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  • Betting on a Long-Shot

    by SEE

    (The Rock Report) – Consider Bob Stoops’ past the ghost of Kelly’s football future.

    Stoops reiterated that OU should have tried to establish the run a bit more. The Sooners had 24 run plays compared to 52 pass attempts (against Notre Dame.)  “You do need to run the football,” Stoops said. “Probably in hindsight we should have run it a little more. In the end it sets up play-action passes that we were very successful at and got a lot of yards.”

    And let’s be clear, Oklahoma had a Heisman contender at QB, not Rees.  It was that passing mentality that led Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard to seemingly fight with himself after the game trying to say what he couldn’t but wanted to:

    “We’re very physical, but we throw it around a lot, so we have to be physical in pass pro as well,” Ikard said. “It just comes with the offense we run. We spread it out.  I’m not gonna say we don’t have the schemes to be physical. We were put in situations to run the football and we didn’t execute well on Saturday.”

    Oklahoma fans didn’t hold back:

    Bob has changed and fell in love with the high powered all pass offenses and the spread. That creates soft football players on both sides to me. We would be better if it was a 7 on 7 league, but we will have trouble with teams that are physical and like to hit – K State was more physical than OU and that is all tied back to coaching and the style of play we have chosen!

    This year Oklahoma has switched back to a run oriented offense (and so has BYU.)   Of course Notre Dame doesn’t need Oklahoma for lessons, it has its own in Kelly’s first two years as I argued in 2010 in “You Can’t W.I.N. Unless You Run”

    More troubling is Kelly’s dogged adherence to pass the ball with a team that can’t execute the passing game yet at the level needed to succeed.  If the purpose is to develop the offense at the expense of winning games, that’s a mistake.  Kelly seems to be force feeding the passing spread despite his own rhetoric about the importance of a run game.  Against Michigan State Notre Dame threw the ball 55 times to 26 runs (32%).  You rarely win like that.  I have little doubt that with a commitment to running the ball,  Notre Dame would be sitting at 5-1 or at worst 4-2.

    Notre Dame left wins on the table that year, but finally had success at the end of 2010 when it limited the passing and led with the run. The result?  A four game win streak.  Results from 2011 and 2012 validated the point.  But damn the history and full pass ahead, Kelly’s focused on a throwing offense as noted a few weeks back.

    ‘We did not score enough points…we were not effective enough in the red zone. Those two things are pretty clear. And we did not throw the ball effectively enough on first- and second-down situations…. A bigger piece falls on the offense this year than it does the defense.’’

    Here’s the problem.  You need a very high success rate passing the ball to make this work as well as an ancillary threat (running QB, high YAC), ANY dropoff in execution and it’s not worth the tradeoff.  We don’t have big play ability, we don’t have a QB who can run and we don’t have a QB who can, with a high level of certainty, carry the team on 51 passes a game.  But Kelly seems deaf to the obvious.  The reality is that until you can be assured that the tradeoff is in your favor, you’re better off getting the yards with the run and relying on a play action passing game.   If you fail, it’s not just an offensive failure.

    Notre Dame struggles when it relies on the pass to open up the run and this year, if it continues, that strategy could result in a particularly pernicious situation where the offense stresses the defense and can’t make up the difference.  Kelly only has to look back to his 2009 season at Cincinnati where his defense fell apart the latter half of the year after being forced to stay on the field due to extremely low TOP.

    Here’s the toilet bowl problem:

    1. We’re passing more so we’re holding the ball for less time and putting the defense under more pressure. TOP was 34-26 in Michigan’s favor.

    2. We’re playing more man with the intention that man would allow us to make more big plays on defense. It’s not working. Our DL struggles to get pressure without blitzing which makes us more vulnerable. More vulnerable + more time on the field playing defense = 41 points.

    > The result is that we’re bleeding yards more on defense (80th or so in the country), the offense doesn’t hold the ball for long and even when we get into the red zone we can’t score touchdowns.

    It seems that  Kelly made three assumptions that, so far, are dead wrong.

    1. That Rees,  in a  passing offense will lead to more total points and that passing will be effective in the red zone. FALSE
    2. Rees will be able to complete passes at a high enough level to move the chains consistently on offense.  FALSE
    3.  Our ability to play man will allow us to be more aggressive leading to more negative plays for our defense. FALSE

    In theory, if those assumptions were correct, this strategy could lead to a higher margin of victory.
    The reality is that we’re not able to deliver on the offensive side of the ball and we’ve put the defense at a disadvantage while increasing its vulnerability.  Attributing sacks to the pass, Notre Dame threw the ball on first down (by one poster’s account) 26 times for an average of 5.4 yards per attempt and ran the ball 6 times for 8.5 YPC.  Half the time we went backward or no where and used up little clock.

