SOUTH BEND - Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly got his professional career started in the realm of politics and there is no more definitive profession when it comes to categorizing a winner and a loser than that.
Kelly spoke recently of learning how to deal with the media while he dabbled in politics, however, something that he also learned was that you need to do whatever it takes – within the rules – to win. If you aren't going to win, then all of this effort and preparation is pretty much wasted.
How that applies to the 2012 Fighting Irish is that Kelly demonstrated the ability to adapt his strategy and philosophy to match the current personnel group and how to be successful with this particular group of guys.
“That's why coach Kelly is the best head football coach in America,” Notre Dame associate head coach Bob Diaco said. “Because coach Kelly does what is necessary to try and be sure that we have one more point than our opponent.”
On average this season, the Irish (12-0) had nearly 16 more points than their opponents, but Diaco's point is well taken.
The top-ranked Irish will face No. 2-ranked Alabama (12-1) in the BCS National Championship game Jan. 7 (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in Miami.
In Kelly's two prior coaching stops, he developed a reputation as having prolific offenses – and with good reason. In his third season at Central Michigan, the Chippewas scored 416 points, while at the same point in his tenure at Cincinnati, the Bearcats scored 502 points. This season, Kelly's third in South Bend, Notre Dame scored just 321 points.
“(Kelly) will change what he needs to change,” Diaco explained, “he'll tweak what he needs to tweak. He thinks about (the offense) every day and it is one of his greatest assets.”
The offensive production as far as points scored was certainly disparate, but in studying the total yardage between the three offensive systems, there wasn't that big of a gap.
At Central Michigan, Kelly's team accumulated 5,254 yards, which was just slightly more than this year's Notre Dame team (5,056). His Cincinnati squad totaled 5,817 total yards. But a big difference – aside from points – was how those yards were gained.
At both Cincinnati and Central Michigan, Kelly relied on experienced quarterbacks to throw for 4,014 and 3,443 yards, respectively. But in deciding to start a first-time college quarterback in Everett Golson this year, Kelly was smart enough to realize that having the young man air the ball out all over the place probably wouldn't work.
“We had two things going on there,” Kelly explained, “we had, we're going to play a freshman quarterback, and we're not going to say, 'It's a transition year. We're going to give (Golson) experience, take our lumps, and move forward.' I've just never operated that way.
So with those two things coming together, you have to find a way to win those games, manage those games, limit possessions, hold on to the football.”
Both the Chippewas and Bearcat running attacks gained less than 1,811 total yards in comparison to their high passing statistics. But the 2012 Irish were much more balanced.
The Notre Dame quarterbacks combined for 2,626 total yards, while the Irish running backs gained a comparable 2,430 yards.
“Because those were the two immediate factors, then you have to adapt to the way you run those games,” Kelly said. “That's how we came up with the formula this year to play the way we've played. Next year might different depending on what those key factors are.”