Notre Dame is undefeated so far but the Fighting Irish offense has yet to truly hit its groove. Purdue presents Notre Dame with its toughest battle yet, and the offense will need to put it all together if the Irish are going to win the game, and win in the manner it should.
There are several keys to this game that will not only bode well for a victory over Purdue, they will also set the offense up for future success. Two are more big picture while the others are more execution specific.
1. Offensive line must be more physical and sound - Notre Dame's line play has been incredibly disappointing the first two games. If the offense is going to reach its potential, against Purdue and future opponents, the unit must play a lot better.
It's imperative that line coach Jeff Quinn get his unit to play a more physical brand of football and that they be assignment correct. Let's accept the faulty premise that this line lacks top level talent, not having a bunch of future first round picks has nothing to do with the two biggest problems that have plagued the line through two games: a lack of toughness/physicality and a unit that simply does not play with very good technique.
Neither have anything to do with experience (most of the line are juniors or older) or a line that has a bunch of new starters. That's a preparation, teaching and mentality, all things a good position coach has complete control over.
2. Spread the ball around a bit more - Seventy-eight percent of Notre Dame's 50 completions have been to three positions, and just four players. Tight end Michael Mayer and wideout Kevin Austin have combined for almost half of Notre Dame's receptions (48%) and over half of the team's yards (52%) and touchdowns (57%). The running backs (Chris Tyree, Kyren Williams) have accounted for another 30% of the catches, 26.5% of the yards and two of the remaining three touchdowns.
It's up to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and quarterback Jack Coan to get more players involved in the game. Braden Lenzy is one player that absolutely must get more involved in the offense. He has been open a lot but the line has failed to give the QB enough time to get him the ball. I'd like to see Lenzy be used more in the screen game, forced touches and use him more on crosses and drags in this game, and future games.
I'd also like to see tight end George Takacs and Avery Davis get more looks in the pass game as well. Spreading the ball around gives the offense more outlets to beat pressures and also makes it harder for defenses to prepare for the offense.
3. First down success is key - It would be easy to say "Run the ball better," but there is more to it than that. Yes, running the ball more effectively in early downs will make the offense better in many ways, including putting the offense in position for easier third-down opportunities.
Success on first-down also must include some quick game and screen success, being able to take and hit some shots and the line absolutely must give Coan time to throw the ball on first down. The easiest way to kill a drive is to give up a sack or a rushed incompletion on first down.
4. Be prepared to beat the pressures - Purdue is going to pressure Notre Dame, and the offense must have a plan to handle that. Number one is to protect the quarterback, number two is to have a plan to handle George Karlaftis and three is to force Purdue to bring more than four and five. Run game success would be part of that but being good in base protections is another part.
If Notre Dame can force Purdue to bring its linebackers and secondary players it must then have a plan to make them pay. After giving up a couple pressures on corner fires last week you can expect Purdue to bring some, and the Irish must make them pay for those heavy pressures.
5. Find ways to hit deep shots - Rees has done a good job designing plays to get players open deep but they haven't been able to protect it. They need to protect it, and if they can the offense needs to hit those deep shots.
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