Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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30 DECEMBER 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED What Didn't Work Offense Didn't Handle Early Pressures: Let's go in reverse order this week and first evaluate what didn't go well. The reason is because what didn't go well occurred in the first half, and what went well were adjustments to the early struggles. U S C s h o w e d N o t re Dame a wrinkle in the first half that it hadn't displayed all season, and that was blitzing the Irish offense early and often. The Trojans often over- whelmed the Notre Dame offense with numbers, bringing more defenders than the Irish had blockers. Those pressures were combined with tight cov- erage, which took away the quick throws that junior quar- terback Ian Book has thrived with all season. Notre Dame struggled to get its run game going early because of the loaded box, with the Irish backs going for only 31 yards on 10 carries in the first two quarters. Book went 14-of-21 passing for 178 yards in the first half, but 70 of those yards came in the final minute. USC was able to largely eliminate the big plays early and held the Irish to seven first-half points. Off Coverage Results In Fast Start For The USC Offense: Notre Dame often starts the game with its cor- nerbacks and slot defenders giving the opponent room at the snap. USC must have seen that on film because the Trojans came out and immedi- ately attacked Notre Dame with its quick passing game. With the ball coming out so quickly the Irish pass rush was largely neu- tralized, which allowed talented freshman quarterback JT Daniels to get off to a hot start. Daniels com- peted 18 of 21 passes for 159 yards on USC's first three series, which re- sulted in 10 points. If not for Notre Dame forcing two crucial fumbles on completed passes in Irish territory, the 10-7 halftime deficit would have been much worse. What Worked Irish Find Answers For The Pres- sures: It didn't take hold on the first series of the second half, with Notre Dame punting after a three-and-out, but the halftime adjustments showed themselves after that. On the second drive, offensive co- ordinator Chip Long called a bootleg that got senior tight end Alizé Mack wide open for a 15-yard gain. USC was blitzing hard inside whenever it saw run action, so the bootleg caught the Trojans with most of its defend- ers attacking the line, which is why Mack got wide open. On the next play, Long had his left tackle and left guard pull to the right, which made USC think the Irish were running their counter trey play to the right. Long had Mack pull to the left and senior running back Dexter Williams took the hand- off going left. With the USC defense attacking hard to the offense's right because of the pulling linemen, Williams was able to race 52 yards for an easy score to give the Irish the lead. Long also used his running backs to attack the blitz. Two open screens to Williams fell incomplete and Book missed senior receiver Chris Finke on a wide open slant-and-go route that would have been a touchdown, another play that was meant to beat the blitz. Long's blitz beaters fi- nally got going in the fourth quarter. A screen to Williams was finally com- pleted for 22 yards. Long spent much of the game keeping running back Tony Jones Jr. in to block, but in the fourth quarter he decided that instead of trying to block the blitz he would throw behind it. Long sent Jones on a wheel route to the left, and he ran right past the outside linebacker, who was blitzing off the edge. Jones made the catch and outran the USC de- fense for a backbreaking touchdown reception. Second-Half Adjustments Stall USC's Offense: Daniels completed 26 of 31 throws for 244 yards in the first half against what was mostly a defense built around playing off cov- erage. At halftime Notre Dame did more to mix up its post-snap coverage looks, which got Daniels out of sync. On the first five possessions of the second half, Daniels connected on just 5 of 11 throws for 45 yards, and Notre Dame went from down 10-7 to up 24-10 during that stretch. By taking away the quick throws, the Irish pass rush was also able to finally start to make its presence felt. Both of Notre Dame's sacks came in the second half with Daniels having to hold onto the ball longer, and even when the Irish weren't getting sacks they were forcing him into more er- rant throws. That adjustment gave USC a bit more room to run between the tack- les, but the play of the Irish safeties limited the effectiveness of the run game, while the cornerbacks and linebackers made plays against the pass game. ✦ USC Game: What Worked And What Didn't CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. caught a 51-yard touchdown off a USC blitz, but also crucial was his blocking in blitz protection. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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