Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has his work cut out for him this season. While the Fighting Irish ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense in 2012, the offense ranked a mediocre No. 54, behind the likes of Air Force and Penn State.
The loss of starting quarterback Everett Golson and subsequent resurrection of veteran Tommy Rees means that Martin will need to rework his playbook this season to accommodate the differences in their playing style. For those unfamiliar, Golson is a dual-threat, whereas Rees is a traditional pocket passer.
Since Rees will not be rushing for much yardage—he's rushed for a career -71 yards—the onus will fall to the running backs to make up for the difference and then some. Last year, Notre Dame ranked No. 38 nationally in rushing offense, a stat they must improve if the Irish want to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Alabama again.
So what can Martin and Irish head coach Brian Kelly do to adjust for the loss of Golson and improve the teams overall offensive performance?
Run the power formations—I-formation power variants and Power-O's to be exact. As our own national college football lead writer Michael Felder explained, this is a play you're going to see a lot in 2013.
A power formation is a play designed to maximize the rush. It's most common incarnation is the I-formation. In a basic I, the usual five offensive linemen line up at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback lines up behind the center, and two backs fall in behind the quarterback.
There are several rush-emphasis variations of the I-formation.
The Power-I replaces one wide receiver with a third back (fullback or running back) in the backfield, set up to one side of the fullback.
The Big-I places a tight end on each side of the offensive line, removing a wide receiver. The entire offensive line (including the tight ends) lines up directly at the line of scrimmage. A tailback starts six to eight yards behind the line, where he can survey the defense. The formation gives the tailback more opportunities for finding weak points in the defense.
The Jumbo-I or Goal-line formation further extends the Power-I or Big-I, adding a second tight end and/or third tackle to the line. It has no wide receivers and is almost exclusively used to gain minimal yardage in third down or goal-line situations.
The Power-O—a variant of the I-formation—was created by famed Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes over 50 years ago. Matt Bowen of NationalFootballPost.com described the Power-O as one of the most difficult formations to defend against. For an in-depth explanation of the Power-O, click here.
Teams who run power formations regularly include: Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Stanford, to name a few. Georgia and LSU had particular success using power rushing formations against the No. 1-ranked Alabama defense.
Why will it work for Notre Dame?
Notre Dame has the O-line muscle to make these plays work. One Foot Down's Burger23 rightly criticized Brian Kelly's excessive use of the spread offense, noting the spread was designed for underdog teams playing more powerful opponents. Notre Dame is no longer an underdog and should adapt the offense to take full advantage of the power on the line.
For those unfamiliar with this season's depth chart, here are the stats for the O-line:
Some variants use the tight ends on the line, so let's take a look a them, too:
As you can see above, the Fighting Irish have the O-line muscle to punch holes in even the strongest defenses.
As far as backs go Notre Dame is in good shape. At 6'1" 220-pounds, power back George Atkinson III has the strength to muscle between the linemen and make big plays out of the power formation.
Power formations are also particularly effective inside the red zone. This makes them particularly relevant to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish struggled inside the 20-yard line last season, ranking No. 71 nationally in red zone offense.
Here you can see how Alabama uses a power variant of the I inside the red zone to score on LSU.
If Notre Dame can master the power rush, their offense will far more potent than last year. It will also relieve pressure from Tommy Rees by maximizing the rushing yardage gained by Atkinson, Carlisle former Rivals.com 5-star recruit Greg Bryant.