Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

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

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Page 6 of 55 OCT. 9, 2021 7 BY PATRICK ENGEL N o t re Da m e 's 2 1 sa c ks a l l owe d through four games ranks 129th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, ahead of only perennial Mid-American Conference pauper Akron. In turn, Irish quarterback Jack Coan's name ought to reside atop the list of college football's most frequently pres- sured quarterbacks. Open up the Pro Football Focus lead- erboard in percentage of dropbacks un- der pressure, though, and Coan doesn't appear until you start scrolling down. Among 138 FBS quarterbacks with at least 50 dropbacks, Coan is 32nd in percentage of dropbacks under pressure (34.2). That's still a below-average pressure rate. But it doesn't quite match the tor- rent of sacks he has taken. What gives? Coan's pressure-to-sack percentage of 37.7 is fifth-worst among those 138 passers. Pressure-to-sack rate is largely a measure of elusiveness, improvi- sation skills and punctuality of throws. A below-average offensive line mixed with more than a third of pressures turning into sacks is a dangerous combination. Notre Dame's offensive line might be a season-long weakness. Four games isn't an insignificant sample of judgment. It's enough time to decide if changes are necessary and enough time to under- stand from practice viewings if elevating a second-stringer is really an upgrade. Likewise, Coan is what he is — a good pocket passer with limited mobility. He's not suddenly gaining Ian Book's improvi- sation skills and mobility between games. He can, though, improve his timing. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly admit- ted some sacks and incompletions were avoidable if Coan delivered a pass on time instead of a tick late or not at all. He also demonstrated, quite literally, in his press conference Sept. 27, why he thinks Coan's timing takes, well, time to perfect. "This is where he was last year," Kelly said, stepping to the side of the podium to mimic a quarterback under center. "That's how he took all of his snaps." Coan ran an under- ce n te r o f fe n se i n h i s four years at Wisconsin. Notre Dame's offense operates almost exclu- sively from the shotgun. "He has made an incred- ible transition," Kelly said. "There's still work to be done there, and he would admit it as well. But there is a bit of a transition he's going through. We have to shorten his drop. He's used to taking a hitch step." It's a switch that re- q u i re s t i m e a n d re p - etition. It's also realistic to think Coan would be more comfortable with his timing by the fourth game. Coan will take some unavoidable sacks because the offensive line allows them and some because he's not an escape art- ist. But the sacks and incomplete passes caused by shaky timing have to be eradi- cated for Notre Dame's passing offense to consistently function despite its flaws. Proper timing can beat pressure. "You can't hold on to the football and you have to be decisive," Kelly said. "In this offensive structure, the ball has to come out on time. The offensive line is under scrutiny, and they have to play better. But not all that is on the offensive line. There were situations where the ball had to get out in a timely fashion, and it didn't." One sack against Wisconsin stands out as an example. On a third-and-10 play from Wisconsin's 30-yard-line in the second quarter, Coan had a clean pocket for much of the play. He took a three-step drop from the shotgun, then climbed up as sophomore tight end Michael Mayer and senior wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. ran crossing routes from the slot. He looked for Mayer, but locked on and turned his back to Wilkins coming open on the other side and running back Kyren Williams, his check-down option. He had time to deliver a throw to Wilkins or Wil- liams. Instead, he held the ball and took a sack. Coan left the game in the third quarter due to an ankle injury. Sophomore backup Drew Pyne re- placed him and completed 6 of 8 passes for 81 yards with a touchdown. He fumbled on a third-quar- ter sack that was the result of a protection bust, but otherwise appeared comfortable in the pocket and getting the ball out. "When you recruit someone who's standing on the Yellow Pages to be 6-1, you have to see it and the ball has to come out," Kelly said. "He's good at that. We knew what we had with him and he was going to be a guy who saw it, got it out and moved through his progressions." Kelly made it clear Coan is the starter if healthy. One wonders if a more mobile quarterback like Pyne or freshman Tyler Buchner could mitigate the blocking is- sues, but Coan has still been a productive passer and moved the ball despite them. He threw nine touchdown passes in the first four games, which was tied for 16th nationally. He seeks out downfield shots. With a stagnant run game, Notre Dame might have to go pass-first the rest of year. A more elusive quarterback might improvise his way out of some plays, but at times, a throw within the structure has been available for Coan. Seeing those and completing them is the priority. "In shotgun, quick-drop, the ball has to come out on time first," Kelly said, "then mobility second." ✦ UNDER THE DOME HELPING HAND Quarterback Jack Coan has a role in improving Notre Dame's pass protection Coan threw nine touchdown passes in Notre Dame's first four games, but was also sacked 19 times. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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