One of my favorite aspects of football is how plays that would often go unnoticed end up leading to the biggest plays of a game. Sometimes negatives even turn into positives a few plays later. Let's take a look at a few sequences from Saturday's game that ended up becoming crucial plays for USF:
CAUSE: DeDe Lattimore hits Cierre Wood right at the goal line on the opening series of the game.
On second-and-goal from the USF 2-yard line, Dayne Crist gives the ball to Wood out of an offset goal-line set. Wood stumbles over center Braxston Cave and starts to twist sideways as he reaches the goal line. Lattimore hits Wood square in the back and completely stops his momentum. He and Michael Lanaris combine to bring Wood down just short of the line.
EFFECT: Because Wood doesn't get into the end zone, the Irish have to run another play. And possibly because Lattimore hit him so hard, Wood comes out of the game. On third and goal, backup running back Jonas Gray has the ball stripped out of his hands by Jerrell Young, and Kayvon Webster runs it back 96 yards for a touchdown.
By the way, Young's strip is even more amazing when you watch it on replay. First he has to get enough leverage to keep Gray from pushing his way into the end zone. Then he gets the ball out before Lanaris and Sam Barrington arrive to tackle Gray.
CAUSE: Notre Dame takes a delay of game penalty on 3rd and 1 on their own 42-yard line in the first quarter.
It looks like Brian Kelly is slow getting the play into Crist, and then when Crist tries to change the blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage, the play clock runs out. Considering how well Notre Dame was running the ball early on, it's safe to assume they were going to run the ball and probably get a first down to keep the drive moving.
More causes and effects after the jump:
CAUSE: Ryne Giddins jumps offside on an Irish field goal attempt, giving Notre Dame a first down on their first possession of the second half.
This really bothered me at the time because the crowd was back in the game and the Irish had tons of momentum. I would have been happy to let David Ruffer try a 42-yard field goal from the left hash mark and keep a 16-3 lead. But it ended up working out somehow.
EFFECT: Notre Dame's offense comes back on the field and immediately throws a pass to Floyd to reach the USF 5-yard line. (By the way, a mini-cause here: Jon LeJiste does a great job dragging Floyd out of bounds before he can approach the goal line.) But then on the next play, Tommy Rees throws a pass off T.J. Jones's helmet and Michael Lanaris makes a diving interception at the USF 3-yard line.
CAUSE: Evan Landi is called for an illegal substitution penalty on third and goal at the Notre Dame 1-yard line after a timeout.
The Bulls didn't beat themselves, but they did make a handful of mistakes, and this was one of them. There are already 11 players on the field and then Evan Landi comes running in off the sideline to make it 12. Once he lines up, the officials throw the flag for an illegal substitution, backing USF up to the 6.
EFFECT: Another mistake that ended up working out. Instead of trying to hammer the ball in (which might not have worked -- the Irish did a great job on runs right up the middle), USF has to pass. Daniels lobs the ball into the end zone for Sterling Griffin, who beats Gary Gray in coverage and draws a pass interference penalty. Gray never turns around and pushes Griffin as the ball was coming in. On the next play, Daniels throws a touchdown pass to Landi.
CAUSE: Michael Floyd waits for an onside kick to come down to him instead of going up for the ball.
EFFECT: If Floyd jumps up in the air, he can beat anyone on the USF roster out for the ball and the Irish would take possession with at least a small chance of getting into field goal range and forcing overtime. But instead, it gives Lindsey Lamar (who's six inches shorter and at least 50 pounds lighter) enough time to race in and jump in front of Floyd to catch the ball an instant before it would have landed in Floyd's hands. Lamar's recovery and run out of bounds ends the game.