SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame enters this year's postseason ranked 115th nationally in punt returns, averaging 2.44 yards per return. And yes, this is a marked improvement from where the Irish were entering last year's postseason, when they averaged 0.3 yards per return.
Then Michael Floyd returned the first punt of the Champs Sports Bowl for 41 yards, or for three more yards than Notre Dame had netted on punt returns in the 12 games prior.
Any new wrinkle to a unit that has almost exclusively featured true freshman Davonte' Neal remains to be seen -- Notre Dame has not allowed media to view bowl practices -- but Brian Kelly is not averse to throwing caution to the wind if he thinks it will help the Irish this Monday against Alabama.
"We think it’s all hands on deck for our special teams, first of all," Kelly said. "It’s a one-game deal, so certainly we could add to the personnel on our ST and we’ll probably look to do that. We have not been spectacular, but we haven’t stunk the joint up either. We just need to continue to hold serve in ST and maybe we can catch lightning in a bottle on a return or get a block, something to that effect. Our concerns are making sure we just take great care of the football and flip the field when we need to flip it."
"I’m not going to get into the specifics," he later added, when asked about personnel. "All I can tell you is that we’re going to put all guys on deck in terms of trying to get the best players on the field because it's a one-shot deal. I don’t have to worry about the next week or the week after or them getting too many reps, including ST."
Alabama, by comparison, averages 10.18 yards per punt return, good for 40th nationally. The Tide surrender 7.67 yards per return, 57th nationally.
Notre Dame is ranked 10 spots higher, giving up 7.3 yards per return.