No matter who starts at quarterback for Notre Dame in 2021 there is one certainty, the offense needs to get far more effective attacking defenses down the field.
With the exception of stretches in 2018 and 2019, Notre Dame's downfield passing game has been inconsistent at best. The Irish offense also wasn't great at attacking the intermediate zones, which is the 11-19 yards past the line area.
The arrival of Wisconsin grad Jack Coan could be the first step towards making improvements in both areas. If you're someone who believes a powerful right (or left) arm is the only way to make this happen you won't be moved by Coan's arrival. If you're someone like me, someone who studies film, likes to look at numbers and grew up watching Danny Wuerffel attack down the field you'll like what you see.
Coan wasn't a high volume passer in either area, which says a lot more about the Wisconsin offense than it does his ability to attack those zones. While Coan doesn't have a powerful arm, the traits he does have made him a highly effective deep ball thrower.
The first way to evaluate that is to look at the numbers compared to other quarterbacks at Wisconsin.
As you can clearly see, Coan was a significantly more effective deep ball thrower than every quarterback to play at Wisconsin since Pro Football Focus started collective this data. Coan had a much higher completion rate and yards per attempt rate.
Coan also had the highest yards per attempt and completion rate in the intermediate zones than did the other Wisconsin quarterbacks.
Compare Coan's vertical pass game stats in his one year as a starter to those of Ian Book during his career as a starter at Notre Dame.
Coan's vertical numbers are significantly better despite having inferior talent around him compared to Book, and despite him not having Book's arm strength, at least not based on what we see on film.
A strong downfield pass game isn't just throws beyond 20 yards and deep balls, it's also being willing to attack the intermediate zones. That is another area where Coan's effectiveness was significantly better than Book's.
To wrap up the statistical part of this breakdown, look at the comparison of the two quarterbacks on deep and intermediate throws combined.
Coan's deep ball effectiveness and strength in the intermediate game isn't about arm strength, but overall arm talent. Coan is a smart quarterback that knows how to read defenses, he understands the importance of throwing the ball on time and he's an accurate quarterback.
Here's a few examples.
In clip number one (which has two angles), Coan does a few things very well. First, watch his eyes on this clip, watch him look off the safety. Once hits the top of his drop he knows that he has the backside one-on-one because he has manipulated the safety, and he launches it downfield for a big play.
For those that think you need burners to make plays like this, the wideout who caught this pass ran a 4.73 at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and just a 4.62 at the Wisconsin Pro Day.
The second clip is a 4th-down play against Michigan. Coan again makes a quick read and lets the ball fly downfield as soon as he hits the top of his drop. The throw is perfectly placed on the outside shoulder of the wideout. Coan knows the ball needs to get out quick and he takes a shot as he lets it loose.
You'll see from both angles that once again Coan freezes the safety with his eyes after the snap. Coan knows the routes his receivers are running and he knows that freezing the safety is important to clear up the wheel route.
Throwing the ball effectively down the field is also about knowing when to hit the backshoulder throw. Here are some examples:
In the first clip of this video you see Coan again looking off the safety, this time the Ohio State safety in the Big Ten title game. This time he knows he can't get the ball over the top, so he puts the ball on the backshoulder and gives his wideout a chance to make the play. Coan also shows his toughness on the throw by taking a shot as he gets rid of the ball.
On clip two he reads the boundary safety and goes to the wheel route. He also sees that the linebacker has up-field leverage on his running back, so Coan hits the backshoulder throw instead of getting it over the top.
Clip three is another well thrown backshoulder throw.
Part of an effective vertical passing game is being able to attack the middle of the field and to attack the deeper parts of the intermediate zones along the sideline. Here are some of those throws.
In clip one, Coan sees the boundary safety immediately get off the hash so Coan goes backside and gets his eyes on the field safety. As soon as the field safety works off the hash he knows he has the middle of the field seam for a score. Its a fast read, a great read and a deep accurate throw.
The next two clips are corner throws. You'll see Coan make a fast read and as soon as his target gets to the top of the route the ball comes out accurately. Great reads, great timing, accurate on the throws.
The second corner route is even more impressive considering it was the backside of the read. Coan initially looks left, comes back to his right and sees that he has the window over top of the corner open and he gets the ball out over top for the big play.
Coan has the tools to be a highly effectively downfield thrower in the Notre Dame offense, and from the shotgun I could see him being even more effective because it will allow him to process information a lot quicker. If he does what I think he can the Irish vertical game could see a big jump in production and effectiveness.
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