Five Keys for Notre Dame Offense vs. USC

After watching Charlie Weis’ Sunday press conference, one quote stands out that gives me an idea of now Notre Dame’s offense needs to execute in this weekend’s game:

(regarding USC’s defense, then specifically their linebackers)

“Their defense is FAST…their linebackers are as good as any three in the country as a unit…if they blitz, you better be ready for it.

What should that tell you, the viewer, the fan?

Five things:

1. Misdirection

  • ND WILL run a reverse (or a reverse pass) in this game. It will be against man coverage and it will be to the slot man on a two receiver side. The reverse will probably go to Grimes or West. A reverse pass will be in or very close to the red zone and will be thrown by Samardzija. Both the reverse or reverse pass will come from the slot.

2. Three step drops (not including play-action on run predictable downs)

  • When you bring blitzes, you are also disguising them. This often leaves the potential more often than not, for defenders (linebackers and safeties) to be briefly out of position at the snap of the ball. Three (or even one) step and throws will be very important.

3. Quick passes to the tight end

  • Look for Marcus Freeman to get a lot of looks on quick slants or hook routes against a strong safety lined up 7 or 8 yards off the ball. ND could also utilize two tight ends to one side and have short cross routes between them. The danger lies if SC brings a lot of zone blitzes where they have a tackle drop off for these quick passes like we saw when Quinn threw the pick six in the Michigan State game. But because of their team speed, I expect to see a lot of man coverage from USC.

4. Walker and tight end pass protection

  • Darius Walker is a very good complete player in Weis’ system. He can run draws, block well and catch the ball out of the backfield. However, I have noticed Darius whiff quite a bit on defenders this season. He will go low and they will hurdle him, or he will throw a shoulder but doesn’t engage the defender who might run him over on the way to a sack of Brady Quinn. Walker needs to consciously have a good game in pass protection. One thing about ND’s pass protection out of the shotgun that I’m not a big fan of is how ND telegraphs their pass pro when involving the tight end. ND likes to motion the tight end from one side to the other (or back) and keep him in to block. Against man coverage, the defender with tight end responsibility is taught to blitz if his man stays in to block. Michigan and Michigan State perfected their blitzes in situations like this. One way to counter this is to send a tight end on a delay route after blocking for a one or two count. But ND has yet to do that this year. ND cannot telegraph their pass protection schemes if they want to have a chance to get past Southern Cal’s explosive defense.

5. Walker out of the backfield

  • Darius Walker has spoiled Irish fans with his pass catching abilities coming out of the backfield. You will probably see more screens this week than you have all season. And continuing with the heavy man coverage theme that USC runs, you will likely see less of Walker being used by Quinn as an outlet receiver since a linebacker will likely have a keen eye on Walker coming out of the backfield.

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