Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

In order for the running game to help the Irish avoid scoring lapses, Notre Dame actually has to emphasize the rushing attack.

THE LAPSING IRISH

Notre Dame has played eight games this season, and five of them – one Irish win (Miami) and four losses (Texas, Michigan State, Duke and Stanford) – have included the opponent scoring at least 17 straight points.

• It was a 14-14 ball game in Austin when Texas scored a touchdown with 1:12 left in the first half, added another touchdown 31 seconds into the second half, and then a field goal five minutes later to cap a 17-0 run.

• Things were going along swimmingly for the Irish at home against Michigan State, leading 7-0 with a chance to take over near midfield. But a punt bounced off Miles Boykin, the Spartans recovered, and then manhandled the Irish for the next 36 points before a Notre Dame rally came up short.

• It looked as if the Irish would respond to a loss to Michigan State with a walk in the park against Duke. The Irish had a 14-0 lead six minutes into the game. But the Blue Devils responded by scoring the next 17 points over the next 17 minutes.

• The home losing streak would come to an end if the Irish simply built on their 10-0 halftime lead against Stanford, which was doing nothing offensively. But Notre Dame was shut out in the second half and the Cardinal scored all 17 of their points over the final 30 minutes.

• Up 17-0 before Miami had recorded a first down and 20-0 five minutes into the second quarter, Notre Dame’s offense fell flat and the special teams crumbled after holding Miami to two yards total offense in the first period. Thirty minutes, 27 Hurricane points.

While the defense certainly had to shoulder the blame for portions of those scoring streaks, particularly with the previous defensive coordinator, it generally fell on the shoulders of the Notre Dame offense.

• Texas: While the Longhorns were scoring 17 straight, the Notre Dame offense had two drives, seven plays, 11 yards.

• Michigan State: As the Spartans scored 36 straight, Notre Dame’s offense had six drives, 20 plays, 83 yards. None of the six drives were longer than 25 yards.

• Duke: After taking a 14-0 lead, the Irish had four drives, 16 plays, 61 yards and a fumble while the Blue Devils scored two touchdowns and a field goal.

• Stanford: Notre Dame never could add to its 10-0 lead. Over the final eight series, the Irish had 42 plays and 138 yards with a couple of interceptions. Seven of the series accounted for 27 plays, 77 yards.

• Miami: While the Hurricanes were scoring 27 straight points, the Irish were running five series with 23 plays for 86 yards and a couple of fumbled punts mixed in.

Call them the Lapsing Irish.
 
When asked about those long lapses earlier this week, Brian Kelly said a very curious thing.

“When you look at those periods, it’s consistency in running the football, and we’re not consistent in running the football,” Kelly said. “That lends itself to having some of those periods of not being consistent offensively.

“If you’re consistent running the football, we’re going to be scoring boatloads of points. We run hot and cold offensively because we haven’t established a consistency in running the football.”

If you knew nothing about Notre Dame’s offense, one would be inclined to think Kelly’s response was a reasonable explanation for those Irish scoring droughts.

But Kelly leaves a very important part out of the story, one that most people know by watching how the Irish play offense. They don’t run the football consistently well because they don’t run the football consistently.

When asked if running the football well might be a matter of simply handing it off more frequently, Kelly said:

“Yes and no because as you know when you’re in a spread offense, you may not have the option to run the football all the time. You have to be adept at finding ways to throw the ball that equals a run play, and we weren’t very good at that. We’re getting better at that.”

The lasting memory of Notre Dame’s 30-27 victory over Miami was the six carries for 74 yards in the final two drives of the game, including Josh Adams’ 41-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 27, and his 10- and 14-yarders that set up Justin Yoon’s game-winning field goal.

“That was a concerted effort for us this past week to make certain that we could throw the ball in some short-game/quick-game to make up for when the numbers just didn’t add up for us to run the ball consistently,” said Kelly of the Miami game.

But there wasn’t a concerted effort to run the football.

The running game was barely a diversion from the short passing game against Miami until the Irish scored the final 10 points of the game over the final half of the fourth quarter.

Adams carried six times in the final two drives for 70 yards; he carried six times for 24 yards in the previous three-and-a-half quarters. Tarean Folston carried three times within the first 55 minutes. Dexter Williams carried three times for three yards.

The quick-game is not an extension of the rushing attack, no matter how many times people use the cliché. There’s nothing about the short passing game that correlates to the running game between the tackles, other than it creates another way to get the ball into the hands of running backs in space.

