You could forgive some Irish fans if they’ve forgotten that Brian Kelly came to South Bend with the reputation of being a quick strike, spread attack, offensive guru. (Okay. Most of you haven’t forgotten.) But if there’s been one thing the Irish haven’t been on offense in Kelly’s three seasons at Notre Dame, it’s up tempo.
Outside of the earliest reports in Kelly’s first days on campus, when players were awestruck at the pace of play during the Irish’s tempo offense, the extent of any comparison to former Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s call-it-and-haul-it offense, ended at the surname.
Yet with Everett Golson a full season into his on-field development, and entering his third spring in South Bend, Kelly made it clear that he still planned to run an up-tempo attack. Which is good news for those that thought Kelly left his high octane offense Cincinnati.
“No, that’s not in my past. That would be in my future,” Kelly said after practice. “We definitely would love to have the ability to dictate tempo. It takes so many things on a play. Look at the Alabama situation, if you’re playing fast there, you’re eliminating a lot of pressures because the ball is coming out so quick. We were deficient in areas offensively last year and one of them was our inability to play fast. That is definitely a part of where we want to go.”
It’s been pretty clear for the past three seasons that no quarterback in the Irish system was capable of running the up-tempo attack efficiently. Year one included Dayne Crist, a first-time starter that was learning on the fly while rehabbing a knee injury. He gave way to Tommy Rees, a true freshman that ended up beating out Crist in year two. Rees’ grasp of the offense was likely up to par, but he lacked the ability to bring a running threat to the offense, a critical component of an up-tempo, zone-read based ground game.
So much of what Golson did last year was predicated on his learning curve. Early in the season, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin didn’t even feel comfortable incorporating Golson into the run game. But heading into Golson’s second season starting and with offensive personnel that’s feeling more and more in line with the coach’s design, expect to see the Irish offense pick up the pace.
Perhaps even more interestingly, they’ll also likely take more chances. While last season’s success could be credited to a precipitous drop in turnovers, Kelly doesn’t believe that moving quicker and throwing downfield will mean more mistakes. In fact, he thinks it could work the opposite.
“The more aggressive that you are, if you’re fundamentally doing the things that we’re teaching, it doesn’t put you at a higher risk with throwing interceptions,” Kelly explained. “Playing faster decreases that because you’re going to have guys that are going to be running wide open that are not even defended. I don’t think that accelerating the offense puts us at a higher risk of interceptions.
“If we’re really doing it the right way, we’re going to get some easier throws along the way. Slowing it down, letting the defense set, being a little predictable in some of the things we do, we want to be much more unpredictable offensively and I think that’s going to help us.”
We’re seen these problems the past few seasons. With Rees at the helm, too often the offense was reactionary, often trying to counter a defensive look from the line of scrimmage. Against Alabama, we saw the predictability of a limited Irish offense (and defense) rear its ugly head, with Nick Saban able to scheme for looks he expected.
With three practices under their belts, the Irish have a dozen more opportunities to lay the tracks needed to pick up the pace. But the fact alone that Kelly has it on his spring checklist should be music to Irish fans ears.