Claypool And Stepherson Take The Notre Dame Offense To Another Level

Kevin Stepherson - Notre Dame WR

Following Notre Dame’s 49-14 destruction of then (and current) ranked #11 USC, Colin Cowherd decided to say something he thought was smart, but in fact was not. I’m going to paraphrase so as to spare us from the 2 plus minutes of spewed nonsense. His point was Notre Dame had peaked as a team due to their mature offensive line and lack of a passing game. One dimensional teams can’t win in college football, apparently.

Setting aside some of the flaws in his own argument, this is what happens when a national radio host comments on a team he spends about 15 minutes in a production meeting learning about. The assumption was the team that took the field against USC that night was as good as they were going to get. That when they faced a team like Georgia, or Clemson, or Alabama, or Wisconsin (hahahahahaha) who could take away the run, they’d wilt.

Thing is, those of us who follow Notre Dame on a daily basis know the passing offense was just starting to scratch the surface of what it could be that night against USC. For the first time this season, the Irish offense fully engaged wide receiver Kevin Stepherson into the fray. They used him on reverses and jet sweeps, they threw him the ball for touchdowns. We saw another step in the maturation of the passing game against Wake Forest, when Chase Claypool caught nine passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

The team that took the field against Georgia on September ninth looked much different than the team that demolished the Wake Forest defense for 710 yards, while sitting their starters for much of the 4th quarter, last weekend. Suddenly, the best running team in the country looks dangerous and scary on the outside.

Matchup Problems

Here’s the thing with Stepherson and Claypool out there with St. Brown, while also dealing with the threat of the run: it creates issues matchup wise for the defense. You could make the argument none of the those three is a true #1 receiver. But, which one of those three are you comfortable sticking your third best corner on?

We saw what happened when USC lost one of their starting corners early in the first quarter. St. Brown toasted the replacement for a would be touchdown that Wimbush overthrew. Two plays later Stepherson made good on a back shoulder fade in which the defender had no chance.

And that’s the thing, maybe they aren’t #1 guys, but they can’t really be covered by #2 or #3 guys either. Look at what Claypool and Stepherson did to the NC State secondary late in that matchup. It was choose your flavor for Wimbush on this one. The Wolfpack were completely lost.

Those match ups simply didn’t exist with Freddy Canteen and Cameron Smith out there. Sitting in the meeting room on Monday and Tuesday trying to game plan for Notre Dame, what’s the plan when watching this? You can’t worry about Adams, Wimbush, EQ, Stepherson, and Claypool equally. You’re going to be exposed. The plan is to hope Wimbush makes a bad throw. Which honestly has been working out. But what if he figures out the deep ball?

Versatility

When Notre Dame inserted Stepherson into the lineup against USC, it wasn’t in the passing game, at least not to start. As I previously mentioned, they engaged him as a runner, which has been fruitful so far. He ran twice for 24 against USC and twice for 46 against Wake Forest, giving him four carries for 66 yards on the season. Again, not very fun to worry about all the things Notre Dame can do on offense without having to deal with Stepherson on a misdirection play.

The Irish have been a pretty poor screen team this year, especially on bubble screens. Except of course when throwing the ball to Claypool. The thing about the Canadian is, he’s a big dude, and tackling him in space with corners and safeties isn’t the easiest thing. Notre Dame started the game against Michigan State this way, and Claypool showed just how tough it can be to bring him down on the first try. He showed it again against Wake Forest on a key third and five near the end of the first half that ultimately led to an Irish touchdown.

Passing Numbers Improving

Notre Dame has been a bad team from a yards per attempt stand point for most of the season. They are currently sitting at an abysmal 112th out of 130 teams nationally at 6.1 yards per attempt. It’s not been good. However, in the last three contests that number has increased to 7.0 yards per attempt, which would improve their national standing about 40 spots, and in the last game they came in at 8.7 yards per attempt, and Brandon Wimbush a 9.3. That also included a couple of big drops from Claypool and St. Brown on deep balls.

