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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

September 17, 2020
7,901

Back in April I wrote a piece about how 30 (yards) is the magic number for Notre Dame. In there I mentioned that the top-four programs in scoring offense last season were in the top-10 in plays of 30-yards or more from scrimmage.

I mentioned this in the piece about what 30-yard plays meant to Notre Dame in terms of scoring points.

Last season when the Irish had a drive that included a play of 30 yards or more, they scored points 93.8% of the time. 84.3% of those drives resulted in touchdowns. The average points per drive was 6.19.
That’s not just a one year anomaly for them. Over the last three seasons, they averaged 6.03 points per drive on 99 offensive series. They scored on 93% of drives and scored touchdowns on 81.8% of them. There were only seven drives when a drive that included a play of 30 yards or more didn’t result in points. They were almost all scoring opportunities, it was just that Notre Dame failed to cash in on them (like missing a field goal against Virginia or throwing a red zone interception against Virginia Tech). Only once they did have a play of 30 yards or more and end up punting.

Notre Dame (literally) threw away a scoring opportunity with a red zone interception against Duke, but I think everyone can agree that the 75-yard screen pass to Kyren Williams was the type of play the Irish need more of. It was their only play of 30-yards or more in the game.

The fact that it was Williams who made the play after the catch is a reminder that they didn’t get that production from the receiver position. They didn’t have a receiver with a reception over 20-yards in the season opener.

They need more explosive plays and there are signs that they could get them from the running game with Williams and Chris Tyree (who had a gain of 25-yards on one run). The signs weren’t there at receiver, though that will be helped by the return of Braden Lenzy. He had five plays of 30-yards or more last season in only 24 touches.

It has to be more than Lenzy helping in the running game or Lenzy catching the deep ball. They need more from other players and the quarterback as well. The play-calling could help with this too. I’m sure people think I’m talking about deep shots with Ian Book only throwing one pass longer than 20 yards down the field against Duke. That is partially it, but I’m talking more about play selection. Specifically on first down.

Notre Dame ran on 20 of 34 1st down plays (58.9%). And that’s fine. It’s not that different from the split they had last season (57.9%). The big difference is that they weren’t very good running on first down. 3.85 yards per carry is not going to get it done.

They have to run better on first down, but I think Tommy Rees being aggressive throwing on first down is critical as well. Ian Book averaged over 11 yards per attempt on first down, primarily because of that screen to Williams. Rees also dialed up some other plays that could have made that average even bigger.

There was the play-action shot to Lawrence Keys on first down to start the fourth quarter and there was another screen that Book overthrew Williams that would have gone for massive yards if it was completed that also happened on first down.

I know one of the things Notre Dame is trying to do is establish the run and the RTDB crowd is going to want them to have a run down the other team’s throat type of mentality. But everybody knows that first down is primarily a run down in college football. It’s a predictable tendency. I’d like to see Rees continue to be aggressive and be a bit more unpredictable by throwing more on first down.

LSU was over 53% passing on first downs last season and were the epitome of a big play offense. They did more damage on first down than any other program with 16 more explosive plays in the passing game than the next closest team.

2. I don’t know if Joe Wilkins is going to be one of the receivers to step up and provide some of those 30-yards or more reception for the Notre Dame offense, but anyone who was surprised he was able to help the team against Duke hasn’t been reading any ISD practice reports the last couple of seasons.

I have been to dozens of Notre Dame practices over the last five years and it’s always surprising to me to see a player who rarely makes an impact on the practice field gets several opportunities to make plays on Saturdays. Wilkins was opposite of that where he always seemed to make plays, but never had a chance to shine on game day because there were others in front of him on the depth chart.

It’s nice to see him finally get his shot and hopefully he gets more chances to prove he can help the team.

3. One thing I liked seeing on offense against Duke was Williams being targeted seven times in the passing game. Several of those targets weren’t accurate throws by Book, but Williams has already shown he can evade tackles and make things happen after the catch.

To put those seven into perspective, compare that with Josh Adams only being targeted 20 times all season in 2017. Williams should end up having the biggest impact in the passing game by a running back since CJ Prosise in 2015 (26 catches).

I imagine we’ll see Tyree be more involved in the passing game as well possibly as early as this week.

4. I know no Notre Dame fan wants to picture any scenario without Kyle Hamilton playing, but if he has to sit out this weekend because of that ankle injury, it might not be a bad thing for the long term outlook of the defense.

DJ Brown (20 snaps) and Houston Griffith (12) played against Duke and were involved in the 3rd down defense. They both need to play a lot more with it being critical that Notre Dame develop depth at safety.

South Florida isn’t exactly a scary passing offense. They averaged 4.1 YPA against an FCS opponent last week and don’t have a receiver returning who caught more than 22 balls last season.

This is the matchup to get inexperienced players more snaps in the secondary.

5. If you were underwhelmed by the performance of the Buck linebackers in the season opener, let me remind you that Duke had only 24 called runs in the game. Marist Liufau and Shayne Simon didn’t exactly get to showcase themselves much.

That should change this week.

USF’s best players on offense play in the backfield and they are going to be a run-heavy offense this season.

It is interesting to note that Simon didn’t finish with a tackle credited to him in week one. Liufau wasn’t spectacular, but he was definitely around the football more.

6. In a lot of ways this week feels similar to after Louisville last season.

There were things that looked concerning (linebacker play) that ended up getting fixed in a hurry. There were some things that were concerning (Ian Book’s play) that took a lot longer to work itself out.

This should be a fun week because we’ll get to see if some young players can build off of what they showed against Duke, but I think everyone is more interested in seeing if there will be more production from the receivers, a more consistent performance from Ian Book, and more run blocking that looks like this.

via GIPHY

The offseason wasn’t normal. Camp wasn’t normal. But this week of practices after the first game should feel more normal than any the players have had in awhile.

Let’s see how getting closer to normal impacts the team this weekend.

 
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