Film Analysis: Ian Book's performance at Pitt came with less help from Notre Dame's typical strengths

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ian Book played his best game of the season in Notre Dame’s 45-3 victory over Pittsburgh.

He did so without the typical support he’s received this season from the Irish running game and pass protection. Pitt’s tough defensive front gave Notre Dame’s offensive line fits in both aspects.

Book, who finished 16-of-30 passing for 312 yards and three touchdowns, proved to be Notre Dame’s most consistent running threat too. He averaged five yards per carry with six positive runs — five scrambles on dropbacks and one quarterback sneak — for 45 yards and two sacks for a loss of five yards.

Notre Dame’s first-team offense only managed 1.7 yards per carry on designed runs with 26 rushes for 44 yards and two touchdowns.

In the passing game, Book was pressured on 16 of his 37 dropbacks for a pressure rate of 43.2 percent. Through the previous four games, Book was only pressured on 23.7 percent of his dropbacks.

But Book handled the pressure well. He completed 6-of-10 passes while pressured for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed six times, including one sack, for 32 yards.

Though Book played far from flawless and received plenty of help from wide receiver Ben Skowronek (two catches for 107 yards and one touchdown) and tight end Michael Mayer (five catches for 73 yards and one touchdown), the third-year starter deserves a lot of credit for distracting from poor performances elsewhere on the offense.

Let’s take a closer look at how Notre Dame’s offense put together its 45-point performance.

Feeling pressure

Left guard Aaron Banks was the only starting offensive lineman who didn’t allow a pressure against Pitt. The pressure was coming at Book from the outside, the inside, the defensive line and the linebackers.

Right tackle Robert Hainsey had the worst day. He allowed Book to be pressured on five different occasions. Center Jarrett Patterson accounted for three pressures and right guard Tommy Kraemer and left tackle Liam Eichenberg allowed two pressures each.

Running backs Kyren Williams and Jafar Armstrong each lost one blocking assignment that led to pressures. One pressure came from an unblocked defender. Book also maneuvered himself into one pressure.

The 43.2-percent pressure rate was the worst pass protection performance for the Irish since the Ball State game in 2018 in which Brandon Wimbush was pressured on 20 of his 38 dropbacks (52.6 percent).

Pitt generated its pressure by never rushing fewer than four defenders and sending at least five defenders on 17 dropbacks. On five dropbacks, Pitt sent the same number of pass rushers as Notre Dame had pass blockers. Each of those five dropbacks resulted in a pressure. Pitt outnumbered Notre Dame’s pass protection twice, but only once did it generate pressure.

Book fared well in those circumstances. With an even pass protection, Book was 2-of-3 passing for 93 yards and 1 TD and rushed twice for 16 yards. With an outnumbered pass protection, Book completed both passes for 19 yards.

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

Four-man rush (22 times): 10-of-19 for 168 yards and 2 TDs. Six off-target throws, one throwaway, one drop and one PBU. Three runs, including one sack, for 20 yards. Six pressures.

Five-man rush (6 times): 3-of-3 for 52 yards. Three runs, including one sack, for eight yards. Four pressures.

Six-man rush (9 times): 3-of-8 for 92 yards and 1 TD. Two off-target throws, two nearly intercepted PBUs and one throwaway. One run for 10 yards. Six pressures.

Passing depth

Book completed his first pass of the season beyond 30 yards of the line of scrimmage when he connected with Skowronek for a 73-yard touchdown. Book was 0-of-4 on those deep pass attempts earlier in the season before hitting Skowronek 38 yards downfield.

Skowronek helped Book out with 20 yards after the catch on the 34-yard touchdown between the two earlier in the game as well.

Of Book’s 312 passing yards, 193 yards came after the catch. Book completed his 16 passes at an average depth of 7.9 yards downfield. He entered the game averaging 5.8 yards of passing depth on completions this season.

Here’s a breakdown of Book’s 28 intended passes thrown. Book threw two passes away, which aren’t included below.

Behind the line to 0 yards: 2-of-5 for 50 yards. Three off-target throws.

1-5 yards: 6-of-7 for 67 yards. One drop.

6-10 yards: 3-of-5 for 40 yards. One off-target throw and one PBU.

11-15 yards: 3-of-4 for 68 yards and 1 TD. One off-target throw.

16-20 yards: 0-of-4. Two off-target throws and two PBUs.

21-30 yards: 1-of-2 for 14 yards and 1 TD. One off-target throw.

31-plus yards: 1-of-1 for a 73-yard TD.

Run direction

The limited running game didn’t find much success regardless of the location on designed runs.

Right side runs (nine carries for 27 yards and one TD) were more effective than left side runs (16 carries for 15 yards and one TD). Inside runs (19 for 42 yards and one TD) were more productive than outside runs (six for zero yards and one TD).

The lone quarterback sneak by Book, which isn’t included in the stats above, resulted in two yards on a third-and-1. Such short-yardage success was the lone bright spot for the Irish running game. The first-team offense converted on all four third-and-1 plays, though not by much with the four runs combining for six yards.

On a third-and-goal from the two-yard line, the Irish opted to pass and Book was sacked for a one-yard loss.

Personnel production

Notre Dame’s starting offense totaled 394 yards and five touchdowns on 63 plays. That was achieved on 37 dropbacks and 26 designed runs with the yardage mostly coming on dropbacks: 350 on dropbacks, 44 on designed runs.

Notre Dame’s offense found most of its success with three wide receivers on the field. The Irish ran 31 plays with three-receiver sets and recorded 280 yards and two touchdowns for an average of roughly nine yards per play.

Two-tight end packages weren’t nearly as productive. On 28 plays with two tight ends on the field, the Irish tallied 113 yards and two touchdowns.

That’s partially due to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees calling more pass plays with three wide receivers than two tight ends. With three wide receivers on the field, Book dropped back 81 percent of the time. With two tight ends, the Irish called a designed run 61 percent of the time.

Notre Dame ran only four other plays with different personnel: two plays for two yards and one touchdown with four tight ends, a one-yard run with three tight ends and a loss of two yards on one carry with two running backs.

Notre Dame’s offense operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation. Book ran 59 plays out of shotgun, three plays under center and one play from a pistol formation.

The Irish called designed runs twice from under center for four yards and one touchdown. The one dropback resulted in an incomplete pass.

The one play out of the pistol resulted in a five-yard run for running back C’Bo Flemister.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, center, was pressured frequently by Pittsburgh’s pass rush.