The opportunities are there, they just need to be capitalized on. And that’s the thing about this team and what it can be. There is an entire phase of the offense that we’ve just seen the surface of. Guys are constantly open, and they are open for touchdowns. And it isn’t the result of scheme or blown coverages. They are just beating people. This part of the offense wasn’t available in week 2. It just wasn’t a thing the Irish could do. They were basically reliant solely on St. Brown to be the receiving threat. Now the Irish have three who are capable of taking the opposition deep, and they can all play at the same time. What happens when Notre Dame starts hitting those deep balls? Dare I say, Notre Dame hasn’t even begun to show us what they could ultimately turn into.

Oh no. I’m getting excited again.

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15 comments

  1. SteelFanRob 1 week ago

    Yup, they sure do!

    Unstoppable tandem. I think we’re talking about the next Randy Moss, right?!

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  2. Fitz 2 weeks ago

    Don’t look now but Brandon Wimbush is ranked #7 in the ESPN Total QB Rankings and among very good company http://www.espn.com/ncf/qbr

    He started out as #33 and has steadily climbed to his current position. The emergence of the above mentioned receivers has helped a lot.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 2 weeks ago

      I looked, couldn’t help myself.

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  3. Damian 2 weeks ago

    One of the things the NBC announcers have mentioned during their games is yes, if you looks at the average passing yards and so forth, it doesn’t look so impressive. But they both said that hardly tells the story. They started off bad with passing and have been improving each week. This is one offense where you can’t just mark them by a seasonal average. The offense that took the field against WF is far and away a much better offense then the one that faced Georgia (or even Temple).

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  4. Greg Kelly 2 weeks ago

    Teddy, Dolthead Cowherd was right. He got the Irish and Jayhawks to believe in the “Great pretender” He’s probably just another “genius” couch potato.

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  5. Ted Peters 2 weeks ago

    Cowherd initially proclaimed Charlie Weis to be a genius!

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    1. MrP 2 weeks ago

      He is a genius, look at all the money he milked out of ND and Kansas.

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  6. Greg Kelly 2 weeks ago

    Burgy, now that we have taken announcers to another level, my all time best dolthead was Matt Millen, he had to eat his words more than once. Then the Detroit Lions were stupid enough to make him President/CEO.

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  7. Greg Kelly 2 weeks ago

    Claypool, Stepherson and Smythe are dominating. But let’s not count out E. St. Brown. Wish Don Criqui and Allen Pinkett were still on the air to listen to their descriptions of their outrageous downfield catches. The best announcer of them all was Lindsey Nelson ” out of the huddle they come” , “we move on to further action” Tony Roberts was electrifying also. Paul Hornung had good commentaries.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 2 weeks ago

      Mark May??

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 weeks ago

        Actually, Mark May got some preseason predictions exactly right during the dark days before BK came here. He called that very bad year Charlie had, and some other bad years. I understand that he is no ND fan, but I respected it when he said the program was down, because it was down back then.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    2. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 weeks ago

      No, let’s definitely not count out E. St. Brown! He is now the “wild card” in that mix. “D” coordinators – pick your poison!

      BGC ’77 ’82

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    3. southside 2 weeks ago

      Greg , you got great memories of “those were the days” of college football. Lindsey Nelson was my favorite. Also , you mentioned in a previous post about the College All Stars versus the NFL Champs held every August at Soldiers Field—I loved those classic games. Does anyone remember the post college games after regular season ended—called the North-South , Blue-Grey , East-West Shrine games ?

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 weeks ago

        Southside, Do you remember when the BLUE-GOLD game was the OLDTIMERS GAME? I’ve got a program from the last OLDTIMERS game in 1967 with Rocky Bleir and Ara on the outer sheet. It has some great “oldtimers” in the roster on the inner sheet, including Leon Hart and Johnny Lujack! It’s awesome. All the Sacred Heart Parish altar boys got one, along with a game ticket and a hot dog and coke!

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      2. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 weeks ago

        My mistake – it was John Lattner, not Lujack.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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