No Excuses: Failure Comes Down to Coaching

Tom Beck's popular Monday morning column returns with a simple question, "Why is Notre Dame consistently coming up short in even match-ups?" The former collegiate All-American and offensive coach under Lou Holtz breaks it down in simple fundamentals. How can so many basics be overlooked? For IrishEyes subscribers.

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November 5, 2001

Analysis – Beck's Beat

All Things Being Equal,
 Coaches Letting ND Down

By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

It has often been asked, to have success in football, "What is more important, the players or the coaches?"  Obviously, both are important. You never succeed at the highest level of achievement with just one or the other.

Notre Dame has a boatload of talented players.   These same players have defended Bob Davie.  After the Tennessee game Saturday Arnaz Battle was one of the defenders.  He stated that the coaches didn't fumble, he did. "That's not a coaching mistake, that's a player mistake."   He's right, it is a player error.  But, it is also a coaching mistake. 

On the play that Battle fumbled he was stripped from behind with the football in the inside hand instead of the outside hand as he was a yard away from scoring.  It is fundamental that a ball-carrier carry the ball in the outside hand when running an outside play or running close to the sideline.   True, fumbles are a part of the game.  However, just as defensive coaches drill defensive players, especially defensive backs, to try and strip the ball when approaching a ball-carrier from behind, offensive coaches teach anti-fumbling drills.

Battle is a senior.  He should have repeated in practice, dozens of times in his career, holding the ball in his outside hand.   He should have been aware that defenders try to strip the ball when they are fast approaching you from behind.  These are fundamentals.

The bottom line is winning, scoring more than your opponents.  It has been said that statistics are for losers.  Vols coach Phil Fulmer empathized with the ND coaches and players.  One of the Tennessee players noted that ND was the "best team that they played all year."  These might just have been consoling statements or they might be true.

The fact is that Bob Davie's record at ND is 33-24 and even he would say that is not acceptable for the standards of Notre Dame.    It is not as if Notre Dame is playing with leftover recruits.  Their players are amongst the most highly recruited in the country.  The Irish recruit nationally and are not limited to a regional base.

The players wearing white and orange also were scholarship players in a premier program.  If you are going to beat the best, however, you have to do more with your players.  As Shane Walton said, "The coaches are not playing."  Again, true.  However are the coaches really putting them in the best position to win, emphasizing the right things to win, recognizing and utilizing the best talents of the players?

The Irish offensive and defensive philosophies are sound, but are they making the right calls at the right time?  ND still did not utilize any screens or draws against Tennessee to slow down the pass rush.  Carlyle Holiday did make some excellent throws under pressure, which is a credit to himself and the coaching staff.  He totaled minus-eight yards rushing on the day, most of that due to being pressured and sacked while attempting to pass.  Do they keep enough backs in to handle the pressure or read "hot" or "sight adjust" enough times in practice.

Although Holiday made some nice pitches on the option, he was also hit violently more than once on the option because the primary ND option is a speed option that is a fast flow option where the defense reads and reacts quickly and can tee-off on the QB.  ND did not use one single counter option.   Also, rarely has offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers shown the threat of a triple option or inside fake to hold the fast pursuit of the defense. 

If you are not an option team it is not as bad not to have these weapons in your arsenal.  However if you do use the option as much as ND, you need them to slow down pursuit and make the defense more hesitant as they cannot be sure where the ball will end up.  An option will not succeed on every play, but it should have more long gainers than what ND had against Tennessee.  

Tennessee has very good defensive team quickness, you need to counter them more on offense.  You cannot just let them fast flow to the football.

Defensively, ND did a great job for much of the game.  The man-to-man coverage that is the primary coverage for ND is a pressure defense.  Against inferior teams it is a great weapon, but against an accomplished passing team it can become an Achilles heel.  Good QB's and good receivers like to work against single coverage.  Michigan State, Boston College and Tennessee all has some difficulty at times with the pressure, but they also had big plays against the man-man coverage and had crucial TD passes against the man coverage.  The third Tennessee TD was a perfectly thrown pass against man coverage when the corner was beaten badly on a post-corner move by Donte Stallworth.  It was a surprise that Tennessee did not throw more against it in the first half.  When it spread the field with their formations in the second half they had more offensive success.

An ideal athletic competition is not when there is a mismatch such as ND vs. Navy, but one in which the competition is equal.  When the competition is equal, the victory goes to the one that is better prepared and that overall executes best on that given day.  The Tennessee-Notre Dame match-up was fairly even competition.  It doesn't matter if it is baseball, tennis or golf, in an even match-up you will lose sometimes.  If the teams are really well-prepared and well-coached they will execute well and they will win more often.

ND does many good things, but it is not winning enough of these games where the talent level is equal. Top Stories