SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly's spread offense at Notre Dame has yet to look like his spread offenses at earlier career stops. No matter, especially when you have the Irish on the doorstep of their first national title in 24 years.
But a ground-and-pound style can only take you so far against the nation's top rushing defense, and Kelly is aware that topping Alabama simply between the tackles Monday is asking a lot of any offense, let alone one that has steadily grown under a first-year quarterback.
"I think there’s a time and place for all of that," Kelly said. "Are we going to be exclusively in tempo? No. I like to pick our spots. Part of our offense right now will reflect more of that at times during the game. It won’t always be that way. We’ll pick our spots to use some tempo that we think can be beneficial for us.
"As you know, personnel, moving personnel in and out of the game, we’d like to try to match up to some of our guys that we think we could have a matchup problem with when you have multiple tight ends on the field."
The Tide surrender just 79.77 rushing yards per game, and 2.46 yards per carry. The Irish's rushing attack has risen from as low as 87th nationally after the season's first month (140.25 yards per game) to 29th now (202.5 ypg), and the emergence of Everett Golson is no small reason for that.
The redshirt freshman's rushing yards through September? Negative-11. His total in the seven games since? 316.
Look at the performance of the only quarterback who delivered Alabama a loss this season -- Heisman winner Johnny Manziel added 92 rushing yards to his 253 through the air -- and the closest thing to a blueprint for attacking the Tide's defense begins to emerge.
"I just think there’s a lot of things that you have to do," Kelly said. "If you go in there and say, ‘All right, we’re just going to play the game between the tackles,’ you’re in for a long day. So I think we have to utilize the 53 1/3 by 120. We’ve got to be attacking all areas and getting the kind of matchups that we need offensively. We’ve got to get big chunk plays. I’m just going to tell you that right now. They know that, we know that."
Facing a defense that ranks in the top-eight nationally in five different categories, the Irish will need playmakers in all shapes and sizes, making the return of a deep threat like DaVaris Daniels (broken clavicle) all the more important come Monday.
"We got a lot of guys that can fill in that role, so it's on all our shoulders," Daniels said. "Everybody has to make a play. We need all 11 guys to play to the best of their abilities."