I'm usually very positive but I can't find anything positive in this loss—neither did Willingham. The Wolverines exposed every weakness on the Irish offense and defense and did it like a well-oiled machine. The Irish have blown a gasket and smoke is heaving out the backend.
This is no "drop it off and be back in an hour" quick fix as the mechanic does some tinkering. This is a "get a rental car because this is going to be in the shop for a while" type of fix.
It would be one thing if the Irish just had to focus on becoming a better offensive team—we all knew that. Michigan showed the Irish have a lot of work to do on defense as well—something even Willingham was probably not concerned with.
Emotion and momentum are two very big factors in any game. The Irish defense can hold down an average offense for most any game and have proven that over the last year. Where the Irish really struggle is against a good offense and Michigan undoubtedly has that.
I wonder how different this game would've been had the Irish offense taken the ball and scored off the gift of the Navarre fumble given by the defense. The Irish had the ball at the Michigan 38 yard line and momentum on their side. Three plays later, not one yard gained and the Irish were punting—disappointing.
Had the Irish offense scored, how would this game have changed?
The main problem with the Irish football team in my eyes is the offense. The defense is good enough to play with almost anyone—they just can't play the entire game without some help or hope.
Thinking back to USC last year, the Irish defense held USC for most of the first half. They kept the Irish in the game but the offense never responded. The Irish had the early lead 6-0 in the first quarter—what would've that game been like if it were 14-0? Mike Goolsby picked off a Carson Palmer pass in the second quarter at the goal line stopping a USC threat. Carlos Pierre-Antoine blocked a punt in the end zone giving the Irish the 13-10 lead. The Irish defense gave the offense plenty of chances to stay in the game but the offense never responded.
Sooner or later, the defense is going to break down against a good offensive team. The Irish offense will have to find a way to score points to make up for these mistakes. Until the Irish offense can score points, the Irish won't be defeating many top 10 teams—if any.
I'm not sure what the game plan was for Michigan and even Diedrick admitted the game plan went out the window early. Regardless of what the game plan was, what is important is what was actually called. Game plans are only good if executed. What was called definitely didn't work and that is the end result and the only result that matters.
I could run down a laundry list of things wrong with the Irish offense but there is no point in that. Diedrick knows he has a problem and it's up to him to fix it. My comments are not criticisms towards him or Carlyle Holiday in the slightest. They are just my opinions on what might solve the problem.
How can the Irish fix the problems on offense? I am not a coach, nor do I claim to know as much as a coach but I will use offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick's philosophy on how to build an offense. Build an offense around the talent you have within the system—something I don't think he has done with Holiday.
Quarterback Carlyle Holiday is not a drop-back quarterback at this point. That's not to say he can't be but he doesn't look to be that guy right now. What can Holiday do? He can strike fear in a defense just by having the ball in his hands. Why not use that to your advantage?
If Carlyle Holiday is struggling finding his reads; why not give him an extra two seconds by putting him in the shotgun at times? While you might take away the element of surprise by doing this, I don't think anyone has been surprised by this Irish offense in quite some time. That is not a criticism on Diedrick so much as a statement on the reality of where the Irish offense stands right now.
Nobody fears the Irish passing game and they shouldn't fear their passing game. Their leading receiver (Omar Jenkins) has seven catches in two games and is averaging just 28 yards receiving per game. The Irish passing game as a whole is averaging just 102 yards a game.
Holiday has made a number of big plays for the Irish in his career. He has done this both in the air and on the ground. Why not give him that option? He's clearly one of the most athletic players and true playmakers on the team.
I understand that Diedrick's offense has to be installed at some point and Holiday will have to understand it fully if he wants to be the starting quarterback for Diedrick and the Irish. In the meantime, why not give the offense a chance to do things they can be successful with and give them some confidence?
Holiday is a threat when he has the ball in his hands and open space to run or throw. By getting him into the shotgun and rolling him out, Holiday can be a threat and can open up possibilities for the offense.
If Holiday is the guy at quarterback, then give him plays where he can be successful. Criticism of Holiday at this point is futile and wrong. He didn't ask to be a drop-back quarterback. He's just trying to learn the position.
The question Diedrick faces is what he wants to do. If he is sold on this offense and wants to run this offense, he needs to find another quarterback who can run this system. I don't think Brady Quinn or Pat Dillingham would be any more successful given the same 10 guys to play with and the same play calling. That is the true reality of this. Quinn might be by the end of the year or next year but the Irish have plenty of games to play before hand.
If Diedrick thinks Holiday gives him the best chance to win, he will have to find plays that Holiday can be successful with. The plays being called clearly are not working. Technique and execution aside, nobody fears this passing game and you can't block eight with six or seven.
What I do know won't work is what the Irish tried to do in this game. Running on first down, second down and trying to throw on third down with this group of players won't work regardless of scheme or formations. The previous leadership proved that.
This offense might work and has at times with when the opposing team has an average offense that the defense can control. When you are facing an opposing offense that has the talent of Michigan, you have to score points because the defense will give up their share of points.
The reality could be that the offense isn't fixable this year. I think a lot of Irish fans would be fine with that as long as they show improvement. I doubt that many Irish fans would be more upset if the score in this game ended up 65-0 rather than 38-0 if the offense showed signs of improving. They didn't show any signs in this game and looked to have taken a big step backwards.
Opening up the hood and ripping out the engine during the season is not a good plan for any coach but I think this is the problem Diedrick faces. This is no simple tweak. He will have to put on his grubby clothes, roll up his sleeves and climb in the engine and fix what he can.
I assume he already has the plays that can help Holiday and this offense in his playbook and they have been practicing them. I also assume that he believes Holiday is his guy based on what he said after the game Saturday.
Regardless of what he chooses to do, this team can win games. They can win a lot more games with an overhaul of the offense. If the Irish can take care of this, I don't think the defense will have many games like they had yesterday.