Offensive turnaround

Fans grumble as the losses mount. The attack is painful to watch. The defense is scoring almost as many points as the offense. Many observers question the talent level on offense, despite the presence of a host of former prep All-Americans.

Sound familiar?

Although the words above certainly sum up the 2005 Tennessee Vols, they also fit the 2004 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Like the 2005 Vols, the '04 Irish were abysmal on offense. Remember: They got 7 points from their defense and 10 from their offense in a 17-13 win last November at Neyland Stadium.

Notre Dame was every bit as futile offensively last fall as Tennessee is this fall, yet the Irish have turned things around in remarkable fashion. In a span of 12 months they've gone from being one of the NCAA's worst offenses to being one of its best offenses.

The reason is simple: New head coach Charlie Weis has a system in place that maximizes the team's strengths and minimizes the team's weaknesses.

Foremost among Notre Dame's strengths is quarterback Brady Quinn. Though recruited heavily by Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio State and other big-time schools as a high school senior, Quinn enjoyed limited success at Notre Dame under Tyrone Willingham in 2003 and 2004. Willingham had never been an offensive coordinator but he called the plays and did not allow Quinn to change them.

Now that Weis is in charge, though, Quinn has the freedom to change plays and be more creative. He has blossomed, and so has Notre Dame's offense.

"It really comes down to Quinn," says Jeff Baumhower, football analyst for the Irish Eyes website. "Weis has given Brady confidence. He just had to take his talent and make something out of it."

And, make no mistake, Quinn has plenty of talent.

"He makes all the throws – short, mid-range and deep outs," Baumhower said. "His best ball, incredibly, is probably the deep ball. He puts a ton of air under it and most times puts it on the money. The one fault he has is that he sometimes muscles up so much on crossing routes that he takes his receiver's arms off."

Quinn is completing 65 percent of his passes this fall, up from 54 percent in 2004. Through seven games he has thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. By comparison, he threw for just 17 TDs (with 10 interceptions) all of last season. And his audibles are working, too. He has the Irish converting 48 percent of the time on third down, up from 38 percent last year.

Quinn's progress is remarkable but he isn't the only Notre Dame player who has blossomed under Weis' tutelage. Many have made dramatic strides in the eight months since the new coach conducted his first spring practice.

"Some people questioned the talent level of last year's team but Notre Dame still had a bunch of High School All-Americans on the roster," Baumhower said. "Weis knows how to use his talent. He knows what guys can do and can't do, then he puts them in positions to be successful. Weis is known for his ability to look at a defense, see its weaknesses and exploit them. Similarly, he has a knack for seeing the strengths in his players and seeing how he can exploit those strengths."

Notre Dame proved it can be done: An offense can go from awful to awesome in a relatively short time. And the Charlie Weis blueprint is ridiculously simple: Take advantage of your strengths and try to mask your weaknesses.

Maybe the Tennessee Vols can embrace that philosophy during this weekend's trip to South Bend. And maybe – just maybe – they can make the kind of offensive turnaround in 2006 the Irish have made in 2005.


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