Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Too Close for Comfort?

Notre Dame’s offense can strike from anywhere at any time. But when faced with goal-to-go situations this season, the operation has encountered inefficiencies.

They’ve scored from 91 yards out on the ground and from 75 through the air. They’ve run untouched for 70 yards across the goal line and from 66 and 59 yards out via the pass.

They’ve won a game with a 39-yard strike and controlled games with the garden-variety 30, 25, and 22-yard trips to pay dirt.

Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish offense has produced 32 touchdowns with one from every 10-yard block of distance on the football field save for the 80-89 yard range. They’ve scored with defensive special teams (punt return and punt block) and in the kicking game (fake field goal) as well.

Through seven games, it’s 35 touchdowns and counting, with never fewer than three in a contest. And though they rank 82nd in overall Red Zone Scoring Percentage, Notre Dame’s 17 touchdowns in 28 red zone trips is an acceptable 60 percent success rate.

Its operation in Goal-to-Go situations, on the other hand…

Let’s just say for the 2015 Irish, it’s: First-and-Goal, Uh-Oh.

BACKFIELD IN PROGRESS

Of Notre Dame’s 39 snap opportunities this season when faced with 1st-and-Goal, or 1st-and-10 from the 12-yard line (as it presented multiple times), 23 have had negative results. They include:

4 pre-snap penalties
1 holding penalty
5 Stuffs (A sixth also included the hold above)
2 Tackled For Loss
8 Incomplete Passes (hurried once)
2 Fumbles, both lost
1 Interception

Conversely, 16 snaps contributed positively to the cause or directly resulted in points:

-- 4 “Standard” gains (3-6 yards)
-- 1 Made Field Goal
-- 6 TD Run (including 1st and 10 from 11)
-- 4 TD Pass
-- 1 TD Pass from fake field goal

Too many penalties, two costly turnovers, and two critical failures on 2-point conversion efforts equate to a shaky operation, at least relative to the yards-churning, point-producing machine that is the Irish offense when there’s more greenery between it and the end zone.

It should be noted that Notre Dame scores touchdowns more often than not in Goal-to-Go opportunities, hitting pay dirt 11 times in 16 such situations plus famously going 0-2 in two-point conversion tries. (Call it 11 for 18 considering the circumstances.)

In short, the Irish boast a top tier offense from outside their own 10- to- 12-yard line but inconsistencies arise in close.

“I think a lot of it is probably just continue to mature at the quarterback position,” said Kelly. “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.”

The inefficiencies likely involve the team’s backfield neophytes as well, as running backs C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, coupled with quarterback DeShone Kizer, have combined for 38 yards on 16 goal-to-go carries, a total that includes an 11-yard touchdown run by Prosise and a 7-yard score by Kizer.

That leaves 20 yards on 14 remaining carries.

The Irish offense will continue to score, but with a November slate likely to include cold-weather night games against Temple (8 pm), Pittsburgh (TBD), and Boston College (7:30 pm), plus the potential Playoff Play-In matchup at Stanford – rush defenses ranked #8, #36, #1, and #40 respectively – the ability to power it in when the field shrinks becomes paramount.

(Both Boston College and Temple have yielded just two rushing scores to date. The Owls have allowed foes just five touchdowns in 17 red zone chances; the Eagles just 4 in 11.)

“Now we have to take that and be Road Warriors,” said Kelly of his squad’s mental toughness shown to date. “That's the next question. You know, we have to beat Virginia late on the road and we lost to Clemson. That's yet to be determined about how we're playing on the road. That's the next challenge for this football team.

“And you've got to be mentally tough to handle the crowd. You've got to be mentally tough to be disciplined to go on the road and beat somebody.”

An undefeated November would likely include improvement at the shadow of the opponent’s goal.


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