Notre Dame's empty backfield problem hits a breaking point

Notre Dame's empty backfield problem hits a breaking point
October 3, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Over at SB Nation, college football stats guru Bill Connelly looked at Notre Dame's offensive shortcomings (read it here, Inside the Irish's Keith Arnold also touched on it here), and one thing jumped out:

The empty-set look Notre Dame's used on third downs? It hasn't been effective at all.

That much has been clear through five games, play-by-play stats aside. There's no threat of Tommy Rees making plays with his legs from an empty backfield -- and that's not just in terms of scrambling for the first down, it's getting outside the pocket and making a throw on the move. Everett Golson was able to do that, and it was a reason why Notre Dame's offense was fairly effective last fall once the redshirt freshman got his bearings as the starter.

[More: Generating more turnovers an "ordinary" task for Irish defense]

Against Oklahoma, Notre Dame used an empty backfield on about 60 percent of its passing downs (2nd-and-8 or more; 3rd/4th-and-5 or more), and Bill saw "almost no payoff whatsoever." The numbers:

-- 15 empty-set snaps, all passes.

-- Oklahoma rushed five at Rees 10 times, and he completed four of 10 passes for 64 yards with two interceptions.

-- Oklahoma didn't blitz on the other five snaps, and Rees went 0-5, largely looking downfield on those throws.

Rees is who Notre Dame is going with, for better or for worse, since there's not a quick fix with the team in South Bend. It's unlikely Andrew Hendrix (who saw his first meaningful snaps five games into the season) or Malik Zaire (a true freshman who missed three games with mono) are, or will be, ready to take over a starting role this fall.

We'll see Saturday if Notre Dame curtails its empty sets, or if it finds a way to be successful in it. Either way, something has to give, since the Irish offense can't sustain itself having such little success out of the look.