ONE DIMENSION? ONE REALLY GOOD DIMENSION…
“Do you want lobster, or do you want steak?”
Either choice seems fine, right? But what if you want both?
Well if you do, you’re probably a football fan or member of the media, so says Irish head coach Brian Kelly -- just not directly.
“We're averaging 500 yards a game and 40 points a game,” said Kelly after multiple questions regarding early-season inefficiencies in his offense’s running game. “I don't know how to answer the question other than it's a give and take for our offense based upon how teams are playing us.
“If I was to stand here in front of you at the start of the season and say ‘Hey, we're going into the fifth game and averaging 40 points a game, I probably would take it. And 500 yards in offense.”
Those yards and those points have come largely as a result of the arm (and certainly the arm and legs) of quarterback DeShone Kizer:
- 66 passing first downs vs. 38 rushing
- 14 of the team’s 25 touchdowns are due to Kizer passes while six of the 11 rushing scores are thanks to his ability to tuck and run
- A passing yardage total (1,639) that will likely double up the rushing complement currently accrued (838) by the end of Game Six against North Carolina State.
Still, Kelly shot down the media-driven notion that the running game is struggling.
“I don't know that we see it the same way,” he said. “I think we throw it very, very well. I've always wanted to throw it equally as well as running it, and if you let us throw the football all over the field we're going to throw it and we won't run it as much.
“Are there things we can get better at in the running game? Absolutely. But we've been afforded the opportunity to throw the ball around the field. Teams have wanted to pressure our run game and I think a lot of that has been look at all these young receivers they have (saying) ‘Let's challenge them’ and teams have, and we've been up to the challenge.
“If they want to keep doing that we have to keep proving that we can throw the football, and I think you'll see that running game come back into more balance.”
Kelly offered that one notable fourth down rushing failure Saturday was due in large part to an ill-advised decision to cut-back into traffic rather than sprint with the football to the vacated left side as designed – for a would-be fourth-down touchdown.
“There are things we think we can get better at and one of them is trust what we're calling and take that ball and get it to the perimeter,” he said, offering, “We don't see a missing link. We see fundamentals not in play in certain instances. And some of it is guys wanting to do too much outside the realm of the offense, and some of it is just the basic fundamentals that sometimes you don't get with experienced players.”
The Irish offense ranks sixth nationally at 16.4 yards per completion. Among the five teams ahead of them, four employ the triple-option and the fifth, Toledo, boasts the nation’s third-ranked offense overall.
DeShone Kizer’s 1,567 yards ranks 12th nationally. He’s registered a 3.5-1 TD-INT ratio through the first five contests.
IT’S CHECKERS, NOT CHESS
Kelly and former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder were criticized heavily for the decision to employ a three-down, nickel (3-3-5) defensive alignment for the better part of the contest against Texas, a power-running team with a trio of 250-plus pound ball carriers.
The three-down look returned against Syracuse, a pass-heavy team that looks to use every grain of grass (err, synthetic fiber) to stress a defense.
More three-man fronts (3-4-4) are expected as the 2016 season progresses, pending the foe.
“I like three-man. I've always liked the balance of the three-man front,” Kelly offered. “It will be part of what we do. It won't be all of what we do. We will mix it in.
“Having the ability to change up where those guys lineup is going to be more effective for us, and I think more than anything else.”
Kelly noted the past 10 days have offered him a chance to better evaluate his personnel.
“For me this has been an evaluation of our personnel and fitting the defense to our personnel. It's really about the players not the particular scheme. So we're fitting the players to the scheme not the scheme to the players. So you're seeing some people move around to fit to the way I want our defense to look.”
Kelly added that the three-down front affords more players a chance to get on the field in roles for which they’re better suited.
“It’s twofold,” he said. “It gets more guys on the field that I want to see out there that can help us win, and it's a structure that I like in certain situations.”
COMBATING THE INHERENT DISADVANTAGE
A whopping 21 FBS football teams average more than 500 yards per game, including Notre Dame’s foe this week, N.C. State. (The Irish average 495.4). Somehow, 59 more average more than 400 yards of total offense.
Remarkably, 29 programs score at least 40 points per game (including the Wolfpack, an even 40.0 compared to Notre Dame’s 39.8) with another 19 squads topping 35 per (the equivalent of five touchdowns).
Sixty (60!) including Notre Dame surrender at least 400 yards of total offense weekly. (N.C. State is the nation’s 21st best defense in this regard, yielding only 321.5).
Offense rules college football, a fact first espoused on these pages by defensive guru (at least relatively speaking) Bob Diaco.
Kelly is well aware of the modern reality, and not only because it presents weekly on his front porch.
“We have another really good team we're playing this week and we just have to understand that it's hard to win,” he said.
“Just look at college football. Offense are allowed to do a lot, it's cheating on offense right now. We're playing with a lot of young, inexperienced players (offensively) and we're averaging 40 points and 500 yards. It's crazy; it's hard. There are so many things that put you in conflict on defense.
“As I've gotten to spend more time on defense it's hard, and so you've got to have something else going for you and that is you've got to have trust. You've got to have a belief. You've got to enjoy playing. You've got to have energy! If you don't have those special ingredients playing on defense, you're in trouble. You're in big trouble.
“If you look around college football right now, there are some great programs giving up a lot of points. There are some really good players on those defenses. So it's more than just scheme. It's more than just how many stars you got next to them. You've got to have other things going for you, and we're not going to lose that again.”