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Notre Dame Football

Re-watch Notes | Notre Dame Offense vs Virginia

September 30, 2019

Notre Dame didn’t win the game on offense. A blind man could see that with them producing 28 points off of 5 Virginia turnovers.

The offense did do some good things, though. The main one being running the football better than they have all season. And not just running well, but ending the game running the ball to put Virginia away.

They averaged 8 yards per carry in the 4th quarter, most of those from Tony Jones. He ran better than he has in his entire Notre Dame career up to this point, looking like he was getting stronger with every carry.

Cole Kmet and Tommy Tremble blocked better than they ever had before as well. This all happened against a defense that was blitzing on almost ⅔ of the plays Notre Dame ran.

Virginia had only given up 2.17 yards per carry (9th) before this game. Even with the sacks, the Irish averaged over 5.1 YPC against them and without it went up to 5.8.

Sometimes this stuff gets lost when people are yelling at Ian Book to hit the open guy (more on that later). The running game found life when they needed it to. That is something for the offense to build on and it will be interesting to see if they found an identity with how they ran it or if this was a one game blip on the radar.

- Virginia finished with a pretty putrid Havoc Rate of 10% when they were at 22.7% coming into the week. Despite blitzing on 65% of their total plays (73.5% in the first half!), they managed to only tackle Notre Dame behind the line three times.

They had 39 tackles for loss through four games.

- Even with the blitzing and the 20 sacks, they managed to only pressure Book nine times. I wouldn’t say the offense in general handled the blitz all the well, but the line did the majority of the time. There were two busts up front that led to a free rusher in Book’s face almost immediately.

Besides that, they did really well picking stuff up and adjusting to all of the movement up front.

- Book was 2 of 5 for 19 yards vs pressure. He was sacked twice (one completely on him). He had a couple of intentional grounding calls against him (one of them because of a bust up front by Liam Eichenberg). He ran two times for 11 yards against pressure as well.

- One of the themes of the game for me was that there were some big play opportunities to be had against the blitz, but Notre Dame either didn’t have a good call to counter it or they did have a good call and didn’t execute.

However, they did run away from the blitz more than a few times for big yards and Book made some good reads on RPOs when the run wasn’t going to be successful. I had him down as pulling it and throwing five times in those situations.

- A couple of other big positives in the game: Notre Dame was 3 for 3 converting on 3rd and short in this game after struggling with that in previous weeks. They also were 3 for 3 in the red zone in terms of producing touchdowns.

They are currently tied for 4th in the country in red zone touchdown percentage and managed 28 points in five trips inside Virginia’s 40 yard line.

- We saw a lot of 12 personnel in this game (one back, two tight ends) with Kmet and Tremble on the field together. They ran really well out of it to finish the game, but also gave some different looks rather than traditional two in-line or one in-line with an H-back.

Tremble was utilized as a fullback quite a bit and was good at it. Much better than I have seen from Brock Wright, who never seemed quite comfortable running isolations.

They also split those two out wide and ran a big formation with Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool early in the game. Chip Long has a lot of flexibility when they are in 12.

Does that put Notre Dame’s best 11 on the field? I think it might and gives Long an opportunity to tinker with who they want to play along with Chase Claypool at receiver.

- Before we get into more specifics, I have to give credit to UVa defensive tackle Eli Hanback. He was very good and I honestly had not noticed him much before this game. He made me take notice with his play.

Aaron Banks had a heck of a time going against him and it wasn’t just Banks who struggled to block him one on one. Hanback was the one who drove Banks back for the sack in the second half. The linebackers got the publicity before the game, but he was easily the best player in their front seven.

- First play of the game and the protection made a mistake.

The line had three to block two on the left side and two to block three on the right. Book was pressured and still might have had a chance to make a throw, but felt the pressure and avoided (which wasn’t bad).

Not throwing it away and taking a 5 yard loss? That was a different story.

- They were bailed out by the offside on 3rd down and it looked like no one was open down the field. Book did have Tony Jones on a check down, though. I get it. It’s 3rd and long and no one wants to settle for the check down. But on the first drive of the game, it’s okay to live to fight another day and take it.

- The next play to move the sticks was a brilliant throw and catch by Kmet. Book had to put it low and away to complete it and Kmet needed to dive to grab it. It was a big time play by them both.

- Interesting to see the wide receivers use Baylor splits (basically two by two stacked receivers outside of the numbers) on the first drive. That’s not something I have seen from Notre Dame a lot. I can’t recall seeing it before, but I’m sure I’m forgetting. I think they may have run it against Wake Forest last year?

It looked like UVa chose to load up the box and play man outside with the middle of the field wide open. Notre Dame ran it for a short gain and I don’t think they ever went back to it.

- What a huge missed opportunity with Book starting right at Kmet clearing the linebackers and on his way to be wide open for a big play. This will be on FDL this week.

The safeties were split. Notre Dame picked up the blitz well enough. Kmet wasn’t wide open, but he was going to be. Book just had to throw it to him with anticipation.

That is the biggest issue with Book right now in my opinion. Sure, he gets out too quickly from the pocket versus the rush. That’s part of it. The other problem is that Book can see a play like that and not have the confidence to let it go.

A throw like that is what separates great from good. He has to trust it.

