The Death of Read and React

The most painful part of Notre Dame football the past few years has been watching opposing quarterbacks slice and dice Notre Dame’s secondary with seemingly enough time to mix and pour a Jvan margarita before completing a pass that travels bushels of hash marks. Which usually resulted in ND fans developing “instant Tourettes syndrome” or “inanimate object(hopefully) smashing syndrome.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse base pass rush combined with completely ineffective blitzes. It’s like Minter and Baer were playing Rocks, Paper, Scissors and losing every time.

The constant complaint from inside the program was that our defenders were forced to read and react rather than attack. The consequence is that we played tentative and let offenses dictate the tempo of games. Notre Dame had the amazing ability to turn opposing quarterbacks, whether it be Bachelor Bob or JeMarcus “Foreman” Russell, into Heisman winners or first round picks.

But this year Notre Dame’s defense, despite some obvious talent deficiencies, is finally starting to attack rather react. Sayeth Corwin Brown, “I believe in being aggressive… you have to hit. You have to run. And you’ve got to play hard. And that’s what I believe in,”

The pass rush Saturday came from all angles, many players and as I touched on last night, caused five sacks and seven turnovers. I replayed the video of the turnovers and while there’s definitely a “green quarterback” element to the fumbles and interceptions, these were, for the most part, caused rather than gifted. Remember, Olsen went out of the game after Zibby’s blitz from the outside caused a fumble. My favorite line of the night is: “Irish linebacker Maurice Crum became the first player in school history to force two fumbles, recover two fumbles and intercept two passes in a single game.” I mean, that’s a season for many players. That individual stat line points to a larger team progression: we’re finally learning to be aggressive. Crum’s stat line is the simply the payoff. Despite our most impatient hopes, progress just doesn’t happen instantly, but it’s finally happening.

And here’s where the learning curve comes into play and why inexperience and lack of time with a system restricted everything we tried to do. First, until you stop doing stuff wrong, you can’t work on getting stuff right. Pretty simple, you have to fix the deficiencies before you can build toward something positive. So far this year Notre Dame’s been trying to plug ten dike leaks with five fingers. Second, until you develop timing and can play in a system without thinking, you’re not going to see the full capability of the defense (or offense.) That’s made it tough to judge exactly where we were.

But we’ve gradually developed a base level of proficiency with the new 3-4 scheme, which has enabled a whole new level of defensive play. Brown’s 3-4 is predicated on pressure, disgues and timing which takes awhile to develop. You have to get the base scheme right, identify the talent and then give them some time to make it work. The payoff is that with a 3-4 you can disguise blitzes and create multiple blitz packages that can be very hard for a college line to pick up. On Saturday you saw much of this plan unleashed and it was destructive once the pieces start working together. Trevor Laws is playing outstanding. That type of defensive line play enables a different level of linebacker play and opens up options and creates confusion within the offensive line. Brown pressed the advantage to the point that on some plays you wondered who would get to the quarterback first. Now we’re in a completely different world from watching every single blitz get picked up and rendered impotent.

Equally heartening the younger players are embracing the challenge… and Brown has responded by showing he’s not afraid to let the best player play regardless of seniority. Note that Brown is responsible for bringing in Brian Smith after Minter passed on him.

“We were contacted by the new defensive coordinator (Corwin Brown),” Smith said. “In the summer, (Notre Dame) was very well in the mix. I was just waiting on the offer so I could commit. But in June, I was told I didn’t fit into the old defensive coordinator’s plan. … I guess he wasn’t impressed with me, but the new defensive coordinator came in and liked what he saw.”

And after watching Smith play, that says a lot, about both Minter and Brown. All of this bodes very well for the future, especially as I watch next year’s defensive recruits decimate their High School competition. As I said when he was hired, Corwin Brown was Notre Dame’s key recruit last year. While the changeover in defensive coordinators led to the loss of several top players including Justin Trattou, Chris Donald and Martez Wilson, the gains we’re starting to see are more than worth the price paid. We all know there are more growing pains ahead, especially with BC’s Matt Ryan coming to play, but it’s also now clear that Notre Dame is finding that it’s so much better to give pressure than receive it.

