With the ND/USC game just hours away, ready to kick off the start of the second half of the season, it seems like a perfect time to look back at what Notre Dame's been doing offensively with usage. In an effort to get this out prior to the game, and because after drinking a few Trojan Bloods no one's in the mood to read a lot of letters, I present, with limited comment, usage patterns through the first half of the season.
The least interesting and not even worthy of a chart has been ND's selection at quarterback. Coming into the season, I expected there to be more of a split between Rees and Hendrix, but that has not played out. Tommy Rees has been behind the center for 95% of ND's offensive snaps this season. More than half of Hendrix's plays came in the first game versus Temple...on the clean-up-duty last drive. Don't count me among those that expected or wanted to see Malik Zaire this year.
Far more interesting, and unpredictable was the question of how ND would split duty among its running backs. There are two ways to look at this. First, let's see how the carries have been distributed:
After starting the season as the featured back, Amir Carlisle has seen his carries dwindle further and further. GA III's emergence in recent weeks has cut into Carlisle's carries, and there's no question that the closer is Cam McDaniel. McDaniel's seen the vast majority of his carries in the second half when BK's looking to close out the game. Those hoping to see Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston have been disappointed to this point. The two talented true freshmen have combined for just 8% of ND's carries thus far.
There is a second way to look at this, which is, "who's been on the field the most?" Charting every play and then excluding only penalties and victory formation offerings, here is the RB usage in terms of number of plays:
The disparity is interesting. Carlisle, third on the team in rushing attempts, has easily seen the greatest number of snaps. This is primarily the result of his usage as the slot receiver in ND's empty backfield set. Another thing this points out is just how predictable the situations Cam McDaniel comes into can be. While Run CMC is used occasionally as a blocker in pass protection, the easiest bet of the year has been "if Cam's in the game, we're running."
The receiver numbers will not shock anyone. First, the charts:
TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels unsurprisingly account for over 50% of both targets and receptions. Daniels has been targeted slightly more than Jones, but Jones has hauled in the pass for a reception more frequently. Troy Niklas has been targeted the exact same number of times as ND running backs. While no one will confuse Hercules for Tyler Eifert or Kyle Rudolph, his 4 TD receptions is tied for the team lead. The other interesting thing to note is Chris Brown's emergence as the #3 wide receiver. Brown has been targeted 19 times resulting in 7 receptions. Corey Robinson, William Fuller, C.J. Prosise, and Ben Koyack have been targeted a combined 18 times. However, they've converted 12 of those targets into receptions. It will be worth watching whether Brown losses targets to these other options over the second half of the season.
Finally, let's quickly see how ND lines up from a formation perspective:
Notre Dame lines up in the 3 WR set nearly half of all snaps. I'd argue that we've been most successful from the 2WR/2TE set in recent weeks, but that analysis shall be for another post. Overall, the Irish have lined up in a empty backfield roughly 1 out of every 4 snaps. Whether this is desirable or not continues to be a question worthy of healthy criticism.
As you watch Notre Dame tonight, play along, try to guess what'll happen. Notre Dame's been slightly more likely to pass the ball than rush it. Given that piece of information, we might expect that the most frequently run play would be a pass....out of the 3 WR/1 TE/1 RB set....to Davaris Daniels. That's been the result on 22 of Notre Dame's roughly 400 offensive plays thus far. However, Cam McDaniel getting the ball out of the 2 WR/2TE set has actually happened twice as frequently. 44 of McDaniels' attempts have occurred in that situation.
Enjoy the game tonight...and now you'll know what to expect from ND's offense. Raise your Trojan Blood high, and Go Irish!