Notre Dame football: What is different about this year’s team? It’s the little things


When Notre Dame blew a fourth-quarter lead at home against Georgia in Week 2, the Fighting Irish evoked last year’s team, which started the season ranked in the top 10 and finished 4-8.

Since the Georgia loss, however, this year’s squad has responded in a way that last year’s did not.

Notre Dame has won its last three games by a combined 85 points. With Georgia clobbering SEC teams week after week, Notre Dame’s offense clicking and a favorable schedule for the Irish down the stretch, at least one college football analyst has mentioned the College Football Playoff as a feasible destination for Notre Dame this season.

So, how has this year’s Notre Dame team improved so much from last season? Eric Hansen of the South bend Tribune says it’s been a combination of little things that have added up to make a huge difference.

Some of those changes have been brought about by Notre Dame’s coaching staff, led by head coach Brian Kelly, and others have been initiated by the players. Hansen said one area in which the coaching staff has helped this team has been by re-positioning several key players, particularly on defense.

Jerry Tillery was moved to nose guard in the offseason, Jay Hayes was rotated from the interior of the defensive line to defensive end, and former cornerback Nick Coleman has seen some time at free safety this year. In addition, Hansen argues that the most significant change has been moving leading tackler Drue Tranquill from strong safety to rover, a position which allows Tranquill to play much closer to the line of scrimmage.

Hansen also writes that the Notre Dame coaching staff has done a better job of self-scouting this season, identifying its own tendencies and weaknesses. Offensive analyst Jeff Quinn drew praise from Kelly on Sunday for the job he’s done in that department.

“(Quinn) does an incredible job of really diving deep into all of our formations and plays, and right and left, and tendencies,” Kelly said. “It’s just been a thorough report that’s allowed us to really be very intentional in terms of play calls and setting things up.”

Above all, Hansen argues, the biggest difference from last year’s team is its cohesion. Statistically, the Irish have displayed neither a dominant defense nor a high-yardage offense this season. But the team’s players have worked together and, for the most part, avoided costly mistakes.

“Our defense takes it away, we go and score,” Kelly said Sunday. “Our offense doesn’t put our defense in a bad position. We take care of the football. It’s just a good group, and it’s working well together. We’ll need to continue to do that if we want to continue to win.”

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