Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 31, 2016

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

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Page 20 of 55 OCT. 31, 2016 21 The struggling defense has not been the only disappointing part of the Fighting Irish football program in 2016. The ground attack also has failed to meet expectations. Notre Dame's 207.6 rushing yards per game during the 2015 season was the program's best mark since 2000, while its 5.6 yards per rush set a modern program record. With the return of a talented — albeit in- experienced — offensive line and a deep stable of running backs, it was expected Notre Dame's run game would continue to thrive. The Irish rushed for 207 yards in the opener against Texas and 239 yards a week later against Nevada. Over the next four games, however, they averaged just 113.0 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per rush. Notre Dame's inability to grind out yards with its ground attack has led to the offense struggling to con- sistently move the football. It has factored into the team's 33.3 per- cent third-down success rate, which ranked the Irish 111th nationally six weeks into the campaign. If the Irish are going to finish the 2016 season off on a hot streak, the ground game must improve in a big way. Here is a look at how Notre Dame can get it back on track in a manner that improves the entire offense. BUILD THE GAME PLAN AROUND THE RUN GAME When a team has a quarterback as talented as Notre Dame junior De- Shone Kizer and a deep stable of re- ceivers, the pass game will certainly be a big part of the offense. But for much of the 2016 season, Notre Dame has been too reliant on its passing attack. In fact, if scrambles and sacks are factored in as pass plays, Notre Dame has called more passing plays during the 2016 season than it has run plays. While not inherently a problem, the reason for that reliance on the pass game is a problem. If defenses want to build their game plan around stopping the Notre Dame ground game, the Irish are good enough throwing the ball to take advantage, so run-pass splits are not really the issue. What is an issue is the fact Notre Dame's game plans seem to be geared towards the pass game. Most of Notre Dame's formations are designed for what fits the pass game, which has hindered its ability to get enough blockers at the point of attack. The Irish tend to be too spread out, and the manner in which its run- ning backs align serves as a tell to de- fenses, making it a bit easier for them to determine whether the offense is in a pass-heavy or run-heavy alignment. The run and pass game are also not often built together. When breaking down the games, it becomes apparent that Notre Dame has certain looks it wants to run the football out of. Its passing sets are often unique from the run sets. For example, Notre Dame has tended to empty out the backfield in early downs, which is obviously an extremely pass-heavy look. In the looks where Notre Dame likes to run the ball from, defenses are add- ing defenders into the box — either before or after the snap — and it has made the going tougher for the ground game. The Irish coaches have not done a good enough job using those sets to create pass game opportunities to exploit those defensive looks. Notre Dame has not been able to make opponents pay for loading the box, instead choosing to adjust by lin- ing up in more pass-oriented looks. A game plan properly geared to- wards the run game will have its pri- mary formations be those it likes to run the ball from, and then build the first- and second-down pass game out of those sets. If Notre Dame starts to do more of this, it will not only find more suc- cess in the run game, it should also create just as many — if not more — big-play pass opportunities. START USING NUMBERS Notre Dame's staff also has not done a good enough job adding bodies to the point of attack. What results is the offense often finds itself outnumbered in the box, or out-leveraged to the side it wants to run the football. If it does what was suggested above, the Irish staff will start using more for- mations geared towards adding num- bers to the box and/or getting itself better numbers to one side of the for- mation with its receivers and tight ends in order to out-number the defense. Notre Dame made good use of these types of formations in 2015, but it has not taken advantage of them this season. BETTER LINE PLAY IS NEEDED The Irish coaches can make all the necessary adjustments they need to make, but the success will be limited unless the line can improve its play. Notre Dame has had issues with tim- ing up front this season, especially in regards to getting blockers to the second level. Even if nothing changes, better line play will create an improved run game. If the line plays well and the coaching adjustments are made, the Irish ground game could take off down the stretch. ✦ Building Around The Run Game CHALK TALK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Sophomore Josh Adams, the team's leading ball carrier, was on pace to finish the regular season with only 782 rushing yards. Better game plan- ning and schemes could help him and his fellow ball carriers be more productive. PHOTO BY RICK KIMBALL

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