As I wrote yesterday’s piece on Tommy Rees, I couldn’t help but dive into some numbers. I felt that another unfair criticism of Rees is the claim that he audibles out of running plays far too often. The corollary of course is that Brian Kelly puts Notre Dame in a position to fail by putting far too much on the shoulders of Rees as well.
AKA, the “RUN THE DAMN BALL!” argument.
Of course, deciding to check out some stats led me into a rabbit hole that started at Tommy Rees and led me to trying to figure out just what Brian Kelly is doing with the Notre Dame offense. Kelly claims that he always calls plays according to the flow of the game, but when we take a look at the big picture, what do we get?
To start, I took a look at the 2013 offense to this point, ten games in. I didn’t just want to do a run/pass breakdown for a couple of reasons. First, college football counts sacks as runs. Second, there is no real way to tell what’s a scramble, sack, or a called QB run from a box score. So instead, I broke the plays down into three categories: Pass Attempts, QB Rushing Attempts (sacks, rushes, and scrambles), and Team Rush Attempts (basically running the damn ball with a RB). The idea was to see how often Kelly relies on the QB to make a play in lieu of handing the ball off. Here is the result:
Overall, the Notre Dame attack is rather balanced. Further, the whole “Tommy is playing his Peyton Manning fantasy and that’s why we don’t run more” doesn’t seem to hold much water either. If Tommy really was checking out of runs as often as most people claim, I would expect that he’d handle the ball somewhere between 60-70% of the time instead of barely pushing past 50%.
Despite only a slight lean on the pass, most people would still say that the real difference between 2013 and 2012 is that we are still running the ball far less. Let’s take a look at how the 2012 offense ended up:
Yes, there was definitely more running, but a much, much larger chunk of those runs came from the QB position. Remember, we aren’t just talking about called runs here either, the 11.9% QB Run includes every time Golson scrambled and made a play with his feet on a called pass as well as any time Rees came in and got sacked. Unfortunately, without sitting down and charting every single play, it is impossible to separate such differences. Despite that, it is rather clear that Kelly prefers to run his offense with a heavy dependency on his QB, whether it is through the air or with his feet.
Interestingly enough, we could draw the conclusion that the more balanced numbers this season is a direct result of Chuck Martin taking over the play calling. While some people would certainly love to debate whether or not Kelly has taken over the play calling duties once again, I’m not sure I’m buying it after seeing this comparison. And don’t believe for one second that Rees is the reason that the offense isn’t as QB dependent because just take a look at what Kelly did in 2011:
Keep in mind, the 2011 season is what created the “TOMMY, NO!” narrative. Yet there Kelly was, putting even more on Rees’ shoulders all year long, even more than Martin (or Kelly if you still have the tin-foil hat on) is this season with a more experienced and improved Rees.
And what of the mostly Crist-led 2010 season? Well, if you already think we don’t run the ball enough, you may want to avert your eyes:
That’s right, in 2010 the QB handled the ball over 60% of the time. Keep in mind, this happened even after Kelly took a lot of pressure off of Rees for the final four games by running the ball more than he passed (147 runs to 103 passes).
To me, it’s abundantly clear that Kelly wants his QB to be the featured playmaker in his offense. Whether it is a pass or a read option, everything builds off the QB being a major threat. However, Kelly has definitely adjusted during his time at Notre Dame. He has become more willing to let his talented running backs take on more of the load.
I believe that the near 50/50 balance that we are seeing this season has little to do with Martin taking over the play calling. I think it has more to do with Kelly knowing that Rees isn’t Golson and has to adjust accordingly. I definitely believe that he would like to have a similar balance that we saw in 2012 as I have little doubt that his offense is very much QB-centric (note: this is not the same as a pass-happy offense).
But as far as running the damn ball more? This season, we are.