Blue and Gold Illustrated

BGI April 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 APRIL 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n baseball vernacular, offensive coordinator Chip Long has seen his troops both "hit for power" and also "bat for average" dur- ing his first two seasons at Notre Dame. In year three, his objective is to combine both into one lethal unit. During an 8-1 start in 2017, the Fighting Irish averaged 41.3 points per game — on pace to break the school record 37.6 set in 1968 — on the strength of a powerful ground game and unprecedented big-play capability. The group set a new school standard in rushing yards per carry (6.3), and 16 plays (rushing or passing) covered more than 50 yards — 13 at least 59, and six were a mini- mum of 73 yards. A late-season swoon dropped the Irish to 10-3, but fittingly the final "true" offensive play of the season was a game winning 55-yard touch- down pass from then reserve quar- terback Ian Book to wideout Miles Boykin in a 21-17 victory versus LSU in the Citrus Bowl. During last year's 12-1 run to the four-team College Football Playoff, the yards per carry dropped a whop- ping two yards (4.4), and there were only two 50-yard plays through the air. The unit revolved around a more controlled, "singles-hitting" passing attack that saw Book set a school record for completion percentage (68.15) and rank 17th nationally in efficiency (154.0 passer rating). However, the Fighting Irish scor- ing average was 31.4 points per game, 41st nationally and modest when compared to the three other CFP participants — Oklahoma (48.4 points per game), Alabama (45.6) and Clemson (44.3), which ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in the country, respectively. What Long aspires to reach is the rarified air in offense that is akin to a Major League Baseball hitter who can clout 40 home runs — yet also bat .330. "We had only [six] plays over 50 yards last year, and we went to the College Football Playoff — very rare," Long said. "The year before we averaged that in a series. We need to take the explosiveness of '17 with the efficiency of '18 and how we were on third downs, just our ability to move the ball and the grit we had. "I don't think last year we really scared anybody. There were a cou- ple of games where our physicality showed up but not consistently, and we weren't explosive. That caught up to us." It was exposed specifically in the 30-3 College Football Playoff defeat to Clemson in which the Irish man- aged only 88 rushing yards, while Book was 17-of-34 passing for a mea- ger 160 yards. "I could have probably done a bet- ter job schematically with the run game, and keep us ahead of the chains to help Ian a little bit," Long said. "He's a 70-percent passer and it went to 50. That's one part I regret." GOING VERTICAL To complete against the Tier One programs that regularly average 40 points, Long is challenging Book to take more chances downfield with- out being too careless. "Make throws that you probably wouldn't have made last year be- cause I might have been mad putting the ball in jeopardy," Long summa- rized of elevating Book's threat as a passer. "We had to do what we had to do to win games last year." This spring, Long doesn't want to see Book playing it close to the vest all the time. "I don't care to see a check down," Long said of Book. "I want him to try to throw the whole shot and keep working our 50-50 balls with our guys and give them a chance to make a play." LETHAL COMBINATION The Fighting Irish offense is attempting to add explosiveness to its efficiency Chip Long is challenging Ian Book — who set a school record for completion percentage (68.15) and ranked 17th nationally in passing efficiency (154.0 rating) last year — to take more chances downfield in 2019. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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