Watching the quarterback play last year was frustrating at times but there were moments when Irish fans were able to witness the future. We saw a number of occasions where Holiday took command of the offense and kept the opposing defense guessing. Holiday has a difficult job of learning the west coast offense while on the run. Holiday has never been asked to play this style of football and a learning curve is expected. Holiday certainly made a lot of plays last year and the Irish would not have won 10 games without him.
Spring practice will be coming soon and Irish staff hopes to further advance their quarterbacks mentally into the nuances of the Diedrick offense. Winter lifting is vital to maintaining the physical aspect of the game but Irish fans have to hope these quarterbacks are doing some mental preparation as well.
Holiday is tough kid. He took some vicious hits last year but kept coming back. Having to take that kind of punishment would certainly make one a little paranoid. Holiday looked unsure in the pocket last year. He appeared to be uneasy when the pressure was coming and to be looking for his escape plan instead of stepping up and making the throw. This is not meant as a criticism of Holiday because he did a tremendous job last year considering the abuse he suffered.
Holiday isn't the only player learning this system. 10 other players have to execute their assignment in order for this offense to be successful. The quarterback is always the easiest target for blame because he held onto the ball too long. Fans don't see the running back missing his blitz assignment or an offensive lineman or tight end missing the block. For any quarterback to be successful, they will need all of the other 10 players executing their assignment. It's important to understand that Holiday or any quarterback isn't always or probably even half the time at blame.
Recognizing that, I think even Holiday would be the first to suggest he can improve. Holiday has to understand that he is going to take hits--many of them will not be pleasant--and he has to get rid of the ball. Recognition is everything in this offense and Holiday has to recognize the blitz, find the hot receiver and get rid of the football. The hot receiver will have to also recognize the blitz and break off his route to receive the ball; which didn't always happen either.
Anticipation is another important factor in this offense and I don't think any of the quarterbacks have grasped this. Holiday or whomever will have to throw the ball before the receiver makes his final cut. The quarterback will have to anticipate the spot where the receiver will be open and make sure that he gets the football to that exact spot on the field. How many times last year did we see the wide receiver standing there waiting for the ball? Hit that wide receiver on the move and you have a greater chance of making a big play. It's much easier to hit a stationary target on defense and this was one reason for the lack of big plays.
Watching the Miami Hurricane offense last year was a clinic in good offensive football. Miami scored often and just as important, they scored quickly. A good quarterback will complete 60% of his passes. That means four times out of every 10 pass attempts, he will be unsuccessful. A coach has to hope that this doesn't happen on third down or the drive will end. This is why the big play becomes important. You can't expect any quarterback to convert a third down and long situation 60% of the time. The defense knows what is coming and this is why you see lower passing statistics in third and long situations. Hitting a receiver on the move greatly increases your chances of a big play and why Miami—or USC for that matter—were so successful on offense last year. Living off of 15-play drives and hoping to score 6 is not a recipe for successful offense and we witnessed that too often last year. One can control the clock but the odds of scoring become considerably less if you need 15 plays to accomplish the goal.
All three quarterbacks will have to improve in the recognition and anticipation aspects of the game. Holiday is clearly the best player at this point but that doesn't mean he will be by fall or the end of next year. The quarterback of the future will possess his strong arm, pocket awareness and toughness but will also be able to recognize the hot read, step up in the pocket, find the open man, anticipate where the receiver will be and make the throw.
Pat Dillingham is a gamer I appreciate his fire and effort. It's no wonder that the offense can move when he is in the game. He appears to have a better grasp on the mental aspect of the game than Holiday does at this point. He executes the offense pretty well for the most part but is lacking in some of the physical tools that Holiday possesses. We all love Dillingham for what he is. He is a gamer, a tough kid living a dream we all wished we could but if Dillingham is the starter in this offense, we will know that the other quarterbacks are not grasping the offense. That is not meant as a criticism to Dillingham because he is such a great story but realistically, a walk-on quarterback should never beat out a scholarship player and certainly not two if you are evaluating properly.
The burning question becomes when will Olsen or Brady Quinn start pushing for the starting position? I don't think Holiday is going to give up his job so both players are going to have clearly become the best quarterback to have a shot. Olsen and Quinn fit the Diedrick offense in a physical sense but that does not mean either can grasp everything that will be asked of them any better than Holiday can or has. Holiday also possesses those legs that can keep defensive coordinators up at night and that is a major advantage for Holiday.
A lot of fans will expect Quinn or Olsen to grab the number two position early in the fall but Chris Olsen is a fine example of how hard this offense can be to understand and execute. My assumption—and hope—is that Olsen was the 2nd best quarterback on the roster by the end of the year. Still, he could not take that job earlier in the year. He didn't take it by Michigan State last year when the Irish could certainly have used him. If he isn't the number two guy by the end of spring, there has to be some concern. I am sure he will be.
Notre Dame fans want that flashy offense of Miami or USC. We all want to see the big plays and the exciting scores. I just don't think we should expect that next year. Considering the Irish have one returning starter on offensive line, I don't think anyone can expect to see an offense like Miami or USC next year. Olsen and Quinn fit the physical mold of a Diedrick quarterback but so does Holiday. The guy who will eventually win the job will be the guy who can read defenses, recognize the blitz, find the hot receiver, look off the safety, find his second or third receiver, buy time in the pocket, step up in the pocket and get rid of the football. Sounds easy enough.