33 points and 360 yards of offense is a step in the right direction for this offense. The Irish were able to run for 204 yards in this game and that is a big step in the right direction. Their passing game still needs some work, but what concerns me most is they can't seem to score when they need to.
Let's be fair and say that this staff has to win football games, first, and foremost. When the Irish have a lead, they are going to have to protect the lead and run the football. They will play conservatively and should because winning is what matters most right now. The Irish have an inexperienced line and a freshman quarterback so that also factors into the decisions made with play-calling.
I also want to say the Irish won the game, and were victorious by a large margin. The Irish coaching staff should be applauded for their effort, and we feel this game was one of the better offensive games this year. My thoughts are merely to look at the future, while looking at the present and recent past for reasons why some things need to change.
We also concede that Brady Quinn didn't have his best day throwing the football, although he wasn't bad, either. Quinn continues to improve, but it appears the Irish are also limiting his chances to make mistakes.
I'm not criticizing the play-calling in this game. I thought the plays were fine for the most part. What did bother me, however, is when the plays were called, and the fact that the Irish don't seem to challenge a defense often.
The first Irish offensive series began as Courtney Watson intercepted a pass at the Notre Dame 38 yard line. The Irish threw on first down into the flat to Josh Schmidt for five yards—a logical call because we're sure BYU was expecting a run. Then Jones ran for two yards, and the Irish tried to hit Jared Clark (another short route) on the outside to convert the third down, the pass was incomplete.
Notre Dame punted and the Irish began another game with another three-and-out series on their first possession—just as they have seven out of 10 times this year.
What happened on the three series when they did begin the game gaining at least one first down? Against Navy, Jones took his first carry 13 yards. Against Boston College, Brady Quinn hit Maurice Stovall for a 51-yard bomb. Against USC, Julius Jones rushed for 1 yard on first down, and then took his next carry 13 yards. The Irish were called for holding, however, but converted on a 7-yard pass to Rhema McKnight.
What does this mean? Unless Jones runs for over 10 yards, or the Irish throw the bomb, they haven't been successful in their first series for the most part.
The Irish caught their second break of the game when Travis Leitko stripped Couger running back, Tafui Vakapuna from the ball and Greg Pauly recovered at the BYU 14-yard line.
The Irish didn't manage to score a touchdown when given the short field. Julius Jones was hit for a 5-yard loss on first down. On second down, Quinn took the next snap, turned immediately left and threw to Rhema McKnight at the line of scrimmage for 7 yards. On the very next play, Quinn turned immediately to the right and threw Omar Jenkins at the line of scrimmage which was incomplete. Both plays were meant to put the ball in the hands of their receivers in hope that they could elude the defense.
The problem I have with this series is Notre Dame didn't challenge the defense with the two pass plays. They threw it to both players at the line of scrimmage, with less than 20 yards for the defenders to defend, and asked their receivers to make a play.
The Irish rarely make a defense defend more than 10 yards of the field. People ask me why the receivers struggle to get open. My thoughts are the defensive backs are not afraid to defend anything past 15 yards so they play off the wide receivers and play all the underneath routes, not worried about the Irish taking them deep.
I also feel this is why Irish receivers are usually wide open when they do go down-field with their vertical passing game.
On the next drive, with the score 7-3, BYU, the Irish moved the ball to the BYU 18 yard line on a Julius Jones carry of 20 yards. On first down, the Irish completed a pass for 3 yards to Rhema McKnight. On second down, Jones ran for two yards. On third down, Quinn looked for Jenkins, but the pass was incomplete. What was the first down pass to McKnight? It gained three yards, I'm sure you can guess what it was.
The next drive began when Derek Curry intercepted a Matt Perry giving the Irish the ball at the BYU 32 yard line. Jones took the ball down to the BYU 17 yard line with a number of carries. Jones rushed for two yards on first down. Quinn threw an incomplete pass to McKnight on second down but found McKnight on third down for a first down at the 5 yard line.
The Irish were now first and goal from the five. Jones rushed for no gain on first down. Quinn was then sacked for an 11 yard loss on second down. Quinn threw an incomplete pass to Jenkins on third down, and the Irish made their third field goal.
In the third quarter, the Irish began a drive at their own 22 yard line. Through various plays, they moved the ball to the BYU 11 yard line. They were called for illegal procedure before the first down play. Jones rushed for no gain on first and 15. Quinn threw incomplete to Clark on second down, and was intercepted on third down.
Again, this is not always the fault of playing calling or scheme. Execution is important and they didn't execute when they had these opportunities.
We rarely see Brady Quinn throw in the middle of the field on crossing routes or post routes. We do see him throw short routes in the middle of the field to tight ends now and again, but we rarely see him throwing the intermediate or longer routes to the middle of the field.
When watching the BYU game, we noticed the BYU ran their offense regardless of who was quarterbacking. Berry had thrown 10 interceptions before this game, and threw three more in this game. The interceptions played a big factor in why they lost, most likely.
BYU lost, but it wasn't totally by the hands of their quarterback. Still, Quinn only threw one interception on the day, and the Irish won the game.
The Irish had the advantage of a good running game, BYU did not. It makes sense the Irish relied on the run. My problem is, when they did throw, they didn't challenge the BYU defense. Are the afraid that Quinn might turn the ball over like Berry did?
I guess my question, and the reason for writing this, is this the Bill Diedrick offense that we are seeing? Will the Irish ever challenge a team vertically with deep routes, intermediate crossing routes, and running these routes on first down? Or, are we seeing a very conservative offense, not the Diedrick offense, because they are afraid to make mistakes?
I wouldn't blame Diedrick or Willingham for wanting to play conservatively. The Irish need to win games and that is fine with me.
I guess my real concern is if the Irish are afraid to attack BYU and Navy with Quinn under center, when will they ever have faith in him to make these plays? Every player and coach will tell you that you can't learn what you need to know until you actually play the game. Quinn likely can't learn what he needs to know unless everyone is going full speed.
Would it make more sense for the Irish to take more chances in the passing game against teams like Navy and BYU when they can overcome mistakes because of their superiority in talent?
They seem to be perfectly fine taking chances against teams like USC and Florida State when a mistake can be magnified. I think because they feel they have to if they want to stay in the game. That is fine with me, but why not take chances when they are superior in talent, and can overcome mistakes? When will Quinn learn to make these plays? Where is the Irish's version of "Shock and Awe?"
Again, I don't have the answers, but I do think they are valid questions. Diedrick and Willingham know Quinn's strengths far better than I ever would. My question is will he ever be able to learn if they never give him the opportunity to look off the safety and throw the ball in the middle of the field? When will he learn to look for his secondary receiver if he's usually throwing to his first option? To me, BYU and Navy seemed like good opportunities.
The real problem for this offense has been converting 3rd and short situations or 4th and short situations. Until they can line up and move a defensive line one yard, this offense will struggle. But, if the defense knows that it's always going to Jones, and likely to the left side, they will have a much harder time moving that defensive line.
I don't see a lot of motion in this offense to give Quinn keys to what coverage a defense might be in. I rarely see any misdirection designed to take advantage of over-pursing defenses. I rarely see plays designed to take advantage of teams cheating.
With an inexperienced offensive and a freshman quarterback, we shouldn't expect this offense to be very efficient. Diedrick and Willingham probably decided to focus on a few things and try to do them well—a smart move. Still, it's year two of installing this offense, and it looks to me to be very similar to the offense run by Bob Davie and Kevin Rogers, without the threat of a mobile quarterback.