Aug 31, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Troy Niklas (85) breaks away to score a touchdown against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

USC Football: Previewing the Notre Dame Offense

Sep 28, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) throws in the first quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at Notre Dame Stadium. Oklahoma won 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Fighting Irish started off the 2013 with some major questions on offense. Everett Golson, the wunderkind who helped lead them to the national title game, left the team in the spring due to academic issues. In his place, senior Tommy Rees has returned as the starting quarterback.

Rees has struggled at times this year as he has through most of his 24 career starts. He’s completed just 51.7% of his passes for 1494 yards. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns with six interceptions, which interestingly enough is one touchdown better than what Golson threw all year last season. In his last three games, Rees has completed less than 50% of his passes. On occasion, Brian Kelly will bring in the change-of-pace quarterback Andrew Hendrix, though he’s had little success this season.

The main targets for Notre Dame in the passing game are receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels. One of the senior leaders of the offense, Jones is tied for sixth in Irish history with his 144 career receptions and he’s well on his way to increasing that number. The undersized receiver who thrives on turning short passes into long gains, leads the Irish this season with 33 catches and 481 yards. Daniels, a junior and the more prototypical of the two, adds 25 receptions of his own to the mix for 385 yards. The Irish also have a proven receiving option in tight end Troy Niklas. The junior is a Mackey Award candidate and has reeled in 14 catches for 250 yards. All three of the starting pass catching targets for the Irish have caught four touchdowns.

In the rushing attack, Notre Dame relies on the one-two punch of George Atkinson III, a junior out of Stockton, and Cam McDaniel, a junior out of Coppell, Texas. Atkinson has rushed for 323 yards on 56 carries, while McDaniel has added 263 yards on 63 carries. The two of them account for all of the Irish rushing touchdowns this season with two apiece. USC-transfer Amir Carlisle rounds out the ground-game with 178 yards. Even though all three primary running backs average more than four yards a carry, Notre Dame ranks a disappointing 95th in the country in rushing offense. That’s a big drop off from last year when Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood led the charge.

The Irish offensive line features both veterans and untested newcomers. At left tackle, Zack Martin has made 45 straight starts and is on the watchlist for the Outland and Lombardi awards. However, at center and right tackle the Irish deploy the inexperienced Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley, both of whom are in their first season as starters.

Overall, Notre Dame’s offense has been subpar. They rank 80th in the country in scoring offense and an even more disappointing 101st in red zone offense.

Projected Starting Line Up:

WR #7 TJ Jones
WR #10 DaVaris Daniels
LT #70 Zack Martin
LG #66 Chris Watt
C #72 Nick Martin
RG #74 Christian Lombard
RT #78 Ronnie Stanley
WR #2 Chris Brown
TE #85 Troy Niklas
QB #11 Tommy Rees
RB #4 George Atkinson III

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