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16 Responses to “The Death of Read and React”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Weis promised a schematic advantage, and he definitely delivered it. Even though UCLA were the favorites for this game, their coach and his gameplan showed how important a good coach is. It got so bad that I was feeling bad for the UCLA players when their coach was putting them in situations that you could tell were going to go badly. Once their QB got hurt and they had to rely on a walkon frshman QB, they could have avoided those turnovers and fumble by focusing on the running game instead of asking their QB not to do too much. What was up with having that QB throw it on 4th and 1?

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I hate to rain on your parade, because the article’s main point is a good one, but I can’t help responding to your “instant Tourrette’s syndrome” comment. I think ND Nation can do better than to make fun of those with a disease such as Tourrette’s syndrome in blog articles. In fact, most people don’t know anything about the disease. The truth is that Tourrette’s is misunderstood by the general public and often ridiculed as a cursing disorder, when it is more about physical movements and nervous tics rather than curse words. I know people with the disorder who would much rather read your blog entries without having being ridiculed or misrepresented. I know the comment was not meant as a zing to those with the disorder, but we need to exercise a little more caution and respect in our articles.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I have had family members die from Alzheimer’s disease and still to refer to an Old Baumgartner as Senile.

    Bleed your heart somewhere else.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    All in all, I liked the article. Good job. However, I have a comment about Coach Weis’ “bonehead” passing call on 1st and goal from the one. I can think of about 10 times this season that ND has tried to rush only a single yard on 3rd or 4th and one, and all season we’ve been incapable of picking up that one yard. If Coach Weis called a rushing play and failed, he’d be called inflexable and predictable. So, he called a pass play, and he’s called a “bonehead.” The guy can’t seem to win with his playcalling. If ND executed properly and scored a touchdown on 1st and goal, the playcall would have been considered ingenious.

    Since Coach Weis’ offense doesn’t yet have something to “hang its hat on” consistently, he is forced to be creative and mix things up, and sometimes, in retrospect, some of his decisions/gambles have been ineffective. But to call his playcalling “bonehead” doesn’t take into account the total, offensive picture. Sorry to nitpick. Keep up the good work. Go Irish!

    Dave from PA

  5. Environmental Police Says:

    I hate to rain on your parade, because the article’s main point is a good one, but I can’t help responding to your description of the UCLA QB as “green”. Trees, plants, and various shrubbery are tired of having their dominant color used to describe humans who are not yet experienced at their respective position or duty.

    I represent several Redwoods that are over 100 years old, experienced by any measure, and are quite green.

    I think ND Nation can do better than to make fun of those plants that are, through no fault of their own, green in blog articles. In fact, most people don’t know anything about the complicated chemical reactions that cause plants to become “green”. I know the comment was not meant as a zing to those trees that are green yet are quite old and experienced, but we need to emphasize a little more caution and respect in our articles.

  6. JJT in Austin Says:

    RE:Environmental Police

    Great comment LOL, keep up the skewer of the PC crowd.

  7. Pete O'Brien Says:

    Are you saying that we haven’t seen this kind of aggression due to inexperience? And that from now on we will no longer see read-and-react?

    Does that mean we will see the same thing against BC? I’m pretty sure if we don’t do something to pressure Ryan he will win the Heisman that day.

    Why do our players miss so many tackles? As great of a game as Crum had he still misses tackles. Even Zibby. We don’t seem to run through the ballcarrier – we do a lot of grabbing.

