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DeFranks: Notre Dame finds offensive identity in win (Oct. 23)

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, October 22, 2012

It was not pretty, flashy, sparkly or fancy – but it was who the Irish are.

Without its starting quarterback, No. 5 Notre Dame was able to pull out a 17-14 win over BYU using what has now become this team’s offensive identity – rushing the football.

Just two weeks after Notre Dame dominated Miami to the tune of 376 rushing yards, the Irish powered through, around and over a run defense that came into the contest ranked third in the country. Senior running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood racked up 143 and 114 yards, respectively, repeatedly grinding out tough yards between the tackles.

The effort on the ground was the third time the Irish ran for over 200 yards in a game this season alone. The previous two came against overmatched Navy and Miami but this one was different.

This one came against a good defense. This one had big runs and clutch gainers. This one put the game away in the fourth quarter.

After trailing at halftime for the second consecutive game, Notre Dame pounded the rock 24 times in the final two quarters while attempting only three passes. With the game on the line and the Irish protecting a precious three-point lead, Irish coach Brian Kelly went to the running backs to put the game on ice.

“We are becoming that kind of football team on offense,” Kelly said. “Even when we were down, we kept running the football.

“It’s our identity and what we do.”

And that’s exactly what they should be doing. Kelly and the Irish are 18-2 in the last three seasons when they outrush their opponent. They have won 11 straight games when they gain 200 or more yards.

The correlation is clear between running the football and winning. The Irish have too many weapons in the backfield to let them take a backseat to the revolving door under center.

The running backs have been so good that it barely even matters who is under center. As long as the quarterback – whether it be junior Tommy Rees or sophomore Everett Golson – can hold on to the football, the signal caller does not need to be a world beater. If they can just complete a key third down every now and then and make the defense at least respect their ability, that should be enough for Notre Dame.

The Irish rushing attack can do the rest, including finishing the game.

“We’ve been able to run the ball in the second half and we proved it today and we have some talent back there,” Riddick said. “Why not give us the ball?”

And there is, of course, the Irish defense.

The Irish defense has transformed from being one that allowed 35 points to Navy in 2010 to one that is the smash mouth backbone to a 7-0 start. The Notre Dame defense has kept the Irish in games no matter how much the offense struggled.

The offense has not been asked to mount miraculous comebacks. They have not had to get into a shootout. They have had the luxury of running the ball because the defense kept them in the game.

That’s not going to change – and neither should Notre Dame’s identity.