A Short Tale of Redemption

Finally, the seniors stepped into the void these last two games and provided a foundation for the youngsters to build on. They went out with heads high knowing that Notre Dame is now on an upward track. Trevor Laws deserves some sort of stalwart award for never giving up all season and always bringing pressure no matter what the game situation. He fell one tackle short of tying the record for tackles in a season for an ND defensive linemen. His performance has been a given, what hasn’t been a given is players stepping up to unify the team across classes — this was a divided team for most of the season and given the class makeup and talent disparity, it’s not a huge surprise except to the extent that it affected the team. It looks to me like it has finally happened. Players picked each other up off the turf, the linemen defended Clausen like they should and the players took real joy in their and their teammates performances. It finally feels like the transition of leadership has happened.

Notre Dame’s leading passer, rusher and receiver are all “true” freshmen. That’s unheard of. If you break out the yards and points by this offense, both categories are dominated by true freshmen. BTW, don’t let failed sports writers looking to “hair pull” for attention and eyeballs mislead you, it’s incredibly important to have a passionate leader like Clausen on the field. It may not fit into a model of what some want, but their wants are not only irrelevant, but childish. Leaders come in all styles, it’s refreshing to see a quarterback play so hard and care so much. If he didn’t play injured, take a career’s worth of hits in a year, say the right things and still put up far better numbers than Brady Quinn in their comparative freshmen year, it might be a bit silly. But, it’s not. ND has found itself a vocal and talented leader for the future. Of course he still throws his deep balls like a fade, but that’s another issue. Kudos to Clausen for an outstanding freshmen year under incredible duress. Obviously Hughes and Allen are going be very good players, but it’s not clear either will prove to be the breakaway threat ND’s looking for. Kamara is a Stovall clone, but also lacks the instinct for yards after the catch. I believe we’re going to be looking at Tate, Goodman and Floyd to bring that extra element to the passing game.

There’s a lot to look forward to, but also a lot of worries. The offensive line has started to come together, but is a long way from being there. For perspective, Iowa inked it’s fab five offensive line the same year Notre Dame signed up their studs and Iowa (with a decent junior class,) even with Ferentz (a running minded coach who coached OL) has had real trouble up front. A perfect illustration of why you can never, ever leave the cupboard bare on the OL. Regardless of H.S. accolades, some offensive linemen don’t develop until they are seniors, so that pipeline has to be full. You need numbers and talent on the OL, but actually numbers more than talent because the hit ratio for OL is exceedingly low. They’re just hard to gauge.

Defensive line is the next worry. Justin Brown, Ian Williams and Patrick Kuntz at least give us a nucleus for a decent line. But it’s the still high school seniors who have the ability to carry Notre Dame into the upper echelon of college football. Cynwar, Hunter, Williams, Johnson and Newman are going to have to play a lot next year… and while that’s promising, it’s never a good thing to have to play freshmen on the line… ever.

The third major concern is our inside linebackers. What happened to their development? If there’s not a coaching change here NDNation will be deeply surprised.

The final major concern is our special teams. Except for Laws blocking field goals, there is nothing special about them. Teams win championships on the backs of their special teams and Notre Dame has been improved, but still woeful here.

It’s tough to tell what’s happening on the coaching front, but it’s clear we need to fix the offensive line and fast. As noted, Oregon and Iowa both faced similar situations to Notre Dame’s this year. Oregon lost Dixon and their offense fell apart — so there’s a glimpse into ND’s QB situation at the start of the year. Iowa is rebuilding their offensive line and struggled through the end of the year. They’re looking at progress and are in a very similar situation to Notre Dame. So coaching is an issue, playcalling is an issue, but young talent is still the major problem, IMO.

So here we sit on the back end of a 3 win season, but with many problems awaiting us. While I expect the team to be better overall next season and while our skill position situation looks very promising, our line situation is, at best, unclear. I have hope, but with the mess things are right now, medium confidence we’re going to dramatically improve. We’re not going to have the defensive line talent to be a real force next year (we will in the freshmen class) and that will hinder our chances against top level teams and leave us vulnerable against mid-tier teams like, unfortunately, we are right now.

