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Irish Offense Makes Big Gains

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly is getting the production he hoped for when he named sophomore quarterback Everett Golson the starter in August. The offense, per Kelly’s plan beginning in fall camp, is becoming increasingly more effective heading into November than it was in September and October.

Quarterback Everett Golson and the Irish offense are starting to produce more big-chunk plays

And with four regular season games left, an Irish appearance in January is all but inevitable for the first time since the 2007 Sugar Bowl. It would require a spectacular offensive meltdown for third-ranked Notre Dame to miss out on a BCS bowl bid — highly unlikely considering the confidence Golson and Co. picked up in Norman over the weekend.

Notre Dame is averaging 389.8 yards per game, balancing 196.5 rushing yards with 193.2 passing yards each week. What have been missing for the most part are explosive gains, with the Irish boasting only 104 plays from scrimmage that went for at least ten yards, which is tied for 87th nationally with Navy, Georgia Tech, Kent State, Kentucky and Minnesota.

Among the BCS top 10, only No. 5 LSU (91 plays that went for at least 10 yards) and No. 7 Florida (99) have fewer than the Irish. Top-raked Alabama has 123, No. 2 Kansas State has 130, No. 4 Oregon boasts 152, No. 6 Georgia has 129, No. 8 South Carolina has 120, No. 9 Florida State has a whopping 170 and No. 10 Louisville has 127.

It wasn’t an issue in Norman, when Notre Dame consistently found significant gains against a solid Oklahoma defense.

Senior running back Cierre Wood broke off a 62-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give the Fighting Irish a 7-3 lead. Golson found junior wideout T.J. Jones for an 18-yard gain in the first quarter, but the drive yielded no points. The two synced up on a 12-yard pass on the opening drive of the second half, and Golson rushed for 11 yards two plays later.

Sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels caught a 14-yard pass early in the second quarter and Golson added a 16-yard run late in the third stanza. The biggest of the big gains came after Oklahoma tied the game at 13-13 with 9:10 left to play in the game. On 2nd and 2 at their own 35-yard line, the Irish torched the Sooners secondary on a 50-yard pass from Golson to freshman receiver Chris Brown. The two attempted to hook up on a deep ball in the first quarter on first down.

It was Brown’s first reception of the year, and it set up Notre Dame’s go-ahead touchdown with 5:05 left on the clock.

“There’s constant conversation with Everett every time … whether he’s laying on his back because he got the wind knocked out of him, or he’s coming over to the sideline,” Kelly said after the game. “I don’t talk in terms of how big this is; I talk in terms of ‘execute the plays that we call.’ He threw a great ball to Chris Brown that gave us a real big spark there in the [fourth] quarter.”

And why Brown in such a critical situation?

“Speed. Speed. He’s our fastest kid,” Kelly said. “He had an opportunity earlier and it would have been a tough catch. He has elite speed and he has just been a guy we’ve been trying to get on track. We knew we’d have an opportunity to get one on one.”

Senior running back Theo Riddick also hauled in a 12-yard pass on the same drive, before adding rushes of 10 and 15 yards, respectively, the last of which was for the final touchdown, on the next two possessions.

Golson, who rushed for 16 yards on one play in the third quarter, also hit Daniels for 22 yards and senior tight end Tyler Eifert for 11 yards in the second half.

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