For those of you who missed last week, go back and read. Great, glad we are all caught up.
Continuing on with the second installment, we look back at the sleepy September 8th matchup between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Ball State Cardinals. This was just about the most classic let down game of all time. Notre Dame came off of a huge win against bitter rival Michigan, only to trudge their way through an utterly disappointing game. On the plus side, it sparked a position group that would go on to be a the most improved, and one of the most consistent group on the entire team. I am speaking, of course, about the the safety position. This was an unknown coming into the year with mystery (I had all the confidence FYI) surrounding Alohi Gilman, and average play surrounding the others. The group did not record a single interception in 2017, and had quite a lot to prove. In a game where Brandon Wimbush threw for 3 picks and Justin Yoon missed a field goal, someone had to step up. Luckily for the Irish, Jalen Elliott did just that, leading the way with 2 interceptions.
To set the stage, Notre Dame started off the game great, but sputtered quickly and ultimately everyone was looking around for someone to make a play. That caused a bad first half and gave Ball State some real life. The score was 14-6, with the Cardinals getting the ball to start the half. They started to drive, and suddenly Irish fans hearts were starting to beat juuuust a bit to quickly. At second and 8 from their own 47 yard line, the play began to unfold.
The Irish showed what looks to be either a soft man coverage, or a zone blitz scheme in which coverage players are responsible for immediate throws. They normally have a single safety help overtop, so you can think of this an aggressive cover 3.
As you can see, Alohi Gilman and Julian Love are bracketing the WR/TE combo at the bottom of the screen as Drue Tranquill prepares for a delayed blitz. Troy Pride Jr. is taking away the hot throw and Jalen Elliott has the deep middle, providing inside help and will be reading the shoulders of the quarterback. I say shoulders because a quarterback can “look off” safeties with eyes/head but their shoulders will never lie as to where they intend to go with the ball.
Tranquil easily powers through the back from the outside, hitting quarterback Riley Neal as he is releasing the ball. He is targeting a deep crossing being covered by Love, but overthrows it into the arms of Elliott. Elliott does a great job on this play of reading the quarterback, not the man, as he could have stayed on top of the route of the receiver being covered by Pride. Elliott high points the ball and makes a great catch, hauling in his second interception of the game.
Ultimately, this was a game that felt stale, but was the breakout performance for what would be a breakout season for Jalen Elliott. After a season on 0 interceptions as a position, he came away with 2 and set the tone for a great season on the back end.
Thought it should be a different play? Let me know! As this is a new column taking place over the course of the next 12 weeks, I would love any and all feedback, and as always, GO IRISH!