Nice Win, But Irish Need to Get Better

Saturday's win over West Virginia was encouraging, writes IrishEyes offensive guru Tom Beck, but Notre Dame has to be more comprehensive in its scheme to be able to move the ball against the more talented teams remaining on its schedule. Here's the analysis, for IrishEyes subscribers.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

October 15, 2001

Beck’s Beat

Irish Victory
Came Too Easy

By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com News Service

Touchdowns don't come much faster than a two-play drive. The Irish opened the game on their 48 yard line taking just two plays to score. ND did better on the last score. It only took one play to close out the days' scoring. Both scores started with excellent field position near midfield.

The offensive line was superb against West Virginia, paving the way for 350+ yards on the ground and giving Carlyle Holiday solid pass protection on some critical third down plays that the Irish converted into first downs. Holiday left the pocket too early on occasion, but when it counted he threw the ball well in heavy rain to keep drives going.

It looked good, but recall that West Virginia entered the game one of the poorest defensive teams in college 1-A football.

Nevertheless, the Irish continued to improve their offensive execution for the second week in a row. Holiday for the most part executed the option well. He operated close to the line of scrimmage as he attacked the pitch key and usually made good decisions. On occasion, West Virginia defended the option well.

You don't expect an option attack to succeed on every play, but if the QB is disciplined, you avoid defensive penetration on the play side and if you get good perimeter blocking from your receivers you will have success.

Once the QB elects to keep on an option play, he is going to get a number of one-on-one situations in the open field. Holiday being a big strong runner is going to be a load for smaller defensive backs. Many of the DB's will not take a big runner on straight ahead or solid and that is when a physical runner like Holiday is going to break many tackles.

Julius Jones and Tony Fisher are two other solid runners with quickness. The game plan for the past two weeks is what Notre Dame does best. Although ND has some gifted receivers they have players suited primarily for an option/power type offense. Building on this type of attack is still warranted.

This is similar to the type of game plan that Lou Holtz used when he was at ND. Holtz was however, more comprehensive in his attack. His repertoire included an abundant use of screens, counters, bootlegs, traps and delays. These are plays that can enhance the current ND offense.

In fact watching part of the South Carolina game Saturday, it’s obvious the Gamecocks’ offense is one created by Skip Holtz, not Lou Holtz. It is hard to believe that Lou prefers this current offensive philosophy over the option attack that he formerly ran so successfully.

During the last year’s of Holtz' tenure at ND, he wanted to get away from much of the day to day offensive planning and game calling. It appears that he has pretty much given the offense over to Skip and his philosophy.

West Virginia is attempting to exist with a spread offense entirely, regardless of weather conditions. On a day with heavy rain the spread offense is severely limited. Even though they had a runner, Avon Cobourne, gain 150 yards, the Mountaineers had a limited offense. They don't have a solid short yardage attack or the means to run out the clock. In spite of their limitations they played a spirited game and kept it close for three quarters.

One decision that worked Saturday for ND was going for the first down on 4th and one from their 33 yard line. The Irish got the first down (barely). The score was tied 24-24 at the time. If ND would not have gotten the first down West Virginia would have gotten the ball with excellent field position and an opportunity to score and put pressure on ND to recapture the lead. The play worked so it was a success; however the "risk-reward" factor should have called for a punt.

Yes, the tight end, John Owens, did catch a pass Saturday and it was crucial. (On Sunday, Davie also applauded Davie's improved blocking.) On third and five, it looked as if Holiday was going to take off and run, before throwing for the first down that kept the field goal drive alive.

The Irish got a real break prior to the go-ahead field goal when Holiday was not called for intentional grounding on third down.

It was a much-needed win, but West Virginia was a mismatch for ND in talent and in depth. ND has the ingredients for a strong offense. They had a number of big plays from backs that can produce big plays. They need to continue to improve and be more comprehensive on offense vs. the best teams on their schedule.


(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.) Top Stories