Ask yourself this question: What Notre Dame regular on offense is not being maximized to their greatest potential? It’s safe to say the Irish are getting what you’d expect from receivers Miles Boykin and Chris Finke. Dexter Williams is averaging around 20 touches a game. The tight ends are producing at a very high rate. Jafar Armstrong is being utilized exactly how he should be, on the ground and through the air, from multiple spots in the formation.
But, what about Chase Claypool? He’s definitely got a main role. He’s on the field all the time and they’ve gotten him the ball, 21 times since Ian Book was inserted into the lineup. Are they maximizing his freakishly athletic skill set though? It feels like the answer is no.
Big Jump In Efficiency From The Previous Month
To be clear, they’ve gotten a lot more out of Claypool since Book was brought into the fold. Post Wake Forest, Claypool had a completion percentage of 50% (targets to receptions) and a marginal efficiency rating (think of it as a success rate) of -0.4, which is really poor. You certainly want to be positive, and as high as possible. A player in the 20’s is doing really well. In the last four game weeks Claypool has gone 17-21 on passes thrown at him for an 81% completion percentage, taking him to 65% for the season, and his marginal efficiency has risen to 10.7. This isn’t a complete surprise, all the pass catchers have seen their numbers rise, although Claypool is operating at a rate higher than Book’s overall completion percentage.
Essentially, throwing the ball to Claypool is operating in the black over the last month.
Claypool’s Explosiveness Stats Remain Subpar
While his efficiency has gone up, his explosiveness remains poor. His marginal explosiveness sits at 0.4 and he has the lowest yards per attempt among the top four wide receivers at 7.4. That’s slightly up from the 6.9 yards per attempt he posted pre-Book, but he’s still very much being utilized as a possession receiver. He’s been targeted deep on a few occasions–an early deep ball against Michigan, a jump ball against Stanford, and pass interference inducing post route late against Pittsburgh–but he’s rarely been looked at in the 15-20 yard range, unlike a player like Boykin. And an occasional deep ball isn’t really something you could call part of the offense, rather something that’s done every now and then.
So are they getting all they can out of someone with his skill set? He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, and he’s physical. Who else on the roster boasts his physical ability? Boykin is similar, and we’ve seen the Irish target him all over the field. There is something to be said for being a compliment to another player, but aside from the game winning post route against Pittsburgh, when has he successfully gotten over the top of the defense? Therein lies another problem: explosiveness in the passing game is lacking for Notre Dame in general.
Notre Dame Isn’t An Explosive Passing Team
Ian Book is a remarkably efficient passer. Notre Dame’s passing marginal efficiency ranks 16th nationally and they rank 8th in accuracy. And these stats include Brandon Wimbush’s time under center. Book has been really good! But they only rank 60th is marginal explosiveness. They simply don’t try and move the ball deep down the field. This makes it pretty easy to see how Notre Dame can run into trouble on offense. If a defense can confuse Book similar to the way Pittsburgh did, jump the short stuff, and pressure him enough to leave the pocket, Notre Dame hasn’t shown the ability to damage the defense with a big play when they do hit. A shorter passing game leads to longer drives and therefore requires a greater efficiency and accuracy. Which has worked out ok for Notre Dame so far because Book is the most accurate quarterback, statistically, in the nation.
But what if a team can move his percentage from 75% to 65%? Or 60%? Can the Irish passing game do enough on limited completions to move the ball down the field and score points at the same rate? At this point, I’m not sure they can.
Take More Chances With Claypool!
Luckily, Notre Dame has a guy who can give defenses trouble down the field who plays all the time! He’s the 6’4 specimen who flies down on special teams and can shuck defenders with his strength with the ball in the air. It makes sense to try and utilize him as a down field threat. 7.4 yards per attempt for a player of his makeup is kind of crazy. There is another dimension to his game that hasn’t been tapped into yet, and if they can it can cause a defense fits.
Notre Dame is getting so much out of their skill position players, and the re-integration of Jafar Armstrong into the lineup adds so much. They can take the next step with Claypool to maximize his ability and make the Irish an even more dangerous offensive team.