Coach D's Mailbag

We are continuing our feature called "Coach D's Mailbag" where Irish fans can e-mail Coach and get his thoughts on football, the games, and the Irish.

Q: What in the world happened to Duval Kamara for him to have such a drop off in performance?

A: Duval is suffering from a few things this season. I believe, based on what I read from the coaches, that Duval didn't come into camp in the best shape possible. Lesson learned and I have a feeling next year he won't make that mistake. Right now Duval is also battling a confidence problem in my opinion. He sees the other WR's making plays and he is making any. He got hurt against SDSU and tried to play through it but didn't play well. He caught a lot of heat for that and things have snowballed on him since then. If I was his coach (I was asked this question) what I would do is sit him down first and foremost to tell him my opinion of him. I'd say I was disappointed in what he wasn't doing, but also that I had the utmost confidence in him. I'd tell him that in order for us to be as good as we can we need him. Then I would back that up by doing whatever I can early in the Stanford game to get him touches. Let him make a few easy grabs to get into a rhythm, then I would take shots downfield with him when I felt he was in a flow of the game.

Q: Any discussion of how the current defensive schemes reflects Tenuta's style defenses, how the ND defense is melding Tenuta and Brown would be appreciated?

A: I think the base alignment and personnel of this defense belong to Tenuta. I've made it clear that I don't agree with this decision. The blitz schemes are obviously Tenuta's. The coverages behind it are Brown's at times and Tenuta's at times and this seems to be the biggest problem. We are seeing the defense play a coverage that doesn't necessarily fit the blitz and action of the front six. That's part of the reason we are seeing so many open zones for QB's to complete passes high percentage passes. Brown likes to play aggressive man defenses like we saw last season. Tenuta likes Cover 3, which is much softer by nature.

Q: How was our OL run blocking able to magically improve in the 3rd quarter against Purdue? Did this reflect a change in scheme?

A: It didn't just magically improve. The Irish ran the ball well out of the three WR sets in the first quarter. The success they had in the first half parlayed into what they did in the second half. The more they ran the better they got. The more touches Allen received the better he got and more decisive he was in the second half. The first half built into the second half.

Q: Certain players mentioned that MSU lined up in some defensive formations that the Irish weren't prepared for. Purdue lined up basically in the same defense. How susceptible are we as a young team to falling victim to multiple looks?

A: I do believe the Irish will be susceptible to teams who throw a lot of looks in their direction. Michigan and Purdue both lined up in basic fronts, Purdue in a 4-2 and Michigan in a 4-3. The OL looked certain of their responsibilities in those two games and executed well. They didn't look as certain against MSU and it showed in their execution. In order to play at that level every week the Irish must be confident in the basic principles of the zone, which at times they don't appear to have. A zone team shouldn't ever really struggle with new looks. It shouldn't matter how a team lines up, the rules don't really change. The problems the zone has is when teams get good penetration or overload the box. But new looks shouldn't give those kinds of problems, but right now they are.

Q: How much of our passing success is explained by Jimmy's improvement versus the amazing catching ability of Floyd and Tate?

A: It's a combination of both. Clausen is much more confident this season. Not necessarily in himself, as I don't think he ever lost confidence in himself, but rather I think he is more confident in the players around him. The OL is better and protecting him well. The WR's are making catches in tough spots and beating people deep. He's throwing the football a lot better this year as well and is obviously healthy. But having players like Floyd, Tate, and Grimes making the kinds of plays they are making certainly helps a ton!

Q: It appears ND blitzes more to create one-on-one pass rush matchups rather than send 4 guys at 3 blockers and hope someone comes free. Would you agree? Would you expect more ND rushers to come free based on the type of scheme ND runs?

A: This is a relatively accurate assessment of the ND blitz scheme, at least how I see it. It looks like they are doing things to free up a blitzer rather than overwhelming a team. They bring six players on most occasions but the opponents have six blockers in most of those situations. Teams pick it up and make easy throws into the no cover zones. Another issue is the blitzes have to flaws depending on the play. At times they are too telegraphed and teams know what is coming. Other times they are too late getting to the blitz and aren't able to make the kind of pressure they want. I believe as the players get more comfortable in their assignments and the scheme they will have more success getting more consistent pressure on the QB.

Q: It appears the wedge on the kickoff return team does not wait and time the blocks with the return man hitting the hole. This makes it harder for the wedge blockers holding their blocks. Are we just a hair away from breaking a score?

A: I believe the problem is the returners aren't gaining enough speed to hit the wedge. We saw this weekend against Purdue Allen hit the hole much harder and when he did he was able to get free for big returns. If the returners pick up the speed on their attack I believe we'll see more consistent returns and some big ones.

Q: Can you give an early review of the performances of A.J. Green and Julio Jones versus Michael Floyd and rank the three based on both current development and long term potential.

A: I'd throw in DeAndre Brown from Southern Miss into that category. Floyd has 16 receptions for 218 yards and 2 TD's in four games. Brown has 15 receptions for 260 yards and 2 TD's in three games. Green has 22 receptions for 388 yards and 3 TD's in five games. Jones has 16 receptions for 226 yards and 4 TD's in five games. This is about what I expected from each player. Personally I would take Floyd, as I did in my rankings last fall, because is the more complete player. He is big and strong like Jones, they all have speed, Floyd has the strongest hands in my opinion, and Floyd and Green are the best route runners. Jones is probably the best red zone target thanks to his size and strength. All four I would say have been everything their fans had hoped for. It's an amazing group of players. If I had to rank them based on where they are now combined with their potential I'd say 1) Floyd 2) Jones 3) Green 4) Brown.

