On paper, Notre Dame has plenty of options on offense with which to work and do damage.
True freshman running back Chris Tyree brings the type of speed and talent to the backfield that hasn’t been seen in some time. Wide receiver Kevin Austin is top 100 player who earned rave reviews from those within the program and reporters who cover the team. Tommy Tremble is an athletic tight end who has already shown himself to be a playmaker on offense and only figures to do more with an expanded role.
This isn’t even to mention the likes of Jafar Armstrong, Lawrence Keys, Michael Mayer, Jordan Johnson, Javon McKinley, et al. And with 5th year senior Ian Book behind center, it’d make sense to focus on spreading the ball around to the playmakers.
But, to maximize the threat of the Notre Dame offense, they ought to focus and build around the skills of one of their skill position players: Braden Lenzy.
Braden Lenzy Can Do The Most With The Least
Last season, Lenzy was 10th in the team in offensive touches, with 27, and 5th on the team in all-purpose yards, with 525. He was second on the team in yards per play, with 19.4, and trailed only Javon McKinley who did the bulk of his damage against New Mexico. Like his fellow #25, Rocket Ismail, he doesn’t need a ton of volume to be effective, but he does need be featured, like Rocket was.
It’s not that Lenzy is their best player at any one thing. Austin is probably a better pure receiver, and Tyree would be better as a runner (Lenzy is certainly the best option returning kick offs.) The junior speedster from Oregon does a combination of everything the best on the team though, and his aforementioned speed is what makes him so valuable and dangerous.
Making Something Out Of Nothing
Lenzy has shown us that it isn’t necessary that he get perfect blocking or a perfect play call to be effective. He just needs the ball. A jet sweep on 1st and 15 he received against Stanford is a nice illustration of this. The play isn’t blocked particularly well, he is forced to cut up field on a wet field with defenders around, but he makes a move, gives a stiff arm and what do you know it’s a gain of 17 and first down when it appeared there really wasn’t much there.
He also showed this on the first touchdown of his career against New Mexico. Wide receiver screen, high throw, he snags it and is surrounded, he breaks a tackle, makes a cut, and he’s in the end zone.
Not to get all analytical on everyone, but making plays when there aren’t really plays to be made is a skill a team should take advantage of.
Lenzy Is Merciless
It remains to be seen what Chris Tyree can do at running back, but at the moment Lenzy is the most devastating player Notre Dame has on offense. Mistakes against him are lethal, and it comes from anywhere on the field.
USC learned this the hard way in the second quarter, when their defense got caught leaning the wrong on a reverse. Their prize was a 52 yard dust pile in their faces as Lenzy blazed to the end zone essentially untouched, the only nuisance in his way was a technically sound but otherwise useless defensive end.
The same is true in the passing game, as we saw when Navy thought it’d be a good idea to blitz the corner to his side leaving the safety one on one. The sad thing for the safety is he is actually guarding against the deep ball here, but he might as well not even be there as Lenzy simply runs around him and under this perfectly thrown pass for a touchdown.
Speed Is Very Scary
So here is the main point about building the offense around Lenzy. He is scary. Whenever he gets the ball, defenders are nervous, because they’ve seen what happens if he gets a step on you, or when they get out leveraged by him. Give them reason to be afraid. Move him around the field, give it to him on reverses, on deep balls, put him in the backfield on run standard running plays a few times a game. Because the thing is, by putting the focus on Lenzy, you make every other playmaker that much more dangerous.
Look at what he did for Tony Jones Jr. against Stanford on the screen pass touchdown. They run him on a reverse action and the entire defense starts chasing after him, because they know if he gets a step on us, we are in trouble. Jones catches it, there are only three defenders left, and he scores essentially untouched.
The point of building around Lenzy isn’t to give him all the touches, it’s to ensure the defense is constantly having to account for him, and making them pay when they don’t.
When Notre Dame plays Clemson, it’s not so much that Tee Higgins or Justin Ross are so good, it’s that Travis Etienne is such a problem that you have to put so many resources towards slowing him down that you leave yourself vulnerable elsewhere. Imagine a defense that is consumed with Lenzy and isn’t thinking about Austin or Tremble or Tyree. That’s when an offense moves from good to great.
And one last thing about Braden Lenzy: if you’ve been paying attention to his activism and his writing during many of the social justice conversations that have taken place over the last few months, whatever you think of his stances, it’s clear Lenzy is willing to take on challenges. He can handle being the focal point and I think new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees should give him that chance.