Rating of Notre Dame’s offense

Heading into Saturday’s game against Cal, there’s no doubt that offense was the biggest question mark surrounding Notre Dame football. They had scored just 31 points in the first two games, and sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner’s season-ending injury only added to the uncertainty. That being said, here are my takeaways from Cal’s offensive performance.

They found a way to win

It wasn’t pretty, but the main thing is that the offense did enough to win the game. After 0 first down and just 28 yards on four possessions in the first quarter, it was easy to start thinking the worst. But little by little, they turned around. In the second quarter, they took advantage of a good position on the field to score their first points of the match. After half-time they looked even better, scoring on three consecutive drives after the break.

Outside of the second-quarter missed snap, junior quarterback Drew Pyne made no glaring mistakes in his first career start. His last line of stats was 17-23 (73.9%) for 150 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. It is a continuous line.

Lack of verticality

On the surface, Pyne’s numbers aren’t bad, but they do suggest Notre Dame’s troubling lack of verticality with Pyne under center. On Saturday against Cal, he averaged 8.8 yards per completion, a far cry from Jack Coan’s 12.5 YPC last year and even further from Pyne’s own 14.9 average in limited action last year. last.

Pyne’s pass location data from Saturday tells a similar story: 70% of his attempts were less than five yards in front of the line of scrimmage. Almost half of Pyne’s pass attempts (11/23) on Saturday were screen passes completed at or behind the line.

In total, Pyne attempted just three passes from over 15 yards with only one successful. It came after Buchner attempted 9 of those passes against Marshall, completing three for 71 yards. Admittedly, this lack of aggressiveness on the pitch isn’t all about Pyne. The receiving core is limited for Notre Dame, both due to injuries and inexperience, and it’s clear this positional group will need to find a way to improve quickly to give Pyne better options at the start. outside.

That reality was reflected in the fact that Pyne’s best receivers on Saturday were two running backs. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree combined for eight receptions and 87 yards out of the backfield to lead the Irish. Even so, it’s telling that the two greatest passing plays came when they were able to get past the line of scrimmage and receive the ball in space on the pitch.

First, Tyree ran short out of the backfield where Pyne hit him for the 21-yard touchdown. Later, he hit Esteem on an angled route out of the backfield where he beat the linebacker to catch a pass which he turned into a 36-yard gain after the catch.

Simply put, the Irish will have to find a way to generate more plays in attack to increase their margin of error. Being able to score more effectively will also take the pressure off their defense in games against high-scoring offenses like North Carolina and USC later in the year.

Resurgent offensive line and running game

On Saturday, the offensive line reminded us why we thought so highly of them on the year. After two tough games where they struggled, there’s no doubt that Notre Dame dominated in the trenches this week. In fact, PFF ranked sophomore offensive linemen Joe Alt, grad student Jarrett Patterson and senior Zeke Correll as Notre Dame’s best offensive players last weekend.

In the running game, they did a great job opening up holes for Tyree and Estime, and allowing Notre Dame to control the tempo. In total, the two backs combined for 140 yards on 35 carries. Despite giving up two sacks, they also did a great job of pass protection, often giving Pyne plenty of time to put in several reads. Heading into the season, high-level offensive line play and tough running play were supposed to be the backbone of this team — Saturday they played like that.

Give the ball to Michael Mayer

Junior tight end Michael Mayer is by far Notre Dame’s best offensive weapon. He’s a projected first-round NFL pick, and he’s slowly climbing to the top of many tight Notre Dame rankings. Heading into Saturday, the All-American was expected to be a safety blanket for Pyne. A dependable wide receiver in an offense that sorely lacks a true elite threat at wide receiver. Instead, Mayer had just two catches for 10 yards on just five targets. With Buchner under center, Mayer had nine targets against Marshall and eight against the Buckeyes.

Mayer had four targets in the first quarter against Cal and just one reception. In part, this was the product of Pyne’s poor play in the first half. This was most evident in a crucial third down situation where Mayer opened wide in midfield, but Pyne navigated the throw high and out of reach from the 6’4” tight end forcing a punt from clearance.

Moving forward, this can’t happen. Pyne needs to be able to get the ball to Mayer and do it with precision. They can’t just forget to target him for two and a half quarters after it hasn’t worked multiple times. Michael Mayer is a game-changing talent at the short end and he needs to be in the center of attack every game.

The offense saw significant progress against Cal. They ran the ball well with someone other than Tyler Buchner for the first time, and the offensive line got significantly stronger. However, they also showed a worrying lack of explosiveness and the receiving core is still a big concern. It was encouraging to see a willingness to adapt to what was working and eventually they were able to win the game. It’s up to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to find ways for this offense to play to its strengths and hopefully continue to improve across the board.

Contact Jose at [email protected]


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