Notebook: Notre Dame taking retro approach to goal-line offense

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Those venturing to Notre Dame Stadium on Sunday to see all the newness of the completed Campus Crossroads project may get a jolt from the football team that will be in display within it.

Specifically, a retro look on goal-line offense.

And Irish head coach Brian Kelly isn’t treating the notion of putting his quarterback under center near the goal line — instead of his long-preferred shotgun formation — as an experiment.

What’s next a fullback?

Well maybe something like that, as well.

“Down and distance will probably predicate it,” Kelly said of the power-formation concepts while taking questions from callers on Friday’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show on WSBT. “But we think we’ve got an offensive line and tight ends that we can get our quarterback under center and exert our will and pound that football in there.

“There’s not a lot of offensive lines that can do that. With so much (run-pass options), it makes up for some of these offensive lines that can kind of cheat and get downfield.

“We think we’ve got an offensive line that can knock you off the ball and get back to some really physical football, so getting the quarterback under center makes sense for us to do that.”

The Irish will stage an open scrimmage at Notre Dame Stadium that starts at 3:30 p.m. (EDT), and runs until around 5. Admission and parking are free to the public, but there will be no tailgating permitted.

Gilman timetable

Kelly expects to hear from the NCAA by the middle of next week, if not slightly sooner, whether Navy safety transfer Alohi Gilman will be eligible to play for the Irish this season or have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules.

Notre Dame filed for a waiver with the NCAA on Gilman’s behalf in July for immediate eligibility. In either scenario, he’d have three years of eligibility at ND after playing his freshman season for the Mids.

“We checked with the NCAA and wanted to get the latest,” Kelly said, “and what we were told as of (Thursday) is the Naval Academy has until Monday to file their final brief relative to whether they have an objection to the one-time transfer waiver.

“They may have already filed it, but that expires on Monday. So we don’t know, nor can we expect to hear anything until after Monday. … The NCAA knows they need to act expeditiously.”

Should Navy contest the waiver, it wouldn’t make it impossible for Gilman to gain eligibility in 2017, but it would make it much tougher. Gilman would be a strong candidate to start if he is eligible.

The 5-foot-11, 199-pound product of Laie, Hawaii, was Navy’s second-leading tackler in 2016 with 76. Twelve of those tackles came in a 28-27 victory over Notre Dame, Nov. 5 in Jacksonville, Fla. He also recorded five pass breakups in 2016, with two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

“He’s got really good ball skills, comes downhill and can support the run very well,” Kelly said. “So he’s not a one-dimensional player.

“And that’s what we saw on film, a guy that made a very good open-field tackle on Josh Adams (last November) as well as play the ball in the air. And he’s continued to do that in preseason camp.”

Mack on the mend

It’s been roughly two weeks since junior tight end Alizé Mack suffered a hamstring pull at Culver, Ind. during ND’s first padded practice of training camp.

Kelly suggested Friday that his recovery has progressed enough that fans can expect to see a cameo during Sunday’s scrimmage.

“Maybe 12-15 plays max,” Kelly said, noting Mack did some 7-on-7 drills in Friday’s practice. “There’s no sense of putting him in high-stress situations right now, because he’s in a great position.

“We’ve got two weeks (until the Sept. 2 opener with Temple). So we’re just going to be very careful with him. We’ll play him a little bit on Sunday, but he’s good to go.”

And the one thing Kelly said he’s not worried about is Mack’s attitude.

“Love it. Love it. Love everything about him,” Kelly said. “Everything he’s been doing, he’s been outstanding.”

Taylor laboring

Defensive tackle Elijah Taylor entered spring practice in March with momentum from a late-season surge on the field and figured to be at least a key back-up in 2017.

Then in practice No. 2 of the spring, on March 10, the junior from Cincinnati suffered a Lifsfranc (arch) fracture in his left foot and underwent surgery later that month.

His recovery has been slower the expected.

“He’s still really far away,” Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said Wednesday. “He hasn’t been able to do much in our practices. Coach (Kelly) can talk more about the injuries, but he has not worked at the defensive line like I would be hoping.”

Balis still barking

The gruff — sometimes indecipherable — voice that drove the Notre Dame football offseason narrative won’t fade gently into the twilight once the season actually starts.

Nor will the message, attached to the voice, coming from Irish first-year director of football performance Matt Balis.

“The mindset stays the same,” Balis says of the in-season strength-training shift that’s now less than two weeks away. “When they come in there, they’re training. But it’s based on load, based on practice reps, game reps, how intense practice is. And we’ll control the load.

“But the mentality when you’re in there — you’re in there to get better.”

Fans will have an opportunity Sunday to see to what extent Balis’ methods with the Irish players translate from the weight room to the football field when the Irish stage an open scrimmage at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Overload, periodization, explosive training, velocity and power, time under tension — these are just terms that explain how we’re training to elicit protein synthesis,” Balis said.

“We’re trying to build muscle. We’re trying to increase central nervous system’s ability to move weight fast. We believe if we can increase bar speed, we can increase speed on the field, those kinds of things.”

On gameday, the role of Balis and his four assistants is to monitor the players’ workload through GPS tracking systems.

“We make sure the players are functioning at a high level, whether it’s mentally, physically,” he said. “As a strength coach, you’re the get-back guy obviously as well, but that’s kind of the celebration day to see them take all the work that they’ve done and use it.

“Health is first and foremost, but you want to continue to strength train. You’ve got to have goals. You want to increase power and velocity. Those are things we can attack. We just have to monitor the training and make sure we’re balancing that out with practice and games.”

That’s the ticket

That Notre Dame still has tickets available for the Sept. 2 opener with Temple — as well as late-season home games with N.C. State, Wake Forest and Navy — creates questions about demand relative to both last season’s 4-8 mark and the new ticket pricing structure.

There certainly isn’t a lack of demand on the secondary ticket market, however.

According to, Notre Dame is second in overall ticket sales on its website, trailing only Michigan. The rest of the Top 10 comprises Alabama at No. 3, followed by Penn State, Ohio State, Florida, USC, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Clemson.

In terms demand for individual games, ND’s Sept. 9 home game with Georgia stands at No. 3 for the 2017 season, behind only Florida State vs. Alabama and Michigan vs. Florida — both being played on Sept. 2.

Some interesting stats from those StubHub sales for ND-Georgia so far: 60 percent of the buyers are from the state of Georgia. Roughly 3 percent are from Indiana.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, right, talks to players during the first day of fall camp for Notre Dame Football Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN