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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Can Notre Dame Rattle Lawrence?

December 22, 2018
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Normally when a defense is getting ready to play against a true freshman quarterback, they are licking their chops. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is not a normal freshman, though.

Since his first year in high school, Lawrence is 61-2 as a starter. He was a 5-star recruit and Pro Football Focus gave him a higher grade this season than any other freshman quarterback in the FBS since they started tracking it. Out of all quarterbacks he finished 12th in Total QBR and 19th in pass efficiency.

Statistically, he is the best the Irish will face in 2018. In terms of raw talent, he’s at the top of the list too.

One of things Notre Dame has to do to limit Clemson’s offense is to make Lawrence play more like a freshman than the guy he has played like all year. That won’t be easy, but it’s possible if the Irish can manage to rattle Lawrence to affect his decision making before and after the snap.

Late Movement

Boston College was the best defense the Tigers faced this season according to S&P+ (28th). They gave up a lot of yards through the air, but managed to only allow 20 points on defense.

A lot of why they had more success than others was how they were able to confuse Lawrence with things before the ball was snapped. This is 3rd down in the red zone, an area of the field where Lawrence was incredibly efficient for most of the season.

BC is showing 6 potential rushers at the line of scrimmage, but they have the safety (8) shift to the middle of the field right before the ball is snapped. Three of those potential rushers drop out into a zone and they are bringing the boundary corner to make it four coming after Lawrence.

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He didn’t recognize the threat and when he tried to come off to his second read, the corner was right in his face to force an errant throw.

Later in the 1st quarter on another 3rd down play, BC messes with Lawrence again by showing five rushers and dropping the edge defender to the boundary to the flat. That took away the easy throw to move the sticks and Lawrence was unable to see the same safety who dropped to the middle earlier come as a blitzer from the opposite side. The slant was open, but it was too late for him to get rid of the ball.

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This next one isn’t a pass play, but what BC does confuses the read from Lawrence (or the sideline on a “check with me”).

It’s a two high safety look and Clemson is going to run the ball because of it. When the safeties see the hand signal from Lawrence letting the center know to get ready to snap it, one safety shifts down to add in as a run defender and the other drops back into the middle of the field.

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It ends up as a short gain up the middle.

If Notre Dame stays static with the looks they give in coverage, Lawrence is going to take advantage. It’s critical that they confuse him to never let him get comfortable like he’s been far too often this season.

Get Them into 3 and Long

What Lawrence did this year might be enough to convince some people that aliens exist. Regular humans aren’t supposed to do what he has done at his age.

He makes very few mistakes. He somehow fits the “game manager” description while still being able to make every throw to any area of the field because his arm is so exceptional. That’s why so many people are already excited about him as an NFL prospect.

Those who are talking that way should slow their role a bit, though. He is a fantastic player, but he’s not without an Achilles Heel.

Like a lot of quarterbacks, Lawrence’s is 3rd and long. He’s only completed 49% of his passes on 3rd and 6+. On 3rd and 7-9 yards specifically, his quarterback rating drops 22 points, he’s completed 46.2% of his passes, and he’s only moved the chains on 8 of 26 throws (30.7%).

I’m sure he will improve, but that’s who he has been on 3rd and long this season.

It’s not a coincidence that he’s struggled more in these situations. A lot of quarterbacks do, especially freshman. Teams tend to bring more pressure and mix up coverages more often. Not many quarterbacks handle that well. Lawrence has been exceptional in most other situations, but that hasn’t been the case on 3rd and long.

Knowing that he might not have the time that he would typically have, Lawrence has a tendency to lock into his first read more. On this 3rd and 8 against Pitt, he only had eyes for Amari Rogers to the field running an out. I don’t know if it’s because he was sensing the pressure, but he pretty much let this go blindly rather than moving off to another option. As a result, this was almost picked off.

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I’m not sure if it he felt the blitz on this 3rd and 13, but again he locked on his one guy and missed. The throw was low or else the safety might have had a shot at this.

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Before he got knocked out of the game against Syracuse, he struggled in his first start and the 5 man pressure got to him before he was forced to throw it away.

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He’s a good athlete, but doesn’t want to be a runner in these situations. He’s only ran the ball 5 times all year on 3rd and long. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t had to be and he will more in a game like this, but having him scramble on 5 of 54 drop backs should open things up for Clark Lea in how he plans to attack Lawrence.

It’s not just about getting pressure on him. It’s about making him uncomfortable. Sometimes that means hitting him. Other times that means confusing him by switching coverage looks or forcing him into obvious passing situations.

As good as Lawrence has been, Notre Dame is going to want to make him be the guy to beat them in order to put up points. He may prove to be exceptional, but if the Irish are doing what they need to do, then they’ll make him look closer to an ordinary freshman.

 
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