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Irish offense will fly under the radar

May 17, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT

Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Getty Images

When you think back to this time last year, there were so many unanswered questions about the Notre Dame offense. We were quoting Nelly and analyzing pie charts, hoping to get to the bottom of what was wrong with an offense that couldn’t stop shooting itself in the foot and struggled getting any efficiency. Everett Golson‘s impressive performance in the Blue-Gold game only magnified the uncertainty after Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese‘s run-in with the South Bend police.

Of course, those questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team. With an offensive attack that barely resembled the previous season’s, the Irish turned to a power run game, while swapping it’s starting quarterback and running back out. With Golson learning on the fly and Rees playing a small but important supporting role, Theo Riddick transformed from a inconsistent slot receiver to a workhorse chain-moving tailback.

Not too many people saw that coming.

It’s hard to actually understand just how stark the difference is between calendar years. Sure, the Irish need to find a way to make up for the loss of Tyler Eifert, the best tight end in the country. They’ll also need to replace the production from Riddick and Cierre Wood at tailback. But Brian Kelly feels fairly confident that his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, and do it with some under-the-radar players.

Lost in the embarrassing first half against Alabama was a pair of sneaky-good performances by two returning wide receivers facing a defense filled with NFL personnel. It might shock people who watched the game, but TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels had the best performance against the Alabama secondary of any receiving duo that faced the Crimson Tide.

Daniels’ six catches for 115 yards was the second best individual effort against the Tide last season. TJ Jones’ seven catches for 90 yards was a really impressive outing for a rising senior that earned many of those yards the hard way.

It’s also part of why Brian Kelly feels pretty optimistic about the future of the offense. Here’s what Kelly said about Jones, who is poised to have a really impressive senior season and is likely emerging as one of the team’s true leaders.

“TJ Jones. Here’s a young man that has continuously gotten better year in and year out,” Kelly told Tim Brown a few weeks ago during the SiriusXM Town Hall meeting. “I just think he’s going to have a great year. I think he’s an elite player.”

(Emphasis added.)

Kelly’s also waiting for the light to switch on for Daniels, who had an up and down season while he battled injuries and inconsistency. But there’s no question the talent is there. With a good summer and some urgency behind Daniels’ game, there’s a chance the Irish can line up two wide receivers that challenge a defense in ways we haven’t necessarily seen under Kelly.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of, they don’t have enough skill,” Kelly said. “We’re a little inexperienced, and those guys are going to have to find themselves as they go through the season.

But I feel like we’re going to be able to put some guys on the field that present some match up problems.”

As we saw last season, Kelly wasn’t lying when he said he’d adjust his offense to his personnel. That meant an early season attack that was about as vanilla as it gets, protecting Golson from himself and using a conservative, no-mistakes game plan that produced some ugly victories.

But with an offensive line that might be better than the unit that produced 2,000 yards of rushing last season, and a quarterback that’ll be light years ahead of where he in his debut season, there’s a chance that we’re finally ready to see the offense we thought Kelly was bringing with him from Cincinnati.

  1. bernhtp - May 17, 2013 at 7:47 AM

    I don’t get flying under the radar as the title of this article. Notre Dame hardly ever flies under the radar, let alone after a 12-0 season.

    I’m also not sure that Kelly is going to bring the offense he had an Cincinnati. It seems that much of the advantage of the spread accrues to teams that are physically overmatched. But Kelly has large, strong athletes on his squad and they are getting bigger with each recruiting class. We’ve seen the introduction of multiple tight-end sets, the recruiting of dominantly pro-style QBs, huge offensive lineman, large RBs and receivers, etc.

    While Kelly will certainly continue to inject spread concepts, formations and plays, I expect to see more and more smash-mouth traditional football from his team. Kelly is not a philosophical/scheme ideologue; he adapts everything to the talent he has, and he is recruiting infinitely more to the template of Alabama than Cincinnati.

    • domerboyirish - May 17, 2013 at 9:15 AM

      Bern, you hit it right on the head. I was thinking the exact same thing after reading the article. I don’t think we will ever see the full version of the spread here. We don’t need to!

      This team is build differently than those Cincinnati teams. What I think is important to note is that Kelly seemed to understand this need from Day One and has built his recruiting around this philosophy. ND can attract bigger, stronger and more talented players. We didn’t need to get all gimmicky to play with the big boys. We are the big boys. We just needed the right athletes to knock the snot out of the guy across from us.

      That is what Kelly is building. He is building a team that can power AND finesse. That’s when we will be truly dangerous.

