Emphasis on red-zone efficiency pays off for Notre Dame
Tobias Hoonhout | Friday, September 29, 2017
Whether it’s acing a test or doing exactly what’s needed at the right time on the job, it feels good to be perfect.
And while there have been questions about Notre Dame’s offensive balance and potential so far this season, one thing no one can question is the performance in the red zone.
The Irish (3-1) are one of 14 FBS programs that through four games have a 100 percent efficiency in the red zone, and only one program, Louisiana-Lafayette, has more touchdowns than Notre Dame’s 19. While the team last season finished with a respectable 83 percent red zone conversion rate, the mediocre 63 percent touchdown percentage has been dwarfed by this season’s efforts, in which the Irish are 17-for-19.
With such a dominant offensive line and run game, Notre Dame has been sticking to its strengths when the Irish get close to the end zone.
“Well, I think there’s a couple of things,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on his team’s efficiency in a press conference on Sept. 19. “We’ve been in low red, which is a plus, in terms of scoring. Low red, we’ve been inside the 10-yard line on most of our possessions, which helps in that scoring efficiency. We’ve been run-first down there, which was a commitment that we were going to make, and that has helped us down there. And I think more than anything else, with the rushing game down there, we’ve been able to really draw defenses into being pretty clear on what their intent is, and so it’s helped us in our play calling.
“I think maybe by our — maybe the right word would be insistence, persistence of wanting to run the football down there, we’ve taken away a lot of the exotic looks that we’ve gotten in the past down there and have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to get.”
Through Notre Dame’s first three games, the run-heavy offense had two six-for-six touchdown outings in the red zone, as the Irish dominated on the ground. And even in the loss to Georgia, Brian Kelly’s team still managed to score on all four of their trips inside the 20-yard line. With such efficiency, it makes sense why Notre Dame have been so successful offensively.
“We practice it a lot,” sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool said on the red-zone production. “At least half the practice it feels like we’re in the red zone, doing all these different plays and seeing what works, playing against our defense, playing against the scout defense, so I think it’s just how much repetition we get in practice.”
And with Chip Long at the helm, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In his 11 seasons of coaching prior to Notre Dame, offensives that Long has been involved with have finished in the top-20 of scoring offense seven times.
“It’s honestly a testament to how we’ve been working and how the coaching staff is believing in our work,” Irish senior center Sam Mustipher said. “They see the work we put in each and every day and they understand that, they trust us to go out there and run the ball, they trust us to go out there and throw the ball, it’s really just coming together. I think coach Long does a great job of putting us in great situations and all of our coaching staff does. We’re put in great situations to succeed each and every snap and that’s something you never question.
“ … That’s what coach Long always preaches to us, that when we get on the field we should want to score every time we get out there. And obviously every offense in the country wants to do that, but that’s something he preaches to us and I think that’s something we’ve started to believe in.”
Last week, Notre Dame finished perfect again inside Michigan State’s 20-yard line, scoring four touchdowns on four attempts. But in perhaps their most complete offensive performance to date, the Irish balanced the attack with 173 pass yards and 182 rush yards. With the run game as a foundation, the Irish can continue to move forwards and become even more dangerous.
“I think just as a whole, we look to be as efficient as possible on offense, no matter what spot we’re in,” graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We obviously rep red zone. We rep two-point plays. We rep deep into the red zone, back in the red zone, whatever it is, to be prepared for those situations. I think that it comes down to the mindset that we have, when we’re in that part of the field.
“ … We want to put our foot on the gas pedal and put points on the board, and we’ve been successful in doing that thus far, and I think it’s just a great play calling, great execution and the mindset of not letting anybody come in between us and the end zone.”