Saturday’s performance against Boston College was bizarre in the way that even though Notre Dame scored 49 points, ran for 515 yards, and posted a total of 611 yards, the offense did not necessarily pass the eye test. The offense came out flat against BC, continuing their poor vein of form that carried over from last week’s loss against Georgia. The offensive line looked inept for most of two and a half quarters, failing to get a consistent push, and continuing to allow pass rushers to hurry Brandon Wimbush. If it weren’t for some poor arm tackling, the lack of athleticism in Boston College’s secondary, and the strength and athleticism of Josh Adams, Notre Dame could have been trailing BC heading into the half.
The struggles with the Notre Dame’s offense started up front. The offensive line on Saturday was very inconsistent until the third offensive drive of the second half. The line failed to get a consistent push against the Boston College defensive front and allowed Wimbush to get pressured far too often. Fortunately, a pair of 65 yard Josh Adams runs bailed them out. The first included a poor arm tackle by senior cornerback Kamrin Moore behind the line who was in the right position but couldn’t finish with proper technique. The second big run came from good blocking, and was aided by the referee obstructing the vision and path of safety Lukas Denis who would have otherwise been in place to make the stop for just 15 yards at most.
The offense came out flat in the second half as well, with Brandon Wimbush fumbling the ball away after barely getting the first down and followed that up with another three and out. The momentum didn’t swing back in Notre Dame’s favor until Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa stuffed Jon Hilliman for no gain at the ND 30 yard line on fourth and one for the turnover on downs. It was then that Notre Dame’s new strength and conditioning program showed the progress made in the offseason as it wore down the opposing defense and were able convert able to show difference in talent between the two sides.
Coming out of halftime, the offensive staff didn’t do enough to make the tweaks required to change the outcome of the game as were done on defense. The defense recorded three turnovers in the second half (four if you count the turnover on downs on that momentum-shifting fourth and one) which aided the offense in putting them in position to score on each turnover. The offensive staff were aided in this game by a very opportunistic defense and the improvements made by director of football performance Matt Balis.
Thanks to the chunk yardage gained by Adams and Wimbush of 65, 64, 46, 36, 65, and 32, it skews the rushing statistics to 515 yards on 51 carries for a 10.1 yard average. Without those chunk plays, the offense gained 207 yards rushing on 45 attempts for an ordinary pedestrian 4.6 yard average per attempt. 57 of those yards came from Dexter Williams and Deon McIntosh in the last two drives when the game was already out of hand. Without those carries, the average yards per rush drop to 3.9 yards per attempt, which looks even more pedestrian.
Chunk yardage and garbage time yardage are all part of the game, but the point being made here is that they shouldn’t be used to skew the performance on the day. In the end, most of those plays will be negated when facing a more talented team such as USC, Stanford, Miami, or even Michigan State next week on the road. A more talented team won’t be as easily worn down in the second half and will be able to make the tackles and plays required that would limit the explosiveness of such runs. The offensive staff need to be able to get the offensive line to settle down and play more consistently and give a full performance. They need to be able to play the way they did for the last 23 minutes for a full four quarters and be able to give a rookie quarterback time to stand in the pocket and go through his progressions.
On that note, the offensive staff need to put their rookie quarterback in a position to make easy reads for easy passes. Wimbush finished 11 of 24 passing with 96 yards in the air and an interception off of a high pass that was tipped. He failed to read his progressions effectively and had several plays where he didn’t see his open check down receiver and instead ran with it for a negligible gain. There were other plays where he threw the ball inaccurately to Alize Mack and Equanimeous St. Brown who had difficulty bringing in the reception.
Kelly (or Long, depending on who is scheming this offense) needs to simplify the offense for Wimbush. Part of that will be to insert more short passes and slants that prevent the defenses they face from stacking the line of scrimmage. The quick slant will help alleviate the pass rush as it prevents the defense from sending an extra blitzer for the fear of getting burned. This is where someone like a CJ Sanders, Chris Finke, or Cam Smith would come into play.
The other area that the staff can improve on is the play-action passing game. With the identity of the offense already established, and this team doing their best to channel their inner Navy by averaging 330 rushing yards per game, this should open defenses up to the play-action pass. With the safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage, it should not be too difficult to draw them in and expose them with the athleticism of the wide receivers. The most important aspect of the play-action pass is the offensive line being able to hold the pocket for Wimbush so that he may set his feet and throw with proper mechanics. Too often against Georgia and Boston College, Wimbush’s mechanics would break down as he was witnessing the pass rush in his face. The offensive line needs to live up to their collective potential and maintain the pocket so that the receivers have time to get open down the field and that Wimbush can deliver an accurate pass on target.
The offense isn’t terrible by any means, but they have just not been able to live up to the sum of their parts. If Notre Dame are to have a chance of getting to 10 wins, which should be the benchmark of a powerhouse program with the tradition and resources that Notre Dame has, or even eight wins which would be doubling their win total from a year ago, it will need to deliver a complete performance on offense starting with Michigan State.
The Spartans are currently 2-0 and have beaten Bowling Green and Western Michigan handily. Despite not having faced the toughest offensive opponents, MSU is ranked third in total defense in the FBS allowing 204 yards per game total (112 in the air and 91.5 on the ground). Mark Dantonio’s team is also coming off a bye week, which has given them plenty of time to dissect Notre Dame’s new offense and the run-pass option. Michigan State will not be an easy opponent to beat, especially at home at Spartan Stadium, as they are motivated to redeem themselves from the 3-9 debacle of a year ago. This is going to be a statement game for MSU, as it will be for Notre Dame on the road, and if the Irish are to have a chance, they will need to perform the way they did in the second half against Boston College as well as get the passing game on track. With that said, here’s hoping for an offensive breakthrough and the offense getting through their early season growing pains.
The image in this article is used with permission from IrishSportsDaily.com.