Grading The Notre Dame Offense vs. Duke
Notre Dame kicked off the 2020 season with a 27-13 victory over Duke. There’s been plenty of post-game analysis of the victory, and now it’s time to hand out the grades. We’ll kick things off by breaking down the Irish offense.
COACHING — B-
Notre Dame had a relatively conservative game plan in the season opener, which wasn’t necessarily unexpected. Considering it was the first game for coordinator Tommy Rees and there was an expectation of rain, a more conservative game plan was somewhat expected.
The biggest takeaway from the game was the ability of Rees to design an effective screen game, which has been a major problem for the Irish in recent seasons. Notre Dame completed two screens in the first half that went for a total of 95 yards, and a third screen would have also gone for big yards if it was executed properly by the quarterback. They were well designed screens and well-timed play calls.
Notre Dame’s run game struggled to get going between the tackles and there simply weren’t enough designed downfield shots. Notre Dame went with a slow tempo in the game, which meant the game plan should have better utilized movements, motions and alignments to gain leverage and numbers advantages, especially for the run game.
The Irish coaching staff also didn’t do a good enough job mixing up its personnel at wide receiver, and using its more explosive players to stretch the field.
At the end of the day, the game plan and play calling was good enough to rack up 441 yards and 27 points. With better execution that would have been at least 500 yards and two more touchdowns.
QB IAN BOOK (75 snaps) — C
Stats: 19-31, 61.3%, 263 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT / 9 rushes, 12 yards
Book’s numbers were decent but they don’t reflect his average play. Almost half of his yards (113) were from passes that were completed behind the line of scrimmage, and another 90 yards were on completions on throws that went less than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Book locked in on his first read too often, did a below average job of working through his progressions and he missed too many opportunities for big plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Book went just 4-9 on throws of 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage.
The Irish quarterback also did a poor job managing the pocket, and his rushed mechanics and pocket feel resulted in him moving into pressure too frequently. Book also struggled with touch, and his interception was a result of him locking onto a route and failing to see a defender standing right in the throwing lane. His miss on a scree pass to Kyren Williams eliminated a chance for another huge play.
One bright spot was Book’s throw to Avery Davis for a touchdown. It was a third-down throw and no one had much room to work, but Book threw a well-placed ball to Davis in coverage. By giving his receiver a chance to make a play the Irish got six points instead of settling for a field goal. That is something he needs to do a lot more moving forward.
RB KYREN WILLIAMS (52 snaps) — B
Stats: 19 carries, 112 yards, 5.9 YPC, 2 TDs / 2 catches, 93 yards
There is plenty that Williams will need to clean up from a footwork and decision making standpoint. But what I loved about his performance was Williams showing a willingness to run with authority and to keep hammering away, even when there wasn’t much room to work. When there finally started to be more room, Williams then did more damage.
With better decision making he would have been even more productive, but that will come with more experience. His best read was on the 4th-and-1 touchdown run, as Williams stayed on his track, saw that his tackle had made a strong block and then bounced the ball outside. If he commits too soon the play doesn’t work, if he misses the run the play doesn’t work.
He made a good read on the 75-yard screen reception and he would have been well over 100 yards receiving if Book didn’t sail a screen pass over his head. Williams must get a lot better in pass protection, but he did step up with an important block on Book’s touchdown to Williams.
RB CHRIS TYREE (13 snaps) — B-
Stats: 6 carries, 20 yards, 3.3 YPC
Tyree didn’t have much room to work on his six carries, but you could see the burst. On the one carry where he did have room he ripped off a gain of 25 yards. Tyree only had one touch in the first half, but he got a bit more work in the second half. He’ll need to clean up his pass protection from an assignment standpoint, but he did show a willingness to step up and take on a blitzer.
WR JAVON McKINLEY (61 snaps) — C+
Stats: 0 catches
McKinley blocked extremely well in the game, and he had a great downfield block on Williams’ 26 yard scoring run. His grade is low because his route running and effort in the pass game wasn’t good enough. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t targeted in the game, but McKinley didn’t show much urgency coming off the line with his routes and he was often late getting into his top ends.
He would be better served playing more in the boundary, where his skillset is ideally suited.
WR JOE WILKINS JR. (40 snaps) — B
Stats: 4 catches, 44 yards, 11.0 YPC
Wilkins stepped up when Ben Skowronek went down, and he took full advantage of the extra reps. The junior caught four passes - the first of his career - and he was instrumental in Notre Dame’s first half ending field goal drive. The big play came when he caught a pass well in bounds, broke a tackle and outran the defense to the sideline, which preserved a timeout.
