Dictating the Tempo

Early in the spring, newly appointed linebackers coach Jon Tenuta spoke about dictating the tempo of opposing offenses. Last Saturday against Purdue, it appeared that offensive coordinator Mike Haywood and the rest of the coaching staff adhered to that stigma. The entire offensive unit went the whole contest in the no huddle, forcing the Boilermaker defense in uncomfortable situations.

Obviously, the concept worked. In what had been a season lacking an impressive offensive performance, the Notre Dame unit picked up the pace and had its most productive game by leaps and bounds. Much of the production was due to the no huddle system in place against Purdue that kept the defense on its heels. Although the Irish started the contest in a rather lackluster fashion, they exploded out of the gates in the second half to take the lead decisively.

As the Irish found themselves tied at the half, it only took five plays to break the deadlock. 81 yards and 2:04 minutes later, Notre Dame wouldn't look back the rest of the way. The series was one that would set the tone for the rest of the contest and one that Haywood thinks was pivotal for the victory.

"Well what happened was that at halftime we were sitting in our meeting as an offensive staff," Haywood said. "And we started talking about things, coach [Rob] Ianello had mentioned one of the plays in the second quarter, and I told him, ‘hey I'm going to try to get to it as soon as I can,' and then he mentioned it right before we went out and coach [Weis] said, ‘that's a good idea,' so it was the first call of the second half. It put us in a position in which now, we're moving the ball and they only had six people in the box and with six people in the box you want to run the football and we just continued to run the football and I think it just started building confidence with the guys, right after the half and the momentum continued."

Running the no huddle can create several advantageous situations for the offensive unit because it does not allow the defense to switch personnel as effectively. Additionally, the defense typically finds itself fatigued and on its toes when an offense runs the scheme proficiently. Haywood sees a great amount of benefits embedded within the system.

"The advantages for us is that it spreads people out," Haywood said. "At the same time, they don't run in and out of different personnel groupings on defense, so you know what personnel group is on the field. If they're in a 4-3 personnel, it tells you what you can do against 43, if they're in 4-2 personnel it gives you an idea of what you can do. If they're in 3-3 personnel, it gives you an idea of what they're going to do, so it provides us an opportunity to see what we're getting before we get it and we can make our appropriate calls."

Left guard, Eric Olsen also thinks the system has its benefits and can jump-start a stagnant offensive unit.

"Well it was just our game plan," Olsen said. "Coach felt that it was the best way to attack their defense so it was just a matter of us going out and executing and getting everything right, and going and getting on the same page. Obviously we were off to a little bit of a slow start but we picked it up in the second half."

To perfect its operation, the no huddle does require greater communication along all areas of the offense — from coaches to players.

"Yeah, definitely," Olsen said. "You've got to be able to communicate, you're not in the huddle so you've got to be on the line and making all the calls on the line, it's a tough thing, but once you get it down, it's successful."

Although it might seem that the no huddle is more difficult, it isn't as complicated as it seems. Head coach Charlie Weis broke down the process, detailing every step.

"First of all, there's two different things," Weis said. "There's no huddle, where you just are calling plays at the line of scrimmage where the clock is not a sense of urgency, and then there's two minute, where the clock is a sense of urgency. So they are two separate and distinct operations. Sometimes people will believe because you're not in a huddle and they are the same but they are not the same. The operation we are running last week, basically I would give a formation, and then once I would give a formation, coach Haywood would then go to that formation and from the list of plays from that formation, give a play to Ron [Powlus], the number of the play, who would then give it to the quarterback who would again give it to everybody else."

With this process, it isn't a necessity to keep the signals clandestine and to change them on a weekly basis. Based on the number that coach Powlus signals, that is the play that will be run.

"So you can study your signals all you want, unless you know number 32, it's not going to do you a whole hell of a lot of good," Weis said. "So that's what he's doing. Mike will look down, give a formation, he'll look down there's a group of plays from that formation, and he'll pick one, he says it's 32, Ron signals 32 and Jimmy [Clausen] looks down there and he tells everyone else and tells the outside guys it's 32 and they look at their wristband and they would know what play it is and he tells the interior guys what it is, and we're set and ready to go."

There are times, however, when minor adjustments are made to counter a defensive look an opponent may be giving the Irish.

"If we see something in the press box, I say, ‘coach, we need to go to this formation here, this is what we're getting,' and then he just gives the formation, goes to the play and we just execute it."

The system has been in place ever since Weis' tenure as the head coach commenced in the 2005 season. Since then, the signals have never changed.

"We've never adjusted them," Haywood said of the signals. "No, we've just added to them. The first year we were here four years ago, when Brady [Quinn] was here. Brady can watch television and call out the plays. Seriously. Brady could watch it; the quarterbacks in New England could watch it and call out the plays. They could call out the plays for you if you want. It's pretty funny sometimes, like Kevin Faulk calls me up every once in a while from New England and he says, ‘I called the play before you called the play,' because they can do that."

Irish fans across the nation are hoping that this lack of signal altering brings one change — more Notre Dame victories this fall. If the success over Purdue is any indication, the Irish won't have to worry about this problem. Not unless Brady Quinn or Kevin Faulk take up a coaching job as an opponent on the upcoming schedule.


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