- On the second drive for the offense, Book deserves credit for being smart about not forcing some of these “scheme” plays that aren’t there. They faked the toss to C’Bo Flemister and Kmet was faking a block and then releasing.

UVa didn’t bite on it, but that left C’Bo open underneath. Book smartly checked that down and then C’Bo did the rest after the catch.

- Outstanding job by Tommy Kraemer finishing Snowden through the end zone on the C’Bo touchdown run, but the biggest part of the play that was missed was Eichenberg cutting the backside blitzer.

Too often Notre Dame has not had seal on the backside of running plays this year, but Eichenberg did his job well.

- I would have liked to see Javon McKinley bring in that slant to start the next drive, but it wouldn’t have been a big play even if he did. He would have had to extend just to make it and then probably doesn’t get much after the catch because of it.

I saw someone question Notre Dame’s receivers abilities after the catch, but that’s a perfect example of how the ball placement is off from where it should have been or else McKinley gets a chance at big yards.

- Man, those screens to Avery Davis and Tony Jones both could have been big plays. The Davis one would have been a touchdown in my opinion. They were the perfect calls at the right time, just poor execution by Book.

The 3rd and 8 call to Jones could have hit big too on the last play of the same drive.

- Again Book makes the right decision not to throw the wheel to Jones on 3rd and 6. It was covered well. I actually wonder if UVa would have been better off being less aggressive because they are a pretty disciplined group.

The blitz left them vulnerable on a lot of plays and didn’t produce much for them. They never adjusted, though.

- Great call by Long and finish by Jones to carry a tackler over the line to gain after chipping and releasing on 4th down.

- On 3rd down of the next drive when the Irish went 3 and out, it was the right play for Book to run there. UVa was bringing more than ND could block and the set up for the play was X cross hitting the receiver open on a slant. That would have worked beautifully, and has before, against man coverage.

The outside linebacker dropped right back into the path of the slant, though. If Book throws it, it’s a pick six. With no time to get to another option and the design not set up for it, Book smartly ran even if it meant he wasn’t going to convert.

- Just like the first play of the game for the offense, it was another protection mistake up front for the Irish with Eichenberg letting the outside rusher in untouched. It ended up being intentional grounding. These were the only two big ones that stood out that were mental errors for the protection that I noticed.

- Second half and backed up on their two yard line, the screen call to Claypool was a pretty good one. Kmet just got owned by the corner who pushed back into Claypool. Thankfully Claypool bailed them out after the catch there. It could have been disastrous.

- Oh, the 3rd down that followed.

Book made a choice to run here. It looked like he saw a crease and wanted to get the Irish out of jail, but that closed up in a hurry.

Claypool was wide open on the crosser and the linebackers had dropped deep. There was not a soul close to him and he would have definitely made 1st down yardage and maybe something more. It looked like that was the obvious choice for Book there.

I would love to know his thought process and why he missed that. Again, that was another chance at a big play after the catch that was not completed.

Five of Book’s 17 completions were RPOs that were essentially hitches. With the way Virginia’s corners tackle, those didn’t have a shot to gain more than they did. Completing those types of plays would have changed how we viewed Book’s yards per attempt and his overall level of play.

- Short field for the Irish and great job of them getting it into the end zone. The second play is one Mike and I discussed on Power Hour. I’ll get into further detail on it with this week’s FDL, but what happened was the Irish were running a tackle over/unbalanced set and ran up to the line quickly so UVa couldn’t adjust.

Eichenberg was in at the tight end spot to the right of Robert Hainsey. They ran it right over that side with Kmet in as the H-back for an easy touchdown.

- The next series featured the Chris Finke short of the sticks play. I have a lot of questions about this play. (And no, GCI, none of them involve shooting Finke into the moon.)

Was the route supposed to be run at 5 right at the sticks and it was on Finke? Was that the automatic read right away for Book because there was a shot with Claypool that could have worked as well?

In the end it comes down to poor execution or design, but it was an absolutely disheartening series after the defense continued to dominate.

- Fast forward to the 10th drive of the game in the 4th quarter and Notre Dame putting the game away with the running game. One of the problems with the running game in the last couple of years, even when the Irish were gaining big yards, was that the tight ends weren’t good enough in the run game.

It’s Tight End U, not Big Receiver U. To be a tight end means you have to block well too and they weren’t getting it done.

What a refreshing change to see Kmet have his best game as a blocker (minus that one screen I mentioned) and Tremble have his best as well.

Tremble was blocking cornerback Nick Grant into oblivion. That was the same guy who blew up the Claypool screen so it’s not like this was Deion Sanders playing the run.

Those two tight ends and the left side were getting it done. It was great to see from Aaron Banks as well who had a tough time with Hanback all game.

- A great point by Doug Flutie?! Yes, it happened.

He mentioned that when Notre Dame went double tight (two in-line, no H-back), they set up UVa in a position where one side would be outnumbered. The Irish ran it to the side with less defenders (math!) and had that big 25 yard gain by Jones.

- One last mention for Jones who ran like the same guy we were praising in camp when he was an underclassmen. Maybe it’s a confidence thing. Maybe he’s just one of those guys who gets stronger when he gets more touches.

Whatever it is, he wasn’t just running through big holes and having success. He was running through contact and if he continues to do that, then maybe he can become the closer the offense needs at running back.

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Re-watch Notes | Notre Dame Offense vs Virginia

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