Analysis: Notre Dame's offense failed in nearly every way at Michigan

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The numbers match the eye-test disaster that was Notre Dame’s offensive performance in the 45-14 loss Saturday night at Michigan.

Quarterback Ian Book had the worst game of his career. Notre Dame’s offensive line offered its worst pass protection of the season. The Irish running game couldn’t find success no matter the formation.

The lopsided loss should provide a wake-up call for an offense that truly hasn’t put together a well-rounded performance against a Power 5 opponent all season. Notre Dame’s passing offense looked shaky against Louisville, carried as much of the load as it could against Georgia, lacked explosiveness against Virginia and USC, and cratered at Michigan.

Notre Dame’s running game started decently at Louisville, became completely abandoned at Georgia, started to find its footing in the second half against Virginia and exploded against USC before imploding at Michigan.

The two aspects of the offense have rarely been operating at a high level at the same time. They were on the same page at Michigan, but unfortunately that page was burning and turning into ash.

A disproportionate amount of blame has been aimed at Book from parts of the Notre Dame fan base in the aftermath of the Michigan loss. But the frustrations are understandable as he’s struggled to rediscover the success he found last season.

Book’s best performances this season have come against New Mexico and Bowling Green — two of the five worst pass-efficiency defenses in the FBS — and there aren’t enough other statistical gems anywhere near that level for someone in his second season as the starting quarterback.

Even if the Michigan game can be discarded as an outlier, the recurring critiques of Book added more examples of his struggles. Book has to be better at anticipating open receivers, sticking in the pocket long enough to find them and taking chances down the field.

Book’s numbers suffer enough when he’s facing actual pressure. When he’s feeling phantom pressure and not using the pocket created for him, the offense becomes even more limited.

Michigan’s pressure

Notre Dame’s starting offense posted its worst pressure rate since the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson on dec. 28.

The Irish allowed Book to be pressured on 12 of his 31 dropbacks for a pressure rate of 38.7 percent. Clemson managed to pressure Book on 38.8 percent of his dropbacks in the Cotton Bowl.

The Wolverines didn’t need to blitz a lot to create that pressure, either. Michigan’s four-man rush produced seven of its 12 pressured dropbacks including the lone sack of Book. The Wolverines used a number of stunts along the defensive line to create advantages against the Irish protection.

Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who tied outside linebacker Josh Uche for the team high with five pressures each (of the 18 total, because more than one pressure can occur on a pressured dropback), benefited from the stunts. At times, Hutchinson started at defensive tackle on one side of the line and looped around two of his teammates on the other side of the line to come off the edge. Three of his pressures came using that stunt.

Unblocked defenders were once again the leading pressure provider for Notre Dame’s opponent. Seven unblocked defenders created pressure. The remaining pressures came as the result of losses by center Jarrett Patterson (4), left tackle Liam Eichenberg (2), left guard Aaron Banks (2) and one each for right tackle Robert Hainsey, right guard Trevor Ruhland and Book.

Book’s production was almost non-existent against pressure. On his 12 pressured dropbacks, Book finished 1-of-10 passing for five yards, was sacked once for a loss of two yards and rushed once for nine yards. Book’s incompletions came by way of two overthrows, two pass breakups, two drops, one underthrow, one catchable pass and one throwaway.

Book’s final numbers (8-of-25 for 73 yards and one touchdown) weren’t pretty under any light. Against Michigan’s four-man rush, Book finished 5-of-17 for 37 yards. A five-man rush held book to 3-of-7 for 36 yards and one touchdown. The one snap Michigan sent a six-man rush at Book, he threw the ball away.

Little downfield production

Book completed just two throws beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That lack of production isn’t completely on Book. Of his six incomplete passes thrown beyond 10 yards, half of them were dropped by wide receiver Chase Claypool.

The first drop from Claypool came on an ugly throw that was impacted by a defender hitting Book as he threw on the run on a third-and-9 play. Claypool was wide open, but he didn’t come back far enough to get under the wobbly ball and was unable to catch it with his outstretched arms.

