Notre Dame’s offense went into the 2016 with lofty expectations. DeShone Kizer was coming off a very successful season where he showed he had first-round pick type talent. Although Kizer may still become a first rounder, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense often fizzled this past season. Brian Kelly has hired innovative Coach Chip Long to run the Irish Offense in ‘17.
Long’s Offense in Memphis, featuring a new starter at QB, finished in the top 20 in pass offense, 1st downs gained, scoring offense, completion % and pass efficiency. The offense specializes in creating ways of putting defenses in very difficult situations. Long utilizes odd formations; 2 and 3 Tight-End sets, 2 back sets, overloads and bunch formations. These unbalanced sets cause mismatches and expose holes or windows in coverages..
Plenty of pre snaps activity and motions are used as well as consistent play action to keep the opponent honest. A lot of what he runs isn’t typical and gives defenses looks they aren’t familiar with which creates a lot of opportunities for big gains off of miscues. Long runs this style of offense, which requires the defense to make a lot of adjustments, often in Tempo which can cause the opponent much stress and fatigue.
RPO’s (run pass option) is a new wrinkle that Long will add to the Irish Offense. In ‘16, Notre Dame’s run game was shut down often which allowed their opponent to focus on the pass. This caused the Offense to suffer greatly. This is why Long will dial up RPO’s which incorporates the pass to their zone-read scheme, causing linebackers and defensive backs to not bail on pass coverage when the QB keeps the ball instead of handing it off to the RB.
In the above image, the outside linebacker in the red square is who Wimbush will read when he pulls the ball away from the RB in an RPO. If the LB covers the slot, Wimbush will tuck the ball and run. If the LB abandons pass coverage and turns downhill there will be a window to get the ball to the slot before the secondary coverage gets there. One WR typically runs a vertical pattern which takes the play side safety out of the run game. Once an RPO is successful, the linebackers and safeties are put into a difficult situation.
Another effective scheme that Coach Long deploys is running play action off-tackle runs to the short side of the field to set up a one-on-one post pattern throw to the backside isolated receiver. The QB fakes the handoff to the running back, often with a Center and play-side Guard pull helping sell the run, then quickly gathers his feet and makes the backside throw. This play was highly successful for Memphis last season and again, these types of plays help back off the defensive backs and keep them out of the run game.
By adding these aspects to an offense that is very polished in the zone-read scheme, the Fighting Irish will have an answer to offensive struggles, to a degree. It’s unseen how Wimbush will react to live in-game decision making but with two years of preparation in Kelly’s offense plus his physical traits, I predict a smooth transition, thus, a high-scoring Irish Offense in ‘17.