November 04, 2008

Around the Nation - State of ND football

Some completely random and rambling thoughts about the state of Irish football as we head into the BC game. Many of them are in direct conflict with one another, but I think that’s ND football in 2008. Confusing.

12. Scary thought. What would our record be this year if our schedule was a typical ND schedule?? If we had opened up with someone like Georgia Tech instead of San Diego State and Michigan still had a typical Michigan team with Lloyd Carr and Mallett, would we be 3-5 right now?? And what if Washington had canned Ty after last year and brought in a really good coach?? And what if we had played a good SEC team or Big 12 team at home in November instead of Syracuse? I'd like to think we'd win a couple of those games, but I'm not all that sure of it.

Can't even imagine what our score with Texas Tech or Florida would look like. They would make us look like Washington.

11. The blueprint is obviously out on how to beat this Notre Dame team. Get physical with us, pound the ball and pound the ball on the ground, and bring pressure on Clausen until we fold up front on both lines. We can only win games if Clausen is connecting with Floyd and Tate, but those plays aren’t there in the second half when the other team has made adjustments, our line is out of gas, and Clausen doesn’t have time to make those throws.

Speaking of running out of gas, what are your thoughts on the second half collapses?? Is it a lack of halftime adjustments?? Is it a conditioning issue? Do we lose our mental edge and relax?? Are we just a soft finesse team that gets worn down if teams get physical with us??

It is concerning when our offensive and defensive lines look completely worn out and out of gas in the second half. Not sure if that is a practice issue or what the deal is.

I thought we played really well in the first half. We were inspired on defense, the running game was working, and we were hitting plays through the air. Did we just fall asleep in the second half or is it something larger than that?? It would be nice to put together 60 minutes of great football against BC.

10. Were we really all that more talented than Pitt?? Before we address any coaching issues, I wanted to discuss this whole idea of how much more talented we are than the teams we are playing and losing to right now. While I agree to an extent that we have more overall talent than a team like Pitt, the talent gap might not be as wide as the recruiting rankings indicate. If you watched that game knowing nothing about either team, would you have really concluded that ND was significantly more talented than Pitt?? Perhaps it is a coaching issue that our raw talent is not being developed, but it might just be that our talent level combined with a lack of experience was somewhat similar to Pitt.

I’ll be honest, I watched the game on Saturday, and the teams on the field looked evenly matched from a talent standpoint. We had a huge edge in QB and WR and TE talent and maybe an edge in the secondary, but Pitt had an equally large edge on the defensive line and running back. Both teams had strengths and talent deficiencies. I think that’s why I came away from the game on Saturday feeling disappointed and down but also feeling like we played our butts off and left everything on the field.

I don't want to make excuses, but the youth thing is still an issue for this team. When all these young players are juniors and seniors, they may begin to look much more talented than Pitt's players. As of right now, they look about the same.

I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but Pitt is really not a bad team. They are a better team than Boston College, and they presented more matchup problems for us than BC will. BC is a solid football team, but they are less dangerous than Pitt. Their strengths are not our weaknesses if that makes any sense. BC has an average running game and an average passing game, and their defense is built around stopping the run. We can make plays on them through the air, and they probably won't run right through us like Pitt did.

9. The Texas Tech of the North?? – With the success of Texas Tech this year, there’s been some talk among ND fans (me included) of scrapping the pro-style scheme and just going all out with the spread Texas Tech offense behind Jimmy Clausen. As much as I'd be intrigued by that type of offense with our receivers and QB, I'm not sure if we could make that our bread and butter offense.

First of all, we play on a grass field with constant bad footing. It's awfully hard to run that type of offense when guys are slipping and sliding all over the place. Grass fields in northern climates are not conducive to spread and shred em type offenses. Saturday, we actually had some moments where guys caught the ball in space and slipped or got slowed down by bad footing. Meanwhile, on turf last week against Washington, we were catching balls in space and running wild.

