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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame offense sets pace on its terms

October 26, 2020

No, it isn't letting the air out of its offense.

Rather, Notre Dame is almost to the midway point in this 2020 season, an abbreviated, ACC-affiliated, COVID-19 truncated campaign, wholly leaning into its dominant defense and ground-pounding offense.

Sure, quarterback Ian Book is still capable of picking apart teams through the air – see Pittsburgh, last Saturday, and Book's 312-yard, three-touchdown performance – but as the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (5-0, 4-0 ACC) continue openly discussing their championship aspirations, shortening games might be the best way toward extending their season into the College Football Playoffs.

Under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and a veteran offensive line among the best in college football, Notre Dame is tied for the top spot in offensive time of possession, at 34 minutes per game, and features a rushing attack averaging 232 yards per game, better than 5 yards per carry.

“This is strictly about personnel and making sure you are playing the kind of football that is geared toward the strengths of your offense,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said during his Monday press conference. “We said from Day 1 that this should be centered around the offensive line and the tight ends, which is the strength.

“We didn't return a veteran group of wide receivers. If we had four wide receivers … if I had Will Fuller and Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin and TJ Jones and whomever. Michael Floyd and whoever, we might be in four wide receivers and throwing it.

“I've always believed that a balanced offense is that you are equally good at running it as you are throwing it. Then, you support it by player over play. This year it is about the players that is dictating the offense, not the particular play. That's why we look the way we look.”

Aside from the offense's overall ability to lean on its running game, with aerial work largely supplemented by tight ends Tommy Tremble and freshman phenom Michael Mayer, Notre Dame is developing one of the ACC's top tailback tandems in redshirt-freshman Kyren Williams and true freshman Chris Tyree. They're averaging 148 rushing yards per game together, and Williams already is more than halfway to a 1,000-yard season in his first as the starter.

Philosophically, Notre Dame in essence is doing more with less. It is taking its absolutely best personnel and augmenting those groupings with play-calling that allows for maximum success.

This year, that means heavy doses of the ground game – including Book, five Irish ball-carriers own at least 17 carries on the season – and working forward from that point.

Tempo still is dictated, but on Notre Dame's terms.

“We have a list of what we call snake plays or tempo plays; we had 24 of them last year,” Kelly said. “We've pared that down considerably, because we're really going to be focusing a lot more on multiple formations and when you get into multiple formations in motion, it's hard to play fast, quite frankly. In playing fast, you have to be in a much more static alignment, lining up and playing fast.

“We're moving our tight ends around. We want to get into leveraged positions with our tight ends. So, when we made the decision that we were going to be utilizing multiple tight ends within our formation, it's important that you leverage the defense with those tight ends. Consequently, you're not going to be in as many of those hurry up situations or tempo situations.”

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