Attention, Retention, Aid Irish

Notre Dame coordinators Mike Denbrock and Brian VanGorder preside over a pair of youth-filled, inexperienced units. That hasn't stopped either from loading their players' plates with a massive inventory of schemes for matchups each Saturday.

Ask an rish football fan to explain the biggest difference between head coach Brian Kelly's 2014 squad and its predecessors and you're likely to receive a simplistic, albeit pleasing two-word answer:

They attack.

Lost in that thrilling on-field reality is the off-the-field work week that makes attack mode Saturday, possible. The youth-filled Irish of 2014 have proven to be a quick studies.

In the film room, on the practice field, and as a result, on the all-important proving ground playing beneath 80,000-plus.

"There's a lot of give and take every week as far as (the) game-plan and coach Kelly is very open to all of us in what we bring to the table," said first-year offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. "I've tried to do as good a job as I can to try to funnel the ideas into a workable plan. The call sheet, I will tell you, the call sheet is much bigger than it's been at any time in the last couple years."

Also more imposing in comparison to the last few years? The stat sheet, one that illustrates Notre Dame's offensive success.

In excess of 150 rushing yards four times. In excess of 290 passing yards four times. In excess of 30 points in five of seven -- yellow laundry away from making that six of seven played to date.

"We've got a lot of variety and a lot of things that we can do," said Denbrock. "I think it shows up in what we can do during the game. We're able to make a lot of in-game adjustments and do a lot of different things if the defense is kind of showing us something that they haven't put on tape that year. We've run into that a few times and been able to adjust because of the variety of things that we've been able to kind of practice and do offensively."

The Irish averaged 33.4 points per game through seven contests, the highest total of the Kelly era -- seemingly a lock to be the first of his five seasons to finish with an average in excess of 30 points per game. As important, they've surrendered just 19 per outing, that despite the presence of two Top 20 scoring offenses faced to date.

"We’re ahead of scheduled. Ahead of schedule," said first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. "Having said that, there’s a lot of work still ahead, both in our scheme and in development of some good young players.

"They’ve done a really good job. They show up every day to work and do a good job in the classroom. Efforts on the field are good. It takes a lot of reps. It takes experience. And unfortunately bad experiences at times and we’ve had to go through some of that. But maybe not so much as maybe I anticipated."

Among their seven foes, only North Carolina exceeded their season scoring average (43 to 38) against the Irish. VanGorder's unit has held its given foe to two touchdowns or fewer in five of seven matchups, and limited total yardage gained below 325 in four of the last six.

They've created turnovers (15, more than two per game) and thrived on third down, forcing opposing offenses off the field 65 percent of the time -- just 35 of 99 third down situations have resulted in first downs by their foes.

All of the above are accepted tell-tale stats for season-long success. But as usual, stats don't tell the entire tale.

"Our mission is to make it when you prepare for us…we want you to work," said VanGorder. "If you looked at our inventory going into a game, you’d just be shocked what these kids are doing. I mean it’s impressive. I never anticipated or pictured them being where they are, taking on so many multiple looks, pressures and coverages and again we don’t always do it in a way from an execution standpoint that we want to, but it’ll keep getting better."

One of VanGorder's top pupils believes the unit has thrived under the coordinator's multiple defensive schemes because they're of like-mind -- and recruitment profile.

"We're all eager to learn and improve our football IQ's," said sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith. "We have smart student-athletes here at Notre Dame."

The team's overall retention -- translating lessons from film to field -- has put the program in position to challenge for one of four playoff spots at season's end.

"We’ve got intelligent players that can take on a large inventory and do a lot of things," VanGorder continued. "And it’s been amazing. It’s been amazing what they’ve taken on. It’s a real credit to them."  


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