  8. Ted Eberle Says:

    To Anonymous Posters

    I believe it would be good for some of you to not take statements made by SME so personnaly. I enjoy what he writes, and I didn’t take his comments like a few of you.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with the direction of the new 3-4 scheme. I do think it will give us an edge in the future and will provide big problems. However, as Pete O said, we do miss too many tackles. Did you see the way Bruton/Walls? tried to takle the receiver on the touchdown pass that was called back? He lowered his head threw a shoulder- he caught all air. It looked like little league. I know we’re ‘behind’ in our development, but let’s not ignore the fundamentals of good hard tackling. Agressiveness, quickness and toughness are nothing if the ball carrier doesn’t go down. Weiss made the same mistake with the young OL and look how it set back the offensive development. Great blog, great insight. Keep it up.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I am an ND grad and still very much a fan and booster. Nonetheless, I am bothered by how bad this offense really is. Michigan had a freshman quarterback who managed to throw a couple touchdown passes against the Irish. Michigan State? Purdue? Remember a time when these teams would be guaranteed wins for ND- now? We lose to these teams BIG and then they go and play the Ohio State’s and others and get annihalted. Georgia Tech this year- remember how good they were supposed to me using it as an excuse for the Irish. I believe they just lost to Maryland. ND is supposed to be getting smart as well as talented recruits. Okay, I will grant you that inexperience in college ball makes a difference but don’t all of these other supposedly inferior programs have inexperienced kids also? Getting drubbed by Michigan State at ND stadium year after year is getting real old. Bottom line for 2007- Charlie and staff have done a terrible job. No excuses please. If Charlie wants the credit for BCS games he must take the blame for this disastrous year. The worst part of this year having watched ND for a long time is that it is truly an embarrassment for the program. This should not have happened and my hope is the new talented recruits coming in truly make a difference or I’m afraid Mr. Weis will be at most 5 and out.

  11. RyGuyND Says:

    Let’s not be naive enough to think that this one game against a completely inept offense with a walk-on QB (first name McLeod and a hyphenated last name for cryin’ out loud) with zero experience is the start of a trend given how many times the D has been gashed of late. I certainly hope this game marks the end of the miserable D we’ve witnessed characterized by excessively soft coverage, shoddy tackling at times and little pressure on opposing QBs. But one good game vs. an offensively challenged team does not deserve an article entitled “The Death of Read and React.” It’s great to see some intensity and passion amongst the D and an attacking mentality. But lets reserve judgment and wild claims that we’re seeing some major progress for the time-being. We have two top 10 teams coming to South Bend the next 2 weeks and lead by two Heisman candidates (…well…Booty just played himself out of the race vs Stanford). I just dont want all the of the overblown positivity emanating from the bloggers regarding how the D has finally turned the corner under CB’s new 3-4 system to turn the other direction if the D is shredded by two VERY good QBs/teams. Like everything else this year given the new defensive system and inexperienced roster of players forced into action – mainly on offense…thank you very much for your recruiting efforts TW — let’s wait to pass judgment and not get ahead of ourselves. Going too far with the analysis following our first win could very easily lead to a lot of backtracking given the strength of the next two opponents and how soft our D has been of late (Reminder…UCLA was the first time in the last 8 games ND gave up less than 30 points). Good to see the attacking mentality, good to see players finally making plays (however opportunistic they were), but let’s not rush to such conclusions that this is the turning point. You make a lot of good points in the column but I’d rather take a cautious approach, especially with the possibility of getting torched all over again by very talented, junior/senior-laden teams in BC and USC.

    As for the offense…I dont have the energy to put coherent thoughts together to explain how poor ND is on that side of the ball. I just thought we’d be able to carry the momentum from the 2nd half of the Purdue game into the Rose Bowl. Wow was I wrong. Only real progress I see is the sacks allowed per game stat is now only 3 or 4 instead of 9. Charlie obviously has zero confidence in our run blocking ability up front (see: 1st and goal from the 1 following Zibby strip/sack and Crum’s return. Call a play action rollout, sacked and lose 7 yards; 2nd and goal from the 8, failed attempt; 3rd and goal from the 8, another failed attempt; kick FG on 4th down. Scratching my head/yelling like a madman I advise we RUN THE BALL on 1st down with the powerful, strong Robert Hughes (or even try to sneak it). Somebody please tell me they too were screaming that at the TV at that point). Again, let’s wait to pass judgment, but to not get 7 points there was inexcusable.

