Analysis: How motion and playfakes impacted Notre Dame's offense against Stanford
The lack of a consistent rushing attack has impacted Notre Dame’s offense. The Irish have relied on quarterback Ian Book to be the workhorse in the passing game, and even in the running game at times too.
But even without a prolific rushing attack, the Irish used playfakes with success from the very start of Saturday’s 45-24 win over Stanford.
On four of the five plays in Notre Dame’s opening 80-yard touchdown drive, the Irish used a playfake of some sort. They even utilized the run-pass option (RPO) for downfield throws twice. If executed well, it’s tough to distinguish the difference between a true playfake and an RPO. Regardless of the call, the Irish left the Stanford defense guessing on that first drive.
Only one play on the drive didn’t end in a gain of at least 10 yards. Wide receiver Braden Lenzy was wide open on that play thanks to an RPO design, but he dropped the pass. Quarterback Ian Book made the drive look easy with completions to tight end Tommy Tremble (10 yards), tight end Cole Kmet (20 yards) and running back Tony Jones Jr. (24 yards and a 16-yard touchdown).
Notre Dame’s offense fought through fits of inconsistencies throughout the game, but the first drive provided a blueprint for success. The Irish still managed to total 45 points and 445 yards with an offensive performance that was far from perfect.
Book finished 17-of-30 passing for 255 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came following playfakes: the 16-yard screen to Jones and an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Notre Dame used a playfake on 17 dropbacks. They resulted in Book completing 10 of his 16 passes for 157 yard and two touchdowns. He was also sacked once for a loss of five yards. He was pressured on only three of those 17 dropbacks.
The sophomore receiver played his biggest role in Notre Dame’s offense to date. And that’s not just reflected in his two catches for 48 yards and four carries for 48 yards.
The Irish used Lenzy in motion before and after the snap to attract the attention of Stanford’s defense. On the first touchdown pass to Jones, Lenzy running a fake end around to the left resulted in half of the defense following his direction momentarily. It helped set up an easy screen pass to Jones with three offensive linemen in front to block the three remaining Stanford defenders in his path to the end zone.
Lenzy’s 48 rushing yards came on one end around for five yards and three jet sweeps for 43 yards. The Irish used Lenzy in jet sweep motion without handing it to him seven times. It resulted in six carries and 23 rushing yards for other Irish players. One jet motion came on the eight-yard touchdown pass to Claypool.
Lenzy still hasn’t been very productive as a pass catcher. On five targets, Lenzy caught just two passes. One of the incomplete passes intended for him was batted down at the line. Book overthrow him once, and Lenzy dropped the first pass thrown to him.
But it’s clear that Lenzy’s presence can impact the defense in a number of ways whether he’s getting the ball or not. Simple playfakes to him resulted in two touchdowns. He’s going to help the Irish score several more in the coming years.
In 67 offensive plays, Notre Dame’s offense accounted for 445 yards and five touchdowns. The play calling finished balanced with 34 designed runs and 33 dropbacks. But the called passing plays were much more productive.
On 33 dropbacks, the Irish accumulated 8.5 yards per play with 255 passing yards and four touchdowns and 25 rushing yards. On 34 designed runs, the Irish gained 4.9 yards per play with 165 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Notre Dame’s offense used four different personnel groupings throughout the game: two tight ends, three wide receivers, two running backs and three tight ends.
Formations with two tight ends were used most frequently with 32 plays divided evenly with 16 dropbacks and 16 designed runs. Book finished 8-of-13 passing for 99 yards and two touchdowns with two tight ends on the field. He also recorded three runs, including one sack, for 25 yards. The 16 designed runs with two tight ends resulted in 55 yards and one touchdown.
Formations with three wide receivers were the most productive for Notre Dame at a clip of 8.3 yards per play. Fourteen of the 26 plays were passes. Book hit 7-of-14 for 153 yards and two touchdowns on the 14 dropbacks. On 12 designed runs, the Irish reached 63 rushing yards.
In limited usage mostly in the fourth quarter, two running back sets produced 50 yards on six plays with four runs for 46 yards and two completions for three yards. Three snaps with three tight ends resulted in zero yardage: two runs and one incomplete pass.
Notre Dame allowed pressure on only eight of Book’s 33 dropbacks against Stanford. The pressure rate of 24.2 percent is the third-lowest of the season with only games against Bowling Green (18.2) and Navy (17.4) coming in lower.
Against pressure, Book wasn’t very productive as a passer. He completed just one of his five passes with the lone completion coming on a six-yard touchdown pass to Tremble. Book was sacked once for a loss of five yards and recorded runs of four and 26 yards when avoiding pressure.
Only one Stanford defender, outside linebacker Casey Toohill, accounted for more than one of the pressures. Toohill beat left guard Aaron Banks and tight end Cole Kmet on separate occasions for his two pressures.
Only one Notre Dame player, Banks, allowed more than one pressure. He allowed pressure from Toohil and defensive end Thomas Schaffer. Other pressures came against Jones, Kmet, left tackle Liam Eichenberg and center Jarrett Patterson. One pressure came from an unblocked defender. Another was created by movement out of the pocket by Book.
Stanford used a four-man pass rush most frequently, which Book torched. On 17 dropbacks against a four-man rush, Book finished 11-of-16 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran once for four yards. Stanford managed just two pressures with a four-man rush.
A five-man rush, which Stanford used eight times, was much more effective. It produced five pressures and limited Book to 2-of-6 passing for 11 yards and one touchdown. He rushed twice, including one sack, for a net gain of 21 yards.
The short passing game provided plenty of production for Book against Stanford. On throws no farther than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Book finished 14-of-20 for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
Book only threw five passes beyond 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, but he completed two of them for 84 yards and one touchdown.
Book did not throw any of his passes away. Of his 13 incomplete passes, five came on overthrows, four were broken up, three were catchable passes and one was dropped.
Here’s a breakdown of Book’s passes at varying depths in relation to the line of scrimmage.
Behind the line to 0: 4-of-5 for 27 yards and 1 TD with one catchable pass.
1-5 yards: 5-of-6 for 68 yards and 1 TD with one PBU.
6-10 yards: 5-of-9 for 56 yards and 1 TD with three PBUs and one overthrow.
11-15 yards: 1-of-5 for 20 yards with two catchable passes, one drop and one overthrow.
16-20 yards: 0-of-1 on an overthrow.
21-30 yards: 1-of-2 for 43 yards with one overthrow.
31-plus yards: 1-of-2 for 41 yards and 1 TD with one overthrow.
On the season, Book is 220-of-371 passing for 2,787 yards and 33 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 27 throwaways.
Behind the line to 0: 53-of-69 for 402 yards and 4 TDs; 77 percent; 5.8 YPA
1-5 yards: 71-of-94 for 608 yards and 8 TDs; 76 percent; 6.5 YPA
6-10 yards: 39-of-69 for 405 yards and 5 TDs with 2 INTs; 57 percent; 5.9 YPA
11-15 yards: 19-of-34 for 309 yards and 6 TDs with 1 INT; 56 percent; 9.1 YPA
16-20 yards: 9-of-24 for 189 yards and 1 TD with 1 INT; 38 percent; 7.9 YPA
21-30 yards: 22-of-35 for 573 yards and 4 TDs with 1 INT; 63 percent; 16.4 YPA
31-plus yards: 7-of-19 for 301 yards and 5 TDs and 1 INT; 37 percent; 15.8 YPA