Captain’s Corner with Marc Edwards

Finding offensive balance made more difficult by early deficit, a running game that fell nearly 100 yards under its per game rushing average during the regular season.

(Editor’s note: Edwards focused on the offense for Irish Illustrated’s Captain’s Corner segment.)

When you get down so quickly, so early – right away you’re down 14-0 – it puts a whole different slant on the rest of the game. The offense put up relatively good numbers, not quite what they were doing all year, but 400-plus yards, which isn’t bad.

But when you get behind that early, everything you do is not good enough unless you’re scoring touchdowns on every possession. It clouds how well the offense performed. It wasn’t one of their top performances, but it wasn’t awful and it kept them competitive. When you’re down 14-0 so quick, it makes your offensive performance look a lot less impressive because you’re chasing as opposed to just going out and playing.

Notre Dame finished about 100 yards below its normal rushing output, but when you’re down 14-0 before anything’s transpired, it makes it difficult to run the ball and you get out of your game plan a little bit.

I thought (DeShone) Kizer threw the ball pretty well for the most part. I was actually watching the game with an Ohio State guy and he felt like there were segments when they couldn’t stop Kizer. It was like the Clemson game a little bit where he sort of got real hot and hitting guys and moving the ball pretty well with a nice controlled passing game, and then we got the big play with (Will) Fuller that was nothing but a five-yard pass that he made a great individual play on.

I felt like we were almost forced to be one-dimensional. Kizer ran the ball 14, 15 times, and granted, he didn’t get much yardage, but that’s from the sacks as well. We were very one-dimensional for the most part because we got behind so early.

We ran the ball like heck against Stanford and I thought we could run it against Ohio State, but the early deficit makes it difficult to do that. With Ohio State scoring four touchdowns on its first five drives, you handcuff yourself.

Maybe Brian Kelly felt like we weren’t going to be able to stop them, so he had to throw the ball more. The whole game plan changed. Then there’s that feeling of helplessness because you can’t stop them.

I thought Notre Dame might be able to run the football a little better than it did when Ohio State lost their tackle, Adolphus Washington, to suspension, and then Joey Bosa early in the game. There was improvement after Bosa left because he was making plays early and we weren’t doing a whole lot with him in there. But with Ohio State scoring, it becomes difficult to establish the run when you’re chasing like that.

Even with Durham Smythe apparently 100 percent and back at tight end, Notre Dame couldn’t get the tight end involved, which was missing this year from the offense. You can’t get the speed and feel of the game on the practice field, so for Smythe, it was like another season-opener for him. If he were a proven veteran, maybe he would have been a bit more prepared to make a quick impact.

It’s just a hard game to talk about offensively. The numbers were good, but it was just blah offensively, especially when you’re giving up nearly 300 yards rushing.

We’re a top 10 talent right now. We’re not quite a top five talent right now. Even before the game, all things being equal, Ohio State is more talented than us. They’ve got better players overall.

I hear people say, ‘Brian Kelly chokes in big games,’ but in big games, the other team usually has better talent. Ohio State and Alabama have the most talent year-in and year-out. Can we beat them? Yeah, if we play well, and we really didn’t play that well.

Urban Meyer is a great coach. His bowl record is 10-2. He wins just about every time his team plays. It’s tough to maintain a dynasty like Nick Saban has because he’s bounced around, but he’s bounced around to the right places and just keeps on winning.

Now Notre Dame loses some key players. We knew Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle were out the door. Now the news that C.J. Prosise and Fuller are going too, which is a big blow.

It will be interesting to see the quarterback competition we have between Kizer and Malik Zaire. We’ll see if Zaire does a Braxton Miller-type thing, but I know he thinks of himself as a quarterback and wants to be a quarterback. Miller was a two-time player of the year quarterback and he got beaten out going into the next season. Granted, there was an injury there, but he was beaten out.

As much as Kizer ran the ball this year, they are still very different running quarterbacks. With Zaire, there’s a lot of zig and zag, and with Kizer, he’s almost like a fullback running it. Granted he’s a lot faster than a fullback and he has good vision, but he’s a bigger body out there that can take a hit.

It’s a tough one. It’s a good problem to have, but sometimes this stuff kind of works itself out. Someone could step up and be a clear-cut favorite.

I think we’re set everywhere else. We lose arguably our best two linemen, but the other three guys give you plenty of experience coming back, and then we have Alex Bars coming back from an injury, who I thought played pretty darn well when he was in there. So we essentially have four starters back.

Hopefully, we’ll have a tight end presence again, which has always been a staple of Notre Dame’s. We were really missing that, which will help make up for some experience issues at wide receiver. We might have guys on the roster who can fly, but until they can fly and catch the rock, they’re unproven.

Possession-wise, we’re fine with some of the guys we’ve got. I think Corey Robinson will really break through next year, and I know we’ve got some good young guys as well. They lose a lot in Fuller, but there’s talent there and I’m looking forward to seeing how the offense evolves with those two quarterbacks.


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