Saturday was the first game in a loooong time where I was truly frustrated with Notre Dame’s offensive game plan. Of course, the Irish still scored enough points to win and it was not very long ago where ND would have lost by 10 points to that same Michigan State team. While style points would have offered some icing on a cake made of pass interference calls, feeling the need to complain about the effort really shows how far this program has come over the past few seasons.
One topic that has received a LOT of attention on social media and internet message boards is the offense’s run/pass balance. This has been particularly noticeable in certain situations like when Chuck Martin is calling for an empty backfield on 3rd and 1 or when only 1 red zone play against Michigan ends up being a run. While the anecdotal view is pertinent (and important, because football is after all a situational game), I wanted to take a closer look at the run/pass balance for the Irish through the first 4 games of the 2013 season.
As seen above, overall the Irish have passed on 54% of offensive snaps. During the 12-0 2012 campaign, they passed 43% of the time, while they passed 52% of the time in 2011 and 53% of the time in 2010. Looking more closely, they have tended to be more pass heavy in the 1st half. Considering the more conservative late game play calling to hold onto leads against Temple, Purdue and Michigan State, this is not much of a surprise. What stuck out to me the most is how pass heavy the offense has been in the 2nd quarter, when as I wrote about last week the 2nd quarter has been Tommy Rees’s worst by far so far this season. Has he struggled because clear 2nd quarter passing situations have put defenses in good position or has the staff called a pass heavy offense in the 2nd quarter that has not been favorable to Rees’s skill set?
After running the ball on 58% of all 1st down plays in 2012, it is a bit surprising that staff is choosing to run on less than half of 1st down plays in 2013. Of course, Brian Kelly mentioned that teams have been putting 8 men in the box on 1st down which has led to more passing opportunities, but it still represents a significant departure from what we saw last year. As the season progresses and 1 or 2 running backs begin to separate themselves in terms of playing time, I think it is quite possible this number will begin to normalize.
As you would expect from watching the Irish so far this year, the offense has been most pass heavy when in the red zone. This may represent the biggest departure from 2012 – last year, the Irish offense ran the ball on 64% of plays in the red zone compared to only 39% this year. Looking more closely at the numbers, both Rees and Everett Golson have struggled to find their receivers inside the red zone. Last year the ND offense only completed 35% of passes in the red zone, and this season the number has improved to a very slightly less miserable 40%. ‘
It remains a bit early in the season to look too deeply into these numbers, but there is certainly a noticeable trend towards the pass at this point. Do you think this trend benefits the offense? How much of this deviation from 2012 is due to Rees’s lack of running ability?