Notre Dame Football 2013: Where the Irish Offense Is in Need of Improvement

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IMay 10, 2013

Apr 20, 2013; Notre Dame, IN, USA; The Notre Dame Fighting Irish line up in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame's inconceivable journey to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game was spurred by its ferocious defense, though a sole reliance upon the same unit won't aid in the Irish's goal of a return to the hallowed ground of college football's grandest stage. 

Yet the path which head coach Brian Kelly has followed in constructing the Irish in his image is the correct one. 

Since accepting the Notre Dame head coaching gig in Dec. 2009, Kelly has assembled the necessary pieces for an elite defense—a required aspect of a championship-caliber program. 

That vision came to fruition a season ago, when the Irish defense ranked seventh nationally in total defense, 11th in rushing defense, 16th in passing-efficiency defense and, most importantly, second in scoring defense. 

It was a unit that allowed 20 points or more just twice in 13 games. 

That same defense was also, on multiple occasions, the saving grace of an undefeated regular season. 

This common theme was brightly illustrated during Notre Dame's 13-6 victory against Michigan last September. 

Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson—the current Jacksonville Jaguar who gouged the Irish defense for 958 total yards in the teams' previous two meetings—committed six turnovers and failed to score, explaining his team's six total points. 

The focus here should be on those six Robinson turnovers and the Irish's failure to capitalize on them. 

That's six separate occasions during which the defense set up the offense for a chance to blow the game wide open, only to have that same offense sputter minutes after being handed the ball and favorable field position.

A narrow seven-point victory during a contest in which the Irish won the turnover battle, 6-2, won't be sufficient against the likes of a quality opponent such as the Alabama squad that thoroughly annihilated Notre Dame in Miami nearly four months ago.

Concisely, the offense must execute its job of throwing down the proverbial slam dunk off the assist from the defense.

Otherwise, the Irish will find themselves living dangerously by escaping with narrow margins of victory rather than the wide margins that would allow the collective blood pressure of the fan base to remain at relatively healthy levels.

Capitalizing off turnovers isn't the only issue needing to be addressed before kickoff against Temple on Aug. 31.

While the offense effectively moved the ball between the 20s, it became seemingly inept within the red zone.

That storyline was clearly on display against USC in the 2012 season finale, a 22-13 victory against the Trojans. 

Five of the Irish's six scoring possessions ended with field goals, each of which was set up in the red zone. So, technically, the nine-point victory didn't accurately portray Notre Dame's truly dominant performance against its traditional rival.

For argument's sake, let's say only two of the Irish's six scoring drives had ended with field goals. Had that scoring summary actually transpired, Notre Dame would have left Los Angeles with a 21-point victory, rather than a questionable nine-point victory against a team that would ultimately finish the season with a 7-5 record.

The Irish's scoring fortunes against USC were only a microcosm, though.

Notre Dame finished the 2012 season tied for 71st nationally in red zone offense. The team also finished tied with Oklahoma State and Toledo for the most red zone field goals with 19—a direct sign of the Irish's woes in the final 20 yards of the field. 

The Irish also finished the season with just 29 red zone touchdowns. Compare that to Alabama's 46, and a 119-point differential exists between the two teams that were matched up in last season's championship game.

If Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin can iron out those red zone kinks, fans will see more eye-popping figures on the scoreboard.

Yet the most pressing issue to be resolved is at the quarterback position.

Everett Golson, who will be a redshirt sophomore when the 2013 season kicks off, struggled with consistency as a first-year starter in 2012.

Even with Kelly adjusting his offensive principles to further include the presence of a potent rushing attack, Golson didn't enjoy any sort of seamless transition to the collegiate game.

Through 12 career starts, the 6'0", 185-pound Golson has a completion percentage of just 58.9.

That led to the Irish finishing the 2012 season ranked 74th nationally in passing efficiency, compared to—you guessed it—Alabama's first-place finish in the statistical category.

The good news for Irish fans is that, in most cases, with experience comes improvement. In his second season as Notre Dame's starting quarterback, Golson should be expected to make significant strides as a passer. And if that expectation is fulfilled, a more well-rounded offense will be the benefit reaped.