Penn State is a northern team that runs this Spread HD offense, but they still have a power scheme in many ways. If you watch Penn State, they look to pound the run with Evan Royster and mix it up with their passing game. They aren’t exactly running the Texas Tech type offense. If we decided to convert to the Texas Tech offense, it might be wise to dump the British Open rough that we are calling a field and put in a field turf setup.

Second, if you want to run that type of offense, you better have quick, athletic type lineman. Our line is HUGE and SLOW. We've spent the last 3-4 years recruiting 300+ pound lineman fit for a prostyle offense. If we were going to implement a spread, we probably need/needed to get smaller, quicker linemen.

Weis came to ND planning to run a pro style scheme and recruited that way. While our skill position talent appears more suited to a spread, it's really not as easy of a switch as we all think it might be. Weis has tried to grab bag to implement this half-spread thing that we're running now, but the foundation for that type of offense probably should have been laid 3-4 years ago. Of course, Weis didn't have any idea what type of system he was going to build when he first arrived at ND because he's never coached in college before.

Weis is learning on the job in coaching AND recruiting. He's recruited guys like James Aldridge and Robert Hughes (who are both talented backs), but those guys aren't really good fits with the spread offense that we appear to favor. So we're left with a small guy like Armando Allen (who gets banged up a lot) as our only fit in this offense, and he's not exactly an All-American. To me, it just goes back to a program that hasn't found its identity.

The Texas Tech offense is intriguing, but we’d have to make a lot of changes in our program to fully convert to it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider it, but it’s not as easy of a conversion as some may envision.

8. In many ways, Weis is symbolic of what ND football has become in the last 15 years. Grab-bagging. Lose a game?? Let's get a new o-line coach or a new DBs coach. Lose a game?? Let's grab bag for recruits and build up our recruiting rankings instead of targeting players for a specific scheme. Lose a game? Let's go to the Texas Tech offense and see how that works out. Lose a game? We need to try running the ball more next week. Lose a game?? Let's dumb down our schedule and try to schedule ourselves into bowl games. Lose a game?? Let's change the pep rallies and the announcers. That HAS to be the problem.

Our program has no identity and hasn't had an identity. Grab-bag, grab bag, grab bag. It happened with Davie, it happened with Willingham, and now it is happening with Weis. Think about how many different things Weis has run through in the last 4 years.....we were a pro style team, we were a 4-3 defense, then we were a 3-4 defense, then we tried to go to a WVU spread, then we talked about "pounding the ball", then we went to the spread. No identity, no overriding philosophy on what ND football is all about. It's just one grab bag after another. Don’t players need some level of continuity? And it has affected recruiting in the sense that we have been trying to recruits players for all those different schemes. Demetrius Jones to be a spread QB, 4-3 d-linemen to be linebackers, 300+ pound linemen for a spread, etc.

Meanwhile, look at Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. Urban Meyer has had ONE PHILOSOPHY since he came to Florida. Spread offense, tough, physical defense and an emphasis on playing with speed and aggressiveness. They have worked on those principles since DAY ONE. That's probably all they practice. One of the reasons that I wanted ND to go all out for Urban Meyer when he was at Utah was that I knew that he was going to bring a philosophy to ND on how to win football games. The guy is a winner. Yes, he has great talent, but he has won everywhere. He won at BG, he won at Utah, and now he's winning at Florida. He has a vision for how to build a program. It's not just "we need to recruit" or "we are going to scheme." It's a philosophy and an attitude that they have instilled in everything they do from recruiting to style of play to motivation.

