With Everett Golson back at quarterback for the Fighting Irish, it appears Notre Dame’s offense will shift from the “check it and chuck it” philosophy of the Tommy Rees era to the “call it and haul it” up-tempo philosophy Brian Kelly prefers. By shifting to an up-tempo philosophy, the offense will have to rely less on pre-snap audibles to get out of “bad plays” and rely more on packaged plays to keep defenses honest.
Why use packaged plays?
Packaged plays are two-in-one plays that give the offense a run/pass option. Typically, the quarterback will read a single defender and decide whether to pass or hand-off based on that defender’s movement. If the defender plays the run, the quarterback throws to the area the defender vacated; if he plays the pass, the quarterback hands off to the running back. Packaged plays suit up-tempo offenses because they simplify the quarterback’s reads and essentially provide built-in audibles that don’t require any checks at the line of scrimmage.
The most common packaged plays are bubble screens and stick/draw plays, but the possibilities are endless. Let’s take a look at a few examples of some packaged plays Brian Kelly used in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Y-Stick packaged with a zone run
The Y-Stick is a quick passing concept where the slot or “Y” receiver runs a 5-6 yard hitch while another receiver runs a flat/quick out. This route combination stretches the flat defender horizontally. Although Kelly has been known to package the Y-Stick with draws and counters in the past, he combined the Y-Stick and inside zone play against Rutgers several times.
On this play, the Irish line up in a trips formation with 11 personnel, i.e., one running back, one tight end and three receivers. T.J. Jones, C.J. Prosise and Troy Niklas are lined up to the field. Rutgers is in base 4-3 personnel, and the Scarlet Knights only put five defenders in the box. Notice how the trips formation forces all three linebackers to shift to the field.
The Mike linebacker (circled) is the read defender. If he comes up in run support, Rees will throw to Niklas on the hitch; if he drops, Rees will hand-off to Folston on the inside zone play.
Because the Mike initially takes a drop step, Rees hands off to Folston on the inside zone. The Irish have a blocker for each run defender. Although the Mike eventually recognizes the run, his hesitation allows Folston to pick up seven yards on first down.
WR screen packaged with a zone run
The next play is a variation of the popular bubble screen/zone run combo.
Notre Dame once again lines up with trips to the field and 11 personnel. Rutgers only has five defenders in the box, but the Scarlet Knights have a four-to-three advantage on the perimeter. If the decision to hand-off or throw the screen is determined pre-snap, Rees should give the ball to McDaniel. If this is an in-play decision, Rees will read the Mike (circled) to determine what to do.
The Mike stays put, leaving Notre Dame with a blocker for every run defender. Rees arguably should hand-off regardless of whether he is reading the Mike or simply counting numbers. But rather than hand-off to McDaniel against a five-man box, Rees turns and throws to Daniels in the slot.
Niklas buries his man, and Daniels cuts upfield. With the safety playing deep and Brown occupying the corner, the Mike is isolated one-on-one with Daniels. Daniels ultimately slips past him and picks up the first down.
Packaging a pop pass with an inside zone
Packaging rhythm throws with zone run plays is the latest innovation in packaged plays. While it is not entirely clear whether the following play is a packaged play or a predetermined playaction pass, it illustrates how a run/pass conflict can get a defender out of position.
Notre Dame lines up in a 2×2 spread formation with Troy Niklas as the slot receiver in the boundary. Rutgers has six defenders in the box and a two-high safety look. Rees will read the boundary linebacker (circled).
As McDaniel reaches the mesh point, the boundary linebacker attacks the line of scrimmage. Rees has an easy read and throw to Niklas who gets open between the second and third levels of the defense.
The advantage of packaging pop passes with runs as opposed to packaging the stick is that the quarterback can hit the receiver in stride. If the receiver shakes one defender, it leads to a big play.
These are but a few examples of the types of packaged plays Notre Dame will run next year. With Golson’s mobility, it will be interesting to see if Kelly builds additional reads into these plays to further stress the defense the way teams like Auburn and Oregon do. In any event, the ultimate success or failure of Kelly’s “call it and haul it” philosophy will depend, in part, on Everett Golson’s ability to execute packaged plays.