Much was made during the preseason about Notre Dame’s three new coordinators — four if including a new director of strength and conditioning — and Irish coach Brian Kelly’s overall revamping of the program. Rightfully so. A smaller change came into effect during the season, and it may be having an equally-effective impact.
In years past, Notre Dame self-scouted during the free time provided by the midseason bye week. The Irish coaching staff now goes through the exercise each week. The five- or six-week period leading up to the evaluation in the past allowed for some tendencies to carry over for half a season, perhaps an imbalance in left/right aligned formations or a second-and-long propensity to throw across the middle. (Those are just hypotheticals to illustrate the point, to be clear.)
Offensive analyst Jeff Quinn leads the effort. Obviously, between scouting other teams, working through practices and studying film with players, there is only so much time to go around for coaching staff, hence the luxury of having Quinn around. (And that is not to even mention the time spent recruiting.) In his third year at Notre Dame, Quinn previously spent 21 years at Kelly’s side from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan to Cincinnati before taking over as the head coach at Buffalo when Kelly headed to South Bend in 2010.
“[Quinn] does an incredible job of really diving deep into all of our formations and plays, right and left tendencies,” Kelly said Sunday. “It’s just been a thorough report that’s allowed us to really be very intentional in terms of play calls and setting things up. It’s helped us quite a bit this year.”
As a result, the Irish vary their offensive looks more than may have been seen in Septembers past.
“We have some pretty good balance in what we’re trying to do offensively,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s 52-17 victory over Miami (OH) on Saturday. “… Moving the tight end a lot, moving it, changing strengths. Moving the back opposite of where the tight end is, doing a lot of things that now move your front.
“We’re in a different place, so it’s been effective for us.”
Defensively, looking ahead is aided by director of scouting Bill Rees, father of quarterbacks coach Thomas Rees, looking into opponents’ personnel groupings, etc.
On bringing in Ian Book
The Irish held a 31-point lead at halftime Saturday, yet junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush still handled all the snaps in the third quarter. Rather than bring in sophomore Ian Book and get him an earlier chance to complete his first career pass, Notre Dame wanted to see one or two additional complete drives from Wimbush.
“We wanted to clean up a couple of things,” Kelly said Saturday. “We really went to throwing the football for Brandon. We wanted to get through some passing game things that we hadn’t gotten to in the last couple of weeks.”
That effort was not very successful. Wimbush went 1-of-3 for a loss of five yards in those two third-quarter drives, though one of the incompletions very well could have been a touchdown in the hands of Irish senior tight end Nic Weishar. Wimbush also rushed for 22 yards.
The first drive resulted in a punt after a three-and-out while the second concluded with a field goal attempt clanging off the left upright.
“We wanted to run some of the plays that we practiced throughout the week,” Wimbush said. “Some of it was new stuff, some of it carried over from Michigan State. They kind of ran a similar defense.
“To be able to go out there and throw the ball against any defense is good practice.”
When Book took over in the fourth quarter, he completed 3-of-5 passes for 51 yards, highlighted by a 48-yard completion to junior receiver Chris Finke. Book also rushed for 37 yards on three carries. Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson had the honor of catching Book’s first career completion, though the play lost three yards. It was Stepherson’s first reception of the season.
On continued health
Kelly said he expects all of Notre Dame’s running backs to be available and essentially fully healthy at North Carolina next weekend. Junior Josh Adams could have returned against the RedHawks, despite “mildly” spraining an ankle. Sophomore Tony Jones did not enter the concussion protocol after a second quarter helmet-to-helmet hit, per Kelly, after an eye scan cleared him to return to competition. Junior Dexter Williams spent the weekend on the sidelines nursing his own sprained ankle, but Kelly said he should be cleared by Tuesday’s practice.
Sophomore safety Devin Studstill did not play against Miami, but Kelly described it as a precautionary measure to be sure the Irish would have a full array of safeties ready for the Tar Heels’ up-tempo offense. Kelly said Studstill was at about 80 percent this week.