Midweek Musings: Notre Dame Football

Thoughts about Notre Dame football and Fighting Irish recruiting.
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Thoughts about Notre Dame football and Fighting Irish recruiting.

FIVE KEYS TO AN EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE

We talk a lot at Irish Breakdown about Notre Dame’s need to develop an explosive offense, which is arguably the final thing keeping the Irish from truly competing for a national championship.

There are five key ingredients to being an explosive offense. These keys are my opinion based on studying programs that are actually competing for and winning championships. Despite there being a lot of personnel and schematic variation with those programs, there are some things they all have in common.

Some Notre Dame already has, others they need to develop.

1. Efficient and Explosive Pass Game — A team can run a number of different styles of offense, but one thing the majority of the national title winners in the College Football Playoff era have in common is an efficient and explosive pass game. Outside of Alabama and Clemson in 2015 and 2016, the CFP winners have ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 13th and 6th in yards per pass attempt. In the last four years Notre Dame has ranked 41st, 44th, 31st and 97th in yards per pass attempt.

2. Strong Offensive Line Play — This is one area where Notre Dame has been as good as the title winners in recent seasons. Not every title winner is filled with high draft picks, but they all get very good offensive line play. Notre Dame has been a bit inconsistent up front in recent seasons, but even the “down years” are quality compared to most programs.

3. Perimeter Playmakers — You can’t have an explosive and efficient pass attack without perimeter playmakers. There are a number of reasons for this, but at the top of the list is the fact that when you play the best teams you can’t just methodically move the ball up and down the field, you must be able to rip off big plays, especially in the pass game.

In this year’s title game, Alabama had eight plays of at least 20 yards, and had scoring pass plays of at least 26 and 42 yards. LSU had 11 plays of at least 20 yards in its title game victory over Clemson, and had scoring pass plays of 52 and 24 yards. It had another 56 yard pass play to set up another score and back-to-back completions of over 20 yards to set up another score. In 2018, Clemson had a 74-yard scoring pass play, a 62-yard pass play to set up another score, a 26-yard pass to set up another score and a 37-yard pass play to set up another score.

I actually believe Notre Dame has the perimeter playmakers to have a dynamic offense, but we’ll find out in 2021 if that’s accurate.

4. Strong Red Zone Production — Notre Dame’s red zone offense was abysmal in 2020, and outside of three strong years under Chip Long, the red zone offense has been pretty mediocre through Brian Kelly’s tenure. That must change in the coming seasons if the offense is going to score at the level needed to compete for a title. The last three national title winners ranked 5th, 4th and 6th in red zone touchdown rate.

5. Excellent QB Play — This is the one huge question mark for Notre Dame. The last three title winners had outstanding quarterback play. Now, the question is was that a coincidence, or is it now a must to win titles. Alabama won titles in 2017 and 2015 without an elite quarterback, and Ohio State steamrolled its way to a national title in 2014 with Cardale Jones at quarterback. I’m of the belief that in the modern game you need strong quarterback play, you don’t necessarily need a future Top 10 NFL Draft pick. One thing is for sure, Notre Dame needs much, much better quarterback play than it’s had the last decade.

One thing that isn't important to winning .... a ball control offense. 

The last five national title winners ranked 44th, 54th, 96th, 71st and 55th in time of possession.

MOST IMPORTANT RECRUITS IN THE 2022 CLASS - OFFENSE

Notre Dame is about halfway done with its 2022 recruiting class, and how the rest of the class is filled out will determine if this class is just like recent classes or if the Irish can close the gap on the big boys of college football.

A question I received recently sparked a thought about how this class needs to fill out. If Notre Dame wants to land an elite class, one that closes the gap, it needs to land top players. Defensively, here are the five recruits essential to making that happen.

Khamauri Rogers, Cornerback — To finish off this class the Irish need game changers, and no position is in greater need of adding game changers than cornerback. Rogers is the clear No. 1 player on the board, and he’s arguably the best pure cover cornerback in the class. He ranks as the nation’s No. 47 overall player by Rivals and No. 56 by ESPN. Getting him out of the South will be difficult, but Notre Dame is putting in work, and if the staff can pull off the upset it would be one of the biggest pickups of the Brian Kelly era.

Anthony Lucas, Defensive Tackle — Lucas is another game-changer type recruit, possessing the unique ability to dominate as a three technique while also having the skills to rush off the edge as a five-technique in three-down looks. For some wild reason he isn’t ranked among the Top 250 players in the country by Rivals, but 247Sports ranks him as the nation’s No. 26 overall player, and that’s exactly where Lucas should rank. Rogers is a force, and adding him to an already strong line class would give the Irish an elite group of front four players in 2022.

Niuafe Tuihalamaka and Jaylen Sneed, Linebacker — Its a great year at linebacker nationally, Notre Dame has a major need at the position and the Irish have been able to get in good position with a number of top players. Notre Dame must take full advantage of that and land an elite class. Nolan Ziegler and Josh Burnham are a great start, but adding Tuihalamaka and Sneed would be huge. It would give Notre Dame elite length, athleticism and talent at linebacker. Good luck finding a better linebacker haul by any team in the country if the Irish land these two prospects.

Xavier Nwankpa, Safety — Nwankpa is to the 2022 class what Kyle Hamilton was to the 2019 class in that he’s an impact safety that is one of the nation’s best players. Unlike Hamilton, Nwankpa isn’t a strong lean to Notre Dame. The Irish are trailing a number of other programs, but Nwankpa is the kind of talent that you work as hard as you can to land until the game is over, and the game is far from over. 

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Not being allowed at practice in the last year has kept us from seeing cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens up close. You get to see some of that in this video from Notre Dame football.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Is Brian Kelly finally ready to make the changes needed on offense? Perhaps it's jus wishful thinking, but Kelly has made a number of comments this spring that could lead one to believe he's doing just that.

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