Nov 6, 2012

Golson's Progress: Part 1


As we hit the three-quarter mark, there are many things that Irish nation will be talking about.  Yes, “can we go to the national title game?” is an important question.  Same holds true for Te’o’s Heisman chances and our ability to go undefeated.  A majority of these questions hinge on the arm of Everett Golson.  For better or worse, he’s the leader of our offense right now.  JLD has taken time to do some pain-staking research to ask the question:  Is he progressing?  For a redshirt freshman getting his first opportunity on a big stage, this is not an easy question to answer.  We’ve all heard the clich├ęs that young players have ebbs and flows.  JLD will be taking a 4-part look at Golson by evaluating each and every throw he’s made this season.  Honestly, I have no idea what to expect.  I’ll be doing this real time with the rest of y’all, and I am not intending to sugar coat the data in any form. 

The stats are derived from my personal review of every throw Golson’s made as well as ESPN’s stats.  For the first of the four-part series, we’re taking a look at Golson’s first three games as a starter:  Navy, Purdue, and Michigan State.  We should expect to see progress as this goes along, but again, my goal is not to modify the data or skew it in any form.  I want to let it speak to whatever it means.  There are a myriad of other categories I could have considered, and for anyone interested, please let me know by e-mailing me at JLDthoughts@gmail.com, and I’d be happy to lend you my data set.  Let’s see what develops.

First, the base line stats for the first three games:

Attempts:  81
Completions: 47
Completion Percentage:  58%
TD’s:  3
INT’s:  1

We need to break this down in numerous capacities to get a truer picture.  Let’s first take a glance at how Golson’s performed on a down-by-down basis:

Down:
Attempts:
Completions:
Comp. Percent.
TD’s:
INT:
1
37
19
51%
0
0
2
28
19
68%
2
1
3
16
9
56%
1
0
4
0
0
0%
0
0

One trend that became apparent just by tracking the stats was that Kelly is much more likely to let Golson throw on first down.  I can’t explain this in any meaningful way.  It’s simply a pattern.  However, 47% of Golson’s pass attempts came on first down through the first 3 games.  Whether this trend continues remains to be seen, but my first inclination is to think that Kelly felt more comfortable letting Golson take his passing attempts early and then leaving enough time to adjust if it went sour.  Save a few drives, there were few times that a first down incompletion led to Golson attempting a pass on second down.  Another interesting note (though you won’t see a chart about it), 73% of Golson’s passing attempts occurred on Notre Dame’s side of the field.  My guess is Kelly and Chuck Martin’s philosophy was to attempt to use the pass to get the team in a better position to score and then go to the running game when it mattered most.

Of course, first downs are a somewhat neutral proposition.  While getting positive yardage is always important, it’s what you do with 2nd and 3rd downs that matters in order to keep a drive alive.  From the chart above, it’s apparent that Golson was more effective on both 2nd and 3rd downs in terms of completion percentage.  Perhaps defenses were giving up a larger buffer?  For my next chart, I wanted to see the breakdown of how Golson performed on down and distance following 1st down:

Down:
Attempts:
Completions:
Comp. Percent.
TD’s:
INT:
2nd 5+
23
17
74%
1
1
2nd <5
5
2
40%
1
0
3rd 5+
14
8
57%
0
0
3rd <5
2
1
50%
1
0

I would love to know what the national average is for 2nd and 5+ yards is.  However, I do not have the manpower to do so.  What I do know is that Golson saw an incredible spike in completion percentage on second and long.  Intuitively, I’d say this is the result of teams being more willing to give up underneath coverage in order to avoid a first down.  That seems like a fair proposition.  It’s even more fair given Notre Dame’s use of bubble and slip screens to receivers, but still, Golson even in the early going did a great job of at least putting Notre Dame in a third and manageable.  Speaking of distance on the pass, that gets me to my next chart (mmmm…..charts.). 

It’s not just down and distance that matters, it’s also the style of throw.  Defenses are generally willing to allow more underneath throws, and Notre Dame was heavy on those throws through the first few weeks.  Here’s a breakdown by whether Golson threw the ball 10 or more yards through the air (throw aways excluded):

Length:
Attempts:
Completions:
Comp. Percent.
TD’s
INT:
< 10
51
35
68%
2
0
10+
26
12
46%
1
1

66% of Golson’s in play throws were intended for targets 10 yards or fewer from the line of scrimmage.  Clearly, Kelly was trying to protect his young QB in the early going by providing him quick, reliable targets.  Down field throws were not intended to be part of the game except to mix up the defense and provide a change of pace.  This is not a bad thing given the strength of opponent.  Versus teams like Navy, Purdue, and Sparty, the objective of keeping the chains moving is a good one.  Moreover, most of the coverage reads for Golson were very, very easy.  He was being used as a facilitator to get the ball to the playmakers.  God willing, this early game planning will pay off when we face a team like USC that also enjoys quick strikes to get the ball to their playmakers.

