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Let’s Get Husky, Notre Dame vs. Washington News and Notes

By · October 28th, 2008 · 0 Comments
Let’s Get Husky, Notre Dame vs. Washington News and Notes

Charting the Irish offense from Saturday’s game against Washington leads to some interesting results. Namely, the Irish still frequently give away their run/pass intention prior to snapping the ball.

While offensive coordinator Mike Haywood had arguably his best play calling game of the year, the Irish are extremely predictable based on personnel grouping and formation. In other words, Saturday’s contest against the Huskies was more of the same from Notre Dame’s previous game with North Carolina.

Disclaimer: The following analysis does not include plays on which penalties occurred. Additionally, sacks were counted as passing attempts and the lost yardage from sacks was counted as lost passing yards.

Once again I will use the personnel grouping nomenclature found here. The Irish ran only four personnel groupings against the Huskies: Jax, Half, Regular, and Goal Line. Nota Bene: multiple formations can be run out of each personnel grouping. These groupings merely denote which players take the field, not the formation used by the offensive coaching staff.

A short summary of each package is as follows:

  • Jax: 1 TE, 4 WR
  • Half: 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR
  • Regular: 1 RB, 1 FB, 1 TE, and 2 WR
  • Goal Line: 1 RB, 1 FB, 3 TE

How Do the Personnel Groupings Break Down?

Of the two “heavy” personnel groupings, Goal Line was only used once on a three-yard touchdown run by James Aldridge. Regular, however, was used much more frequently than against the Tar Heels.

Second only to Half, Regular was used 29 times (39.2 percent of plays) and was the most effective run formation for the Irish. In Regular the Irish averaged 6.8 yards per rush but managed only 4 yards per pass attempt. This proficient run game came despite being predictable. On the day Notre Dame ran the ball 72.4 percent of its plays out of Regular.

Weis and Haywood obviously want to continue to spread the field. Nearly 60 percent of the plays against Washington used Half or Jax (i.e. the Irish liked having three or more receivers on the field). For the second straight week, and despite being used only five times, Jax was the most prolific passing package (10.6 yards per attempt).

Also for the second week in a row, Half was the preferred package for Haywood. Nearly 53 percent of the offensive snaps came from the one running back, one tight end, three wide receiver personnel grouping.

This package allows the Irish to field their five most talented skill position players and provides quite a bit of versatility. Out of Half the Irish ran and passed the ball at a nearly even clip, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 20 rushes and 7.2 yards per pass on 19 attempts.

But the real story of the Notre Dame offense is whether quarterback Jimmy Clausen is under center. Haywood called 22 plays from the shotgun (5 in Jax and 17 in Half), all but one was a pass.

The tendency is even more pronounced in Half. Of the 39 plays run in Half, 56.4 percent came with Clausen under center. Over 86 percent of these plays were runs. In contrast, when in the shotgun the Irish threw the ball 94 percent of the time.

Overall, when under center the Irish ran the ball nearly 79 percent of the time. The opposite trend is true in shotgun where Haywood called a pass over 95 percent of the time. Obviously most offenses are pass-heavy when in the shotgun, but the Irish aren’t even a threat to try and run the ball.

This game against the Huskies was largely situational: Notre Dame spent the last three drives primarily running the ball to kill the clock and preserve a lead. It was suspected that these three drives skewed the tendencies outlined above.

However, excluding the final three drives the trends outlined above continued. The Irish ran the ball nearly 71 percent of the time when under center and 60 percent of the time when in Regular.

What About the Down?

The Irish are, however, far less predictable on a down and distance basis.

The two most popular personnel groupings were used on first down nearly the same percentage of the time they were used for the game. While Half was used a little more than average on second down, and Regular a little more than average on third, neither was strongly biased one way or the other.

Additionally, Clausen spent nearly 70 percent of snaps under center. On first, second, and third down the percentage of plays under center were 66.7, 78.3, and 69.2 percent respectively. In other words, the down was not an indicator of whether or not the Irish were in shotgun.

Haywood also mixed the run and pass play selection well on a down basis. For the game the Irish ran the ball nearly 57 percent of the time. On first, second, and third down the Irish ran the ball at a rate of 63.6, 56.5, and 46.2 percent respectively. Being a little run-heavy on first down and pass-heavy on third down is expected, but overall down was not a strong indicator of running or passing.

Drive On By

Haywood seems to be bipolar in his play calling. Of the 11 Irish drives against the Huskies, six featured a run/pass balance that exceeded 70 percent. Additionally, eight drives featured a run/pass balance that exceeded 60 percent.

Much like two weeks ago, the Irish seem to take on a particular identity for an entire drive. Against North Carolina this was largely due to the no-huddle operation. Against Washington this isn’t to blame as the Irish frequently huddled.

A similar trend is evident in personnel grouping. Of the 11 drives, 8 were spent in either pass-heavy (Jax and Half) or run-heavy (Regular and Goal Line) personnel groupings. Given the tendencies in each, the above correlation to the run/pass mix is no surprise.

Tying It All Together

Haywood and Weis are very deliberate in their offensive play calling. They are most effective throwing the ball out of the shotgun and do not try and disguise their intent by mixing in runs. In light of this, it is surprising the Irish have not given up more sacks. The pass protection performance of the offensive line is even more impressive than their one sack in 22.5 passing attempts indicates.

Notre Dame doesn’t have to run out of the shotgun formation to help their predictability. Some designed roll outs, screens, and flares can help keep defenses off balance. But the Irish nearly always drop straight back, are terrible executing the screen game, and do not use passes to backs in the flat with any frequency.

Similarly, the Irish run the ball the majority of the time Clausen takes the snap under center. This is likely partially culpable for the poor Irish ground game as opposing defenses can key on particular personnel groupings and formations.

Being unpredictable on a down-and-distance basis helps to mitigate these problems, but being run/pass heavy and sticking to certain personnel groupings during a drive exacerbates them.

Against more talented defenses and better defensive coordinators the Irish may have trouble moving the ball. The element of surprise is a formidable weapon in college football and the Irish all but surrender it to their opponent.



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