Notre Dame Deep and Intermediate Pass Game Needs Fast Improvement

Notre Dame must get a lot better throwing the ball down the field if it wants to make a title run in 2020
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Notre Dame is 2-0 through two games this season, and the Irish offense is averaging 39.5 points per game, but if the winning is to continue the pass offense must get better. I broke down the need for the pass game to improve, and today I’m going to focus on the deep to intermediate game specifically.

DEEP BALL

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book made an improvement throwing the deep ball in 2019. He completed just 40.8% of his deep balls (20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage) in 2018, but that jumped up to 52.4% in 2019.

Book has completed 75% of his deep balls in 2020, but he has only attempted four such throws in two games. One was a red zone throw that went for a 17-yard touchdown, another was a comeback route on a bootleg, so not your typical “deep shot.”

Book attempted 5.4 deep shots per game in 2018 and 4.8 in 2019, but he’s averaging just two deep shots per game so far in 2020. The Irish signal caller must take more shots, and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees needs to be more aggressive with those throws within his game plan, especially early in the game.

INTERMEDIATE GAME

The intermediate game, which is 11-19 yards past the line of scrimmage, was Book’s money zone back in 2018. In nine starts, Book attempted 6.3 intermediate throws per game. He completed 61.4% of those throws, averaged 11.6 yards per attempt and 18.9 yards per completion, which are excellent numbers.

Last season, however, Book attempted just 4.9 intermediate throws per game, completed just 48.4% of those throws, averaged just 8.6 yards per attempt and 17.7 yards per completion.

This season, Book has upped his attempts (6.0 per game), but he’s completed just 4-of-12 throws between 11-19 yards past the line.

Book and the Irish offense must get a lot better attacking this part of the field.

OVERALL LOOK

In 2019, Book completed 50.4% of his throws past 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. The Irish quarterback averaged 9.8 such throws per game, averaged 12.2 yards per attempt and 24.1 yards per completion. He had 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions on throws past 10 yards.

It’s early, but against two opponents that are currently just 1-4 on the season (and the win was over The Citadel), Book and the offense have struggled with anything past 10 yards. Book has attempted 16 throws past 10 yards in two games, and he’s completed just seven of them, good for a 43.8% completion percentage. He’s averaging just 8.3 yards per attempt.

While Book’s numbers and results are the statistical focus, the problem isn’t just an Ian Book problem. He’s been hesitant to push the ball downfield, that’s been obvious, but the blame should be spread around. The wideouts have been inconsistent getting open and the play-calling in the pass game has been conservative to say the least.

Rees gets an extra couple of weeks to re-evaluate his roster, his offense and dive deep into what he can do to get the offense to be more diverse, versatile, explosive and aggressive. What he and the offense have done thus far has been good enough to get the wins, and that’s important, but the schedule is going to start getting much tougher in the next few weeks, and the offense will have to play much better if the Irish are going to make a run at the ACC title game.

Note: All statistics are from Pro Football Focus breakdowns

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