Analysis: Notre Dame’s pass protection held up against Georgia until final drive

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The pocket remained clean nearly all night for Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book.

Even though offensive coordinator Chip Long chose to lean heavy on Book and the passing game, Notre Dame’s offensive line proved to be up to the task of keeping Book protected against Georgia. He wasn’t sacked all night long.

With the Irish unable to find much room in the running game, the offense was far from balanced. Notre Dame ran just 12 designed runs as opposed to 49 dropbacks for designed passes.

Georgia’s defense should have been able to be very aggressive with its pass rush with such predictability in Notre Dame’s offense. The Bulldogs tried to pressure Book by bringing more than four defenders in the pass rush on 16 of the 49 dropbacks (32.7 percent).

The extra bodies helped. Georgia created pressure on seven of those 16 dropbacks (43.8 percent).

For most of the game (29 of 49 dropbacks), Georgia only rushed four defenders. That played a big role in Notre Dame’s offensive line being able to create a clean pocket for Book.

Overall, Notre Dame’s offensive line allowed pressure on 12 of 49 dropbacks. The pressure rate of 24.5 percent is Notre Dame’s best performance since the Northwestern game on Nov. 3 last season. The Irish only had a lower pressure rate four times last season.

Notre Dame’s pressure rate against Georgia would have been much lower if not for a poor showing on the final drive. The Bulldogs pressured Book on the final five Irish plays.

Blame can be spread along the offensive line. Right tackle Robert Hainsey, right guard Tommy Kraemer and left guard Aaron Banks all contributed losses that led to pressure. Even running back Avery Davis failed to pick up a blitzer that influenced a Book throwaway. 

On the final play, no one on the left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line really blocked anyone. Tight end Cole Kmet shoved outside linebacker Nolan Smith into a clear path to Book before he released on a route. Linebacker Jermaine Johnson split Banks and left tackle Liam Eichenberg and was only slowed by a big hit from running back Tony Jones Jr. But Jones didn't sustain the block, and Jones and Smith were left free to keep chasing Book farther into the backfield. Book’s desperate heave to wide receiver Chase Claypool was knocked down to end Notre Dame’s rally. 

The Irish failures leading to pressure were minimal. The 12 dropbacks with pressure included 17 losses, with five coming from unblocked defenders. The remaining pressures came against Hainsey (3), Eichenberg (2), Kraemer (2), Banks (2), center Jarrett Patterson (2) and Davis (1).

Book had his ups and downs handling the pressure coming at him. On the 12 dropbacks with pressure, he threw 6-of-12 passes for 41 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His passes that weren’t caught included two throwaways, two catchable balls and one pass breakup.

Book never turned a pressure into a run against Georgia. His two runs on dropbacks were the result of good coverage. He turned them into 17 rushing yards.

Here’s how Book handled the various pass-rush looks Georgia threw at him.

Three-man rush (4 times): 1-of-4 for 2 yards; two throwaways and one PBU; two pressures.

Four-man rush (29 times): 18-of-27 for 191 yards; four PBUs, four overthrows and one catchable pass; two runs for 17 yards; three pressures.

Five-man rush (11 times): 8-of-11 for 77 yards with one interception; one catchable pass and one PBU; four pressures.

Six-man rush (5 times): 2-of-5 for 5 yards and two touchdowns with one interception; one overthrow and one throwaway; three pressures.

Short and deep

Ian Book didn’t have much success on intermediate throws against Georgia. Almost all of his success came within five yards of the line of scrimmage or more than 20 yards downfield.

On throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage, Book completed 22 of his 26 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. On throws deeper than 20 yards downfield, Book finished 4-of-6 for 110 yards.

Book’s final line was 29-of-47 for 275 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Six of his incompletions were broken up, five of them were overthrows, three of them were throwaways and two of them were catchable passes.

Here’s a breakdown of Book’s 44 on-target throws (excluding the three throwaways) at various depths.

Behind the line to 0: 8-of-9 for 41 yards. One PBU.

1-5 yards: 14-of-17 for 80 yards and two touchdowns; two overthrows and one PBU.

6-10 yards: 2-of-9 for 24 yards with one interception; three PBUs, two catchable passes and one overthrow.

11-15 yards: 1-of-3 for 20 yards with one interception; one overthrow.

16-20 yards: 0-of-0.

21-30 yards: 4-of-5 for 110 yards; one PBU.

31-plus yards: 0-of-1; one overthrow.

Though Book’s short throws were frequently on target, the screen game did not offer much production against Georgia’s fast defense. Book completed all five of his screen passes for 19 yards with receptions by wide receiver Chris Finke (2 for 14 yards), wide receiver Lawrence Keys III (2 for 7) and running back Avery Davis (1 for -2).

Likely due to the lack of a running game, playfakes didn’t garner a lot of production either. Book finished 5-of-8 for 33 yards and one interception following playfakes with two pass breakups and Georgia pressuring him twice.

Sharing production

The passing game yardage came with a fairly even split between yards gained through Book’s throws and yards gained after the catch.

Book’s 29 completions traveled 144 yards downfield (a 4.97 average) with five of those yards coming in the end zone on his touchdown passes to tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Notre Dame’s pass catchers accumulated 136 yards after the catch for a 4.7-yard average.

Claypool and Kmet proved to be Book’s favorite targets. Claypool caught six passes for 66 yards and one touchdown and was targeted by Book a team-high 12 times. He also received an additional target that resulted in a defensive pass interference, which does not count as a pass in the box score.

Kmet’s team-high nine catches for 108 yards and one touchdown came on 11 targets.

The remaining targets went to Finke (7), Keys (5), Jones (5), Davis (2), tight end Tommy Tremble (1) and receiver Javon McKinley (1).

Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) looks to throw during the Notre Dame-Georgia NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, inside Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.