Pitt week is upon us. Yawn. “But Mac, it’s Notre Dame’s longest rivalry outside of Navy, USC, Purdue and Michigan State.” So what? If we’re really committed to re-establishing a national schedule with a diverse set of teams, Pitt would be the first team I’d dump. I haven’t cared for the Panthers since ’82 when they were #1 in the country and crapped the bed against ND, duping us all into believing Faust was a decent coach. That, plus the fact I just miss Pitt’s classic blue-and-mustard unis.
Screw it. I want to talk about something else. How about the easiest of targets five weeks into the schedule, Coach Brian Kelly? More specifically, let’s talk about his offense.
There’s been criticism of Kelly’s offense since before he even took the job at Notre Dame, with pejoratives like “gimmicky,” “soft,” and my new personal favorite “metrosexual” used to describe its shotgun formations and multiple-receiver sets. The thing is, Kelly’s offense is neither gimmicky nor metrosexual. Recently deconstructed in an excellent Rivals article, his offense is in fact fairly basic. It’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about repetition and execution. And scoring. All the freaking time.
What we’re seeing with the 2-3 Irish is an unfinished project. The players are still learning their assignments, and our lack of depth at QB prevents Kelly from taking chances with Dayne Crist rushing the ball. You don’t think Kelly considers the running game a weapon? In his four starts in 2009, Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros averaged 86 yards rushing per game. And if you look even further down the Brian Kelly resume, you’ll find a Grand Valley State offense that utilized a “spread run” formation: power football with pulling guards and tackles, all from the shotgun. In 2001 that GVSU offense averaged more than 58 points (an all-time Div-II record) and 230 yards rushing per game.
We would all like Kelly to run the ball more. We would all like our o-line to show an ability to take over a game for seemingly the first time since the Lou era. But let’s at least acknowledge the possibility of success even if ND doesn’t manage to forge a power-I, old-school mentality in Kelly’s tenure.
In the history of the BCS era there’s been at least 10 “metrosexual” offenses that have won a BCS bowl, if not more: Boise State last year, Utah the year before that, West Virginia and Kansas in ’08, Boise and Louisville in ’07, West Virginia in ’06, Utah in ’05, Oregon in ’02, and Oregon State in ’01. And if not for the fact he had a physically gifted tight end for a QB for four years at Florida, Urban Meyer ‘s Gator NC-winning teams would have likely been right where Meyer’s teams were in his years at Bowling Green and Utah: barely cracking the Top 50 in rushing .
The NFL record book is even more compelling, with six of the last 11 Super Bowl winners utilizing pass-first offenses. That “gimmicky” shotgun offense now comprises well over 30% of the snaps in the NFL. And the first NFL team to take more than 50% of its offensive snaps from the shotgun formation was the 2008 New England Patriots, the single most productive offense in NFL history.
Yes, Stanford completely kicked our teeth in. And yes, Coach Jim Harbaugh has The Cardinal playing a mean, physical brand of football you can’t help but envy. But let’s not get so consumed by that beatdown that we can’t see the forest through the trees. (Pun very much intended.) Kelly’s offense works. With the right personnel in place—and that is happening as we speak—it can score gobs of points and be physical at the same time. Let’s at least let Coach Kelly finish pouring the foundation before declaring that the façade sucks. As Stanford was kind enough to remind us just this past week versus Oregon, in a game of power versus speed, speed wins.