Marc Edwards was one of three captains on the 1996 Notre Dame team, the last one directed by head coach Lou Holtz. Edwards played fullback for Holtz’s juggernaut running teams and was selected in the second round of the 1997 draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Edwards played with five NFL teams over nine seasons and was the starting fullback for the New England Patriots team that claimed the Super Bowl XXXVI title. Here are his comments on Notre Dame’s 34-27 victory over Virginia and a look ahead to this week’s opponent – Georgia Tech.
Either the first or third quarter, or the second and fourth, that was a game of swings each quarter -- as much maybe as I’ve ever seen -- before the final two minutes and the game-winning drive. One team just totally dominating, then the other team was totally dominating. Then came that magical two-minute drive, led by DeShone Kizer.
I’m really pleased to see Notre Dame getting the ground game going, and although it was Kizer and the passing game that ultimately led to the winning score, the drive was kept alive by a 4th-and-2 run by Kizer behind that offensive line, which I’ve really been impressed with up to this point.
Rushing for 250 yards, those are Holtz-like numbers and you usually don’t get that in today’s game with people throwing the ball all over the place. C.J. Prosise looks good, but at the same time, a running back is only as good as his offensive line. He’s running well. He looks powerful. He’s breaking tackles, and he looks fast outside as well. I really like our running game right now, mainly because of that offensive line.
Where I am concerned is in some of the short-yardage stuff, red-zone and goal-line. It really surprised me with how well we were running the ball and then how poorly we were in the red zone and short-yardage.
The way we were running it when I was at Notre Dame, 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 were givens. There were no doubts. Maybe there’s still a hangover from the pass-happy offense we’ve been the past decade. But at the same time, we are running the ball for 250-some yards. Those are good numbers to build on.
Now the offense has to adjust to a new quarterback, and it’s a quarterback who probably isn’t going to run it as much as Malik Zaire. We dealt with it at Notre Dame during my time with Ron Powlus’ injury. My fifth season in the pros with the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe got hurt, Tom Brady stepped in and we went on a Super Bowl run.
When your quarterback goes down – your team leader – you’re now without the guy that everybody depends on. The quarterback makes plays, the quarterback is the leader…Now everybody else has got to step up and make plays. I couldn’t count on Drew Bledsoe making plays anymore, so I had to do that now. The guy sitting next to me had to do that now.
Every other position has to take it upon himself to get better, to focus more and make plays because you don’t have your playmaker anymore. If everybody else starts doing that, then it makes that quarterback a heckuva lot better, a heckuva lot more efficient. Then that quarterback is making plays as well while everyone around him steps up his game.
As an offensive player, you tell yourself, ‘I’ve got to be better.’ There’s no room for error now because we don’t have a key guy who has been there and done that. I’ve got to be more crisp and the guy to my right and the guy to my left have to take care of his business.
Having said that and having seen the improvement of the running game, Will Fuller just continues to impress. You would think the DBs would have learned by now to stay deep, but they just don’t, do they? He’s blowing by guys. I don’t know if he’s a 4.2 or a 4.3 guy – I don’t think he is -- but he sure looks like it. You’re just not supposed to get by people like that, especially in those end-game situations. Virginia needed to have somebody way back and that crucial mistake cost them the game.
Fuller is impressive every time out. If he’s running full speed downfield, he still has another gear he can kick it into. He just explodes by those guys and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s impressive.’
I was disappointed in the performance of the defense against Virginia, and Virginia hasn’t exactly been a very consistent offense. I came out of the first game against Texas feeling a heckuva lot better about them because they looked fast, were flying around the field and they were making plays in the backfield. Against Virginia, the first couple of series were three-and-outs, so it looked like more of the same.
We didn’t give up a lot of yards rushing except for a couple of big runs, but to allow a Virginia team to get over 100 yards (127) and to average better than four yards per carry, there’s a bit of a concern.
It’s still early in the season and they’re still in the second year of Brian VanGorder’s system. We’ve got a lot of talent with (KeiVarae) Russell back. (Jaylon) Smith is just a freak. The defensive line as a whole has been pretty impressive.
When a young guy like (Andrew) Trumbetti gets the personal foul call, stuff like that can’t happen in a close game when each possession is so important. We’ve got to get those little things fixed. I’m still very optimistic about the defense, but we can’t have those silly little things.
Both coordinators in that game – VanGorder for Notre Dame and Jon Tenuta for Virginia – really like to bring the pressure. As an offensive player, you have to look at those situations as great opportunities for your offense, especially when you have a weapon like Fuller on the field. Virginia was pressing Fuller at the line of scrimmage, which gives you another opportunity to make a play.
If somebody is blitzing us, we’ve got players who can take it the distance. I’m not sure we had that at Notre Dame during my time. Our top receiver was Derrick Mayes, and while he was an unbelievable receiver, he wasn’t a burner. I came after the Rocket Ismail years, so we didn’t have that kind of speed at wideout.
But blitzing defenses open things up down the field, and if you’ve got guys that can handle that up front, a quarterback that knows what the read is and can get the ball out, you can destroy teams that blitz because there are so many holes on the back end and there are so many one-on-one matchups.
Even with our quarterback and our first running back down, this is a team that can take advantage of defenses that choose to be ultra-aggressive against us. We have a bunch of playmakers on this team.
With Georgia Tech on tap, I’m not as worried about the offense moving forward. I think we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and running the ball. I know Georgia Tech was very vulnerable against the run last year, and they haven’t really been challenged yet this season. I’ve got a lot of faith in DeShone. He showed some real moxie at the end of the game. I think we’ll still put up some points.
But this is Georgia Tech, and even when we play against Navy, the triple option has been very tough for us to defend. If they run that efficiently – and no one knows how to run it more efficiently than Paul Johnson – it’s tough to stop.
That’s where I’m really concerned because Navy does it with the type of guys that can go to Navy who are good athletes, but they’re not Georgia Tech-type athletes. Georgia Tech has put up about 70 points two weeks in a row. Granted, neither game was against a major-conference team, but that’s where I’m concerned this week.
What concerns you offensively against Georgia Tech is getting enough touches and possessions, and that’s where a ball-control offense comes into play. That falls on our offense’s shoulders. That’s one of the stats I looked at after the Virginia game. We out-rushed Virginia by twice as many yards, more than 100 yards, but we lost the time of possession battle by a lot, which is very odd. It normally doesn’t work that way when you out-rush a team by that much.
If we can keep possession of the ball against Georgia Tech, we’ll see if they’ll have enough touches and possessions. Georgia Tech has struggled defending the run, and a lot of times you have to play complementary football, depending upon your opponent.
If you have an offense out there controlling the clock and you get 36 minutes of possession, your defensive guys are more fresh, you can rotate those guys in and we’ll win this football game.