Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
October 8, 2001
Irish Fix Identity
By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NOTRE DAME, Ind., Oct. 7, 2001 (IE) It's a win. Not an especially aesthetic looking one, but as Bob Davie said "...pretty significant." When a team is 0-3 any win is significant.
If you believe in turning points, you might agree that it was when ND capitalized on the unusual mid-air fumble by Pittsburgh wide receiver R.J. English. Davie said that ND deserved the recovery. It is not certain how he came to that conclusion, but it changed a likely 14-10 score in favor of the visitors to a 17-7 score in favor of ND after Carlyle Holidays 67-yard TD run.
The big picture Saturday showed Holiday executing the option relatively well. When you can get a big strong QB downfield and in open field on a one-on-one situation you expect him to break some tackles. Holiday is a similar runner to former ND QB Arnaz Battle. Holiday had some solid yardage after contact. He stayed closer to the line of scrimmage and attacked the pitch key Saturday, giving the option a better chance of success. An effective complement to the down-the-line option is the counter/trap option and the true triple option. Since ND is emphasizing the option these plays would add to the offensive success if executed and ran properly.
The first ND touchdown was out of the Bone formation, with a good inside fake to the fullback and then Holiday reading well and executing a good pitch to Julius Jones. The defensive man responsible for the pitch was impatient and came inside to help on the QB, leaving the pitch back alone to run in for the easy TD. Confusion and missed defensive assignments will happen on occasion when playing against an option team.
The game plan was conservative. A conservative game plan against a team with less talent is sound. Looking good in winning is great, but WINNING is the important thing.
ND mixed up power football with 16 option plays. Two of these were option fakes off the reverse pivot action and then a quick post to the split end. Both passes were successful, one a completion and one on third down and goal with a pass interference penalty that set up the subsequent Irish TD.
When all was said and done, Notre Dame ran the ball on first down 26 out of 26 times.
"Did we really? Thats pretty predictable right there," Davie said in his usual Sunday post-mortem. "Obviously, we have to mix it up. Lets face it, everyone is in the mode of being pretty conservative right now, to try and give the kids a chance to win."
The passing game was either three-step drop or play action limiting the defense's opportunity for sacking the QB. Holiday looked more confident and was more effective with these schemes.
Davie gave mixed reviews to Holidays performance.
"I thought he stood in the pocket when he should have stood in the pocket, he threw the ball away when he should have thrown the ball away," said Davie. "Hes a little reckless with the football as far as mechanics when he carries it. He lets the ball hang out there. The second thing, he takes some shots I dont think he has to take. He plays high when getting tackled. There are some guys who are going to knock him in half."
The Irish collected 249 team yards rushing on 57 carries for a 4.3 average. That should be expected with the talent on the ND offense against a team such as Pittsburgh. This level of expectation should be the norm. In fact the bar should be raised against the likes of a Panther team that lost to a very mediocre South Florida team earlier in the year. Next on the agenda is West Virginia, another struggling squad from the Big East Conference.
The ND offensive identity was established Saturday. They are an option/power/3 step drop/play action team with Holiday at the controls.
ND should have developed some offensive confidence from Saturday. They had a solid game plan. It was a simple plan with no misdirection runs or passes, no screens, and only one run with the fullback carrying. The passing attack was simple yet effective. This plan should work against all remaining teams on the schedule save for Tennessee. It won't be difficult to utilize more misdirection when needed. The challenge is not to beat the teams you should beat, but to beat those teams that are equally talented.
A plus-five turnover ratio was very significant in contributing to the victory. There are reasons for turnovers and takeaways. ND can play it close to the vest offensively and probably not have many turnovers. However, being more diversified against equally talented teams will be necessary.
Davie on Sunday said his team followed an almost "infallible" game plan against Pittsburgh.
"You look at the things like time of possession, field position, turnovers," Davie said. "We call it the Plan to Win. If you follow that plan, you know, its infallible, youre going to win. Thats been our whole focus is to stay on track and follow the plan."
First things first, beat the teams you should beat. Build on what you do effectively. Know what your players do best. Don't attempt to put a square peg into a round hole unless you have a lot of sandpaper and the time to do it. As long as Holiday is the QB, do what he does best. Saturdays plan fit the athletic abilities of Holiday.
Related, Davie also stressed Sunday that tailback Terrance Howard, who was cast to the bench after the opening snap fumble against Nebraska, will probably get some more time on offense, particularly with Tony Fisher dealing with a knee problem. Fisher had an MRI Sunday and while Davie said "he will probably be OK," the coach realizes he needs to keep Howard in the mix.
Davie is also encouraged offensively by the return of David Givens, who had five catches for 39 yards Saturday.
"With both David and Arnaz being out, we didnt strike a lot of fear into people," said Davie. "You look at Pittsburgh with Antonio Bryant, every time he is on the field you can feel his presence. Its the same in a way with David. We need to find more ways to get him involved, which I know we will."
(Tom Beck is a former head coach whose teams at Illinois
Benedictine, Elmhurst and Grand Valley State each led the nation in total offense. He
played at Northern Illinois, where the media guide lists him as the best two-way player
(defensive back and quarterback) in the first century of NIU football. He was a team MVP,
captain, all-conference on both offense and defense, an Academic All America and is in the
NIU Hall of Fame. He was an assistant coach under Lou Holtz during the 1991 Notre Dame
season. He is a contributor to IrishEyes.)