Red Zone No Longer a Dead Zone for Notre Dame

Notre Dame WR Corey Robinson (88) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in action during the Shamrock Series against Purdue.  (Photo - Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Notre Dame WR Corey Robinson (88) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in action during the Shamrock Series against Purdue. (Photo – Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

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.

Everett Golson - Notre Dame vs. Rcie
Everett Golson was outstanding in his return to action for Notre Dame on Saturday as he accounted for five different Irish scores. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

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.



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  1. A team like Wisconsin has recruited and been built to run the ball down someone’s throat using size, brute strength, and stamina.

    A team like Oregon has a successful run game because they spread you out, use their great team speed, and they have already “proven” that they will throw the ball regardless of field position, down or distance, or game situation.

    Teams are unable to load up against their run because their passing game has earned, and demands, constant respect.

    Not that there isn’t a place for some smash mouth football… there is… I’m just not sure the current ND offense has the personnel to do it.

    Both Michigan and Purdue were committed to stopping the run.

    At this early stage in the season who can blame them as the ND receiving corps is still considered young, inexperienced, and somewhat unproven.

    As Golson and his receivers continue to make teams pay for their man coverage, and as the stakes continue to rise as the season progresses, teams will be forced to balance out their defense against the Irish offense. This should re-open opportunities in the running game.

  2. As Jack said “When you can run the football”. If you can’t you pass. See Iz went to college. Iz smart! And gitty we not drunk. All of us aren’t complete morons like you! Get a grip you idiot!

  3. Yea so passing 4 times inside the 5 yard line is good football right Ron? Come back when you learn the game. Burgundy is like a broken record. Oh yeas that might be from being buzzed all the time. At least jack knows some football.

  4. One of these days Kelly will adhere to stuffing the ball down the opponents throat instead of finessing the ball over the goal line.

      1. OK numbnuts just exactly will “stuffing the ball down the opponents throat” get you or if you finesse the ball over the goal line? Is is not still 6 points? Oh yeah, you want to be a manly man!

      2. When you can run the football when they know it’s coming you will crush a teams spirit. Oregon runs the same offense and look at their rushing numbers, they break teams. The more physical team can dominate a lessor opponent. If Everett has a bad game ND is in trouble, oh and he will have a sub par game this year that is why you need to run a ball down someone’s throat

  5. NDs problem in the zone last year was Rees and inexperience at the running back position. Rees was one dimensional. This year you never know what is coming at you with Golson.

  6. Thanks jack, I understand. Just read an article about chip Kelly and the spread offense he used at Oregon.
    Different scheme that Lombardi, Gibbs football. But does the h back have a place in a spread offense? Help!

    1. Yes,
      I think the Hback does, but it is more of a double TE set being utilized by the Eagles right now. The Eagles use Zach Ernst and Brent Celek in sets where the TE lines up in the slot.

      Kelly used this when he had Eifert and Niklaus in 2012. It allowed him to spread teams out but utilize Niklaus’s blocking ability to seal the corner. Right now Koyak is not a great blocking TE and the other TE on the roster are more of spread TE, however the Freshman #13 looks to be BK’s answer to an H back. He needs to make changes on the line and run Golson more while adding the two TE set. If he uses this set he would have to take a slot receiver off the field and that would mean that he would have lost #3. With #3 out he can try and utilize this set and maybe practice it in the by week.

  7. It’s clear their is no run offense outside of golson. Spread, option, whatever.
    They have to try something. Try everything. Think outside the box. It’s not working now .

    1. Clearly it’s not working now. What with ND averaging 30 points per game to their opponent’s 10 points per game. Nothing is working. They should pull Jim Plunkett out of retirement. Loved those early-80s Raiders offenses. Try everything. That’s a recipe for success.


  8. why dont they run the johnriggins/joegibbs power o play

    The play itself is very basic:
    The lineman to the side the run is going (playside) essentially “down” block, meaning they take the man to the inside of them. For the guards and center, that includes anyone “heads up” or covering them, but for the playside tackle, he does not want to block the defensive end or other “end man on the line of scrimmage.” These lineman use their leverage to get good angles to crush the defensive lineman, and the fact that they don’t have to block a couple of defenders on the playside frees them to get good double teams and block the backside linebackers. To use Vince Lombardi’s phrase, the idea is to get so much force going that direction that they completely seal off the backside.

