Irish Offense Moving in Right Direction

In our latest installment of "Expert Analysis," we have a former offensive lineman breaking down the Michigan State game with us, and talking overall offense. Our expert played Division I football and was a three-year starter along the offensive line. Here are his thoughts on how the Irish did offensively, and what they could do to improve.

On what he saw that he liked out of the offense against Michigan State.

"I think there's a good mix of plays. I think the offense is rolling along with the run, but I've seen some good passing in there. I loved the call when Brady Quinn bootlegged on the goal line. I thought that was an awesome play and play call. He did a heck of a job of the fake, too. They powered the ball well at times. Just need to be more consistent."

On the offensive line play.

"They're coming along. I think they're working better in the running game. There's a lot less one-on-one, man up blocking. I think they're working well on getting double teams and moving guys off the ball. It was kind of a lunch pail kind of day."

On the plays that break down.

"I don't think you'll ever find a guy who's going to execute every block on every play. I think the reason a lot of plays still break down is there isn't that superb execution where big plays happen, but it's better than it was. You kind of need a couple of guys to really execute their assignments well to get good yardage in the running game."

On the seven- play drive that featured all running plays with a score.

"I think maybe a little tired defense, but I think it was more the fact that they saw an opportunity. I think a little success and then it becomes mental, knowing that you can dominate the guy in front of you. It's starts rolling from there and that's what I saw during that drive. You get back to the huddle and you look at each other and say ‘we're killing them, let's keep rolling.' They need to do a lot more of that. It's just a confidence."

On not putting Michigan State away.

"I think Diedrick put them in a good spot. I thought the plays were fine in those situations. It comes down to execution when you have good plays. They had an interception on one series, and they fumbled on another—maybe some poor decisions in the passing game on another. Sometimes you've got to have that mentality that you put your foot on their throat and put them away. I think because they are young, they don't quite have that mentality to finish it off yet. You need to have that to be a great football team. I think it'll come as they have more success."

On how important the snaps in mop-up duty in a blowout are to young offensive linemen to prepare him when it's time for him to start.

"They are the most important snaps you can get. Nothing can simulate an actual game. You can practice, get all the reps, work with the first team, whatever. Until you actually step on the field, it's nothing you can simulate.

"The first time I was out there, I had butterflies and all I worried about was not jumping off sides. Then I was thinking too much, then I was worried about picking up my assignment and what would happen if this guy stunted.

"The more snaps you get in mop-up duty, the better. You learn the pace, you gain confidence, you start to think ‘I can block that guy from Michigan,' and you become more confident. It's a real confidence builder in the fact that you practice against the scout team every day and you should dominate the scout team. But when you line up against a guy that you don't know, and you handle him, you start to think you can block anyone."

On players like John Sullivan having to start out of the gate without any playing experience.

"I think it's a lot harder because of all the things I said before. He's played well considering all of that. He's out there going through those growing pains we all went through, but having to do it while being counted on. He's doing well considering all of that.

"Say he got 60 snaps last year. That's not a lot, but it's plenty to find out what you need to improve on. Say he got beat on an inside move, we'll that's a sure-fire way of knowing what you need to improve on. If you get beat on an outside move, work on that, bull rush—hunker down. He'd practice it all the time, but it's totally different in a game and you'll know quickly where you need to improve and what you need to work on.

"I remember the first time I saw game twist or linebacker blitz in a game. It's just different because the scout team doesn't come as hard--don't bring it as hard. I think they should try to work at least one series in the first half and the second half where they try to plug a guy in there.

"I thought it was great that they've been putting Santucci in there. That's great and he needs that. Jamie Ryan is also a good thing. Just getting them game-time reps will help them so much in the future.

"You don't want to put a guy in there that is going to be a liability, and they know that a lot better than I would, but those guys that are close to playing, they need to get them in for a series or two in every game if they can so they'll be ready. The offensive line in the future will be much better because of it."