    This is not some obscure, uknown tradeoff,  Michigan fans (just like Oklahoma fans) noted it as well the last three years:

    The Michigan defense has suffered as a result of the Wolverines’ use of the spread offense. In 2010, the defense gave up an average of 451 yards per game. The 2011 squad surrendered 322 yards. In 2012, the unit allowed an average of 320 yards.

    Even worse, our defense will be practicing against a passing spread and will be vulnerable when Oklahoma comes knocking (having learnt their lesson) in three weeks.  We’ll likely cede the very advantage that both teams noted was the difference in Notre Dame’s win in Norman, controlling the trenches. And it will get worse when we go to Stanford. Note that Stanford had Andrew Luck and still ran the ball more than it threw the ball.

    Meanwhile, Kelly seems content to let Rees “grow” into his strategy and “execute better”.  That’s a low probability low payoff bet.  I like Rees, but he’s no Luck and betting on Rees to carry the team more than Stanford bet on Luck to carry the Cardinal will only lead to bad luck.   Willingham talked about “being three plays away”.  Weis always lamented that “the plays were there, we just didn’t execute.”  That’s horseshit.  If, as a coach, you call plays the team can’t execute, that’s simply lousy coaching.

    If we continue down this route, the result will likely be a soft team, an offense that gives the ball back far too quickly and a defense that will be more porous and, in the end, less able to win in the trenches as it did so nobly last year.  All that risk in return for the low probability bet that Rees will turn out better than Luck or Jason White of Oklahoma

    The numbers from Saturday are startling and stark.

    When Notre Dame was in the Pistol, the offense averaged 6.75 yards per rush, 10.89 yards per pass attempt and 14 yards per completion(if my math is correct.) The run pass ratio = 60/40. Rees was 7 of 9 (77%). 1 TD. No Ints. No sacks. Passing Efficiency rating: 205. Pretty sure you’re going win a lot of games with that kind of math.

    The empty set netted 4.4 yards per pass attempt until the numbers were driven up by the last drive (math caveat.) The run pass ratio=0/100.  Rees was 7 of 16 (44%). 1 Int. (and he added one later.) Passing Efficiency Rating: 66.  Pretty sure you’re going to lose every game with that kind of math.

    The numbers might not be perfectly correct, but I’m not getting paid to chart plays and point out the obvious, which is this: Kelly should be shocked with a dog collar any time Notre Dame goes into an empty set backfield outside of a 2 minute drill.

    It’s a high risk, low reward bet that isn’t needed.  Kelly has what is known as an anchoring bias… his thinking is anchored in the idea that he needs to spread out the game to win. Coach, you’re at Notre Dame, you have two stud offensive linemen, one of whom, Chris Watt, is a nasty road grader stop making him dance. Ironically, Kelly stressed that Notre Dame needed toughness this year, yet he’s breeding softness.

    ND is as or more talented than every team on the schedule. The smart bet would be to reorient around the gifted freshmen backs who can both run the ball inside, both break it outside and both catch the ball out of the backfield, give Rees a break by giving him more play action and give the defense a break by keeping the ball a bit longer.

    Notre Dame can win every game on the schedule, gambling the season on a trifecta bet that includes a 20-1 long shot is simply reckless.

    11 Responses to “Betting on a Long-Shot”

    1. You have been espousing the greatness ‘big chunks” offense for years, making case after case for Kelly’s style of pass happy pap. Escewibg TOP as a meaningless stat in many of your posts. Now when history is not on your side you are trying to put the genie in the bottle and rewrite or cover your a$$ by writing this blog post, so that you can reference it no doubt once you are called to account. Ya, you see the writing on the wall. This post is nothing more than a which way the wind blows” and is all about you.

      • You realize I wrote the first article attacking his passing philosophy in 2010? I like Kelly. I don’t like his passing fancy. The day he was hired I noted it as a weakness. I’ve never defended the TOP argument.

        I predicted he would learn a hard lesson and switch.

        There certainly is no “writing in the wall”

    2. a pass primary offense can succeed if you have the right personnel. ND does not have that with Rees. It is not the offense but rather the personnel. Oregon doesnt hold the ball long, ball control and clock control are not as important as scoring. we dont score well in the red zone. that again is because of personnel and also largely due to very poor offensive play calling and game planning. Kelly has been a total let down with his game plans and game preparations.

