For the Irish to knock off Michigan State in East Lansing, the Irish need to make some improvements to the offense. Some improvements need to be made to the schematics, some improvements need to come from players, or both.
Communication – A common theme in the business world is that the most important aspect for any company to be successful derives from the best possible communication between company employees with everyone they do business with, including the best possible communication from one employee to another. Notre Dame players should listen to this theme.
Case in point, the Notre Dame blocking schemes allowed several Purdue defenders to run free. Too many times a Purdue defensive lineman ran by a Notre Dame offensive lineman or tight end with little to no effort from the Notre Dame player to make a block. Now that’s the ultimate miscommunication. Whatever took place, it must be fixed pronto. Michigan State’s defense will ratchet the overall talent level up another notch from Purdue. Allowing Michigan State defenders to run free at young Everett Golson and the Irish running backs would be a disaster.
Change Tendencies – When Golson goes under center, Notre Dame ran the football far more often than it passed the football. The opposite proved to be true when Golson received the snap from the shot gun. Michigan State, as noted above, does not need additional help. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantanio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will game plan to stop Notre Dame’s trends, as they should. To be able to consistently move the football versus the Spartans, the Irish will need to break some formation tendencies. Two ways to do that should not surprise anyone.
When going under center during the first quarter, place Michigan State on its heels by allowing Golson simple passes to the wide receivers where he does not need to make post-snap reads via smokes or slip screens, i.e. hike, turn, and throw. Additionally, insert more play-action passes to Tyler Eifert, DaVaris Daniels, TJ Jones, Roby Toma, and the rest of the potential pass catchers. The potential for big plays from play-action will exist because Michigan State will pressure the line of scrimmage daring Notre Dame to throw the football. Those passes do not need to be deep passes because each of those players can make yardage after the catch. As examples, a few ten-to-fifteen yard dig routes or combination routes would be fine. Bottom line, place the football in the athletes’ hands down the field. Obviously Notre Dame could run a few screens to the running backs as well. Cierre Wood should be rested. Look for him to be a part of the passing game. From the shotgun, a slightly different approach could pay major dividends.
The Read option, speed option, quarterback draw, and quarterback sweep could all be plays that Notre Dame uses to gain a player advantage versus a quick and experienced Michigan State defensive unit. Anytime the defense must account for the quarterback in the running game it becomes assignment football. The option, in particular, diminishes the ability to swarm to the football and allows Notre Dame’s ultra-quick running back trio of Wood, George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick more one-on-one situations with defenders. Any one of the three can make a quick cut and turn a four yard gain into a forty yard gain.
Tempo – Maybe Golson does not possess the knowledge to run every aspect of the offense at maximum speed. So be it. Golson can still operate certain factions of the offense quite well based on the Purdue game. Allow the redshirt freshman the ability to run specific plays from specific formations and use them as his set of audibiles. Doing so will keep the momentum rolling; Notre Dame players will not be looking to the sidelines for the play call if Michigan State shows a defense that would likely stop the original play call and an audible needs to be called. Keep it simple, keep it moving!There will be times where the Irish coaches want to be very sure that Golson and the offense run the best play.
There will likely be a few moments where Golson does look over to the sideline for the play. When that does happen, the play must reach Golson faster. Last week went painfully slow for the plays to be relayed in and put into motion. Far too many plays went down to the last moment to avoid a delay of game penalty. Difficult to place blame on the coaches and/or Golson for the tardiness, but the problem needs to be corrected. The slowed down play calling hurts momentum, and it allows the Spartans’ defenders far more time to rest. Remember, it takes more energy to play defense than offense because defenders constantly chase the ball carrier. The more time they receive to suck air the better rested the Michigan State defenders will be for each additional play.
Time To Emerge – After a fall camp of battling to become a starter, Daniels showed his athleticism and speed during the first two games with two catches for forty-nine yards versus Navy and four catches for seventy yards versus Purdue. The emergence began during week one and two, but Daniels needs to become the true go-to wide receiver to alleviate pressure off of Eifert. Once teams immediately identify where no. 10 lines up in addition to Eifert, it becomes very hard to utilize double coverage and it becomes quite risky to blitz the inexperienced Golson. Will this be the week that Daniels’ athleticism and speed makes a huge difference? He could catch one deep pass and change the momentum of the game. Notre Dame needs that type of game breaker to place the defense on its heels. Eifert and the running backs certainly accomplish that. Now it becomes Daneils’ turn.
Note: if the injury to Daniels’ ankle keeps him out versus the Spartans, do not be shocked to see Chris Brown and/or Justin Ferguson and/or Davonte Neal play significant minutes to increase the athleticism and speed at the wide receiver position. They might be freshmen, but simple stop and go routes or just good ol’ fly patterns might help to keep the Michigan State defense from being overly aggressive near the line of scrimmage.