In the meantime a thank you to the seniors for their effort over the years and for setting the course for future progress. There’s so much young talent to get excited about, but until they mature and until we are fully restocked in the trenches, it’s going to be hard for me to get excited about possibilities for next year. At the beginning of this year I wrote that we had far too many question marks to have any expectations for this year. Unfortunately, I think last year’s expectations are going to be next year’s reality. Don’t get me wrong, I think top 10 is possible, but not unless we get the O-line situation sorted out.

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25 Responses to “A Short Tale of Redemption”

  1. Michael Ahern Says:

    You missed one thing- next year’s schedule, infinitely easier than this years. Also, the O-line returns everyone- experience is big.
    I think ND will win 8 games next year and contend for the whole enchilada in’09.

  2. Ted Eberle Says:

    Excellent post by the Rock.

    What has been written is exactly why I believe Charlie Weis must have at least two years to reassemble this team.

    Those who believe the Irish can run for the NC next year are way overboard with their expectations. A third great recruiting class will certainly help, but it will take a fourth along with excellent coaching. Changes must also occur in some of those positions.

    Patience my fellow Irish supporters…patience. Our Irish will be back but not in just one more year. It will be a gradual process.

    If in doubt, go back read once again what The Rock has written. Though there were positives, this season was much worse than just the wins and losses.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve read the same comments in a couple of places- that ND will not be much better next year, or that there are too many question marks, etc. I’ve got to disagree. I felt the Irish would be lucky to win 5 this past year. We should have won 6 and were lucky to win 3. So, I guess I’ll split the difference and accept the results with a shrug- ok.

    However, after seeing our Freshmen and Soph classes play, I really feel this will be a 7-8 win team next year. There will be tremendous improvement in the defensive play and our o-line should get stronger and quicker for next year. The schedule lightens up a lot and several of the top QB’s will graduate.

    I agree next year’s team will be playing on this year’s expectations. I felt we would be like Lou’s first 2 years- competitive and fun to watch, but short on the scoreboard. After this year, I feel we will be able to squeeze out a bowl bid and hopefully 7-8 wins.

    WD

  4. Anonymous Says:

    With all due respect, while some improvement has been made in the last two games–duke and stanford are hardly great metrics to measure and/or predict success next year.

    Here are a couple of observations: CW play calling has been nothing but dubious, and borders on the hubris of past achivements. Constant erroneous decision making to go for it on fourth down; without a history of success.

    Really mediocre permimeter speed, was stunned how many times, non-recruited division players, from Navy and Airforce, beat ND players to the corner. Related, how often that ND receivers could not create seperation against really below average DBs.

    Was totally under-impressed by JC and his improvement the last game. His pocket awareness, of lack thereof, were entirely horrific in the last game; time and time again he failed to be cognizant to get rid of the ball.

    Next year, is best case scenario a 6-7 win season. Given our huge football budget (18 million+) hardly a great return on the investment.

  5. Curious James Says:

    I think this is one of your best pieces of the year. I agree with all of your points, and I would emphasis the need for our coaches to improve and adapt quickly.

    Charlie has the potential, and you could see how he changed over the course of the year, but we can’t lose sight that the same mistakes were being made during the Stamford game (i.e. turnovers, cant’ get a foot on fourth down). Charlie is heading to New England for a mentoring exercise. Let’s hope Bill and team can pass on some of their success for Charlie. But Charlie NEEDs to become a head coach and coach his coaches.

    Also, my last comment/observation from this year is I would love to see more emotion and heart. Lou Holtz was the master of getting bad teams and players to play beyond their potential. Good leaders and coaches get those teams and players to present themselves during games and seasons. I still think Charlie has room to improve on his relationship and leadership to these kids. He has spent his career dealing with pro athletes and the carrots and sticks you use to motivate are obvisouly much different in the college ranks. Hopefully Charlie has realized this and will use new tactics to get his players to play beyond their potential. That’s what great leaders do.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    This team is absolutely awful. These guys will be lucky to win 6 nxt year. I love the optimism fellpw domres, but lets mix in a little dose of reality: this team would not have been competitive in the MAC.
    Offensive line play is the crux of the problem. These guys are just as bad as they were at the start of the year and, the last two years the line stunk as well. The problem is coaching, Charlie has a tough decision to make regarding his O line coach. The guy probably will have to go.
    Clausen looked very good the last three games, but his deep ball is a huge concern. Can he throw it deep with any accuracy? Its scary.
    The defense will improve. It was absolutely horrid, but i think Brown has it on the right track. Its not like the O-Line where you have studs like Sam Young playing like they are still in high school-these guys just stink. Hopefully, Brown will get some talent in the future.
    I’m sorry folks, these guys are a bad, bad football team. They will not challenge for anything until 2010 at the earliest. Think Illinois under Ron Zook.
    Peace

