There was plenty of blame to go around for Notre Dame’s passing game struggles against Duke.
The Irish played most of the game without arguably their three best wide receivers — Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy and Ben Skowronek. Quarterback Ian Book wasn’t precise with some of his easy throws and rarely challenged the defense down the field. And the pass protection for Book looked quite rusty too against a formidable defensive line.
Let’s take a closer look at how the offense fared against Duke in its 27-13 victory Saturday.
Book finished 19-of-31 passing for 263 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception against Duke.
He did so by attempting just two passes more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage and his pass catchers doing most of the work after the catch. Book completed passes at an average of 4.4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Irish pass catchers averaged 9.8 yards after the catch — a number greatly aided by the 75-yard screen pass to running back Kyren Williams.
Of Book’s 12 incompletions, eight were thrown off target to varying degrees, including his one interception. Two of them were throwaways, one was dropped by tight end Tommy Tremble and one was a jump ball that wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. couldn’t track down.
Here’s how Book attacked the Duke defense in terms of throwing depth. Book’s two throwaways are not included in these numbers.
Behind the line to 0: 5-of-8 for 113 yards with three off-target throws.
1-5 yards: 6-of-10 for 49 yards and 1 INT with three off-target throws and one drop.
6-10 yards: 5-of-5 for 54 yards.
11-15 yards: 2-of-4 for 30 yards with one off-target throw and one jump ball.
16-20 yards: N/A.
21-30 yards: 1-of-1 for a 17-yard TD.
31-plus yards: 0-of-1 with an off-target throw.
Book was pressured by Duke on 14 of his 38 dropbacks for a pressure rate of 36.8 percent. Only two opponents pressured Book at a higher rate last season: Michigan (38.7) and New Mexico (37.9).
The 14 pressured dropbacks were the result of 15 individual pressures from Duke defenders. Right tackle Robert Hainsey put in the worst pass protection performance on the offensive line in allowing three pressures. The rest of the offensive linemen — left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer — allowed one pressure each.
Four pressures came from unblocked defenders. Running back Kyren Williams failed twice in his pass protection help, and tight end Tommy Tremble allowed one pressure too. Book had himself to blame on one pressure as well.
Book didn’t handle Duke’s pressure well. He finished 5-of-11 passing for 45 yards against pressure. His six incompletions came on four off-target throws and two throwaways. Book was also sacked three times for a loss of 14 yards.
Duke never overloaded Notre Dame’s pass protection. On only five occasions did Duke send as many pass rushers as the Irish had blockers. Duke pressured Book on three of those five dropbacks. But Book also completed his 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Avery Davis with a six-man pass rush testing a six-man pass protection.
Here’s how Book fared against Duke’s varying degrees of pass rush.
Three-man rush (1 time): One run for three yards.
Four-man rush (22 times): 12-of-19 for 181 yards with one interception. Six off-target throws and one throwaway. Three runs for no yards including two sacks. Eight pressures.
Five-man rush (13 times): 6-of-10 for 65 yards. Two off-target throws, one jump ball and one throwaway. Three runs for three yards including one sack. Six pressures.
Six-man rush (2 times): 1-of-2 for 17 yards and 1 TD. One drop. No pressures.
Notre Dame’s base personnel grouping against Duke included three wide receivers. The Irish used three wide receivers on 39 of their 72 offensive plays (54 percent). The offense used two tight ends 22 times, three tight ends eight times, two running backs twice and four tight ends once.
Here’s how well each personnel combination produced.
Three wide receivers: 39 plays for 262 yards and 1 TD (6.7 yards per play).
28 dropbacks (72%): 14-of-22 passing for 191 yards and 1 TD. Six runs for eight yards including two sacks.
11 designed runs (28%): 63 yards.
Two tight ends: 22 plays for 102 yards and 1 TD (4.6 yards per play).
14 designed runs (64%): 50 yards and 1 TD.
8 dropbacks (46%): 4-of-7 for 54 yards and 1 INT. One sack for a loss of 2 yards.
Three tight ends: 8 plays for 36 yards (4.5 yards per play).
6 designed runs (75%): 18 yards.
2 dropbacks (25%): 1-of-2 for 18 yards.
Two running backs: 2 plays for 26 yards (13 yards per play).
2 designed runs: 26 yards.
Four tight ends: 1 play for 1 yard and 1 TD
1 designed runs: 1 yard and 1 TD.
Screens and playfakes
Notre Dame found a lot of production in the screen game to the tune of 4-of-5 passing for 113 yards with 130 yards after the catch.
Playfakes weren’t nearly productive, but they brought a good amount of success. Book completed four passes on six attempts for 65 yards following playfakes. He also scrambled once for eight yards.
Notre Dame used a playfake on Book’s longest pass attempt of the day — an overthrow of wide receiver Lawrence Keys III running 35 yards downfield on the first play of the fourth quarter.