Notre Dame Football: Irish Hope To Continue Red Zone Success in 2018

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 23: Dexter Williams
EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 23: Dexter Williams /

Notre Dame football must continue to convert in the red zone to be successful in 2018.

In football, red zone efficiency is indicative of a well-rounded offense. That may seem like an obvious statement, but I feel like this statistic can be overshadowed at times. It was certainly a pillar of Notre Dame football’s success in 2017.

As an offense progresses closer to the end zone, the advantage tilts in favor of the defense, who now have less field to defend. The offense has a smaller margin of error, and unless your team has a significant talent advantage, execution has to be above-average to score a touchdown in the red zone.

The Notre Dame offense had great success in the red zone last season. In their thirteen games, the Irish made 46 trips to the red zone. Of those drives, 42 of them ended with points on the board for the good guys (touchdowns or field goals).

That gave Notre Dame a 91.3 percent red zone success rate in 2017. That was the 15th-best success rate in the nation and seventh-best amongst teams with at least 45 red zone attempts.

I once heard a football coach say to his offense, “All our drives end with kicks.” I can’t remember who the coach was and Google isn’t helping at the moment, so I’m just going to haphazardly attribute this quote to Vince Lombardi.

Surely Lombardi wasn’t implying that he wanted his team to kick field goals every drive.

Of course not. And don’t call me Shirley.

The essence of that statement is offensive (and red zone) efficiency. Lombardi is hoping more of those kicks are extra points rather than field goals.

My long-winded and oddly-worded point is, teams obviously prefer to score touchdowns when they reach the red zone on offense. Of the 46 red zone trips the Irish had last season, 35 (or 76 percent) of them ended with a touchdown.

Notre Dame’s overall red zone success rate and red zone touchdown rate took huge leaps from 2016 to 2017. A large part of that can be attributed to the fact that the 2016 team was legitimately cursed. However, I think it’s more reflective of the work of new offensive coordinator, Chip Long.

In 2016, the Irish had an 83.3 percent red zone success rate. On 48 trips to the red zone, they scored 40 times. Of those scores, 30 of them scores were touchdowns — resulting in a 62.5 percent red zone touchdown rate.

Notre Dame’s red zone success rate and red zone touchdown rate increased by eight percent and 13.5 percent respectively.

That’s impressive.

While it would be unrealistic to expect that same increase in 2018, there’s no reason why this team can’t have similar red zone success. The Irish offense should be more fluid and effective in their second season under Chip Long’s direction. Brandon Wimbush is still a dynamic playmaker with elite speed. He should also show improvement as a passer. Even after losing two top-ten draft picks, the offensive line will still be one of the better position groups on the 2018 team.

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All of these factors will help the Irish continue their red zone success this coming season.