Some people say numbers never lie, but when it comes to football stats, you can view them in many different ways. After three games, Brian Kelly is sitting with a 1-2 record and some fans are getting restless wondering if this is what they should expect from a team with a lot of highly thought of recruits, and a coach known for a high-powered spread offense and winning.
The Brian Kelly offense starts with the quarterback and spreads to the wide receivers and running backs. While the offensive line is important, it is key for the quarterback to understands his role and make the adjustments as instructed.
It has now been three games with Dayne Crist at the helm of the Irish attack under Kelly, much like in his first year at Cincinnati; Kelly had to play without his starting quarterback in at least one game. While Crist missed almost an entire half of the Michigan game, Kelly played his third game at Cincinnati without his starting quarterback Ben Mauk. Mauk, who was coming off an injury the season before, woke up on game day only to find his throwing arm was not usable. Kelly went to back-up Dustin Grutza just prior to kickoff and the Bearcats won.
Keep in mind the following, Notre Dame has played Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State in the first three games. Kelly battled Southeast Missouri State, Oregon State and Miami Ohio in his first three games in Cincinnati.
However, where is the Irish offense at as compared to Kelly's first three games at each program?
One advantage Brian Kelly had when he came to Cincinnati was the transfer of Ben Mauk from Wake Forest to Cincinnati. Kelly knew Mauk had the tools and knowledge of his offensive style to take his offense and run with it. The only question was Mauk's health.
Dayne Crist is coming in cold; he is learning Kelly's offense from scratch. He did have the spring and time during camp to learn some of the offense, but is still a work in progress. Despite the 1-2 mark, Crist is showing great progress in picking up the finer details of Kelly's offense and should continue to get better as the season continues.
So let us look at the numbers.
Scoring First Three Games
ND = 78
UC = 140
Differences were expected, as the level of competition was different. Oregon State was the only major test in the first three games at Cincinnati.
ND = 71
UC = 71
You would think with so many more points scored at Cincinnati, this number would also be higher.
ND = 399
UC = 485
Not too much difference here but as we'll see, the Irish have more passing yards.
ND = 955
UC = 797
When Kelly arrived at Cincinnati, he lacked the quality receivers he has at Notre Dame.
Touchdowns Rush /Pass/Total
ND = 2/7/9
UC = 9/7/16
As we said, Ben Mauk played in this same style of offense all through high school and was like another coach on the field.
Total Offense Yards/Plays
ND = 1,354/219
UC = 1,282/218
In the beginning, we stressed this offense starts with the quarterback. Let us look at Dayne Crist and the Notre Dame quarterbacks as compared to the UC quarterbacks and compare the numbers.
Crist / Montana / Rees = 72 – 125 - 4 / 955 yards 7 touchdowns
Mauk /Grutza /Pike = 65 – 96 – 1 / 797 yards 7 touchdowns
As you can see, Notre Dame quarterbacks have attempted and completed more passes, while throwing the same number of touchdowns. The difference between the two lies in the number of interceptions and the team's completion percentage. The Irish have hit on just under 58% of their passes, while Kelly saw his Cincinnati quarterbacks hit on just under 68% of their throws.
This area must improve and will in time as Dayne Crist and other Irish quarterbacks continue to understand the finer parts of the Kelly offense.
Overall, the Irish are two plays from being 3-0 and the talk of college football. It is early and in my years of covering Brian Kelly, all I can say is stay tuned because it is only going to get better.