It would be easy to second guess a lot of things about Saturday's game, but what would be the point? I think we all know the problems at this point, and so does Irish head coach Charlie Weis.
Like Weis, Irish fans need to let Saturday's loss go and move forward. Placing blame will solve nothing--Weis knows he's at fault—and has accepted responsibility…again. The only way to fix the problems the Irish have on offense is to work to get better. It's Weis' job to fix the problems. Thus far he hasn't done that—I think we can all agree on that.
This week should be about getting better……not about beating Navy or anyone else on the schedule. Not about Xs and Os. The Irish have to get better before they're going to beat anyone.
I've got an idea on how to get better. If Notre Dame is going to win another game this season they're going to have to learn how to run the football, and stop the run.
Notre Dame has passed the century mark in rushing just one time this season—117 rushing yards against Michigan State--the only time the Irish have looked competent running the football, and that was for just a half.
The Irish have held one team under 100 yards rushing—UCLA—which was also their only win of the season.
Time to bring out the clichés, but they're all true.
"The game is won in the trenches."
"You win with a good running game and great defense."
It's no coincidence that when the Irish lose against the best teams, they're losing the battle up front on both sides of the ball. Here's the breakdown.
USC 227 yards rushing Notre Dame 48
Boston College 168 Notre Dame 27
Michigan State 219 Notre Dame 117
Michigan 289 Notre Dame -6
Penn State 164 Notre Dame 0
Georgia Tech 258 Notre Dame -8
Even during Notre Dame's BCS seasons the past two years, they're losses usually boil down to losing the battle up front and turnovers.
LSU 245 Notre Dame 143 2 turnovers
USC 139 Notre Dame 130 2 turnovers
Michigan 120 Notre Dame 4 5 turnovers
Michigan State 161 Notre Dame 107 2 turnovers
USC 175 Notre Dame 153 2 turnovers
Ohio State 275 Notre Dame 62 0 turnovers
I don't care how many skill players you have, or if you're the greatest Xs and Os guy in the history of the game, they mean nothing unless you win the battle up front. That's the bottom line.
To further my point, I did some research of the top 15 teams in the country. 12 of those teams average at least 175 yards rushing per game. No. 6 South Carolina averages just 115 yards per game, and yes, they lost the game in the trenches yesterday against Vandy. Vandy 146 rushing yards, South Carolina 26.
It should also come as no surprise that 10 out of the top 15 ranked teams also allow under 100 yards rushing per game.
Notre Dame won't beat anyone until they win the battle up front. Say it over and over.
The only way you're going to do that is to practice it, and stay committed to it during games.
Notre Dame isn't getting better because they're not committed to the run game. Weis is trying to win games, his job, I understand this. I also understand why he's calling the games he is as a play-caller—he needs to win games. But he isn't winning games, and he's not even close in most cases, so it's time to try something different.
What good does it do this team to have Evan Sharpley complete another five-yard hitch to George West? What are you accomplishing offensively with this game plan? Nothing.
The Irish have to start to build an identity as a team, and it has to start this week. They will never be a great team until they can run the football, and they can stop the run—at least slow a team down.
All the teams left on Notre Dame's schedule rush for more yards than the Irish and allow less yards than Notre Dame on the ground.
Navy averages 343 yards per game rushing. Air Force averages 259. Stanford 116, and Duke 66. Notre Dame allows 191 rushing per game. Not a good sign for the first two games on the schedule.
Navy allows 183 rushing yards per game. Duke 166; Stanford 162, and Air Force 156 yards per game. The Irish average just 34 yards rushing per game. There is opportunity here.
None of the four remaining teams have played anywhere near the level of competition that Notre Dame has, but anyone who thinks these games are easy wins is fooling himself/herself. Notre Dame is going to have to win the battle in the trenches, and they're going to have to match the intensity of these four teams to have any chance to win the game. I can assure you they'll be motivated to play the Irish. Will Notre Dame be motivated to play them?
Physically, they can beat all four teams if they match their intensity level. That will be Weis' first order of business. He's going to have to sell to the team that there is a payoff to playing their hearts out these last four games. They're going to have to "buy in" to what Weis is selling. If they don't, they could easily lose all four.
It's time to build an identity on this team. Weis has one week to do it. If I'm Weis, I use every rep in practice to work on running the football and stopping the run. I wouldn't let either of my quarterbacks throw a single pass all week. I'd make my receivers, backs, and tight ends work on downfield blocking the entire week.
It's that simple. Notre Dame won't beat anyone until they win the battle up front. While the solution is easy, it won't be easy getting there, and it will be impossible if this team doesn't "buy in" to what Weis will be selling.
Navy is coming to town in two weeks, and you have to believe they'll be ready for the Irish. They're a well coached team who play disciplined football. They'll fight tooth and nail in the trenches. Will the Irish show up or will they mail in the rest of the season? I couldn't imagine wanting to be the team who lost the streak, but somebody has to step up and not let that happen. Leadership? Anyone?
IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories
Video: Kelly talks expectations, receiversBrian Kelly revealed what he thought about this season before it ever kicked off, revealing he had some concerns. He also talked about the receiver rotation moving toward Kevin…
The Occasional ForceWistful Jones looks back on opportunities lost and those that remain.
Video: Avery Davis looks to ND futureCEDAR HILL, Texas - Avery Davis has returned to elite form after a rocky start to the season that included an injury. The four-star quarterback also remains rock solid in his Notre…
Prister’s Thursday ThoughtsND making “healthy choices.” The Final Five. A high-heater from Jeter. Looking out for No. 1.