Assessing Golson’s throws by target position is also necessary.  Coming into the season, the thought was that Eifert would be the primary receiver, but I think the next table will show that even in the early going when we thought Eiffert was more important, a different tendency might actually develop:

Target:
Attempts:
Completions:
Comp. Percent.
TD’s:
INT:
WR:
39
27
69%
2
1
RB:
15
9
60%
0
0
TE:
23
11
48%
1
0

Despite the preconceptions about ND’s passing game, Golson (at least early on) showed a propensity to throw balls to his receivers.  Nearly half of Golson’s attempts were intended for his receiving corp.  Many of these throws were short slip screens and short passes to either T.J. Jones or Robby Toma. 

Another observation from Golson’s receiver pass attempts:  Davaris Daniels has the chance to be a HUGE weapon for the Irish.  On more than one occasion (and more going forward), it’s Daniels’ big body down the field that provided the most agreeable target to Golson.

Yes, Jones and Toma gobbled up the short grabs, but my impression is that Golson looks for Daniels first.  It makes sense.  They were apart of the same recruiting class, and given that both spent a large amount of time on the sidelines last year together, it would not surprise me if they brokered some sort of relationship.  Daniels’ big body and relative speed give him the outside shot of becoming a Michael Floyd-Lite in the next couple of years. 

Given that the vast majority of Golson’s targets (and successful completions) went to WR’s, it’s also worth exploring how those completions came to be:


Target Dist.:
Attempts:
Completions:
Comp. Percent.
TD’s:
INT:
+10
12
6
50%
1
0
< 10
27
21
78%
1
0


As my final chart of the evening indicates, most of the throws were under ten-yards.  Kelly was definitely protecting Golson at this point .  These numbers spiked in large part because of the considerable number of screens and underneath routes that Robby Toma ran, particularly in the MSU game.  Toma and Jones have been the primary underneath weapons from the beginning of the season.  Anecdotally, I expect this trend to continue as I watch the remainder of the games.

In conclusion, for this first part, it appears the game plan was to have Golson throw 1) early in the down count, 2) underneath the coverage, and 3) to his receivers.  Before I leave off for the night, a few closing thoughts more generally:

1.  Everett Golson threw the ball away 4 times total.  None versus Navy, 1 versus Purdue, and 3 versus Sparty.  Golson’s first instinct in pressure situations is to run.  However, at least at this point of the season, he was not willing to throw the ball away.  It’ll be interesting to see how that develops as I watch more games.

2.  A buddy of mine, JD, posed the question about Golson’s zone reading.  At least through game 3, it appears Golson was asked to do little to any actual read on the defense.  He ran very few times on anything that could remotely be perceived as a zone read.  Instead, it appeared to be either pre-determined to be a run or a pass.  The zone fake was used as the primary playaction weapon but with very little regard to any actual read. 

3.  KeVirae Russell got burned multiple times.   What I already know to be his progress is nothing short of remarkable.  His instincts and sheer athletic ability give him a very, very bright future.  You can see his progression on a week-to-week basis, which is incredibly rare for a true freshman playing out of position.

4  While much attention has been given to Te’o and Tuitt (and with good reason) from the outset, it is apparent the defensive MVP is Nix.  The amount of disruption and/or chaos/attention he demands on the inside is the cog that makes the rest go.  No, he won’t have huge stats at any point this season, but if we’re judging from week-one on, Nix is the clear defensive MVP.

5.  Neal’s role has become more and more limited.  He went from having 3-4 plays in week one that were designed for him on offense to one in week two, and virtually nothing since then.  Much has been made about ND’s Special Teams this year, and Neal’s early season troubles I think play into that more than we’ve considered.  Without devastating results, Neal made several poor choices on punt return work during the first few games, and my impression is that Kelly stopped all of that.  I don’t love wasting a year of Neal’s eligibility given his limited role, but in light of how he performed in the early going, I now have a greater appreciation to why we’ve scaled back our S.T. even further.  While those of us who have watched this part of the team become an eye sore beg for something different, Neal’s mental lapses cannot be ignored.  Without knowing, I can only assume that Kelly has erred on the side of being too conservative in an effort to avoid the calamity that comes with a truly atrocious S.T. play.  It needs to be corrected…

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