I find myself lacking the time to do "snapshot" breakdowns of particular plays, so while I would like to go into greater detail, please bear with me as I simply write about some of the technical breakdowns I saw in Saturday night's game. To point out these plays, I'm using the Notre Dame highlight video below:
Cover zero: The touchdown pass with 3:58 left before halftime was a result of a man-beater route combination called by Notre Dame, plus a physically outmatched slot corner in Delonte Hollowell. Hollowell correctly had inside leverage on the quick out, but he was aligned a little far off for my liking and did not have the makeup speed to undercut the route or challenge the catch. On the goal line, there's no need to play off the receiver. If the opponent tries to throw over the top, they have to complete the pass in front of the end line, which is tough unless you've got a good jump ball guy.
Seam routes: On the interception thrown with 12:34 remaining in the third quarter, it looks like Gardner simply didn't see safety Max Redfield in the deep middle. Gardner likely felt a little rushed because Notre Dame was getting a bit of a push. All the routes were covered, so I would like to see Gardner tuck the ball and run or throw it away. If he's going to make that throw to Khalid Hill, he needs to put some air under it with Hill being the only guy who could catch it. Hill would have had a chance to make the reception if it turned into a jump ball because Redfield was not in great position to defend a deep ball, but even then, a safety vs. a mediocre tight end is probably going to go the defense's way.
Free safety play: On the botched cover zero play involving Hollowell (above), blitzing safety Jeremy Clark gets chopped to the ground by running back Tarean Folston. Part of blitz technique is using your hands to stay on your feet when someone goes for a cut block, but Clark's eyes were in the backfield and he was caught completely off guard. If he had stayed on his feet, he would have been in Golson's face and potentially altering the throw. On the tunnel screen touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the third, it's well executed by Notre Dame. The guy who should be saving that play is deep safety Jeremy Clark. He reacted by trying to get over the top of the screen, but those plays are designed to come back inside. Because of his overpursuit, Clark took a bad angle. He should have been coming downhill, right up the tunnel. That would have given other defenders more of a chance to converge even if he didn't make the tackle. It turned out to be a pretty easy catch-and-run score. That's the inexperience of a redshirt sophomore safety project.
Scramble drill: Late in the third quarter, Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. With a decent pocket forming and several downfield routes - plus a well covered outlet option in De'Veon Smith - Gardner hung in the pocket looking for a receiver. At the 1:00 mark, he began to scramble - first to the right, then back, then to the left, and finally forward across the line of scrimmage. In the four seconds before he crossed the line of scrimmage, not one receiver re-entered the screen to save his quarterback. When a quarterback is scrambling, deep receivers are supposed to work their way short, and short receivers are supposed to work deeper. Instead, Gardner scrambled, spun, got blindsided, and ultimately fumbled.
Amara Darboh's route running: Darboh is big and strong, and he has decent speed. What Darboh lacks is precision in his route running. When Michigan got the ball back after Gardner's aforementioned fumble, the first play involved what looks like a 7-yard hitch route. Darboh does not provided the illusion of running deep, either with his footwork or his head. He simply hits 7 yards, whips his head around, and drifts. A receiver is supposed to come back down the chute to the ball, which prevents the corner from jumping the route. Sure enough, cornerback Cody Riggs jumps the route and beats Darboh to the spot. The pass may have been broken up anyway, but a good route there probably has Darboh catching the ball and getting tackled immediately for a decent 7-yard gain.
Pass protection: At roughly 2:44 left in the fourth quarterback, Notre Dame runs a six-man pressure with a seventh man playing a hug technique (blitz if the running back stays home) on running back Justice Hayes. It's a man blocking scheme, and everyone is accounted for except the hugger. Right tackle Ben Braden gets off balance and is caught off guard by an inside pass rush. Meanwhile, left guard Erik Magnuson's second step is that of a left tackle who is trying to protect the width of the pocket, instead of a step by a guard trying to protect the depth of the pocket. He opens up his left shoulder, which allows the defensive tackle to that side to get upfield. Despite Jehu Chesson coming open on a short crossing route, Gardner does not have time to throw the ball before getting hit by Braden and Magnuson's men.