“Yes, but can they run it when everyone knows they are going to?”
That has been the question, hasn’t it? Prior to this season, Notre Dame has been a better running team under Brian Kelly than they had been any season since the days of Holtz in the late 80’s and 90’s. The 2012, 2015, and 2017 were historically good running teams for the Kelly’s troops. In that sense, Kelly was giving the Irish faithful something that had long wanted since they were last a national power. At least that’s what it seemed in the box score. But, it didn’t really feel that way while watching.
It’s not as though Kelly’s Irish were devoid of power football in his previous 10 seasons, but it always felt scheme heavy. They’d run for power if the numbers allowed for it, and if they didn’t then they’d get stuffed or they’d just opt to do something else. Which can still be effective, of course, touchdowns are touchdowns no matter how they are scored, but it still felt unsustainable, at least against the best teams. And that has proven out. But, this isn’t really about effectiveness, it’s about aesthetics and identity.
Cause, let’s be honest, the thing is being a power running team just feels good. You know, lining up a bunch of big guys all bunched together and watching them mash into the opponent is awesome. It’s sexy. And other people think it’s awesome and sexy too. Against North Carolina, Notre Dame simply lined up in a heavy formation and people were oohing and ahhing.
It is very ironic that Brian Kelly brought in his former quarterback Tommy Rees, someone known as a chucker, to usher in this era of power and dominance up front, but that is exactly what he’s done. He’s given the fans what they’ve wanted for the last 25 years. They line up with tight ends, and then more tight ends, they’ve even got one playing fullback, they put Ian Book under center and they mash teams. It’s beautiful, and it’s what we all love about football.
Notre Dame Red Zone Scoring By Run
This probably surprises no one, but Notre Dame has not historically scored a ton of red zone running touchdowns under Brian Kelly. Here are their national ranks by season:
- 2010: 107
- 2011: 39
- 2012: 44
- 2013: 107
- 2014: 42
- 2015: 61
- 2016: 91
- 2017: 22
- 2018: 72
- 2019: 66
- 2020: 4
Notre Dame has ranged from middling to the bottom in Kelly’s previous 10 campaigns and now they sit at the top of the nation. Even more impressively, they have more rushing touchdowns in the red zone in just 10 games this season (23), than they had in any other year, with the exception of 2017 when they tallied 24 in 13 games. They also lead the nation in red zone running attempts, giving us the magical “we’re doing this even when you know it’s coming” situation. When you see it all back to back, well it’s just erotic isn’t it?
Kyren Williams Is a Short Yardage Dynamo
It’s probably safe to say Williams has exceeded all expectations this season as far as what he would be, but his ability in short yardage is remarkable for a 5-9, 195 pound back. He’s 22nd nationally in red zone touchdowns with nine and 8th nationally on 3rd and short first downs with 10 (as a team Notre Dame is 6th in this statistic, by the way).
As we see numerous times in the video above, Williams has this desire to seek contact in power running situation, the first clip against Pitt being a prime example. Because Williams is so willing to take on contact, he isn’t dancing looking for holes or trying to tip toe around. He sees a crease and he goes, attacking the hole and the goal line in competition with the defender. This was also evident in the overtimes against Clemson, when he ran it in from four and three yards out to aid the Irish in victory.
(Back to the running when they know you are point for a second. Has there been a more important time for the Irish to run the ball for power than in the overtime against Clemson? They pounded at them twice and it wasn’t a secret. They didn’t mix in movement or a gimmick. They went straight power and got it done. Have we ever seen that against an opponent of that quality in the last 25 years?)
Help On The Outside
Tight End U has become tight end blocking U this season. With Tommy Tremble becoming a national sensation (amongst commentators anyway) due to his blocking, and whatever Notre Dame is doing at the goal line is not possible without the buy in and effort of Tremble, Michael Mayer, Brock Wright, and George Takacs.
It should also be noted that tight ends coach John McNulty has to receive a massive amount of credit for this groups performance as blockers. In previous seasons, tight end blocking was simply a liability, at times good but often sub par. They’ve been nothing short of tremendous week after week.
The same goes for wide receiver with major contributions from Ben Skowronek and Javon McKinley inside in heavy formations. It takes buy in from everyone and they have certainly played their part.
All in all, it just feels right that the Irish are back to being that power team again, the team everyone knows is out to whip your butt, and they’ve done it weekly. They are probably going to win the Joe Moore Award again as the nations top offensive line and their style of play is something the old line coach would definitely be proud of.