The Notre Dame football team added a new dimension to its offense when it handed the reigns of the Irish offense to sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix at various intervals throughout the Air Force game last Saturday.
Despite attempting to minimize the damage against the Falcons on the scoreboard, the Irish continued to score under the leadership of Hendrix during periods of conservative play-calling. Why is the insertion of Hendrix such a potent weapon against Notre Dame’s foes?
The Irish have had plenty of success behind the leadership of Tommy Rees, and there has been much debate about his skills as a quarterback versus those of his predecessor Dayne Crist.
With Hendrix getting the call in Saturday’s contest against Air Force, however, the conversation now turns towards the different dimensions each sophomore quarterback adds to the Notre Dame offense.
It’s obvious that Rees has more composure than the average quarterback—stoic under intense pressure. As he breaks the huddle and the team sets itself at the line of scrimmage, Rees is able to check into and out of plays based on the defensive look before him, allowing him to methodically march down the field.
The combination of Rees’ poise and ability to get the Irish into the right play has resulted in Rees throwing for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns in five-and-a-half games, while only being sacked four times.
Despite this production as a true pocket passer in head coach Brian Kelly’s spread offense, he hasn’t unleashed the full potential of the offensive scheme due to his physical limitations as a quarterback—his absence as a running threat and the inability to accurately pass on the run.
Hendrix is able to change the game for the Irish and their opponents by harnessing the unused portions of Kelly’s offense.
Where Rees is a natural leader in the pocket, Hendrix is a dangerous mobile threat who’s not necessarily required to read the defense once he breaks the huddle. His productivity comes from post-snap reads that occur once the play begins.
If the defensive end crashes down the line to stop the running back, Hendrix will simply pull the ball from the running back’s hands, taking the ball around the crashing end who can’t change directions to recover against the running quarterback.
If the defensive end, instead, focuses on Hendrix by taking a deeper line of attack into the backfield, Hendrix will simply let his running back keep the ball, running beneath the defensive end’s circuitous line of attack.
With Hendrix in the game, the defense can no longer focus solely on the tailback running the ball. It has to compensate for the possibility that either the quarterback or running back will run the ball.
In doing so, this forces the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, giving Hendrix softer coverage to pass against. If the defense focuses on stopping the Irish passing game, less players are available to defend the option of Hendrix or his running back rushing the ball. The running lanes become wide open.
Utilizing his speed and ability to pass on the run, Hendrix is able to keep the defense spread across the field and honest.
The Purdue game offered an excellent example of a defense that cheated at the goal line. Knowing Rees was not going to run the ball, the defense sold out in its attempt to stop Cierre Wood from rushing for a touchdown, while the secondary played press coverage on the wide receivers.
With Hendrix, however, the linebackers must stay at home or risk Hendrix keeping the ball and running outside for the touchdown. The spread offense benefits the running game as much, if not more, than the passing game when a mobile quarterback is at the helm.
While Tommy Rees shows true command of the offense as a poised pocket passer, Andrew Hendrix affords the Irish the opportunity to run its offense in a completely different style, yet out of the same look.
With Notre Dame entering a bye week, the Trojans of Southern Cal certainly have their work cut out for them as they attempt to prepare for both styles of the spread offense they’ll see in college football’s Week 7.
On Oct. 22, 2011, will it be Rees, Hendrix or both who lead the Fighting Irish to victory in Notre Dame Stadium?