Wednesday, November 29, 2006

End Game: the Second Half | by Jay

We're set to kick off the second half. One thing I missed in the broadcast: when did Ndukwe come out of the game? Bruton replaces him, which leads to...well, you'll see.

What went wrong?
What went right?
SC Drive 8. ND kicks off and it's a poor one, bouncing out of bounds at about the 30 yard line and giving the ball to SC at the 35. On the first series it's 3rd & 5, and Crum is showing blitz. Instead, he drops back to cover a short zone, but doesn't drop far enough and Fred Davis slips behind him for a first down catch.

On the next series Booty launches one deep to Jarrett in the end zone, but Lambert is there and breaks it up. Nice coverage. Since his first few catches, we're blanketing Jarrett pretty well.

SC ends up in a 4th & 1, and they get it easily on Washington's run to the left down to the SC 25. Great blocking by the Trojans. The next play turns out to be the highlight reel clip of the game...

Jarrett cuts across field to the right side and finds a soft spot between the CB and safety in the zone. We had him bracketed, but not tight enough. Booty throws a crummy pass, just sails it, but Jarrett makes an incredible one-handed grab just inside the sideline, giving SC 1st & goal at the 6.

We run a corner blitz on the next play, with Lambert rushing and Zibby dropping off to cover Jarrett 1-on-1. Ballsy, but ineffective; Zibby commits a pass interference. Washington punches it in on the next play.
Poor kickoff; failure to force a punt on 3rd & 5 and 4th and 1; Jarrett makes the play of the game.


ND Drive 9. Deep kickoff, good return by Grimes to the 25. Walker rips off a great run of 18 yards, his long of the game (even though Morton misses a block here). Another run, then a pass for no gain, then a sack of BQ on a corner blitz we fail to pick up. Not an auspicious start to the half. BQ sacked; no blitz pick-up.
Nice run by Darius.

SC Drive 9. A good punt by Price puts the Trojans on their own 21. Richardson is the star of this short series. First he stops Gable on a short run, then drops Steve Smith on a complete pass, then combines with Brockington to stuff Gable at the line on 3rd & 1 and force a punt.
Excellent job by Richardson; he's all over the field making tackles. Three-and-out.

ND Drive 10. The Trojans sky a bad punt and we get good position on our own 42. On second down, Quinn finds McKnight down the left sideline and Rhema makes a fantastic catch over Terrell Thomas. Finally! Forty-two yards on the play.

We throw a fade to Samardzija in the end zone that goes through his hands; tough catch, but definitely catchable. On 4th & 1 we run Aldridge up the gut and he grits out a first down (barely; it was a horrendous spot, and we ended up making it by a half-inch). SC challenges the call, it stands up and the Trojans have just wasted their second timeout of the game. In the back of my mind I'm thinking, "That's going to come back to haunt them."

Travis Thomas checks into the game, and Musburger says, "Clearly Weis is upset with Darius fumbling down here last time." I want to knee him in the groin.

On first and goal at the 4, the sequence goes: BQ throws it away; BQ rolls right, throws it away again; 4-wide, Quinn sneaks it to the 2. Fourth down.

We use the same 4-wide formation but motion Darius left for an empty backfield. Quinn finds McKnight on the slant from the left. It was first and goal, and we threw it four times. But no matter. Touchdown.

There's only 1:57 left in the third quarter. It's back to 11 points, but we're running out of time.
Didn't (or couldn't) run it from 1st & goal on the 4? It worked out, anyway.
Rhema is the story of the drive: 42 yard bomb, and hot TD catch. Way to bounce back.

SC Drive 10.We pooch the kickoff again but this time it stays in bounds, and SC takes over on the 20. There's a shot of Brady on the sideline, shooing away a phone call from the booth.

The first half of this drive is abysmal: Booty finds Davis for a first down, then Gable runs 14 yards, then Booty hits Jarrett for another first down. On that last play, we brought six men on the line and Booty saw the man coverage with no one deep, checked off, and hit Jarrett easily.

Booty launches one to the end zone and Steve Smith is open, but the pass is a little long and Smith can't get a handle on it. On 3rd & 9, Booty completes a pass to McFoy into triple coverage. I don't know how we didn't break that up. After a Brockington sack, Booty connects with Jarrett on yet another 3rd down conversion, where he just outjumps everyone. He's a tree. Musburger mentions the grudge that Jarrett has against ND for dropping him during recruiting.

SC wastes their last timeout trying to get something called correctly, and ends up on 4th & 13 and having to kick a field goal. A Pyrrhic victory for the defense: we kept them out of the end zone, but they were able to chew up the clock and still put 3 more points on the board. Ten minutes left in the game.
Despite blitzing, we get very little pressure on Booty, who throws for 60 yards on this drive alone. Gave up 5 first downs, allowing key conversions on 3rd & 9 and 3rd & 13.
We manage to bottle up Gable pretty well, and we kept them out of the end zone. That's about it.

