Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | Avoiding the Havoc

December 27, 2018
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College football analytics savant Bill Connelly started tracking Havoc Rate in 2014. You’ve probably seen me mention it quite a bit over the last few years on Irish Sports Daily, but in case you are unclear on what it is, Havoc Rate is a team's total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays.

It’s now been five seasons that he has tracked it and Connelly might have to rename it the Venables Rate at some point. Based on how Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defenses have finished in this category, it’s not far-fetched to believe it could happen.

From 2014 until now, his defenses have been ranked 1st. 5th, 4th, 5th, and 4th in Havoc Rate. It wouldn’t have happened without the athletes he’s coached and recruited. This current Clemson defensive line is a great example of that.

However, it’s far more than just having a bunch of studs across the board responsible for creating havoc. Venables’ aggressive and unpredictable strategy when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback has a lot to do with it as well.

Everyone has been talking about Clemson’s front four heading into this game and for good reason. It’s an exceptional group with some talented players rotating in as well. But there is less said about what Venables does to put them into great positions where they can affect the quarterback.

Ian Book and Notre Dame have to be ready for the blitz at all times in this game. It’s something I’m sure they have prepared for diligently throughout the last month and they need to be ready for all scenarios in order to beat the blitz and avoid the havoc Venables wants.

Get into the Right Protections

Book is a confident football player right now and why shouldn’t he be? He’s come in and performed like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He has to be confident in every decision he makes to succeed in this game because indecision will cost him.

That’s not just after the snap, but before the snap. He’ll need to know where his outlets are and he’ll have to play a big role in helping the offensive line with protection calls.

Clemson won’t make it easy. They are going to do their best to confuse and show that they are bringing rushers when they might only be rushing four like on this particular play. South Carolina is keeping seven in to protect with Clemson only rushing four, but the confusion meant that the line was sliding left and it left a back to block defensive end Xavier Thomas.

via GIPHY

The back was supposed to get help from the tight end, but didn’t. Regardless of that, Notre Dame doesn’t want to be in many (or any) situations where a back has to block a defensive end one on one. It’s not going to end very well.

Earlier in the game South Carolina did have the right protection called against a six man pressure from Clemson. Even though the back did a bad job against the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback was still able to have enough time to take advantage of a safety lined up against a slot receiver.

via GIPHY

If Book sees cover zero (man with no safety in the middle of the field), he needs to take advantage of it just like South Carolina did.

This Chris Finke touchdown did feature a deep safety, but Book had the right read with Finke matched up in man against USC’s nickelback. He also had the right call in with max protection and it gave him enough time to make this throw.

via GIPHY

Make the Right Reads

That was a great example of identifying the blitz and making the right read. That’s going to be critical for him to do if Notre Dame is going to move the the chains with passing game. He’ll have a plan in place when the play is called, but he’ll need to adjust accordingly in order to not have this happen.

This is a terrible job by Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, He’s not helped by the lookout block by his right tackle, but right away he is fighting a losing proposition with his focus to the right side with three defenders covering two receivers. He doesn’t see anything immediately open and is sacked.

via GIPHY

He had two on two to his left and safety Tanner Muse in man coverage on the slot receiver. If that’s Chris Finke or Michael Young, that can be a win for Notre Dame as Muse isn’t suited to cover quicker players in man.

Earlier in the game it was the same scenario where Pickett did get rid of the ball quickly to the slot on an out versus Muse. The throw was not great, but it was the right read against the same kind of look from Clemson.

via GIPHY

When Book sees this, he should attack it all day long.

South Carolina is motioning the back out to empty on this play and Clemson looked like they had a check to a blitz from the linebacker when that happened. The quarterback ended up throwing it away and was probably never intending to throw the swing to the back, but should have once he saw the blitz.

via GIPHY

It’s a split second reaction and very difficult to do, but those are the kind of reads that Book will have to be prepared to make with heat coming his way.

Always Be Prepared

This is the scout motto, but it can be pretty much used for any life situation. I personally think it fits pretty well when getting ready for the blitz.

Notre Dame needs to always be prepared for an attack with extra rushers from Venables that can happen at any moment. Most coordinators would sit back and drop eight into coverage on 3rd and 28 play like this against Pitt. Venables unexpectedly brings six rushers out of his dime package and the end result is a pick by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

via GIPHY

There isn’t a moment that Venables lets the opposing team off easy. Sometimes he will drop eight, but if a quarterback expects him to then that’s probably the moment Venables will bring the house.

The Irish will need to have a blitz beaters at the ready. Clemson is bringing seven on this play and Texas A&M caught them by leaking the tight end out for a big play.

via GIPHY

It’s not always going to be there, but there always needs to be an option. It’s no different than having Tony Jones Jr. leak out against USC for the nail in the coffin touchdown against an all out blitz. If they drop and cover it, so be it. But if they don’t, then the Irish need to take advantage of it.

via GIPHY

Book has not been great against the blitz this season. Since the Stanford game I have him completing 50.7% of his throws, which is a far cry from his normal completion percentage. His yards per attempt is 7.1, down from the 8.8 he had this season.

With those numbers, it would be surprising if Clemson didn’t blitz Book often. They already do it regularly and may even increase their normal rate in this game. Without Dexter Lawrence pushing the pocket from the inside, it could be something that gets them to do so even more than they had orignally planned.

The good news is that Book had his best game against the blitz in his most recent one. He completed 58.3% of his passes, 8.75 YPA, and had the two touchdowns I used in these GIFs. The amount USC blitzed him was the best preparation he could get for a game like this aside from the extra time in practice he’s had getting ready for Clemson.

I don’t think hid completion percentage is going to be in the 70s if they bring pressure as much as I think they will. It’s more important for him to be productive on the completions that he has like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and South Carolina Jake Bentley were. They completed 57.5% and 64% respectively against Clemson, but both of them put up over 10 yards per attempt.

Book is capable of doing the same if he helps Notre Dame get into the right protections, makes the right reads, and is always prepared for Clemson to blitz on any play.

 
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