Here’s how much Notre Dame has changed in a year:
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren won’t even watch the tape of last year’s game between the Fighting Irish and the Wolfpack.
“It’s like it didn’t happen,” Doeren said on Monday.
Notre Dame lost to the Wolfpack in Raleigh, 10-3 last year, in the middle of a miserable 4-8 season. The 14th-ranked Wolfpack (6-1) and Fighting Irish will meet again on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
Brian Kelly, on the hot seat a year ago, reworked his coaching staff and adopted a new, run-oriented identity on offense. The result? A 6-1 start and No. 9 ranking in the AP top 25.
Irish fans have gone from shopping for a new head coach to dreaming of a spot in the College Football Playoff.
How did Kelly do it? He brought in Mike Elko from Wake Forest to run the defense, which was a mess last season. After seven games, Notre Dame ranks No. 12 in scoring defense (16.4 points per game).
Chip Long, a former Memphis assistant, was hired to replace offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who took the head coaching job at Western Kentucky. The Irish rank No. 11 in scoring offense (41.3 points per game) and No. 6 in rushing offense (317.9 yards per game).
And Kelly, in his eighth season, took a step back and hit the reset button. The spread-it-out, throw-it-around ways from his days at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan have been replaced by a student-body-left, student-body-right approach recognizable by any Notre Dame fan from the Lou Holtz or Ara Parseghian eras.
“Coach Kelly deserves a lot of credit, he really does,” Doeren said. “He made some tough decisions and staff changes and he has done a great job. He really has.”
The Fighting Irish have found success as a run-first, run-second team. They rank No. 3 in the country in yards per rush (7.1 as a team). Senior running back Josh Adams has rushed for 967 yards in seven games, at a whopping 9.2 per carry. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has 508 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Last year, with quarterback DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame had 438/388 split of running to passing plays. Kizer threw for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and was a second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns.
Notre Dame averaged 163.3 rushing yards per game last year, which ranked 80th, and 4.0 yards per carry. In the rain-soaked loss to N.C. State on Oct. 8, the Irish ran the ball 38 times for 59 yards.
Despite Hurricane Matthew pouring about 9 inches of standing water on the Carter-Finley Stadium turf, Kelly had Kizer attempt 26 passes.
“I know when we played them last year, they couldn’t run the football,” Doeren said. “They tried to throw it in the rain and all that stuff.”
With Wimbush’s running skills, the Irish have dropped to No. 118 (from No 48 last year) in passing offense (with 157 yards per game).
Notre Dame’s strength matches up with N.C. State’s strength. The Wolfpack ranks No. 6 in the country in rushing defense (but struggles against the pass).
Doeren also noted there are similarities in how the program’s handled adversity.
“Both of us went through tough seasons a year ago, at certain times, and have rebounded well as a staff and as a team,” Doeren said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
How Notre Dame has turned into a running team in coach Brian Kelly’s eighth season. The numbers through the first seven games this season and the first seven games of 2016:
Yards per carry
Yards per game