The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame managed to grab the attention of sports fans Christmas Eve last year with a blowout 49-21 win over Hawaii. Continuing on that momentum, they then closed out a strong recruiting class, signing the highly touted linebacker Manti T'eo. They will be looking to build on that through the remainder of spring training and the annual Blue-Gold spring game. However, there are some key positions that the Irish must focus on to avoid the close losses that plagued them last year.
Efficient Quarterback Play
Jimmy Clausen had what could best be described as a near-perfect game against Hawaii. The most impressive thing was the efficiency of the passing game. On multiple occasions during the season, Clausen threw into heavy coverage that resulted in 17 interceptions. His TD to INT ration for 2008 was 1.14:1, a sub par number for a Weis offense. This number needs to be closer to a 3:1 ratio or higher. While throwing 22/26 for 401 yard and five TDs is not something that he will likely do again anytime soon, efficient quarterback play should happen again.
A Potent Running Game
The Irish's rushing attack was abysmal last year. No running back eclipsed 600 yards, much less 1,000. The longest rush was a mediocre 35 yards from Harrison Smith on a fake punt. This was due, in part, to an ineffective offensive line. Very few holes appeared when run blocking, and very often the few holes created had linebackers filling them. The final average yard-per-carry was 3.3. That number is about 1.5 YPC short of the teams that played in the BCS Bowls last year.
The running game does show promise, though. Coach Weis has dedicated a good portion of spring practice to improving the running game. The newly hired Coach Verducci is described as a "tactician" and has been highly praised by OLs, such as senior Sam Young, in interviews. The Irish also seem to be moving towards a two back rotation as opposed to the revolving door of the past two seasons. Armando Allen has established himself as "the guy," with Robert Hughes being the power runner to spell Allen.
Kicker Brandon Walker has gone through some major ups and down in his short career already. As awful as he started out, something seemed to click about mid-season. He shouldn't be expected to suddenly make 50+ YD kicks, but I certainly believe that kicks under about 45 yards should be a lock.