Holiday began fall camp in 2002 looking very sharp. He had improved a great deal in his mechanics and his throwing. "Last year I just really wanted to make sure that everything I did was consistent and that I was understanding what I did. Just process everything I could process and not try to over do it. I just wanted to help my team win."
The season started off with eight straight wins—most under the leadership of Holiday. The team seemed to be on target for a great season and Holiday said he felt comfortable in the system. "I did feel comfortable. I think we all started to come around at the same time. We all started to feel comfortable with each other and we realized what our roles were in our offense. I think we all started to adapt throughout most of the season—until the end of course. I think the offense became much more clear to us."
Along the way, the Irish started losing tailbacks. Each week it seemed that another tailback was injured and unavailable to play. Holiday feels that had a major impact on the effectiveness of the offense. "That always affects the performance. To have a strong passing game—for the most part—you have to have a strong running game. It showed, as the running game started to deteriorate a little bit towards the end of the season, the offense kind of went into a downward spiral. We were starting to become one-dimensional, the running game is a big part of our offense."
As the offense sputtered, Holiday learned how far he had to go as a quarterback and how much the offense had to improve. "Towards the end, it just seemed like every team had our number. They were running that same blitz that gave us problems. Because we were in the first year of the offense, I think we kind of struggled a little bit in that part. I wasn't making all the reads and I wasn't getting the ball out of my hands quick enough. Now, I think we've adapted and have adjusted to those situations because we know we are going to be in those situations. Last year I think was a big learning experience, we sort of expected it but when it came, it wasn't in our heads and I think we've learned from that."
To play quarterback anywhere you must be a leader. Holiday understands he needs to be a leader and he spoke about his leader ship style. "You have to be leader at the position that I'm at regardless if you are voted a captain or not, you're the captain of the offense. I think I really don't need to change my leadership style. I'm not a guy who yells at people but at the same time, when I'm in the huddle, I've got to be expressive and take control. Those are the things that I need to work on. Not sort of yelling and jumping around but maintaining control and keeping your guys in control."
Holiday did struggle last year in the offense but he understands that he will improve. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer didn't exactly set the world on fire until his final season at USC. Holiday said it has been difficult to adjust to the new system. "It's very difficult to learn a new offense like this. Especially when you come from the kind of offense we ran in previous years. As far as the criticism goes, that is always going to be there—especially at this place. I think just having another year to learn in this offense will help me out a lot. I feel much more comfortable in my reads and I think everyone feels more comfortable in the system."
Holiday spent a lot of time in the off-season learning the system. He spent a lot of time watching film to get a better understanding of the system and where the offense failed. "I think we all watched film, at least once a week for two hours but a lot of us came in on our own. Film is a big part of it because we learned so much from looking at the film last year. What our mistakes were and what we should have did in certain situations. That's pretty much what we all did to get prepared to get ready for the spring. We worked on throwing our routes on time and finding some kind of chemistry with our receivers when we had time off."
The Irish staff spoke to Holiday about what he needs to improve on next year. "They really wanted me to be more of a leader out there. They really wanted me to work on the basic mechanics and accuracy. All the little things that you need to keep improving on. Timing on routes and reads and all the things that will make me a try to become a complete quarterback."
Holiday has shown improvement in his mechanics this spring. He appears much more polished as a quarterback and he credits his quarterback coach Bill Diedrick for the improvement. "He's helped me a lot," said Holiday of Diedrick. "We look at it on film—what we need to work on. Every day during spring practice so far we've done a certain amount of drills that help you with footwork and your delivery so I think that is really what he's trying to stress this spring. I need to get the ball off quicker which allows me to be a better quarterback because I go through my reads faster and don't allow the defense to adjust that much."
The wide receiver corps is an experienced group. Omar Jenkins has played a lot of football at Notre Dame. Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight have had a year in the system and played quite a bit last year. Ronnie Rodamer has caught a lot of balls from Holiday in practice. Holiday sees this experience as a big plus for him and the offense. "Us being around each has really helped a lot, just being in the system a year or two. Those are the guys you can talk to because you've been around them a lot. You can go up to them and say ‘you need to break off your route' and they'll listen and they'll understand because they respect you and you respect them. We know what we need to do; we know what our positions are. Those four guys, we've really formed some kind of zone right now that is really comfortable."
The offense has set some goals for the year and Holiday is the leader of the offense. Holiday spoke about what the offense hopes to accomplish next year. "Right now our goal is to win. We've set some spring goals we want to accomplish and we need to work on. I think our season goals are to execute, to be consistent and play within ourselves and be physical as a team"
Being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame is not an easy job. Holiday understands this and he talked about the hardest thing to deal with being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. "I guess the hardest thing is, whatever you do, the next thing has to be that much better. You can never have a downfall, you just have to keep on improving and that is in practice or a game. You have to come in here believing you can do that to be the quarterback at Notre Dame."
Holiday improved a great deal in 2002. He clearly was a much-improved quarterback but most fans only remember the last three games. People forget the great wins against that started against Maryland where Holiday was 17-for-27 for 226 yards and no interceptions. They forget about the 41-yard pass to Stovall that put the Irish into scoring position against Michigan. They forget that when Notre Dame lost the lead against Michigan in the third quarter that Holiday came out firing with two passes to Omar Jenkins (29 and 47 yards) that put the Irish in position to lead this team to victory.
Holiday is not the complete quarterback yet but he has proven that he is a gamer and he is tough—although not quite durable. When he is healthy, he makes big plays that only the great quarterbacks make. I doubt many quarterbacks could've taken the shots he took last year. Holiday just needs time in this system. Once he gets more repetitions and some time to throw the football, he should become the complete quarterback all Irish fans want to see.