On the few mental mistakes from this offensive line in penalties.

"It's probably just a better grasp of the offense. When you jump off sides or you hold, it's probably because your mind is going a mile a minute. If you're thinking too much about who to block and what you need to do if this certain shift happens, you'll forget the count is on two. It's being comfortable and knowing what you need to know to play. You're not faking your way through it, you know it."

On blocking for different running backs and how that effects offensive line play.

"I liked blocking for backs like the guy last year, Julius Jones. They can overcome some of our mistakes. We make them look good, but a dynamic back can make an offensive line look better than they actually are.

"If the backs aren't hitting the holes that you are creating, you get frustrated. If you have a guy who's more of a straight ahead guy, he might make the first guy miss, but he can't make the next guy miss--that's often the difference between a one-yard gain and a 10-yard gain.

"When you find a back that can do that, it gives you a lot of confidence as an offensive line and it makes the offense go. Having a back that can find the seam is an offensive lineman's best friend. I know this offensive line wouldn't admit to that, and shouldn't, but they like it when they find backs that can make things happen."

On what it will take to get this offense running like a fine-tuned machine.

"I think its more just slight execution errors. You see glimpses of this thing really taking off. I think it's still a confidence thing. As long as they keep winning and keep having positive yardage plays, you'll see this offense take off. They have playmakers. It's just a matter of not being predictable and execution."

On the play calling being more aggressive these last few weeks.

"It seemed at times last year it was more of a mentality of playing not to lose during the play calling, and the players know that. I think they trust them more to execute now. Against Michigan, they came out with a ‘nothing to lose' attitude and look how far that took them.

"You want to be smart, but you also want be creative enough. I think towards the end of the Michigan State game they started to play not to lose, and look where that got them. I really think they need to change that mentality because the players know when they are calling plays not to lose."

"They need to start playing to have fun because that is when you start having great games. When everyone is having fun, that's when you start driving the ball. When you play not to lose, people are worried about not screwing up their assignment, worrying about making a bad call or the wrong check, it's all relative. The great teams don't play not to lose, they play to win, and they know they'll make mistakes, but they're also confident they can overcome their mistakes if they play to win."

On offensive line splits and how they impact the running and passing game.

"I'm a believer in sometimes there are too many men in a hole. Sometimes last year when they weren't getting any movement, they'd send another guy through the hole. That's too many men in one hole. The back has nowhere to go.

"Line splits dictates a lot as far as how much running room there is. When you see a lineman in close splits on running plays, unless they're double-teaming somebody, it's more of a comfort zone mentality.

"There are a lot of plays that need the one foot split or the two foot split and I don't see them taking them. Coaches can scream at them, but it's a comfort thing. The linemen line up in the games and the coaches can scream, but they're going to line up where they feel comfortable. The wider the split the more chance to open running lanes. It's going to spread guys out and give the backs more opportunities to make plays.

"When you see guys with close splits, unless it's a double team, they're afraid of getting beat. The downside is that it also gives the defenders more room to be athletic and make plays and that is where the problem comes.

"Anytime there is a man-blocking scheme, you should have wide splits. Anytime you're running outside, kind of close your splits up. Some splits need to be wide on a stretch play. Some need to be closed up to reach the guy from behind. The front side should be wider than the backside.

"It's hard to sell to a guy to make him take a wide split. Coaches tell you all the time to trust the technique and that you'll get that guy. But, it's a comfort thing. They really need to widen their splits a bit to give the backs more room, but it's a hard sell.

"Notre Dame isn't like Oklahoma where they take three foot splits on every play. That's not their offense. But that's why Oklahoma gets a lot of mileage out of their draw plays, but they can't power the ball as well. It's two different schools of thought, but they could have more success running the football if they'd open their splits, but that's providing they don't get beat."

I want to say thanks to our expert. I'd have to say this is the most informative thing we've ever done here at Irish Eyes. We hope to have many more like this in the future.


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