Analysis: How Pittsburgh's pressure impacted Notre Dame's passing game

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Pittsburgh tried to get Ian Book to flinch. The Panthers brought pressure and stayed active near the line of scrimmage to influence the decisions of Notre Dame’s quarterback.

It worked at times. Book was sacked three times and he threw two interceptions. The Irish offense put together its worst effort in pass protection since the Ball State game.

Yet it wasn’t enough to beat Book. He stood in a clean pocket and delivered a 35-yard strike to wide receiver Miles Boykin for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh safety Phil Campbell III bit on the play fake to Tony Jones Jr., and Boykin beat cornerback Dane Jackson deep.

In the end, the good outweighed the bad for Book and the Irish passing game in the 19-14 victory. But there was plenty of both to dissect. These are the important numbers beyond the box score from Notre Dame’s passing game against Pittsburgh.

 Pittsburgh pressured Book on 17 of his 46 dropbacks. That 37-percent pressure rate qualified as the worst in any of Book’s four starts this season.

The majority of Pittsburgh’s pressures came from the right side of Notre Dame’s offensive line or unblocked defenders. I assigned blame to right tackle Robert Hainsey and right guard Tommy Kraemer for four pressures each. An unblocked defender created pressure four times as well.

The remaining pressures were created by losses for tight end Cole Kmet (2), center Sam Mustipher (1), running back Avery Davis (1) and Jones (1). Book also ran himself into a pair of pressures.

• Against pressure, Book finished 8-of-11 passing for 94 yards with one interception, a bad throw and a throwaway. Book also recorded five runs for a loss of 33 yards including three sacks. Pittsburgh was also penalized for roughing the passer on one if its pressures.

• Pittsburgh brought at least four defenders on each of Book’s dropbacks. Here’s how Book fared against each pass rush quantity.

Four-man rush (22 times): 10-of-15 for 142 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, two overthrows and one drop. Book ran five times totaling a loss of one yard, which included one sack. Pittsburgh generated five pressures with its four-man rush. The Panthers were also flagged for two penalties: roughing the passer and defensive pass interference.

Five-man rush (11 times): 8-of-9 for 53 yards with one bad throw. Book ran twice totaling a loss of 11 yards, which included one sack. Pittsburgh generated five pressures with its five-man rush.

Six-man rush (12 times): 8-of-9 for 69 yards and one touchdown with one throwaway. Book ran three runs for a total of 15 yards, including one sack. Pittsburgh generated six pressures with a six-man rush.

Seven-man rush (1 time): Pittsburgh created pressure the one time it brought a seven-man rush. It resulted in a two-yard loss for Book.

• Notre Dame had a numbers advantage on only 33 of the 47 dropbacks. Pittsburgh brought as many pass rushers as the Irish had pass protectors on 10 occasions. Three other times, the Panthers brought more defenders than Notre Dame had blockers.

Book completed all eight of his passes for 46 yards when the numbers were even. He also ran twice, including one sack, for a total of 14 yards. Pittsburgh created four pressures in those scenarios.

On the three dropbacks when Notre Dame was outnumbered, Book had one throwaway pass and rushed twice for a net loss of one yard. Pittsburgh managed to generate a pressure on all three dropbacks.

• Once again, Book was very accurate on his short passes. The Irish didn’t attempt many deep balls as Book had mixed results in throws 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Here’s what Book’s passing chart looked like measured by depth of throw.

Behind the line to 0: 4-of-4 for 10 yards.

1-5 yards: 11-of-14 for 64 yards with one drop, one bad throw and one throwaway. The failed two-point conversion also came on an incomplete pass attempt in this range.

6-10 yards: 7-of-7 for 87 yards and one touchdown.

11-15 yards: 1-of-1 for 12 yards.

16-20 yards: 0-of-2 with two interceptions.

21-30 yards: 2-of-3 for 56 yards with one overthrow.

31-plus yards: 1-of-1 for a 35-yard touchdown.

• Book finished the game 26-of-32 passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Most of Book’s passing yards came through the air with his completions coming 173 yards down the field. The Irish increased his passing numbers with 91 yards after the catch. Book’s average incomplete pass came 11.3 yards down the field.

The lower number on yards after the catch came in part because of a virtually non-existent screen game against Pittsburgh. The Irish only completed three screen passes — two to running back Dexter Williams and one to tight Alizé Mack — for a total of eight yards. Those three passes included 20 yards after the catch.

• Both of Book’s touchdown passes came following play fakes. The Irish used play fakes 21 times in which Book finished 16-of-19 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, one bad throw and one overthrow. Book also had a five-yard run. Pittsburgh was flagged for one pass interference on a play fake attempt. The Panthers generated eight pressures on Notre Dame’s play fakes.

Takeaways

Book described his play against Pittsburgh as antsy and skittish at times. It’s hard to see that in his passing numbers. But that showed up more with his running numbers on dropbacks. Book either ran or was sacked on 11 of his 46 dropbacks. Only five of those came as a result of pressures, one of which Book created by a poor decision in the pocket.

Only one of those 11 dropbacks resulted in a meaningful gain. Book rushed for 22 yards following a scramble to his left on a third-and-5. He rushed for a five-yard gain two other times, but both came on third down and finished short of the first-down marker.

Book needs to make better decisions on when to run. His first interception came when he was on the move to his left too. In his first three starts of the season, Book converted those kinds of plays for Notre Dame. The Panthers did a better job of rattling Book.

The Pittsburgh game was the first real sign that Notre Dame’s offensive line can still be exposed after significant improvements following the first two games of the season. The right side of the line struggled, and it will likely be noted by opposing defensive coordinators. Four pressures created by unblocked defenders showed that the pass protection wasn’t always on the same page against the Panthers.

The offensive line didn’t find much success in the running game either as the Irish averaged just 2.1 yards per carry. Pittsburgh was clearly selling out to stop the run, which allowed Notre Dame to find success throwing the ball on play fakes.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book’s second interception came when Pittsburgh defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman hit his arm as he threw in the 19-14 Irish victory.