    3. Running the ball is definitely something we need to do more of. Our offensive line is a seasoned group and we have a bevy of running backs, all of whom have looked good thus far. Brian Kelly does need to utilize Atkinson, Carlisle, McDaniel, and the freshman backs to a greater degree. As others have noted, it will only enable Reese and help sell the play-action as well. One can only hope that Coach Kelly also sees it this way.

    4. Kelly won’t change until he’s forced to. I don’t want to see it happen. But, a 4 game skid against
      MSU, OK, ASU and USC is possible. They have to be intelligent enough to look at the game tape and see Kelly’s mega huge achilles heel.

      Even though USC and MSU looked horrible last week, they will be energized against an immobile QB w/ a mediocre arm and a ridiculous pass/run ratio.

      If Kelly persists in his UM game plan, 7-5 is the best we can hope for.

    5. These 7-5 predictions are so absurd they really shouldn’t be responded to,but nevertheless… We lost a close game against another very good team, and it took a questionable call to do it.
      I am not disagreeing with the general premise of more runs, but only a few more. GA dropped 3-4 passes that might have turned into something. I am still waiting to see the faster tempo approach. I believe it would unsettle D’s more than anything else.
      Finally, perspective is everything. Several years ago on 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 Charlie called handoffs to his 250 lb fullback. Poor Shwapp was stuffed every time and the majority of us called for play action.

    6. You’re right on. This ND, you have the athletes, you don’t need a gimmick offense to win. Unless You think Tom Rees is Tom Brady, ignore the pass happy stuff and follow Saban’s offense.

    7. eddie the geek says:

      “Kelly should be shocked with a dog collar every time Notre Dame goes into an empty set backfield outside of a 2 minute drill.” – that is a CLASSIC. I couldn’t agree more. You can see the opposing defense SALIVATING when Tommy stands back there all alone.

      What I don’t understand is why pretty much the entire world can see that but our newly-enriched and extended coach cannot. And it’s no secret of management theory that you maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Only the worst, most narcissistic of managers insist on doing it their chosen way every time, all other facts be damned.

    8. When Kelly was hired he seemed like someone who understood the major shifts occurring in football, and to a certain degree that’s still true. But read any advanced discussion of today’s football and it’s obvious that running the ball has not eliminated from the game. If anything it’s become more important. If the passing obsession continues Kelly will be unmasked as less of a successor to Harbaugh and Chip and more of a pretender.

    9. Totally agree. Running controls the clock and establishes a physical presence. You start this pass happy philosophy, and defense is going to give up tons of points. The fact Kelly is talking about the offense when the defense gives up 41 is nuts.

    10. SEE,

      Kelly explains why he abandoned the run and went almost exclusively pass in his press conference on yesterday Tuesday. BK said something to the effect that going with Rees in the shotgun with no backfield forced the Michigan defense into a consistent look (I think BK said it brings the free safety to a center deep position?) that gave Rees 1-on-1 match-ups from which he could pick and choose. That strategy obviously did not produce a comeback win, but it answers your question as to why Kelly employed the strategy.

      Essentially BK states that his hand was forced because UM was dropping 8 into the box and ND was down 14. And that running the ball against 8 man fronts is difficult and that you have to take what the defense gives you. Even my grandma knows this is the tried and true strategy to beat the Rees-lead offense. And every team we play will continue to employ it until ND can beat it.

      It seems to me the most important strategy in all of this is for ND to get ahead in the scoring column so that it is not forced to throw 50 times a game to catch up. But that strategy is just as obvious as saying we need to lead with the run to achieve balance on offense.

      The bottom line is ND is in a terrible predicament given our QB’s limitations–as you point out. Rees is not likely improve beyond his current ability and execution level and we will continue to face 8 defenders in the box to take away the run or 8 in space on obvious pass downs.
      ND is left with this conundrum and must find ways to be productive nonetheless. How you successfully solve the conundrum is the (literally) multimillion dollar question. You think that running more is the answer. I don’t disagree. But without a precision execution in the pass game, it will be easier said than done. I’m fairly certain we have the manpower to beat inferior teams like Navy and Air Force into submission upfront, but I have serious doubts that we can do it against physical teams such as OU, ASU, Pitt, and Stanford. Add in MSU and SC for good measure.