Nick Saban. Same thing. He came to Alabama and immediately went to work on making his team the toughest and most physical team in the country. That's all they work on in practice and in the weight room in the offseason. TOUGHNESS, TOUGHNESS, TOUGHNESS, PHYSICAL, PHYSICAL, PHYSICAL. If you watch those segments where Saban is mic'ed up in practice, that's all he tooks about. Beating up your man across the line of scrimmage from you and wearing teams down. That is Alabama football under Nick Saban, and that has been his mantra since the very first day he got there. Why is that?? Because Nick Saban has a set of principles that he has relied on as a head coach for 15+ years. He didn't need to flirt with 10 different schemes and 10 different philosophies to try to figure out what worked best.

Not blaming Weis for that. He has never been a college head coach. As crazy as it sounds, he probably won't have a set of principles for another few years at least.

7. Is Weis the best we can do for a head coach at Notre Dame?? Does anyone think that Paul Johnson could come in here and probably have this team flying around and playing crisp football?? We don't know of course, but I think it’s a strong possibility.

Is Charlie Weis one of the 50 best college football coaches in America?? I’m asking because I really don’t know the answer to that question. I looked at the various conference standings and just started running through names. A lot of coaches on that list that I would currently put ahead of Charlie Weis.

Can ND do better?

6. Hypothetical question. Instead of ending up at ND, what if Charlie Weis had started his head coaching career at a random school like Iowa or Virginia or Oregon State?? Would he win there??

5. The funny thing is that I'm still sort of optimistic about Weis in a weird way, and I've been ripping the guy consistently since early 2006. I think his biggest problem is that he was never a college head coach and didn't have a set philosophy on how to build a program when he came to ND. Since he doesn't have any philosophy, he has to grab bag with different ideas and schemes seemingly on a weekly basis (even during the game). It even goes into recruiting since we have all sorts of different players fit for different schemes. Weis is still in the process of figuring out how to be a head coach (what type of recruits he needs, what type of system he wants, what type of defense he wants to run). He may never figure it out, but we don't know that yet.

Weis is not a great coach right now in 2008. In fact, he has proven to be very mediocre and probably has been worse than Bob Davie so far. But he has upside. That upside keeps me hopeful. I hope that he becomes one of those coaches who puts it together over time. Gary Pinkel was the epitome of mediocre for six years at Missouri and suddenly has figured it out the last couple years. Nick Saban didn't really get it going as a head coach until around his 5th year at Michigan State. Weis has only been a head coach for four years in his life, so maybe he'll start to figure it out over the next few years.

And Weis CARES. A lot. The guy is busting his butt to try to turn this thing around. That alone earns him my support.

The other thing going for Weis in my eyes is that the team is still playing hard for him. It's not like they've packed it in like they did under Willingham. This isn't a Bill Callahan situation where we are getting plowed and a change is needed to revive the program. The team still is preparing to win and going all out to win for Weis, but it just isn't happening right now.

4. Incredibly, I still feel good about this program. The talent is noticeable. We have more talent than at any time since I arrived at ND in 1998. We have a qb. We have playmakers. We have some talented and young defensive players. We have young freshmen linemen like Trevor Robinson and Ethan Johnson who are much better than the upperclassmen on the team. We are going to be a good team in 2009 and 2010.

I think Weis absolutely should be here to see through what he has built. He has done a very good job in the program management area (recruiting, building depth, establishing ND as a desirable place again for Qbs, Wrs, and TEs), and now he needs to figure out a way to mold the program into a football team. The 2008 recruiting class was the #1 class in the country, and I think he should have an opportunity to coach those guys all the way through and show us what he can do with that team. Weis has proven that he understands ND and knows how to recruit to South Bend. Now we just need him to start building some good football teams.

I think he deserves more time to show us one way or the other what he is capable of doing as a head coach. If he fails, he fails. But he may turn the corner and end up becoming a very good head coach.

3. One of the things that I noticed on NDNation after the game was a lot of people placing blame on Jimmy Clausen for the loss. GIVE ME A BREAK. The kid is a sophomore and one of the best young QBs in the country. He has been carrying this team this year. Why does everything have to all be on Clausen’s shoulders?? The fact that we require an All-American level performance out of our quarterback to beat a team like Pitt at home is the fault of the coaching staff for not building up any other strong areas on this team. We should be able to occasionally win games through other components (defense, special teams, running game), but all those units are average or even below average. You shouldn't have rely on your quarterback to carry you to squeak out a win over Pitt.