    • zig132013 - May 17, 2013 at 6:35 PM

      I disagree that any facet of the Irish football team will “fly under the radar”. Quite the contrary. The team will be under the microscope day one. However, I would like to think that i am a realist. While the Irish program has vastly improved in all phases of the game, we must consider the fact that almost no program outside of Alabama maintains superiority. It simply is not feasible to expect a repeat performance. At least not from a 12-0 standpoint. I see The Irish as a 9 win team in 2013. The bullseye on their backs has gone from a 4 x 4 target, to the broad side of a barn that will probably be sniped more than we could realistically hope for. Everett is a future heisman candidate. But he will only be as good as tho O line and running game allows him to be. Not to mention that the defense, while potentially could be better than last years, the ball will not bounce our way 100 percent of the time. ND is young and will continue to prosper under BK, it is unfir to expect a return to the title game. Please be patient fans. This is not a dynasty BK is building. But a consistent contender. And that is all we should ask for.

      • papadec - May 17, 2013 at 7:59 PM

        zig – I gave you the thumb down. I think you made some very good points. Where I disagree is in that I think Kelly IS building (or trying to build) a Rockne/Leahy type of dynasty. I believe HIS expectations will be undefeated seasons – vying for the National Championship every year. Do I, realistically, think it will happen every year? NO! But, I think that will be the goal. GO IRISH!!!

  2. mediocrebob - May 17, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    I don’t care if the Irish are a power running team or air it out team. WIN. And I think BK knows how to do that.

    I think Adkinson will be better than we think. I also think, depending on what the incoming Frosh show, we could see McDaniel in some slot.

    That’s just optimism from me. I have a lot of faith in Bk and the rest of the staff. Go Irish.

  3. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 17, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    The only reason I think our offense can be described as flying under the radar this year is the perceived lack of a true home run threat like a MMF or an Eifert. I can’t wait to see Carlisle play, the kid looks like he’ll be electric. Once we tune up against Temple things will be in sharper focus and depending on the play of Golson (or is it Gholston?), TJ, Daniels, GAIII, etc, we may not be so much under the radar for long.

  4. irishdog80 - May 17, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    We need to get as many playmakers on the field… at the same time… as we can. I like Carlisle and Prosise in the slot. Carlisle is clearly a dynamic in space athlete that will command attention and Prosise is a physical beast that can help in setting the edge in the running game for Atkinson to get outside and is big enough to get a lof of YAC. Our issue is that we still don’t know who our power running back will be. Here’s hoping that Greg Bryant is as advertised and will get the tough yards between the tackles.

    Go Irish!

  5. nudeman - May 17, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    1) Having a hard time getting excited about any aspect of the O. Lots of “good” pieces; nothing exceptional

    2) Sorry BK; that includes WR. TJ is a good ballplayer but small; Daniels strikes me as potentially good but there always seem to be veiled references to his lack of focus or discipline or intensity. After that …?? Prosise has never caught a pass for ND. Neither has Carlisle. Onwaalu (sp?), Fuller and Robinson are good looking frosh but won’t be contributors. This is the least talented area of the entire team.

    3) Atkinson has a tremendous oppty to seize the job and be a workhorse for the next 2 years. I’m not as excited about, or as down on him as many, and if he doesn’t make the grade, unlike WR there is depth

    4) Where would ND have been 2011/12 without the fantastic TE play?
    We’re about to find out.
    There is nothing about Troy Niklas that makes me think I’ll be forgetting Eifert anytime soon; Welch and Koyack are, despite being around since seemingly 1993, largely still “prospects”. How many combined catches do they have? I bet it’s less than 5.

    5) Golson. If he stays healthy (big “if”), he could be great. But everyone seems to think it’s automatic he will progress in a nice, smooth linear fashion. I have no reason to believe he won’t be better this year than last, but the BG game showed us that a giant step forward is not guaranteed. If he doesn’t stay healthy … dear Lord, please, no.

    6) Overall, right now this offense looks functional but unexciting. I rate them about a solid “B”. Would not even go to “B+”. That could change if some guys take the next step. But that remains to be seen.

    • irishdog80 - May 17, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Oddly enough, the lack of a dominant playmaker… as it looks right now… could be a good thing. In recent years, ND’s offense has suffered due to the QB locking in on one receiver to the detriment of the overall passing game. If our line is as good as I think it will be this year, and Golson plays like he did in the NCG, we should be able to spread the touches around a lot more and thus have a more dynamic offense. Of course, it would be nice if Daniels becomes a true #1 receiver, a TE steps up and a RB becomes a 1000 yard rusher. That said, I like where we are now a whole lot better than where we were last year at this time.

    • bernhtp - May 17, 2013 at 11:29 AM

      You’re too glum. Too much fnc influence.

      Other than losing Eifert, everything about the offense should be as good or better this year. Gholsten should be (much) better, the O-line a bit stronger despite the center being new, RB about the same (I like Atkinson, Carlisle, Bryant about as much as Riddick, Wood) and continued improvement in the WRs. Given that it was Niklas’ first TE year, I see a breakout there along with significant improvement in Koyak and the return of Welsch.

