Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 24, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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6 SEPT. 24, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n year one (2017) under offensive coordinator Chip Long, Notre Dame made good on his vow — and then some — that the unit would take on the identity of a physical, power-running, play-action team. True to his word, Long's attack av- eraged 269.5 yards per game in 2017, easily the highest at the school in 21 seasons, or since Lou Holtz patrolled the sidelines in his final year with the Irish. Despite the graduation of top-10 NFL picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey along the line and the early departure of 1,430-yard rusher Josh Adams, Long maintained this preseason the identity cannot change. "It's always going to start with the run," Long said. "We might even be better this year at certain type of runs than we were last year. … Our goal is we want to run to win. "In the fourth quarter, the best team that can run the ball is going to win. That's our identity, that's who we want to be." Through two games, 24-17 and 24-16 victories over Michigan and Ball State, respectively, there has been some "identity theft." The Irish had yet to score a point in the fourth quarter when the games were on the line, and they were 105th nationally in rushing yards per game at 124.5, with 117 coming versus a Ball State defense that was among the worst last season, had new person- nel up front and just a week earlier allowed Football Championship Sub- division opponent Central Connecti- cut State 174 yards and 4.6 yards per carry (whereas the Irish averaged 2.9). "We're in that process of kind of figuring out our identity on the of- fensive side of the ball," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly admitted the day after the Ball State game. This includes two new backs in soph- omores Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis, who had to switch from wide receiver and quarterback, respectively, and three linemen aligned at new po- sitions. There's also the matter of not forcing senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush into a pocket passing role. Yet, under first-year Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, was it an aberration or a harbinger? Of the 28 designed run plays for Notre Dame's running backs, 16 gained two yards or less. The effort against Ball State could be a red flag … but Kelly wasn't seeing red just yet. "I've been in it long enough to know where the red panic button is," Kelly responded about the lack of production. "It's not even near my desk — but there's work to be done." The easy scapegoat is Quinn, who coached with Kelly for more than two decades at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati be- fore becoming the head coach at the University at Buffalo after the 2009 campaign and then rejoining Kelly as an analyst at Notre Dame in 2015. On one hand, the transition from Harry Hiestand, the Irish offensive line coach in the six seasons from 2012-17, seemed natural. They were on the same staff, so some semblance of continuity was in place. On the other, there was some percep- tion that Kelly's promotion of his long- time colleague was to the offense what his hiring of former comrade Brian VanGorder at defensive coordinator was in 2014 before getting ousted four games into the 2016 campaign. However, let's not make too many snap judgments based on two games. In VanGorder's second game at Notre Dame he began to be perceived as a Defensive Messiah after his Fighting Irish ended Michigan's NCAA record of 365 consecutive games without get- ting shut out with a 31-0 whitewash. "It's never quite as good as you think, it's never quite as bad," Kelly summarized. Quinn might be going through "Jim Colletto Syndrome." Colletto had the unenviable task of replacing the deposed Joe Moore, who coached at Notre Dame from 1988-96 after having already earned a reputation for his toughness and placing a pre- mium on fundamentals. Colletto didn't do bad work, and the 9-3 Irish in 1998 even averaged UNDER THE DOME IDENTITY THEFT The offensive line and running game are striving to bounce back after rough start Through two weeks, the Fighting Irish ranked only 105th nationally in rushing yards per game with 124.5 — well below last year's stellar 269.5 average. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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