Notebook: Notre Dame's false start issues haven't subsided

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The flinching hasn’t stopped.

Notre Dame’s offense continues to be flagged for false starts at an alarming rate.

In Saturday’s 40-7 victory over Boston College, the Irish were called for six more false start penalties. That matched the previous season high set at Georgia.

At least this past weekend, three of the false starts came late in the game with backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec running the offense and backup offensive linemen caught on the penalties. In the 23-17 loss to Georgia, five of the false starts were called on Notre Dame’s starting offense. The other came on the punt team.

Through 11 games, the AP No. 15 Irish (9-2) have already been penalized for 29 false starts. The starting offense with quarterback Ian Book has accounted for 21 of those penalties. The other eight were called on the backup offense during blowouts (six) and the punt team (two).

It doesn’t seem to matter much whether Notre Dame is playing at home or on the road either. In four road games, the Irish have committed 11 false starts (2.75 per game). In seven home games, the Irish have 18 false starts (2.57 per game).

Notre Dame has yet to complete a game this season without a false start penalty. The Irish will have their last of two chances this season on Saturday at Stanford (4-7).

Nineteen of the false start penalties have been called on Notre Dame offensive linemen.

“It’s a group that just has to stay locked in on every play,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “And sometimes we’re thinking about too many things instead of staying on what’s important. And we sometimes get away from staying on what’s important.”

The Irish have used a clapping cadence for its snap counts this season rather than a traditional verbal cadence. A more repetitive rhythm can be established with a verbal cadence with multiple words, which could lead to easier anticipation for the offense, but it could also become predictable for a defense.

Starting left tackle Liam Eichenberg, who leads the team with seven false starts, said earlier this season that he likes the clapping cadence, but that it comes with its challenges.

“It’s difficult because we’re all trying to load up to get off the ball, and we’re waiting for a sound,” Eichenberg said in early November. “Somebody could scream really quick, and I’m like ‘Ugh.’ Because it’s tough. The defense can time it up. We see it all the time. It’s just one of those things.”

Eichenberg pointed to the second offensive play in the Virginia Tech game as an example. He said one of Virginia Tech’s linebackers yelled before the snap and it caused some of the offensive linemen to flinch. A false start wasn’t called by the officials.

If officials deem that defensive players are using sounds to mimic an offense’s cadence to induce false start penalties, the defense can be called for a penalty. But defenders can be clever to create confusion in making their own defensive calls or moving before the snap on their own side of the line of scrimmage in ways that can cause a false start.

“It happens, occasionally,” Kelly said. “You’ll hear some ambient noise of a move call or things of that nature. But we duplicate that in practice as well.

“So I just think it’s get comfortable, be in the right emotional, optimal zone. And that stuff really should be secondary. It shouldn’t be primary noise for you. Your focus should be on what your primary responsibility is and that is block the guy over you.”

The clapping cadence isn’t new this year for Notre Dame’s offense. The Irish used it last season when they were flagged for 18 false starts in 13 games with 15 of the penalties called on the starting offense.

“It’s easier when you’re dealing with a first-year center,” Kelly said of using the clapping cadence. “Takes a little bit off of (Jarrett Patterson). But it really has no bearing on false starts.”

The official statistics kept by the NCAA don’t track false start penalties specifically, so it’s difficult to compare Notre Dame’s false starts to other schools. For comparison’s sake, Air Force has committed the least amount of total penalties in the FBS with only 39. That’s nine more total penalties than the Irish have false starts.

With 70 total penalties this season, Notre Dame is tied with Kent State and Texas A&M for No. 76 nationally in fewest penalties.

Staying on schedule

Notre Dame won’t alter its practice schedule significantly this week despite the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. Even though the players don’t have class on Wednesday, Kelly wants to practice around the same time as normal.

With the kickoff time at Stanford (4 p.m. EST on FOX) not too dissimilar to when the Irish typically practice or play home games, keeping their body clocks the same could be beneficial.

“They’ll come in earlier, get some treatment, watch film on their own, and then we don’t want to upset the routine,” Kelly said. “We did that a little bit earlier in the year and that didn’t seem to work out very well.”

Notre Dame lost 45-14 at Michigan at the end of a two-week stretch with schedule quirks for the bye week and no classes during the week of the game because of the university’s fall break.

The Irish will practice a bit earlier on Thursday in order to have Thanksgiving dinner as a team and then depart for Stanford.

Following the game, Notre Dame’s coaching staff will stay on the road for recruiting. Kelly said he would work his way even farther west than Palo Alto, Calif., before making other stops on his way back to South Bend throughout the week.

Kelly was likely indicating that he would be visiting defensive end commit Jordan Botelho in Hawaii first. Botelho, a senior at Honolulu St. Louis, was named Monday as one of five finalists for the high school version of the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.

Foskey activated

Defensive end Isiaah Foskey will play in Saturday’s game at Stanford.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound freshman has already played in three games, but the Irish have held him out of the lineup in order to preserve a redshirt season. Foskey last played in the Duke game after starting defensive end Julian Okwara went down with a season-ending leg injury, but he sat out the last two games.

Kelly said the Irish coaching staff believes Foskey, who played in high school at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, can be a very special player.

“We feel like the pass rush is going to be very, very important,” Kelly said of Foskey’s role Saturday. “We held him out of a couple of games for that reason. We think he can impact our sub package in particular. He’ll be a starter in that sub package. And we think he can influence the pass rush for us in a positive way.”

Foskey, a former four-star recruit, recorded three tackles in his first three games with the Irish.

Extra points

• Senior right guard Tommy Kraemer, who sprained the MCL in his left knee in the Michigan game, likely won’t play in Notre Dame’s bowl game, Kelly said. Kraemer can return to the Irish for a fifth season next year because he redshirted as a freshman. Kelly said he expects Kraemer to be available to do some practice activities in spring football.

• Three Notre Dame opponents this season were named Monday as finalists for various college football awards.

USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. was named as one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award (best receiver). Pittman, who is averaging 7.9 catches per game and 101.8 yards per game with 11 touchdown catches this season, only caught four passes for 29 yards against Notre Dame during the 30-27 Irish victory in October.

Georgia safety J.R. Reed was named as one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back). He recorded seven tackles, three pass breakups and one interception in Georgia’s win over Notre Dame in September.

Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was named as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award (best kicker). He made all three of his field goal attempts against Notre Dame.

• Brian Kelly shocked a room full of reporters Monday when he was asked to name the best Thanksgiving side dish. After a long pause, Kelly chose ... squash.

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Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg (74) has been flagged for seven false start penalties this season. The Irish have committed 29 false starts as a team.
Notre Dame right guard Tommy Kraemer (far right), who suffered a knee injury against Michigan, likely won’t be healthy enough to play in the Irish bowl game and rejoin fellow offensive linemen Aaron Banks (69), Jarrett Patterson (55) and Trevor Ruhland (57).

WHO: AP No. 15 Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Stanford (4-7)

WHEN: Saturday at 4 p.m. EST

WHERE: Stanford Stadium; Palo Alto, Calif.


RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 14.5