The case for a vanilla offense

69 Comments

With Notre Dame breaking in a first-time quarterback in Everett Golson, many worried the Irish offensive attack would be too vanilla, making it easy on opposing defensive coordinators. Those that watched Notre Dame’s debut against Navy saw simplicity in the approach, but success in that execution. It may have been vanilla, but that tends to work with a steamroller of a running game as American as apple pie.

The Irish ran a simple playbook last Saturday, relying on a handful of core running plays and a modified passing game that including inside screens, swing passes, a fade route to Tyler Eifert and some play-action boot passing. It was a streamlined playbook for Golson, and with the exception of an interception forced into Eifert, a game plan that the Irish quarterback executed well.

As the season progresses, no doubt Notre Dame will add a few wrinkles and continue to build the offensive attack. Yet for those worried that the Irish offense will be too vanilla  CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman writes something quite interesting today when discussing the high octane Oregon attack: it’s pretty simple, too.

Feldman recaps Oregon’s prolific success last Saturday and details just how effective the vanilla system can be.

As flashy as the Ducks’ personnel and shiny uniforms are, their playbook was actually not fancy. Like many teams, they run the inside zone, they run the stretch play, run the power, throw some screens and are very adept at running boots and nakeds thanks to their dynamic young QB. “It’s West Coast concepts and some spot routes, but they’re so good at play-action and their O-line does a good job of selling play-action, and when they run the climb routes, they just get on you so fast and find the spaces between the linebacker and the safeties.”

In all, the Ducks had six different ball-carries with at least a 24-yard gain. They had 11 different receivers with a reception of 10 yards or longer. They were 10-of-19 on third downs and four-of-five on fourth downs. “You’ve gotta keep great leverage on them, and that’s what we didn’t do,” Thompson said.

With Amir Carlisle ready to play this Saturday and Cierre Wood back in action next week, it won’t be a stretch for the Irish to have seven ball carriers — Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, Golson, Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, and Davonte Neal — all deserving of touches. (And Robby Toma got some ground work out of the slot on Saturday.)

And while it may seem like eleven receivers contributing catches is a product of Oregon’s impressive depth on the roster, consider ten different players on the Irish roster caught balls on Saturday, and that’s with Toma, freshman Chris Brown, and John Goodman all being held without a catch. As Brian Kelly tries to figure out how to make due without former Irish great Michael Floyd, it appears we are starting to see how he plans on doing it: Multiplicity.

After finishing last season with only twelve players catching a pass throughout the entire season, (Atkinson, Mike Ragone, Ben Koyack, and Alex Welch only caught one ball each), the Irish worked numerous receivers in and out of the game, changing formations and specializing the roles of each player tasked with helping the Irish win. TJ Jones excelled on the inside screen. Davaris Daniels had a nice gainer vertical down the sidelines. Koyack could’ve caught two more balls for big gains on play action and Troy Niklas nearly scored on his reception. I could go on, but the pattern is already starting to emerge.

Oregon’s offense doesn’t need to be complex when it’s run at the breakneck pace the Ducks move. With Golson under center and a running game that’ll likely stay strong behind a veteran Irish offensive line, Notre Dame should be able to use pace and tempo to help succeed on offense as well. While the Irish eschewed that technique with Tommy Rees under center, instead satisfied to counterpunch, Golson’s ability to be a runner and a passer, along with the personnel mismatches the Irish can create with multiple tight ends and running backs, should help keep defenses off balance and allow the Irish to stay proactive and aggressive.

We’ve likely only seen a smidgeon of the Irish offense for the season, especially with Notre Dame playing with a large lead for much of last Saturday’s game. But even if it doesn’t get much more exotic, there might not be a reason to worry.

Sometimes, vanilla is good.