What's Wrong With The Irish?

As the losses pile up, the coaching versus talent argument heats up. What camp are you in? Does Notre Dame have top 15 talent? Are these recruiting rankings worth anything? The answers are never clear-cut and recruiting in an inexact science. Let's look at what has happened to Notre Dame this year.

Everyone asks me what is wrong with Notre Dame. How could they be 2-4 at this point? Let's look at this logically.

Schedule

The Irish have played five current top 15 teams so far this year. Pittsburgh was ranked in the top 15 before the Irish beat them and are 4-2 right now. The combined record of those five teams is 39-6 right now.

Let's just say the Irish played Northwestern instead of Michigan in their second game. Assuming the Irish played close to their ability, they would probably come out with a victory. The Irish would be 2-0 heading into Michigan State. Would the outcome of that game be any different? The Irish were coming off a terrible loss to Michigan and probably didn't feel good about themselves going into this game.

Say they beat Michigan State at that point and moved on to Purdue with a 3-0 record. Would that game be different? What about heading into Pittsburgh 4-0? Could've the Irish been 5-0 heading into the USC game?

Notre Dame fans want to say that Lou Holtz never complained about the schedule, he didn't. He also never played a schedule like this, ever.

In 1988, Holtz played Michigan which was ranked 9th at the time in the first game of the year. He then played four games before taking on another ranked team, then No.1 ranked Miami. He then played four more games against unranked opponents before taking on No. 2 ranked USC. He only faced three ranked opponents with a number of games against unranked teams in between all of them.

In the 1993 title run, he played Northwestern (unranked) before taking on No. 3 ranked Michigan. He then played seven unranked opponents before finishing out the season against top-ranked Florida State and 16th ranked Boston College.

In Holtz' first year, he faced five ranked opponents (four in the top 10) and finished 5-6. In his second year, he faced four ranked opponents (three in the top 10) and finished 8-4.

His toughest schedule came in 1989. He played unranked Virginia (warm up game) before facing second-ranked Michigan. He then had three games against unranked opponents before facing No. 17, Air Force. He then played against two ranked teams (No. 9, USC and No. 7, Pitt) followed by two more unranked opponents before facing No. 18, Penn State and No. 7, Miami. He ended the season 12-1.

This schedule killed the season. What has changed since Holtz? They continue to play the same teams as Holtz did, but Purdue, Michigan State and Pittsburgh all have become teams that are competitive. They weren't ranked during the Holtz years (at least not often) and they are ranked now and very competitive with the top teams in the country. Washington State wasn't ranked in the 7-8 years ago when this game was likely scheduled. The schedule killed the season as well as inexperience.

Inexperience

The Irish currently have two problems that spells doom for any team—an inexperienced offensive line, and an inexperienced quarterback.

I don't have time to do the research, but I would bet that no freshman quarterback has played the better part of four games, against top-ranked opponents, back-to-back, and had more success than Brady Quinn has. Throw in an inexperienced line, and a team learning a new system, I doubt than any have had more success.

Brady Quinn is the starter at quarterback and will probably end up being one of the better quarterbacks to ever play at Notre Dame—he just isn't now, nor should we expect him to be.

The Irish are also shuffling in offensive linemen like a Chinese fire drill trying to find any working combination. Bob Morton is a center, no, he's a guard, no he's a center. Dan Stevenson is a tackle, no, he's a guard. Ryan Harris is a true freshman playing against the same top-ranked teams in the country—not usually a formula for success.

But, that doesn't explain the defense.

I agree with you, it doesn't explain the defense. The Irish have been good defensively except for two games this season. The Irish defense also understands that they have an offense that is ranked 107th in the country in total offense, and 112th in scoring offense with just under 15 points a game.

The defense also had to suffer through last year where the Irish offense finished ranked 108th in the country in total offense and ranked 91st in the country with just 22 points a game.

The players and coaches won't admit it, but the Irish defense probably doesn't have faith in the Irish offense to keep them in the game. When the defense sees the offense going three-and-out over and over, they probably feel that what they do won't matter because the offense cannot score. They won't admit it, but this has to be the attitude, how could they have faith in the offense?

Talent

Let me say that the Irish do not have similar talent to USC, but, in my opinion, the gap isn't as large as others seem to believe.

The Irish are lacking in overall speed and talent at the skill positions. The Irish do have some solid, to very good, skill position players. They do have Julius Jones, but USC has three players with similar (and maybe more potential) skills as Jones.

USC can run out six receivers with as much talent, if not more, than Notre Dame's best wide receiver.

Is USC more talented at offensive line? That is debatable at this point if you are talking about talent. They are more experienced with four returning offensive linemen and that showed on Saturday.

Are they more talented along the defensive line? Hilliard, Campbell and Tuck have been injured, and that has hurt their production. USC didn't get a lot more pressure on Quinn than the Irish did on Leinart until the game was out of hand and USC could just pin their ears back and come after Quinn.

What about the USC linebackers versus the Irish linebackers? It's hard to really say. I'm not sold that either unit is better at this point. I didn't see any stand out from either team.

The secondary? I would have to give USC the nod here, but we've know the Irish have problems in talent in the secondary—yet another skill position. USC made that obvious last year and the Irish lost their two best players from the secondary this year.

USC had experience—the Irish did not. USC had a few more playmakers on their squad, and a better understanding of their scheme compared to the Irish. USC had the more experienced quarterback. What the hell was I thinking when I picked the Irish?

Do the Irish have top 10 talent? I would say no at this point but they are close. They do have talent at various positions, but they are lacking depth. They do have some solid starters and some would be considered difference makers. They are lacking in overall depth and talent at the skill positions—as well as depth at the skill positions.

The Irish do have some talent that would be labeled as potential talent at the skill positions. What they do lack is experience, and veteran experience can take you a long way.

I don't dispute there are some concerns with the current coaching staff. 4-7 in the last 11 games and being blown out at least three times is not acceptable regardless of the schedule. What would be acceptable under these circumstances? I'm not sure we know the answer to that right now.

What we can conclude is this. The schedule has been murderous, the team is inexperienced, and the Irish are lacking some talent and depth at key positions. The real test for this Irish staff is how this team responds the rest of the season, and what they do on the recruiting trail to solve their problems. Irish fans should know soon enough if this staff and Willingham can do the job. The jury is still out, and they deserve some time to address the problems.


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