Lesar: Logical conclusion to Notre Dame's offense finding consistency

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Football logic can be convoluted and simple – all at the same time.

Take, for example, Notre Dame’s current offensive woes.

One of the most glaring negative statistics facing the Irish as they head into Saturday’s prime-time game with an equally-struggling Stanford team, is their third-down conversion rate.

Anemic is a nice way to describe the life blood of the offense. Notre Dame ranks 111th in the country, converting on just 27 of 81 (.333) third-down snaps.

So, in an effort to solve the shortcomings on such a crucial circumstance, what can be done?

Well, be better on first down, of course.

Say what?

“Our self-scout shows that we need to be better on first down,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “There is a trickle down affect into our third-down manageability, if you will.

“What we have looked at is why we were in the numbers that we were in. Our self-scout shows some negative plays that we've gotta get out of our offense. It's really the negative plays, and that's got to be cleaned up for us to have a better third-down efficiency.”

One sure way to avoid negative plays – or second-and-10, for that matter – is to get the running game going. Don’t risk the chance of an incompletion or a sack. Buckle up and run the ball.

That, too, has been a challenge this season. After averaging 208 rushing yards last season, Notre Dame is a smidge under 150 right now, just 92nd among FBS schools.

That shouldn’t be. This is Notre Dame, a program that has some of the country's top offensive linemen.  According to those with an opinion, the Irish also have one of the top line coaches in the country in Harry Hiestand, yet the Irish running backs still have trouble finding a hole.

Even with three new starters along the line, it should have been worked out by now.

“It’s a mindset, and it's a mindset about execution,” said left tackle Mike McGlinchey. “That's all really offense comes down to is executing your job. If you have all 11 guys executing their job, that means somebody's going down the field or somebody's getting the right block. That all comes down to first through fourth down, no matter what time of the game it is and what the score is or anything like that.”

After an impressive rookie season, in which he gained 835 yards and six touchdowns on 117 carries, Josh Adams seemed poised for a breakout sophomore year. So far, it’s been less than spectacular. With Tarean Folston hurt for several games and Dexter Williams’ role limited, Adams has carried 81 times for 391 yards and one score.

So, what’s the difference between last year’s productive run game and this year’s challenged approach?

“I don’t know if there’s any big difference,” Adams said. “We had a lot of success last year. There’s a lot of emphasis on all the running backs. We just have to do a better job.

“(The first-down focus) has been on being more aggressive out of the gate; bringing it right to (the defense) at the start. Run hard; be more aggressive. We just need to execute better. It’s on all of us.”

Adams proved to be a second-half back last year. He rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the final four regular-season games, including 168 yards and a touchdown against Stanford.

“I played that game with more confidence than I played any of the previous games,” Adams said of the meeting with the Cardinal. “I was in tune with my responsibilities a little bit more. It was definitely one of my better games.

“We just have to execute and not worry about what the defense has planned. We know we’re an explosive offense and can score whenever everyone’s on the same page.”

Whether it’s first, second, third or fourth down.

Sounds logical enough.

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) picks up yards on a run during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN