There’s A Lot of Football Left (by omahadomer)

(taken from omahadomer’s post on Rock’s House)

…the bowl game this year and many years of Weis as coach. The USC loss stings badly but now that a couple of days have passed let’s step back just a bit and try to take a longer view.

Weis is 19-5 which yields a win rate of .792. Holtz’s win rate for his career was .765 (.793 if you pitch his first year), Devine’s .764 and Ara’s was .836. Willingham, Davie and Faust were all under .600. So Weis in the high .700’s is a good sign, obviously.

Weis was also dealt a pretty tough hand taking over the job. I’m big on looking at two-year cycles and point differentials because that has the effect of smoothing out lucky and unlucky outcomes in particular games. Weis took over a team that was 11-13 and -72 on points over the prior two years and has gone 19-5 and + 266 on points. Willingham took over a team that was 14-9 and + 83 on points and then went 15-10 and +1 on points his first two years.

Holtz took over a team that was 12-11 and +56 on points and went 13-10 and + 201 on points (note that most of Holtz’s improvement came on points, not on record).

Anyway, my point is that by now you have a pretty good idea of where you’re headed and with Weis it’s the right direction. With Willingham at this point (2 years in) about the best you could say is that he was treading water. Davie and Faust were drowning. Davie took over a team that was 17-6 and + 371 and was 16-9 and +97. Faust’s impact on the record was greater but less on points but dramatic on both fronts.

Really, the only more impressive debut than Weis’s in relatively modern times at ND was Ara’s. He took over a team that had won 7 games total the prior two years and went 16-3-1.

If you want to look at our current nemesis, Weis’s debut is similar to Carroll’s. Carroll took over USC teams that were 11-13 and + 52 on points and he went 17-8 and was + 314. So Carroll produced a 6-win improvement (8 for Weis pending the bowl game) and a 262 point improvement (328 for Weis).

OK, now speaking of USC, let’s stick with my multi-year theme. Taking the last two years together, USC has outscored ND 39-27.5 and outgained ND about 440-400 in total yardage per game. Under Willingham the average score was 43-12 and the total yardage was roughly 520-220 in USC’s favor. Anyone who doesn’t think there has been progress should be required to write a 500-word essay on the 2002 box score where USC gained 31 first downs to our 4 (ND was an astonishing 0-13 on 3rd down), outgained us 610-109 and won by 31 points in a game that ND actually LED with less than a minute to go in the 1st half.

I think the 39-27.5 average is fairly reflective of where the teams stand right now. USC has superior talent (particularly on defense) and is well coached. ND is a very good team right now; it’s just not one of the two best in the country this year.

Now, the fact that Weis has done a good job doesn’t mean that he’s done a perfect job. Under Willingham, ND scored 22.2 per game and allowed 22.2 per game. Under Weis ND has scored 34.5 and allowed 23.5. In other words, all of the improvement has come on the offensive side of the ball and the defense is no better (slightly worse actually).

To be fair to the defensive staff, the talent level is not at historical levels of ND on the defensive side. Willingham actually inherited a very good defense his first year (allowing only 16.7 that year). But even throwing out that year, the improvement on the defensive side has been miniscule and probably attributable this year to the new clock rules.

I’ve made this point before, but I’ll make it again: Willingham was trying to build a team in the image of his good Stanford teams. A good, finesse offense and just enough defense to let your offense win 8 or 9 games per year. A coach can only have a minimal impact on the talent level in the first two years so the staff has had to play the cards its dealt.

But something is not getting through on the defensive side of the ball. Players are just out of position too many times and too obviously. Sure, some of it is mental mistakes. But as Weis is fond of saying: Coaching is teaching. Well, if you’re teaching something and the students aren’t getting it, either you need to teach it differently or what you’re trying to teach is too hard for them.

There’s also no real comparison between the speed at which teams like USC and OSU are able to play on defense and our defense. Some of it may be that the players there are more physically gifted but some of it must still be uncertainty about assignments and the like. I was struck by how simple USC’s defensive schemes were. They didn’t blitz a whole ton; they just trusted their DL to generate a pass rush and clogged up the passing lanes. They gave up yards in the middle of the field but then as it pinched down as we got close to the endzone it got very difficult to find any running or throwing room.

Anyway, something needs to change on the defensive front. Either we need new teachers or the old teachers need to find some different lesson plans. Yes getting some good new students will help too, but I doubt that it’s the only problem.

One of the most obvious things that can be done to break from the prior era is to win a bowl game. This is a good team, a very good team — and a fitting legacy for them would be to go out with a bowl win.

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