  7. Anonymous Says:

    One major concern that you missed is the coaching from Weiss on down.
    Until that changes the team chemistry will be at risk

  8. Bill V Says:

    The irish will win about nine next year. Off season training coupled with the valuable experience gained this year and added depth from the incoming class will make it possible.
    Clausen is both a plus and a minus. He has the touch to deliver the ball- but he did not show the ability to deliver the pass under pressure, or to make something out of nothing.
    JC does seem to have the most accuracy, but Evan Sharpley was superior in
    1-stepping up in the pocket
    2-throwing the ball with zip
    3-playing with enthusiasm
    4-making quick decisions on the run

    Charlie wants badly to be “right” about Clausen, but Evan continually outplayed him in the tough situations. Jimmy has got to make plays when he has less than “all day”. And he will not be tested till he comes up against a big rush- probably Michigan’s.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Does anyone know what kind of development work the O-line can do in the off-season to get better? Fix the blocking, and I think we pick up 3-4 more wins and give JC and the backs a chance to develop. Not having three weeks of pre-bowl practice really hurts. So are there legal ways for a unit like the o-line to practice together and get some coaching? Between spring practice and pre-season practice next summer, there’s only about 40 days of practices. That really worries me!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Next year and beyond, it will come down to coaching, coaching, coaching…..! Obviously…currently…..some coaching changes have to be made. I hope CW can make the right decisions and find the right ones. Teachers and motivators….those that can inspire. Look at all the colleges with far less talent than ND has who are consistantly winnning. You can have all the football talent in the world but not the skilled people in place to organize and work it…teach and train it ….and it will probably never measure up to the expectations….to it’s real potential.

    I don’t think we have that at ND.

  11. Ted Eberle Says:

    To my fellow Irish supporters, I ask you to be optimistic…and I know it is difficult after this season.

    While some of you may not buy this idea, I believe many of the changes being called for by the legions will happen. Charlie has shown he is willing to rethink what he has done. It would be very surprising if there are not changes in the coaching staff that so many believe need to be made.

    Regarding Jimmie Clausen, please remember he is just a kid. It is more than age. So much was placed on his shoulders…what a responsibility to carry.I believe he will show tremendous improvement when San Diego State comes to Notre Dame in early September, but his O-Line must also be much improved.

    Though just a freshman coming to ND in January, Dayne Crist has the potential to be a factor in the QB situation later in the year. That will only stregthen our QB position along with Evan Sharpley.

    To Anonymous who predicts it will be 2010 before ND is ready to challenge for something, I’ll bet it will happen in 2009 with a bowl bid (maybe not BCS) next year setting the stage.

  12. Bob Says:

    Great Points! Rome was not built in a day and neither will this team. I was up at the Air Force game and really was disappointed with what I heard form the fans. Way too much negativity. Patience is a virtue!

  13. Anonymous Says:

    I’m still not seeing much. Dont look very big out there. Lack discipline and focus to detail. It’s gonna take a major dedication on the players part to get stronger in the offseason. Unlike this year, I’m reserving all judgement until I see the product on the field. CW is a master of talking a mean game, then producing marginal stuff on the field. At this point who cares about wins. Would be just as happy seeing close scores with a little aggressivness.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    The comments about the coaching and other teams winning with less talent is well received. I just read where the University of Hawaii’s total recruitment budget is $60,000. I find that amazing with the teams they have recently put together the last 9-110, years; the point I want to re-state is that they are obviously getting coaahed up.

    With any organization there comes the issue of synergy and chemistry. I think in as much that the talent pipeline looks well improved, how that is harnessed and coordinated is the larger issue. In all honesty, I am still on the fence with CW. In order for ND to be an elite team it has to win major bowl games (not done since (93) and two, it needs to finish in the top 15 at the end of the season for 4-5 years in a row…anything less, there are just a team that is in the upper third of all programs–and nothing more.

  15. Patrick Mikes Says:

    A top-ten finish next year is utter fantasy. What possible justification is there for such optimism?

