Irish offense dependent on big plays against Eagles
Marek Mazurek | Saturday, September 16, 2017
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — When Notre Dame put up 49 points against Temple in Week 1, it made a statement.
This was a new Irish offense that was going to score and score quickly. That’s what they brought offensive coordinator Chip Long up from Memphis to do, after all.
A hiccup versus Georgia could be excused. The Bulldogs (3-0) had tons of NFL-caliber talent, and it was junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s first true test.
But after three games, that statement needs to be tweaked.
After three games, it is certainly is true that the Irish can score quickly. Of the six Irish touchdown drives, the longest took just 2:36 off the game clock. Their shortest took only 28 seconds.
And it’s still very much apparent that Notre Dame can run. Junior running back Josh Adams set a new career-high with 229 yards, including three key rushes of over 35 yards.
“We had a lot we wanted to prove this week to ourselves,” Adams said. “We really wanted to get out there and force our dominance on offense. That was our mindset.”
Not to be outdone, Wimbush also wrote his name in the record book with 207 rushing yards — the most in a single game by a Notre Dame quarterback ever. And that’s not to mention four rushing touchdowns to boot, with a 65-yard scamper in the fourth quarter to put the game beyond reach.
But the 49-20 final score tells a different story than that of a game which was 14-10 at halftime, with the Irish having only 53 passing yards and four drives ending with punts.
Notre Dame looked brilliant on its big plays, there’s no denying that. And when a team has six plays of over 30 yards like the Irish did Saturday, it’s safe to assume that team will win.
But the problem for the Irish wasn’t the lack of big plays — it was how they looked on almost every play that didn’t go the distance.
If you take out Adams’ 65-yard run in the first quarter, the Irish totaled just 18 yards in the opening frame. Take out both of Adams’ big runs and Notre Dame ends the first half with 142 total yards, only 53 of which went through the air.
Wimbush finished the game with only 96 passing yards. And for him, that’s not quite good enough.
“One hundred yards throwing as a quarterback is not ideal,” Wimbush said. “As a quarterback, that’s the first thing you do.”
The first half play-calling featured a bevy of screen passes and some read-option tries that were bottled up for the most part. There were also more than a few drops and two turnovers — a tipped pass off the fingertips of junior Equanimeous St. Brown and a botched handoff which could have swayed the game, if not for a fourth-down stop by the defense.
“Obviously, there were some miscues in the passing game, and man, I really want to get those guys the ball because I have so many playmakers,” Wimbush said. “I feel bad, and I take full responsibility for not making the throws and getting those guys the ball. There’s things that we’ll go back and evaluate throughout the week and come next week, we’ll be much improved.”
“He’s going to develop in the passing game. That’s just a matter of time,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of his starting quarterback after the game. “But we know that he’s a great competitor — even through some adversity, he’s going to keep fighting, and our guys love that. It really creates a positive feeling on the sideline when they know they’ve got a guy who’s never, ever going to back down.”
According to Kelly, the ability to move the ball consistently without relying on the big play will come from narrowing down the identity of the 2017 offense.
“I really didn’t know how this offense was going to be from the quarterback position in terms of where Brandon was going to take it until we actually got into a few games,” Kelly said. “Now, I think we know what part of the library we need to kind of move towards. … Now, I think we can start to really focus in on the things that he does really well, and that’s where this offense will continue to grow and develop.”
Whether that indicates a more option-based, run-heavy approach or a greater effort to get Wimbush more comfortable in the passing game, at least Kelly — and Irish fans — know what the team is capable of on the ground.
“You just gotta find something that’s working for you. That happened to be my feet during this game,” Wimbush said.