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Sharpening ND's Skill Players

Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame in 2010 with a reputation for directing a high-octane offense at Cincinnati. However, it was mostly what he was able to do in his third season with the Bearcats that earned that distinction.

Sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels, who now wears No. 10, is one skill player head coach Brian Kelly is impressed with as the offense tries to become more potent

The Bearcats did rank 16th nationally in scoring offense (36.3 points per game) in his first season in 2007, but they were 30th in total offense (433.9 yards per game). The following season Cincinnati ranked 51st in the country in total offense (370.6) and 55th in scoring (25.9). In 2009, Kelly and Co. were really clicking offensively, scoring 38.6 points per contest (fourth) and putting up 447 yards each week (11th) en route to a 12-0 regular season.

Despite a 9-0 record in Kelly’s third season at Notre Dame, which comes after back-to-back 8-5 campaigns, it’s going to take a little longer for this coaching staff to reach the desired level of offensive output.

In 2010, the Fighting Irish were 61st nationally in total offense (379.7) and tied for 66th in scoring (26.3). Last season, ND was 35th in total offense (413) and tied for 49th in scoring (29.2). So far this fall, the Irish are 61st in the country in total offense (404.44) and 71st in scoring (26.67).

Evidenced by several games this year that have been closer than necessary, the offense is quite a few steps behind what was Kelly’s first priority, surprisingly, when he arrive in South Bend: a dominating defense.

“It'll be driven by the quarterback, by his consistent play, by his decision making, by his athleticism,” Kelly said of the Irish offense in future years. “Certainly if you take the last quarter in overtime [against Pitt], I think Everett (Golson) contributed 75 percent of our offense.

“So that quarterback will be the one that drives it; he'll have athleticism; he'll have the ability to throw the football. He's a freshman. I'm reminded of it every single day.”

Golson willed the Irish along late against the Panthers, making the required throws and scrambling for key yardage.

“That's what he's capable of,” Kelly said. “We want it to be a lot cleaner, a lot more efficient, and there are so many little factors in there. But it's the big picture of what we want. Now we really want to start to refine that. That's the next step for us.”

What follows is continuing to develop young skill players like receivers DaVaris Daniels (sophomore) and Daniel Smith (junior). Daniels, who did not see action as a freshman, is coming off the best game of his rookie season. The 6-2, 190-pounder out of Illinois has 23 catches for 353 yards (third on the team) after a game-high seven receptions for 86 yards against the Panthers.

“Well, he's learning how to play the game,” Kelly said. “And he's still learning. I'll give you an example. When he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then, when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, you know, it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there. You're starting to see it. He's only going to get better and better.”

Smith (6-4, 215), who saw time on special teams his first two seasons, has six receptions for 37 yards this year as primarily a blocking receiver.

“I think they're going to be more down the road in terms confidence in catching the football, route running, things of that nature. But [Smith’s] a kid that is not afraid to stick his nose in there and make big blocks for us. The long touchdown run we had against Oklahoma a couple weeks back [was] largely attributed to Daniel Smith getting in there and blocking a linebacker. So we feel really good about getting him on the field when we need the block, but obviously you can't put him on there just when you're going to block.

“You got to be able to throw the ball to him. I think he's showing you us we can continue to move in that direction and make him a more of a complete receiver.”

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