      I’m optimistic, but then I’ve been conditioned to be as an alum.

      • dudeacow - May 17, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        “Gholsten?” Are you crazy?? It’s “Gholston,” with an O. DUHHHHH…. spell his name right.

        • bernhtp - May 17, 2013 at 12:01 PM

          No, I think it was resolved about a month ago that the proper misspelling is Gholsten. It pretty much captures most of the variations.

      • nudeman - May 17, 2013 at 12:16 PM

        I gave them a “B”. That is not a glum grade. In fact it’s a good grade.
        “Exceptional” is an “A” like Oregon.
        ND will have exceptional moments, plays and performances.
        But overall, this unit isn’t exceptional. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that.
        Could they reach that level this year: Definitely possible. Not sure about probable though. I’d need to see them regularly hanging 35-40 points on opponents not named Navy, Temple or Purdue.

        Here’s how I break down the O, grade-wise:

        WR: C+ Marginal possibility to surprise
        TE: C+ Decent possibility to surprise
        OL: B+ Good possibility to be A-
        RB: B Some possibility to surprise
        QB: B/B+ with flashes of A- at times

      • irish4006 - May 17, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        Gholsten is not right. It is Ghoulsten, dammit.

      • martyhealy - May 17, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        Wrong: Mount Everett

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 18, 2013 at 3:11 AM

        Forgive me if i misinterpret your comment martyhealy, but did you just tell somebody to mount Everett? Sure, he’s soft spoken, but i don’t think he swings from that side of the plate.

    • irish4006 - May 17, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      If (a big IF) Golson is healthy and playing well, I don’t think any of the other things you mentioned will matter. There are enough solid players on this offense to take it to A+, or at least A.

      My biggest area of concern is WR (not TE, I think we will find a capable one there; it’s only a question of one of the many stepping up) and I think they will be okay. I liked what I saw in Daniels. He is a work-in-progress but the fundamentals are there.

      I am not worried about the RBs either. I am not sure if Carlisle is getting any rep there. If not, it only means that the coaching staff feels that they have enough capable bodies (GAIII, Mahone, the freshmen) that they don’t even have to try Carlisle. From what I have seen and heard so far, he seems to be a better version of Theo (if he can stay healthy).

      I am actually way more optimistic about this offense than I was about last year’s.

      *Please stay healthy, Ghoulsten! There is no one to back you up…*

      • rayguy14 - May 17, 2013 at 10:26 PM

        I’m tired of hearing about Theo like he’s the new standard bearer for ND RBs. Theo had a solid season yes. The fact that he was our “athlete” the past few years is telling about how weak we’ve been at the RB position these past few years.

        Now that I’m thinking of it, who was our last legit RB? I think Jonas Gray was pretty close to the real deal, but the “light” didn’t come on until it was almost too late. Please no D-Walk references…he was a product of Charlie’s and Brady’s “check-down”, low risk/low reward offense. Didn’t he have something like 60 catches his final season?

        Amir is an incredible athlete by all accounts. To be a starting return man on a USC team as a frosh, is one hell of an accomplishment. Let’s not be fooled into think that Theo and Amir’s athleticism should even be spoken of in the same sentence.

        Now, if Amir can be the next Theo in terms of physicality and toughness we’ll be in great shape. But if that does come to fruition, Theo would look like a poor man’s Amir Carlisle. That said…Theo stepped it up big time this past season and deserves much love. I’m just ready to move beyond the “Theo is our athlete” era of Irish football.

    • papadec - May 17, 2013 at 8:06 PM

      nude – I think you just defined the offense flying under the radar for us. No pre-season All-american standouts.

  6. dudeacow - May 17, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    I’m excited for this year. The defense will be better, and so will the offense.

    The O-line may actually be better off with Nick Martin and Connor Hanratty at the interior. We won’t have the nation’s number one TE, but Hercules has unlimited potential, Welch was actually last year’s backup, and Koyack was high school’s #1 TE. Let’s hope they live up to their potential.

    The RB’s lack a feature back (as of yet), but Atkinson looks like he’s putting in the work to be able to run between the tackles, Carlisle looks like he could be the most electrifying player on the team (4.34 40 time), and now either Mahone or Bryant needs to step up as the pound-it-out guy. McDaniel and Folston look great, too.

    Apparently Jones has stepped up, and now is elite, Daniels has the most potential of any WR, Prosise looks like an extremely physical receiver, and Carlisle, McDaniel, Mahone, and/or Bryant will be in the slot as well. Thin group, but really talented.

    And of course Golson. He wasn’t close to being a Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, or Brett Hundley last year, but he had that 1.6 BDR (bad decision rate), which is “considered great for senior quarterbacks.”

    12-0, baby.

