Notebook: Notre Dame offense gets bye week mini-makeover

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A Notre Dame offense that was on a school-record pace for scoring is about to get a mini-makeover after first, a hurricane, then Stanford’s defense altered that historic trajectory the past two games.

“Some of the things that we haven't done well offensively is that we have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively,” Irish head football coach Brian Kelly said during his weekly Tuesday press conference.

In other words, less is more, moving forward.

The skinnied-down, simplified Irish offense will get to try out its tweaked structure Saturday (3:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV) against the nation’s No. 22 total defense in Miami (4-3), one of three top 25 defensive units the Irish (2-5) face over their final five regular-season games.

“When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature,” Kelly said. “I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let's practice what we're good at, and let's be better at execution in this kind of game.”

Pat Forde, a national sports columnist for Yahoo, uncovered this disturbing trend with regard to the Irish passing game: The Irish pass-efficiency drops dramatically from quarter to quarter.

They start with a stellar 198.22 rating in the first quarter that fades to 135.59 in the second, 123.95 in the third and 111.94 in the fourth. And that’s with a player leading the offense, junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, still projected to go in the first round of the 2017 draft if he opts to give up his final two seasons of college eligibility.

“I think there's a number of things that are kind of collateral to ineffective play as an offense,” said Kelly, whose Irish averaged more than 40 points per game over the first five contests in 2016 and 6.5 over the past two.

“They're not necessarily on DeShone. And then there are some things that DeShone has to continue to improve on. The development of a quarterback like DeShone, it's happening every day. It happens with quarterbacks in the NFL, still.

“He's in that learning curve. When I say 'learning curve' I don't mean, What's that coverage? I mean fundamentals, mechanics. All those things are happening every day.

“So I'm not worried that he's putting too much pressure on himself. I just want him to not get frustrated and continue to work and improve on the things that he can control.”

Vote of confidence perspective

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s public endorsement Friday of Kelly as ND’s head coach to open the 2017 season drew a candid reaction from Kelly himself.

“I was disappointed actually,” he said. “Anytime that your athletic director has to come out and say that, as a head coach, you're disappointed that any kind of comments like that have to be made.

“I didn't ask him. That was his decision. But I clearly understand what he was doing. He was probably sick and tired of being sick and tired, too.”

Personnel matters

Kelly chose to let Notre Dame’s players go home during fall break rather than working them through the bye week, and the result so far appears to be a fresher team that has no injuries carrying over from the 17-10 loss to Stanford on Oct. 15.

The quasi-exception is starting running back Josh Adams, who Kelly admitted hasn’t been 100 percent since the start of August training camp (hamstring).

“He's been great in terms of his work ethic and getting into the training room,” Kelly said. “But (for) a running back, soft-tissue injuries can sometimes linger. He's fought through it.”

Starting offensive guard Colin McGovern is expected back after missing the Stanford game with a concussion and battling a chronic ankle injury.

“We are the healthiest team in America,” Kelly said.

• Miami, meanwhile, is moving slowly in that direction after missing three starters and a key reserve — all on defense — because of injury in Thursday night’s 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech. Also, starting safety Rayshawn Jenkins limped off in the second half of that game.

It was the first game this season an opponent has scored more than 21 points on Miami.

Just who might be returning to action Saturday, Hurricanes coach Mark Richt wasn’t willing to reveal specifically, reports the Miami Herald’s Susan Miller Degnan, other than to say, “We’re definitely going to get some guys back.”

Missing the Miami game in its entirety were starting defensive ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson, starting cornerback Sheldrick Redwine and backup defensive tackle Gerald Willis.

• Kelly said Tuesday there’s been no change in the status with the team of senior cornerback Devin Butler, suspended indefinitely by the coach on Aug. 20, hours after he was arrested on a pair of felony charges.

On Oct. 17, Butler pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of resisting law enforcement for an altercation with a South Bend police officer. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop felony counts of resisting law enforcement and battery to a public safety official.

Butler’s attorney, Jeff Kimmell, told the Tribune at the time that he expected Butler to be reinstated to the football team. However, the hold-up may have to do with letting the university’s disciplinary arm hold its hearing before a change in status is granted.

Butler, scheduled to complete his coursework for graduation in December, isn’t expected to play this season even if he’s reinstated. If he indeed redshirts, he would have one season of eligibility to play at ND or elsewhere in 2017.

Squibs

Kelly said Tuesday that rising reserves Jonathan Bonner, a junior defensive lineman, and Kevin Stepherson and Chase Claypool, both freshman wide receivers, are all deserving of more playing time in the regular season’s final five games.

• Indians or Cubs?

Kelly, a devoted Boston Red Sox fan, was pressed for a World Series rooting interest on Tuesday.

“I'm going to go with the Cubs,” he said. “I think my geographical awareness might get (me) a pass this week, where I'm not on the front page of some newspaper if I stick with the Cubs.”

• Kelly marked his 55th birthday on Tuesday.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer (14) will be running a thinned-down version of the Irish offense when ND faces Miami on Saturday. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)