The Wire

Mid-week musings include: Making sense of Brian Kelly's emphasis on the importance of the run game heading into Saturday night as well as hearing from a defensive Jimbo Fisher

Run game critical for Kelly

Brian Kelly was asked twice in the course of the past two days by the media about the importance he’ll place on winning the time of possession battle against Florida State.

Clearly, the root of that question stems from keeping the ball out of Jameis Winston’s hands.

However, both times Kelly shrugged off such time of possession emphasis and instead redirected his answer to other aspects of the game he views as more vital – namely, run game, turnovers, starting field position and scoring points.

"There's no question I look at a lot of factors in these big games,” Kelly said in his Tuesday press conference. “Run game has to be a part of it. Turnovers, obviously. Starting field position is huge. Time of possession? Certainly you want to minimize the amount of snaps (Winston) has to work with, but still there are some other factors bigger for me."

No, I don't think I could characterize it (offensive game-planning) as ball control,” Kelly followed up on Wednesday. “One of our concerns has been giving up the ball, self-inflicted wounds on offense. We cannot have any of those self-inflicted wounds offensively. We have to run our offense within our system. We've got to be balanced. We've got to score points. If that equals ball control, that would be great. But at the end of the day we've got to score points against one of the best defenses that we're going to see.”

Consider that FSU’s foes thus far this season are averaging owning 17 seconds more of the play clock per game, yet FSU is 6-0, and Kelly’s line of thinking appears the most rational. Also consider that Notre Dame had five minutes more of possession against North Carolina, but the Heels still managed to run two more plays than the Irish.

Run game. Turnovers. Starting field position. Sound familiar?

Turnovers are obvious – Everett Golson must play a clean game Saturday if Notre Dame is going to knock off the defending champs in Doak Campbell. That was discussed more here. Starting field position is a blatant indicator as well. Notre Dame has owned that battle against all six of its 2014 opponents.

The run game is where it gets dicey. Notre Dame is on a whopping 26-0 win streak when it runs the ball at least 30 times per game. But, for Kelly to make that his first point of emphasis when mentioning defining factors is rather striking when you consider the output of the run game through Notre Dame’s first six wins.

Golson has rushed 58 times for 209 yards and four touchdowns this season, but when you eliminate him from the equation and dial in on the production of the running backs and offensive line in unison, there’s little to highlight.

The Irish rank out of the top 50 in both yards per carry (4.33) and total rushing offense – 69th, smack dab in between Michigan and Ball State.

Even though a 100-yard game was achieved by an Irish running back for the first time all year last week against North Carolina, and the reshuffled offensive line performed its most “consistent” game of the season as assessed by Kelly, the Tar Heels’ inexperienced defensive front four entered last week as mediocre run-stoppers at best.

So, the question remains how much of a factor Notre Dame’s run game will be against Florida State and just how much it will need to be for the Irish to get to 7-0.

Perhaps, it’s wide receiver C.J. Prosise on the jet sweep, a tunnel screen to wide receiver Corey Robinson, or a middle screen to Folston that was so effective vs. UNC that will provide stand-in answers to an inconsistent and still unproven ground game.

Regardless, expect Notre Dame and Brian Kelly not to abandon running the ball against Florida State, especially in down and distance situations. Folston, o-line, let’s see what you’ve got.

Comments from the other head coach

Defensive and extremely confident combined into one describes the tone of Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher…

On Notre Dame:

Fisher: “I mean, I think their areas of expertise. Like I say, on defense you have to be very aware of where their players are. They have personnel groups and move people in a lot of different places to present different blitz problems, pickup problems, coverage problems. You have to be very aware of personnel, where they're at all times on defense. I think offensively where their play-makers are, their quarterback. Obviously you have to contain him. At the same time you have to pressure him. That's a very tough task. He's a tremendous leader, tremendous player. Have very dynamic skill guys, good up front, great scheme. Coach Kelly, Coach VanGorder have done a great job on both sides. From all aspects, you're going to have to play a complete game be very attention to detail oriented, everything you do, make sure you're very technique sound.”

On Winston:

“I have no concern. I know the facts of the case. Winston deserves a lot of credit for being able to put things away like a man. He can do that because he knows the facts. Nothing new has come out. The facts haven't changed. I see articles that leave out the facts. This country is based on innocent until proven guilty. There is no victim here because there is no crime.”

On FSU’s run game:

Fisher: “For us, very well. We ran the ball extremely well. We had 160 last game. One on a fumble we lost. Ran for 180 some yards. Extremely efficient. Dalvin Cook ran for 123 as a freshman. Mario Pender was having an excellent game, got injured. Had 50 yards, had a nice touchdown run. I thought we ran the ball extremely well in those games, have been running it very well since.”

On the team’s focus despite off-field distractions:

Fisher: “Been excellent. We had an excellent practice. This is a very tight-knit group of guys. That's how they respond. They compartmentalize things, practice, do things like they should do. They're presented with whatever they have to do at that present time, done an excellent job. Our team is a very tight-knit, very close, family-oriented group.”

On Notre Dame’s schedule

Rice (3-3) defeated Army 41-21
Michigan (3-4) defeated Penn State 18-13
Purdue (3-4) lost to Michigan State 45-31
Syracuse (2-4) lost to Florida State 38-20
No. 14 Stanford (4-2) defeated Washington State 34-17
No. 2 Florida State (6-0) defeated Syracuse 38-20
Navy (3-4) defeated Virginia Military Institute 51-14
No. 17 Arizona State (4-1) defeated USC 38-34
Northwestern (3-3) lost to Minnesota 34-17
Louisville (5-2) lost to Clemson 23-17
No. 22 USC (4-2) lost to Arizona State 38-34

Parting shots

Over/under on the number of sideline hits we get from ABC of Winston?

I’ll leave you with this stat from the game notes: Jameis Winston will become the 31st different Heisman Trophy winner to face Notre Dame at some point in his collegiate career. The 31 winners represent 44 percent of the 70 non-Irish Heisman Trophy winners.

44 percent? That’s a heck of a percentage.

Have a great rest of the week.


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