Let’s Talk About Notre Dame Football’s Play Calling

Notre Dame’s offense has struggled this season, and it has done so with a senior returning quarterback who, in the view of many, has regressed. Naturally, this has led to a lot of discussions about offensive coordinator Chip Long and the job he has done this season.

Before we get started in full, it’s baffling that we are having a “are we sure our quarterback and offensive coordinator are good?” conversation in November of this season. If there were any “knowns” going into this year, it’s that the offense, led by Book, was going to at least be efficient, if not outright explosive. Explosiveness was the theme all offseason. Thus far, it is neither of those things. So, as unexpected as the conversation is, it’s valid to wonder just what’s going on.

Can We Accurately Judge Play Calling?

It’s been noted on the Irish Illustrated podcast by beat reporter Tim O’Malley that judging play calling is very difficult to do, even for people who follow the team as closely as someone like him. We don’t really know what’s supposed to happen, whether a particular play is called to set up another play, or if someone made a mistake, etc. Most criticism about play calling comes from poor play; a play didn’t work, a sequence of plays don’t work etc. No one says, “even though we had 500 yards of offense, I thought the play calling was trashy.” But, can we attribute poor play to poor play calls?

Notre Dame had a bunch of three and outs against Virginia Tech, and I went back and looked at one to figure out what the problem was. In my opinion, the failure on those drives came from poor execution on calls that weren’t obviously bad.

The Irish start a drive in the first quarter with a give to Jahmir Smith to the left side. The play is blocked well, but Tommy Tremble is confused by the man covering him, who sneaks near the line and blitzes at the snap. Tremble, instead of passing him off to someone else, tries to get inside to make the block and doesn’t come close. Had he passed off that player, Kmet picks him up on the pull, Tremble blocks the safety, and it’s a huge gain for Smith. Instead, he blocks no one, and the safety makes the tackle for a gain of one.

On second down, it’s an RPO action that Book decides to keep instead of giving to the back. This is a mistake, as the defensive end does not crash on Smith, leaving a massive hole in the middle. The defensive end is free to chase Book, completely disrupts the play, and it’s a throw-away.

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On third down, Notre Dame has a clear out with Finke on the outside who runs a go route, and an out and up with Claypool right behind him against what looks like a cover three defense. The corner who would be running with Claypool is in poor position to chase, and it looks like Claypool will be open down the sideline. But, on third and nine, Book wants the quick out to Kmet, allowing the corner to quickly come off Claypool and make the tackle short of the first down.

This is a three and out sequence where any of the play calls could have resulted in a first down with better execution, but instead, only eight yards were gained, and it’s a punt. Is this a play call problem? It seems a lot like an execution problem to me.

Why Keep Calling Bad Plays?

The South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James noticed on the re-watch that on the RPO plays Notre Dame called, the defensive end who is supposed to be influenced was not, and every time the play was run Ian Book ended up running for his life.

Perhaps these are execution issues, but when the same thing keeps happening over and over again, there is a good chance with either the play design or there is a flaw with that play and the particular defense Virginia Tech was running, and it should have been scrapped altogether. There was undoubtedly no correction made to the way the play was run by the offense or any kind of a counter, so what are we doing running it over and over again?

No Rhythm

One thing that seems unquestionable is Chip Long does not have a good feel for this offense and what it can do. It’s been eight games now, and it’s hard to point to a single one against a Power 5 team where the offense looked good or anything resembling what we thought it would. There has been no rhythm, no feel, no continuity. The reason for that could be any number of things, including the way he thought his quarterback would perform. But, eight weeks is enough time to figure out what he’s got and how to improve the offense.

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There were some positive signs last week; if Ian Book hits Cole Kmet on the two corner routes, Claypool on the post, and fumble at the one, the team has four more touchdowns, and everyone is happy. But, they didn’t, and the three and outs were what they were. End of the day, even if it isn’t Long’s play-calling that’s the problem per se, it’s his offense and his ship. The success of this season’s final month will depend on him getting things figured out.

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7 comments

  1. Bill Weber 1 week ago

    Please learn the difference between past, present and future tense and use them correctly. Otherwise, readers will continue to have to edit your text as they read to understand the meaning. Thank you.

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    1. Frank Vitovitch 1 week ago

      Please learn some etiquette when commenting on an article someone has written and provided to you for free. Thank you.

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      1. Blake Carter 6 days ago

        it is quite reasonable to expect journalism to use proper grammar. you remind me of most americans these days: “it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t do their job well as long as they tried hard.” No wonder we are losing to China

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    2. Ron Burgundy 1 week ago

      Life comes at you fast.

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  2. Woody 1 week ago

    I completely agree as it’s all playcalling on Chip Long. You can’t have third down and 10 and run a 5 yard pass Pattern. I’ve been saying for years that if you can’t block the defense of line from rushing then run a metal screen The clock management is so poor we waste time outs early in the first quarter and the third quarter that we are needing at the end of the game

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  3. Bruce G. Curme 1 week ago

    I remember BK saying that Wimbush “missed his read”…not over TV in an interview or in front of the press, but on the sideline during a game. It seems to me that Wimbush missed a lot of reads, and now it seems that Book may be having a similar problem. Also, on third down and 6 or more, we are throwing short (and coming up short) way too often. Is this Book or Long? I don’t know, but screw the outlet on third and long…everyone at or past the sticks please. We’re seeing too much “dink and dunk, dink and skunk, plunk, then punt. Try something new, as Greg suggested above.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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    1. acallan1 1 week ago

      I agree w/ most of this comment (in addition to Greg’s always insightful analysis ofc) & would love if someone could confirm what the issue was on Finke’s repeated routes short of the sticks on 3rd down: did a 5th yr Captain really leave his routes a yard short multiple times, is he taught to go after a soft spot in the coverage & Book has to get the ball there on time so he can run for the 1st or was Long’s play call not flexible enough to extend his route there spacing-wise?

      I think we all groan at screens & whatnot on 3rd & Long but 1 thing to remember is if we’re in 4 down no man’s land field position-wise. Taking what the defense gives you on 3rd to get a manageable 4th down you can go for beats a low % long throw on 3rd & a punt. I think like most people I think Book’s arm is fine & wish he’d rip it down the field more on earlier downs when guys get separation vs single coverage but I have a feeling we wouldn’t like the results if he did so on more 3rd & long when safeties are in position to help, just doesn’t seem like his game… Go Irish

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