Film Evaluation: The Notre Dame Offense

GoBlueWolverine's Josh Turel breaks down the Notre Dame offense by analyzing the Irish personnel, schemes, and tendencies coming off their victories over Georgia Tech and Penn State.

Statistical Leaders:

Brady Quinn: 48 of 74 (64.9%) for 533 yards, 3 touchdowns

Darius Walker: 42 attempts for 155 yards (3.7 average) 1 touchdown
Travis Thomas: 9 attempts for 63 yards (7.0 average) 1 touchdown

Rhema McKnight: 13 receptions for 167 yards and 1 touchdown
Jeff Samardzija: 12 receptions for 130 yards and 1 touchdown
Darius Walker: 11 receptions for 90 yards and 1 touchdown
John Carlson: 10 receptions for 134 yards

Offensive Personnel:


#10 Brady Quinn  6-4, 233, Sr. 
#13 Evan Sharpley  6-2, 212, So.
#12 Zach Frazer  6-5, 226, Fr.

Brady Quinn is no stranger to Michigan fans. After receiving a trial under fire against the Wolverines as a true freshman, Quinn polished himself and won his first two starts against the Maize & Blue. When you watch Quinn on film, you see the obvious impact Coach Charlie Weis has left on his young signal caller. Quinn makes good decisions in the pocket, is consistently able to find open receivers, and looks like a natural for the position. He is off to a pretty solid start this year but could improve on some things. The ball seems to be sailing on him lately.  He should have had two passes picked off against Penn State. Quinn could also do a better job of checking his team out of running plays that don’t show much promise. I first noticed this last year against Michigan and it occurred several times in the previous games. Consider that knit-picking though. His best film is from last year and given a few games to get back into that form, he should be in for a great year. The reason Coach Weis loves to throw on just about any down and distance is because he knows his senior signal-caller will make good decisions and not commit the mistakes that will lose his team the game.

Running Back

#3 Darius Walker  5-10, 210, Jr.
#26 Travis Thomas  6-0, 207, Sr.
#25 Munir Prince  5-10, 184, Fr.

#44 Asaph Schwapp  6-0, 255, So.
#35 Ashley McConnell  6-0, 239, Sr.

This is a pretty solid backfield for the Fighting Irish. Darius Walker’s numbers aren't all that impressive so far but I don’t think you can blame that on him. The Georgia Tech defense was very aggressive in attacking the line of scrimmage and there wasn’t too much room for Walker to work with. The Penn State front seven played a pretty good game against Walker as well. Michigan players talked about how patient the junior back is as a runner, and when you pop in the tape of him, those comments are validated. He isn’t the greatest athlete you'll ever see, but his burst to hole, vision, and receiving ability are very good. Walker is the same dual threat type of back Weis utilized while in New England.  As was the case with Kevin Faulk, Weis loves to get his backs into passing routes to influence coverage. Overall, with the type of zone blocks and pulling the team employs, Walker's vision is custom made for the system. Travis Thomas has a bit more size than Walker and is more of an upright power runner. Thomas has some moves as well but he is best at running between the tackles. Munir Prince is a freshman who has seen playing time and shows promise. Fullback Asaph Schwapp has been recovering from an injury sustained against Penn State but he is expected to play. Schwapp isn’t great in any one category but he is a decent blocker and can run the ball when they need him too as well.


Z Wide Receiver
#5 Rhema McKnight  6-2, 208, Sr.
#23 Chase Anastasio  6-2, 199, Sr.

X Wide Receiver
#83 Jeff Samardzija  6-5, 216, Sr.
#11 David Grimes  5-10, 174, So.
#19 George West  5-8, 188, Fr.
Tight End
#89 John Carlson  6-6, 256, Sr.
#87 Marcus Freeman  6-3, 246, Sr.
#84 Will Yeatman  6-6, 263, Fr.

