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Notre Dame Football

Physicality and Experience at the Core of Notre Dame's Process

November 10, 2020

2012 was a season Notre Dame fans remember fondly. 

The close games. Manti Te' o making every single play. The excitement the program was on track. 

Then Notre Dame was humbled in the National Title game and it was then Brian Kelly knew where he needed to develop his program. 

"From an offensive standpoint, the physicality on the offensive line coupled with size on the outside that can win one-on-one matchups," Kelly said of the 2020 team. "We really didn't have – TJ Jones was an outstanding player, (Davaris) Daniels was coming into his own.

"We have a veteran quarterback in Ian Book. Everett (Golson) was a young quarterback.

"There were some really good pieces about that team, but this team obviously has a lot more experience, depth, athleticism and speed. In many areas, it's quite different from '12."

The emphasis was to get stronger and more physical in the trenches. 

It has taken a few years, but since 2017, Notre Dame has become one of the most physical teams in the country and it was on display on Saturday. 

Nine Clemson players left the field due at certain points in the game and the Irish took control of the game in the trenches. 

"Physically stronger, faster across the board defensively," Kelly stated. "We had individual players in '12 who were certainly as good as any player on this team, but overall, on all three levels, it's a more physical, faster football team across the board."

The physicality starts in the trenches, but it's also carried over to the skill positions. Tight end Tommy Tremble has been a walking highlight in the run game and on Saturday, running back Kyren Williams showed off his will to block. 

"The focus was for our backs to be more active in protections," explained Kelly. "Clemson ran a lot of twist games and stunt games that knocks off your offensive linemen. Even though we were in a six-man protection, the back didn't get out a lot. They limited us a little bit in terms of our check-down opportunities. 

"We gave up some potential check-down opportunities that Ian could have because we left the back in to pick up some of those games that inevitably knock off a lineman because they're so aggressive in picking off linemen in their twist stunts. We felt we needed to give something up and that was the back not getting out." 

Kelly also has made an effort to keep his team old. Sure, Notre Dame recruits 3-and-out guys like Kyle Hamilton, but most of the roster will be in South Bend for 4-5 years. 

It allows Notre Dame to be an experienced team, but it also requires some sacrifices.

Receivers Avery Davis and Javon McKinley are prime examples of older guys who have started to come into their own. 

Davis has played every skill position on offense, while McKinley battled consistency issues. 

Both players stuck with the process and came up big when Notre Dame needed them the most against Clemson. 

"There's a lot of work that goes into those relationships and developing trust and sticking with the program, but also letting them know that we still believe in you," said Kelly. "Even though it's taken some time, your opportunity will show itself and when it does, we believe that you're gonna make plays. There's a great amount of satisfaction when you see those guys have the kind of success against top-level talent.

"Avery Davis was running away from everybody the other night. Javon McKinley was taking the ball and making plays. He ran away from the corner that he was going against, who was one of the finer corners in the country. We probably needed to get him the ball a couple more times. So yeah, great satisfaction to see the development. That's what you want in your program. 

"You want to see guys later in their careers continuing to see their development and that to me, people so many times talk about hallmark moments, I look at it from a different perspective. To me, program development is when your older players are still developing and when they get a chance to play, can play championship-level football. So yeah, it's satisfying."

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