    There was no excuse for the performance of this year’s team. Losing a few games to some tough teams would have been OK. Giving up more than 50 sacks, finishing near the bottom in most offensive categories, and utilizing seeing-eye dogs on the special teams was outrageous. And wasn’t the kicking game a wonder to behold!

    There was talent sufficient to win more than three games and avoid being a laughing stock this year.

    If the team isn’t significantly better coming out of the gate next year, it will be time to blow up the organization and start over.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Coach Weis ,once said a 6 and 5 team is not good enough at N.D.
    Coach Weis once said we are going to have a hard working ,intelligent ,nasty football team.
    It appears that we have had a poorly coached ,less then prepared,and less discplined football team.
    Coaching ,Coaching Coaching is the answer!!!So Weis needs to become the CEO ,and let the Coaches Coach. If he can not do that ,ND will win ,but not like what we want.$3,000,000.00 per year ,seems like alot for on the job training!!

  17. Anonymous Says:

    lets remember the whole team is kids.
    Lets also remeber that JC is 20 years old,and at least 12 to 18 months older then all the other freshmen , and may be older then some in the class ahead of him.
    My point is that Crist may have more up side, because of his age!

  18. Fran Says:

    Well I do agree with a lot of the points being made by many of you. But let’s remember JC is a “true” freshman surrounded by a terrible O-line and other “true” freshman skill players. Yes he didn’t step up in the pocket or get rid of the ball in a timely manner as we all would have liked and yes his floating deep ball concern me slightly but given what he had around him…I give him a C+ on the year.

    I am also concerned about the defenses inability to contain to the outside. But I see that not so much as a speed thing as much as the OLB getting to sucked to far inside and either getting caught in the mess at the line or ultimately having such a bad angle to the corner that my fat ass could beat you there.

    There is obviously talent on this team and pretty much all of it is in this years incoming class and last years Freshman and Sophomore classes. It’s all about coaching these kids up. Some changes have to be made and I believe they will be. CW has to learn from his atrocious play calling and I think that this pilgrimage he is planning back to the holy land should help.

    Bottom line is talent is worthless without good coaching.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Responding to this statement in the previous comment: “Bottom line is talent is worthless without good coaching.”

    I wholeheartedly disagree. And as proof, I give you the LSU Tigers and Les Miles. Great talent, poor coach. But they are still in the top ten and winning lots of games.

    You can win without excellent coaching provided the talent is exceptional, but when both facets of the game are exceptional, then you have a NC contender.

    You guys are way too hard on Clausen. He has had a good first year, and what more can you expect from a true frosh QB with no o-line? He is going to be better than Quinn when he is done.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    The coaching question, or lack thereof, looms larger and larger. It sets up the underpinning of a more seminal issue; is this season a true representation of CW, or were his two previous seasons the more accurate barometer?

    Much talk has been made that the team is composed of many frosh and soph players–I would say, hey, that is a predicamentthat most teams go through every 4-5 years. There is a natural lag between a squad that is senior laden and then needs to fill up the cupboards. That being said, I am alos cognizant that this can result in less than stellar results, but a 3-9 season??! Come now, you certainly jest–that is just by any evaluation tool and measure entirely unacceptable.

    I can only place this blame squarely on the coach. It is not like he was getting the leftovers of past recruiting classes, these classes were still in the top quarter of the nation. And to lose to service academy teams, and I do concede those are gritty, precision driven guys, but, jeez not a one of them would really even get a look at a top 50 program. If you cannot runblock on a Navy/AirForce Def.Tackle, well you need to clarify some issues of technique and moreover, heart. On the college level, those are responsibilities of the head coach to inject on his players.

    Yes, I am on board for the support of CW next year, but with a firm grip and a precise accuity in what he has to accomplish. I would say that if he is not able to come away with at least 7 wins, well, here comes buy-out city, and the university lawyers need to be put on speed-dial.

