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Irish control clock as rushers dominate

Chris Allen | Monday, October 8, 2012

CHICAGO – On most days, Irish coach Brian Kelly is not an advocate of time of possession. That was not the case after Notre Dame’s 41-3 win over Miami on Saturday. The Irish used a relentless running game and key third-down conversions to dominate the time of possession statistic, holding the ball for 39:08 of the game’s 60 minutes. After the game, Kelly acknowledged the role possessing the ball played in the one-sided Irish win.

“I am [an advocate] on these days,” Kelly said with a laugh.

The Irish ran the football early and often coming out of the locker room to start the second half, after posting a 13-3 lead in the first half. Kelly called 19 run plays out of 21 offensive plays from scrimmage in the third quarter, and the tandem of senior running back Cierre Wood and sophomore running back George Atkinson responded with three combined rushing touchdowns in the frame. Kelly said the success running the ball in the second half was fueled by the offensive line.

“We made sure that we ran the ball between [senior offensive linemen Zack Martin and Chris Watt], who are outstanding and felt like they could control the line of scrimmage,” he said. “And we used some formations to get some good matchups. They were rotating their coverage to [senior tight end Tyler] Eifert quite a bit and again, it opened up a lot of things for us in the running game.”

After Miami redshirt senior kicker Jake Wieclaw converted a 28-yard field goal to put the score at 7-3 at the 5:32 mark in the first quarter, the Irish responded with the first of several long scoring drives they would produce throughout the game. Golson completed all four of his passes and rushed for 24 yards on a 13-play, 70-yard drive that encompassed 6:22 and ended with a 22-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza. Notre Dame followed up that drive with a 14-play, 65-yard drive that also ended in a Brindza field goal. All in all, Notre Dame recorded four scoring drives consisting of more than 12 plays. Miami coach Al Golden said the disparity in time of possession took a toll on his young defense.

“It’s bad. You know, it’s not good,” Golden said. “Again, give them credit. They ran the ball effectively. They’ve got a veteran offensive line. They rotated three running backs in there and I thought they blocked well on the perimeter and as I said, we compounded by not making any progress on offense with the football.”

The nearly two-to-one split of time of possession that resulted from the run-heavy Irish play calling kept a dangerous Miami offense off the field and contributed to its season-low three-point output on the scoreboard. Miami entered the contest having averaged 35.6 points through its first five games, but struggled to convert when it had the ball on offense.

“I just think they were executing better than we were and our defense was on the field too long. We weren’t getting first downs,” Golden said. ” There was a long stretch where we were not getting first downs on offense. We were giving them the ball back. We could never get a takeaway.”

Wood, who ended the game with a season-high 188 rushing yards, said the clock-controlling performance on the ground is a sign of things to come for the Irish.

“You take it to them and smack them in the mouth enough times, they’re going to want to stop playing, and that’s what happened today,” Wood said. “It was only a matter of time. I know I can make plays, it’s just a matter of when the opportunity presents itself.”

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu