The Best Is Yet To Come For The Notre Dame Offense

Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong

Since the insertion of quarterback Ian Book into the Irish offense, that unit has been on a tear. It has averaged 518 yards a game, 6.7 yards per play, and 44 points per game. They’ve done it on the ground, they’ve done it through the air, scoring 10 touchdowns rushing and eight receiving over that time span. Not to give all the credit for the outburst to Book, Dexter Williams and his triumphant return has also been a major part to the eruption of offensive fireworks. Pair the offense with their consistently stellar defense (5th in S&P+) and aspirations are sky high for the Golden Domers.

That all being said, there is reason to believe the offense will become even more dangerous and lethal post-bye week. Here are some reasons why:

They’ve Yet To Feature Their Full Offensive Arsenal

Ian Book entered the lineup as the starter in week four against Wake Forest, the final contest without Dexter Williams, who was serving an unofficial sanction from the football program. In that game, running back Jafar Armstrong totaled 113 total yards on 10 touches with a touchdown. When Williams made his first appearance against Stanford, Armstrong was in the hospital dealing with a knee infection that will keep him out until after the bye week. His return is key to unlocking just how explosive the Notre Dame offense can be.

Prior to week five against Stanford, Armstrong was Notre Dame’s explosive back. He had a big run against Ball State that set up a touchdown, made several downfield catches, and posted a lengthy touchdown run against Wake Forest. To date, he has never shared the backfield with Dexter Williams, who is now Notre Dame’s explosive back. These two could be a souped up version of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood from 2012 if Chip Long uses them right. And there is reason to believe Long has a good plan for this.

In the spring of 2017 I wrote about how Long could use three backs consistently in his offense. He was a coach under Mike Norvell at Arizona State, who used three backs rather consistently with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who had a skill set very similar to that of Ian Book.

Williams in the backfield with Armstrong motioned out into the slot, or even sharing the backfield together, would be pretty intimidating for the defense if the Irish also boasted athletes like Boykin, Claypool, and Finke on the field. And perhaps the best part of the whole thing is there is no tape of Notre Dame using that type of lineup in the past. Chip Long can put a whole arsenal on offense into play for the first time post-bye and continue to grow that group deep into the season. Not to belabor the point, but this is why having a quarterback who can distribute the ball to anyone in any spot is important.

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People talk about Notre Dame having full access to playbook with Book at quarterback. I’m not sure any of us really knows what they could have in store on offense once all of their weapons are accounted for during the final month and a half of the year.

They Have Yet To Master The Deep Ball

Every offense has its chink in the armor and the deep ball might just be it for the 2018 unit. The Irish have yet to get over the top so far this year, with the exception of the pass to Finke against Michigan and they have hit some contested fades to Miles Boykin down the sideline. The good news is guys are getting open. Book missed an open Finke and Boykin a couple of times against the Hokies last week, plays that could have proven to be back breakers early, especially the throw to Finke. The bad news is after three games it might be time to have a little bit of concern they haven’t connected yet.

According to Bill Connelly, after six games the only receiver who averages over 10 yards per target is Miles Boykin at 10.2. The next closest player is Chris Finke at nine, and uber athlete Chase Claypool is sitting there at 6.1.

You’d think with Book being a 73% passer he would eventually figure out how to throw it over the top, and it may be a timing issue due to lack of experience with the receiving corps, but this is an inefficiency that will hurt them against teams that can take the short stuff away consistently.

I think the lack of timing and familiarity is real, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the main culprit. We’d like for quarterbacks to just figure these things out on the field, but it may take games and practice before Book is comfortable. I have to think this is a part of the offense that will be unlocked sooner or later with this team, and this week against Pitt, who will stubbornly play press man even when they are being bbq’d would be a good candidate for it to start.

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7 comments

  1. Joseph Stevenson 1 month ago

    Yes Book did not complete 3 or 4 deep balls to open recievers at VT. Remember we were going to be lucky to beat them?, the line was 5 points? What I LOVED about his not completing those deep balls was each was overthrown by a bunch. There was NO interception possibillity. And any question of arm stregnth isnt worth asking. Go IRISH!!

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  2. C-Dog 1 month ago

    Yeah, this offense does have a ton of potential. TJ Jr. is another asset once he’s full on again. They need to get him going downhill more. Once Dex came back Tony Jones Jr. started to try to dink and cut. He should not be a battering ram fullback, but that extra power will bowl a few folks over. He’s also big enough to effectively block.

    The other aspect which the coaches will need to manage is moving fresh guys in while keeping the rhythm going for the hot hand. I have not seen that in the Kelly era, but am hopeful this year.

    As for the downfield passing? No worries, that’s timing, practice and getting the noise out of Book’s ear to keep the clock in his head for those throws. Claypool needs a little more love and you hope that Book stays divers in his targets. Finke will get his catches. Get Boykin his, but I say pull him out for a series or two, once he’s had some love from Book. If you want this offense tuned for the hoped playoffs, then you want Book to remain diverse in his targets to make scouting that much harder for opponents.

    Man, it’d be great to see the knock out punch come week after week through the rest of the season. It’d be even better to see Tebow eat it if the Irish face an SEC ( genuflect ) opponent. I’m not a believer yet, but I do believe this year’s team has the potential to beat all possible opponents. Just depends on how they put it all together. This team is not as good relative to the competition as the 1988 team, but it is as good as the 1993 team, sans BC game.

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  3. pete calco 1 month ago

    I think Book will develop the down field passing game. I more concerned with does Notredame have anyone who can catch a short slant pass and go 80 yards like that freshman from Penn State did against Ohio State.I wish Notredame had a Will Fuller.This offense would be unstoppable.

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  4. Cig 1 month ago

    Teams have a body of work to analyze with Book. They will increasingly game plan for him. We’ve seen this before. A QB looks great until teams figure out how to defend him. VT set the parameters — Force ND to beat you deep. Tech wasn’t good enough to pull it off for a whole game. But they stymied ND for a half. A better team will use this template to beat ND if the deep game doesn’t come together. That will make ND complete.

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    1. Tommy 1 month ago

      Malarkey. There no “force them to beat you deep” – Book had thrown plenty of very good intermediate routes. You can’t sit down the run game, the sorry passing game AND the intermediate passing game. The deep game is definitely great to soften up the D for the run and speedometer passing game, but the deep passing game is a “nice to have”, not a must.

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  5. Greg Kelly 1 month ago

    Book should beware of #15 Jason Pinnok. He plans on ruining the day of Claypool and Boykin.

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    1. Tommy 1 month ago

      Malarkey. There no “force them to beat you deep” – Book had thrown plenty of very good intermediate routes. You can’t sit down the run game, the sorry passing game AND the intermediate passing game. The deep game is definitely great to soften up the D for the run and speedometer passing game, but the deep passing game is a “nice to have”, not a must.

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