Why didn’t Weis produce a better defense in the offseason that could occasionally win a game for us?? Why didn’t Weis produce a gamebreaking special teams unit that could swing the momentum for us?? Why don’t we have a running game that could grind out wins when we are up 17-3 at halftime?

Those are the questions that should be getting the attention from Saturday. Not Clausen missing a couple passes in the end zone.

Good teams don’t need their quarterbacks to carry them every week. I watched a good chunk of the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday, and it was really eye-opening for me how little Tebow meant to their win. Tebow really hasn’t been that great this year, but it doesn’t even matter. They still won 49-10. Florida is RELENTLESS. They attack, attack, attack on offense, defense, and special teams. Florida is not just fast. They play fast as well. Everything they do is at 100 mph. Tebow is an important player for Florida, but he is hardly the key to their success in a big game. Tebow really isn’t running the ball that well this year, and he throws so many ducks it’s not even funny. And yet they destroyed Georgia on Saturday.

2. Finally, if you have thrown in the towel on Weis, I can’t really blame you and won’t question your decision. But let me ask you this question.

Do you really trust the ND administration/athletic department to make a better hire if we fire Weis after this year or next year? I sure as heck don’t. The people running ND have proven that they don’t know football. They have absolutely no idea how to identify a great football coach, so I don’t have any faith that they will be able to evaluate candidates and find a good one. Do you really think the ND administration has any idea whether someone like Brian Kelly or Will Muschamp or whoever would be a great head coach at ND?? No, they don’t have any clue, and I’d trust anyone reading this blog over the people at ND who would be making that decision.

There is a 0.0% chance that ND would be able to identify a diamond in the rough like Oklahoma did with Bob Stoops. And that’s probably the only direction ND would be able to go with a head coaching search in the next couple years. We aren’t getting Saban or Urban Meyer or Stoops or whoever to leave their job for ND. We would need to find a hidden gem or take a chance on someone like Paul Johnson.

I don't want any part of another coaching search. I'd rather just keep Weis and take my chances on him.

1. My WEISND week 10 power poll:

6) Penn State
5) Texas
4) Texas Tech
3) Alabama
2) USC
1) Florida

While there is all this talk about “BCS controversy” and all that, I really think the “best team in America” debate has never been clearer. I think Florida is the best team in America, and I’m taking the USC Trojans as the second best team in America. When those two teams are “on,” they are the best teams in the country. I will never doubt Nicholas Saban and wouldn’t be stunned if they beat Florida in the SEC title game, but I’m sticking with the Gators and the Trojans as my top two. I would LOVE to see those teams square off. WOW. Talent everywhere, speed everywhere, great defenses, explosive offenses, and Urban and Carroll pacing the sidelines.

Please give us this game.

1a) Bonus thought - BRADY QUINN! Couldn't be happier for him. The move was long overdue, and I hope this change is permanent. I'm a Bengals fan and always will be, but I am pulling for the Browns to do well in the Brady Quinn era.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Your point about the coaching search is completely accurate. Although I do not believe that Weis will succeed at Notre Dame, I am certain that the administration will conduct a feckless search that will result in a substandard selection. As seen in the past, there will be a number of individuals involved with the hiring, such as Fr. Jenkins, who are unfit to identify and recruit the best football coach for Notre Dame. Consequently, the hiring parties will disregard the only salient characteristic in a prospective coach- football acumen- in pursuit of more "noble" goals, such as having "integrity" or appearing to be "straight out of central casting."

As such, Weis is our best hope right now and he doesn't look like he has what it takes. Of course, given our strong recruiting and impossibly weak schedules, who knows?