Spring practice has come and gone. Tex and Lisa told you what they saw. Just yesterday, Bayou discussed whether the Music City Bowl and this year’s glorified scrimmage welcomed in the “era” of #RTDB. Next up on the agenda: Year 6 of the Brian Kelly regime. Members of this staff had differing takes on where Brian Kelly stands in the pantheon of ND coaches who’ve seen a sixth season. Better than Gerry, worse than Gerry doesn’t much matter to me. So long as we’re not discussing Charlie or Ty, I’m reasonably content.
While CBK enters season six, Mike Sanford enters season one as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator. For those scoring at home, Mike Sanford will be the fourth offensive coordinator in Kelly’s six years. By year, the O.C. (cue Phantom Planets and serious Ryan Atwood face) has been:
2010: Charlie Molnar (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
2011: Charlie Molnar (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
2012: Chuck Martin (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
2013: Chuck Martin (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
2014: Mike Denbrock (Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach)
2015: Mike Sanford (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach)
Let’s start off by noting if you’re scoring ND’s offensive coordinator at home, then…good for you. Though, I’d strongly suggest you go and hug the one’s you love. I get away with scoring such things through years of carefully tailored neglect and hugs.
With that out of the way, the question on many people’s minds is what will Sanford’s impact be on the offense? This is a fairly stark departure for Brian Kelly as he has no discernible history with Sanford. Yes, the “quarterback battle” is rightfully the number one agenda item for both the staff and fans, but the identity of the offense (regardless of quarterback) is a close second.
Kelly provided some possible insight into Sanford’s current role following the Blue and Gold Game when he was asked to address whether Sanford called the offensive plays:
All we said, and I said this I think when we were here, is that his focus right now is we’ve got two very, very good quarterbacks. His focus is on our quarterbacks right now and learning the offense and that’s Job 1. The next job will be obviously continue to grow and learn the offense so there’s play calling opportunities there. Mike Denbrock right now is running the entire offense. Those are his calls and his decisions to make. Mike really is somebody capable of doing all of those things, but not at this time. His focus right now is working with the quarterbacks. And so when we put a timetable on it, right now I’m more ready to be the play caller until all these guys are in a position where they can take more of a role offensively. That’s just a matter of where we are right now because most of Mike’s time has been developing the quarterbacks.
That Sanford was not immediately handed carte blanche to run ND’s offense as he sees fit should come as no surprise. After all, on a points per game basis, the 2014 iteration of Notre Dame’s offense was the best of the Kelly era. Mike Denbrock, by title, received a promotion. By Kelly’s quote, it’s clear that the title of Associate Head Coach hardly relieved Denbrock of substantial say in the offense. Kelly’s comments make it clear that Sanford’s job in the short-term is to fill the void left by Matt LaFleur’s return to the NFL.
Sanford is young. Like, young, young. At just 33 years of age, he does not come to Notre Dame with a substantial body of work to evaluate. After spending 3 seasons with Stanford from 2011-2013, Sanford spent last season as the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach at Boise State. His entire body of (coaching) work with quarterbacks is 2013 at Stanford as position coach and last season with the Broncos.
While unfair, perhaps we can glean a tidbit of meaning from quarterback play the immediate season prior to and then during Sanford’s tenure. Let’s be clear: this is a horribly flawed method. There are far too many moving parts to extrapolate 1:1 causation. Heck, it’s quite possible, likely in fact, that the noise far exceeds signal in doing this type of analysis. But with nothing else to go on, and a lot of months to correct as I see fit, let’s give it a go anyways:
Passing Yards Per Game: 200.1 (93rd nationally)
Yards per Attempt: 7.0 (75th nationally)
Yards per Completion: 11.7 (79th nationally)
Passing Yards Percentage: 53.48% (96th nationally)
Passing Yards Per Game: 197.9 (93rd nationally)
Yards per Attempt: 8.9 (11th nationally)
Yards per Completion: 14.6 (11th nationally)
Passing Yards Percentage: 48.77% (103rd nationally)
2013 Boise State:
Passing Yards Per Game: 279.8 (26th nationally)
Yards per Attempt: 7.7 (33rd nationally)
Yards per Completion: 10.9 (107th nationally)
Passing Yards Percentage: 58.75% (65th nationally)
2014 Boise State:
Passing Yards Per Game: 280.4 (26th nationally)
Yards per Attempt: 8.7 (10th nationally)
Yards per Completion: 12.7 (45th nationally)
Passing Yards Percentage: 56.6% (77th nationally)
So, I love you all, but I’m terrified that if I do not reiterate this in big bold letters, I’m going to be misunderstood: There are a LOT of things that might be wrong with this simplified analysis. This is an opening salvo, not a final word on the topic.
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let me say this: Is Mike Sanford possibly the exact perfect match for Notre Dame? At both stops when he’s had a say in the quarterback play, the following “trends” emerged: 1) A decreased percentage of passing yards as a percentage of total offense. Oh yes #RTDB’ers. There is a way of compromise, and his name might be Mike Sanford. Obviously at Stanford (because “tradition,” duh!) and then as O.C. at Boise, Sanford has had no issue featuring a prominent running game. In fact, the Bronco’s star running back, Jay Ajayi, received more rushing attempts than any other back in all of college football last year. While Bosie’s offense overall improved from 2013 to 2014, the passing game became “slightly” less important in the Sanford “era.”
Given Notre Dame’s depth on both the offensive line and in the backfield, Sanford’s experience and track record in rushing oriented offenses should be seen as nothing but a plus. His hiring hardly ushers in an air raid mentality. In fact, quite the opposite, Sanford’s far more familiar with rush oriented offenses that attempt to use the passing attack strategically.
To my mind, even more encouraging given Sanford’s title as Quarterback’s Coach at each of his previous stops and at Notre Dame is that on a per attempt and completion basis, Mike Sanford passing attacks improved under his guidance. In fact, on a per attempt basis, both Stanford and Boise State saw drastic improvements in their passing game with Sanford’s instruction. Sure, it helped that both situations involved a starter going from year one to year two, but well….as I recall….Notre Dame’s got one quarterback going into year 3 as a starter and another itching to increase his snap share in year two. Things seem ripe for The Sanford Effect.
I can think of nothing more exciting than the notion of Notre Dame both running the ball more and improving drastically on efficiency in the passing game. This appears to be where Sanford excels and explains Kelly’s post B-G Game remarks about wanting Sanford to focus on improving the quarterbacks in the short term. After all, that’s what Sanford’s brief but interesting track record suggests he’s good at.
With a lot of months to go, we have some time to consider these issues more, but consider this my kickoff of the Mike Sanford will be a significant difference maker in 2015 campaign.
Survivor of the Davie, O'Leary, Willingham football eras. Southern. Charming and more often than not the wittiest person at his dinner table (he eats alone quite a bit).
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