Still Evolving

Brian Kelly has developed an offense around the strength of his roster. He'll continue to do that in the future, and it might resemble what Irish fans saw in the fourth quarter and overtimes of Saturday's comeback win vs. Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame is two years removed from the four worst rushing seasons in program history (from worst to fourth: 2007, '08, '10, '09). They've fashioned a rushing attack under third-year head coach Brian Kelly that averages better than 200 rushing, yet still manages better than 200 yards passing yards per game -- the former a single-season high over the last 12 seasons.

Defend at an elite level; control the football; win up front on both sides of scrimmage in the second half. It's a blueprint for success at any level, in any era.

But future teams will have an added dimension if Kelly has his way.

"It'll be driven by the quarterback, by his consistent play, by his decision making, by his athleticism,: said Kelly when asked about the model for future Irish offenses. "Certainly if you take the last quarter in overtime, 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."

Kelly was speaking of Golson, but also presumably any signal-callers that will follow during his time in South Bend. Part of that progress will be defined by an element currently missing from Kelly's no-huddle shotgun attack: pace.

"We think that we can and we've shown that we can with him," said Kelly of an increased tempo for the 2012 offense. "Those are the things that he's been able to learn just in terms of his own management, his housekeeping, if you will, of getting up there, getting the play, communicating it.

"(Golson is) much more comfortable getting the signaling -- I think we talked about earlier in the year where we were worried about getting the signals.  Now he's a lot more comfortable with the signaling, the communication, and that's really got him to speed up the process."

At one point in Saturday's comeback, Golson either passed or ran on 19 consecutive Irish snaps. He finished with 227 passing yards, 74 rushing yards, three total touchdowns including the game-winner, no turnovers, and a two-point conversion to tie the score in regulation.

He was in control, rushing or passing, of 31 of Notre Dame's final 36 snaps.

"We just have a lot of development to do within the intricacies of the offense, the things that might not be seen quite as much.  I don't want get into the specific details," said Kelly of Golson's continuing evolution. "That's what he's capable of.  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."

Uncommon Ground

The next step for the squad as a whole, at least over the next two weeks, is managing the mental in addition to physical challenges that await.

The Irish were the toast of the college football world a week ago today. They've since fallen from grace: one spot to #4 in the purview of the only entity that matters, at least outside the program's walls.

But poll position with three (or four, for others) games remaining isn't Kelly's chief concern.

"This group has not been 9-0, so they have learned about how difficult it gets as you get down to just a few games left in the season," he noted of last week's close call. "This is new territory for them and they're learning. I sensed and felt in talking to our guys that they clearly understand that they can't play the game any less than their very best if they want to win."

Kelly noted his team played with the "heart of a champion" last week. He'd prefer that trait travel north for the remainder of 2012.

"We have to have the head of a champion too. Each and every week you're going to get the opposition's very best.

"Everybody can make their season beating Notre Dame."

Irish fans associate the next opponent with that reality all too well.

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