College football these days can be down right offensive to watch. And that is a good thing for fans seeking entertainment.
There are eight teams at the FBS level that have already racked up 3,000 yards of offense this season and five that are averaging over 52 points per game. In 2012, it is often difficult to tell who is operating these games, offensive coordinators or 16-year-olds with a joystick.
However, in the case of Notre Dame, its coach has taken an entirely new approach to building his fourth different program and it is working magnificently.
The Fighting Irish (5-0) have climbed to seventh in the latest national rankings, one more spot and they will match their best spot in six seasons, and though their offense was powerful in Saturday's 41-3 beat down of Miami (Fla.) at Soldier Field in Chicago, there is no mistaking how this team has gotten this far this autumn.
“When I came to Notre Dame, having lived in that world of trying to outscore opponents,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly explained, “I felt that the best blueprint that we could put together for a national championship was through our defense.”
Good idea, coach.
As of today, Kelly's team hasn't allowed a touchdown in a month (Purdue on Sept. 8). And considering that it has faced Michigan's Denard Robinson and Miami's Stephen Morris in its last two games, that statistic is difficult to grasp.
“We have now held University of Miami, Michigan, and Michigan State to not scoring a touchdown,” Kelly said following his team's latest victory. “That's an incredible feat for our defense.”
Is this the same coach that guided Cincinnati to over 5,800 yards of offense in 2009? The same guy that has said for years that time of possession is often irrelevant.
And now he is emphasizing defense?
“Well, I've run an offense that had to score more points than the defense,” Kelly said. “You don't do your defense any kind of service in those kinds of games.”
Kelly explained that more often than not, a strong defense can be much more reliable than even a productive offense can be. It is a safer bet that your athletes will always show great effort in chasing, tackling and covering, even on an “off day,” than your quarterback will always be able to throw for 400 yards.
“When you play the game that way, you are susceptible to off days,” Kelly said. “And you are going to get beat.”
So far during Kelly's tenure in South Bend, he and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have made finding the biggest and best athletes possible, then developing them into even bigger and better athletes, their highest priority and it is working.
“It's only our third year in terms of building this,” Kelly said of the defensive unit. “We've got a ways to go there. But the blueprint here is not to try and outscore people and turning it into a track meet. It's to control the line of scrimmage, play great defense, and be solid in the special teams. It's just the way that I want our program to evolve.”