Thoughts on Notre Dame football, Irish recruiting and college football as a whole.
KEYS TO AN EXPLOSIVE NOTRE DAME OFFENSE
Notre Dame absolutely must take a big jump forward on offense in 2021. That is the side of the ball that is keeping the Irish program from truly competing for a championship. In Notre Dame's three games where it was competing for a championship (BCS, CFP) the offense averaged just 10.3 points per game.
There are a number of keys to the 2021 Notre Dame offense breaking down that barrier and becoming a championship caliber offense. Some are scheme driven, some are results driven and others are personnel driven.
1. Be aggressive — In a recent interview Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees talked about the need to be aggressive and efficient on offense in 2021. In the video at the top of the page you can listen to Rees talking about it and in the video at the bottom of the page we discuss what that looks like.
Notre Dame can't look like it did a season ago and attacking opponents game after game, series after series and play after play must be at the foundation of everything else the staff does on offense.
2. Make dramatic red zone improvement — Notre Dame ranked 102nd in red zone offense in 2020 and 84th in red zone touchdown offense. Those are very, very poor numbers. 2020 national champ Alabama ranked fifth in red zone offense, 2019 champ LSU ranked fourth and 2018 champ Clemson ranked fourth.
Simply put Notre Dame must get A LOT better when it comes to scoring in the red zone and especially touchdowns in the red zone.
Notre Dame ranked 10th in red zone offense and eighth in red zone touchdown success in 2019. If the 2020 offense was as good at scoring touchdowns in 2020 as it was in 2019 the offense would have averaged 38 points per game.
Success in the red zone would be a huge first step towards Notre Dame becoming a more dominant and effective offense. It's not the only step, and the offense needs to do other things, but greater success in the red zone in an absolute must.
3. Continue 3rd-down success — Notre Dame was very, very good on third-down in 2020, which was a much-needed jump that must continue. The last time Notre Dame ranked in the Top 30 in third-down offense was 2014 (15th). In the five years in between Notre Dame ranked 65th, 32nd, 33rd, 65th and 39th in third-down offense.
I talk often about Notre Dame's need to be more explosive on offense, the need to be more aggressive and ultimately the need to be more of a big-play offense. That can't happen at the expense of also being efficient, and in my view there's no statistic that better speaks to being efficient than third-down success.
4. RPOs are a must — I've talked a lot about this and I'm not going to rehash it again, at least not in this space, but Notre Dame must make RPOs (Run Pass Options) a key part of the offense. I'm not talking about an occasional thing (5-8 times a game), I'm talking about it being something we see often (at least 50% of the time).
It would help create better first down success, it would take pressure off the run game, it would create more in-space opportunities, it would create more big play opportunities and would put defenses in a lot more binds.
To read more about what RPOs are and how they work click HERE.
5. Jack Coan needs to excel — You can't be an explosive, high-powered offense without a top trigger man. I expect veteran Jack Coan to be that trigger man in 2021, which means he has to play at a very high level.
Coan needs to build around his strengths (accuracy, decision making, timing, guts, deep ball skills) and improve upon areas where he struggled at times at Wisconsin (like holding onto the ball too long, seeing backside pressures, avoiding pressures).
Notre Dame has talented pass catching weapons at tight end, running back and wide receiver and it's up to Coan to get the ball where it's supposed to go and balance the need to be aggressive with the need to protect the football.
If Coan plays to the level I think he's capable of he could be a very important piece to Notre Dame having big time numbers on offense this season, and even more important to be explosive against the best offenses.
6. Build around Williams and Tyree — Notre Dame has a dynamic one-two punch at running back - Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. The duo combined for 1,999 yards of offense last season and I expect that number to take a jump in 2021.
Remember, heading into fall camp last year Tyree was a true freshman and Williams wasn't exactly a lock to be "the guy" when camp started. Williams earned that role and he shined, and Tyree is now going into year two.
Tyree is a home run threat, Williams is elusive and physical, and both are very good pass game weapons. If the offense is built around the ability of Williams and Tyree to impact the run and pass game the offense could be really, really good.
7. Wide receivers must step up — Notre Dame has a deep, talented, athletic and mostly unproven group of wide receivers. If that unit doesn't stay relatively healthy and turn its potential in production the offense won't reach its full potential.
2023 QUARTERBACK RECRUITING THOUGHTS
The number one quarterback on my board for the 2023 class is Detroit (Mich.) M.L. King signal caller Dante Moore. Notre Dame also recently offered Maize (Kan.) High School dual-threat QB Avery Johnson.
There are some other quarterbacks on the board that Notre Dame likes, but right now I'd argue those two - along with New Orleans (La.) Isidore Newman star Arch Manning are the top targets on the board. Manning isn't going to pick Notre Dame in my view, but he visited this summer so it's worth mentioning.
Notre Dame is in a situation where it absolutely must land a highly talented quarterback in this class, and right now there are players on the board that would be that kind of player. Rees is doing a good job of recruiting the entire board and not narrowing things down so much that if he misses his top target he is screwed, but the risk of that is you do a good enough job to get a commitment too early from a player.
Neither Moore nor Johnson seem in any hurry to make a decision, which is good. It gives Rees and the Irish staff time to keep stating their case. Here's how I would handle quarterback recruiting if I were Rees.
*** Moore is the guy. Moore is a special player in my view, he's a game-changer. If Notre Dame could land Buchner and Moore in a three-class span it would completely revolutionize the QB position in South Bend. He's the kind of elite talent that Notre Dame wants and needs at quarterback.
*** I would continue recruiting Moore hard and keep the spot open until the staff realizes it no longer has a chance for Moore. He's been on campus twice in the last month and there is legitimate interest there, so that isn't happening soon. But as long as Moore is interested in Notre Dame he needs to remain the top target.
*** If Notre Dame can do what I break down in the first category (develop an explosive offense) it would go a long way towards convincing a player like Moore to jump on board, spurning programs like Ohio State and Penn State.
*** If Moore moves on from Notre Dame I would be happy to see them turn to a player like Johnson. Moore and Johnson are both dual-threat quarterbacks, but Moore is more of a pocket passer that happens to be a good athlete and effective runner, while Johnson is a legitimate dual-threat weapon.
*** Johnson is very raw and needs time to develop, and he'll never touch Moore as a prospect from a ranking standpoint, but his ceiling is quite high. If Notre Dame at some point narrows things down to those two prospects I wouldn't be upset.
PREDICTING CONFERENCE/DIVISION CHAMPS
On the Irish Breakdown premium message board we are going through conference predictions for the 2021 season. Here are the division/conference Power 5 predictions for the season.
ACC ATLANTIC - Clemson (Conference champ)
ACC COASTAL - North Carolina
BIG TEN EAST - Ohio State (Conference champ)
BIG TEN WEST - Wisconsin
BIG 12 - Oklahoma (Regular season and conference champ)
PAC 12 NORTH - Oregon (Conference champ)
PAC 12 SOUTH - USC
SEC EAST - Georgia (Conference champ)
SEC WEST - Alabama
If you want to read more about my thoughts on predictions come join our premium message board, which you can find HERE.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
It would seem that Notre Dame veteran linebacker has not been missing any upper body days in the gym this summer!
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Speaking of building an explosive offense, we talked about that during our Monday podcast.
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