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Football Commentary: Changes apparent, but work not finished yet

Douglas Farmer | Monday, April 26, 2010

What can we learn from a game in which the player with the best stats spent last season at a community college in Southern California?

No offense to quarterback Nate Montana, but his 223 yards and two touchdowns don’t mean much to me.

One aspect of Montana’s performance did impress me, though; the offense as a whole has a decent grasp of Brian Kelly’s complex offense. However, nobody on the field Saturday was in good enough shape to run that offense adequately.

Fortunately, the Irish have four full months until Purdue arrives to open the 2010 season. Considering Kelly and his staff have only been at Notre Dame for four months, four more should do wonders.

And that is reason to be excited.

Kelly has already sparked more change throughout the program than was seen in the previous five years. With four more months, his mark, on and off the field, should only become more apparent.

Cierre Wood shined Saturday because Kelly moved sophomore Theo Riddick from running back to wide receiver, specifically to get Wood onto the field. Kelly’s emphasis on talent above favoritism also shows through in the performance of freshman early enrollee TJ Jones. After the game, Kelly said Jones would be starting at receiver if the first game was today. Even Michael Floyd did not start his first game with the Irish.

Players such as Jones, as Wood did last year, have all too often watched from the bench upon arrival at Notre Dame. Kelly knows the key to winning is to get the best players on the field in the best situations, and that is what he is doing.

Also showing promise Saturday was the Irish defense. Last week Kelly said the defense would be restricted somewhat in the spring game. Nonetheless, fans saw an aggressive unit Saturday. Yes, some tackles that should have been made were not made, but last season “some” would have been replaced with “numerous.”

Defensive linemen got their hands up to deflect countless passes, at least one resulting in an interception, and linebackers swarmed to the ball in a manner Irish fans have been waiting to see for years.

Saturday’s stats may not mean anything tangible. No one in their right mind expects Cierre Wood to rip off 44-yard touchdown runs with frequency this season, and if Steve Filer consistently leads Notre Dame in tackling, questions will surround Manti Te’o and Brian Smith.

But Saturday’s look at next year’s Irish was encouraging nonetheless. Talent took priority, the defense was aggressive and The Shirt is green.

Notre Dame football is headed in the right direction under Brian Kelly. In four months, hopefully the stats will prove it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Observer.
Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu