NOTRE DAME, Ind. – With each passing week and each passing win this season there have been new challenges for the Notre Dame football team. The primary challenge since day one has been to “avoid the noise” that comes with success. That challenge doesn’t change for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish now that they are 5-0 after a 41-3 dismantling of Miami.
The noise is only going to get louder though, especially with ESPN’s College Game Day coming to town for next weekend’s game against Stanford. It will mark the first trip to Notre Dame for college football’s signature show since the 2005 “Bush Push” game against USC.
“It’s a day in the life of the Notre Dame football program,” Kelly said on Sunday in his weekly conference call with media. “It’s kind of business as usual, but having said that, we’ll have to remind 18 to 21 year-olds about how they got here and continue that same message.”
Kelly also mentioned that his team did a good job deflection attention last week when NFL Films crews were busy following them around every day with boom microphones and cameras for a TV special. While tuning-out external factors is important, Kelly also acknowledged the favorable light having Game Day on campus will bring to his program.
“You want to be in that group of football programs that has College Game Day on your campus,” he said. “You want to be that program that appeals to the audience that we’re out recruiting.”
“I think you want to be in that ‘in’ crowd. You don’t want to be on that other side looking in. All those things are great. We’re excited about the spotlight being here in South Bend and for our program. I’ll just work real diligently this week to keep our guys on task.”
Growth From Golson
Everett Golson didn’t start at quarterback, but he had his first true “multi threat” game by utilizing both his ability to run and pass the ball. Golson rushed for 51 yards on six carries while also going 17-for-22 for 181 yards passing the ball. The zone read was installed in the offensive game plan to give Golson the option to run if he had the right look from the defense.
“This is a disciplined approach to everything we do,” Kelly said. “Not only in the passing game, not only in the management of the game, but also in the running game. I personally thought that once we got him running a little bit he seemed a whole lot more comfortable in the game and I would think that we would consider continuing that route moving forward.”
Golson did fumble the ball twice Saturday night, but Miami was not able to recover either of them. Kelly says the reason Golson had not been used more as a runner this season was the fact that he did not like the way his young quarterback carried the ball in practice – giving merit to the old saying “You play like you practice”.
“Probably our biggest concern of running him was that we didn’t want the ball on the ground,” Kelly explained. “But we’re working at it. In practice he’s better at it. He’s cognizant of it. He’s aware of it and as he continues to protect it better each and every week at practice we’ll continue to run him more.”
Notre Dame’s defense is now ranked No. 2 in scoring defense among FBS teams. After allowing just a field goal to the Hurricanes, the Irish are now allowing just 7.8 points a game – second only to Alabama’s 7.0 average (both through five games).
The stingy defensive philosophy is one that Kelly chose to build his team around when he arrived at Notre Dame, and the defense he and Bob Diaco have put together has gotten stronger in each of their three years on campus. It’s also a contrast to the shootout offensive style Kelly was used to in his past stops.
“The blueprint here is to not try to outscore people and turning it into a track meet,” he said. “It’s to control the line of scrimmage, it’s to play great defense (and) to be solid in special teams. It’s just the choice of the way I want our program to evolve.”
The Irish defense held a Miami team that had totaled 1,260 yards and 86 points in its last two games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State to 285 yards and three points Saturday night. They did it without forcing a turnover or collecting a sack, but they were still able to get enough pressure on Hurricane quarterback Stephen Morris.
“We were able to take away the depth of the pocket,” Kelly described of what his front seven was able to do. “There is no depth in the pocket. In other words, we get a great push from our nose and our inside that it’s hard (for a quarterback) to see downfield. You have to move your feet, which takes you out of timing.”
“A lot of the passing game is built upon the ability to step- up (in the pocket) and have great timing and we do a very good job of disrupting timing within our scheme and that continues to be our biggest strength.”
What makes Notre Dame’s defensive prowess even more impressive is the vast array of offenses they have encountered in their five games – from Navy’s option, to Michigan State’s power attack, Michigan and Denard Robinson’s dual threat capabilities, and the speed and vertical passing game of Miami.
“We have not been allowed to really, because of the teams we’ve played, get into all of our zone coverage looks,” Kelly explained. “And we’ve got a multitude of them. They probably saw three or four different zone looks that they had not seen all year because of the games that we’ve played.”
The biggest breakdowns the Fighting Irish defense had all night came in Miami’s first series. Speedster Phillip Dorsett dropped what would have been a 72-yard touchdown on the game’s first offensive play and then dropped a potential 43-yarder just moments later. Kelly blamed the lapse in the ND secondary on his team not yet being back at game speed after a bye week.
“We were in great coverage. There was a burst at the top of the route that we did not match with the same kind of urgency,” Kelly began. “We corrected that. After they came to the sideline (safeties) coach (Bob) Elliott and (cornerbacks) coach (Kerry) Cooks got on the phone right away and made the corrections with how they needed the burst to stay on top of the route and it wasn’t an issue the rest of the game.”
Kelly says Miami tried to go to those same routes later in the game, but was unable to do so, because the Irish secondary had them covered. ND was able to keep the ball in front of them the rest of the night.
Kelly says a few players were “banged-up” during Saturday’s game, but nothing was “major”. Wide receiver T.J. Jones had a slight ankle injury, Theo Riddick had an elbow that was bruised enough that he missed the second half, John Goodman’s back “locked-up”, and Tyler Eifert had stitches for a laceration of his elbow.
“Three stitches in his elbow,” Kelly said of Eifert. “We got the stitches in it after the game. (We) looked at it and it looked clean (there was) a lot of dirt from the field and the turf itself. We got it cleaned-out. No infection. He’ll be good to go on Tuesday.”