SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Ball control offense will no longer be part of Notre Dame's philosophy under new coach Brian Kelly.
Former coach Charlie Weis frequently talked about the need to play complementary football, depending on the offense to keep the ball away from opponents to take some pressure off the Fighting Irish defense. He did so most memorably in 2005, when Notre Dame held the ball for 38:40 against then-No. 1 USC led by Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush before losing 34-31 in the closing seconds.
Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said the Irish next season won't be worried whether scoring too fast makes it hard on the defense.
"The defense is going to do what the defense is going to do. If we score fast and it's three and out and then we get the ball, hopefully we can score fast again. That's the idea," he said.
With two of the most prolific passers in Notre Dame history in Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen, the Irish finished in the top half of the nation in time of possession in four of the five seasons under Weis.
In 2006, the Irish went 9-3 and were third in the country in time of possession at 32:51. Last season, they were 12th at 31:55.
Cincinnati, with its quick-strike offense, was dead last in the nation in time of possession in 2009 at 25:46, just as Kelly was in 2006 at Central Michigan. Despite that, the Bearcats (12-1) were fourth in the nation in scoring at 38.6 points a game. The Irish (6-6) were 32nd at 30.1 points a game.
Kelly isn't bothered by the lack of ball control.
"I think we all think in terms of a defense being aggressive, you have to have that mindset that from an offensive standpoint right away, before we even talk about the first X or O or the first play call, it's about having an aggressive mentality," he said. "It's not about anything else but scoring points."
Some Irish fans are worried that Kelly and his spread offense depend too much on passing and not enough on running.
Notre Dame has traditionally been at its best when it runs the ball well. In six of the seven times Notre Dame has won national championships since 1946, the Irish have ranked fifth or better in the nation in rushing offense.
In six years of coaching in Division I, none of Kelly's teams has finished higher than 40th in the nation in rushing. In three years at Cincinnati, the Bearcats never finished in the top 60.
Molnar, though, said Kelly knows the value of a strong running game.
"I would be disappointed if we go through this season without a 1,000-yard rusher at the running back position," Molnar said.
Over the past six seasons, Kelly's teams have run the ball at the same rate the Irish ran the ball under Weis' prostyle offense the past five seasons: 49.7 percent each.
Molnar said Kelly's offense is always changing.
"If we looked at where we were in 2006 to where we are in 2009, there were so many areas that are done in the same way yet there's so many new things. We're always evolving," he said. "We're always trying to stay a step ahead of the opposition and really being in the forefront of new ideas in the spread offense."
Kelly and Molnar have been together for four years. Molnar served as Cincinnati's run passing game coordinator. Initially it appeared that Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn would take the same job at Notre Dame, but Molnar got the position when Quinn was hired as the head coach at Buffalo.
Molnar knows what his job is. While Kelly calls the plays offensively, Molnar has the day-to-day duties of organizing the offense and conducting the offensive meetings. They'll work together to teach the new system to the Irish players.
"We know the nuts and bolts of this offense. We know the DNA of this offense. So we know right what to get to, the building blocks, what we need to teach first that everything else is going to build off of," Molnar said.
So far the new staff hasn't begun trying to teach the new offense to the Irish. The players are focusing on winter workouts while the coaches wrap up recruiting with national signing day on Wednesday.