Game Observations - Offense: Notre Dame 38, Duke 7
Notre Dame’s offense has been scuffling for much of the 2019 season, but during the team’s 38-7 blowout victory over Duke the offense was much better. The Irish had 469 yards of offense and averaged 6.3 yards per play.
Here is my instant analysis of the offensive performance.
*** I liked the balance we saw from the Notre Dame offense in the first half. Notre Dame had 20 runs and 19 pass attempts, which helped keep Duke off balance.
*** Facing a talented Duke front four, the Notre Dame ground attack was also designed in a way that kept Duke from having success up front. Offensive coordinator Chip Long used the quarterback runs with far greater frequency - and effectiveness - in the win.
*** Notre Dame ran a read play where they would run sweep action with the back in one direction, and depending on the read, quarterback Ian Book would keep the ball and run backside. When Duke over-played the sweep action it opened up big running lanes for Book. Duke had no choice but to stop attacking the run action as aggressively. Book had a 45-yard gain on this concept and several other quality runs.
*** We also saw Notre Dame run the Power Read concept, something we saw last week but haven’t seen much of with Book at quarterback prior to that. In the fourth quarter, Book took off for a 53-yard gain on this concept. When Book gets involved in the run game it makes the offense far more difficult to defend, and it seems to make him more aggressive and more effective, which makes me wonder why we’ve seen this so infrequently this season.
*** Notre Dame also used counter blocking but had Book show sprintout action away from the run, which got Duke to step in his direction and was another concept that kept Duke from pinning its ears back and attacking the Irish run game. This helped the offensive line create more run lanes than we’ve seen in recent games.
*** Only one Duke opponent rushed for more than 175 yards against Duke, which made Notre Dame’s 175 rushing yards in the first half incredibly impressive. Notre Dame finished the game with 288 rushing yards, the most Duke has allowed all season.
*** There were things in this game that I saw from QB Ian Book that frustrated me. He was inaccurate at times on throws that shouldn’t be difficult, he was still late with too many reads and throws, and he wasn’t overly accurate down the field. But there were a lot of things I saw that I really liked as well. He was much more aggressive than he’s been against any previous Power 5 opponents. He’s always been willing to attack downfield early when Notre Dame in on the script, but tonight he stayed aggressive, and it paid off.
*** Even though Book had some inaccuracy issues downfield, but being willing to attack there were plenty of big plays as well. Not only did he complete deep balls to Chase Claypool, but those deep shots also brought on two pass interference penalties. The willingness to be aggressive down the field also complemented the run concepts to keep Duke from getting much of a read on the Irish offense. If Book is willing to be this aggressive in each of the next three games his completion percentage won’t be great (and it wasn’t in this game), but his play - and the play of the offense - will be much, much better. I will take that trade off in a heartbeat.
*** There are things that have to be cleaned up, and if not for a brilliant performance by the defense - and some mistakes by Duke - those mistakes could have proven more costly. There were two third-down misses that were aided by Duke defensive penalties. Book failed to recognize a second quarter pressure that resulted in him forcing a throw that was picked off when he got hit and the ball sailed. But overall there were some really positive signs in the game, and Book looked more like he did last season than the disappointing player we saw the first eight games of this season.
*** Book finished the game 18-32 passing for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 12 attempts in the game.
*** Senior WR Chase Claypool had another outstanding performance for Notre Dame. Claypool finished the game with five catches for 97 yards, but he also drew two pass interference penalties. When the ball was thrown up to him he made plays. The senior had an outstanding third-down slant route to get open for the first touchdown, and he made plays down the field.
*** Duke had no answers for Claypool other than to interfere with him. He even made on tremendous sideline catch that was ruled out of bounds because of an off-target throw. The senior wideout is playing at a very, very high level.
*** For the second straight game, veteran WR Chris Finke looked like his old self. Finke had a rough, rough start to the 2019 season, but he was strong against Virginia Tech and tonight was without question his best game of the season. Finke had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, but he was clutch on money downs and had a gain of about 80 yards brought back by a penalty. When Finke and Claypool are both playing well the Irish offense is much, much better.
*** Senior RB Tony Jones Jr. seemed like he was trying to do too much in his first game back. He wasn’t the patient runner we saw before his rib injury, but he did pick up a crucial 4th-and-1 and also converted a third-down in the pass game.
*** Sophomore RB Jahmir Smith ran well in the game. He was more patient in this game, and the result was a more effective night. Smith rushed for 58 yards on eight carries and had a career-high 40-yard gain to set up Notre Dame’s second touchdown.
*** I liked how physical sophomore RB C’Bo Flemister was in the game. Despite being Notre Dame’s lightest back, he ran with authority on each of his five carries, which included the team’s only rushing touchdown of the game. We haven’t seen Flemister in awhile, but he played well tonight and showed a good burst to go with that physicality.
*** The Irish line was a bit up-and-down at times, but that was to be expected to a degree against a talented Duke front four. For the most part, the Irish line played quite well, especially in the first half. Notre Dame’s front got good movement in the run game and led the charge to a dominant rushing performance.
*** Senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg was steady in the game, thriving in pass protection and getting a good push in the run game. Junior right tackle Joshua Lugg battled on the edge. He struggled at times handling the line games that Duke likes to use, but more often than not he was powerful and effective.
*** Right guard Trevor Ruhland was the weak spot in the Irish offensive line. He was knocked back consistently in the game, and his holding penalty negated the long Finke reception. Ruhland also allowed the pressure that resulted in Book getting picked off in the second quarter, but fortunately the Irish defense kept Duke off the board.
*** Sophomore center Jarrett Patterson had three big mistakes that I could see, which included a whiff on a blitz and a snap infraction, but outside of that I liked what I saw from Patterson. He got good movement on the snaps where I was able to zero in on the interior and his pass protection outside of that miss was quite good. Book had a clean middle of the pocket for much of the night and Patterson played a big role in that.