Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2021

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

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6 DECEMBER 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame has a fluctuating rela- tionship with the red zone. The Fighting Irish's defense clamps down when an opponent reaches it. Their offense, meanwhile, stalls there a bit more often than it would like. Entering the regular-season finale, Notre Dame's defense ranked fourth nationally in red zone touchdown per- centage. Opposing offenses had reached the end zone on just 13 of 37 trips inside the 20-yard line (35.14 percent). They were touchdown-less on their last seven red zone trips, which resulted in just 12 points. Notre Dame's defense had al- lowed zero or negative yards on the last four red zone possessions and scored one touchdown of its own. On offense, meanwhile, the Irish ranked 62nd in touchdown rate (61.9 percent), with 26 touchdowns in 42 red zone possessions. They have reached the end zone seven of their last 10 times inside the 20-yard line, though. The ef- ficiency is improving, but even amid the upswing, some missteps have popped up. This was a sore spot in 2020 as well. Notre Dame can head into the post- season — and perhaps the College Foot- ball Playoff with a few breaks — knowing it has a weapon in its red zone defense, no matter the strength of the opposing offense. That opponent will, though, assuredly field a more potent attack than Navy, Stanford, Georgia Tech with a backup quarterback or Virginia with a freshman quarterback. In turn, the Irish's own offense has to punch the ball in the end zone more often when the games inevitably become higher scoring. How each red zone phase got here and the Irish's tendencies inside the 20 are worth examining. On defense, the key is creating confusion. "Red zone defense starts with not giving pre-snap reads to the quarter- back," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We've been really good and diligent in trying to change those pre-snap reads up. We're going to show bracket [coverage], show zone and get into man, we'll show man and get into bracket. It has been really good in terms of showing those looks. "Before you can do that, you have to be able to stop the run. There have been many years where we've got- ten into zone or bracket coverage and become very vulnerable to the run. We've been really good against the run and able to play double zone down UNDER THE DOME TWO-SIDED STORY Notre Dame features an elite red zone defense and a middling but improving red zone offense Heading into their regular-season finale at Stanford, the Irish defense ranked fourth nationally in red zone touchdown percentage (35.14 percent, 13 of 37), while recording seven sacks, intercepting two passes and forcing two fumbles. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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