    GO IRISH!

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, the PC police.

    I just want to thank the PC police and affirmative action for handing ND this victory when UCLA hired Dorrell as coach and still keeps him for five seasons. I shudder to think what would have happened if ND had faced a UCLA team with a real coach.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Why am I the only person in the country that thinks Evan Sharpley should be ND’s starting quarterback? Did anyone watch him work against Purdue in the 2nd half 2 weeks ago? I don’t understand the reasoning in keeping the best quarterback in South Bend on the sidelines game after game, stalled drive after stalled drive, etc.

  14. DMW Says:

    Green. ROFLMAO

  15. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t get too excited about a victory over a team that had a third string quarterback under center and commits seven turnovers. But winning means you made more good plays than bad ones, and while progress is slow, the biggest improvement coming out of Saturday’s game was by the offense. For the first time this season, this unit didn’t give up field position through turnovers and negative plays, cutting down the number of possessions by UCLA’s offense and giving the better athletes on the Irish defense a chance to take a breather and to develop a plan of attack.

  16. robert t. gilleran Says:

    1. we like the death of read and react comments. they are well thought out and soundly grounded in the performance that we saw at the rose bowl.

    2. charlie’s decision to keep the defense on the field rather than show us and boston college what the offense is really capable of now was brilliant against the ucla defense, one of the best in the nation, unlike boston college’s d.

    3. with respect to lack of experience of these nd players, yes, there are younger players on other teams, but nothing to compare with the huge gap on both offense and defense in notre dame’s 2004 and 2005 recruiting classes and no cupcake schedule like ohio state’s or boston college’s or many of the teams that, on paper only, now have much better records than notre dame this season.
    4. charlie weis and corwin brown and their staffs had nothing to do with these talent and experience gaps. they went out on the road and expended huge amounts of energy and devotion to notre dame to recreate the notre dame recruiting network and to coach those players in the 2006 and 2007 to play together in record time against an extremely adverse opening schedule. they have lined up the nation’s no 1 recruiting class for 2008 and were honest and forthright enough with those recruits that there has no been one verbal commit even thinking of backing out despite the 0-5 start.
    5. these devoted coaches and these courageous young men who played through the adversity against teams with vast advantages in experience, not in raw talent, dedication, courage, and hard work, have brought notre dame football back from the dead.
    6. we will never understand how difficult this process has been for these coaches and players, but we will see the results this season and in future seasons since there will be no more talent or experience gaps.
    7.we have learned that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved in life without a positive attitude. sustaining that attitude in the face of immense adversity is what made possible the huge turnaround against a really fine ucla team that was ranked no 25 in the nation last week in the coaches’ poll.
    8. since these notre dame players and coaches believe that they can beat boston college, usc, and every other team left on the schedule and win a bowl game, we are going to believe and have faith that they can win out also, starting with boston college.
    9. when charlie weis arrived at notre dame, the notre dame football program was in the worst shape it had ever been in and notre dame was seriously considering dropping major college football and going ivy league.
    10. charlie weis, corwin brown, and that very thin green line of talented, courageous and dedicated players that won all of those games in 2005 and 2006 and these courageous and talented, but inexperienced until they went through their baptism of fire in those 1st 5 games of 2007, players on this 2007 team are responsible for bringing notre dame football back from the grave and proving that a team composed of real student athletes can really compete with the talented, but dumb young spoiled jocks who play at the schools that notre dame competes with without having any real academic obligations, but just showing up on saturdays wearing the school colors. the only exceptions to that rule on notre dame’s schedule are boston college, stanford, navy, air force, and duke.
    11. call us irrationally exhuberant if you wish, but we will believe what these fine notre dame coaches ans players believed when they came out and played at the rose bowl confident that they would find a way to win and with absolutely no fear or thought that they could be defeated.
    12. to hell with the 0-5 start. go irish and win out!!

    bob gilleran and family

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