Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Breaking down the Keys to Victory: Purdue beatdown edition

Win the coverage battle on special teams.

We had the nation's best kick return team going against the nation's best kick coverage unit, and it wasn't even close. The opening kickoff got returned to the 15 by Purdue, and it didn't get much better for Purdue after that.

And lest you start touting that kick coverage is not that important, consider the fact that Notre Dame had only 3 kicks returned past the 20 yard line on Saturday, and two of those drives went for touchdowns. The other 4 kickoffs of the Irish were tackled inside the 20, and none of those drives resulted in points.

There was only one punt return by Purdue, which went a mere 9 yards.

On the flip side, Armando Allen showed some improvement in our returns, returning 4 kicks for over 100 yards, a 26.25 yard per return average. To contrast, the mighty Kory Sheets had 7 returns for only 97 yards, an average of only 13.8 yards per return.

Average starting field position: Notre Dame +8 yards

Find a tight end to utilize on offense.

Kyle Rudolph showed up in the game this week, catching 3 passes for 32 yards and 1 TD. More importantly, he finally showed some skills as a blocker, sealing off the outside for both of Armando Allen's big runs in the first drive of the 3rd quarter, including the 16 yard touchdown romp.

Dink-and-dunk our way to victory.

The Irish offense sputtered early, as the Irish tried to air it out on the first drive, with no success. Then the Irish settled down, and started to run the ball, but got bottled up at the line of scrimmage after some early success.

Then Jimmy started throwing some underneath routes, including slants and curls to Grimes and Floyd, which opened up running lanes for Armando Allen, resulting in our most successful drive of the first half, finishing with a missed field goal.

The next offensive drive, Jimmy aired it out a bit, effectively moving the ball down the field in big chunks down to the 10. A fade route to Golden finished the scoring.

When the offense really started clicking in the second half, the balanced and methodical attack mixing the run and the pass, the Irish attack had three straight scoring drives. The first featured a long pass, a screen, and three runs to move 80 yards.

The next drive epitomized the type of dink and dunk offense I anticipated. It started with an incomplete underneath route, which opened up a running lane for Armando on the nexy play. That was followed by a dump off to Armando underneath, followed by another run, then a short out route, then a run, then a WR screen, then a comeback route underneath, then another run, then a QB sneak. It was capped off by a play action pass that sucked in everyone, opening Rudolph in the back of the end zone. Using the underneath routes to set up the runs, and then using the play action to hurt them over the top.

This is, and should be, the identity of our offense.

All of those runs and underneath routes paid dividends on the final touchdown drive, when the Irish had full command of the Purdue defense, who was playing on their heels, with no idea what was to come next. They sent a cover zero blitz, and Jimmy made them pay with a long pass over the middle to Grimes.

Pressure SACK the QB.

This is the only key that the Irish didn't achieve on Saturday, and is something I would desperately like to see us improve on going forward. There was an effective pass rush, but it was not fast enough to get to Painter before he could get rid of the ball. It did force Purdue into a short yardage passing offense, but it also permitted Painter to throw for 359 yards and 2 touchdowns.

If we could have achieved this fourth key to victory, we would've won the game by 40.

All in all, I think the Irish passed the test with flying colors against Purdue, and should be gaining confidence as they head into this week's showdown with the might trees of Stanford.