Irish Return to Basics

Currently the Irish are ranked No. 19 in the country for passing offense with a 284.67 average per game. Quarterback Brady Quinn is rated No. 15 in the country for total offense per game with an average of 293 yards per contest. In the first three games, the Irish offense has racked up a total of 1340 yards.

Much of the credit for this offensive display goes to offensive line coach, John Latina, who has the task of making sure the line depth is adequate and that the players do not get worn down early in the season. The solution to this situation is having players prepared to play multiple positions and this is not a new task for Latina.

"I've done it before," he said. "I was very fortunate I had a kid that was drafted in the first round last year, and he was able to play multiple positions. Some kids can handle that and some guys can't. I think we played 105 snaps, and you don't like anybody to play 105 snaps because it is hard to play with great effort with 105 snaps. So the more guys you can play, the better it is, and I like the situation we are in with that."

Many coaches would not attempt to have centers rotate on a regular basis for fear of throwing off the rhythm of the offense and the chance of miscommunication between the center and quarterback. Coach Latina originally had some of these concerns.

"When I first did this about eight years ago with a group of centers, I had great concerns about that," Latina said. "I talked with people, and I think the problem comes in when you don't practice like that. You have a guy that is another center but also backs up some other positions and doesn't get many reps at center during the week of practice. But we practice the way we play with that particular situation so I don't think it is a problem."

There are many differences between this football team and some of the teams in the recent past. One of the most notable differences is the physical condition of this year's squad, as they appear to be in better shape and finish games with some gas still in the tank. The Irish O-line coach agrees with this observation and gives credit to the strength and conditioning program.

"Ruben [Mendoza] does an outstanding job," said Latina. "I've been very fortunate to be around Ruben for 11 or 12 years. It started back at Clemson University around 1992, I think, and I was obviously instrumental in bringing him to Old Miss and with the opening here. He is a guy I have great confidence in and believe in and coach Weis obviously did too because he hired him.

"It's hard to have a weight coach have a major impact right off the bat. You need to go in there and you need to have guys for a year or two or a year and half and then you start seeing some major, major changes in their bodies. He does a great job and I can't imagine another strength coach I would want to work with if I had my choice, especially as an offensive line coach."

Although the offense is putting up some impressive game stats so far this year, there are still areas that need improvement. The Irish have been flagged for 26 penalties for 207 yards in the first three games. In the loss to Michigan State they had 12 penalties that definitely affected the outcome of the game. The emphasis at practices this week according to Latina will focus on fundamentals.

"Sometimes you may not spend any more time on fundamentals but you just emphasize it, so when you go to group settings, you want the players to bring the fundamentals that you are taking in individual periods to the group setting then into a team setting," said Latina. "You don't just want to run plays, but run plays with a purpose. Running plays that you want to bring the fundamental work to those settings, and that was a big emphasis today. And it looked like our kids bought into that, but of course we have to watch the tape tonight, but with the feeling I had leaving the practice field I thought it was a little better."

Senior Bob Morton is one of the guys who have fit well into Coach Latino's scheme of playing multiple positions, and he is off to a good start at center and guard. The likeable Morton agrees with his position coach that mistakes have been costly and fundamentals need to receive a lot of attention this week as the team prepares for the game with Washington.

"We have a bunch of mistakes we need to fix," the senior said. "We need to take the things back to the fundamentals a little bit. We really focused our practice fundamentally today. We really worked on a few individual periods, then carrying what we did in individual periods over into team and execution. And that's something, whenever you get into a lot of fire in a game, sometimes that execution kind of falls along the wayside because you're in the line of fire. So we just wanted to work on moving that individual stuff into the game setting.

"We came in and we knew the things we had to have fixed, for coming up for this next week We addressed them and now in a very businesslike way we are focusing on them to take care of business on Saturday."


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