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Thursday, November 17, 2011
Irish learning to balance offensive pace

By Matt Fortuna

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The tempo Notre Dame's offense played at in Saturday's win against Maryland is closer to what Charley Molnar would like to see every week. But it is not something the Irish can rush into.

"Here's the biggest thing, it's the efficiency of it," the offensive coordinator said, "because if you go three-and-out, and you try to play up-tempo for that whole series, you might only have burned a minute off the clock, and now you're punting and the defense has barely gotten on the sideline. The coaches are just starting to drill down their adjustments. And all of a sudden the defense is getting their helmets back on ready to go. So using tempo can be a double-edged sword."

Notre Dame ran 84 plays Saturday, its most in two years under head coach Brian Kelly and nearly 17 more plays than its average of 67.2 in its nine previous games this season.

Molnar said the Irish begin every practice with a tempo period, and they will use different elements of it every game. But they had never kept up the pace for an entire game the way they did against the Terrapins.

Irish players said they could sense Maryland's defensive players not being able to keep up at times, and even Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray admitted to being winded himself at certain points Saturday.

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees said a big part of being able to play at such a fast pace starts with communication from the signal caller, who has to make sure that the offensive line is ready to go and that the wide receivers are set and lined up every play.

Having such a surprising powerful rushing attack 10 games into the season has certainly added another dimension.

"I think it's something that started when I first got here," Rees said. "One of the things Coach Kelly stresses is playing at a tempo where he sees fit, and sometimes it's slowing the game down and making sure we're checking at the line and doing a lot of that, and sometimes we wanna push the tempo and keep defenses off-balance and have a couple reads here and there, depending on the game-plan.

"Obviously it worked out pretty well in the past couple weeks, and it's something that the offense likes doing. It's fun going out there and kind of going and playing, so depending on the situation, what we want to do depends on how we're gonna keep the tempo."