First Look: Irish Offense

Irisheyes.com publisher Tim O'Malley offers Bamamag.com subscribers five key players to watch from Notre Dame's offense.

Notre Dame averaged 26.75 points per game in 2012, tied with Florida for lowest among BCS bowl qualifiers. The Irish nonetheless achieved good balance offensively, rushing for 202 yards per game (27th nationally) while passing for 218 more.

Primarily a shotgun spread offense in the first half, the Irish often manage the game in the second with a mixture of power (quarterback Everett Golson under center) and play-action, featuring two, sometimes three tight end sets. Notre Dame rushed for in excess of 200 yards in seven games this fall including five of its last six.

A tell-tale stat for the Irish lies in its commitment to the ground game: Notre Dame is 16-0 under head coach Brian Kelly when attempting fewer than 30 passes but just 12-10 when that total climbs higher.

Below is our first look at five Irish offensive players for Alabama fans to monitor in the BCS Championship game.

QB #5 Everett Golson -- The first dual-threat quarterback of the three-year Brian Kelly era and Notre Dame's beset pass-run threat since Jarious Jackson in the late 90s, Golson tied for the team lead with five rushing scores while tossing 11 touchdown passes. vs. just five interceptions (nine fewer than 2011 starter and current backup, Tommy Rees). His final four starts included 1,214 all-purpose yards, nine touchdowns and just two picks.

Kelly unleashed Golson the runner in just six of 12 games this fall and the redshirt-freshman responded with 316 yards, three touchdowns (and a crucial two-point conversion) on 67 carries. (Golson ran sparingly in six other contests and normally just within reach of the goal; he scored additional touchdowns vs. Purdue and Michigan State, his second and third career starts.)

Benched one (Michigan) and out due to concussion against BYU, Golson has won his first 10 career starts, one short of tying the program record set by Bob Gibbons in 1949-50.

TE #80 Tyler Eifert -- The team's best offensive player, Eifert paced a balanced passing game with 44 receptions and 624 receiving yards, both numbers lower than his 2011 totals of 63-804 in a pass-first offense. Eifert likewise led the attack with 14 first downs (or touchdowns) on third-down plays while ranking second to junior wide receiver T.J. Jones with 35 total first down/touchdown receptions on the season.

A first-team Walter Camp All-America selection in 2011, Eifert will likely garner consensus second team honors this season but the future pro is a far more accomplished player in 2012, ranking as the team's best blocking tight end since 2005 (current pro Anthony Fasano) and lining up all over the field, as a boundary wide receiver, slotted receiver, detached and/or motion tight end, and occasionally from a traditional tight end spot as well.

Eifert drew seven pass interference penalties in 2012 -- the offense accured just eight overall.

RB #6 Theo Riddick -- The senior entered college as a running back for Charlie Weis, was moved out of necessity to slot receiver for Brian Kelly's 2010-11 spread offense, then back to the backfield for 2012 where he emerged as its leading rusher, touchdown scorer, and third-best receiver. Riddick finished with 364 receiving yards and a touchdown (to force overtime vs. Pittsburgh) while accumulating 880 rushing yards on 180 carries.

A true dual threat player as a slot receiver and running back, Riddick finished with 67 first downs (highest on the squad) and six total touchdowns -- also a team-best. The senior from Patterson, N.J. saved his best for last, totaling 146 rushing yards and a score at USC, adding 33 yards and two third-down receptions through the air.

RB #20 Cierre Wood -- Brian Kelly's leading rusher in both 2010 and 2011 (1,102 yards in '11), Wood was suspended for the first two games this fall for a violation of team rules. He enjoyed intermittent success -- not to mention playing time -- thereafter, finishing with 740 yards on just 110 carries and four different games in excess of 100 yards.

Wood was relegated to obvious backup status vs. Michigan (seven carries), Oklahoma (seven carries including a 62-yard touchdown), and against both BC and USC in November (13 total carries). The senior is nonetheless widely regarded as the team's best pure runner, but one whose tendency to run east-west placed him below the hard-charging Riddick in the staff's pecking order. Wood caught 47 passes in his first two seasons but just four in 2012.

Wood sat out 2009 as a true freshman and thus became the first former redshirt player in Notre Dame history to ever later lead the program in rushing for a single season, doing so twice prior to Riddick's emergence this fall.

LT #70 Zack Martin -- There aren't many underrated Notre Dame players throughout history, but Martin is on top of that short list. A two-time winner of the team's Guardian of the Year award hand shoe-in for a third this season, Martin graded out above 92 percent according to head coach Brian Kelly (the rest of the offensive front was in the 60s and 70s most Saturdays).

Martin is dominant in the running game and solid in pass protection. At 6'4" 304 pounds, he might be the most mobile offensive tackle in the nation, routinely securing blocks 10-15 yards down field (he once was the lead blocker on a bubble screen to Michael Floyd last season, from his tackle position no less), and yet still ranks as the team's or second-best best drive blocker as well.

A senior with one season of eligibility remaining, Martin injured his ankle in the fourth quarter vs. USC but is expected ready for the start of bowl practices on December 7. His brother Nick is a backup redshirt-freshman guard/tackle prospect at the program, and the latter lined up next to his elder brother on Senior Day in a 38-0 shutout victory.


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