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Notre Dame Film Review: Part One

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Louisville Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I always say it’s better late than never and that’ll be the theme this year when it comes to the film reviews. The short week made this one pretty hard but I wanted to get into as many plays as I could.

The first quarter had a lot of action so there will be two parts with this part focusing on just the first 15 minutes. The defense didn’t play well early so there aren’t many positives to post from that side of the ball. Let’s get to an abbreviated version of the film review.

Scott Satterfield referenced this play in his media availability this week and said that Avery made a “mental error”. I think that he was supposed to either blitz here or spy. It looks like he decided halfway through his blitz that he was actually supposed to be covering someone and he tried to recover. Hard to know what the mistake was but my theory is that he saw the receiver to the bottom of the screen and thought it was an inside receiver. This play screams “first game jitters” so my hope is that we see him execute this type of play better going forward.

Kudos to Bryan Brown for coming out swinging, though. I loved this call.

Notre Dame ran crossers multiple times during the game and Louisville didn’t defend it well once. Initially, I chalked it up to bad coverage but it’s really a mix of ND’s play design being perfect and what looks to be some questionable drops by the linebackers. On this specific play you can see that the three linebackers in the middle of the field are too tight. With three receivers to his side, you want to see Rodjay Burns get closer to the hash and maybe outside of the hash. It looks like he bit on the tight end going inside.

I really expected to see more of this on Monday especially with them doing this so early in the game. It’s a simple play action throw outside to the boundary. You can see that the safety to that side is blitzing and Pass just delivers a back shoulder throw to that side. The throw was a bit behind where you want it, but the fact that it was the “right” throw was such a good step in the right direction for Pass. Seth Dawkins is a guy that can go and get it as we see here.

Two other things: It looks like Javian Hawkins sees the blitz and decides to ignore the play action and step left immediately. This was a staple blocking scheme at App and the back would fake the handoff and combo with the h-back to block the backside. You can see Marshon Ford take the end but the safety would’ve come free if Hawkins doesn’t get the width he does by going left.

The other thing is that I think this type of play was there in the first half and they just didn’t go back to it. ND brought a safety up plenty of times just like they do here. Hope they take advantage going forward.

This was the second RPO of the game and both plays were pretty much the same. The first time they ran this play, Pass dumped it off to Ford in the flat. The defender remembered that and went with Ford this time and Pass strolled in easily. It was good to see Pass make the right decision on the option plays early on. He was very decisive and it led to some chunk plays.

The biggest offensive play of the game came on a speed option play into the boundary. Quite literally the play I hate more than anything in the world. But the offensive line did a great job to create an alley for Javian Hawkins and he did this to an All-American safety to get into the open field:

Alohi Gillman (The guy holding the door open at the 35) thinks Hawkins is headed outside but Javian sticks his foot in the ground and doesn’t loose any speed as he gets up the field. This play was the absolute perfect blend of the line doing their job and the back doing his. I also think he scores on this play if he noticed the defender to the left earlier. He’s shading away from the guy being blocked to his right because he thinks he’s the only threat.

A few things about this play stood out to me:

  1. They scored on this play last year against Penn State. It was from a little farther out but it was a slot fade with the outside receiver running a stop route.
  2. Pass throws the right ball and he puts it exactly where it has to be. If the safety somehow gets over there he would still have to make a very good play to break this up. He still has real issues with consistency, but he makes throws at times that show his potential.
  3. I talked a lot this offseason about how the running game would lead to safeties biting on play action. The safety on this play takes a half step towards the line on this play and he has no chance to get over to make a play. With the way they ran the ball on Monday, we should see this have a bigger impact as the year goes on.

The defense got much better against the run in the second half and this is the specific type of run they got better at defending. Rodjay Burns plays this too timidly. He either has to get width and play contain here or he has to shoot the gap. He doesn’t do either and he just absorbs the contact from the blockers and spins off of it. The issue is that he’s 8 yards down the field and the Irish are in a great spot for the next down.

Later in the game, Burns started playing this perfectly as he set the edge aggressively and forced runs back inside. That’s what they need from him especially because he held his ground extremely well and ate up blocks on the outside.

The more I watch this game the more it feels like the issues with the second level of the defense were due to guys playing tight and not just flying to the ball. Rodjay Burns had multiple plays in the first quarter where you could see him thinking and by the time he decided to move he had a blocker in his face. You can see that with everyone on this play as no one starts running until the ND blockers are five yards down the field. By that time, the runner has a literal wall to run behind and he gets to pick his spot.

Chip Long took a gamble here because they had been running the ball so well early and it paid off. Louisville’s linebackers didn’t play downhill early in the game. It did change later in the game and Tony Jones only averaged 3.83 yards per carry.

This play really stuck with me because it’s exactly why they were so bad last year and the Dorian Etheridge was the guy that was in the wrong. He has to stay outside on this play and at least make the edge blockers take him into the designed hole on this run. Instead he tries to avoid the block and he ends up in C.J. Avery’s gap and the back runs in untouched for a touchdown. I’m not saying that Etheridge is the reason he scores, but who knows what happens if he at least provides some resistance here. Also, Russ Yeast needs to diagnose this much more quickly and provide run support.