Many Georgia Tech fans looked upon at Notre Dame's dismantling of Texas with horror, afraid that the Jackets would meet a similar fate in week 3. It's difficult to analyze a team effectively when watching live, however, so I put on the tape and dissected exactly what Notre Dame was trying to do to Texas, and why they were so successful. This analysis will be split into several sections. I will take a look at what the Irish do on Offense, Defense, and Special Teams, and I will take a look at individual position groups as well. Along the way, I'll also take some looks at why Texas failed so badly in this matchup. I should note that I was not able to take a good look at the tape from the Notre Dame-Virginia game before the publication of this article, but there are some important conclusions to be drawn from that game's stat line. I'll try to touch on them as I go. First up: Notre Dame on offense
Formations and Plays
Notre Dame runs everything out of the Pistol, in which the QB lines up 4 yards behind the Center instead of 7, like in Shotgun. In order to switch up the formations, the Irish will vary the number of TEs in the game and their placement. There is never more than 1 RB in the backfield.
Notre Dame's base formation on offense is a pistol set it with 11 personnel. 11 personnel means that there is 1 TE and 1 RB. The first number in the 11 is the number of RBs, and the second number is the number of TEs. A good explanation of 11, 12, 21, etc. personnel can be found here. Notre Dame ran a variety of plays out of this formation, and did most of its deep passing out of it.
The offense would occasionally bring in an extra TE at the expense of a WR. With the extra beef up front, Notre Dame would use this formation to run up the middle or play the read option. The Irish had a lot more success up the middle on the few plays in which RB Tarean Folston ran the ball before his season-ending injury. The next man up, CJ Prosise, looked decent up the middle, but Folston looked better, albeit with a smaller sample size. Prosise has the size to be a physical runner, but the converted WR seems to prefer to try to bounce the ball outside using his speed.
12 Personnel was also used with 2 stacked H-backs. In this formation, the Tight ends would line up one behind the other right outside the tackle box. The RB would flex out to the slot as well. Notre Dame frequently ran a motion sweep out of this with the H-backs becoming lead blockers. This play was actually how the Irish scored their second touchdown, and was the first look at RB Josh Adams, who will will back up Prosise on Saturday. Notice how the H-backs swing out to lead the way for Adams. Also notice how badly the Texas Safety whiffs on the tackling attempt.
Notre Dame would also line up with 3 WR to one side in a tight triangular formation called a "bunch." With this formation, the offense would play a bit of a numbers game. If the QB felt that the defense had more players inside, he would throw the screen out to one of the players in the bunch formation while the other 2 blocked. If there were more defenders on the outside, then the QB would hand the ball off up the middle. Texas was playing their safeties way too deep in this game, and got repeatedly burned by the screen pass.
At the time the original film analysis was completed, Notre Dame had not yet played Virginia, and QB Malik Zaire had not yet been lost for the season due to injury. Now, my analysis of him from the Texas game will be irrelevant for this week's game. Zaire will be replaced by Sophomore DeShone Kizer, who led the Irish to a comeback after Zaire broke his ankle. The scary thing about Kizer is that he's a bit of an unknown. By analyzing the small sample size available, Kizer seems to be less mobile than Zaire, but could be a better pocket passer. The game winning touchdown was beautiful, but Kizer's footwork on the play was awkward, as he failed to step into the throw properly. Is he that good, or was it just a lucky throw? It's impossible to know until kickoff next Saturday, and not knowing makes me nervous.
The Offensive Line
This is an excellent unit, led by Left Tackle Ronnie Stanley, a likely 1st Round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. It's a big unit as well, averaging 313.2 lbs across the line. My biggest concern going into this game was that the Tech Defensive Line would have the ball stuffed down their throats like had happened in so many games last season. Texas's Defensive line isn't big, averaging 271 lbs, which is comparable to Tech's 264/274(depending on whether Rook-Chungong or Gamble is playing at DE). After Folston left the game, Texas actually did a pretty good job of keeping Notre Dame from running up the middle. Poor tackling was usually the Longhorn's downfall, as the Notre Dame OL is quite good at catching up to the play and pushing the pile. The Jackets will need to get the ball carrier on the ground quickly to avoid having the same thing happen to them.
This unit excels at pass blocking. The Georgia Tech DL will be severely tested after getting fairly good pressure during the Tulane game. It may not be possible to pressure Kizer at all without some kind of blitz, and Ted Roof will have some decisions to make this week about how aggressive he wants to be.
There were a couple miscues in blocking and other errors that did put a damper on the Notre Dame OL's night. They were called for 3 false starts, and there were a couple plays where edge blitzers weren't picked up at all.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Of this group, the one that really needs to be accounted for is #7 Will Fuller. He has great speed, great hands, and is the team's primary vertical passing threat. Against Texas, Fuller caught 7 passes for 142 yards. He was good, though the Texas secondary made it quite easy for him. Texas repeatedly lost track of assignments, left guys wide open in soft zones, and did idiotic things like standing in the middle of the end zone while Fuller caught a TD in front of them. The clip of the play is below. I was incredulous when I went and took a closer look at this play. Specifically notice in the replay how deep the Longhorn Safeties are playing. It doesn't make any sense. For all the hype about Charlie Strong, the Texas Defense seemed poorly coached in this game.