    They can do this because they get some help to the playside. First, the fullback (or, more often nowadays, some kind of H-back or other player) is responsible for blocking the otherwise unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage (“EMLOS”). He uses a “kick out” technique, simply meaning he blocks him from the inside to out, in order to create Lombardi’s famous “seal” going the other way.

    The final piece of the puzzle is the backside guard (sometimes nowadays a tackle). He pulls and “leads,” meaning he retreats, looks first for the fullback’s block to cut off of, and then heads into the crease looking to block the first defender that shows up — typically the playside linebacker. He can block him whatever direction is best; it’s the runningback’s job to find the open lane.

    The runner takes a lateral or slight delay step, takes the handoff from the quarterback, and follow’s the pulling guard’s block. As stated above, he wants to cut off that man’s block and get vertical quickly. It is a power play so he has to be willing to hit the hole fast; it’s not as much of a “read the defense” run as are zone runs, though it is a good complement to it.

    If it all works well, the line should have crushed anyone to the inside of the offensive guard, while the fullback has kicked out the end man on the line, and the pulling guard is the runningback’s personal protector. The defender that the guard blocks should never be right, both because the guard has freedom to push him wherever, and the runner’s job is to cut off his block to make him correct — the runner cannot just guess.

    1. Bj,

      The offensive philosophy of the spread doesn’t allow to play Gibbs football. The philosophy of the spread if to get your athletes in space against lessor athletes. Gibb’s philosophy won’t work because you don’t have the personnel or practiced it.

      ND has a spread coach and they run the spread, sorry bj but unless you get another coach you run the spread.

      They need to switch the guard and tackle. Golson is going to have to run more out of the read option for defenses to respected his tuning ability. Offensive line needs to sustain blocks and be more physical, it’s not scheme

  9. Agree, first 3 opponents are not very good. The key is how well can Notre Dame run the ball against the really good defenses they are going to face here in the near future. If Notre Dame can consistently run the ball ( a big if) they can pretty much beat anyone because Golson can make plays and put up points.

  10. After watching the teams ND played today, the first three games were preseason, we’ll see where they are after the next three

  11. Call me an engineer (guilty) who is too critical of the use (or more often, mid-use) of statistics, but a much, much better measure of red zone efficiency would be points per trip to the red zone.

    The Irish so far this year are averaging 5.86 points per trip. If Free Shoes U last year scored a TD 80% of the time, and we assume they scores field goals 2/3 of the rest, they would have averaged just over 6 points per red zone trip. That sounds like a benchmark that we can strive for, while saying that 5.85 or 5.9 points per trip is acceptable.

  12. For one, FSU didn’t play too many good teams last year. The QB is the difference for ND this year, no doubt; a QB who is mobile that is why I never understood why the run game wasn’t employed last year instead Kelly (also with a darn good OLine) had TR tossing it all over the field – example – the INT’s you wrote about. Totally frustrating to watch as a fan I can’t imagine how the team felt every time down the field.

  13. Random non related question-

    I went out to the Rice and Michigan games this year. At the stadium they played and Irish style song and I do not know the name. I bet this forum can help.

    It isn’t the Dropkick Murphys or Here Come the Irish.


    1. A couple of possibilities. When ND wins the game, they play the Notre Dame Victory Clog where the Irish Guard comes out and does their “jig”. Usually once during the game, they will also play Leroy Anderson’s “Rakes of Mallow”.
      Both are on You Tube.

      1. Thanks for the response. Unfortunately it isn’t either of those. It is a song played over the loudspeakers, not that the band performs.

    2. Samuel Adams employees a similar Irish diddy in their beer commercial that inspires one to turn on the game and crack open a cold one….

      although I could have swore it was called “Getting Shitfaced in Baaaston?

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