The improvised flips Ian Book made to wide receiver Ben Skowronek and tight end Michael Mayer may have received more attention, but another pair of throws made by the Notre Dame quarterback in the 31-17 win at North Carolina shouldn’t be forgotten.
Book completed a pair of passes to wide receiver Javon McKinley that were both caught at least 40 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Book had completed a pass that far downfield only once all season prior to Friday’s game.
Notre Dame’s third drive against UNC started with a 43-yard completion that McKinley caught 40 yards from the line of scrimmage. In the third quarter, the Irish started another drive with a 53-yard completion to McKinley that was grabbed 46 yards downfield.
The second deep completion to McKinley became the farthest caught pass of the season for the Irish. The previous season-high came on McKinley’s 45-yard diving catch against Clemson
Book has upped his trust in his receivers and found more success on deep passes since the Pittsburgh game. That’s when he completed his first pass beyond 30 yards of the line of scrimmage this season — a heave to Skowronek 38 yards downfield on a 73-yard touchdown.
Now Book has completed five passes beyond the 30-yard mark this season with them all coming in the past five games. He doesn’t have to make those throws with regularity to change how defenses have to defend Notre Dame. A couple here and there can make a big difference.
Beyond 30 yards this season, Book is 5-of-14 for 267 yards and one touchdown.
Let’s take a closer look at what else the Irish offense did well against North Carolina.
Book only threw six passes against North Carolina that his receivers didn’t have much of a chance at catching and four of those were throwaways. Only two incomplete passes were significantly off the mark: a short pass thrown behind Skowronek and an overthrown pass to wide receiver Avery Davis down the sideline.
Book’s other four incompletions came on two dropped passes, one pass breakup and one 50-50 throw into the end zone for Skowronek.
Book finished 23-of-33 for 279 yards and one touchdown, but his four throwaways are excluded from this breakdown of his intended throws charted in relation to the line of scrimmage.
Behind the line to 0 yards: 5-of-6 for 16 yards and one TD with one drop.
1-5 yards: 6-of-7 for 50 yards with one off-target throw.
6-10 yards: 8-of-8 for 89 yards.
11-15 yards: 2-of-3 for 28 yards with one drop.
16-20 yards: 0-of-1 with one 50-50 throw.
21-30 yards: 0-of-2 with one off-target throw and one PBU.
31-plus yards: 2-of-2 for 96 yards
Book accounted for the majority of his passing yardage through the air with his passes being completed at a combined depth of 178 yards (7.7 yards per completion) and the receivers adding 101 yards after the catch (4.4 yards per catch).
Despite missing two starters on the offensive line, Notre Dame’s pass protection kept its pressure rate nearly identical to its percentage through the first eight games of the season.
Book was pressured on 11 of his 38 dropbacks against North Carolina for a pressure rate of 28.9 percent. Prior to Friday’s game, the Irish were allowing a pressure rate of 28.2 percent.
Senior Josh Lugg did struggle a bit in replacing Tommy Kraemer (appendectomy) at right guard. He allowed three of the 12 individual pressures — one dropback had two pressures — in pass protection. Book put himself in harm’s way twice. An unblocked defender pressured Book twice. And running back Kyren Williams allowed pressure twice.
The other three pressures came against right tackle Robert Hainsey, left tackle Liam Eichenberg and running back Chris Tyree.
The pressures provided by North Carolina resulted in some good and some bad for the Irish. The Tar Heels sacked Book twice and forced five incomplete passes — three throwaways and two off-target throws. But Book did complete four of those passes for 62 yards including his four-yard touchdown pass to Williams.
North Carolina didn’t try to overwhelm Book with pressure. The Tar Heels sent more than four pass rushers on only 10 dropbacks and never more than five defenders. Here’s how the Irish fared against the various pass rush numbers.
Three-man rush (4 times): 3-of-3 for 45 yards. One run for four yards. No pressures.
Four-man rush (24 times): 15-of-22 for 168 yards and 1 TD. Two throwaways, two drops, one off-target throw, one PBU and one 50-50 throw. Two sacks for -15 yards. Seven pressures.
Five-man rush (10 times): 5-of-8 for 66 yards. Two throwaways and one off-target throw. Two runs for 18 yards. Four pressures.
Notre Dame’s running game didn’t suffer with Kraemer and center Jarrett Patterson (foot) sidelined either. Lugg and sophomore Zeke Correll routinely took care of business up front. They took their lumps at times, but they weren’t obvious weaknesses.
The Irish averaged 6.7 yards per carry on designed runs against North Carolina. Excluding Book’s two quarterback draws for eight yards, the Irish ran inside 16 times for 92 yards and one touchdown for an average of 5.8 yards.
That didn’t quite match the production on outside runs — 11 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns (8.5 yards per carry) — but the Irish have typically found more success on the outside this season with so many outside zone plays.
All three rushing touchdowns went to the right side, where the Irish averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Runs to the left side of the line worked even better at 8.3 yards per carry.
Notre Dame’s running game helped the Irish take advantage of play-action fakes. The two deepest completions to McKinley came following play fakes. Book finish 5-of-8 for 131 yards and rushed once for no gain when using a play fake.
Notre Dame’s most productive personnel package came with two tight ends on the field. From 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), the Irish averaged 11.2 yards per play. Book was 9-of-12 for 148 yards and ran twice, including one sack, for five yards. The nine designed runs in 12 personnel totaled 104 yards.
The Irish still opted to keep three wide receivers on the field more than any other personnel grouping. The 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) was used for 30 plays compared to 23 plays from 12 personnel. The Irish were pass-heavy (70% dropbacks) out of 11 personnel and averaged 5.7 yards per play regardless of the play call.
Notre Dame also used 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) 11 times, 14 personnel twice and 23 personnel once.
The final touchdown run by Williams came out of 14 personnel to keep the scoring rate high with four tight ends on the field. The Irish have scored nine touchdowns on 13 plays from 14 personnel. For the first time this season, Book completed a pass with four tight ends on the field when he connected with tight end George Takacs for a 13-yard gain to set up the final Williams touchdown.
The 14 personnel is typically used in short-yardage situations, so it’s only totaled 24 yards on 13 plays.