Fuller was able to gain over 100 yards against Virginia's defense as well, so don't discount his performance too much simply because the Texas secondary is incompetent.
Notre Dame's RB rotation has been absolutely gutted since last year. Primary backup Greg Bryant was declared academically ineligible, and starter Tarean Folston was injured during the Texas game. The job has now fallen to CJ Prosise and Freshman Josh Adams. Neither had the same success as Folston running up the middle, but both excelled getting to the edge, where Texas tackled poorly. Notre Dame repeatedly attacked the edge on run plays, as the Longhorn safeties were playing too deep to properly perform any sort of run support. When they were able to come up and support the run, the safeties usually whiffed badly on their tackling attempts. Prosise had a monster game against Virginia, amassing 155 yards at almost 10 yards per carry. The Jackets will need to tackle well on the edge, as Prosise has more than enough speed to take it to the house.
It was difficult to judge this defense based on the game tape. They dominated in every phase, and looked like one of the best groups in the country. At the same time, however, Texas's offense was bad. Indescribably bad. The offensive line was quite possibly the worse offensive line I have every watched in Power 5 play, and the Quarterbacks weren't all that great either.
Formations and Tendencies
Notre Dame primarily lines up in a 4-2-5 defense, just like Georgia Tech. The linebackers would occasionally come on the blitz, but in this game it wasn't really required against such a terrible offensive line. There was a lot of man coverage, and the safeties weren't playing all that deep. The vertical passing game was nonexistent for Texas, so playing deep safeties would have accomplished nothing. All this to say: It's unlikely that the the Irish will take the exact same approach to defending the option. An entire separate article could be written about how the Irish defend the option. In fact, one was written by SBNation's Notre Dame Blog, One Foot Down. It's worth a read here.
Like the defense as a whole, this group is tough to judge. The ineptitude of the Texas OL made them look like world beaters. They lived in the backfield, and on one 3rd and 1 play, pushed Guards of the Texas OL 2 yards into the backfield.
It's rare to see that at this level of competition. As bad as the OL was at run blocking, they were even worse at pass blocking. Don't take my word for it, take a look at these mind-blowing clips:
Notice the down and distance. It was 2nd and 1, which is generally a great time to throw it deep. However, the quarterback must have some time in order to try that. Texas's lack of a vertical passing game allowed Notre Dame's defense to be increasingly aggressive, which in turn allowed them to dominate on another level. Texas would try to mitigate the pass rush by rolling the QB out of the pocket, but that went just about as well as staying in the pocket. Texas could have probably put tackling dummies out there and would have gotten similar results.
One player that stood out to me in particular was Sheldon Day. Dude got after it, and was in on most of Notre Dame's big defensive plays(of which there were many). He'll need to be accounted for or optioned off.
Based off the stat line(1 sack), it seems that the Virginia OL did a much better against this group, which is encouraging.
This is the scariest part of the Notre Dame defense, bar none, and it's all due to one player, Jaylon Smith. Smith is the best MLB the Jackets will face this year, end of discussion. He's big, he's fast, and he tackles well. Against Texas, they even put him at DE, where he recorded a sack(wasn't too hard against this OL). He was occasionally assigned to "spy" the mobile QB's on passing plays so that they couldn't escape the pocket, and excelled in this regard as well. In the clip below, he does a great job of tracking the Texas QB while coming up in coverage, and the results are....predictable.
To further terrify you, Paul Johnson's biggest complaint from the Tulane game was the inability of the OL to block the MLB. With the vast jump in the level of competition this week, it's a cause for concern.
Smith is the only scary part of the Notre Dame LB corps, however, as I was not impressed with the other starter. He lacked the speed to get to the edge, which will be a major problem when defending the option.
The Notre Dame secondary simply wasn't tested in this match up. The lack of pass protection meant that Texas never had any hope of trying anything downfield. The Texas Quarterbacks also weren't accurate enough to get the ball to the receivers consistently. Against Virginia, however, this secondary gave up 11.1 yards per completion and 2 TDs. In the clips I saw of the game, their tackling wasn't stellar either. It may be wise for Georgia Tech to test the Notre Dame secondary early, and make some of the players up front hesitate just a bit against the run.
This was the one group that actually didn't do so well against Texas. The Irish missed a field goal, and were atrocious on kickoffs. One was short, one was way out of bounds, and others were easily returnable kicks. If Tech is looking for some way to change the game, they may not need to look any further than this phase of the game.
What did you think of Notre Dame's first 2 games? Do you feel good going into this week's match up?