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Pierre Byrne, Notre Dame's Silent Assassin

Byrne's impact doesn't always show up on the stat sheet, but he's kept Notre Dame's offense humming all season.

Sliding is done at the defense’s own risk. Depending on the area of the field, the on-ball matchup and the dodging player’s skillset, teams may go early or they may be slow to go. They might fake a slide to trick the dodger into coughing up the ball. Some situations call for automatic slides; other times, a defender’s decision to help may be made on the fly.

There’s no right or wrong way to slide, but bad habits (i.e. sliding to eyes or getting stuck halfway between sliding and staying) develop when the defense isn’t on the same page. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been using junior midfielder Pierre Byrne as an initial dodger to test the cohesiveness of opposing defenses. The various areas they start him from (and the positioning of the players around him) have produced tons of defensive miscommunication.

Early in games, Byrne will drive down the alley. Unassisted shots down the alley are low percentage looks. Too many players fall in love with this shot because they know they can get their hands free down the alley easily -- Byrne isn’t one of them. He’s a pass-first player who, if he buries his first shot down the alley, can force the defense into making mid-game adjustments. Watch where #50 Ryder “The Maestro” Garnsey’s defender is in this clip.

At X in no position to help, Garnsey’s defender is giving Byrne that shot rather than leaving Garnsey and giving The Maestro a chance to attack a scrambling defense. That’s probably the right move against most shooters, especially when you see the alternative. When Michigan sends a slide to Byrne on a similar dodge later in the game, it brings all six defenders above goal-line extended. Brendan Gleason gets lost on the inside because one short-stick wasn’t on the same page as the other five defenders.

By halftime Michigan has defended (and been beat by) the same look two separate ways. Whatever time they spent making adjustments was wasted; Notre Dame threw a completely different look at them in the second half.

Byrne dodges from the same spot, but notice how the Irish take away the slides with off-ball movement. There’s nobody at X, and [gasps] the Motor City Hitman is on the ball-side ready to take a step-down shot! It leaves a short-stick stuck alone on Byrne, who gives him a tour of the globe with the Magellan dodge.

That off-ball movement takes away the defense’s slides; oppositely, when the Irish turn Byrne’s alley dodges into a pairs concept with Garnsey, they can coax the defense into sliding.

Garnsey rarely up-picks for Byrnes. He’ll shallow cut just close enough to make his defender think. Byrne’s patience buries teams in these actions. If Garnsey’s defender sits low, then Byrne feeds The Maestro -- a master of the no-look pass and one of the quickest decision-makers in the country.

As an upperclassman, there’s an increased confidence to Byrne’s game. He won’t always throw back and defer to Garnsey. If that pairs concept fails to move the defense, Byrne will carry into an impromptu invert. His vision is on full display behind the cage here as he finds Bryan Costabile for a step-down rocket.

Put Byrne behind the cage or on the right-handed wing, and you’ll see him carve up the defense with skip passes. His back is to the middle of the field field when he’s dodging down the alley (i.e. those Michigan clips). On the low wing, his stick is to the middle -- making him more of a shooting threat -- and his eyes are on his open teammates.

From the low wing against Denver, Byrne gets Christian Burgdorf to shade toward him twice in one sequence: First he hedges, then he fully slides. Had Mikey Wynne caught this pass, he’d have his choice of feeding either Sergio Perkovic for a step-down shot or Garnsey on the backside pipe for another Pierre Byrne hockey assist.

With the NCAA rules, it’s tough to get topside off those low wing dodges. Defenders can force you underneath knowing that you’re not a threat to crease dive. Players who get topside from here consistently pile up lots of goals and assists. There are only a handful of dudes like that in the country: Dylan Molloy (Brown), Pat Spencer (Loyola), Ben Reeves (Yale) and Josh Byrne (Hofstra).

Pierre Byrne doesn’t need to be that type of player for the Irish to be successful. He only needs to get defenders caught hesitating, like he has all year, to tally “hockey” assists.

On a raw per possession basis, the Irish (scoring on 40.3% of their possessions) are back to where they were in 2015 (41.2%). Last year’s offense took a slight dip (36.3%) when Conor Doyle graduated. They missed that pass-first, right-handed dodger. Byrne gives them that player, and Notre Dame’s offense (13th in adjusted offensive efficiency per analyticslacrosse.com) is humming along with all these pieces in place.

Wynne (13G) is one of the best finishers (and among the best riding attackmen) in the country. Besides Perkovic (7-for-27, 18.9%), every midfielder on the team is shooting well. Costabile (6-for-15, 40.0%) and Brian Willetts (2-for-5, 40.0%) are scary step-down shooters. Garnsey (12A) gets them open, and gets recognized for it. Byrne gets those guys open, too -- his line of work just doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet.