Film Analysis: Extra Syracuse pass rushers didn't impact Notre Dame much

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Syracuse tried to pressure Ian Book.

In a 45-21 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, the Orange defense sent more than four pass rushers in pursuit of the Irish quarterback on the majority of Notre Dame’s dropbacks.

Syracuse was able to generate some pressure and sack Book twice, but the results weren’t nearly consistent enough to make a difference against Notre Dame’s offense. Syracuse’s pressure rate of 22.7% (10 pressured dropbacks on 44 chances) was the third-lowest of the season against Notre Dame.

The Irish offensive line — which included seniors Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons both making their first careers starts at center and right guard, respectively — routinely kept a clean pocket for Book with a little bit of help from Book and the Irish running backs.

On half of Notre Dame’s 44 dropbacks, Syracuse sent a five-man rush. The results were mostly positive for the Irish. Book hit 14-of-19 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns. But Book’s one interception and Syracuse’s only two sacks came against a five-man rush too. Syracuse only managed to pressure Book on four of those 22 dropbacks.

Twice Syracuse sent six pass rushers at Book, which resulted in pressure both times. Book responded by scrambling for a 17-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He also threw one incomplete pass that was dropped by wide receiver Javon McKinley in the end zone.

Against a four-man rush, Book finished 10-of-17 passing for 102 yards and one touchdown and rushed three times for 41 yards and one touchdown. Syracuse pressured Book on four of those 20 dropbacks.

Let’s take a closer look at how Notre Dame’s starting offense put up 568 yards and six touchdowns in the victory over Syracuse.

Personnel production

With Lugg making his first start at center, the Irish operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun. That’s not a huge departure for how Notre Dame typically runs its offense, but it was likely informed by the fumbled snap between Book and Lugg in the third quarter.

Book only took seven snaps from under center. Three plays — all runs — came from the pistol formation. Sixty plays, including all six touchdowns, were executed from the shotgun alignment.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees made regular use of Notre Dame’s tight ends. The most frequently used personnel grouping for the Irish utilized two tight ends, and it was the most successful too.

Notre Dame ran 32 plays with 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) for a total of 329 yards and four touchdowns. The Irish averaged 10.3 yards per play with that personnel and balanced play calling with 17 designed runs and 15 dropbacks. The designed runs, thanks in part to running back Chris Tyree’s 94-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, averaged 11.1 yards.

Book completed nine of his 13 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns with 12 personnel. He also rushed twice for 23 yards and one touchdown.

Notre Dame was much more pass heavy with three wide receivers on the field. Nearly 80 percent of the 29 plays from 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) were dropbacks. Book finished 12-of-18 for 130 yards with one touchdown and one interception with 11 personnel. He rushed five times, including two sacks, for 31 yards and one touchdown.

Notre Dame rushed for only 16 yards on six designed runs with 11 personnel on the field.

The Irish also used 13 personnel for five plays and a combination of different looks with two running backs on the field for four plays. Those nine plays averaged 4.1 yards.

Run direction

With its revamped offensive line, Notre Dame was averaging 4.6 yards per carry on designed runs before Tyree raced to his 94 yard touchdown. That pushed the production to 205 yards and one touchdown on 25 designed runs, excluding the fumbled snap between Lugg and Book.

That Tyree run — which was classified as an inside run to the right — also skews the analysis of where the Irish had the most success running the football, so keep that in mind with the following data.

Notre Dame averaged 10.4 yards per carry on inside runs between the tackles (13 carries for 135 yards and one touchdown). The Irish averaged 5.8 yards per carry on outside runs (12 carries for 70 yards).

On 13 runs to the right, Notre Dame’s running backs picked 148 yards and one touchdown compared to 57 yards on 12 runs to the left.

Handling pressure

The blame for Syracuse’s infrequent pressures could be spread across Notre Dame’s pass protection unit pretty evenly. On the 10 dropbacks Book was pressured, 13 defenders generated that pressure.

No one allowed more than two of those 13 pressures on their own. Right tackle Robert Hainsey, left guard Aaron Banks, running back Kyren Williams, Lugg and Book each were responsible for two pressures. Right guards Tommy Kraemer and Gibbons each failed to prevent pressure once. An unblocked defender pressured Book only once as well.

In the face of that pressure, Book finished a modest 3-of-7 passing for 26 yards. But two of those incomplete passes were dropped, one was an off-target throw and the fourth was thrown away. Book was sacked by the pressure twice and escaped once for a 17-yard touchdown run.

Passing depth

Book finished his 30th victory as Notre Dame’s starter with a passing line of 24-of-37 for 285 yards and three touchdowns with on interception.

Book and his receivers split that production pretty evenly in terms of air yards and yards after the catch. Book completed his 24 passes at an average depth of 6.2 yards. The receivers accounted for 5.7 yards per reception after the catch.

Book’s receivers weren’t sharp at the point of a potential catch though. The Irish dropped four passes and three were broken up by good coverage. One pass breakup came on a deep pass to wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. that he should have caught.

Book was off the mark with his interception thrown beyond wide receiver Avery Davis and was off target with three other incomplete passes.

Here’s how Book fared with his throws relative to the line of scrimmage. It excludes two of his passes — one throwaway and one throw batted down by a pass rusher.

Behind the line to 0 yards: 5-of-6 for 26 yards with one PBU.

1-5 yards: 10-of-13 for 103 yards with two drops and one off-target throw.

6-10 yards: 4-of-5 for 52 yards and 1 TD with one drop.

11-15 yards: 1-of-4 for 11 yards with two off-target throws and PBU.

16-20 yards: 2-of-3 for 39 yards with one drop.

21-30 yards: 2-of-2 for 54 yards and 2 TDs.

31-plus yards: 0-of-2 with one INT and one PBU.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) prepares to take the snap against the Syracuse Orange in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium.