Notre Dame, Ind. – Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell held court with the media following Saturday night’s 41-31 victory over USC.
It was Russell’s best single-game performance since returning from suspension last season, and though he eventually dealt out enough self-descriptive platitudes to appease reporters looking for a sound byte or quote of note, the still-improving senior first offered a moment of critical self-assessment.
“I play a little raw,” said Russell of his previous outings best described as good but nowhere near great. “I have to constantly fine-tune everything.”
Russell was speaking introspectively but might as well have instead been commenting on the program’s best side of scrimmage, his offensive counterparts. Because after another 30-plus point outing, and another contest in excess of 450 yards, a prevailing opinion from Notre Dame’s comeback over its tormentors from Troy stands above the rest:
The offense is going to get better.
“I think a lot of it is probably just continue to mature at the quarterback position,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “I think some of (Saturday’s mid-game scuffles) had a little bit to do with the tight end position and we need to be a little bit better on the perimeter with our tight end blocking.”
“We had a couple penalties there that put us behind. Certainly, anytime you're talking about offensive production, it's limiting some of the negative plays, the penalties, the turnovers. I think as a big picture, limiting the negative plays and continued development at the quarterback position.”
BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
While Irish fans and its daily media continue their fruitless search to improve Notre Dame’s inconsistent defense, consider the following.
1.) Generally accepted defensive weaknesses include overall pass rush acumen and inconsistencies at both middle linebacker and free safety. Likewise, the Irish appear married to a base defense rather than nickel or dime packages after losing nickel Shaun Corner and dime ‘backer Drue Tranquill to season ending injuries.
Are the pass rush, middle ‘backer or safety play, or sub package options likely to improve greatly in November?
2.) Conversely, Notre Dame’s offense has a developing quarterback that of late added the read-option element to his arsenal. It boasts an All-American running back still learning the position, plus a bevy of capable, evolving skill position players in support of star threat Will Fuller.
Those parts are augmented by an offensive line that excels in pass protection (against everyone) in front of a quarterback whose main discernible weakness – an inner play-clock when working through his progressions – should improve with incremental experience and study.
Isn’t it thus reasonable to believe the Irish offense can improve most, if not all of those elements over the next six weeks and five games?
3.) Finally, how many points would a10-1 Notre Dame team need to beat Stanford (the Cardinal scored 41 vs. USC; 56 vs. UCLA) in Palo Alto? How many would it need to take down TCU/Baylor, Alabama, or Ohio State, thereafter?
Admittedly, defensive improvements – playing four quarters instead of three ranks as Kelly’s key – are essential. So too is the continued game-changing efforts of the squad’s suddenly valuable specialty units.
But it’s Kelly’s still-learning, still-evolving, ever-improving offense that possesses the most room to grow.
If they do, an 11-1 finish and chance at much higher stakes thereafter remains in play.