McDonell Looking For Improved Line Play

Offensive Line coach John McDonell is a veteran coach with over 20 years of experience. He enters his third year at Notre Dame with the primary responsibility of working with the guards and centers. In his first two years, several of his offensive linemen have been selected in the NFL draft. Irish Eyes talked with McDonell after the Irish loss to BYU to get his thoughts on their performance.

The offensive line received much of the blame for the 2003 record of 5-7. Reports from this year's fall camp have been encouraging and good things are expected from this group of linemen.

However, in the opening loss to BYU, there were problems with the interior line play and Coach McDonell acknowledged this.

"Well, as in the case of being a first game, it is a huge gauge from where you are-- good or bad-- and you build from there," McDonell said. "It was obvious that we did not get it done where we needed to, so we need to have great improvement."

The Irish went into the opener with four starters with a lot of experience but starting in new positions. We asked if this was a factor in the tentative play of the offensive line.

"Well, you have to search everything," said McDonell. "That could be something. All those kinds of things could certainly be attributed to it. I just think you have to evaluate everything you are doing and see what you are doing, and then get the kids to do it correctly; and that is what you have to try and do."

The BYU defensive scheme seemed to surprise and confuse the The Irish offense. We asked McDonell if the BYU defensive schemed surprised them on Saturday night.

"The scheme didn't surprise us, but I think the speed of it was a surprise, probably," the veteran coach said. "Last year they were a lot more base, and this year they were a lot more attacking.

"It is an extremely difficult defense to prepare for. It's almost like an option offense versus a defense to prepare for it. It's very unorthodox and you really have to be sharp and keen."

The BYU successful defense won't go unnoticed by future Notre Dame opponents, including this week's rival Michigan.

"There are pockets of them around the country that run that defense," said McDonell, "I haven't really looked that far down the schedule, but it is primarily west coast defense. We certainly could run into it again as BYU had success against us, so there is no reason why another team might not adopt it, including Michigan.

"They always see some things from previous games, just like we do. We'll just go from there and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. We just have to get better, and we are looking forward to playing those guys."

Talented red-shirt freshman John Sullivan made his first-ever game appearance Saturday night and coach McDonell gave us this evaluation of his play.

"He did some real good things," McDonell said of Sullivan's first start. "He doesn't get to be a freshman, so that is kind of what I expected. I expect him to be running on all eight cylinders and so does he.

"He is a great young man and a great physical presence in there. He is going to be a great football player for us, but he just has to realize that he has to continue to focus in on the little things and pay attention to detail."

We asked McDonell if there were any players who stood out or surprised him with their efforts on Saturday.

"They all had their moments," he said. "They all had their moments positively and negatively. I think from the whole standpoint, if you take the front, it wasn't one particular guy who surprised us as everybody kind of had their great plays and their poor plays.

"You have five linemen and they all have to function together, because if one isn't doing things correctly, it doesn't look very good. So we have to work cohesively and continue to get better.

"There were a lot of positives even though we didn't win the game. We didn't get it done and that is the bottom line. We didn't get it done and we have to get it done. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it."

Michigan comes into this week's game rated No. 5 in one of the polls, and as usual has a very talented and physical team. McDonell said his unit will just have to get ready for a very physical game.

"They obviously have a great program. We are just going to have to regroup and get our noses back to the grindstone and get after them," McDonell said. "Obviously no one wanted to come away from that first game the way it did. Sometimes you think too much and you kind of get back on your heels so what have to do is go out there and fly around and knock people down."


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