Analysis: Good protection allowed Notre Dame QB Ian Book to pick apart Navy's defense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ian Book made Navy’s defense look like an also-ran.

Rather than the Midshipmen playing like a unit that ranked No. 22 in the country in total defense (321.7 yards allowed per game) and No. 34 in scoring defense (21.9 points per game) heading into last Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame, Navy couldn’t hang with the Irish offense.

Notre Dame’s quarterback led the Irish to scores on each of their first seven drives. They resulted in six touchdowns, one field goal and a 45-3 lead early in the third quarter to make way for Notre Dame’s backups to see plenty of action. In just 39 plays excluding penalties, the starting offense accumulated 378 yards (9.7 yard per play).

Navy couldn’t stop Notre Dame’s passing attack. Book finished 14-of-20 for 284 yards and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Chase Claypool did just about whatever he wanted to record seven catches for 117 yards and four touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s running game still looked pedestrian (31 carries for 105 yards), but that barely even slowed the Irish. Here’s how Notre Dame dissected Navy’s defense in the 52-20 victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

Stretching the field

Before Saturday, Book had completed only four passes this season that were caught more than 30 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He managed to do it twice against Navy.

First, Book hit Claypool with a pass 31 yards downfield for a 47-yard touchdown to cap Notre Dame’s second drive. With a linebacker stuck trying to cover Claypool, it was an easy pitch and catch when Book recognized the mismatch.

Later, Book ripped a pass 46 yards downfield to wide receiver Braden Lenzy on a 70-yard touchdown play. It was the longest completion of Book’s career, at 70 yards. It was also the deepest pass downfield Book has completed in his Notre Dame career.

Book’s two deepest completions were thrown 38 yards beyond the line of scrimmage last season: a 47-yard touchdown pass to Michael Young against Northwestern and a 38-yard completion to Miles Boykin on a Hail Mary from the 40-yard line to end the first half against USC.

Against Navy, Book’s 14 completions were caught on average 14.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He didn’t attempt a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage.

Here’s a breakdown of Book’s passes against Navy, sorted by depth in relation to the line of scrimmage. Book did not throw away a single pass in the game.

Behind the line to 0: None.

1-5 yards: 7-of-8 for 74 yards and one TD with one drop.

6-10 yards: 1-of-3 for 3 yards and one TD with one drop and one overthrow.

11-15 yards: 1-of-2 for 15 yards with one catchable pass.

16-20 yards: 0-of-1 on a pass breakup.

21-30 yards: 3-of-4 for 75 yards and one TD with one overthrow.

31-plus yards: 2-of-2 for 117 yards and two TDs.

Comfortable pockets

Navy pressured Book on only four of his 23 dropbacks. The pressure rate of 17.4 percent is the lowest allowed by Notre Dame this season and lower than all but two games in 2018 (Navy and Northwestern).

On the four pressured dropbacks, five defenders caused the pressures. Three of those defenders were unblocked, one beat right guard Trevor Ruhland and the other pressured Book after he decided to unnecessarily scramble.

After the Navy game, the top two sources of pressure on Book for the season are unblocked defenders (45 times) and pressure created by Book (14 times). Three offensive linemen are tied for the most pressures allowed: right tackle Robert Hainsey, left tackle Liam Eichenberg and left guard Aaron Banks. Each have lost on 13 blocks that led to pressure.

Navy tried a lot of combinations to try to create pressure against Notre Dame. The Midshipmen rushed three, four, five, six or seven defenders on at least two dropbacks each. The most common pass rush included four defenders (eight times). Navy used a six-man rush six different times.

Navy only sent more pass rushers than Notre Dame could account for in its pass protection once. Seven Midshipmen rushed Book with two linebackers (Jacob Springer and Diego Fagot) coming unblocked and providing pressure. Book’s pass intended for tight end Cole Kmet was broken up on the play by safety Kevin Brennan.

On the three dropbacks when Navy sent as many pass rushers as Notre Dame had blockers in pass protection, Book completed three of his four passes for 24 yards and two touchdowns without being pressured.

On the few occasions Book was pressured, he didn’t produce much. He finished 1-of-3 passing for 27 yards with one overthrow and one PBU and ran once for two yards against pressure.

Getting personnel

Notre Dame’s starting offense used four different personnel groupings against Navy: two tight ends, three receivers, two running backs and three tight ends.

Notre Dame used two tight ends most frequently. The 17 plays with two tight ends resulted in 155 yards and two touchdowns. Most of the success came through the air, with Book going 6-of-8 for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 10 dropbacks.

The three-wide receiver set produced regularly as well, too. In 13 plays with three wide receivers, Notre Dame’s starting offense accounted for 130 yards and two touchdowns. All but four of those plays were dropbacks, resulting in 5-of-8 passing for 93 yards and two touchdowns and one run for 15 yards.

The two-back look actually produced at the highest per-play rate, though in a smaller sample size. The offense tallied 99 yards and one touchdown on just six plays with two running backs. The 70-yard Lenzy touchdown reception accounted for most of the production. Book completed two other passes for 13 yards, and running back C’Bo Flemister rushed three times for 16 yards.

Notre Dame also used three tight ends for three plays. Notre Dame rushed twice for four yards, including a two-yard touchdown by running back Tony Jones Jr. Book threw an incomplete pass to tight end Tommy Tremble on his one dropback with three tight ends.

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Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) was pressured by Navy's defense on only four dropbacks in the 52-20 Irish victory.

On the season, Book is 177-of-301 for 2,293 yards and 26 TDs with 6 INTs.

Below is a breakdown of Book's throws in relation to the line of scrimmage. The chart does not include his 26 throwaways.

Behind the line to 0: 45-of-59 for 355 yards and 3 TDs; 76 percent; 6 yards per attempt

1-5 yards: 59-of-76 for 492 yards and 7 TDs; 78 percent; 6.5 YPA

6-10 yards: 24-of-47 for 253 yards and 3 TDs with 2 INTs; 51 percent; 5.4 YPA

11-15 yards: 15-of-24 for 261 yards and 4 TDs with 1 INT; 63 percent; 10.9 YPA

16-20 yards: 8-of-21 for 168 yards and 1 TD with 1 INT; 38 percent; 8 YPA

21-30 yards: 20-of-31 for 504 yards and 4 TDs with 1 INT; 65 percent; 16.3 YPA

31-plus yards: 6-of-17 for 260 yards and 4 TDs and 1 INT; 35 percent; 15.3 YPA