Notre Dame Pass Game Needs A Jump In 2020 - Part I

Bryan Driskell

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees are saying all the right things about the need to run the football more effectively moving forward.

At times Kelly says all the right things about the run game, like he is now, and other times his comments come across as viewing the run game as nothing more than a complement to the pass game, something they only do when they need to.

There is no question Notre Dame must run the ball more effectively, and improving the run game is the foundation for Notre Dame finally becoming an elite offense. But to truly get on the same level as other programs that are competing for - and winning - national titles the pass game also needs a boost.

Let’s start by taking a look at how Notre Dame’s pass offense stacked up against the top offenses in the country.

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Notre Dame’s yards per game numbers aren’t really my concern here, but there is plenty of room for improvement. If Notre Dame’s run game is doing what it should do the Irish won’t need to throw for 342.2 yards (like Alabama) or 401.6 yards (like LSU) per game. 

Notre Dame averaged 290.6 passing yards in games started by quarterback Ian Book in 2018, but Book’s per game average dropped to 233.4 yards in 2019. If you take out the rain game against Michigan that number jumps to 246.8 yards.

If Book can get his yards per game average closer to what it was in 2018 that would be ideal, but it’s not the number I’m most concerned with. The numbers I care the most about are the yards per attempt and yards per completion numbers. 

Notre Dame wasn’t close to the programs in this comparison when it comes to yards per attempt. Its yards per completion number was good on the season, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Notre Dame’s offense has struggled against the best teams on the schedule for years. Outside of a few games in 2017 and the 2015 season, the Irish offense hasn’t been good enough in big moments to give the team a chance to win because of its offense. 

That means when the Irish defense has an off day, or as was the case from 2014 to 2016, just isn’t very good, the team is going to struggle to win against the best teams.

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The numbers above show how the teams performed against Power 5 opponents, and it shows a dramatic difference between Notre Dame and offenses that are leading teams that are competing for titles.

The 2019 season was especially bad in this regard, as the Irish offense beat up on three inferior opponents, which padded its overall numbers. Notre Dame averaged 56.7 points in three games against non-Power 5 opponents (Navy, New Mexico, Bowling Green), but just 30.8 points per game against Power 5 opponents. That number drops to just 15.5 points per game against the two ranked Power 5 opponents the Irish faced.

LSU (47.0), Ohio State (44.8), Alabama (43.7) and Clemson (42.2) ranked No. 1-4 in scoring offense against Power 5 opponents. LSU (42.6) and Alabama (40.3) both averaged over 40 points per game against ranked Power 5 opponents, and Ohio State averaged 35.8 points against its five ranked Power 5 opponents.

The pass game absolutely must get better against better opponents if the Irish want to be serious contenders for a championship. The tools are in place, but now it becomes about finding ways to maximize the talent of the players on the roster.

This gap is certainly discouraging if you just focus on the numbers, but Notre Dame’s 2019 offense averaged more yards per game, yards per attempt, completed passes at a higher rate and had a higher pass efficiency rating than LSU in 2018. The Irish threw 37 touchdown passes while LSU threw just 17 in 2018.

There’s certainly the opportunity for Notre Dame to make a big jump in the pass game, especially if it wants to beat teams like Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State.

In Part II of this breakdown I will discuss areas where Notre Dame can and should make changes or improvements to get the offense to this level. And I am of the opinion that Notre Dame has the talent currently on campus to make that happen. 

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Comments (11)
No. 1-2

I'm interested to see what Rees does to remedy this aspect of our offense. I can't remember where I saw this (could be here even), but I distinctively remember Rees talking about a scheme molded by his players; not forcing square pegs into round holes. Given that Book had his highest YPA against any power 5 opponent this year with Rees calling plays against ISU (small sample size to be fair) I'm optimistic.


I think on average, ND played some better defensive teams than Clemson and OU, and OSU and the like. That can impact their percentages and averages by playing better teams and not having huge blow outs for more than half the schedule.

Losing Jafar Armstrong on the first series of the season and not having a solid replacement at RB disrupted the running game and really hurt them against UGA shortly thereafter by not being able to run the ball that night.

I think ND has a plan to improve the run blocking schemes with the new TE/Tackles coach and Lance Taylor synching up with Quinn to get some good blocking angles/plays. They used 2 TE's effectively at points last year and especially in the Bowl game and it made a difference for running the ball.

A solid run game can help the passing game by keeping defenses honest and not dropping 7-8 guys like we saw last season.

The Spring Practices should show us some positive improvements and a deeper commitment to running and throwing the ball better. Chip Long also had a negative effect on the morale and effectiveness too.