InsideNDSports - ND tries to regain its balance
football Edit

ND tries to regain its balance

Twenty-nine rushing plays, 25 pass attempts.
With the exception of a paltry 54 plays from scrimmage run by the Irish in their 35-21 loss to Oklahoma, that's the kind of run-pass distribution Brian Kelly is seeking in the future after a pass-heavy start to the 2013 season.
"I didn't want this to become Tommy Rees throwing it 50 times a game, but that's the way it turned out the first couple of weeks because it was pretty obvious the way teams were going to defend," said Brian Kelly Sunday during his weekly teleconference with the media.
"It was important that we find a way to get a little bit more balance in running the football. It's not really taking pressure off Tommy as much as that's not the way I want the offense to run. I want to run the football more effectively because we've got a lot of young receivers out there."
George Atkinson III paced an Irish ground game against the Sooners that accounted for 220 yards, including a career-high 148 by Atkinson, 80 of which came on one play. Tarean Folston's two carries accounted for 43 yards - one a 36-yarder around the edge and a seven-yard tackle-breaking run. Amir Carlisle had a 10-yard burst and Cam McDaniel had an eight-yard run among his three attempts. Even Andrew Hendrix contributed to the cause off the bench at quarterback with a pair of 3rd-and-short conversions.
But Oklahoma's 3-3-5 defensive front under coordinator Mike Stoops was designed to combat the proliferation of spread-offense attacks, thus allowing the Irish some running room against the loaded-box fronts Notre Dame faced throughout most of September.
"We're still trying to find ourselves offensively," said Kelly, uttering the words that grate on the nerves of Irish fans in the fourth year of the regime. "I just felt like for Tommy, it's best for him if we can have more of a balance on offense. That's why it's important to get the running game going because if we've got the balance and we can run the football, you saw with the play-action with Troy Niklas, he's wide open.
"We can get a lot more of those throws for Tommy during the course of the game. That's really the most important thing here, establishing more of a running game is really best for this offense."
Many accused Kelly of abandoning the run in the 41-30 loss to Michigan when Rees attempted 51 passes. After rushing for 188 yards in the season-opener against Temple, the Irish ground game accounted for just 269 yards on 88 carries (3.0 average) over the next three weeks before the breakout performance against the Sooners.
In the meantime, Kelly, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and the offensive staff will continue to work on fine-tuning Rees' passing game, which has gone south after three straight 300-yard efforts to open the season. In the last two weeks against Michigan State and Oklahoma, Rees is just 23-of-58 (39.6 percent) for 246 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, the latter of which all came against the Sooners in the first half.
"I think it's accuracy," said Kelly of the area of emphasis with Rees. "It's tight man-coverage. The last couple of weeks, we've played two very good defenses that played a lot of man-coverage. We've got some young receivers out there that are not precise, quite frankly, in the route-running.
"Obviously, TJ Jones is a guy that he feels comfortable getting the ball to in those precise in-and-out cuts…You have to be a lot more precise and we've got some young guys running around out there that need to be more precise in what we're doing."
Although Hendrix will continue to be employed as a short-yardage specialist, there remains no doubt as to who will be the starter, health permitting.
"Oh, yeah, he certainly is with the recognition that Andrew's going to be able to help us out as well," said Kelly of Rees' starting status. "But there's no question. The quarterback that is going to start for us is Tommy Rees."
As for Malik Zaire, the left-handed freshman coming off a nasty bout of mononucleosis, the plan at this stage of the season as the Irish reach the halfway point this weekend in Arlington, Texas, is to preserve a year of eligibility.
"My guess is right now, unless we have an injury, you're not going to see Malik (in 2013)," Kelly said. "We only have the three quarterbacks so we have to keep him ready to go.
"But I'd prefer not to play him unless we have a medical situation, and when I say a medical situation, I mean if we have an injury to Tommy or Andrew, which forces our hand to activate (Zaire). He right now would be eligible down the line for a potential medical because of the mono that kept him out of action."

Stay connected with the Irish Illustrated toolbar - free Download