The second came on a back shoulder fade to Claypool. Michigan cornerback Vincent Gray was credited with a pass breakup, but he didn’t do much after Claypool did a nice job of positioning himself for the catch. The ball just slipped through Claypool’s hands.

The third drop came on Book’s deepest throw of the day. Claypool was running open and Book threw a ball that required him to jump while on the run. Claypool located the ball, timed his jump well but it still went right through his hands.

Claypool could be excused for the first drop because of the nature of the throw, but the other two drops are catches he should be able to make consistently with his skill set.

Here’s Book’s throwing chart from the Michigan game, which excludes his two throwaways, broken down by depth thrown relative to the line of scrimmage.

Behind the line to 0: 2-of-6 for 8 yards with two PBUs, one overthrow and one underthrow.

1-5 yards: 3-of-6 for 16 yards with two drops and one PBU.

6-10 yards: 1-of-3 for 7 yards and a touchdown with one overthrow and one catchable pass.

11-15 yards: 0-of-1 on a PBU.

16-20 yards: 1-of-4 for 18 yards with one overthrow, one PBU and one drop.

21-30 yards: 1-of-2 for 24 yards with one drop.

31-plus yards: 0-of-1 on one drop.

Unbalanced offense

Book played 47 snaps, which excludes plays wiped out by penalties, in the loss to Michigan. Nearly two-thirds of those plays (31) were designed passing plays. Certainly that was impacted by Notre Dame falling into a 17-0 deficit, but that much passing likely wasn’t going to be very productive on a rainy and windy night in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The pass-heavy offense was likely also the result of an anemic running game. On the 16 designed runs called with Book in the game, the Irish gained 17 yards. That includes a four-yard loss credited as a team rush when Book had to dive on a loose ball in the backfield because Patterson’s snap hit tight end Cole Kmet while he was in motion.

That miscommunication appears to fall on Book. Because the Irish were using a silent count, when he lifts his leg, it signals to the offensive line that he’s ready for the snap.

But when Notre Dame isn’t using a silent count, a lifted leg signals to a skill position player that he’s ready for that player to go in motion. So when Book lifted his leg, Kmet went in motion and Banks let Patterson know he could snap it.

Both happened at the same time, and Book reacted like he wasn’t necessarily ready for the snap. After the mishap, Book started to signal for motion with his hand rather than his leg.

No personnel package provided success for Notre Dame’s offense. The Irish used three receivers on 35 of the 47 plays with Book at quarterback. The 23 dropbacks resulted in 6-of-18 passing for 61 yards and five Book runs for 15 yards. The 12 designed runs produced 11 yards.

The two-tight end package was only used for 12 plays with Book. On eight dropbacks, he completed just two of his seven passes for 12 yards and one touchdown to Kmet. His only sack came with two tight ends on the field. Four designed running plays with two tight ends netted six yards.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book completed only eight of his 25 passes in the 45-14 loss to Michigan.

On the season, Book is 116-of-196 passing for 1,492 yards and 15 TDs with 2 INTs.

Below is a breakdown of Book's throws in relation to the line of scrimmage. The chart does not include his 14 throwaways.

Behind the line to 0: 34-of-47 for 279 yards and 3 TDs; 72.3 percent; 5.9 yards per attempt

1-5 yards: 37-of-51 for 330 yards and 4 TDs; 72.5 percent; 6.5 YPA

6-10 yards: 16-of-30 for 162 yards and 1 TD with one INT; 53.3 percent; 5.4 YPA

11-15 yards: 7-of-14 for 165 yards and 1 TD with one INT; 50 percent; 11.8 YPA

16-20 yards: 6-of-12 for 131 yards and 1 TD; 50 percent; 10.9 YPA

21-30 yards: 13-of-18 for 317 yards and 3 TDs; 72.2 percent; 17.6 YPA

31-plus yards: 3-of-10 for 108 yards and 2 TDs; 30 percent; 10.8 YPA