Notre Dame Fans, All Is Not Lost

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Notre Dame Fans, All Is Not Lost

I’m not sure I understand the public attitude about the Irish this week.  People are acting like Notre Dame has been knocked off its high horse again, season ruined.

It’s painful to say it, but considering where we were this time last year, 2-1 is not too shabby.  Of course Irish fans hoped and believed we could beat MSU, but we're just not there yet.

The Irish still have a chance to win 9-10 games this year thanks to a light schedule, and if we see continued improvement, to become a real threat in 2009.  Here’s what needs to go down for that to happen. 

 

Coaching

Charlie Weis needs to keep his cool and continue learning the college game.  Our strength is our defense, so keep on deferring the kickoff.

Keep kicking the field goals.  You can’t expect to win ball games without the three-point option, and you can’t ever expect your special teams to develop unless you show them the confidence to keep putting them on the field. 

Haywood needs to adjust his play calling to fit the weapons.  Spread the ball out and use the pass to set up a speed running game.

Our line still can’t consistently win the line of scrimmage, but pass protection has improved a hundredfold.  Give them a chance to do what they can, and maybe they build a little confidence, leading to swagger, on to a mean streak, a la Brian Smith and the defense, and finally a power running game.

You can’t just decide to “pound it.” You have to earn that right. 

If Haywood can improve his game, he will be off to a low-profile HC job somewhere, which I believe was the plan all along.

When Charlie decided to spend more time as a coach instead of coordinator, Haywood was shopped around for head coaching gigs but didn’t land one.  As an offensive coordinator who didn’t call plays, there was no way to justify a removal.

This way Haywood sinks or swims.  Either way, he’s out of here, and Charlie will bring in an OC he understands, and more importantly, who understands the subtleties of the offense. 

 

Offensively

First and foremost, the offensive line and everyone needs to get behind Jimmy Clausen 1,000 percent.  He is the future of this team, and the offense will never build an identity until it realizes that.  The offensive line still looks sullen, as if they’re holding vigil for Demetrius Jones.  I don’t care if you like him or not—you have to have your QB's back.

I think it was the Duke game last year—Clausen gets creamed three yards out of bounds, with gold helmets everywhere.  The reaction?  Players started waving their arms, calling for a flag.  No one got in the offender's face, and no one helped Jimmy up off the ground.

For me, that was the defining moment of last year's football team, and a deeper insight into what was really going on. 

Use your weapons better.  Tate needs more touches.  He's just that kind of guy—you get him the ball enough, he’ll do something special.

Let Jimmy work the shotgun more.  It’s clear he’s more comfortable back there, and he does a better job going through his progressions.  Give him a two-back split with Allen and Hughes.  Allen would be a great speed back out of the shotgun, and both are good blockers and receivers, and adept at running screens.

Make Mike Floyd your full-time starter, along with Golden Tate and Grimes in the slot.  With Yeatman out, we’ll see a lot more three and four-receiver sets, and that is music to Clausen’s ears. 

Developmentally, we're coming along.  Golden Tate has become a true every-down threat. Floyd is emerging.  Pass protection has improved.  Hard to tell about the running backs.

The only real sore spot is Duval Kamara.  After showing tons of promise early on last year, he caught the drops late in the season.  This year, instead of going away, the drops have evolved in the rare but ever-so-dangerous case of “if you throw me the ball, it will be intercepted.” Of Clausen's six interception, four can be lain directly on Duval’s doorstep. 

Clausen has developed tremendously from last year to this year.  He needs to get more comfortable setting up in the pocket from under center and do a better job going through his reads.

His arm and accuracy are incredible this year, but he is still a little too confident in them—he throws too many balls into tight and double coverage.  Even when the ball's on the money and should be a touchdown, you can end up with takeaway situations like Kamara in the end zone last week.

This will eventually correct itself.  Had his arm been healthy last year, he would have learned sooner.

Defensively, we need to keep fighting the good fight.  Blitz timing needs to improve, and we’ll start getting to the quarterback more often.

We have four solid cover corners in Lambert, McNeil, Gray, and Blanton, so use your depth to run bump and run coverage every play, bringing Bruton, McCarthy, and Smith into the box every down.  Make teams beat our corners, instead of beating up on our undersized front four.

Brian Smith, you keep doing what you're doing.  You’re my favorite Irish LB since Demetrius Dubose (RIP).

 

Special Teams

For God’s sake, get better.  Make a damn field goal already.  And let H. Smith return punts.  He’s a nasty downhill runner.

 

If we can get all this done, and this is all very doable, we win 8-9 games with a good shot at ending the bowl drought in the Gator against a weak ACC team.  Haywood gets a job, and Weis gets the OC of his choice.

We go into next season with a little confidence, a ton of experience, and finally a few players who can legally drink.  21 is the second growth spurt for a lot of guys, both mentally and physically.

We come in ranked, but not quite respected, and start our BCS attack run.

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