Target Practice

As expected, Notre Dame's receiving corps produced fewer receptions, yards, and touchdowns than did last year's cast led by star Michael Floyd. Regardless, the 2012 unit might have been more efficient as a whole.

Two questions faced head coach Brian Kelly's offense entering his third season at Notre Dame:

  1. The annual "Who's our quarterback?" dilemma, and for the first time since '07,
  2. Who will he throw to?

Both were solved by season's end with no notches on the wrong side of the Win/Loss ledger as a result. Both included more than one key personnel piece, the latter a collection of unproven talent in support of Tyler Eifert, who entered and exited 2012 as the nation's best tight end, but a player who prior to the season, had yet to serve as the focal point of a passing attack, always playing a supporting role to star Michael Floyd.

In 2011, Floyd was targeted for more than 155 passes by Irish quarterbacks, or roughly 32.7 percent of the passes thrown. He snared a program-record 100, including nine for touchdowns, but the team's passing offense ended the season in inefficient manner, with a 54 percent completion percentage, six interceptions, and just two touchdowns (one in garbage-time defeat) over the final three games.

Kelly's third-year collection of targets was led by Eifert as expected, but balance, the growth of the quarterback position, and emerging talent made the passing attack arguably more efficient, if not statistically productive overall.

Below is a look at the 2012 wide receiver corps, beginning with "pass targets:" throws intended for each player, whether or not they connected with the intended receiver.

(Note: The number in parenthesis denotes each player's reception total in 2012.)

Tyler Eifert: 78 targets plus 6 pass interference calls drawn (44 receptions)
T.J. Jones: 74 targets (43 receptions)
Theo Riddick: 54 (35)
DaVaris Daniels: 39 (25)
Robby Toma: 38 (24)
Troy Niklas: 11 plus one pass interference call drawn (5 receptions)
Daniel Smith: 11 (7)
Chris Brown: 11 (2)
John Goodman: 9 (7)
Ben Koyack: 6 (3)
Cierre Wood: 5 (4)
George Atkinson: 3 (2)
Davonte' Neal: 2 (1)
Cam McDaniel: 2 (2)
Justin Ferguson 1 (1)
QB Spikes 2 (Both by Tommy Rees against Purdue to stop the clock)
Intentional Throw-away: 6 (no discernible target)
352 Total passes Thrown: The Irish attempted 473 last fall; 438 through the 12-game regular season.

Moving the Chains

Below is a look at every passing first down -- 135 total -- gained by the Irish in 2012. The rushing attack accounted for 124 with 16 more via opponents' penalties. (Touchdowns are also counted as first downs in official statistics.)

Jones: 37 of 43 receptions
Eifert: 35 of 44 receptions
Daniels: 17 of 25 receptions
Riddick: 16 of 35 receptions
Toma: 13 of 24 receptions
Goodman: 6 of 7 receptions
Niklas: 4 of 5 receptions
Smith: 2 of 7 receptions
Koyack: 2 of 3 receptions
McDaniel: 2 (both receptions)
Brown: 1 of 2 receptions

3rd Down Chain Movers: The Irish staff refers to them as "Money Receptions" -- third down receptions that result in first downs.

Eifert: 14
Riddick: 8
Jones: 7
Daniels: 3
Toma: 3
Niklas: 2
Goodman: 1
Smith: 1

Hitting it Deep

Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin would have likely preferred more than 40 pass plays in excess of 20 yards (there were 40 last season as well, from six players), but the fact that 10 players contributed such gains in 2012 aided the passing game's versatility.

As well, Irish players totaled just three receptions in excess of 40 yards (Chris Brown and John Goodman for 50 yards apiece; DaVaris Daniels for 45). In 2011, only two pass plays gained more than 40 yards (and one was in a garbage time loss to Stanford on a swing pass to Theo Riddick).

Eifert: 12 (1 TD)
Jones: 7 (1 TD)
Daniels: 5
Toma: 4
Riddick: 4
McDaniel: 2
Goodman: 2 (2 TD)
Niklas: 2
Koyack: 1
Chris Brown: 1

Top Targets/Receivers by Contest

Only three Irish players, Eifert, Jones, and Daniels, emerged as a leading single-game target over the 12-game slate, yet five different players won single-game honors for most receptions.

Most Pass Targets, Game-by-Game: Eifert was the leading target in six contests including each of the final three. Jones ranked second with five games leading the pack and Daniels registered the most vs. Michigan to round out the dozen to date:

Navy: Eifert 6
Purdue: Eifert 9
Michigan State: Jones 8
Michigan: Daniels 6
Miami: Jones 6
Stanford: Jones 7
BYU: Eifert 7
Oklahoma: Jones 9
Pittsburgh: Jones 15 (with Eifert 12 and Daniels 9 on a 53-pass afternoon)
Boston College: Eifert 6
Wake Forest: Eifert 8
USC: Eifert 10

Most Receptions, Game-by-Game: Eifert either led or tied in seven contests with Jones second (2 leads/3 ties) and Toma, Daniels, and Riddick each breaking through to serve as a single-game receptions leader as well:

Navy: Eifert 4
Purdue: Eifert, Toma, Riddick, Daniels 4 apiece
MSU: Toma 5
Michigan: Riddick 5
Miami: Jones 4
Stanford: Jones and Eifert 4
BYU: Eifert 4
Oklahoma: Jones 6
Pittsburgh: Daniels 7
Boston College: Eifert 6
Wake Forest: Eifert and Jones 6
USC: Eifert 4

Season Observations

No Irish wide receiver drew a pass interference call in 2012. Tight ends Tyler Eifert (6) and Troy Niklas (1) were responsible for all seven with two (Eifert vs. Pittsburgh and Niklas vs. Purdue) occurring on game tying or game-winning drives. Among Irish pass targets, only Eifert drew a pass interference call since the 2012 home opener.

-- No receiver secured two touchdown passes in the same game and only Eifert score in consecutive weeks (Stanford and Brigham Young).

-- Five players caught touchdown passes: Eifert, Jones, Riddick, Goodman, and Niklas while Toma rushed for a score (vs. Navy). More important, no Notre Dame pass-catcher lost a fumble in 2012, with Toma suffering the only fumble among the group (vs. Oklahoma, recovered by teammate Chris Watt).

-- Notre Dame's three freshmen wide receivers each played 12 games (primarily special teams) but accounted for just four receptions with just one first down -- a 50-yard grab by Chris Brown vs. Oklahoma.

-- Not including RB/slot receiver Theo Riddick, Irish wide receivers attempted six total rushes with Robby Toma carrying four times for 28 yards and a score, and T J Jones (1 rush, 8 yards) and Davonte Neal (1 rush, 7 yards) rounding out the effort. Top Stories