When looking at the stats of last season, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the Irish had a disappointing season. The dismal pass efficiency numbers (115th out of 117 teams), the poor special teams (101st in net punting) and the scoring defense numbers (26.3 points per game) are plenty of damning statistics.
Probably one of the most important stats that needs to change is first quarter scoring. The Irish were outscored 108-64 in their games in 2003. 21 of their first quarter points came in the 57-7 blowout of Stanford.
The Irish also trailed in eight of their 12 games after the first quarter. They were tied in three more and only led after the first quarter in the Stanford game.
Throw out the scoring in the Stanford game, and the Irish averaged allowing almost 10 points per game in the first quarter while scoring less than four themselves.
In the five games the Irish lost by more than 10 points in 2003, they were outscored 65-17 in the first quarter, allowing an average of 13 points per game scored in the first quarter.
While some might point directly to the defense for the points allowed, scoring less than four points in a quarter is hardly a sign of a good offense.
The trend of slow starts has to stop if the Irish hope to have a better season in 2004.
Why did the Irish start slowly in 2003?
We saw far too many games where it appeared the Irish were lacking motivation or just going through the motions in the first half of their games. But why did that happen?
We believe the Irish lacked leadership in 2003. Some would suggest the staff didn't provide the proper motivation, but the players play the game.
If a team cannot get excited to play Florida State in Notre Dame stadium, something is wrong with the team.
The Irish certainly had the proper motivation in 2002 with their improbable victory over the Seminoles in Tallahassee.
"Who didn't provide the proper leadership" isn't nearly as important as "has the problem been fixed?"
Fall camp is a time to work on the fundamentals of the game, develop a team chemistry and find your participants that will be playing on the field.
Some might suggest leadership would be start arise in fall camp. If a team is looking for leadership in fall camp, chances are they won't have a very successful season.
True leadership doesn't start to surface during the games or fall camp. True leadership starts to surface during the sacrifice. For the Irish, the sacrifice started during the long winter months with time to ponder their disappointing season.
The sacrifice hopefully began during winter lifting, and carried through spring practice, and more importantly, summer workouts.
Leadership should be in place and in full authority long before fall camp begins, and Irish fans have to hope that happened this winter.
Did some leaders stand up during the long winter months? We'll know soon enough, and it will likely come in the first quarter of the many difficult games on the Irish schedule this season.