Ever since the Irish entered the half with a 14-point lead over the Panthers a couple of weeks ago, the Notre Dame offense has basically appeared uncomfortable and out of sync. Because of this, the confidence that the unit once held after dominant performances against Purdue, Stanford and Washington earlier in the year has dissipated to a certain extent. Although it may be difficult to ascertain what is precisely the cause for the recent offensive woes, offensive coordinator Mike Haywood is placing the blame squarely on his shoulders.
"Well I think the most important thing is that we're really going along really well," Haywood said. "We hit a point in which we may have had an information overload because of mental errors and when you look at the number of mental errors we had, it could be because of information overload and it's not the players fault, it's the coaches fault, it's my fault. It starts with me. Because anytime you give a young man too much information which they can handle, it always comes back and sits in the coordinators lap and it sits in my lap. I think that was part of the problem in the Pitt game, and it probably carried over a little bit into the Boston College game."
After reviewing the film, senior left tackle Mike Turkovich couldn't agree more that mental errors primarily caused the poor play against the Eagles.
"I think the main thing was that we had a lot of mental errors on offense," Turkovich said. "The game plan we had, I thought it was a good game plan, we just didn't handle it well and made a lot of mental errors, and when you do that, it kills you."
After the demoralizing pair of consecutive losses, the offense will need a dominant performance to boost its poise and momentum to where it was earlier in the campaign. Until then, there is not much that can be done, other than to look forward.
"It's difficult keeping your head up, but it's something you've got to do," Turkovich said. "When you're a senior you have to handle everything and be mature. That's keeping your head up, making sure other guys are coming to practice everyday and coming to work. It's not easy, but we've been doing a good job of it so far."
The emotion that revealed itself in the Notre Dame locker room following the loss was frustration. Knowing well what this squad is capable of, the lack of execution perturbed the entire offense.
"Well we know what we can do," runningback James Aldridge said. "That's the main thing. We know that we can put points up on the board. Just because we had a bump in the road doesn't mean we just lost everything. It's not the end of the world. We've got to come back fighting and that's all we really can do. Just practice hard and fight on the weekends."
Turkovich completely concurred with his teammate.
"I don't know if it was as much about confidence," he said of the feeling as the game wore on. "We know what we can do. We know we're capable of putting points on the board, but I think as the game goes on and things aren't going real well, you get frustrated. I think it's more of a frustration thing. You just don't understand what's happening. ‘What are we doing wrong? Why aren't we able to run the ball,' stuff like that, I don't think it's about confidence but much more frustration"
In his press conference Tuesday afternoon, head coach Charlie Weis stated that he would be undertaking the responsibilities of calling the plays against Navy, due to a death in Haywood's family that will force him to leave the team for several days. It will be interesting to analyze how this change will manifest itself against the Midshipmen, and most importantly, the response it will produce in the squad.
However, one of the steps Weis, Haywood and the rest of the offensive staff are taking to remedy the team's broken psyche is a simplified game plan, which is intended to breed confidence.
"Well, this game plan won't be as complex, which will probably build a little bit more confidence in execution," Haywood said. "The simplicity in the offense limits the number of things which they do on defense, because they line up in odd. They stem from odd to even, they stem from even to odd and a couple of those things and they're pretty basic in their coverage and the things, which they do, and they do them well. But it gives us a little bit more opportunity to have more reps at the things which they do because of the reduction of the offense, in which we're going to go into this game."
Regardless of the offensive schemes that are installed prior to Saturday's match up against Navy, Notre Dame must execute the game plan as efficiently as possible.
"Whatever the coaches call is fine," Aldridge said. "Whether it's complex, we're going to have to go out and execute, if it's simple we're going to have to go out and execute the game plan. No matter what, you're going to have to do what they say and try your best in it, and ultimately, whatever they say goes. That's what we get paid for, that's why we go to school here because we're supposed to go and execute what the coaches tell us."
Ever since the second half against Pittsburgh, the Irish have scored seven points in regulation. Additionally, in the Boston College game, Notre Dame committed seven turnovers, including a pair of failed conversions on fourth down. Simply put, something has to be done if Notre Dame plans to leave Baltimore over .500. Now it's time for a response on Saturdays. Now it's time to bounce back.