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Notre Dame Football: Red Zone Offense Wins Games but Red Zone Defense Wins Championships

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And Mike Elko is one of the best in the business in that category. Plus, Coach Brey will have even more room to loosen up in-game with new NCAA men’s basketball rule changes.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As the saying goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” I can think of no better an example than the 2015 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who very well may have been one defensive stop against the Stanford Cardinal away from a berth in the College Football Playoff. It’s no secret that Irish teams under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had major issues on that side of the ball no matter where the offense they were facing were positioned.

But optimism abounds in South Bend now; after parting ways with VanGorder, the University hired former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko to take the reins, and for good reason. At Bowling Green State University to begin and again at Wake Forest, Elko fielded strong defenses that were stout against even the toughest of offensive opponents. Recently, CoachingSearch.com used Elko’s 55.8 percent red zone defense opponent touchdown percentage, dating back to 2013, to name him one of the best red zone defensive play callers in the nation.

Stanford v Notre Dame
Remember Goal Line Stands?
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Could this be just the tonic a team in search of red zone cures needs? Think about it; it could be part of it.

But a major part is the offense itself. Brian Kelly has often been criticized for the way his offense performs in the red zone. I mean, let’s take a look at how Notre Dame’s offensive red zone percentage stacked up against the best teams in the nation last year (the CFP participants, that is: Washington Huskies, Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes, Clemson Tigers). For comparison’s sake, I’ve included Chip Long’s Memphis squad in the rankings, as he’ll call the offense for the Irish this year:

Offensive Red Zone Comparison

Team National Rank Red Zone Attempts Red Zone Scores Percentage
Team National Rank Red Zone Attempts Red Zone Scores Percentage
Washington 7 58 54 0.931
Alabama 24 65 58 0.892
Ohio State 40 62 54 0.871
Clemson 66 76 64 0.842
Notre Dame 72 48 40 0.833
Memphis 95 55 44 0.8
stats.ncaa.org

Fart noise. Not only was Notre Dame far below the best teams in college football in terms of percentage, but they were woefully behind in attempts as well. You’re not gonna make a whole lot of shots without a whole lot of shots on goal. That’s an issue that needs to be taken a look at from the scope of the offense as a whole, and not just the offense in the red zone, so a correlation here is weak at best.

However, you can still say that you need to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them, and the Irish don’t get a pass in the percentage department. It isn’t the sole issue, but it’s certainly a problem. Admittedly, in terms of percentage, Chip Long’s Memphis Tigers offense was worse; should we be worried? I would argue that no, we should not worry; 55 attempts is a whole lot better than only 40 regardless of success rate. It may be reasonable to consider a potential improvement in said success rate with a more talented offense for which to call plays. So, that’s one part.

Now, let’s look at the defensive side comparisons. For the sake of argument, I’ve included not only a wayward, coordinator-less Notre Dame defense in this chart, but also Mike Elko’s Wake Forest Demon Deacons squad:

Defensive Red Zone Comparison

Team National Rank Defensive Red Zone Attempts Scores Allowed Percentage
Team National Rank Defensive Red Zone Attempts Scores Allowed Percentage
Ohio State 5 40 29 0.725
Washington 19 43 33 0.767
Wake Forest 22 45 35 0.778
Clemson 30 38 30 0.789
Notre Dame 45 42 34 0.81
Alabama 59 25 21 0.81
stats.ncaa.org

Not bad, all things considered, for the Irish. But Mike Elko’s Wake Forest squad? CoachingSearch dot com might be on to something! Now imagine what Elko’s mind combined with the Notre Dame defense, which held relatively well in the red zone on sheer talent alone, can potentially do. I think there is reason for optimism on both sides of the ball in the red zone, and reasonable optimism for a cure for red zone woes.

Also, look at the Alabama. Ranked that low because they only found themselves with their backs against the wall 25 times. Of the 21 scores they allowed, nine were field goals. That speaks to a sound defensive game plan. Are we taking notes?

Mike Brey Has More Room to Get Loose

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced rule changes that will go into effect for the 2017-2018 men’s college basketball season. Notably, the coach’s box - the area around each team’s bench in which the coach must stay during play - has been expanded by ten feet. Now, the loosest coach in the nation (tm) has 38 feet to encourage his team to play freely. I think this bodes well for the Irish. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rub off on other coaches.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Princeton v Notre Dame Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The NCAA also tweaked throw-in rules: spots from which throw-ins are now determined by “an imaginary line drawn from the corner of the court to the intersection of the lane line and the free-throw line”. Essentially, if the stoppage happens within this imaginary box, the throw-in will come from the end line, three feet outside the lane line. Confused yet?

Among other tweaks, the shot clock will now reset to 20 seconds when the ball is inbounded in the front-court after a foul from the defense, instead of a full shot clock reset. Check out the rest of the changes here.

Notre Dame Women’s Volleyball 2017 Schedule is Here

On Wednesday, the University of Notre Dame unveiled the Notre Dame Women’s Volleyball schedule. Check it out.

Notably, the Irish Volleyballers will open their season in Compton Ice Arena on August 25th against the Valparaiso Crusaders as part of the Golden Dome Invitation. A season opener in Compton is a first for the program. The Irish also face notable foes the Michigan State and Ohio State out of conference, and then stare down the usual gauntlet of ACC play. Notre Dame gets three 2016 NCAA Volleyball Championship teams in ACC play, including Florida State, Pittsburgh, and reigning ACC Champion North Carolina.

Fall sports are almost here, folks.