Analysis: Charting QB Ian Book's passing success against Wake Forest
The production of Notre Dame’s offense against Wake Forest speaks for itself.
With Ian Book at quarterback on Saturday, the Irish scored touchdowns on eight of nine drives from late in the first quarter to early in the fourth quarter.
The 56 points scored were the most in a true road game for Notre Dame since a 57-7 win at Stanford in 2003.
But how exactly did the Irish expose Wake Forest’s defense? It came with a mix of strong performances by Book and the offensive line, and a scheme that set up Notre Dame’s skill players in positions to succeed.
These are the most important numbers from Notre Dame’s passing game that I charted during a close rewatch of the 56-27 victory.
• Book finished 25-of-34 passing (73.5 percent) for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Book frequently made quick and correct decisions, which allowed his receivers room to run. Only 128 of Book’s passing yards came directly through the air. A total of 199 yards came after the catch. Book’s average completion came just 5.12 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Book did have a longer average per throw on his nine incompletions. His total depth of incompletions (122) averaged out to 13.6 per throw.
Book’s overall depth of throws finished at 250 yards downfield with a 7.35 average.
• Book’s production came at the following throwing depths.
Behind or at the line of scrimmage: 8-of-8 for 117 yards.
1-5 yards: 12-of-14 for 103 yards and two touchdowns with one drop and one bad throw.
6-10 yards: 2-of-4 for 17 yards with one drop and one 50-50 throw.
11-15 yards: 0-of-2 with one drop and one throwaway.
16-20 yards: 1-of-3 for 24 yards with one overthrow.
21-30 yards: 2-of-2 for 64 yards.
31-plus yards: 0-of-1 with one overthrow.
• The screen game was much more effective with Book at the helm than it had been with demoted starter Brandon Wimbush. He completed all seven of his screen passes for 115 yards. Collectively, those throws came 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in 128 yards after the catch.
Book spread the wealth on screen passes to wide receiver Chris Finke (2 for 21 yards), tight end Alizé Mack (2 for 15), wide receiver Michael Young (1 for 66) and running backs Jafar Armstrong (1 for 7) and Avery Davis (1 for 6).
The previous week, Wimbush threw five screen passes for a net of three yards gained against Vanderbilt.
• Offensive coordinator Chip Long integrated play fakes on a number of Book’s dropbacks against Wake Forest — 16 by my count. Those play fakes resulted in 8-of-12 passing for 78 yards and one touchdown. Five of those completions came on screen passes. Three of the incompletions were a product of two overthrows and one throwaway.
The only time Book was sacked came on a play-fake dropback.
• Wake Forest could not muster much of a pass rush against Notre Dame’s offensive line. Only 10 of Book’s 41 dropbacks (24.4 percent) included a pressure on the quarterback. That’s the best protection the Irish offensive line has provided all season. The previous low for pressures came the week prior against Vanderbilt (11 of 31 dropbacks, 35.5 percent).
• Book didn’t find much production against those 10 pressures. He completed only three of seven passes for 16 yards including a seven-yard touchdown to Chase Claypool. Book’s incomplete passes against pressure included two overthrows, one 50-50 throw and one throwaway. Book rushed three times in an effort to escape pressure. Those resulted in a net of two yards including one sack.
• When Wake Forest did generate pressure, it came against Notre Dame’s offensive tackles. I assigned matchup losses to right tackle Robert Hainsey (3), left tackle Liam Eichenberg (3), right guard Trevor Ruhland (2) and running back Jafar Armstrong (1) on those pressures. One pressure came from an unblocked defender and another came from Book holding onto the ball too long and moving himself into pressure.
• Wake Forest didn’t try to bring extra pressure for much of the game. The Demon Deacons typically relied on just a four-man rush. That left Notre Dame’s offensive line with the advantage in most dropback situations.
The Irish protection was never outnumbered and only had even numbers against Wake Forest on four dropbacks. Those four dropbacks resulted in four completions for 81 yards and one touchdown.
• Here’s how the Irish fared against Wake Forest’s different pass rush looks when Book was in the game.
Three-man rush (5 times): 1-of-4 for 6 yards with one overthrow, one 50-50 throw and one drop. Book ran once for one yard. Wake Forest generated three pressures.
Four-man rush (28 times): 18-of-23 for 224 yards and one touchdown with one overthrow, one bad throw and one drop. One completion was wiped out by an ineligible-man-downfield penalty. Book ran four times for 23 yards, including one sack. Wake Forest generated five pressures.
Five-man rush (7 times): 5-of-6 for 92 yards with one throwaway. One pass attempt was wiped out by a defensive interference. Wake Forest generated two pressures.
Seven-man rush (1 time): 1-of-1 for a 3-yard touchdown.
There was plenty to like about Notre Dame’s offensive output and scheme at Wake Forest. It remains to be seen how much of the production was a result of poor defense by the Demon Deacons, but Saturday’s game provided a pretty clear picture of what Long wants to do with Book leading the offense.
The improvement in the screen game suggests the previous issues had more to do with the quarterback than the receivers. Book delivering the ball on time and in a position for the receivers to turn the play into positive gains changed the dynamic of the offense. It was a lot less painful to watch too.
One of the bigger question marks with Book will be his ability to stretch the field as a thrower. Delivering completions on both of his throws between 21 and 30 yards will serve as a reminder to defenses that he can threaten them down the field. But those two throws likely won’t be enough to prevent defenses from challenging Book to throw deep on them.
What Wimbush and Book have shared this season is struggling against a three-man rush. Part of that falls on the offensive line. There’s no reason a three-man rush should create three different pressures on five dropbacks. But when teams have dropped eight defenders in coverage, the Irish quarterbacks have struggled to find much success.
Notre Dame’s offensive line was definitely aided by the presence of Book. His quick decisions and maneuvering in the pocket made for easier pass protection. The Irish are still having trouble on the edges with Hainsey and Eichenberg, each allowing three pressures.