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.
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.