The stars of the offense this season have come from this group. Jeff Samardzija is about as complete as receivers come. He has great size at 6-5 and he uses it to his advantage. He has excellent body control, hands and playmaking ability. He could stand to be a little more physical and explosive, but Samardzija is capable of taking over a game at wide receiver. The real surprise is how well Rhema McKnight has played since coming back from the knee injury he sustained against Michigan last year. McKnight has been very productive thus far and is showing off the skills that make him an excellent possession receiver. Samardzija may attract the attention of the defense but they cannot forget about McKnight. After McKnight and Samardzija, there aren't any real standouts. Senior Chase Anastasio will come in to play the slot in larger receiver sets, as will sophomore David Grimes. Both are good athletes who influence coverage, but they don’t have the playmaking abilities of the two starters.

The tight ends were used quite a bit when Weis coached in New England and the same thing is true of him at Notre Dame. Despite the loss of star tight end Anthony Fasano to the pros, new starter John Carlson has done a very fine job of replacing him. Carlson has been excellent working the seams of deep coverage and opposing linebackers have had trouble keeping him in check. He is an underrated athlete that runs good routes and has displayed reliable hands. While Carlson isn’t much of a drive blocker for the run game, he does a solid job of pass protection. Also look for Marcus Freeman and Will Yeatman to see time in frequent multi-tight end sets. Freeman isn’t as good of a receiver as Carlson is, but he may be a better run blocker. Yeatman has the best size of the bunch and is developing into a solid blocker despite only being a freshman.

Offensive Line

Left Tackle
#68 Ryan Harris  6-5, 285, Sr.
#77 Michael Turkovich  6-6, 299, So.

Left Guard
#50 Dan Santucci  6-4, 300, Sr.
#55 Eric Olsen  6-4, 300, Fr.

#78 John Sullivan  6-4, 279, Sr.
#76 Bob Morton  6-4, 300, Sr.

Right Guard
#76 Bob Morton  6-4, 300, Sr.
#79 Brian Mattes  6-6, 284, Sr.

Right Tackle
#74 Sam Young  6-8, 305, Fr.
#72 Paul Duncan  6-7, 292, So.

This group has done a decent job so far this season. When you watch tape on them, it is obvious that their size fit’s the things the offense is trying to do scheme wise. You will see zone blocking.  You will also see a lot of pulling and traps inside as well. The blocking is built around the offensive line being able to the move and overall this front has good athleticism. Left tackle Ryan Harris is one player that will quickly stand out on film. He is very nimble for an offensive lineman, plays with a good base, and sustains his blocks in pass protection well. He isn’t the most powerful guy but he does what the scheme calls for and that is to pass block and be mobile. The second most impressive lineman has been left guard Dan Santucci. A former defensive player, Santucci is the line's best pull blocker and also the top interior run blocker.

Center John Sullivan has shown some ability, but I would like to see him sustain blocks better. On too many occasions Sullivan’s man has been able to disengage too quickly. He shows the natural ability to be a very solid lineman but he needs to clean up his football and awareness. Guard Bob Morton is another guy who fit’s the system well. He doesn’t play with great strength but he is an excellent puller, locates his blocks quickly, and is able to seal off defenders on most occasions. At right tackle, freshman Sam Young has done a respectable job for starting at such a tough position. His footwork, technique, and awareness obviously still need polish.  However, physically speaking, he can hold his own on the right side. Backup Paul Duncan may rotate in from time to time there as well.

Offensive Film Breakdown:
Vs. Georgia Tech
Vs. Penn State

Formation: % of usage, run/pass %, Formation Notes:

Ace Slot Trips - 21% frequency
35% run
65% pass


  • 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs
  • #23 Chase Anastasio subs as the third wide receiver


  • Main motion from this formation is the running back to the field side, making a four wide receiver package.
  • Tight end will sometimes assume a position slightly off the line of scrimmage and be in a pass blocking set up.
  • Running back draw play has been effective from this formation.
  • Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija will often line up in the slot and run a swing pass route. The team likes to use the pass, as well as fake it.
  • This is Notre Dame’s most frequent play action formation.
  • Running back will occasionally line up behind the offensive tackle to the boundary side.

