SHORT YARDAGE FIX?
Notre Dame’s otherwise potent offense has a defect in its operation – head coach Brian Kelly’s task is to ensure that imperfection is fixed before it becomes a fatal flaw.
How then could the Irish look to improve upon their shoddy short-yardage rushing attack after two games?
“There’s times where direct snap can be effective in short yardage,” said Kelly when asked about the omnipresent shotgun snap his offense employs. “You have to complement that with your passing game as well. But I’ve never been against going into direct snap if I think it could make our offense more effective.
Notre Dame first string had not converted a short-yardage (3rd or 4th Down with 1-2 yards to gain) situation on the season until DeShone Kizer plowed forward for four yards on 4th-and-2 with the game on the line last Saturday in Virginia. From the shotgun.
“With the way that we’re running the football, I think that last week I think we probably would have been more effective being a little bit more versatile in the running game, more so than if we were direct snap versus shot gun. Having said that, I like taller quarterbacks for direct snap, no question. If it can complement the offense, I don’t’ see why that wouldn’t be part of what you do.”
(For a full review of Notre Dame’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” rushing attack to date, click here.)
WE CLAW, WITH OUR FINGERNAILS, FOR THAT INCH
There’s something unsettling about a football coach at Notre Dame admitting prior to a contest that his defense is going to give up points. Perhaps aplenty. In the case of Brian Kelly, he’s usually been right, with the most recent example a mid-October 2014 matchup against North Carolina in which the Irish won 50-43 – the highest scoring game in Notre Dame Stadium history.
It appears another ACC track meet is afoot.
“Offensively, we’ve got to put points on the board, there’s no question about that. You’re not going to keep this offense from scoring,” said Kelly of Georgia Tech’s juggernaut. “Making sure that our possessions are ones that either get us in really good field position or result in scores. That means being very, very efficient on offense.
Kelly added that special teams would play a key role in Saturday’s outcome. And while the defense has been provided with the necessary chip on its shoulder by head coach and the media horde alike, Kelly believes that focus – coupled with tenacity – will determine the outcome rather than an early-game ephemeral emotions.
“Guys have to be locked in. The challenge this week was to be a smarter football team,” he said. “We’ll have to be a smarter football team, a more efficient football team and then just a great will to win. We have to bring that as well.
“Sometimes if you’re blocked in the boundary you’ve got to get off blocks. If you’re covered, you’ve gotta get uncovered. That element to football is about want and desire and a will to win. Our guys are at home, it’s a place they enjoy playing. We expect to play very, very well against a really good team in Georgia Tech.”
Discounting a matchup with FCS foe Alcorn State last week and dating back to a 35-10 win over *Virginia at the outset of November 2014, the Yellow Jackets have rushed for the following yardage totals:
- 476 yards with 9 rushing TD vs. Tulane to open 2015
- 452 yards with 6 rushing TD vs. Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl
- 331 yards en route to a 37-35 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game
- 399 yards in an upset of archrival Georgia in Athens
- 251 yards in a 28-6 win over Clemson – the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense last fall.
- 479 rushing yards with 5 rushing TD in a 56-28 victory over NC State
*Of note: Virginia, Notre Dame’s vanquished foe last Saturday, held the Rambling Wreck to 268 rushing yards albeit in a one-sided defeat. Notre Dame ran for just 15 fewer yards vs. the Cavaliers Saturday – on 30 fewer rushes.
CALM DOWN, SON – NOW GO SCORE 40
Since taking over in South Bend, Kelly’s quarterbacks – Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Everett Golson, and Malik Zaire – have produced an unblemished record in their respective initial starting assignments. And his Irish are a remarkable 15-1 under Kelly with a redshirt-freshman (Golson 11-1) or true freshman triggerman (Rees 4-0).
Kizer looks to keep the magic going in both categories – no otherworldly sleight-of-hand necessary.
“We want to make sure that he understands that he’s got a lot of good players around him and he’s not coming in here to be Malik,” said Kelly of his newest pupil. “He just has to be who he is and we’ll take advantage of who he is and we’ll take advantage of what his skills are.
“Recognize that he’s got a really good supporting cast around him. He doesn’t have to come in here and save the day. Be a solid, supporting member of the other 10 guys on this team and we’ll be good on offense. We’ll be really good.
“Just reminding him of we’ve got a system here in place and just do exactly what we ask you to do and you’re gonna be fine.”
As long as he leads touchdown drives…
YEAH, IT’S A LITTLE DIFFERENT
While Kizer enjoyed his initial dose of first-team snaps this week at practice, true freshman Brandon Wimbush also experienced a career first – much earlier than expected.
He’s being prepared to play. Second team reps. One hit away from bullets going live.
“He’s very, very talented. He’s also very nervous,” admitted Kelly. “We’ve just gotta calm him down a little bit. You could just see that he knows, ‘Holy crap, I am gonna play. They really mean it! I thought they were kidding.’
“He’s just a really exceptional athlete, he can run, he can throw, but we’ll just have to calm him down. He’s gonna have some jitters. I think once he gets in the flow of things he can do some really, really extraordinary things. Can throw the football a mile…we’ve just gotta get him settled in the game and have just got to let it come to him a little bit and let him calm down.”
Though plans for Wimbush to play Saturday were not revealed, Kelly offered previously he would not redshirt this season, the result of Zaire’s ankle injury last Saturday.