LOS ANGELES - The record is perfect even if the offense is not.
And Brian Kelly understands the Irish earned their way into BCS National Championship game without a functioning red zone attack. The Irish have struggled inside the 20-yard line when it comes to scoring touchdowns all season. Saturday night’s 22-13 victory at USC shined a brighter light on that shortcoming.
Notre Dame entered the red zone six times. It came away with one touchdown.
“Not getting touchdowns came back to make it a little more difficult on us and I knew it would,” Kelly said. “Every time we have to kick a field goal is where we missed an opportunity there.
“We’re still in process there. We’re not there yet. When we start clicking down in the red zone, we’re gonna be really good.”
For the season the Irish have scored touchdowns on 27-of-58 trips, a conversion rate of 46.6 percent. Compare that to potential title game opponents Alabama, converting red zone trips into touchdowns 73.4 percent of the time, or Georgia, doing it at a 76 percent clip. The Irish do have five more red zone trips this season than the Crimson Tide and a dozen more than the Bulldogs.
The touchdown percentage is the biggest reason why Notre Dame averages just 26.75 points per game. That slots the Irish No. 75 nationally, their worst ranking in any major category.
“We’re going to go back next week and look at the tape and figure out what we can get better at and do that during that week. We have time,” said Theo Riddick. “Coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns because we have to. We have to do better at that in the red zone.”
Riddick, who finished with a career-high 146 yards rushing along with 33 yards receiving, delivered Notre Dame’s only red zone touchdown. Yet Kelly went away from Riddick after his 15-yard run gave the Irish a first-and-goal at the nine-yard line with a six-point lead and six minutes to play.
After two Golson runs got Notre Dame to the two-yard line, the quarterback misfired on a fade pass to Tyler Eifert in the end zone. That triggered a 19-yard field goal from Kyle Brindza, his fifth of the game.
Golson finished 15-of-26 for 217 yards. But in the red zone he went 0-for-5.
“We’ll have plenty of time to continue to work on that leading up to the national championship,” Kelly said. “It means there’s things that we need to work on. We’re not a perfect team, we know that.
“Here’s what we like, we know that that is gonna get better as our quarterback matures.”
Golson finished turnover-free for the fifth time this season and sits one win away from tying the Notre Dame record for most consecutive wins to start a quarterback’s career. Matching that mark, set by Bob Williams during the 1949-50 seasons might require Notre Dame’s offense to clean up its red zone mistakes.
And if Golson does that, Notre Dame’s offense may match the team’s record in terms of perfection.