Offense Looks to Refocus

It's quite puzzling that an offense with eight returning starters, 10 if you count Bob Morton and Rhema McKnight, from the highest-scoring team in Notre Dame history has had trouble finding consistent rhythm. A unit that should have great chemistry and a good understanding of Charlie Weis' playbook has struggled with mental errors and costly mistakes through the first three games of the season.

So what's wrong?

"I don't really know the answer to that question," running back Darius Walker said. "I do realize we do have a veteran offense and that is a great thing. That is really a great thing we have a lot of guys who are experienced that have had a lot of playing time. We definitely understand we need to get refocused and make sure we get this next task at hand."

Michigan State (3-0), the next task at hand, has a high-powered offense that ranks seventh in the nation in scoring at 39 points per game. An Irish offense that has scored 25.33 points per contest (60th) has to refocus and find their identity from last year real quick. They need to resemble the efficient unit that averaged 36.67 points per game last season (eighth in the country).

Third-down conversion (2-for-14 against Michigan), penalties, mental mistakes, breakdowns, failure to run the football (just 84 yards per game) have all contributed to the inconsistencies of an offense that looks more like young guys coming together for the first time, not eight seniors and many other experienced guys. The thing is, these guys proved they could do it last season.

"Looking at our lack of execution, we can't win games the way we've been playing as an offense," tackle Ryan Harris explained. "I think more than anything, we feel it's just uncharacteristic of us and our practice habits and how we are as a team. That's really for us to come out and prove more to each other then anybody else. We are looking forward to that."

Another thing the 12-ranked Irish have to look forward to is a defensive scheme with wrinkles they have never seen before, on a weekly basis. With Weis' unpredictable play calling, defensive coordinators have gotten more aggressive against Notre Dame, blitzing, stunting and disguising.

"Defensive coordinators are smart, they're not going to do something we've seen before," Harris said. "We're Notre Dame, they want to make their name on us and we are going to see new things every game."

But whatever happened to running your offense and making the defense adjust, not vice versa.

It all starts in the trenches, and four seniors and a freshman on the o-line have given Weis and offensive line coach John Latina many reasons to pull their hair out. Flags left and right, no push at the line of scrimmage when trying to generate a running game and quarterback Brady Quinn continuously picking himself up off the ground to name a few.

"I've said week in and week out when I talk to my guys, we got to be more physical, we go to run the ball, we have to protect our quarterback better," Latina said. "You don't fix those things over night. You have to get better and better and better each and every week and hope next week is the week you put it all together and start to gel and play better as a unit. That's where we are.

"We're having some struggles and yeah it's always surprising, you always expect to go out and play well, and play well enough to win the game. Obviously at times we have and at times we haven't. Consistency is the most important thing. If you are not consistent then it's hard to sustain drives, have 14-play drives. We have too many things like penalties, missed assignments and then getting physical which is going to happen, but what you gotta do is take care of the things you have total control over, things like assignments and things like penalties, especially line of scrimmage penalties, you have to limit those."

Latina could go on for days right now.

One of the things Harris mentioned the team was doing was practicing one play against many defensive looks. He talked about limiting the playbook and becoming more confident with the calls, doing a few things well instead of a lot of things average.

"I think they just want it to be easy, cut down on penalties, cut down on mental errors," he said. "One way to do that is to kind of tighten the playbook."

The thing is, these guys have done it before and will do it again. They will move the football and score points. It's just surprising it has taken this long.

"We are trying to shake things up and I think we had a great day of practice intensity wise and mental wise and everything," receiver Jeff Samardzija said. "We just need to put it together for the weekend." Top Stories