    • martyhealy - May 17, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      I agree with most said! Not sure how the BDR is calculated, probably interceptions, attempts and something else. I remember from the Mich state game that after ND built up a cushion, they went into a conservative game plan through the end of 2nd and all 3rd quarter having Golson chuck the ball out of bounds if their was a defender within 50 yards of a ND receiver.
      Golson has been criticized ( not sure if that was right choice of word) for being inaccurate at a 58.8 completion stat. He seemed to be doing that all year on orders from Kelly not to risk turnovers. Add one more completion a game and is rate goes to 63%, two a game 67% and so on.
      Golson’s senior year in HS was 25 TD’s to 2 interceptions in 19 quarters having missed most of the early season with an ankle injury. Reference You Tube Senior season highlights. He ended up winning state championship. Ok many may state against inferior talent in S Carolina. There was some inferior clown named Jadeveon that decked Golson but good!
      Now I think 12-0 is a bit too optimistic. My guess is 10-2. But like last year for the first time I
      ever had a sports bet put down by a friend going to Vegas of $100 on my favorite team to win the BCS. I just missed. Damn! I put another one this year.

      Golson staying healthy and offensive line play are the keys. The rest is gravy! Everything else falls in place.

      • whodabigdog - May 17, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        HEY MARTAY PUT ME DOWN FOR HALVE A. BILL. You know i’m good dor it!

      • martyhealy - May 17, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        Ok 50 cents I think I can cover that!

      • papadec - May 17, 2013 at 8:12 PM

        marty – I had my son place a bet for me last year @ 18-1. When he went to Vegas for Spring Break, this year, there was no line available. What odds did you get this year?

    • martyhealy - May 17, 2013 at 11:37 PM

      papadec 25 to 1 last year 20 to 1 this year. Yes, I know i got screwed last year, but I wanted to put my money up with my mouth. LOL I had more fun being one of the the only idiots in town (Chicago) riding the bet. Lol First time I ever made a formal sports future bet. It was a hunch.

      • papadec - May 17, 2013 at 11:47 PM

        marty – thanks. I have already told my friends that fly to Nevada on gaming junkets, that if they go – place the bet for me. Last year I went mostly on it being the 3rd year charm for Kelly. Close, but no cigars & champagne.

      • martyhealy - May 18, 2013 at 12:41 AM

        papadec: don’t laugh but I asked my friend in vegas to try to put down money on Golson as the Heisman winner assuming hundreds to one shot, far better than Manziel. Sounds like your son
        had a good time in Vegas. LOL

      • martyhealy - May 18, 2013 at 12:53 AM

        My attempt was last year if I had not made clear

  7. 4beav - May 17, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Irish go 12-0, Golden GOLSON wins the Heisman and Golden Domers roll the Mobile Homers.

  8. yogihilt - May 17, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    I thought it was Ghoulstein

  9. 25kgold - May 17, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    Really, Manti?? LOL

    • bernhtp - May 17, 2013 at 11:52 PM

      I got a bunch of thumbs down when I posted he would get with some real babes and get some locker room creds a couple of months ago. People owe me an apology.

    • mtflsmitty - May 19, 2013 at 12:23 AM

      Good for him! Slick move to laugh a bit at himself. Always a smart move, to move past the victim to just a guy who got screwed. And who amongst us hasn’t been there at some point.

      Hope he had fun!

  10. 1historian - May 18, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Weis was an excellent recruiter but a lousy coach at the college level. Proof is the number of ND players he recruited who went in the draft and free agency this past draft after being coached up by Kelly and his lads.

    This team coming up is almost all Kelly recruits.

    The leaders on this team coming up got their noses rubbed in it last year in the NC game. More importantly – they got a first hand look at what it takes to win it ALL, and 2 out of ND’s last 3 NCs came after an experience like that.

    One thing Kelly has done consistently through the years is learn from his mistakes, and learn what he and the team have to do next.

    104 and a wakeup!

  11. 4horsemenrideagain - May 20, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    sounds like Manti has hired Bill Clinton’s publicist and based on how slick willy’s public perception has endured, it was a smart move. somebody told him “get in front of the story” or “control the narrative” or one of those PR axioms and thankfully he took the advice. if he’s still indulging the media in this idiocy in 6 months, i will be worried. but for now, he’s showing everyone he can take hits off the field too.

    if he makes plays this year, the fake dead girlfriend thing will slowly go away, just as kobe bryant’s rape allegation did, just like the story about the teammate of lebron james hooking up with lebron’s mom did and just like clinton “private consultations” with his intern did.

  12. ou812ahole - May 26, 2013 at 12:36 AM

    Golson is gone. Time to rewrite the article. Haaaaaaaaaa. Haaaaaaaaaa

  13. loadofwash - May 27, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    Under the radar sure is true. They are too little and no heart.

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