After Notre Dame finished 4-8 last season, few people could have predicted that the Irish would be 7-1 and ranked third in the country this season.
But they are – and for that, Brian Kelly deserves a ton of credit.
“One of the things that every coach says is you got to be able to run the ball, you have to be able to play defense, and you have to be able to not turn the ball over – but get turnovers,” former Notre Dame All-American Raghib Ismail said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “All of those things are happening consistently for the Irish this year. That offensive line, Josh Adams – (they’ve been great).”
Adams rushed 158 times for 933 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and five touchdowns last season.
He’s already exceeded those numbers this season.
The 6-2, 225-pounder has carried 132 times for 1,169 yards (8.9 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, while Brandon Wimbush (21 touchdowns, two interceptions) has been the perfect dual-threat complement.
Indeed, the Irish have modified their offensive approach. Last year, they ran the ball 53.0 percent of the time; this year, they’re running 63.6 percent of the time. They’ve committed to the run and are bludgeoning teams.
“And this is the thing – and I can’t overlook this,” said Ismail, who played nine NFL seasons. “After last year, a lot of times a coach . . . that has the success that a Brian Kelly has . . . (with) that kind of a track record (doesn’t) feel like (he needs) to change. They feel like it was just retooling of what I’ve always done because I’ve had success, and that’s going to be the answer. Well, the fact that he was able to humble himself, assess himself (and) assess his program (made the difference).”
Kelly ceded play-calling duties to new offensive coordinator Chip Long and committed to being more involved with his players.
“‘Hey, I’m not calling the plays anymore, I’m going to be more involved with the players, and I’m going to be able to look at relationships that I’ve had in this coaching realm, whether it’s with strength and conditioning, whether it’s with my defensive coordinator, and I’m going to make the tough call,’” Ismail said, explaining Kelly’s mindset. “‘I’m going to replace those guys. Not that I don’t love them, but I just feel like (I have to) for the better results that we desire for the football team.’ Looking at himself, making those hard changes – all that, to me, is a recipe for success.”
Ismail, 47, also discussed his relationship with his brother, Qadry, who also played in the NFL. Both are talkative and engaging, and Ismail learned a thing or two from Qadry in their youth.
“One of the things I admire my brother for – his ability to understand girls at a young age was very interesting to me,” Ismail said. “I was always shy. If it wasn’t for the fact that if a girl thought I was cute and one of her finds came over to talk to me, I never would have had a girlfriend. One of the strategies Qadry figured out early was to figure out what girls like and get well-versed in that area and come to them. I used to wonder, ‘Why is he watching these soap operas?’”
He watched them, as it turns out, to meet girls.
“He used to watch soap operas all the time,” Ismail said, “and he’s like, ‘Man, these things are a gold mine. All you have to do is watch these, and the next time you see a girl that you like, probably 80 percent of the time she’s going to like one of these soap operas, and you’re in.’”
Qadry was also a hard worker.
“He would get up at like 5 in the morning before the doggone sun, go out, tie papers, and deliver them all over,” Ismail recalled. “I was like, ‘Man, I could never do that.’ But my brother, his ability to communicate, his ability as a father, his ability as a communicator – off the charts. Love him to death.”