Notre Dame’s 3-3 record at the midway point of the season isn’t too surprising.
The Irish were realistically 4-2 by this point, and they could easily be two games over .500 or even 5-1 if not for Michigan State pulling off a gutsy fake field goal in overtime and running into the emergence of one of the top running quarterbacks in the country in Michigan’s Denard Robinson.
Coach Brian Kelly said he is pleased with his team’s run defense, which is giving up 145.7 yards per game, and he thinks his offense is about where he thought it would be at this point in the season.
“We’ve played some really good teams that run the football,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “Really, if you look at our entire schedule, I don’t know that there is a team there that you say they don’t run the ball. Purdue came in wanting to run the football, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, so I’d say I’m please with our rush defense.
“What we’ve been able to do offensively, I think it’s just the development of the quarterback. He is making progress each and every week.”
Notre Dame had two of its longest offensive possessions of the season in Saturday’s 23-17 win over Pittsburgh, putting together drives that lasted 6:22 and 6:23 in the first quarter.
The sustained drives were a result of quarterback Dayne Crist hitting shorter, ball-possession throws and not going all out – a signature of Kelly’s spread offense – on some plays.
“I’m managing him a lot more than I would a quarterback that has more experience in the spread,” Kelly said. “Because of that the quarterback can’t be free-wheeling. At times, we have to do that just to maintain possession of the football and keep drives alive.”
Along with Notre Dame stopping the run well, the Irish are also keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
The Irish have given up seven red zone touchdowns out of their foes’ 19 trips inside the 20-yard line.
Kelly said the work Notre Dame did in the offseason to create the right defensive mentality and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s ability to dial up the right plays is what is keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns only 37 percent of the time from inside the red zone.
“You just build that belief that when you go out there that you don’t have a breaking point. Those are the things that we try to instill in the entire program,” Kelly said. “Bob’s done a very good job schematically in terms of different looks down there and making you earn it. I think any time you can do a good job against the rush in a short field and force the ball into tight zone coverages, you got a chance.”