Not different, just betterIn 2010, Irish fans and media put stock in Brian Kelly's offering that his offense wouldn't be fully installed at any point in Year One. Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar echoed that comment, estimating that 90 percent of the attack could be installed by the team's (2010) bowl game.
Year Two might not involve a preponderance of new play calls, either. But better execution and a comfort level in each is expected.
"I think its knowledge of what you're capable of doing more so than having more plays available to you," Kelly said of the difference between Saturday's matchup with South Florida and early-season 2010. "Knowing that these are plays that Dayne (Crist) has executed very well over the past year; we can go back and look at the successes that he's had in reading out a particular play, or getting us in the right play.
"Its more knowledge of what your guys can do more so than we have more plays available to us."
That knowledge was gleaned through trial-and-error last season, improvement and change in November, and an off-season of self-assessment.
"I didn't know what they were good at really," Kelly said of his personnel last September. "We were throwing it out there and saying, ‘Let's start here and go from there.'
"That's how our offense came together, we had to decide what we were good at after Dayne went down," he continued. "While Dayne was in there (Weeks 1-8) we were still all over the map, figuring out what our strengths were. Now going into (Saturday), we have a pretty good understanding of what our strengths are.
"I feel so much better about it because I know what we can do," Kelly concluded. "I'm going to call the plays that I feel like have a history of success, or I have seen us execute after a year in this offense."
Could that success actually include the heretofore scorned "Time of Possession" statistic for the 2011 Irish?
"I don't know what I've said in the past, but (Time of Possession) is overrated when you're winning. If you're not winning, then it's a different thing," Kelly said.
"We go into each year looking at winning football games. I've never spent much time on the difference between having more time of possession or less...It's still about scoring points."
In other words, a two-minute drive ending in a score offers the same number of points as a 10-minute march ending the same. That doesn't mean the Irish will push the tempo this fall regardless of personnel, opponent, or game situation.
Personnel NotesKelly noted today that while junior tight end Tyler Eifert's starting status is set-in-stone; his trio of understudies has evolved since the outset of August camp.
"Its really who's No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 because they're all very equal," Kelly said of the competition among Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, and Mike Ragone. "What put Welch and Koyack in the mix is that Mike has been slowed in camp with a quad injury. He ran yesterday well for the first time. I think if he looks the same or better we expect him to be our No. 2 tight end. I think you'll see all four of them play as the season progresses."
While not (to date) a weapon in the passing game, the 5th-year senior Ragone is a crucial performer in the team's power rushing attack.
Also ready to contribute to the team's increased power entity is junior left guard Chris Watt. The Chicago product beat out 5th-year utility man Andrew Nuss for the starting spot in August. The duo's divergent strengths rendered daily evaluation a chore for Kelly and offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
"Chris is a bit stronger…Nuss is a technician that utilizes his strengths, and is smart; he gets in good position," Kelly offered. "Chris is more powerful at the point of attack, and sometimes that works to great advantage, but other times he'll swing and miss, and Andrew would not. (But) Chris Watt is a guy that's going to bang it in there pretty good."
Also readying for collision is redshirt-freshman Louis Nix. Slated to split ample reps with starter Sean Cwynar, the team's new nose guard concluded August camp much as he began:
"He's been very consistent in his approach," Kelly said of Nix. "We've gotten to know Louis a lot better as a staff. We know when to push him; when to back off. What he's brought to our attention is he can be that consistent guy day in and day out."
That consistency was not necessarily expected of Nix over the grind of pre-season camp. It was, however, of senior wideout John Goodman. The Bishop Dwenger (Fort Wayne) product eventually lived up to expectations and is slated for backup duty at multiple positions.
"The last week (of camp), I got what I wanted out of John Goodman," Kelly said. "He'll be a valuable guy for us to step in when we need him; same thing for (slot receiver) Robby Toma.
"You may see if the X-receiver goes down, (that) Goodman will go over there. He's a swing guy to the field and the boundary. We're really working off of a five-man rotation right now."
Goodman is listed as Michael Floyd's backup at the boundary ("W" receiver) while freshman DaVaris Daniels is the technical backup to the field side ("X") behind sophomore Tai-ler Jones. Daniels, however, will not be the first player to rotate at the X should Jones need a breather.
"We're not going to put Daniels in a position where the light is on him," Kelly said of his emerging but green pass-catcher. "We'll sneak him in there in a time and place where he doesn't have to be counted on to make a big play as he continues to grow.
"He's going to play this year," Kelly continued. "But (No.) 6 and No. 7 would be (sophomore) Daniel Smith and DaVaris Daniels."
Poised for (several) Happy ReturnsWhile Daniels, Koyack, and fellow offensive freshmen contributors George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel are slated to aid the Irish in small doses this fall, junior slot receiver Theo Riddick will see his role expand exponentially.
The former running back is the featured figure in what is expected to be a vastly improved kick and punt return unit this fall.
"He will take his blows on offense," Kelly said of the possibility that Riddick could be overworked with triple duty. "So if he needs a play or two, he'll take (a break) on offense.
"We have great confidence in (backup slot) Robby Toma to go in there and play a series. Theo, in his mindset, has to be a great impact player for us in special teams. We're more than comfortable with Robby Toma being in the game; that's how we've approached it and how (Riddick's) thought process should be."
Notre Dame ranked 75th among 120 FBS teams in terms of kick return average last fall; an even 100th when receiving a punt. (Riddick was not involved as a punt returner and had just one kick return on the season.)