Irish Offense Finishing the Drill

Notre Dame has produced fewer yards this season through three games than all but one of head coach Brian Kelly's previous squads in South Bend. It's also scored more points than any at the program since the Frank Leahy era.

Question: Which Notre Dame team during the five-season Brian Kelly era scored the most combined points over its first three contests?

Answer: The same squad that compiled the second-lowest yardage total in that span.

2010: 1,354 yards, 78 points scored (74 allowed), 1-2 record
2013: 1,353 yards, 89 points scored (71 allowed), 2-1 record
2011: 1,296 yards, 89 points scored (71 allowed), 1-2 record
2014: 1,254 yards, 109 points scored (31 allowed), 3-0 record
2012: 1,166 yards, 90 points scored (30 allowed), 3-0 record

A pair of common denominators help to explain the team's 3-0 records in both 2012 and this fall in comparison to the less impressive W-L ledgers of '10, '11, and even '13.

One is obvious: turnover ratio.

The current Irish have benefitted from an astounding 9-1 turnover advantage while fellow fast starters from 2012 enjoyed a 7-2 ratio. The 1-2 squads of both 2010 and 2011? 3-7 and 5-13 deficits, respectively.

(As an aside, not unexpectedly, the '13 Irish were dead even -- 3-3 through three en route to their 2-1 W-L record. It seems nothing about last season elicits superlatives.)

Augmenting the accepted tell-tale turnover differential for is red zone success -- or in the case of both 1-2 squads, the lack thereof.

The 2014 Irish are not only perfect once they reach the red zone (14-14), they're scoring touchdowns: 10 of 14 trips have ended as such and that doesn't include one that finished with a 24-yard scoring toss against Michigan just outside the official red zone.

Compare this season's 10 of 14 success rate to each of the four previous seasons and it's clear a lingering issue -- one largely within Kelly's control -- has been eradicated to date:

2011: 7 touchdowns in 13 trips
2012: 8 in 15
2013: 5 in 11
2010: 5 in 11

(Combined, Kelly's 2010-11-12-13 squads scored touchdowns in just 25 of 50 red zone trips.)

"It's always a style of play-calling in the red zone that plays into it, where you're looking at touchdowns. and if you don't get touchdowns, you're kicking field goals," Kelly said, referencing the lack of turnovers as an additional key.

"I think the quarterback has a lot to do with it. (Everett Golson) has been, as you know, knock on wood, he's gone on a long streak here of not turning over the football. I think your quarterback management in the red zone is very, very crucial. So I would say play-calling and your quarterback makes a big difference in that area."

Golson has rushed for four scores, each from 15 yards or closer. Of his seven touchdown passes, four have come inside the 20 with a fifth the aforementioned 24-yard strike to Will Fuller against Michigan.

Six of Notre Dame's seven players to hit pay dirt this season have done so inside the opponent's red zone (C.J. Prosise the lone exception).

"I think to a large degree that we're utilizing some of the skill guys, the wide receivers that can go make plays down there," Kelly added. "It's tough sledding down there…I think that being aggressive in play-calling and taking care of the football and getting it to your playmakers down there to score points (is the key)."

Create turnovers, protect the football, and finish drives with touchdowns -- a simple formula that's proved tough to beat but difficult to attain.

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