Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Notes from a Win | by Michael

During the 35-17 win over Michigan, I spied the following...

1. The much-maligned Asaph Schwapp deserves a Gatorade shower.

The Irish are using a fullback in the running game more than they ever did when the offense was dominant in '05 and '06. Perhaps it's because Schwapp has blossomed into a more consistent blocker, whether it's leading the halfback through a hole or when he engages a defensive end on a zone run. Against San Diego State we ran the ball 11 times for 46 yards with Schwapp on the field. On Saturday, we saw similar production. While 13 runs for 49 yards in normal situations yielded a slightly lower per carry average, Michigan's run defense had been stout heading into the contest. Furthermore, Schwapp's blocking enabled the Irish to punch the ball in not just once, but twice in goal line situations. Lastly, the Irish had great success running the ball from an off-set I-formation; the Irish ran eight times and racked up 40 yards from that look, as Schwapp pushed around some more defenders.

2. "Bombs away."

The vertical passing game against San Diego State wasn't an anomaly. Several times the Irish threw over the top of Michigan's corners, two of the better corners we'll face until the game in the Coliseum. From the post-game press conference, Charlie Weis suggested that if it wasn't a 21-0 game so quickly, the Irish would have continued their aerial assault. The first two weeks of game film are going to have serious implications for Irish opponents. From here on out, opposing safeties will have to respect the big play capability of the Irish receiving corps. Rarely should the offense see eight defenders in the box. If the Irish can run the ball well and force defenses to commit that extra defender, then Mike Haywood can call plays like the max protect play action pass from a run-heavy personnel grouping and formation that Jay discussed on Monday.

3. "We're going to pound it."

The Irish consistently won the short yardage battles against a good run defense. When was the last time they could brag about that?

  • 1st & Goal from UM 2 - 2 yard TD run
  • 2nd & 1 from UM 16 - 7 yard run
  • 1st & Goal from UM 1 - 1 yard TD run
  • 2nd & 3 from ND 36 - 13 yard run
  • 3rd & 1 from ND 16 - 3 yard run
  • 3rd & 1 from ND 20 - 1 yard sneak
Although they converted their first six opportunities, they did fail on two subsequent short yardage plays and two fourth down pass attempts. But by that point the game was over. Most encouraging was Notre Dame's ability to pick up the tough yardage when they needed to do it. Over the last few years, too often the offensive line seemed to get stoned at the point of attack, and a back would have nowhere to go. As such, the offense has had to resort to trickery too often around the goal line, whether it be the play action passes to Jeff Samardzija, a direct snap to Darius Walker out of the shotgun, or when times are truly desperate, an ill-advised roll-out pass on first and goal. Although Weis will never abandon his inclination to outsmart an opponent at the goal line (witness the unnecessary play action passes to Kyle Rudolph and Mike Floyd in the endzone), it seems clear from the Michigan game playcalling that the coaching staff believes they have the big uglies and backs to convert short yardage and goal line situations.

4. Wake me up, before you go go...

The wham trap run saw its return to the offense. It wasn't as effective as other runs, but it averaged over three yards per play against a talented Michigan front four, and it allowed the Irish to be a little more creative with how they attempted to pound the defense. Will Yeatman would motion toward the middle of the formation as the "move TE," and Clausen would hike it. Then Yeatman would take on the unblocked defensive end away from him. The back would try to hit the hole between Yeatman and the offensive tackle. The five times the play was called was actually the most since the Navy game in '05, when six were called. The play was also used five times against Tennessee that year, but since then it's been a ghost in the gameplan. If we're willing to run it that many times against a stronger defense, I think we'll see it more often in upcoming games against weaker opponents. We could also likely see a variation where the unblocked defender is a defensive tackle, not an end.

It's also worth noting that against San Diego State the offense ran a bootleg play action pass from a similar formation. While we didn't run it against Michigan, opponents may see a little of each in the weeks ahead, which should only make each complementary piece that much more effective.

5. The defensive coaching staff needs to remove the bullseye from Sergio Brown's jersey.

Teams are picking on Sergio, and it started against San Diego State. Not only did he give up a touchdown on a corner route, but they ran the same play later in the game. Sergio was beaten again, though this time David Bruton rescued him from ignominy. Michigan saw that and attacked him multiple times. Brown allowed a 33-yard completion to freshman wide-out Martavious Odoms and then was called for an obvious pass interference penalty on the same drive; ironically, it was Sergio who, a few plays later, scooped up the fumble that ended Michigan's bid to make it a 28-24 game. Either the coaching staff should put Brown in better situations for him to be successful, or they should find someone to replace him in the nickel package until his ball skills improve. Hopefully, it's the former, because he seems to have a nose for the football.

I didn't spy the following...

A freshman offensive lineman replacing a starter and getting manhandled by a veteran Michigan defensive line. Trevor Robinson played the entire second half at guard and held up very well. It's a good thing for Chris Stewart that his injury isn't serious -- he should be back in the starting lineup on Saturday. Otherwise his nickname might have changed from Mr. Plow to Mr. Pipp.