Play-calling Kinship

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly relinquished play-calling duties last Saturday for the first time in his career. How did his long-time assistant Chuck Martin fare in his first foray under Kelly's watchful eye?

"He knows one offense: mine."

"He" in the quotation above is second-year Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. "Mine" refers to Brian Kelly's preferred method of offense, and the two together expected a seamless transition prior to 2012 when Martin, the team's safeties coach in 2010-11, switched scrimmage to coordinate Kelly's offense. 12 wins later, the Irish were playing for a BCS Championship.

The 2012 coordinator role was a familiar one for Martin, an four-season assistant under Kelly at Grand Valley State and coordinator of Kelly's 2003 championship defense before taking the reigns of the program when Kelly moved on to the post at Central Michigan.

Martin has since added another familiar job requirement: calling plays. He did so -- both offensively and defensively -- as the Laker's head coach post-Kelly from 2004 through 2009.

"I've called a lot of plays for a lot of years, both offense and defense," said Martin. "The nice thing for me is, I've called a lot of plays in playoff games and the anxiety of 'win or go home' is different."

"The pressure in those games are unbelievable. Much more than regular season games," he continued. "You have a bad day and its turn your stuff in Monday. Fortunately for me we played in a crazy amount of play-off games."

Saturday's prime time contest in Ann Arbor is a de facto playoff game for Notre Dame. All of them are. There's no conference championship to fall back on and after a bloodletting at the hands of Alabama last January, it's unlikely the BCS voters will move the Irish into a No. 2 ranking at season's end with one loss on the ledger.

Martin and the Irish offense passed their first test of 2013, albeit against an overmatched foe. First-down success was a key factor in a 543-yard day, the Irish gaining more than 15 yards on eight different first-down snaps, including four plays of 51, 45, 32, and 66 yards, the latter two for scores.

"I called all of the touchdowns, Chuck called all of the stalled drives. So that part went well" joked Kelly of Martin's first day as a play-called in South Bend. "So that part went well.

"It was very clean. I didn't expect to have any issues there and was very pleased. I thought Chuck called a very good game. There were a couple of things I thought were outstanding. The one sack that we did have (a loss of five yards), I thought he managed that situation very well. If you remember we were 2nd-and-15. We got half of it back. We then got (Temple) to jump offside, subsequently got it down to a 3rd-and-1.

"Things like that, I take full notice of how to play-call those situations where an inexperienced play-caller, at 2nd-and-15, now let's chuck it and it's 3rd-and-15. But that's just a small indication of his experience and being on the same page with him, that he managed the 2nd-and-15 down to a 3rd-and-1."

It was the first game Kelly coached in his 23-year collegiate career in which he didn't call his team's offensive plays. Was he tempted to take back the reigns?

"No, we're working off of a play-sheet and a call-sheet that we construct during the week, and our columns are down-and-distance and openers and field position," he said. "So it's not like there's 36 calls in there. There's four or five calls (in each situation), and I'm generally saying let's keep it on the ground, let's burn some clock here, you know what I mean, let's push the ball vertically, more general terms, let's get a screen in here, let's not forget about getting the ball to TJ (Jones).

"Those kind of big-picture things more so than let's run guard pull here. I'm not getting into that, (just) more bigger picture things."

Said Kelly of Martin when he made the move from defense to offense, "Just as he was my defensive coordinator, he's the same way as the offensive coordinator in that we can have a very short conversation, and we know exactly what the outcome is going to be when we go on the field.

"Chuck is really good at being flexible. He doesn't have to be in this particular formation, he doesn't have to be in this type of offense. He can really adapt well to all circumstances. So I like his ability to adapt based upon what our personnel is, and I like his ability to carry what we talk about in a staff meeting onto the field."

The ability to deal with adversity will likely arise for the first time Saturday night in Ann Arbor. Michigan held Notre Dame to 13 points in last year's Irish victory and the Wolverines have ranked #9 and #20 over the last two seasons in scoring defense.

Martin might run into a few more defensive road blocks, but the moment isn't one of them.

"You can pretend a regular season game is the same as playoff anxiety, but it's just not," he said. "If you make the wrong call at the wrong time (in the playoffs), you season ends. That sucks."

Technically true or not, he faces a similar scenario in the Big House.

Win or else.


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