If the 2012 Irish again rely on their quarterback to make quick reads and difficult throws when the field shortens, red zone turnovers are again likely to occur (though not in such a ridiculous, game-altering manner as witnessed last fall).
Can the incumbent Rees improve his decision-making in close, or make the throws he missed last season in tight quarters? Could a more athletic quarterback such as Andrew Hendrix or the untested Everett Golson keep defenses honest with the threat of a run near the goal line?
Or more important, could an influx of youth on the perimeter allow for more quick strikes before the passing windows become precarious inside the 20-yard line?
Both the 2010 and 2011 Irish scored 14 offensive touchdowns prior to breeching their opponents' red zones. Last year, the offense managed a non-red zone score in each of the team's first 11 contests, but failed to do so vs. both Stanford and Florida State to end the season – the Cardinal and Seminoles ranking as the two of the three best defenses Notre Dame faced in 2011, both statistically and via the eye test.
Long-Distance Scores in the Kelly eraFloyd's four touchdowns from beyond the red zone in 2011 matched his total from 2010. Below is a collection of Notre Dame's 28 offensive touchdowns from outside the red zone in the Kelly era, as well as six non-offensive scores (3 defense, 3 special teams).
- Michael Floyd 8 (eight receptions)
- *Cierre Wood 5 (four runs, one reception)
- *Tyler Eifert 4 (four receptions)
- *Theo Riddick 3 (three receptions)
- Jonas Gray 3 (three runs)
- *George Atkinson 2 (both ST)
- *T.J. Jones 2 (two receptions)
- Kyle Rudolph 1 (one reception)
- *Lo Wood 1 (defense)
- Darrin Walls 1 (defense)
- *Zeke Motta 1 (defense)
- Duval Kamara 1 (one reception)
- Armando Allen 1 (one run)
- Robert Blanton 1 (ST: technically a 6-yard punt block for a score but the snap was from the Utah 25-yard line).
(*Denotes returning player)
Influx of Playmakers EssentialDaVaris Daniels, Matthias Farley, Deontay Greenberry, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Keivarae Russell, Will Mahone, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel.
New blood on the perimeter and under center is set to augment the efforts of veterans Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, and likely George Atkinson next fall.
None of the group is likely to break graduating senior Michael Floyd's myriad receiving records at the school. But none has to, as having one dominant player on the edge ranks about 20th on the list of the best ways to win football games in the modern era. But an offense that comes at a defense from every angle – including with a weapon under center – places true stress on the opposition.
Notre Dame's offense stretched the field horizontally over the last season-and-a-half. It was their best shot at victory, as those 18 games produced 12 victories. The previous eight contests – with an offense that attacked downfield more often – enjoyed victory just four times. The Irish weren't plodders, offensively, they just weren't explosive either. Their quarterback of choice was better at short and mid-range passes and the receivers' routes (and possibly their skill sets; that remains to be seen) reflected that approach.
Brian Kelly noted earlier this season the offense expects seven points (a touchdown) for every 80 yards accrued by his offense. The first step toward that end is again using the whole field and identifying the six skill position players that can be used as scoring threats on every play.