Game Observations: Notre Dame Offense vs. Duke

Bryan Driskell

It wasn't pretty, but the Notre Dame offense pulled away from Duke to earn a 27-13 victory in the season opener.

Here's my instant analysis from the performance of the Notre Dame offense.

** Overall, it was a dry game plan from first-year coordinator Tommy Rees. He made very good use of screens early in the game, setting up a 20-yard gain for Jafar Armstrong off a fake reverse, and then hitting Kyren Williams on a tunnel screen that went for 75 yards. Outside of that, there weren't enough deep shots to soften up the Duke defense, and Notre Dame was far too conservative in the game. I also wasn't overly impressed with the use of formations or motions to gain advantages, which is a must when an offense goes without tempo—and Notre Dame went without tempo the entire game.

** Quarterback Ian Book struggled in the opener against the Blue Devils. It was a performance that was reminiscent of early in the 2019 season. Book either locked in on a receiver or didn't properly go through his progressions. There were far too many instances where he had a receiver open but he failed to get the ball out, or out on time.

** Book also showed very little touch on Saturday, which looked to be a byproduct of him rushing his throws. His pocket mechanics were rushed all game, and it forced him to miss on several short throws that could have gone for big gains. One example was a third-quarter screen pass to Williams that was set up perfectly, but Book rushed it, threw it high and hard, and it went over Williams' head.

** Book's interception was a result of him locking onto Tommy Tremble and then rushing the throw. There was a defender sitting right in the window, and that pass was tipped and then picked off in the end zone, wasting the 75-yard reception by Williams the play before.

** RB Kyren Williams ran hard in the game, and he was decisive. I was impressed with what he did in the game, although for much of the contest he didn't have much room to work (see below). When Williams did get room to work, he made plays.

** Williams scored a 26-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-1 that was aided by good blocking on the edge, but the sophomore running back read the blocking perfectly, bounced outside, got behind his blockers and raced to the end zone.

** Williams finished the game with an impressive 112 yards on 19 carries, and they were well-earned yards. He also hauled in two passes for 93 yards. His numbers would have been even better in the pass game if not for that miss by Book.

** Williams had a crucial blitz pick up on Book's touchdown pass to Davis. He picked up his pass blocking in the second half after he struggled with it early on.

** Freshman RB Chris Tyree showed some juice on the one play where he had room to work, rushing for a 25-yard gain in the fourth quarter. I was surprised he only had one touch in the first half. 

 ** The wide receivers had an up-and-down performance. At times they struggled to get separation, and at other times they were able to work themselves open but the ball wasn't delivered on time. 

** Senior WR Javon McKinley was rarely targeted in the pass game, and his one target that would have picked up a third-down was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty on Tremble. He had a great downfield block on the 26-yard scoring run by Williams.

** Senior WR Avery Davis was targeted just twice, but he made an impact on those two throws. His first catch was on an inside option route where he hauled in a pass for 9 yards to convert a third-and-8. His second catch was a contested seam route for a 17-yard touchdown. The defender was in good position, but Book gave Davis a chance to make the play—which was also on third down—and Davis out-played the defender for the ball.

** Junior WR Lawrence Keys III caught just one pass, a shovel for 4 yards, but he was open more than that. In fact, there was a deep drag route he ran in the second quarter where if Book sees him, it's probably a 60+ yard touchdown.

** Junior WR Joe Wilkins Jr. had a solid performance, hauling four passes for 44 yards. He made two clutch plays late in the first half to set up a field goal. He caught a ball in bounds but broke two tackles to get out of bounds, which stopped the clock and saved a timeout. He has to work on getting off press in the boundary, but he was solid.

** TE Tommy Tremble led the offense with five catches, but he did have a big drop that would have gone for a lot of yards in the first quarter. His blocking was stellar from what I could evaluate live. He had a great block on the Williams TD run and also sprung Williams on a counter run that went for 11 yards.

** Freshman TE Michael Mayer had a strong first game in a Notre Dame uniform. He hauled in a 16-yard out throw in traffic for his first career catch, and he set up the Davis touchdown by catching a short crossing route on third-and-7 before breaking two tackles and moving the sticks. His elite talent was on full display today.

