Notre Dame escaped Toledo with a last minute victory, raising many questions in the process. While winning by 3 as a 17-point favorite was disappointing, there were a few bright spots during the game and the Rockets’ performance was quite lucky and at times unsustainable. at first glance (and wait for your takes “It was Toledo, we should have won by a million” until the end). For more information on the statistics we will be using, please see this analytical guide which explains our methodology.
This game was all over the map, because whenever something went in the direction of Notre Dame, Toledo responded with a big game on its side. As the Irish started to settle in just before half-time, Jack Coan threw a six pick. When Notre Dame seemed to put the game aside in the 4th quarter, Toledo stopped a 67-yard run leading to a touchdown, and on the next possession forced a Kyren Williams fumble as the Irish were about to miss. of time. While credit is due to Toledo for capitalizing on their opportunities, converting to those many big games while otherwise ineffective is an unsustainable way of playing.
Jack Coan didn’t have his best game, finishing with 0.05 EPA / play and a rating of 62.4 PFF. He missed a few open receivers forcing the ball to Michael Mayer and the interception was a glaring mistake, but he saved his day a bit by leading the winning race. Part of the regression of a possibly unsustainable situation Florida State the performance was a step back in his performance by throwing 10-19 yards down. After completing 83% of his passes for 1.51 EPA / game against Florida State, he logged just 38% for an average of 0.45 EPA. Despite Coan’s top-down play and interception, Notre Dame’s passing attack was the most effective unit of the game and the only of the two teams to finish with a positive EPA. With the state of the Irish rush attack – we’ll talk about that later – they may have to look into the pass more than we ever thought.
A note on Tyler Buchner. While his performance was electric and he showed he deserved a role on this team, we didn’t see him enough as a passer to still have a say on if he should start, with just 3 attempts. of passes and an aDOT of 4.3. Obviously, he at least gained a role on this team as a short range and red zone situation weapon. However, Notre Dame will likely have to change his game by calling him if he needs to be on the court more than one game at a time. Tommy Rees called for a 23% success rate with Buchner under center. It worked against Toledo because it was his college debut and they didn’t know what to expect, but future defenses will start to kick in if Rees doesn’t strike back with more knockbacks for the precious. Freshman.
While Coan himself may not have had his best day, the wide receivers put in another quality performance. All of the receptors except Lorenzo Styles produced a positive EPA and a success rate of 50% or greater on their targets. Avery Davis also appeared on the box score a week after we asked him to get more involved. And he responded with 0.87 EPA and 11 yards per game. He has the potential to be an elite slot weapon so it was encouraging to see him have some opportunities with the ball in hand. Setting up the performance with an aDOT of 3.8 suggests he could be a go-to option for Coan or Buchner below with Mayer, Lenzy and Austin stretching the field.
And credit is due, Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree put in another effective performance in the air. We were skeptical of their increased role in offensive passes, as Running Backs’ targets are generally less effective than Wide Receivers and Tight Ends. But after another effective day averaging over 1 EPA / goal, if they can maintain that level of performance, it will help make up for the woes of the rushed attack.
In addition to Avery Davis, our other call to action was for Tommy Rees to make more use of play action. And he responded with a 35% drop back rate versus 24% against Florida State, taking advantage of the code. cheat that is play-fake. The offensive performance on the offside shots is a bit of concern, but the Irish were at 0.24 EPA / game on such shots against the Seminoles. As long as they can be positive about these games and continue to use the gameplay action as the focal point of the attack, you should be fine.
Notre Dame’s hasty attack continues to be appalling, and most of the blame can be blamed on the feet of the offensive line. While they were excellent at protecting the quarterback, placing 14th in the PFF Pass Block Grade, they are abysmal paving holes for Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, placing 95th in the Run Block category. The most worrying problem is that the Irish can’t even run on light boxes. Against Toledo, they faced a 6-man box 9 times and averaged -0.97 EPA and 1.7 yards, good for an 11% success rate. And when they had a hat on a hat (which means Notre Dame has the same number of blockers in the box as the opponent has defenders), they averaged -0.62 EPA and 3.5 yards, well for a success rate of 36%. Thanks to Tommy Rees, Notre Dame had an early success rate of 58%, up from 43% last season. The problem is, unless stroke blocking shows massive improvement, it might not be enough, and Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees may need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. and start to aerate it even more.
When you look at Toledo’s box score, you don’t think this game comes down to the last disc. Devin Maddox had a great game averaging 0.83 EPA and 15 yards on 9 targets, but no one else really did anything noticeable. Both quarterbacks presented negative EPA and running back Bryant Koback did the same. In reality, this game was close because of a few offensive woes and a bit of luck that went in the direction of Toledo we talked about earlier. Keep in mind that the defense only allowed 22 points with the other 7 coming from Coan’s Pick-6. And while it was better to stop, Dequan Finn’s touchdown run at the end of the fourth quarter was actually good for Notre Dame given they were already close to Field Goal reach. If he had put a knee on the 1-yard line, Notre Dame loses, because the Irish had only one time-out and Toledo could essentially miss the time and hit a 20-yard basket.
Now take a look at Toledo’s offensive performance from the down. Marcus Freeman’s unit had a day in the field in early testing, with the Rockets averaging -0.39 EPA / Play and an overall success rate of 22%. One of our concerns early in the game was Toledo’s heavy use of Play Action and whether Notre Dame would fall prey to it, as Clark Lea’s units tended to do so last season. But Freeman’s defense responded well, performing almost the same on game action throws as it did on non-PA throws. The Rockets also converted just 41% of their third downs and really took advantage of the Irish defense’s poor tackles on some points. While the continued allocation of rushed big plays is a concern, at one point players just need to make a play and Brian Kelly post-game stressed the importance of fundamentals.
The biggest concern is the continued vulnerability at the back end of the secondary. When Toledo threw less than 20 yards into the field, Notre Dame performed very well and was able to stop the Rockets, channeling most plays to a depth of 9 yards or less. But as was the case last year, they continue to allow for big plays on the pitch and offenses continue to be extremely effective in doing so. Last season Clark Lea’s defense gave up more than 1 EPA / game when thrown more than 20 yards into the field. On Saturday, Toledo completed 2 of 4 passes for an average of 1.57 EPA and 22.2 yards. The secondary was our biggest concern and that of many others with the defense going into the season. They’ve held up well when they’re able to keep the ball rolling, but if they continue to allow a high percentage of throws from deep, it might offset the gains they’ve made at other levels of the pitch. . But even with the big plays, Notre Dame allowed a negative EPA against the run and pass. So while there was still room for improvement, it was a good performance from Freeman’s group.
One interesting thing we wanted to note at the end here is how many lightboxes Freeman has shown in Toledo. On 20 of the 22 runs, Notre Dame has fielded 6 or fewer players in the box and they did so on 88% of the season’s run plays. It seems Freeman is trying to get teams to run, whether it’s to cover vulnerabilities in high school or because he knows that rushing is less effective than passing remains to be seen, but it’s a very welcome development in reason for this last point. Keep an eye out for that over the next few weeks, especially as Notre Dame faces more powerful passing offenses.
While the final score was certainly a disappointment, the game was not that close. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Notre Dame had a 91% chance of winning after the game because of its great advantage in efficiency and being on the wrong side of some chance of turnover. The offense has a few questions to answer and may need to adjust to a more aerial attack, but the defense has played well and rest assured the sky is not falling.