Irish Predictability Kept it Close

According to IrishEyes offensive guru Tom Beck, it's a good thing Notre Dame wasn't playing Division 2 Grand Valley State on Saturday. The Michigan school had it all over Navy when it came to speed and athleticism. Navy's not a rival; the Middies are more suited for an Ivy League schedule and the Irish have much work to do preparing for Stanford. Here's Tom's weekly report, for IrishEyes subscribers.

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November 19, 2001

Analysis – Beck's Beat

Predictable Irish Effort
Suitable for Ivy Foe

By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

Webster's dictionary defines competition as "the act of competing."  It states that rivalry implies "keen competition between opponents more or less evenly matched." 

With the Notre Dame winning streak now at 38 in a row over Navy it sure doesn't appear to be a competitive series.  Navy should be playing an Ivy League schedule and enjoying the opportunity to go into each game with a solid chance of winning.

Because of the competitive character of the players that play for Navy, every play is going to be hard fought, but Notre Dame also has players with character.  The Notre Dame players, in addition, have more talent, speed and size.  Year in and year out the Midshipmen don't have a prayer to beat the Irish.

The disparity in talent, size and speed was apparent in yesterday's game.  The execution of Navy's offense was also quite mediocre.  There was a number of times where the Navy running back was not close to being in good pitch relationship with their QB on its basic option.  This late in the season this should never happen with one of its basic plays.  Defenses can be the cause of poor execution by the offense, but this had nothing to do with the defense.   The down-the-line speed option that Navy attempted was horrendously executed all day. The QB was too deep and the pitchback rarely in pitch relationship.  The triple option with the fullback fake was executed much better; it gave the pitchback time to get into pitch relationship with the QB. 

The Navy players have strong intrinsic motivation and the staff provided a decent game plan, but the coaching of the basic fundamentals of an option attack was sorely lacking. 

With first and goal from the four yard line Navy called a poor choice of plays against a larger, stronger opponent.  They executed very poorly, part of that due to the bulk and strength of the ND defense, but nevertheless they should have gotten a TD on that possession.

Lack of speed was also more than evident when Navy did break a ball carrier into the secondary and he was caught from behind -- other than the QB keeper that Brian Madden broke for his TD.  When Julius Jones got into the secondary, Navy had no one with speed to catch him.  If this was a track meet, ND would have a win, place and show in every running and field event.   Navy would have been shut out of any medals.

I also watched a Division II playoff game at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.  Grand Valley averaged over 58 points and 600 yards per game this season.  They had more team speed, size and, in a number of positions, talent than Navy.  Navy lacks competitive Division I speed.

Navy played hard, Notre Dame kept it close by playing conservatively.   A conservative game plan against an opponent that you are superior to is not a bad plan.  Notre Dame did not show anything that Stanford or Purdue has to worry about. Perhaps Notre Dame has some surprises under wrap.

Notre Dame did run the fullback seven times today and completed three passes to the tight end.  All three TE completions were on mis-direction plays faking the outside zone/sweep play to one side and Carlyle Holiday bootlegging the other way. 

The offense is still predictable, but after a slow start was executed well for the most part.  I don't believe that Stanford or Purdue is going to be any more physical than Notre Dame, but Notre Dame should expand its short yardage package from the wishbone formation.  The defense is packed in tight against this look.  ND in the past has bootlegged, ran option, sprinted one way and threw back to the TE the other way as solid parts of this package.  It needs to have these elements included against stronger opponents so as to not be so predictable.   The power play off-tackle probably has been used on 85-90% of all of its wishbone plays this season.  Navy stopped it a few times by blitzing and overloading the tackle area.  The power off-tackle is fine against a defense that you will overpower or as a base play and then use option, mis-direction runs, or passes as good supplements to force the defense to defense the entire width and depth of the field.

Very little motion or shifting of formations have been used and can be used and they would add to the effectiveness of the ND offense.   Pre-snap movement will at times create doubt, confusion or mismatches with the defense.  Perhaps the Irish and Kevin Rogers will be considering all of this in the next two weeks.

Defensively, it is the team's philosophy to be primarily a man-to-man pressure defense.  Nothing wrong with that, but against a comprehensive passing attack such as Stanford and Purdue, Notre Dame will need to mix it up some and also not be predictable on defense also.

Stanford has been moving the ball well this season, but they also have had the ball moved against them.  It should be an interesting match-up next Saturday.

(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 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