** The offensive line as a whole was disappointing in the victory. The tackles had a hard time early with the Duke pass rush, although they did settle down in the first half. There was way too much catching in the run game, and the offense struggled to get any kind of movement between the tackles. Struggling against the tackles was to be expected, at least at times, but not getting movement against the completely revamped interior of the Duke line was unexpected and concerning.

** Right tackle Robert Hainsey and right guard Tommy Kraemer had great downfield blocks on the 75-yard screen play to Williams. Outside of that Kraemer struggled for much of the game, often getting stalemated at the line or even getting knocked back.

I'll have more on the offensive line after I break down the film.

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Comments (32)
No. 1-17
chamgel
chamgel

“Way too much catching”... I feel like this has been said the entire time Jeff Quinn has been here. That for me was the most disappointing part of the offense today, the offensive line looked the same in the run game as it did last year, and we all know that will not be good enough against better teams.

TxIrish
TxIrish

Bryan, thanks for the instant analysis. So glad to be able to read one after all the drama of this off season! I was really surprised by that early catch in traffic by Mayer - he didn't look like a true freshman!

Looking forward to your run game analysis of the offensive line play...

FamousAmos
FamousAmos

Agreed with pretty much everything. Obviously would like to see this offense with Lenzy, and Austin. Kyren, Mayer, and Tyree are going to be a biggggg problem for defenses for the foreseeable future. My game one take on Rees as a player caller was very stubborn. I get wanting to establish the run but at some point you need to throw the ball down the field. Very predictable through 4 quarters. Hopefully they get a lot more aggressive.

GoIrish99
GoIrish99

Is it possible that lenzy is suspended or injured I mean how do you not use him?

KMoore-24
KMoore-24

Very disappointed in the play of Ian Book today. I did not think he played well at all. I am sure BK will have some ready made excuses when talking about his QB. I didnt really know what to expect from Kyren William's today. Like everyone else I heard some very good things about him over the past few weeks. He really impressed with his physicality and he even has a little wiggle about him as well. Tyree was ok today I thought. He had a good run and and a good kick return but I was under the impression that he would get more touches. Either way you see how explosive he is with the ball in his hands and moving forward he needs to get a minimum of 10 touches a game. I thought the WR play was a little shaky. I really dont understand why we didnt look to stretch the field more. To put more pressure on Dukes secondary to cover our guys down the field but that clearly was not part of the game plan today and I dont know why. Mayer looks like the real deal though. I initially thought Tremble would be the breakout star at TE today but now I dont know. He has really good hands and he is hard to bring down. He has the chance to be elite and that is not a word I use very often.

This OL today was every bit as disappointing as Book IMO. 40 some rushes right at 4.1 or 4.2 a pop isnt terrible but its par for the course with this group. In order for this program to take the next step and challenge Clemson for the ACC and get back to the playoffs the OL needs to be the strength of this team and we flat out did not see that today. I thought they were soft today.

IrishDeke
IrishDeke

Our O-Line must learn how to play a completely different brand of football in the next 2 games or we will not be playing for a conference championship much less a national one. If Kyren hadn't run so hard I'm not sure we win today.

On the plus side the D seemed to improve on each series to keep the game from getting away from the Irish. And how about Foskey?! Every time he was on the field he did something that caught our attention. Could see him as a starter by season's end.

Jacob15
Jacob15

Fair and honest analysis. Thanks! I completely agree!

So is this who Ian Book is? Are we going to see him take a step forward with his pocket presence and willingness to let it rip? I have a suspicion that we won’t see him dramatically improve in those areas.

SDS123
SDS123

Underwhelming. Get that Covid and first game affect performance but they really didn’t show much the entire game. Maybe because Book was off. Bright spots are Williams, Tyree and Mayer.
Maybe my expectations were set too high but I am truly perplexed. Hopefully there is a ton of improvement before the next game. I am very curious as to how the other top ten teams perform.

USAF40ND
USAF40ND

I’ve had a chance to cool off, and what I saw if not for a couple of dropped or misexecuted plays/penalties, missed tackles, ND wins 37-6.
You all can freak out. That’s cool. But ND screwed themselves and still won by a couple of scores. It’s a great learning process. But if you have an agenda to complain, go for it...

