Irish content to be ground hogs
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org September 5, 2012 10:00PM
SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03: Chris Watt #66 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish awaits the start of play against the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. South Florida defeated Notre Dame 23-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Chris Watt
Updated: October 7, 2012 8:08AM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For Chris Watt, nothing really changes. Whether Everett Golson is lined up under center, in the shotgun, or somewhere in Section 135, the job for Watt and his fellow Notre Dame offensive lineman remains the same — plug your hand into the turf, wait for the snap, and punch whatever behemoth lines up across from you square in the chest.
But for the big men in the trenches, there’s just something about playing power football.
“I definitely would like to,” said Watt, a senior guard and Glenbard West grad. “I love running the ball. It’s a mentality.”
Coach Brian Kelly talked during training camp about how his players are more comfortable running his system, how roles and expectations and schemes are more clearly defined now that he’s in his third year at the helm. But the offense that lined up against Navy didn’t look much like the one that Kelly fielded during his first two seasons.
Golson lined up under center more than he did in the shotgun. The Irish started two tight ends — Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas — and even ran some three-tight-end looks. And the thrust of the offense was pretty simple — hand the ball off to Theo Riddick, and let him run over some people.
A wide-open spread offense, this was not. A very successful offense, this was.
The Irish racked up 293 yards on the ground, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Riddick ran for 108 hard yards on 19 carries, and Notre Dame posted 50 points against a woefully overmatched Navy squad.
So while the players were being coy about what Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have cooked up for Purdue on Saturday, it’s safe to expect more pro-style, power football. Especially while Golson is still getting his feet wet, and especially considering the Irish ran for 287 yards against the Boilermakers in last year’s 38-10 rout.
“That’s Coach Martin’s philosophy — if a play’s working, why go away from it?” senior tackle Zack Martin said. “We went into the Navy game wanting to pass the ball and get Everett the ball, but we were running the ball so effectively, there was no point.”
Golson, making his first collegiate appearance, wasn’t asked to do much. He finished a modest 12 of 18 for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Eventually, Kelly will open the offense up a little more. And Golson knows that if the Irish already have established a run-first identity by then, it’ll only make things easier on him.
“Being able to really be diverse in your offense, you present a challenge to the opposing team,” Golson said. “They can never really dial in on what you’re doing. If they’re dropping [back], we can hit them with the run. If they press up, we can throw a pass. That really helps us.”
That the strength of this team is the running game is no surprise. With four seniors starting on the offensive line, and a very deep backfield — next week, suspended starter Cierre Wood (and possibly injured USC transfer Amir Carlisle) will join Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel in the backfield rotation — and a rookie quarterback, the Irish simply had to run the football.
But few expected the jumbo packages. Even fewer expected Riddick — all 5-11, 200 pounds of him — to be a power back. But after two years as a slimmed-down receiver, Riddick showed why tailback is his natural position with some hard running between the tackles.
“There wasn’t a lot of room to make guys miss and dance, so I just had to lower my shoulder and get as many yards as I can,” Riddick said.
Watt’s been seeing him do that throughout camp, so he wasn’t surprised.
“He’s one of those guys that doesn’t look like he’s going to do anything,” Watt said. “But when he stutters, he’s getting people guessing which way he’s going, and he’s just going to hit them underneath the helmet.”
It’s not quite the Notre Dame football of the recent past. But it just might become the Notre Dame football of the foreseeable future.
“It’s working well,” Watt said. “So until someone stops us, we’re not going to change.”
Musical analyst chairs
With Allen Pinkett suspended for the next two games, two Irish All-Americans will take his place alongside Don Criqui in the radio booth. Former ND guard Mirko Jurkovic will handle analyst duties for the Purdue game, while 1987 Heisman winner Tim Brown will call the Michigan State game next week.