Ace Normal- 15% frequency
41% run
59% pass


  • 1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs
  • #87 Marcus Freeman is the most frequent 2nd tight end


  • Main motion is into twins to the wide side of the field.
  • The most frequent motion was to a two tight end set on one side of the formation (Ace Big Twins).

Ace Big Twins- 10% frequency
53% pass
47% run


  • 1 RB, 2 TE, 2 Wrs
  • #87 Marcus Freeman is the most frequent 2nd tight end


  • Notre Dame likes to use the swing route with Jeff Samardzija from this formation and will often pass it to him or pump fake the route.
  • Running back will sometimes motion out as third wide receiver. 

I Formation Normal- 9% frequency
64% run
36% pass


  • 1 FB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 2 WRs

Ace Big- 8% frequency
67% run
33% pass


  • 1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR
  • #87 Marcus Freeman and #84 Will Yeatman are the additional tight ends.


  • The running game will almost always run to the strength of the formation with preferably with the toss sweep.

I Formation Tight- 6% frequency
68% run
22% pass


  • 1 FB, 1 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR
  • #87 Marcus Freeman is the most frequent 2nd tight end
  • #44 Asaph Schwapp is the fullback in the formation

Shotgun Slot Trips- 5% frequency
100% pass


  • 4 WRs (three to one side), 1 RB
  • Tight end #89 John Carlson and #23 Chase Anastasio are the most frequent extra receivers.

Shotgun 5 Wide Receivers- 5% frequency
100% pass


  • Multiple
  • There have been several different combinations of receivers in larger sets but expect John Carlson, #23 Chase Anastasio, and #11 David Grimes to be the extra wide receivers.

Ace Spread- 4% frequency
100% pass


  • 4 WRs, 1 RB
  • Tight end #89 John Carlson and #23 Chase Anastasio are the most frequent extra receivers.

Strong I- 4% frequency
83% pass
17% run


  • 1 FB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 2 WRs

Strong I Twin Tight End- 3% frequency
50% run
50% pass


  • 1 FB, 1 RB, 2 TEs, 1 WR


  • Will motion to a third wide receiver look

Pro Formation- 3% frequency
100% pass


  • 1 FB, 1 RB (split backs), 1 TE, 1 WR

Shotgun 4 Wide- 2% frequency
100% pass


  • 4 WRs, 1 RB
  • Tight end #89 John Carlson and #23 Chase Anastasio are the most frequent extra receivers.

Shotgun 4 Wide Trips- 2% frequency
100% pass


  • 4 WRs (3 wide receivers to one side), 1 RB
  • Tight end #89 John Carlson and #23 Chase Anastasio are the most frequent extra receivers.

Ace 4 Wide Trips- 1% frequency
100% pass


  • 4 WRs (3 wide receivers to one side), 1 RB
  • Tight end #89 John Carlson and #23 Chase Anastasio are the most frequent extra receivers.

Formations used one time:
Ace No Back- .066% frequency
100% run

Weak I Formation- .066% frequency
100% pass

Offset I Flexbone- .066% frequency
100% run

Run Plays: 37%
Pass Plays: 63%

Running Plays:
Run to formation strength: 43%
Run away from formation strength: 9%
Balanced formation: 48%

*Note: The discrepancy between final game stats and these percentages result from two factors. Plays that resulted in penalties were added for accuracy as long as the play was not called dead and intention of run or pass was clear. Pass plays that resulted in quarterback scrambles and were not designed runs were categorized as passes for added accuracy as well.

Down & Distance
1st Down: 54 times, 43% run, 57% pass
2nd & 8+:  27 times, 22% run, 78% pass
2nd & 4-7:  18 times, 50% run, 50% pass
2nd & 1-3:  6 times,  83% run, 17% pass
3rd & 8+:  11 times, 18% run, 82% pass
3rd & 4-7:  8 times,  100% pass
3rd & 1-3:  11 times, 73% run, 27% pass
4th down:  5 times, 100% run
Goaline:  10 times, 70% run, 30% pass

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