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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Notre Dame's Running Game vs Navy

August 29, 2023

Even though it’s a new offense, a new team, and new expectations, I don’t believe anyone went into the game thinking Sam Hartman wasn’t going to play well for Notre Dame.

It’s not just that he’s an experienced quarterback with a proven track record of success. It was also the fact that Navy’s pass defense was bad last season. Worse than bad, actually. They were 125th in yards per attempt allowed, 124th in pass efficiency, and 131st in EPA (expected points added) per pass.

Notre Dame’s running game was a different story.

You could forgive anyone for thinking it might be a slog to run the football effectively on Saturday. Navy not only shut down the Notre Dame running game in 2022, but they were very good at stopping just about everyone against the run. They were particularly good at stopping teams on first down where they only gave up 2.55 yards per carry (second in the country) and I would have guessed that Notre Dame was going to come out throwing to start the game before establishing the run.

Gerad Parker and the Notre Dame coaching staff might have wanted to prove a point after the embarrassing second half against Navy last season. The first play of the game they came out with 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) and motioned Jayden Thomas (83) as a slot, tight to the formation. He was essentially another H-back.

It was the old overload to one side and run counter to the opposite. Another way of saying it is “pin and pull”. Zeke Correll, Rocco Spindler, and Blake Fisher all down block and Pat Coogan (78, the left guard) pulls around followed by tight end Holden Staes (13) and Thomas.

Audric Estime does the rest and when he gets a head of steam going downhill, he’s going to run through tackles like he does here.

It went for a first down and it was a tone-setter. Notre Dame came to Ireland to run the football and drink some beer. And I guess they were all out of beer. (Note: they didn’t actually go there to drink beer, although I’m sure many fans did. This is a Dazed and Confused reference)

That was counter and later on that first drive Notre Dame was lined up in what looks like the same formation other than Tobias Merriweather (5) not being lined up quite as tight to the line. It would be easy to see this and expect counter if you’re a Navy defender. Instead of that, they run right at them and this is Duo.

The read for the back is the double team on the left, but from Coogan all the way down to the right side, they are making sure that no Navy defender can shoot a gap and can get penetration with Joe Alt and Mitchell Evans doing a great job with the double to create a big hole.

It’s simply one of those things that when a team had success running a play earlier out of one formation, you expect to see that again and Notre Dame did run counter again, just not on this play. It’s a great job of keeping a defense off balance without doing anything that overly complicated.

This was the exact same play and formation on JD Price’s touchdown. Navy is stemming (shifting) with their defensive linemen late and bringing a blitzer off the right side. The read changes because the alignment of the front changed, but this was something that the offensive line was clearly prepared for. There was zero confusion. Correll does a terrific job of getting out to the linebacker at the second level and it’s a house call for Price.

12 personnel doesn’t always mean teams have to line up tight either. Here they have both Staes and Evans out wide with twins to both sides of the field. This makes Navy have to choose whether or not to play the potential quick screen to Merriweather or Deion Colzie with the two tight ends blocking or outnumber Notre Dame inside.

They have the one linebacker bail out to play the potential screen to the field and that means it’s five on five in the box. It’s a nice look for Jeremiyah Love on his first career carry after he sees Alt drive his man off the ball. Those are easy yards.

That’s an RPO, but the numbers said to give to the back and Sam Hartman took it. Here’s another version of 12 personnel with Evans lined up in-line to the right side of the formation and Staes out as a slot to that same side. He comes in motion and this is just Duo up front with double teams from Coogan and Correll and also Spindler and Fisher at the point of attack. Staes is sealing the back side, but also making some defenders think that the ball might go that direction.

It’s a great job by Love showing patience, making a great cut, and then running hard to break a tackle, but it really checks all of the boxes. We see movement at the point of attack with the double teams, Alt picking up a blitzer and driving him across the formation, Rico Flores (17) dropping his corner with a vicious block, and the highlight for me is Staes sticking his block through the whistle to the point that 33 had to get his hands up into Staes’ facemask, which should have been called for a penalty.

A simple call, a varied formation with a little bit of motion thrown in, and a butt-whoopin’.

The last one is, you guessed it, also 12 personnel. Every single one of these runs had Evans and Staes on the field together, but they either switched up the formation or ran different plays out of the same formation.

Staes it out wide with trips to the field and it’s another RPO play where Hartman can either throw the quick screen outside or run it inside. He reads the two defenders running out to play the screen at the snap and gives late to Estime who runs it up inside because that is where Notre Dame now has the numbers advantage.

It’s all topped off with Fisher taking the safety for a ride and Evans continuing to stick on his block and drive his defender 10-yards down the field.

None of this was fancy. It was just really well done by Parker without being overly complicated. Throw in some good work up front by the O-line and tight ends, some hard running from the backs, smart decision-making by the quarterback, and it all added up to a dominating run game that showed Navy that this was not last year’s Notre Dame offense.

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