For the last two seasons, Notre Dame has had one of the worst red zone offenses in college football. Last year, the Irish offense converted 53 percent of its red zone chances into touchdowns (good for 26th worst among FBS teams); in 2012 that rate was just 48 percent (13th worst).
So it's been a common refrain ever since the 2012 season: Notre Dame has to be better in the red zone. Without the nation's second best scoring defense to bail it out, the Irish offense has to execute at a higher level this fall to get Notre Dame into the playoff discussion.
It's why coach Brian Kelly placed the blame of Notre Dame's loss to Michigan last September on the offense, which he said didn't make enough plays to win (despite scoring 30 points). Kyle Brindza had to kick three field goals from inside the Michigan 30, and Tommy Rees and T.J. Jones couldn't link up to convert a fourth and four at the Michigan 17 early in the fourth quarter.
Losses to Pittsburgh and Stanford saw valiant defensive efforts — especially at Stanford, a game in which a depleted Irish defense held the Cardinal to 27 points, enough to keep the Irish in the game. But Notre Dame's offense couldn't quite make enough plays (granted, against one of the nation's best defenses) in a seven-point loss.
But if Notre Dame is to successfully navigate a brutal second-half schedule this fall, it'll likely be because Everett Golson and the offense wound up making enough plays to win, not the defense.
"We have to put points on the board that we have not been able to consistently do against the best teams in the country," Kelly said. "So that's certainly been the focus and it will have to be this fall again playing the kind of schedule we do.
"We can't go down to Florida State and hope to win 10-7. We're going to have to put some points on board."