Where The Buck Stops

Bob Davie acknowledges the futility of the Irish offense right now. Tom Beck, a former coach of Notre Dame, points out some of the same things Davie and his offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers are probably seeing after the dismal loss to MSU.

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Beck's Beat—Analysis

September 23, 2001

Where The Buck Stops

By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) --Many coaches envied Bob Davie when he was appointed the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame. One of the best positions in the profession at a richly endowed, beautiful and prestigious University with a storied academic and football tradition.They still envy the position, but not Bob Davie.

"Wake up the Echos" is no longer the war cry for Irish fans. It is more like "Wake up the Offense."

One wants to have empathy for Davie and his staff, but decision-making and attitude in any business or organization or football program starts at the top. And to the credit of Davie, he recognizes that he is the one responsible.But when the leader says that it is his responsibility, that he has the talent, that the team has the talent, that he believes in the coaching staff, etc. and the team is still doing poorly, then doesn't this reflect on his ability as a decision-maker to get the job done satisfactorily? In football that means winning.

Davie and his Irish are going through tough times right now. And, as he says he told his team, "We only have each other right now."

Davie was resolute at his news conference Sunday. He still said this was the most talented team he's had since he's been head coach. He still said there's plenty of football left this season and he said he understands the frustration of ND fans who weren't shy about booing the 17-10 result against Michigan State.

But watching ND perform, one does take away some impressions—not all of them favorable, to say the least.I

t is no doubt, the responsibility of each position coach to substitute players at his discretion as he sees fit. On 3 and 12 from the MSU 17, Matt LoVecchio dropped straight back vs. an MSU blitz and was sacked as the blitzer ran right over a smaller Julius Jones who had responsibility for the blitz. Why wasn't a bigger Tony Fisher in at running back to pick up the blitz? He had a better chance with a bigger body to stop the blitzer.

 Jones would have been ok in there if his responsibility would have been a "hot" release against the blitz. In that case, LoVecchio's responsibility would have been to read the blitz and dump the ball "hot". This is fundamental. In fact, as Davie noted Sunday, this is exactly what Michigan State quarterbck Ryan Van Dyke did to counter the all-out ND blitz when he hit Charles Rogers for the winning MSU touchdown.

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The use of the flanker motion and fake reverse while giving the ball to the single running back up the middle is a sound football play. It worked three times in a row to Tony Fisher for first down gains. The threat of the reverse keeps the weak side defensive end/ linebacker at home to monitor the reverse instead of collapsing inside against a conventional run with no threat going to his outside. This enabled Fisher to get into the secondary.

The reverse play was set up, but Arnaz Battle lost yardage on it the one time ND ran the play. On the other occasion ND faked the reverse, David Givens showed pass immediately, instead of making a solid run fake before he threw the incompletion. Maybe his hamstring injury bothered him and he couldn't make a realistic run fake. If that was the case, he should not have been in the game at that time, in my opinion. It was the lone play for Givens on Saturday and Davie reported Sunday that Givens is only 50/50 to play against Texas A&M.

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As to faking with or without the ball, ND still needs to improve in this area. The technique of the QB extending his arms fully to hand off on the draw, power, isolation play or on run-action passes is completely foreign to this writer and former coach. In this situation the defense can see the ball the entire time. The other method of the QB stomaching the ball and hiding it from the defense whether it is a run or pass keeps the defense guessing.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers apparently prefers it the way he teaches it, but I don't understand it. It is the same principle as the option where the inside defense is frozen by the fake of the QB to the fullback because they can't be sure of where the ball is going. Unfortunately, ND under Rogers rarely uses the fake fullback dive as an option threat.

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ND ran a half dozen "down-the-line " options, a speed option with no faking. Although they ran it a couple of times effectively, the QB could still run it better. Too often the QB is trying to outrun the pitch key (the defender responsible for forcing the pitch). The QB needs to operate close to the line and attack inside the pitch key forcing him to make a decision just like a 2-on-1 situation in basketball. The longer the defense strings out the option, the more the defense is favored.

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When Carlyle Holiday came in at QB, ND ran a QB draw on his first play; he was sacked on his third play; he ran a QB option on the fourth play, a QB draw on his sixth play and a short hitch pass, short of the first down on his eighth play. Play calling???

MSU has a scouting report. They know what kind of QB Holiday is, they know the play calling tendencies of ND when he is in at QB. Imagination, creativity, and tendency breakers are certainly compatible with good offensive play calling.

Davie acknowledged the point in his news conference on Sunday in a question posed by IrishEyes.

"We honestly wasted that series with Caryle," Davie said, referring to the series in which Holiday came in right after ND appeared to establish a power running game with the aforementioned-Fisher plays. "You bring up a good point and this is something that Kevin and I talked this morning about.

"We got off what was going pretty well because we put in Carlyle and we wanted to take advantage of Carlyle's athleticism. So it probably knocked us off rhythm a little bit and we hurt ourselves there.

"Once again, it's good-intentioned," Davie said. "It's for the right reasons, but we don't have a rhythm of what we truly are and what we truly can do. We have to be careful not to get ourselves in two different offenses depending on who is in the game. I think that is a valid point."

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ND called three screens. One worked. That screen is what is known as a "Bubble" screen to the wide receiver in the slot. It was well-executed and went for a first down. With the MSU defenders playing off, they could have come back to this high percentage pass.

The other screens were dropback screens in which Julius Jones left too early and showed screen to soon. The RB must make a realistic block and wait for the linemen to move first. Jones was going to be wide open on the screen this time, but he did not first give the blitzer a solid bump before leaving and that defender ended up deflecting the pass because LoVecchio then had to show screen earlier, also.

 A screen is a good way to slow down a rush, but execution and timing is essential.MSU scored its first TD on a misdirection run action pass, a bootleg. This is especially good near the goal-line, where the defense has to react quickly to the initial fake. However the bootleg is good out in the field also, as a way to combat quick defensive pursuit, especially in running situations.

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 Whereas MSU passed on first down a number of times, ND does it infrequently. When ND did run a bootleg on first down, it was a 17-yard completion to Tom Lopienski for a first down.

Screens and misdirection plays (runs or passes) are essential to slow down quick defensive pursuit. The fake reverse with the TB up the middle as ND used it, while not a misdirection play per se is a form of multiple direction because it holds defenders where you want to hold them.

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When a team is having difficulty moving the ball, they might want to consider doing the unexpected, go away from your tendencies. Run on pass downs, pass on run downs, use misdirection. Division One football programs exchange video tape of every game of the season and also have a file of last year's tapes. Everyone puts the statistics into a computer and it spits out almost too much information on the other teams tendencies. All teams also self-scout themselves to check their own tendencies.

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 The bottom line on offense or defense or in the special teams is execution. The play called is important, but the execution of the play is more important. Ultimately, on any given play all 11 players must execute as one to have the best chance for success. Execution is the result of talent, technique, and motivation.

All of these are influenced one way or the other by coaching.

(Tom Beck is a former Notre Dame assistant coach and a regular contributor to IrishEyes.)


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