterpart to that play -- Fuller runs a slant-and-go (sluggo) while the rest of the offense represents the triple slants play. Luckily for the Irish, Stanford is in man coverage and the corner bites hard on the slant fake. Fuller releases downfield and is open for an easy touchdown against the single high safety of Stanford. Golson, however, underthrows the ball and causes Fuller to pull up and get a pass interference call instead. Missed opportunity, but kept the drive alive either way. Another interesting note on this playcall is the ability for Golson to simply throw the backside route to Robinson or the slant depending on how the corner over Fuller reacts to the sluggo.
|1ST & 10||STAN22||1:49 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - Mesh||Nickel - Cover 3 Sky||3YD Pass - Robinson
This same play resulted in a touchdown to Chris Brown earlier in the game, and was a very good playcall in the situation (in my opinion). Stanford had run some form of man coverage on 4 of 6 plays on this drive, and the mesh concept is a great man-beating route combination. Unluckily for the Irish, Stanford plays vanilla Cover 3, and Golson simply waits for Robinson to reach a pocket in the zone and gets what he can.
|2ND & 7||STAN19||1:22 4Q||2x1 Flex TE Shotgun - Slants||Nickel - Quarter,Quarter,Half||Incomplete - Golson
Here's a screenshot for the moment Golson hits the last step in his drop and Fuller makes his break on the slant:
If Golson pulls the trigger right when he hits the end of his drop, he has this pass in the bag. Instead he hesitates, rolls out, and has no one to throw to and must throw it away. I think this is the type of throw that a supremely confident QB would make, but EG was probably somewhat overly concerned with protecting the ball. To be fair, in that situation, I most likely would as well.
|3RD & 7||STAN19||1:14 4Q||3x1 Shotgun - QB Draw||Nickel - Cover 1 Robber Will Blitz||4YD Loss - Golson|
What a playcall this one was. Taking a page from Stanford's book on the last possession, a designed run on 3rd and long into two high safeties. Adding to the positives, Stanford is blitzing into this look with their first 5 man pressure of the drive, essentially removing the spy which they have been using up to this point. This is probably the perfect play call to combat what Stanford brings. Unfortunately, Steve Elmer is knocked back from his pass set and cannot redirect the Stanford rusher to the outside. What was a promising play (seriously look at the real estate Golson has to work with) turns into a 4 yard loss, and puts the Irish against the ropes.
|4TH & 11||STAN23||1:09 4Q||5 Wide - Double Smash||Nickel - Quarters (Cover 4)||23YD Touchdown - Koyack
The play of the game is a busted coverage on Golson's FOURTH read. Stanford comes out in quarters coverage, but the boundary corner does not drop deep when Corey Robinson runs a 10 yard comeback route. This vacates the deep quarter of the field where he should be, and this is where Ben Koyack sits down to catch the TD pass on the corner route. Stanford's safety, who was held in check by the inside receiver to the 3 WR side of the formation, doesn't make it over in time, and the Irish have an improbable victory. If the Stanford corner doesn't blow his coverage, I would be hard pressed to find a good throw for Golson to make here, and we would have been relying on his improvisational ability.
Overall, I was very impressed by the playcalling from Brian Kelly on this final drive, but much less impressed by the uninventiveness that was shown by the Stanford defense. Bend but don't break only works if you don't break, and puts a lot of players in positions that they aren't used to. It nearly paid off for them, but ND's offense proved to have just enough to get the ball down the field when it needed to.