GingerBeard
GingerBeard

I agree wholeheartedly on the offensive line. You’ve been talking for months about wanting to see them start to push off the ball. I watched for it the whole game and really only saw a few moments. They appeared to have to rely on misdirection maybe? But oof. They needed some of Kyrens drive and energy

KevinPS
KevinPS

What concerns me is the lack of any imagination in the play calling and, as Bryan said, the lack of use of formations and motion. If this weren't an experienced OL and QB, I could see--sort of--not wanting to confuse the players and focus on execution. I didn't see that. No imagination, no speed, and not even great execution. Very disappointing. Kind of like Kelly's last four hires--no imagination, just go get guys you know.

Irish1966
Irish1966

The offensive line hype didn’t materialize in performance and is very concerning. Duke had a few quality players on defense but not enough to be so disruptive all game long. The line is soft. A reflection of how their coordinator coaches them. No driving and dictating just catching of the rush. Thus, no holes or seems for the running backs.

Tuxedocat15
Tuxedocat15

It shouldn’t take an offensive coordinator 3 quarters to attempt one pass beyond 20 yards. Similarly, it shouldn’t take 4 drives for an OC to call plays that involve motion/misdirection. I understand that Rees is inexperienced but we shouldn’t have an OC learning on the job.

I appreciate the analysis, Brian. Go Irish!!

mccards15
mccards15

I agree with most everything said except I thought Tommy Rees called a really solid game. For those complaining about no deep targets, Dungy showed at least one where Book didn’t take the shot. I saw another receiver open deep in the first quarter Book missed. That’s not on Rees. If Book doesn’t make a bad decision in the red zone or miss Williams on the screen, they could have very easily scored over 40 points. Rees also to his credit stuck with the run and wore down the Duke defense. 2-3 yard runs in the first quarter became 8-10 yard runs in the second half. All in all, I’m not happy with how the team played offensively, but I am encouraged by Tommy Rees’ patience. I think more creativity will come as the team settles into the season.

ndocd
ndocd

Mr Book. I tried so hard to overcome my preseason biases regarding your ability to lead this team to greatness. I've seen you have great games against mediocre opponents and I do appreciate the fact that rarely do I now have to worry about losing to the likes of a New Mexico or Bowling Green. Not like I used to anyway. Still, I have yet to see that "signature win" that I will remember long after you're gone. Your critics have not been kind to you, and I admit that I have been one of them. I wasn't entirely happy with your decision to return for a fifth year, but I accepted it. I accepted it because I felt that there was enough talent around you for the Irish to make a run at another 10+ win season, and possibly--just possibly--you would rise to the occasion with winning performances against our strongest opponents and give us a shot at a playoff berth. I did not see that today. My fears were again raised that you are in fact a decent quarterback, but not necessarily an elite one that will be able to shine against our toughest competition. I hope I am wrong. You seem like a good guy and I only wish the best for you. We have upcoming games where I feel you have the necessary tools to lead the Irish to victory. I only hope that come November, those tools will be honed enough that you will finally be able to silence your critics once and for all and be that quarterback that I know you want to be. Good luck against USF next week

jameskroner3
jameskroner3

I’m hoping Rees game plan and lack of creativity was on purpose as to not show too much early on. Because if not this team will have a hard time getting 100yards total vs Venebles defense. Already miss Long. The combo of Quinn and Rees is MAC level, something Kelly still can’t seem to shake.

ND68
ND68

Anyone who has played offense on football knows that an offensive line takes on the personality and drive of the QB and the QB takes on the personality and drive of the Coach. That is what we have been seeing for over a year. With Kelly's decisions on Book vs. Jurkovec and Rees I think it was an unfortunate that a contract extension was announced.

Like Book and Rees (if you remember) Kelly's career at ND is guided by his fear of failure and making poor decisions because he was afraid of making a wrong decision.

I did have one great moment watching the game yesterday. I have always been critical of throwing a 5 yard pass to a covered receiver on third and 9, especially when that was the designed play but we saw a tight end get out of a tackle and battle for the yardage and get the first down.

1 Reply

ndocd
ndocd

Mayer was nothing but spectacular on that play and may very well have saved the game for the Irish on his second effort alone. I am suddenly very much looking forward to seeing him play over the coming season.


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