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Kelly lets go of Notre Dame offense and Martin delivers

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Irish assistant shows experience, knowledge in victory

Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 6:30 am

It can't be understated to what degree Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly trusts Chuck Martin.

When Kelly switched Martin from safeties coach to offensive coordinator 18 months ago, it caused a great deal of head scratching among Fighting Irish followers. But Martin did a masterful job of developing an offense led by a first-year quarterback (Everett Golson) in 2012 and Notre Dame played for the BCS national championship.

The 11th-ranked Fighting Irish (1-0) will travel to 17th-ranked Michigan (1-0) on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN).

In Saturday's 28-6 victory over Temple, Kelly took that confidence in Martin even further. For the first time since he became a head coach in 1991, Kelly turned the offensive play calling over to another coach (Martin) and he said afterward that he liked what he saw.

“I called all of the touchdowns (and) Chuck called all of the stalled drives,” Kelly said, laughing.

In all seriousness, it was a big adjustment for the Irish coaching staff and there were sure to be bumps along the way perhaps philosophically or in analyzing a situation. But it seemed to go smoothly according to Kelly.

“Procedurally I thought very well,” Kelly said of the transition. “No, it was very clean. I didn't expect to have any issues there and was very pleased. I thought Chuck called a very good game.”

The Irish accumulated 543 yards of total offense and didn't turn the ball over once. Even when the Irish players didn't execute as well as they should have, Martin made solid adjustments and kept Notre Dame out of problematic situations. At one point, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees had been sacked and Kelly was observing to see how Martin would handle a long-yardage situation. Martin didn't decide what many thought the play caller would likely think of, and that pleased Kelly greatly.

“There were a couple of things I thought were outstanding,” Kelly said. “The one sack that we did have, I thought he managed that situation very well.

“If you remember we were second and 15. We got half of it back. We then got them to jump offside, subsequently got it down to a third and 1. Things like that, I take full notice of how to play call those situations out, where an inexperienced play caller, at second and 15, now let's chuck it and it's third and 15.

“But that's just a small indication of his experience and being on the same page with him is that he managed the 2nd and 15 down to a 3rd and 1.”

The Notre Dame playbook has reams of calls, formations and personnel. One might think it would be easy for two coaches to come up with different thoughts. However, Kelly explained that given a certain situation, the offensive focus narrows into specifics, and play calling isn't nearly as complex as many would believe.

“We're working off of a play sheet and a call sheet that we construct during the week,” Kelly explained. “Our columns are down and distance and openers and field position.

“So it's not like there's 36 calls in there. There's four or five calls, and I'm generally saying let's keep it on the ground, let's burn some clock here, you know what I mean, let's push the ball vertically, more general terms, let's get a screen in here, let's not forget about getting the ball to (receiver T.J. Jones), those kind of big-picture things more so than let's run guard pull here. I'm not getting into that, bigger picture things.”