Does it really matter what I say? Is it really important for me to go through each negative of the game? If so, I will. Bad coaching, bad execution, bad special teams play, lack of motivation, lack of urgency, and lack of overall attitude were the reasons for this Irish loss. Boston College wanted the game more, and they won—end of story.
Both the coaches, and the players lost the game, and we have to hope both accept that responsibility, and more importantly, want to do something about it.
I can finger-point all day, but is that really necessary at this point? It won't change the outcome of the game or make my thoughts any more correct. It won't make me, or the reader feel any better about the loss.
Instead, I would like to focus on the problems, and my thoughts on how to solve them. My thoughts are probably as worthless as if I finger-pointed, but at least it's something different, and maybe more positive to read.
I won't finger-point today. If Willingham, his staff, and his players are smart, they won't either.
The Irish can't run the football effectively. That was never more clear than in the opening drive of this game. Brady Quinn threw a beautiful 51-yard pass to Maurice Stovall and set the Irish up at the BC 27 yard line. Three straight running plays later, the Irish were kicking a field goal, and giving the Eagles the "get out of jail free" card.
Was the first down call a smart call? Jones rushed for seven yards. Was the second down call smart? One would think 2nd and three is a logical situation to try to pick up the first down running (Jones picked up a yard). It's now third and two, and the Irish run again. Was the third down call smart? It is if you want to control the line of scrimmage. Would I call this series different, probably. Does Diedrick's calls make sense, probably.
The Irish do not have a dominant running game, and haven't all season. Forget the Pittsburgh game, the Irish caught Pitt napping and they haven't been able to run well before or since.
The Irish are getting beat on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. On defense, the Irish could not stop Boston College when they had to—the same thing happened at the end of the Washington State game, and the Michigan State game. You cannot have a good team if you cannot control the line of scrimmage when you really need to.
The Irish will now turn their attention towards Florida State. The Seminoles have a very strong team on defense and we are certain they will do everything they can to stop the run. Every other team the Irish have faced has been successful stopping the Irish rushing attack (except Pitt), and I'm certain the Seminole front seven will be effective stopping it as well.
The Irish need to focus on what is working. Brady Quinn passed for 350 yards against Boston College and a couple of touchdowns. He threw for a modest 168 yards against USC, but threw for 297 yards against Purdue.
The passing game has shown signs of coming together—at least a lot more signs than the Irish running game. The Irish have experienced receivers in Omar Jenkins, Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, and the future looks bright with players like Anthony Fasano, Jeff Samardzija, and Chinedum Ndukwe.
I'm certain that Florida State will load up the box and force the Irish to throw the football. Take what they give you, and what they will give you is in the passing game. Execution will be the deciding factor, but at least they have a chance to be successful throwing the football. To try to establish the run in this game, in my opinion, is asking for problems.
I'm not suggesting the Irish abandon the run, not even close. I am suggesting using the pass to set up the run later in the game. The Seminoles expect the Irish to run, just as Boston College expected the Irish to run, and why they were caught napping on the first play from scrimmage.
The Irish are having success throwing the football and I think with more success, some running opportunities will open up. Running differently will also help. Running the draw play out of passing formations will confuse the defense and stop the up field rush by the defensive line and linebackers. Some misdirection plays will also freeze the linebackers and secondary giving the Irish some breathing room.
It's time to go with what is working.
Willingham and Diedrick say you must stay committed to the run. I agree, the Irish will have to be able to run the football if they want to be a good team. The problem is, they are not very good running the football, and teams are not allowing them to do it. A three-and-out situation is essentially the same thing regardless of whether you try to get a first down running or passing the ball. By throwing on first down, you at least give Quinn a chance to convert first downs. Against Florida State, if the Irish try to establish the run early, Quinn will not have much of a chance.
The Irish offensive line has becoming the whipping boy by most Irish fans. They didn't allow a sack against Boston College. They did allow three against USC, but most came at the end of the game when it was clear the Irish had to throw the football. They allowed only two against Pittsburgh. The offensive line and backs are becoming much more effective in handling the pass rush.
The Irish also need to work on their vertical passing game. They showed marked improvement this week with the pass to Stovall and the dropped pass to McKnight. The Irish challenged the BC defense by going deep and that paid dividends. We need to see more of that now, and in the future, when you think to next year. Losing your best corner, safety, linebacker and two interior defensive linemen will mean the Irish will have to score points next year on offense to stay in games. A good vertical passing game will give them that chance to score points.
Notre Dame will need to be able to run the football to be a good offensive team. I am not convinced they will be able to do that this year, regardless of how much time is invested in fixing the running game. Until the Irish can make defenses pay for cheating up against the run, they won't have an effective running game. I firmly believe that and I offer the last 12 games as evidence.
Special teams is another area that the Irish are dismal. The Irish have not one, but two players who will end their careers atop the all-time kickoff and punt return list, yet the Irish cannot find a lane for either of these two great players to make a play. Kickoff and punt coverage has been disgraceful, and the Irish cannot kick or punt the ball effectively. This is an area that needs to be addressed now, and has been a problem all year. The Irish need to focus on this, and now.
How do they fix special teams? Practice, practice and more practice. I wonder if playing so many offensive players on kick and punt coverage is a good idea. It's not easy to take time and focus on special teams when preparing for a big game, but special teams played a large factor in the loss on Saturday, against Purdue, and against Michigan.
As for the defense, I really can't offer any thoughts. I have no idea why the defense has collapsed. It appears a lack of concentration, a lack of execution, and maybe a lack of effort from some contributed to the collapse. The defense looked lethargic on Saturday, and the previous Saturday before that. Confidence is probably the only thing that can solve the defensive woes. Where the defensive coaches and players find that confidence, your guess is as good as mine.
It would be easy for me to point fingers and play the blame game. I just see no point in it. We all watched the game. We all have our own thoughts and ideas on where the responsibility lies. What matters now is fixing the problems. It remains to be seen if the Irish coaches can fix the problems or if the Irish players want to try.