  21. bill@harmonymedia.com Says:

    Responding to Fran:
    Here’s one exception I have:
    Some of the strange play calling you mention- I think is symptomatic of a larger problem Weis has. He’s obviously extremely hard-working and intelligent, but he has a kind of tunnel vision with regard to his methods. That’s how he got into this mess. But I think he’ll work his way out of it quickly now. So I predict 9 wins next year. That prejudiced mentality cost the team a few games this year. So it’s not such a stretch to win 9 (given the schedule) as supposed.
    We keep saying: Clausen’s a true freshman. OK- in one sense he is. He did do fine under the circumstances for someone with no playing experience.
    But he was held back in the sixth grade to optimize his football chances. He’s 20- just like all the sophomores and he has all the skills that money can buy. The pressure on CW to play him is enormous because of the implications of playing someone else. He is one year younger than Sharpley- that’s all- with only one year more of eligibility left. Evan has him on athleticism, decisiveness, and the intangibles- making plays under pressure. We all saw it. He has him although he had almost no rep time this year. He only played because Weis was compelled. It’s not just me-see Joe Theisman’s comments in the video on the Legends website. And you would hear the same from the outgoing seniors if they were free to speak.
    I’m throwing down the gauntlet on this one- I’m not saying JC is bad- but we had a better QB this year, who knew the offense better as well, and he was never given the opportunity he had earned. Weis did what he said he’d never do to anyone- he threw him under the bus.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Kamara lacks the instinct for yards after the catch? How many times was he hit in stride this season? How about the TD on 3rd and long against Navy? Sorry, but he bears no resemblance to Stovall, other than physical appearance. Stovall was a speciman but lacked toughness and good hands. Kamara has football sense. Barring an injury, Kamara will be a day one selection for the NFL when he leaves ND in 3 years. Mark it down.

    Allen is not your prototypical runner. However, it’s up to Weis to find ways to use him. Think a poor man’s Reggie Bush. If Weis is such an offensive genius as many claim, then he will figure this out. Otherwise, we’re wasting his speed. Hughes is a beast. Plain and simple. You don’t need breakaway speed when you’re tough and run with a purpose. What you do need is blocking. Getting hit 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage makes it difficult to be a game breaker.

    Most importantly, this team needs to work on fundamentals. If the 4 and 5 star athletes pan out, their talent may be able to hide Weis’s current coaching deficiencies. However, we will never win a national championship with the lack of tackling, blocking, and total absence of special teams play.

    Here’s hoping Weis eats some “humble pie” of his own and turns this around.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Good article and probably too optimistic. The O-line is a huge problem and Latina must take responsibility. Let’s face it, our O-line was horrible last year too and for that group to decline in quality over two years is inexcusable. Putting aside the marginal technique, the repeated penalties by the same players was agonizing to watch every week.
    A bigger open question is whether CW can recover this team. It’s clear he lost them early in the season. He also has seemed to have alienated his assistants by publicly announcing he’s going to the Pats to get answers. He could not have created a bigger wedge between himself and his assistants if he had tried. He could certainly help himself by showing a lot more humility and losing that arrogance. He should get the message when his name is mentioned in the same sentence as Gerry Faust.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    OK, I have perused over all the comments and opinions stated by the previous 22 pundits and it certainly seems we are at a crossroads of sort. Even the most bright eyed optimists on the board gauge their respective predictions at a 8-9 win season and putting the program just where it should be on the road to previous greatness. The more dire section of the board’s soothsayers consistently announce a 5 wins or worse, doom and gloom scenario.

    For myself, I am in the middle ground of 6-7 wins. This is based on one hand with the success CW had his first two seasons, about 16 or so returning starters, a rated recruiting class, and an easier schedule. Conversely, my guesstimation is tempered by erratic coaching and play-calling, lack of any real cohesion and marked improvement in the O line even towards the end of the season, marginal team speed for a team of this caliber, and what I think was somewhat stunted growth by JC against inferior competition.

    Thus, with all that superfluous analysis being said, my question to all of you out there is this; does CW deserve to be around if he does indeed notch up a 6-7 win season. It seems from my vantage, that 5 wins or less, and the answer is clear—he is out of here! And if gets 8 wins or better, well I think we can all chalk this most recent season as an aberration and he gets a pass, Therefore, what are the thoughts if he notches a middle of the road 6-7 win season??? Thoughts, insights, pigskin epiphanies…?

  25. Anonymous Says:

    i’ve got to be honest. i have agreed with all your publishings for the last 2+ years, but this one is BS. Illinois is legit and they deserve the bowl they were awarded. I truly believe they’d be 9-3 or 10-2 with ND’s schedule.

    Furthermore, you can’t fault Hawaii for their schedule. Nobody will play them and this year they beat Boise and took out the trash in their other 11 games. They deserve the consideration they got and probably deserved at least a mention in the title game. I think they would have matched up well against LSU and made a game out of it.

    Keep writing. Love your work and definitely appreciate your opinions.

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