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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator Gerad Parker Searches for “Magic Formula”

March 28, 2023
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Gerad Parker assumed control of one of the most talented Notre Dame offenses of the last decade when coach Marcus Freeman promoted him to offensive coordinator. 

It’s a big job and Parker has walked with an extra pep in his step ever since. 

“He'll make fun of me for saying this, but he's got a little swagger to him now  — a little more than he had before,” Irish tight end Kevin Bauman said of Parker. “He's got a little something to him now. But that, of course, comes with bigger responsibilities.”

The Fighting Irish finished 2022 with the No. 41 scoring offense out of 131 FBS programs, averaging 31.8 points per game. 

It’s the program's lowest scoring output since reaching the 2018 season when Notre Dame reached the College Football Playoffs. That fall, the Fighting Irish found success by relying on a top-10 defense, according to S&P+.

The Irish finished with the No. 47 rated defense in 2022 and lost Isaiah Foskey, the program’s all-time sack leader, to the NFL Draft after the season. So Notre Dame likely can’t count on a dominant defense in 2023, especially with projected top-five offenses like Ohio State and USC on the schedule. 

With so much talent on the other side of the ball, could the offense eclipse 38 points per game and lead Notre Dame back to the playoffs? 

Parker might have the pieces to do just that, but he must figure out the best talent combinations to employ.

“I keep on telling myself,” Parker said, “what’s best for Notre Dame, and who are the guys that we know need to touch that ball to provide the strengths it’s going to take for us to be great on offense? That’s going to be the focus. What are the pieces that make us really good?”

It starts under the center. In the last two seasons, Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman produced 8,422 total yards and 90 touchdowns. 

“That guy’s been in a lot of lights, made a lot of throws under duress, played a lot of football and seen it go up and down. So you’ll see a guy that’s mature and can handle success and failure. So that leadership breeds some confidence through people.”

Of course, Hartman must earn the job over the dynamic Tyler Buchner and adapt to Notre Dame’s playbook terminology and pro-style offense.

He also needs to learn to line up under center after operating out of the shotgun for most of his college career. 

“Those are things that he hasn’t done that seem simple,” Parker said, “but they aren’t so simple once you get in there and see 10 other guys looking at you and you’ve got to control a huddle and break it."

Hartman will have plenty of support — assuming he wins the job, that is. 

Three FBS programs return rushing duos where both running backs averaged at least 66.0 yards per game in 2022.

Notre Dame’s Running Back Duo

Player Year Carries Yards YPC Touchdowns YPG
Audric Estimé So. 156 920 5.9 11 70.77
Logan Diggs So. 165 822 4.98 4 68.5

Michigan’s Running Back Duo

Player Year Carries Yards YPC Touchdowns YPG
Blake Corum Jr. 247 1463 5.92 18 121.92
Donovan Edwards So. 140 991 7.08 7 90.09

Penn State’s Running Back Duo

Player Year Carries Yards YPC Touchdowns YPG
Nicholas Singleton Fr. 156 1061 6.8 12 81.62
Kaytron Allen Fr. 167 867 5.19 10 66.69

Could Notre Dame produce two 1,000-yard backs in 2023? Parker might prefer to keep the room fresh by rotating in younger backs like Jadarian Price, Gi'Bran Payne and Jeremiyah Love.

Whoever is in the backfield should run behind one of college football's most talented offensive lines. 

Analysts rated Joe Alt the best left tackle in college football last fall. He produced the best Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade among offensive tackles and ranked No. 1 overall.  

Opposing defenses must contend with a trimmer Blake Fisher at right tackle. The rising sophomore showed up at the first spring practice listed at 310 pounds.

Meanwhile, center Zeke Correll is up to 300 pounds. The former top-100 prospect proved last fall he’s capable of holding up for an entire season.

The Irish still need to fill both guard positions. Michael Carmody and Andrew Kristofic received first-team reps at left and right guard in the media's limited spring practice viewings. Rocco Spindler and Billy Schrauth are also legitimate contenders for both spots. All four are former top-200 high school recruits.

“We know our identity,” Parker said. “When I stand in the huddle next to our offensive line, I feel more confident. We’ll grow. We’ve got to get better and all those things. But our identity starts in there and builds out.”

The program also has more depth on the outside than it has in years. The Irish signed nine top-150 wide receivers in the last 10 cycles, and five are currently on campus. 

Top-150 Notre Dame Wide Receiver Signees since 2014

No. 37 Jordan Johnson, 2020

No. 82 Kevin Austin, 2018

No. 95 Justin Brent, 2014

No. 102 Deion Colzie, 2021

No. 115 Lorenzo Styles, 2021

No. 114 Javon McKinley, 2016 

No. 121 Tobias Merriweather, 2022

No. 136 Braylon James, 2023

No. 138 Jaden Greathouse, 2023

Notre Dame also has Jayden Thomas, Kaleb Smith and Rico Flores, each of whom could contribute significantly next fall. 

Thomas led the wideouts in receiving last fall with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, Smith earned Honorable-Mention All-ACC and Flores is an advanced route runner, despite being an early enrollee.

Parker is also looking for more speed at the position. Running back Chris Tyree is working at wide receiver this spring. He possesses verified 4.3 speed and could become dynamic working out of the slot. 

“We’re going to continue to build on the perimeter to make sure we put ourselves in a position where we can win in space, too,” Parker said.

The only position where Notre Dame could experience a step back is at tight end. Michael Mayer declared for the NFL Draft after leading the Irish in receiving in 2022 with 67 catches for 809 yards and nine scores. 

The rest of the room returns but combined for seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. 

Still, tight ends like Mitchell Evans, Eli Raridon and Holden Staes are talented enough to start for most teams in the country. Plus, Parker is still their position coach at a university that prides itself on dominant tight end play. 

“We’re Tight End U, so I feel like Coach Parker is still going to utilize us,” Evans said. “Great running backs room, receivers. I feel like Coach Parker will find a way to get all of us involved with different sets, different personnel groupings. We’ve done some new stuff here. 

“He’s a big sail (route) guy as well. Mesh routes, triangle read, snag all that stuff. It’s a great identity for us to have.”

The Notre Dame offense has all the ingredients to reach new heights this fall: a top-tier quarterback, an experienced running back duo, an offensive line expected to contend for the Joe Moore Award and its deepest wide receiver room in years. 

This fall, Parker must figure out how to mix everything together, but he gets the chance to try out and develop various combinations throughout Notre Dame’s 15 spring practices.

“That’s going to be the magic formula, I guess,” Parker said. “There are things you naturally are going to lean towards that you liked to do in past jobs or past things you’ve done. Then the first thing we focus on… I want to make sure we just lean on what is best for Notre Dame.”

 
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