One of the most frustrating aspects of Notre Dame’s disappointing 9-4 campaign in 2013 was the Irish’s red zone futility. A year ago the Notre Dame offense scored points on just 80% of their trips inside the opponent’s 20 yard line while scoring touchdowns just 53% of the time. Fast forward a year and the Irish are off to a 3-0 start thanks in large because because of a pristine mark in the redzone.
Notre Dame won’t be able able to add to their redzone success today as they enjoy the first of two bye weeks the 2014 schedule affords them, but thankfully improving on their redzone scoring probably isn’t at the top of Brian Kelly’s to do list anyway. Three games into the season, the Irish are a perfect 14 for 14 in the redzone with 10 of those trips resulting in touchdowns (71%). That’s a stark comparison from last year’s redzone woes that plagued the Irish and cost them victories.
When Notre Dame traveled to Ann Arbor last season they made five trips inside Michigan’s 20 yard line. Just three of those trips resulted in any points and only two of them ended with touchdowns. One drive ended at the Michigan 17 on downs after a failed 4th down attempt while the other ended with an interception in the endzone on their last possession of the game with 2:49 on the clock. Michigan was 4 for 4 in the redzone. Notre Dame lost by 11.
In their loss to Pitt, Notre Dame only failed to score once in their trips to the redzone (2 for 3). The problem was that one failed trip ended with an interception in the endzone. Pitt was 3 for 3 with 3 touchdowns. Notre Dame lost by 7. Against Stanford Notre Dame was a perfect 4 for 4 in the redzone but settled for field goals two of those times. The Irish lost by 7.
Of the nine trips into the redzone that resulted in zero points for Notre Dame last year, 4 were because of interceptions, 2 on downs, 2 because time expired on the half, and 1 on a missed field goal.
Not scoring points wasn’t the only problem in the redzone last year though. Scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals was a problem. Notre Dame scored touchdowns just 53% of the time in the redzone last year. This year that number has jumped up to 71% and the way the Irish offense has been playing even that feels low.
Notre Dame is also on pace to reach the redzone much more frequently in 2014. Last year the Irish made 45 total trips in 13 games. This season the Irish have already made 14 such trips. Pace that out over 13 games and it works out to 61 trips.
Notre Dame’s redzone turnaround this year can be attributed in large part to the play of the quarterback. While he’s come close to throwing a couple of interceptions in the redzone, Everett Golson has done a great job of protecting the football. Golson’s ability to run the ball has also led to the increase in touchdown percentage for Notre Dame. All four of Golson’s touchdown runs have come from 20 yards or less out.
What’s even more encouraging than Notre Dame’s higher success rate, and higher touchdown rate, is that like many aspects of the 2014 Fighting Irish that are promising, there is still more room for improvement. Notre Dame has yet to rely on Corey Robinson and his massive frame in the redzone as he recovers from a broken thumb. Robinson did find the endzone, however, on a play that exemplifies the scoring threat he can be against Purdue. As that thumb continues to heel, it would be shocking if Robinson was not targeted more by Golson down near the goalline.
If Notre Dame can fix its problems along the offensive line and establish more of a running game coming out of the bye week, that touchdown success rate should climb even higher. That’s a whole other issue to tackle at another time though.
There’s been a lot to like so far about the 2014 season and the improvement in the redzone is right at the top of the list. It grew beyond frustrating watching Notre Dame march down the field last year only to settle for field goals or worse yet, come away with no points. It would still be nice to see the offense improve on their 71% touchdown rate though. Florida State for instance scored touchdowns nearly 80% of the time they reached the redzone a year ago. If Notre Dame reaches that type of success rate, maybe we’ll be talking about a playoff run in late November.
For now, it’s nice to see Notre Dame scoring just scoring points every time they reach the redzone considering a year ago their overall scoring rate in the redzone was about the same as the Seminole’s touchdown rate (80% vs. 79%) while Florida State reached the redzone an astonishing 28 more times.