Wilkins had some struggles in the boundary against press coverage or when he was re-routed, which brings his grade down a bit. Flipping him and McKinley from a position standpoint would be wise moving forward.
WR AVERY DAVIS (37 snaps) — B-
Stats: 2 catches, 26 yards, 13.0 YPC, 1 TD
Davis had a solid performance in his first start. He was only targeted twice, and both catches were clutch. His first catch was a 9-yard gain on an option route that converted a third-and-8 situation. Davis did a good job pushing vertical off the line and then ensuring that he ran past the first down marker with his route, but his momentum did bring him back a bit. Davis showed the field awareness to work past the line after the catch.
He finished that drive off with an impressive 17-yard grab in the end zone, which also came on third down. His overall route running needs work, and like the rest of the receivers he needs to show more urgency coming off the line.
WR BEN SKOWRONEK (26 snaps) — C
Stats: 0 catches
Skowronek had a rough first game in an Irish uniform. Before he went down with a hamstring injury, Skowronek had a really hard time getting separation in the pass game and his blocking left a lot to be desired. His one strong block, however, was big because it helped spring Williams free on the 75-yard screen pass.
WR LAWRENCE KEYS III (14 snaps) — B-
Stats: 1 catch, 4 yards
Keys needs more than 14 snaps, especially when Braden Lenzy is out and the talented freshmen are standing on the sidelines. He was the only receiver that showed the ability to get over top of the defense. Although his initial release wasn’t clean, Keys came open for what could have been a huge play in the first quarter, but Book didn’t see him. He also got a step on a deep post routes that Book again missed because he didn’t use enough touch.
Keys blocked well, but he must clean up his release on mesh and cross routes.
TE TOMMY TREMBLE (57 snaps) — B-
Stats: 5 catches, 38 yards, 7.6 YPC
Tremble missed a huge opportunity to convert a third down early in the game by dropping a pass. He was solid other than that, catching five passes for 38 yards. His grade is a B- (instead of being lower) because he blocked extremely well in the game. He had a crucial second level block on the Williams long touchdown run and he was quite physical at the point of attack.
TE BROCK WRIGHT (32 snaps) — C
Stats: 0 catches
Wright got no separation in his limited route opportunities. He had a good counter block, but overall his blocking at the point of attack was just average.
TE MICHAEL MAYER (28 snaps) — B+
Stats: 3 catches, 38 yards, 12.7 YPC
Mayer was a threat in his first career performance. His route running was crisp for a freshman, his 16-yard catch was in traffic and he bailed Book out by catching a third-down throw that was well short of the sticks, and then breaking tackles on his way to moving the chains. Mayer will need to clean up his blocking a bit, but he was willing to mix it up.
LT LIAM EICHENBERG (75 snaps) — B
Eichenberg needed some time to adjust to the speed (Chris Rumph II), power (Victor Dimukeje) combination that Duke had on the edge. Once he got up to speed he handled the Duke edge players relatively well. His blocking on the edge in the run was solid, and he had a crucial block on the long Williams touchdown run.
LG AARON BANKS (75 snaps) — C+
Banks was solid in pass protection, but his run blocking was far too erratic to earn a better grade. He was better in the second half, but Banks get off was inconsistent. His second level blocking in the first half was below average, but he did improve in the second half. He had a good block on a linebacker on Tyree’s 25-yard run.
C JARRETT PATTERSON (75 snaps) — C+
Like Banks, Patterson was better in the second half but his overall performance wasn’t up to his standard. He didn’t move his feet consistently when engaged in the pass game, which resulted in him giving up a couple of hurries. His run blocking was up-and-down, but he did get a bit better movement on stretch plays.
RG TOMMY KRAEMER (75 snaps) — C-
Kraemer had a rough day in the season opener. His get off was unimpressive, and there were way too many snaps where he just caught a defender or got knocked back. Kraemer didn’t show the power we’ve seen from him in the past, and his footwork off the ball wasn’t good enough. His pass protection was solid, but he needs to get better in the run game.
RT ROBERT HAINSEY (75 snaps) — B
Hainsey had a similar problem to Eichenberg in that he needed some time to get up to speed against the talented Duke edge rushers. Once he got up to game speed he handled them well. I saw some punch from Hainsey in the pass game, which was a good sign, and he was quick getting to the edges in the run game. He needed some time to shake off the rust, but once he did he played good football.
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