Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 18, 2021

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

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6 SEPT. 18, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame averaged 2.76 yards on 26 designed run plays and won a game. Those woeful rushing numbers would have made winning a game a non- starter in many of Brian Kelly's first 11 seasons as head coach. Not in 2021, it appears. Notre Dame still scoring 41 points and defeating Florida State Sept. 5 in its 2021 opener is a testament to the strengths it has elsewhere — an aggressive quarter- back, an elite tight end and a go-to No. 1 receiver. The trio of Jack Coan, Michael Mayer and Kevin Austin Jr. delivered many of the big plays that kept the Irish offense buoyant despite its absent run threat. In all, Notre Dame called passes on 44 of its 70 plays from scrimmage (35 throws, four sacks, four scrambles and a fumbled snap). That's a 62.8 pass- play rate and a 180-degree pivot from its 2020 hammer-in-search-of-nail rush- ing identity. The Irish threw the ball on all but one of their five short-yardage third and fourth downs. Two of those were touchdown passes. One game against a Power Five team and another against overmatched Group of Five opponent Toledo is too early to declare confidently Notre Dame is shifting to a pass-centric, aggressive and downfield-geared offense this year. One outing against a decent Seminoles team with those rushing problems and that passing prowess, though, invites such a possibility. But it is safe to say Notre Dame won't be going full Air Raid. Its backfield re- turned a 1,125-yard rusher in junior Kyren Williams and a sub-4.4 runner in sophomore Chris Tyree. They will be involved, as their 25 combined carries against Florida State confirm. Neither was the problem Sunday. They were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 72 percent of their car- ries. (Williams' 2020 hit-at-line rate was 39.8 percent, for comparison). All but 12 of their 73 combined rushing yards against Florida State came after first contact. Yes, one-game samples can be statis- tical anomalies, but this is clear: If Notre Dame is going to pose a threat on the ground this year, its offensive line has to provide more help. Notre Dame can't settle for moderate impact from two dy- namic players, even if the Irish come to learn they're best served leaning on a potentially dynamic passing offense. "We've got to run the ball better," Kelly said after the Irish's 41-38 defeat of Florida State. "Clearly that will be an emphasis. We're not here to throw the ball all over the yard and not have a solid run game." The next day, after watching tape, Kelly didn't sound concerned about Notre Dame's ability to reach that point. Notre Dame wasn't going to field an- other Joe Moore Award finalist offen- sive line in one year. Not with four new starters. Not when a freshman and a Conference USA graduate transfer are two of them. Nor was that new group likely to be at its peak cohesiveness and ceiling on opening night. UNDER THE DOME WORK IN PROGRESS Notre Dame rushing attack's in-season evolution will be critical for offense Junior running back Kyren Williams had 18 carries for just 42 yards in Notre Dame's first game of the year at Florida State. PHOTO BY BOB MYERS

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