Film Analysis: Notre Dame's offense found better direction against Florida State

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Run left.

That should be a staple in Notre Dame’s offense until teams can stop it.

Florida State couldn’t Saturday in Notre Dame’s 42-26 victory. The Irish rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns on 22 designed runs that went to the left side — an average of 11.3 yards per carry.

On 16 designed runs to the right side, Notre Dame gained 76 yards (4.8 yards per carry). One quarterback draw up the middle by Ian Book gained 11 yards.

The yardage was more balanced when comparing inside and outside running plays, but the scoring leaned in favor of outside running plays. On inside runs, the Irish gained 200 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries (9.5 YPC). On outside runs, Notre Dame tallied 136 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries (7.5 YPC).

Held down by offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg and guard Aaron Banks, the left side rushing success shouldn't be a surprise. But the production wasn’t noticeably affected when Dillan Gibbons entered the game at left guard either.

When Eichenberg was sidelined in the second quarter with an eye injury, Gibbons went in at left guard with Banks sliding out to left tackle. Eichenberg returned to start the second half, but Gibbons saw more action at left guard when Banks briefly exited for five plays.

Let’s take a closer look at other aspects of Notre Dame’s offensive production following a review of Saturday’s game.

Personnel production

Notre Dame averaged 10.1 yards per play when using two tight ends against Florida State. With two tight ends in the formation, regardless of where they were lined up, the Irish totaled 187 yards and two touchdowns on 16 designed runs and completed 6-of-8 passes for 55 yards and one touchdown on eight dropbacks.

The two-tight end set has not yet overtaken the offense as the most frequent personnel grouping, but the gap continues to close. The Irish used three wide receivers on 30 plays as opposed to 24 plays with two tight ends.

The production was high for the three-wide receiver packages too with 8.3 yards per play. On 14 designed runs, the Irish gained 124 yards and one touchdown. On 16 dropbacks, Book completed 6 of his 13 passes for 107 yards and rushed three times for 17 yards.

The Irish also used personnel groupings of three tight ends (10 plays for 46 yards and one touchdowns), four tight ends (two plays for one yard and one touchdown) and two running backs (one play for a 17-yard completion).

Notre Dame used Book in three different pre-snap alignments against Florida State: shotgun, under center and pistol. The shotgun alignment was used most frequently: 45 plays for 404 yards and four touchdowns for an average of nearly nine yards per play. The play calling was relatively balanced out of shotgun with 24 dropbacks and 21 designed runs.

The Irish were run-heavy when Book lined up under center. Fifteen of those 19 plays were designed runs which totaled 116 yards and two touchdowns. The four dropbacks resulted in 3-of-4 passing for just 17 yards. The Irish averaged seven yards per play with Book under center.

All three plays in which Book operated from the pistol, which includes a running back positioned directly behind him, were designed runs. The Irish gained 17 rushing yards (5.7 yard per play).

Passing depth

In the first two games of the season, Book only attempted one pass beyond 30 yards of the line of scrimmage. He upped that total by three on Saturday against Florida State, though all three attempts fell incomplete. Book couldn’t quite connect on deep shots to wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy and tight end Tommy Tremble.

But Book continued to have success in the range of 21-30 yards downfield in limited targets. All four of his passes at that depth have been completed this season. He connected in that range twice against Florida State for 74 yards.

Excluding his two throwaways, Book completed 16 of his 23 targeted throws for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Here’s a breakdown of how he fared relative to the line of scrimmage.

Behind the line to 0 yards: 3-of-4 for 20 yards with one off-target throw.

1-5 yards: 6-of-9 for 35 yards and 2 TDs with two drops and one off-target throw.

6-10 yards: 2-of-2 for 27 yards.

11-15 yards: 2-of-2 for 28 yards.

16-20 yards: 1-of-1 for 17 yards.

21-30 yards: 2-of-2 for 74 yards.

31-plus yards: 0-of-3 with three off-target throws.

Most of the passing yardage came through the air rather than after the catch. Book completed his 16 passes at an average depth of 7.3 yards. The Irish skill players added an average of 5.3 yards after the catch.

Book’s average depth of intended throws went 10.1 yards — a little more than three yards longer than his average in the first two games (6.9).

Pass protection

Book wasn’t sacked in the victory over Florida State. His pass protection wasn’t quite excellent, but it was better than average across Notre Dame’s last two seasons.

Florida State pressured Book on 25 percent of his 28 dropbacks. That pressure rate would have ranked sixth-best for the Irish last season.

The seven protection losses came courtesy of two unblocked defenders, one ill-advised spin move by Book and one defeat each from Eichenberg, Gibbons, right tackle Robert Hainsey and right guard Tommy Kraemer.

When Florida State generated pressure, it impacted Book more often than not. On those seven dropbacks, Book completed just two passes for 19 yards and one touchdown. His three incomplete passes came on two throwaways and one overthrow. Book also scrambled twice for nine yards.

The Seminoles threw a variety of pass rush looks at Notre Dame. The Irish pass protection, with the help of tight ends and running backs at times, still had the numbers advantage on 21 of Book’s 28 dropbacks. Six times the Seminoles brought the same number of pass rushers as Book had pass blockers. The one time Florida State sent more pass rushers than Notre Dame’s pass protection unit, Book completed a pass to wide receiver Javon McKinley for 38 yards.

When the pass protection/pass rush ratio was even, Book finished 3-of-6 for 23 yards with one throwaway and two off-target throws and was pressured three times.

Here’s how Book fared against the various pass rush quantities.

Three-man rush (1 time): 0-of-1. Overthrow. No pressure.

Four-man rush (14 times): 8-of-11 for 103 yards. One drop, one off-target throw and one throwaway. Three runs for 17 yards. Four pressures.

Five-man rush (7 times): 4-of-7 for 37 yards and 1 TD. One drop, one high throw and one overthrow. No pressure.

Six-man rush (5 time): 3-of-5 for 23 yards and 1 TD. One overthrow and one throwaway. Three pressures.

Seven-man rush (1 time): 1-of-1 for 38 yards. No pressure.

Running behind offensive lineman Aaron Banks proved to be a winning strategy for Notre Dame against Florida State. Pictured, Banks celebrates following the 2018 Citrus Bowl.