Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
October 22, 2001
Beck's Beat: Analysis
Irish Have Potential
By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – The quarterback position is only one of the 22 starting positions in football. The signal-caller however gets more attention than any other and rightly so -- he touches the ball on every play. In college football you cannot win consistently without an effective quarterback that meshes with the head coach's philosophy.
The only thing that will keep Notre Dame QB Carlyle Holiday from future All-America status is injury or those that select the All-America teams preferring a "pure" passer as a QB.
However, make no mistake about it, Holiday is an effective passer that is going to get much better. On Saturday he was a much more effective passer than the ballyhooed USC quarterback Carson Palmer. Holiday was on the money throwing the ball -- both short, intermediate and long. For example, with ND holding a 17-16 lead, Holiday made an excellent fake and then threw a perfect pass to Javin Hunter good for a 42 yard gain down to the one yard line. Prior to that play, on the same series with third and 15 he threw the intermediate range pass, a tight spiral to Hunter for an 18 yard gain and the first down. That was one of a number of third down conversions for ND.
ND's passing attack is quite vanilla, but they now have a QB that appears confident throwing the ball and both David Givens and Hunter are truly two excellent receivers with good enough speed and quickness to give defenses real concern. It doesn't hurt ND that they are also very good athletes.
USC did not have a strong defense, but ND moved the ball when it counted. The success of the passing game is going to make the running game that much better.
Holiday needs to work on protecting the ball once he makes the decision to run on an option. He, however, made good option decisions and pitches when he needed to. He is such a strong runner that arm tackles in the open field are not going to stop him. He might not have the speed of Eric Crouch of Nebraska, but he is a stronger runner with enough speed. With ND running enough option plays he will have a chance to break a couple of long ones each game.
Defensive coordinators have to be real concerned with his running ability. Holiday forces the opposition to defend the entire width of the field, all 53 and one-third yards of it.
And while Holiday does get hit hard too often, there's a positive to this also. The hits that an option QB gets are usually from the front and in his field of vision. The dropback QB has a chance to get hit more severely from a blind side where he doesn't see the defender about to hit him.
On the whole, the O-line protected and sealed well on the playside and the receivers and fullback blocked well on most of the options. Again you are not going to succeed on all options, but if ND keeps running them it is going to break a number of long runs.
The option was a big part of college football when it was popularized by Texas and Oklahoma. Many teams have gotten away from it and are now spreading the field with a passing formation and attack. I have always maintained that when properly executed the option is by far the toughest running play to defend. With the personnel that Notre Dame enjoys, defensive coaches are going to do a lot of pre-game worrying.
Without being so complex that you can't practice everything, ND needs to continue to expand the offense with complementary plays and passes. It appeared that fullback Tom Lopienski was used as a blocker and not as a run option on most of the plays where his route was inside. The option was successful today, but the fullback threat would add another dimension.
With the improved passing game ND is a tough team to defense.
Overall, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers called a good game. However with Holiday getting hit so much you have to make sure that you have a backup QB that can step in when needed and be effective.
ND started the game with a successful pass on first down. Continuing to use a run-action pass on first down will enhance their success. ND was still predictable in much of its play calling, but by and large it executed well. Against good defenses the more unpredictable you are in play calling the better chance you have to keep moving the chains.
The special teams play of ND continues to be significant. The kick off return team has performed very well and given ND excellent field position. Placekicker Nick Setta and punter Joey Hildbold surely are two of the best in the nation at what they do.
To be sure USC head coach, Pete Carroll certainly helped ND with his questionable decision on fourth-and-one one to go for the field goal and going up 16-10. A TD by USC would have forced ND to score twice. Give credit to ND's goal line stand, but giving the ball to a slow tailback twice who is 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage on the snap gives the defense a good chance for penetration. If ND would have stopped the fourth down play, ND would still have to started on its one yard line. A 20-10 lead would have been a great deal more difficult to overcome.
USC tailback Sunny Byrd was a tough, tough football player, but he was probably the slowest tailback that ND will face all year.
Also, letting the punter make his own decision to punt or fake when you are inside your own 30 and the score 13-3 in your favor is not a wise decision. Most teams give this option to the punter, but limit this choice to better field position or score combination.
Looking at the total picture, ND deserved the win against a team with some potential that didn't execute very well. Give ND credit. It did, for the most part, execute well.
(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.)