It’s hard to stop long scoring streaks by the opposition and difficult to run the football well when the commitment to do it isn’t there. As long as that exists, so, too, will the scoring lapses.

THE NAVY YOU NEED TO KNOW

• Since 2011, Notre Dame has scored 56, 50, 38, 49 and 41 points against Navy for an average of 46.8 points per game. In the last three weeks, Navy has allowed 120 points (40 points per game). Opponents are averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 185.7 yards rushing per game against Navy. Last week, South Florida rushed for 412 yards (9.3 yards per carry!) with not one, not two but three players, including QB Quinton Flowers, rushing for at least 107 yards.

• This isn’t your father’s Navy team in terms of size. Four of five offensive linemen weigh at least 297 pounds with an average of 299.8 pounds. The three-man defensive front weighs 280 and 266 at end and 305 at the nose. The linebacker corps averages 237.2 pounds per man. Three of the four starting defensive backs weigh 196, 200 and 205. There are two receivers in Navy’s triple-option attack. Both stand 6-foot-4.

• Four-down territory is virtually anywhere from the Navy 40 and on. The Midshipmen are fifth in the nation on third down with a 51.1 percent conversion rate. Navy has attempted just two fourth downs per game, but the conversion rate is 57.1 percent. Last year, Notre Dame held Navy to 2-of-9 on third down, but the Midshipmen converted all four of their fourth-down attempts.

• A win over Notre Dame Saturday would tie head coach Ken Niumatalolo with Wayne Hardin for the most wins by a Navy coach over the Irish (three). Hardin beat Notre Dame in 1960, 1961 and 1963; Niumatalolo defeated Notre Dame in 2009-10.

• Notre Dame opened as a 5½-point favorite this week against Navy, which quickly moved to 7. The last time the Irish were a single-digit favorite against the Midshipmen was 2010 when 6½-point favorite Notre Dame lost , 35-17. As a double-digit favorite against Navy each of the previous five seasons, Notre Dame has covered the pointspread three times, including last year’s 41-24 victory (13-point favorite).

CLINGING TO YOUTH

Irish Illustrated has created an argument to bring back Brian Kelly in 2017.

If 2017 fails to live up to expectations – expectations should be nine or 10 victories – all bets are off. It then becomes time to look for (and find) an upgrade.

One of the arguments we’ve (I’ve) used to keep Kelly for 2017 is that virtually every athletic department gives a coach a chance the next year when the majority of the players participating this year return. He deserves that shot, in my opinion.

Notre Dame has embraced the youth claim, too. On the front page of this week’s press release, there are 16 “numbers” in its Countdown To Kickoff section. Half of those numbers refer to Notre Dame’s youth in some fashion, including 55 of the 61 players on the depth chart with eligibility in 2017 and 43 of the 61 players on the depth chart with at least two years eligibility.

That’s what publicity departments do. It’s their job. It’s the right thing to do as a program tries to build back up. Nothing wrong with that.

But the sooner Kelly and his players put down the youth crutch, the better off this team/program will be. Now two-thirds of the way into the season, Kelly should make a point of not mentioning Notre Dame’s youth anymore. No one wants to hear it, nobody cares, and it’s a built-in excuse for not competing at a higher level.

ODDS AND END(ZONES)

• Just once I’d like to go to Annapolis for the Notre Dame-Navy game. It’s called the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. It only holds 34,000, which is the big problem. But what an atmosphere that would be. The two teams will play for the 90th time this weekend, and no game has ever been played on the home field of the Midshipmen.
• I’ve heard the name Pat Narduzzi, the current Pittsburgh head coach, as a candidate for the Notre Dame job when it comes open. I’ve watched Narduzzi for the past two years with the Panthers. If you think Brian Kelly is combustible on the sideline, Narduzzi is unhinged. The worst part of it: he goes ballistic about calls that go against him that are completely correct calls. That makes him irrational and a less-than-ideal fit for Notre Dame.
• Okay, Lord. I’m ready. You can take me now. #GoCubsGo.
• The notion that the Chicago Cubs have “lost their charm” because they’re no longer “lovable losers” is garbage. How about having an organization that wins/makes the playoffs on a regular basis a la St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants? They’re a lot more lovable as winners. That “lost their charm” crap comes from sportswriters with too much time on their hands.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

A much-needed 3-1 bounce-back week. And on to this week…
• Under 52 ½ Nebraska @ Ohio State
• Over 64 ½ Notre Dame vs. Navy
• Over 80 ½ Texas @ Texas Tech
Season record vs. spread: 17-12


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