Things Are Gonna Get Easier

Notre Dame’s running game is off to a slow start, but recent history illustrates that’s the rule, not the exception. History also suggests October’s outlook is brighter.

In the four days that followed Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss against Michigan State, Irish head coach Brian Kelly and team captain Mike McGlinchey unwittingly illustrated two of life’s essential truths.

  1. Time heals all wounds
  2. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder

When offered (rhetorically, it seemed) that Notre Dame’s running game “took a step back” Saturday night against the Spartans, Kelly countered,” I tend to disagree with it after evaluating our offense,” later adding, “I don't think we had too many difficulties at all when we came in and watched the film against Michigan State in the ground game.”

Twenty-four hours later, McGlinchey doubled down on that notion one that flies in the face of statistical reality.

“I don't think we had too many difficulties at all when we came and watched the film against Michigan State in the ground game,” he said.

Sports fans can appreciate a united front among coaches and players, but just in case Notre Dame’s film room doesn’t come equipped with a printer, allow me to present the following:

Texas: 46 carries, 206 yards, 4.5 per rush
Nevada: 46 carries, 239 yards, 5.2 per rush
Michigan State: 25 carries, 57 yards, 2.3 per rush

Where Kelly and McGlinchey, and then reality diverge, another notion – one likewise based on statistical evidence – appears ready present. That is, Harry Hiestand’s offensive line is likely to improve as the season progresses.

In fact, with one exception, September has been the running game’s least productive month since the long-time offensive line sage joined the program for the 2012 campaign:

2012 – In 3 of first 4 games Notre Dame rushed for under 125 yards
2013 – In 3 of first 4 games Notre Dame rushed for under 100 yards
2014 – In 3 of the first 5 games Notre Dame rushed for under 150 yards
2015 – The clear exception, as Notre Dame amassed 1,139 rushing yards in first 4 contests. (Holy Moses)

So when Kelly offers, “I don't stand here right now worried about our running game. I believe our running game is going to be where it needs to be,” he’s probably right. To wit:

2012 October and November: 561 rushing yards in Games 1-4; 1,111 yards in Games 5-8; 868 yards in Games 9-12.
2013 October and November: 453 rushing yards Games 1-4; 634 yards Games 5-8; 701 yards Games 9-12
2014 October and November: 635 rushing yards Games 1-4; 720 yards Games 5-8; 718 yards Games 9-13 (includes the bowl and even the epic losing skid prior)
2015 October and November: 1,139 rushing yards Games 1-4; 671 rushing yards Games 5-8; 758 rushing yards Games 9-12.

Kelly was clearly on point in his assessment that the Irish “never got in the kind of committed run flow (needed) in the second half because we got down so quickly.

For Irish fans, and subscribers to this site, that reality is a long-held source of frustration, as Notre Dame has ultimately lost a whopping 13 of the 15 games in which Kelly’s offenses failed to carry the football at least 30 times. (Wins occurred vs. Utah in 2010 and Air Force in 2011.)

A TELL-TALE THREE GAME STRETCH

Can the Irish rushing attack regain its mojo over a three-game stretch vs. ACC foes Duke (home), Syracuse (neutral in the New Meadowlands) and at N.C. State?

“I feel like we’re coming together as a unit,” said junior center Sam Mustipher. “We had three new guys making their first starts (at their positions) against Texas. It took some time but I finally feel like we’re coming together as a unit.”

Why the lag in early-season cohesion after such promise in August?

“On game day, things are flying around, people are flying around. You have to be able to pick up blitzes and protections and the biggest thing for us is communication up front,” he said. “We have to see things through one set of eyes at all times.”

At times they have, such as against Texas in the opener, against Nevada, and against Michigan State in the first quarter (8 rushes, 44 yards, 1 TD.)

And ultimately, the Irish offense has likely produced enough points (50, 39, and 28) to be 3-0. Instead, they're 1-2 and in desperate need of a three-game winning streak before rival Stanford hits South Bend for Game #7, pre-bye week in mid-October.

“I think that we have done an unreal job with putting points on the board and having those plays that can show that we are the best in the country,” said McGlinchey when asked what he feels good about offensively.

“Definitely want to improve on the consistency of doing so,” McGlinchey added. “We don't want to have lulls in games and times where we don't get our jobs done and I think that that's what we are constantly working towards is that ability to play the same way at all times throughout the course of a game. We're getting there.”

History backs up that belief.  


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