Notre Dame’s passing game was a little erratic last season, but it was good, it was really good. The problem, however, is that when he was bad, he struggled mightily.
Notre Dame came out of the gate well and she certainly finished strong, but in the five games that started with Purdue and ended with USC, the Irish passing game largely struggled.
In the opener against Florida State, the Irish were aggressive with the passing game, mixing quick throws from the perimeter with effective shots from the field. Quarterback Jack Coan went for 366 yards and four touchdowns, and the Irish quarterbacks passed for 317 and three more scores a week later.
That’s when the good times of the passing game ended.
Over the next five games, the passing game struggled in many ways. Notre Dame averaged just 230.6 passing yards per game, 6.7 yards per attempt, completed just 56.1 percent of his passes, had a 122.37 passer rating and according to Pro Football Focus, the Irish quarterbacks have been pressured 45 times, including 40 in the first three games. of this section (Purdue, Wisconsin, Cincinnati).
Things started to change in the last two games of this difficult period, at least at times. Tyler Bucher had a stellar second quarter against Virginia Tech (5-8, 104 yards, 2 TDs) and Coan came off the bench to lead the Irish to 11 points in their last two practices to turn a 29-21 deficit into a 32-29 win.
Notre Dame’s passing game was solid against USC, the last game of this streak, but we really saw it start to take off in the 44-34 win over North Carolina.
That started a five-game regular season streak to wrap up the year in which Notre Dame averaged 265.4 passing yards per game, 9.4 yards per attempt, completing 74.5% of his assists, with a passer rating of 174.09.
There were several reasons for the improvements that go beyond the quality of the opposition, and if those areas continue into 2022, the Col de Notre Dame attack should be outstanding.
The biggest problem plaguing the passing offense last season was protection breakdowns. Notre Dame ranked 100th in sacks allowed last season, and while you can always attribute sacks to the quarterback, the reality is the line struggled mightily.
I don’t have enough fingers on my hand to count the number of times I’ve seen open receivers not receive the ball during that tough five-game streak, and the main reason was that quarterbacks didn’t simply didn’t have enough time to go much further than their first reading, and sometimes that didn’t even happen.
Offensive coordinator after the bye week Tommy Ree rightly changed course. Knowing the line couldn’t protect the quarterback consistently, Rees incorporated a lot more quick throws into the offense in the form of quick reads, perimeter screens, shorter level concepts and creative use of free versions to beat the blitz instead of trying to protect as much as possible. .
Rees used the speed he possessed in attack to get the ball to his best players more frequently, and the lack of quality opposition made that even better.
He managed to mix in enough deep shots to keep the defense honest, and with teams more focused on defending Irish athletes in space, it opened up more effective opportunities on the pitch.
During the poor five-game streak discussed above, the offense went just 5-24 on shots that went over the line at least 20 yards (according to PFF) and 21-42 on shots between 11 and 19 meters beyond the line. That combined for 26-66 for 545 yards and five touchdowns with five picks on throws that went over 10 yards.
Over the past six games, the attempts were the same (66), but that obviously meant they were attempting fewer shots from the field per game. The trade-off was that it was much more efficient.
In those games, the quarterbacks completed 11–26 deep balls for 372 yards and 23–40 intermediate throws for 506 yards. On throws beyond 10 yards, the quarterbacks went 34-66 for 878 yards and eight touchdowns to just two interceptions.
The fast passing offense and improved on-field efficiency helped protect quarterbacks, and it also opened up the running game.
IMPROVING PASS PROTECTION IS KEY
The line also performed better during that streak, showing that when Notre Dame quarterbacks had time to throw, they were dangerous.
We saw it in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State and their Top 10 National Defense, as the Irish shredded the Cowboys in the first half. Notre Dame beat them on all counts taking a 28-14 halftime lead.
In the second half, protection issues resurfaced and the offense was hampered by sub-par receiver play in the final 30 minutes, which I think will be fixed (I’ll discuss this tomorrow).
Rees getting into the quick game and adding a lot more RPO on offense has been very effective and should absolutely continue in 2022. There’s no reason not to continue to build on that, and he has the weapons at each position to continue to make these concepts very effective. and dangerous.
Using his speed to execute more hunting concepts (working on the ground rather than vertically as much) and using movement and formations to create more isolations was very effective.
Rees has thrown new wrinkles at teams every week for the past six games, and that can and should continue into 2022.
But if Notre Dame wants to shred teams like Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, etc. like she did in Oklahoma State in the first half and the other inferior opponents she faced in late 2021, she can’t just outplay teams with fast, short throws with the occasional efficiency vertical passing game.
Some of those downstream concepts that I mentioned earlier, where receivers were constantly opening up and not being found due to protection issues, must be starting to get affected.
Under Harry Histand the offensive line must thrive in protection if this passing game is going to dominate as it is capable of. Rees learned in 2021 that he can protect the quarterback with his schemes, but if that’s combined with Hiestand’s unit that can also provide protection on the middle and deep shots, that passing game could be turned off.
ATTACK AT ALL LEVELS
My only complaint with Rees over the past two seasons was that I had over the previous 10 seasons that there was too much emphasis on individual routes and too much on horizontal stretching concepts. Sometimes the attack was too concentrated on the downstream routes. The offense relied on pass-catching talent without enough emphasis on open schemers.
So I don’t really see it as a Rees problem, it was more of a problem that was created by the man above him. This man is now gone and it becomes whatever Rees wants.
Later in the season we saw more balance, and Rees’ offense effectively attacked all three levels (short, middle, deep), it mixed vertical stretch, horizontal stretch, the concepts of triangle, RPOs and isolations in a very impressive way. It felt like a whole new offense from an accent standpoint, more so from a “these are new schemes” standpoint.
But it wasn’t just later in the season that we saw these concepts and emphasis. He was also a big part of the opener against Florida State and at times against Toledo before protection issues and a non-existent running offense halted things.
If you strip away that bad five-game streak, the numbers are very, very impressive. In those other eight games, the passing infraction
This must continue in 2022, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t.
Rees seemed to really come into his own in the second half of the season, and it seemed like he was much less bothered by the former head coach, who had a very clear view of what he wanted, even if that hadn’t proven effective for years.
If you look at the last six games and the first two games – so basically remove the bad five-game streak – Notre Dame’s passing offense showed the following numbers (eight games):
314.9 passing yards per game
9.0 yards per pass attempt
13.1 yards per completion
68.9% completion rate
166.85 passer rating
That would put Notre Dame on pace to surpass 4,000 passing yards if trailed for an entire season.
We’re not talking about a very good three-game streak, we’re talking about more than half a season. This leads me to believe that the offense is more than capable of doing this much more consistently.
The line needs to protect better, the receivers need to be coached better, and of course the quarterback’s game can be better. But the foundation was there, and we saw more than just flashes of it last season.
If what we’ve seen in those eight games becomes the norm, Notre Dame will FINALLY start putting one of the best passing games in the country on the court.
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Content of the Irish breakdown
Notre Dame List 2022
Schedule Notre-Dame 2022
Ranking of signatories 2022 – Attack
Ranking of signatories 2022 – Defense
Notre Dame 2023 Class Big Board
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