Notre Dame Must Get Off To Faster Starts On Offense

Bryan Driskell

In his pre-South Florida press conference, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly touched on a very important topic regarding his offense, and that is getting off to a better start. Kelly mentioned multiple times how his unit had to improve in this area after being held scoreless in the first quarter of the season opener against Duke.

Starting fast has been an issue for Notre Dame well before the Duke opener. In fact, it’s been an issue for the Irish offense throughout Kelly’s tenure. When the offense could strike quickly, Notre Dame has been very hard to beat.

It’s not only a key to beating South Florida in the convincing fashion it should, it’s a key to becoming an offense capable of competing for a championship.

Since the post-2016 program makeover, Notre Dame has lost just six games, and in those six defeats the offense scored a combined 13 points in the first quarter (2.2 per game) and just 46 total first half points (7.7).

Notre Dame has gone just 4-4 against opponents that finished ranked in the Top 15. In the four victories, Notre Dame scored an average of 13.8 points in the first quarter and had at least 13 first quarter points in each game. The Irish averaged 24.3 points in the first half, and reached at least 20 points in each contest.  

In the four losses, however, Notre Dame scored a combined six points (1.5 average) and just 26 total first half points (6.5 average).

Even with padded numbers against two opponents that finished a combined 5-19 (38 first half points vs. New Mexico, 35 first half points vs. Bowling Green), Notre Dame averaged just 8.5 first quarter points per game and 20.4 first half points per game in 2019.

Compare that to last season’s four playoff teams. (First quarter average / first half average)

Notre Dame - 8.5 / 20.4

LSU - 11.1 / 27.7
Clemson - 11.8 / 26.5
Ohio State - 10.4 / 27.4
Oklahoma - 11.3 / 22.1

The only team to come even close to Notre Dame is Oklahoma, who lost their playoff game 63-28 after being out-scored 49-14 in the first half.

Starting fast is vitally important to success, and those teams show that, and not just from their wins.

Clemson barely beat a 7-6 North Carolina team last year, and a slow start was a big picture culprit to their struggles in that game. The Tigers failed to score a point in the first quarter and had just 14 at halftime. Clemson was again shut out in the first quarter and had 14 points at the half against Ohio State, a game the Tigers had to rally and win.

Ohio State’s inability to turn drives into touchdowns (they settled for three first half field goals) allowed Clemson to claw its way back into that game, and eventually it resulted in the Buckeyes losing.

LSU’s most competitive game of the 2019 season was a 23-20 win over Auburn, a game in which the vaunted Tiger offense that averaged 48.4 points per game last season failed to score a point in the first quarter and had just 10 points at halftime.

If Notre Dame wants to get on track offensively, if it wants to have an offense that is capable of competing for a championship, fast starts must become the norm no matter who they are playing. Getting started with that against South Florida will be a key to building towards sustained success throughout the season.


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Comments (5)
No. 1-3

Outstanding INFO - TY


Starting fast certainly helps. Do you see a connection between big play offenses and starting fast?


Interesting analysis. I never really looked at that before, thanks. That said, I thought that relative to last year's Big 4, our first half offensive output would have been significantly lower. As it stands, the difference between the Irish and these four teams was about a FG in Q1 and a TD in the first half. For some reason, I thought it would have been more, like at least a TD in Q1 and 2 TDs at the half.