Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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BY MATT JONES D uring the early days of pre- season practice, Notre Dame featured both junior DeShone Kizer and senior Malik Zaire with the first-team offensive group. The reality is that Notre Dame's playoff needle will not fluctuate much depending on who the start- ing quarterback is. Head coach Brian Kelly said as much during one of his preseason media availabilities. "I think you guys can probably say: Who are the top playmakers on offense?" Kelly said. "And if you had five of them, two of the five are the quarterbacks." How the Irish play around the quarterback — whoever that might be — will play a larger role in deter- mining whether the 27-season cham- pionship drought ends. With a defense still finding its footing under third-year coordina- tor Brian VanGorder, the offense will again be asked to score at a high clip. Led by a first-year starter in Kizer for most of the season, Notre Dame averaged 466.4 yards and 34.2 points per game in 2015, data that ranked 27th and 34th nationally, respectively, among the 127 Football Bowl Subdi- vision teams. That scoring average was the sec- ond highest at Notre Dame in the post-Lou Holtz era that began in 1997. The offensive line — which is led by a powerful left side of senior tackle Mike McGlinchey and ju- nior guard Quenton Nelson — was rated as the best in the country by Pro Football Focus. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has arguably the most stable position group in the program, routinely producing NFL Draft picks. Despite the multitude of weapons on offense, success in 2016 will still come down to the "ordinary things" on both sides of the ball, Kelly said. "We can't give up the catastrophic plays and turn the ball over on of- fense," the coach explained. " … If we take care of the football, if we control the line of scrimmage, no negative plays … those basic tenets of football that you hear all the time ad nauseam, if we do those ordinary things well, we're going to be a good football team." KEY AREAS ON OFFENSE 1. Average 200 yards rushing: Hit- ting the 200-yard rushing average over the course of a season has been a major indicator of success in Notre Dame's history. In the Brian Kelly era (2010-pres- ent), the Irish have been a mixed bag with the run. In Kelly's six years, Notre Dame has averaged 120.8, 165.8, 202.4, 149.0, 150.8 and 214.8 rushing yards in the regular season. In the two regular seasons where the Irish averaged 200 or more yards, the team went 22-2 — with the two defeats coming in 2015 by two points apiece (Clemson and Stanford). In the other four regular seasons, Notre Dame was a mediocre 30-18. Senior Tarean Folston and sopho- more Josh Adams, plus Kizer/Zaire, figure to produce a potent rushing attack, which is vital to Notre Dame's title hopes. Over the past 11 years, every na- tional champion but one rushed for more than 200 yards per game — including 2015 champion Alabama's 199.9 average. The teams that fin- ished in the Associated Press poll's top five in 2015 also eclipsed 200 yards rushing: No. 2 Clemson (223.0), No. 3 Stanford (223.7), No. 4 Ohio State (245.2) and No. 5 Oklahoma (222.1). 2. Improve in the red zone: Notre Dame converted red-zone opportu- nities into points just 81.1 percent of the time in 2015, which ranked 88th in the FBS. The Irish relied on plenty of big plays to do the scoring — they tallied what is believed to be a school-record 15 touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Ten of wide receiver Will Fuller's 14 touchdowns were scored on plays of 30 yards or more. Although Notre Dame largely overcame those red-zone problems en route to a 10-3 finish, the final two regular-season games were not kind. The offense scored just three touch- downs on 11 red-zone trips in those games and had four turnovers inside the 22-yard line. During a brief red-zone period in the Aug. 13 practice, the Irish strug- gled to score. Kelly said he wasn't worried about the results, focusing more on play installation. "We have enough guys that we cer- tainly feel like we can get the football in the end zone … your tight ends are going to be involved," Kelly said. "Certainly the quarterbacks. Run- ning the football." POSITION BATTLES The quarterback competition grabbed most of the headlines, but several spots were still up in the air. Here's a look at three position battles that were ongoing in the month of August. 1. Right guard: Sophomore Tristen Hoge and senior Colin McGovern are battling for the position, which was vacated by 30-game starter Steve El- mer. Elmer left the football program after graduating from the university in three years to pursue other op- portunities. Senior Hunter Bivin, once thought to be a leading contender at the posi- tion, has transitioned to left tackle, where he's backing up senior Mike McGlinchey. Freshman Tommy Krae- mer is now the second-team right tackle, with junior Alex Bars the so- lidified starter there. AN ENCORE IN 2016? After a banner offensive year in 2015, Notre Dame is hoping for similar output and a trip to the College Football Playoff Josh Adams, who ran for a school rookie-record 835 yards on just 117 carries last year, will try to help the Irish eclipse the 200-yards rushing-per- game mark in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Brian Kelly era. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA 40 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED

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