Picking up the Pieces

As what we all hope will turn out to be the worst week of the Weis era concludes, let's step back and assess things. The Sugar Bowl, unfortunately, was a thorough butt kicking administered by a team that was considerably more talented and hungry than ND and well-coached as well. It's over and the only thing that can be done at this point is to learn from it.

Realistically, LSU had a huge physical advantage on ND. The most noticeable difference was how much more physical and athletic was LSU's defense compared as to ND's. ND's defense also continues to play very slowly and tentatively suggesting that they have never completely absorbed the defensive schemes. As was that case with USC, I was struck by how relatively simple LSU's defensive schemes were. ND, on the other hand, works so hard at trying to disguise what the defense is doing that they often wind up failing to execute the scheme.

And while there's room for fair complaint about the offense's showing as well, the two turning points in the game were the easy touchdown allowed at the end of the first half to stifle ND's gutsy comeback that had evened the score at 14 and the reversal of Wooden's apparent fumble recovery. But at neither crucial juncture could ND's defense stop LSU, just as the defense could not stop USC from scoring on the opening drive of the second half to turn a competitive game into a one-sided affair.

So the obvious first point going forward is that there needs to be some change in the defensive philosophy, whether it's accomplished by the current defensive coaches or others.

Now, before we collectively decide the sky is falling, let's take a little bit longer view. Here is how the ND coaches starting with Ara have done on their change in record and point differential from the prior two years.


First two: 16-3-1, + 407
Prior two: 7-12, -85
Change: +9 games, +492 points


First two: 17-6, + 236
Prior two: 21-2, + 464
Change: -4 games, -228 points


First two: 11-10-1, +104 points
Prior two: 16-6-1, + 166 points
Change: -5 games, -62 points


First two: 13-10, + 201
Prior two: 12-11, +66
Change: +1 games, +135 points


First two: 16-9, +97
Prior two: 17-6, +371
Change: -2 games, -274 points


First two: 15-10, +1
Prior two: 14-9, +85
Change: 0 games, -84 points


First two: 19-6, +239 points
Prior two: 11-13, -72 points
Change: +7.5 games, +311 points

So there's really no room for debate that Weis has made the most impressive transition since Ara. As the LSU game made painfully apparent, however, we won't be able to compete for national championships without upgrading the talent.

So, how much improvement can we expect on that front? Realizing that "star" measures are only a crude guideline, let's compare the talent that Weis has recruited over the last two years with the talent recruited by the prior staff over three years. For purposes of this exercise, I'm attributing the players who verbally committed after the new coach was announced to the new coach. So, for instance, Rhema McKnight is counted as a Willingham recruit.

In almost exactly 3 years, the prior staff recruited 49 players with an average star value of 3.39. Weis and his staff, however, in just under two years have recruited 54 players with an average star value of 3.63. If that weren't a stark enough difference, at least 13 of those 49 recruited by the prior staff left the program early, including one of the mostly highly rated, tight end Greg Olsen who left without playing a down.

Of course, recruiting is an inexact science. But Weis is accumulating players at almost twice the rate that Willingham did, and players of better perceived quality.

Of course, not all of the problems are solved. But there is every reason to believe that ND is on the right track.

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