ND Drive 11. A good return by Zibby out to the 30, but it's wasted. BQ completes a pass to Freeman for four yards, then a false start, then an incomplete, then a sack where Morton gets blown up. We punt (after a delay of game). This isn't how you come back. Punt from our own 19.
Nothing working; penalties; bad sack of Quinn.


SC Drive 11. Ball on the SC 43. Gable rushes up the middle for 14 yards -- is the defense gassed at this point?

The next play-- well, dammit, no need to mince words. It's the worst play of the game.

SC lines up in an I-formation with Jarrett split left (pre-snap diagram here.) The fullback Williams (#41) motions left, wider than Jarrett (#8) is lined up. Richardson (#30) was lined up across from Jarrett with Bruton (#27) over the top. Now, with Williams coming across, there's mass confusion. Bruton looks like he wants to take the outside man, but then Richardson shoos him back inside. The ball is snapped.

Williams streaks down the sideline uncovered. Jarrett runs a post. Richardson sort of splits the difference, unsure of whom to cover, while Bruton hangs out in middle with nothing to do.

It's an easy pitch-and-catch to Jarrett down the middle. Richardson reacts to the ball in the air, recovers, and tries to tackle Jarrett after the catch, but can't wrap up and instead bounces off. Jarrett gallops into the end zone.

Booty had his choice of two wide-open receivers. Horrible miscommunication by the Irish defense.
Worst play of the game. The backbreaker. Miscommunication leads to blown coverage, then a poor attempt at a tackle gives up the touchdown.

ND Drive 12. It's not looking good. We're down by 20 with only 8 minutes to go, and we need a quick score. Unfortunately, we get a long, drawn-out drive instead. We run a series of nice plays here, dinking and dunking our way down the field, and getting six first downs in the process. Even thought we're running a hurry-up, it takes us 14 plays to get down the field.

An 18-yard pass to Samardzija brings us to first and goal at the 9, and we can't punch it in. The maddeningly stubborn SC defense holds us to 4th & goal, when Terrell Thomas gets called for pass interference, and it starts all over. First and goal, second and goal, third and goal, and finally -- Quinn hits Samardzija on a fade for the score. That's eight plays inside the ten yard line.

3:39 left in the game, down by two scores. Let's onsides kick it.
Took way too long to get down the field.
At least we scored.

SC Drive 12. Does this even count as a drive? Carl Gioia executes the worst onsides kick I've ever seen, chopping the ball way short of the coverage. Brian Cushing snaps it up and runs it back for a touchdown. The final nail in the coffin.
We had an outside chance until this blunder.


ND Drive 13. The last drive for the Irish is an exercise in futility. Quinn hits Grimes for a nice gain of 27 yards into SC territory. After that, it's a sack, an incomplete pass, a pass complete on 3rd & 16 to make it 4th & 1, and a final incomplete pass ending the drive.


SC Drive 13. The Trojans get the ball back with about a minute and a half left, and run out the clock.


If you told me that we would a) win the turnover battle, b) have the same number of yards as SC (404), and c) Quinn would throw more touchdowns (3) than any other opponent had against SC this year, I would have predicted an Irish win. But as we can see, the problems were pervasive: offense, defense, special teams, playcalling, coverage, communication, mistakes, poor execution. Any way you slice it, it was a butt-kickin'.

(In fact, the only good thing to come out of this game is that we inadvertently screwed Michigan out of a rematch with the Buckeyes. A good thing, no doubt, but now I don't have a use for my t-shirt idea. Bummer.)

It's tempting to say it's strictly the defense that let us down, from poor schemes (middle wide open early on), to biting on fakes (Zibby), to miscommunication (final Jarrett TD), to poor tackling. And yet we had some spectacular defensive plays as well, especially the two interceptions by Richardson and Laws, some fine run-stopping, and a nice TD pass breakup by Lambert.

But the truth is that both units (well, all three) were manifestly culpable. We had 12 possessions in the game and only scored on 4 of them; our conversion rate was horrendous; our playcalling was suspect in the red zone; we dropped too many passes. It's two years into the Charlie Weis era, and we still can't get the short yardage reliably when we absolutely need it.

Let's give due deference to the Trojans. Their offense had us twisted in knots for much of the game. Jarrett is absolutely incredible, and just as Reggie Bush was "the difference" in the SC game last year, Jarrett was "the difference" this year. Their young secondary is tremendous, with superb recovery speed and instincts. Terrell Thomas batting the ball away from McKnight in the end zone was amazing. Against any other coverage, that's a touchdown.

Where do we go from here? To a bowl game, and hopefully to a win. But next October looms large even now, and the Trojans are a young team loaded for the future. Their secondary starts two freshmen and a sophomore, Maulauga is a sophomore, Gable is a true freshman, Booty is around for another year (with Sanchez right behind him), and Patrick Turner steps into Jarrett's shoes next year. Someday we'll beat these guys again, and I hope it's sooner rather than later, but we've got our work cut out for us.