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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Passing Game Can Get Aggressive Against North Carolina

September 23, 2022

There is little question Notre Dame’s offense is where Tommy Rees wants it to be as the Fighting Irish enter week four. 

The offense has lacked a true identity and to make life more challenging, Rees lost starting quarterback Tyler Buchner for the year in week two. 

Enter North Carolina. 

The Tar Heels enter Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill as one of the worst defenses in college football and it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Irish offense from a confidence and production perspective. 

North Carolina Defense (National Rankings)
Points per Game: 37.7 (119)
Rushing Yards per Game: 193.0 (111) 
Passing Yards per Game: 275.3 (111) 
Total Defense: 468.3 (123) 

Yes, it’s early in the season, so the numbers can seem worse than they are, but in this case, North Carolina has a bad defense no matter how you present it. Remember, Appalachian State scored 40 points in the fourth quarter against Mack Brown’s squad. 

Notre Dame will have a chance to attack the UNC defense down the field, which is something Rees didn’t even think about last weekend against Cal as Drew Pyne threw three passes that went more than 10 yards. 

Rees admits he had to reset after Pyne’s rough start, but some of it was due to Cal’s defense as the Golden Bears take away big play opportunities with its defensive structure. 

“Certainly, we had vertical shots to Mike (Mayer),” Rees explained. “The second drive, we missed it. We had the vertical shot with Chris (Tyree) for the touchdown. A little bit of it is always by team. Cal’s a post-high NFL-style defense where they’re going to keep the top on things. So seam balls can attack them, but posts and those type of deals probably a little less of the area of the field you try to attack.

You have things in the game plan where you have to feel out the game for a little bit and where your quarterback is at when you call those. A lot of that stuff depends upon the week of practice, certainly, and then getting the quarterback in a nice rhythm early and still have the ability to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to let these couple rip.’ We’ll continue to attack that. We’re always looking for weaknesses in the defense and trying to expose those. We had a couple shots at it Saturday and we’ll try to add some of those.” 

How have other offensive coordinators attacked the North Carolina defense? They haven’t been afraid to attack all areas of the intermediate and deep areas of the field. The success varies, but it’s clear chunk plays are there for the taking. 

Florida A&M QB Jeremy Moussa

Yardage Outside Left Between Numbers Outside Right
0 0/0 5/5, 20 yards 1/1, 6 yards
1-9 1/1, 7 yards 8/9, 75 yards 4/6, 25 yards
10-19 3/6, 48 yards 4/5, 63 yards 1/4, 13 yards, 1 INT
20+  0/0 0/0 1/1, 22 yards, 1 TD

Appalachian State QB Chase Brice 

Yardage Outside Left Between Numbers Outside Right
0 1/1, 5 yards 3/4, 8 yards 1/1, 1 yard
1-9 1/1, 11 yards 7/9, 91 yards, 1 TD 1/2, 4 yards
10-19 1/3, 17 yards 0/1 3/3, 35 yards, 2 TD
20+  2/2, 41 yards 1/3, 26 yards, 1 TD 4/6, 123 yards, 2 TD

Georgia State QB Darren Grainger

Yardage Outside Left Between Numbers Outside Right
0 2/2, 5 yards 3/4, 9 yards 0/0
1-9 1/2, 4 yards 4/6, 27 yards 2/2, 18 yards
10-19 0/1 1/1, 17 yards 2/2, 27 yards, 1 TD
20+  0/2 1/2, 49 yards, 1 TD 1/1, 29 yards, 1 TD

Notre Dame has speed at the receiver position in Lorenzo Styles and Braden Lenzy, but neither has completely shown they can consistently be a deep threat. Both have made big plays down the field this year and in the past and Saturday could present a chance to attack vertically. 

Rees wants to get the receivers involved more in the passing game, but he also has a responsibility to call plays to the strength of the Irish personnel or momentum of the current game. 

“That’s certainly more about the flow of the game Saturday than anything about the wideouts,” Rees said this week. “That was more about what we were able to do and what we were doing well and what Drew was comfortable with in those moments more than anything else. We wanted, in his first start, to make sure we were running things he felt supremely confident in. As we continue to rep and continue to get practice under his belt and make sure he’s ready to go, we’ll continue to build the camaraderie and the timing with those guys. But that’s more about game flow than anything else.” 

The Irish run game also showed signs of life over the last three quarters and Rees rode it over taking chances with a first-time starting quarterback downfield against a defense that limits big shots. 

“We were running the ball at a high (level) and had some easy completions to the wideouts in the flat and things like that,” explained Rees. “We have to continue to have them involved and make sure we’re doing things offensively to get the ball down the field.” 

All eyes will be on the Notre Dame passing game this weekend, but it will be the run game that determines how much success the Irish offense will have on Saturday. 

Notre Dame’s run game averaged 4.0 yards per carry (2nd quarter) and 4.8 yards per carry (3rd quarter) against Cal. That’s by no means great, but it was progress and Rees hopes to see that trend continue this week. 

“It certainly helps develop an identity and give you a call you feel like, ‘Hey, we’re going to execute this and stay ahead of the sticks,’” said Rees. “It’s a little bit of a safety net when you feel like you can do some of those things. But we’re going continue to strive to get better there and at the other spots. Hopefully these next couple weeks, we can put the pieces all together so it can be multi-faceted and teams have to defend us a couple different ways.” 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish OHT Military Appreciation Quarter-Zip Hoodie 

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