Willingham and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick have both praised the progress of Carlyle Holiday in spring practice and fall camp. Holiday hasn't looked much better than last year and at time worse. Willingham said his quarterback is not the total problem. "We've said that Carlyle's growth has continued--it has. I think he's getting better. There are points sometimes where that might not be visible. It's also never just a quarterback. The problems of our offense are never just limited to one person."
The Irish are certainly struggling on offense. Notre Dame is currently ranked 116th out of 117 teams in total offense. Willingham was asked if he saw a change coming in the system to better utilize Holiday's skills. "You do what it takes to win. Do you curtail certain things at the expense of the entire team? So you have to balance that and that is what we are constantly doing."
Holiday struggled against Michigan with a 5-14 performance for 55 yards and one interception. Freshman quarterback Brady Quinn was inserted for the struggling Holiday and this always brings controversy.
After the Michigan game, Willingham was asked if Brady Quinn was starting to push Holiday for the starting spot at quarterback. "Potentially, but not yet," was Willingham's response. Willingham was asked again if Quinn might overtake Holiday on the depth chart. "That is the case every day--at our quarterback position, at our guard position, at our tackle position. It fits very comfortably with the words that we used earlier. The best player plays."
Willingham made it very clear however that Holiday was his starting quarterback as of right now. "At this point Carlyle has still identified himself as the best quarterback."
Quinn, according to Willingham, is a quick study. "I think Brady has been, and still is very eager to be our starting quarterback. I think he's driven and he's driven to be the best and help this team be successful. I think those are all positive qualities that have led him to this point where he has the balance to be ready to play."
The Irish face Michigan State on Saturday who is the 3rd-ranked rush defense in the country. If the Irish cannot run successfully against the Spartan defense, they will have to move the ball through the air. Willingham was asked if he saw any situation where Quinn might be inserted against Michigan State. "Please understand that that framework is dictated by a lot of things that go on in a football game. It is never just one position."
It seems every team the Irish face lately is loading up to stop the run. Irish Eyes asked Willingham if he believed it might be a situation where they have to throw the ball early to be able to run. "Our system is built on ability to do both. When you're nine in the box, you throw. When there's six in the box, you run."
The Spartans are highly ranked against the run but didn't play statistically good rushing teams. Western Michigan is ranked 104th, Rutgers is 79th and Louisiana Tech is 92nd in the country in rushing.
Willingham said the rushing offenses they have played are not a concern of his. "I think even though they are ranked very high, and some would consider that they have not played a team that runs the ball, or has made a major effort to, I still think they do an excellent job. They will be geared up for our attack because they will believe that that is a face that we would like to strike and establish ourselves to be productive. I think they have got great players. I have looked at them, they have speed, their ability off the edge as pass rushers, and I think you can also translate that ability to be quick in the run game.
The Spartans might be without starting quarterback Jeff Smoker who is sidelined with a toe injury. Drew Stanton looks to be his replacement if Smoker can't play and Willingham says he doesn't expect to see anything different regardless of which player is playing quarterback.
"Well I would think they would hold very true to their system," Willingham said. "Right now their running back is playing very well. He's also been not only a good runner for them but also an excellent receiver for them. They have and excellent receiver. So you're going to get the balls in the hands of the guys who can make big plays for you. They are going to continue to do that. Now, will do it based on what they believe Stanton can do. There will be some change but not noticeably a total change or departure from their system."
For the Irish to be successful against Michigan State, they will have to run the football to help the struggling passing game—something they didn't do against a good Michigan defense. "We are not making any excuses about that. All of the young men that we have, we expect them to step up and play. We as coaches have to do an excellent job of getting everything done right with them. Right now, as an offensive team, we have not executed. We have got to do a better job of execution for us to be successful."
Coach Tyrone Willingham will try to get his struggling team back to their winning ways. A loss like this is never as bad as it seems and we think the Irish will show improvement both on offense and defense against the Spartans. They will have to if they want to avoid what could be a disappointing season.