Coaches Aren't Clever; They're Futile

IrishEyes offensive guru Tom Beck has perhaps the most damaging indictment of a coaching staff -- predictability. One of Beck's former players, a member of the Stanford coaching staff, said that the Cardinal were confident in what the Irish were going to run offensively. It comes down to personnel, Beck writes, and the Irish have enough of that to win. What is the coaching staff doing to help? Here's Mr. Beck's popular Monday column, for IrishEyes subscribers.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

November 26, 2001

Analysis – Beck's Beat

Stanford Could Predict
Every Irish Snap

By Tom Beck
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

The Notre Dame offensive coaches probably thought that they were being creative in introducing the three running back I formation.  Actually the set with three backs lined-up behind the QB was introduced by the late University of Maryland coach Tom Nugent way back in the 50's.  ABC color commentator Tim Brant nostalgically described ND's set as the "Old Nugent I" on several occasions Saturday night.

Lined up in the I formation the three backs were just a slight deviation from the three backs in the wishbone -- and the wishbone has more possibilities.  Notre Dame only ran two different plays from this formation.  One of the plays was the one that it used most often from the wishbone, the power off-tackle.  The Irish had some minor success with it early and then just as in the wishbone they became predictable and Stanford stuffed the play.  The other play was run twice, short motion and play-action with the fullback slipping to the flat.  The result: two incompletions.

On Friday evening while talking with one of my former players who is now an assistant line coach at Stanford he indicated that their staff was confident of the predictability of the Irish.

The Irish opponents don't have to defend a complex or innovative game plan.  They do have to defend personnel.   The Irish still have quality personnel.  Notre Dame did have close to 250 yards rushing, certainly credible, but it still has major difficulty in the red zone.  Obviously, Carlyle Holiday had a horrible night throwing the ball.  He had open receivers, but he certainly lacked confidence throwing in wet conditions.  The zone defenses that Stanford used did not present any special coverage problems.

As mentioned in previous weeks, against quality opponents ND lacks the creativity in their offense.  The down-the-line option that ND uses so frequently is stopped more often than it is successful.  This is a fast flow play that has no inside threat to slow the linebackers.  No counter or freeze option has been shown to make the linebackers and secondary hesitate with the possibility of a play going opposite initial flow.  There was not one single pass play off of this primary play to cause hesitation or a false step of the defense.

ND doesn't rely on a series of plays where a group of plays look alike, but end up differently.  The opponents see the same plays out of the same formations.  Power, Isolation, Inside and Outside Zone and Speed options are the running plays that ND uses.  Oh yes, on passing downs, the QB Draw is the main staple.  If the defense can match up relatively well personnel-wise they can stop ND.  In crunch time or when they are in the wishbone, the defense knows that more than 90-percent of the time it will be power at the tight-end, tackle area.  How about screens, throwbacks, counters and misdirection plays, just for a change?

It goes with out saying that the passing attack was total futility.  Three times the Irish threw the two-yard shuffle pass and they were incomplete.  They could not once complete a pass where the receiver was only two yards in front of the QB.

ND needs tendency breakers.  Too predictable and conservative, the Irish play not to lose on offense. 

Just the opposite with the defense, where they gamble a lot and play almost exclusively man-to-man pressure defense.  Again, this is great against inferior personnel, but against good passing teams it can lead to big plays.  The opponents can also run off the secondary and force the corners to turn their backs to the run play.  You can break a long run more often against man coverage than zone coverage.  Again, the best approach is to keep the opponents guessing, mix it up.  Execution of sound fundamental techniques is vital regardless of the offense or defense, but being predictable is not going to help.

What ND needs is a blend on both offense and defense.  The Irish need to mix it up, not be so predictable on both sides of the ball.  Currently, Bob Davie's team lacks the "killer" instinct and, worse, they are each to prepare for.

(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.)


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