One of the most striking things of note during the ND/Navy game this past Saturday was just how much we ran the ball. Notre Dame ended the contest with 46 runs and 23 passes — that’s right, the rushes doubled the passes. More striking though was the fashion in which we ran the football as we saw a mix of personnel packages unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the Kelly era.
Usually, Kelly would run his spread with 11 or 10 personnel packages (quick note on personal numbers: the first digit is the number of running backs and the second is the number of tight ends — e.g. 11 would be 1 RB and 1 TE, meaning 3 WR). This is the more traditional spread offense, that forgoes additional power from fullbacks or additional tight ends in favor of speedy wide receivers.
On Saturday though, Notre Dame threw in a heavier dose of their 12 and 13 personnel than we’ve ever seen before. During the first half of the game, here is what the breakdown looked like (note that I’m only using the first half as the game was in hand by halftime, making the first half play calling more likely representative of the Navy gameplan):[table “” not found /]
Nearly 80% of the plays in the first half were from true power personnel packages. Notre Dame has always had the size advantage against Navy, but these personnel packages allowed for the Irish to take even greater advantage of it.
Also a noticeable change, very few plays were run out of the shotgun:[table “” not found /]
Save for the 11 package, Golson found himself under center running more of a traditional downhill running game instead. While Kelly’s offenses, both at ND and elsewhere, has been known to use option reads, zone reads, and pulling guards, this new variation of Irish offense saw the TEs being heavily utilized as if they were fullbacks, becoming the lead blockers in many cases.
However, there is an additional wrinkle in the 12 and 13 game that Kelly and the Irish played: splitting a TE, usually Eifert, out wide. In fact, Notre Dame made liberal use of this technique:[table “” not found /]
Nearly half of the time the Irish line up, there is a TE split out wide. This allows the Irish to take someone with the size and strength of Eifert to not only dominate smaller defenders on the perimeter, but also be a true receiving threat that the opposing defense must honor. In a sense, it creates a dangerous hybrid receiver that we are seeing more and more of in the NFL (think Patriots TE, Rob Gronkowski).
Now, it should be noted that while in 13, even though Eifert is often technically split out wide, he often motions back into the formation to serve as a lead blocker in a true “jumbo” package. Also, many times, Eifert isn’t split very far off the line in 13 as well, which makes sense as the 13 personnel is very much a power formation, not a speedy spread formation.
These personnel packages may have given us our first clue as to how the Irish will handle a young WR corps that lost a huge piece in Floyd. Many fans have long suspected that the Irish would make heavier use out of their talented TEs, but to see them outright take the place of the more tradition spread personnel was a bit surprising.
Perhaps this is the next step in the evolution of Kelly molding his offense to better fit Notre Dame’s talent. Or perhaps Chuck Martin has given a fresh perspective on how to better attack defenses. Either way, it is hard to argue with the results and it will be interesting to see if the 12 & 13 sees the same amount of time on the field against Purdue as it did Navy.