Q: Our running game has been inconsistent. Why were we able to rush for 200 yards against Purdue but only 16 against MSU? I heard Coach Weis say that MSU sold out for the run by putting 9 in the box. If that's true, should the poor running stats versus MSU not concern us?

A: It is a concern that ND only rushed for 16 yards against MSU. Part of the problem is the Irish didn't do anything to take MSU out of their 9 in the box philosophy. They did against Purdue. By spreading the field with the three WR sets and then running out of those sets the Irish prevented Purdue from loading the box against them. Trying to run out of the two TE sets and two RB sets the Irish allow opponents to load the box on them. Then their schemes are a bit too slow developing out of those formations to really attack teams. Against Purdue the Irish spread the field and ran basically three plays. They ran inside zone, outside zone, and the draw. The first two are downhill and Allen was able to find the seams. The latter was great since the formation is a pass first formation so the defense really bailed when they saw the pass action. More of this will make the running game more successful.

Q: I thought we had a number of lockdown corners? It appears they give 7-12 yard cushions all the time and let teams complete balls in front of them all day. Am I being too harsh here?

A: I have noticed that too and it is a reason teams have been able to dink and dunk against the Irish all season. The Irish are basically playing a bend but don't break philosophy in the defensive backfield. I believe the Irish should be more aggressive. It will mean a couple more big plays in the pass game, but I can live with that. This defense doesn't have the depth to be on the field as much as they are. If not for the turnovers, which I credit the staff for as well as the players, this defense would be on the field even more! Playing off at times is fine, but right now even in 3rd and 10 situations teams don't seem to sweat it and the Irish let the players come off the line, they sink, and the cut their route at the 1st down distance for easy first downs. Purdue and Michigan State combined to go 12 for 26 on third down. That's bad third down defense and the soft coverage is a big reason for that.

Q: Should we be a running first team and passing second or vice versa?

A: ND should be a passing first team and use that to set up the run. I know that will upset a lot of ND fans who believe ND should run the football more. But this is Charlie's team and he has to run this team in a way that fits his style. If Charlie is going to succeed at Notre Dame he must do things HIS WAY. Even if that means no one thinks it will work than so be it. But if he tries to be someone he isn't the Irish won't be as successful while he is the head coach. This doesn't mean he won't run the football or won't be successful running the football. He will and he will. It doesn't mean they necessarily have to pass more than they run. Sometimes they will sometimes they won't. But what I am saying is that the Irish need to use their pass offense and formations to set up their running game.

Q: Why does it seem that our WR's can't get any separation from the DB's? Every other game I watch you see WR's getting open enough to catch the ball and run for a TD, but with our WR's all we seem to do is throw fade's and go's, why?

A: Part of it is a schematic problem. Most teams do more switching and crossing with their WR's which can cause confusion on the defense and open up the WR's. Also the Irish don't do as much motioning and shifting to free up WR's. The final problem is one I've been discussing for two years. The Irish WR's aren't coached to run very good routes from a technique standpoint. So they must rely on being more talented than their opponents. Right now they have been better than their opponents and will be in most games.

Q: Could you elaborate more on how a WR can use his hands as well as the proper stance they should be in when they are set?

A: This is hard to do without being able to actually show it. But the first thing is that a WR must realize his hands and feet must work together. You don't make moves and then use your hands. You also don't use your hands while you simply stutter your feet. That doesn't do much too decent CB's. Your moves have to be more sudden, your hands must work with them, and then you have to be quick attacking downfield. It's hard to describe the various hand techniques in writing, but those are the basic principles. As far as stance some of the Notre Dame WR's are actually getting better. Michael Floyd arguably has the best stance on the team. Golden Tate has the worst. Duval Kamara has gotten better in this regard as well. The basic stance I taught is for the players to have their chest over knee and knee over toes. The first day of camp I'd have them all get into a sprinters stance, hand down on the ground and all. Then I'd ask them to lift their upper body up and that was the basic premise of the stance. It eliminates wasted motion and allowed the WR's to get downfield quicker. If being pressed the WR should narrow his front to back stance a bit, get a bit wider with his base, lift his upper body, and get his hands in position to hand fight.

Q: I noticed fewer missed assignments by the OL in your summaries.

A: That is a good observation. Most of the mistakes this season have been technique mistakes or just not getting to a guy quickly enough. Only the MSU game had situations of mass mental mistakes, and even those were much fewer than in 2007. The Irish have seemed more certain of their assignments which allows them to attack with more confidence.

Q: Did the Irish employ any man blocking this last weekend? I did read from someone that they pulled the guards a bit more, though I can't say that I saw that. Does a pulling guard fit into a zone scheme, man scheme, both, or neither?

A: The Irish were running the zone this weekend. The pulling that was going on is part of a zone scheme. They weren't true pulls that we would see in a counter or power play. Rather they were techniques used my zone teams against certain looks where the outside player will come down on a blocker and the inside blocker will loop.


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