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Notre Dame 19, Boston College 16: The Key Play

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What helped spring Jeff Smith for an 80-yard touchdown run for the roses?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

During last week's bye week, I analyzed Jeff Smith as an athlete and noted how he had elite, special speed but needed refinement as a quarterback. I remarked how he was a special type of player, the type of guy who always has a roster spot because of his specific skillset. Even if he couldn't develop as a passer, I said, he was the type of guy who projected to always have a chance to play because of his lightning fast first step and move.

Against Notre Dame, his 80 yard touchdown was a prime example of exactly what I was talking about. Let's have a look at what exactly happened:

Boston College lined up in their standard shotgun set. This includes a heavy stacked line, three wide receivers, a single running back, and, naturally, a quarterback. As for the Irish, they counter with a base 4-3 defense showing Cover-2, with two deep safeties allowing their defensive backs to play one-on-one coverage. The linebacker covers the slot receiver, while everyone else identifies the line of scrimmage. This is as basic of a defensive coverage as there is in football.

When BC snaps the ball, this is a basic read option play that Notre Dame completely blows off the snap. Since they're playing base man-to-man defense, nobody is blitzing the line of scrimmage. The safeties are going to cover deep, with the receivers doing their thing. Everyone else has an assignment, none of which is to spy the quarterback.

When Smith executes the read option, everyone goes for their assignment:

With man coverage on the receivers, we can eliminate focus on the defensive backs and focus solely on the line of scrimmage. Smith uses the read option to look straight ahead and identify a huge hole opening up on the left side of the line. It's there almost immediately off the snap because the blockers all move right. In read option, if the defensive players hang back, the QB has to identify this and let the running back, Myles Willis, run the ball behind the wall of blockers.

If everyone goes with the runner, that'll open a hole for option 2 - the quarterback. Based on that first image, you can probably guess what happens next.

No fewer than seven Notre Dame defenders are either looking or already heading up the middle and to the left. If you look at the image, Smith already has the ball and is looking right at the hole off the left tackle. I mean, look at the size of that thing.

There are only two players here left to take a look at - the deep safety and the block on the defensive end. The one thing I notice in that image is the deep safety's helmet; he's actually looking at the wrong side of the line. So while he can actually still come after Smith, he's looking the wrong way. Look at his positioning in the last image - right on the near side hashmark. Now look, less than two seconds later, where his positioning is:

He's already moving to his left, meaning he has to overcompensate when he realizes Smith has the ball. Given Smith's speed, it's no surprise he's going to get beaten badly.

If you look at the image, also pay attention to the arrow. That's the one-on-one block by the left tackle on the defensive end. It's a thing of beauty because he a) holds the block and b) actually drives the man back a little bit. If you go back over the sequence of images, the defensive end (Romeo Okwara) is being driven back towards the sideline, opening the hole even wider. For a skilled runner like Smith, this is going to open up options downfield, where he dekes in on the defensive back, hits the turbo button, and takes off.

On big plays, people always want to point to the man who scored as being the next big thing. I know people probably watched Smith's play and wondered why he didn't remain in the game. To be honest, he didn't do anything more special than what was expected. This was a case where Smith was trusted to make a decision, use his speed, and hit the hole. He did all of that and took care of the rest. We've always known what he can do with his speed, and this was an example of him doing what we knew he was capable of.

The unit that deserves the most credit on this play, however, is the offensive line. They did a great job of holding the Notre Dame defense at bay, pushing them aside, and, in the case of the left tackle, really owning the line of scrimmage. This was a perfectly executed play, something we haven't seen a whole lot from this season.

People tend not to look within the plays to see improvement, but this is a clear cut example of players getting better. It came against a base defense, and it was perfectly executed. While they need to get more consistent, this is more than encouraging for the offseason to look at the offensive line as getting more cohesion as BC begins the process of gearing up, after Saturday, for 2016.