The Bottom Line

In his Tuesday afternoon press conference, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made it readily apparent that the 2013 squad's issues are easy to pinpoint and not necessarily relegated to the lack of a running game or an offensive identity. It's likewise clear these issues can only be corrected by turning the page toward a new season...and protecting the football throughout it.

Stop the run. Run with power to control the clock. Score touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone. Create turnovers. Protect the football. Don't give up the big play. Spread the field with multiple skill options to create big plays. Control the line of scrimmage. Attack with a fast tempo. Pressure the passer. Protect the passer. Make a play in the kicking game. Stay ahead of the chains. Get off the field on third down, defensively. Convert on third down.

There are many ways to win a football game, many ways to ensure a successful season. Fans, media, and coaches alike subscribe to one, many, or most of the above. Rarely does one prove with a decent sample size more accurate than another.

This website has (admittedly repeatedly), noted that Notre Dame generally wins under Brian Kelly when it runs the ball more than 30 times in a game (33-4). They generally lose when they don't (2-10). The reasons are plentiful, though the crux -- bad things happen when Notre Dame quarterbacks pass too much -- remains.

But the sixth winningest coach in all of college football isn't concerned with run-pass (or in his case, pass-run) distribution as an indicator for success.

"Each game is different in terms of circumstances. Run to pass ratio to me is flow of the game, circumstances, where you are in the flow of the game," said Kelly of his team's six rushing attempts in the second half at Pittsburgh. "I think at one time we were like 23 passes to like 22 runs at one time during the game. I think we're always trying to get to a balanced situation but I think the circumstances of the game change what's going on.

"That doesn't concern me (the ratio). I would like to run the ball more effectively, but there were some circumstances that prevented us from being able to."

Asked for particulars, Kelly offered a larger issue of concern, one admittedly troubling than any decision to run or pass on 2nd and 10.

"It's hard for me to comment generally speaking, I'd have to look at the series. What was the down-and-distance, what was the situation? We know when we have to burn clock and control the football and we know when we have some easy looks."

Kelly added, "We were 0 for 5 on screens. They might have been cupcake throws, I don't know, but we were 0 for 5 on screens. Come on.

"I went through everything we did and it didn't jump out at me and go, 'Wow, this is crazy.'"

More than one way

Notre Dame's offensive attack this fall has been reactionary. Kelly has repeatedly noted the inability to run into 7- and 8-man fronts. The offense is predicated -- this season -- on taking what the defense gives it.

What about the theory that a quality offense imposes its will on a defense with a stout running game a la the Stanford Cardinal?

"I think you want to impose your will all the time," said Kelly. "Mental, physical imposing of your will happens on special teams, offense and defense. I don't think you impose your will just by running the football. I think you impose your will with quick strike capability. (Creating for the opponent) the inability to cover people. The inability to pass protect (against your defense). I think that takes many shapes and forms. I don't think it's just running the football, certainly that's another way to do it.

"Like I said, we had three freshmen out there along the offensive line. They were battling. We were a little short-handed. We did what we felt was necessary to win the football game. Again, I can't really talk specifically about particular plays to give you the kind of answer you want regarding run or pass, but I was not objecting to way the football game was called."

Kelly previously confirmed offensive coordinator Chuck Martin remains the play-caller.

"Input in the game plan," Kelly said of his role. "In between series is the best time that I can give (input). Look, if I don't like the play, we're not running it. That's pretty clear. But that's not the way to run a game. If you're vetoing every play, you just might as well call the plays. I've never wanted to operate in that manner.

"If I have a way I want the game to flow, I'll do it in between the series…We have time to talk in between series. That's the communication between Chuck and me."

Tell-Tale Statistic

Right or wrong, it's clear Kelly trusts quarterback Tommy Rees, his pass protectors, and the team's deep wide receiver unit more than he does the elements of his rushing attack.

He likewise knows he's under fire from the fan base for an underperforming offense, noting Rees is well-aware of the criticism from outside the program's walls as well.

"He hears it. He hears it," said Kelly of Rees. "It's the nature of being at a high-profile University. Tommy knows what he signed up for. I know what I signed up for. We love being at Notre Dame, but when you don't perform well, you're going to be open to the kind of criticism that comes with not performing at the level you need to perform at.

"Look, we're all accountable. Nobody here is looking for excuses, we're all looking for solutions. But the facts are the facts. We turned the ball over eight times in our three losses and we took it away once. In our seven wins, we turned it over five times and took it away seven times. In our three losses we gave up passes of 64, 63, and 54 yards. In our seven wins we gave up one 48-yard pass to Purdue.

"Those are facts. We live in finding solutions to those. We know what they are and we know what we need to do to win. Our focus is we can't worry about all those other things. It's out there and it comes with the territory. When you're at Notre Dame that's what happens."

For all the stats, facts, and opinions one can encounter here and across the Notre Dame blogosphere, Kelly rightly pinpointed the most relevant of the bunch: turnovers.

The Irish have never lost, 13-0, when they're turnover-free in the 49-game Kelly era. (Which begs the question: how does a team play turnover-free ball in just 26.5 percent of its games played?)

Notre Dame is 11-1 when committing one turnover or less but just 11-13 when committing two turnovers or more.

In other words, Brian Kelly's Irish are 24-1 over a nearly a four-year period when committing one turnover or less. The loss? Alabama. There's not a relevant stat to be found from that debacle.

"You can't waste time worrying about those things, you have to go with facts. The facts are, you can't turnover the football and you can't give up big plays. And the facts are, if you don't do those things, you can win football games each and every week here at Notre Dame. If you don't, you're going to lose and you're going to open yourself up to all types of criticism and deservingly so." Top Stories