Run-Pass balance critical piece of puzzle for Irish

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Brian Kelly has talked often about the importance of balancing the run game with the passing attack. And as we’ve seen this season when the offense is at its most efficient, it’s usually a lethal combination of big plays on the ground leading to vertical shots down field.

Saturday was the perfect example of that. DeShone Kizer was able to find Will Fuller twice for 40+ yard touchdown passes—and had a chance for more, with Kizer and Fuller nearly connecting twice more.  And while we’ve quoted Kelly ad nauseam on the subject, sometimes hearing from the opposition adds clarity to a point of emphasis.

In his postgame comments, Pat Narduzzi sounded like a coach who didn’t have a winning option. And it wasn’t necessarily because Fuller was too much to handle, but rather that Notre Dame’s ability to beat you multiple ways put Pitt’s defense in the type of conflict they couldn’t scheme their way out from.

Here’s Narduzzi when asked about Fuller’s big plays and why his defense wasn’t able to stop them.

“When you can’t stop the run, he’s going to throw a post on you. So we can go back there and help him and play Cover 3 and keep everybody back. And then they’re just going to run the ball down your throat,” Narduzzi said. “And then you’re just going to say, ‘Hey, did you ever think about putting some other guys up in the box?’

“They only let us play with 11. I’d like to have 12 out there. But when you’re not stopping the run, you’re going to take a little bit away from that. They’ve got some monsters out there. The tailback was good—both of them. The quarterback is a great player, DeShone. And then they’ve got Will Fuller out there. So pick your poison.”

As we look forward, Notre Dame will face three defenses that should test the Irish’s ability to stay balanced.  (And as we look at the contenders for the CFBPlayoff, the non-Big 12 slate of teams will do the same thing.)

But flying below the radar is Wake Forest. While the Demon Deacons have a tough time offensively, they’re playing good defense—stingier than you’d expect for a three-win team with just one conference win. After all, it was the Deacs than won a ridiculous 3-0 duel when they faced off with Boston College, a run defense that stands statistically in front of everybody else in the country.

C.J. Prosise‘s injury is still coming into focus, leaving Notre Dame’s running game temporarily on the young shoulders of Josh Adams. That a large burden for Adams, especially when the running attack is so vital to the overall scheme.

But thanks to a consistent performance by the offensive line and an efficient day in the red zone, Notre Dame unlocked some of the potential that had been trapped beneath the explosive plays and prolific yardage totals. As the Irish continue to prove their worth to the playoff committee, the offensive evolution could be coming at a perfect time.