Purdue, as Vannie predicted, was a turning point for the Notre Dame offense. What we saw on the field Saturday was an offense with an identity.
It's now pretty clear, despite many protestations about a lack of a running game (including here), what that identity should and shouldn't be.
We're not a screen and draw team. We're not a smashmouth team. We're a spread them out, downfield-throwing team that can make you pay if you tighten control in the box, and after we open you up, we're going to run on you.
The reason we couldn't run this offense last year is that we couldn't protect the quarterback and couldn't make plays to keep defenses honest.
Clausen looks at home in the shotgun, and our receivers are our best weapons...it just makes sense.
Kudos to Weis who stopped listening to everyone else and went with what he knows best.
"But I know one thing we weren't going to do is play on our heels the whole day. We were going to be aggressive in our play calling. I think that was a very critical factor that we wanted to make sure whether it was run, whether it was shots, regardless of what we were doing, we weren't going to sit back and let them dictate the tempo. I think that last week, okay, when we came out deciding we were going to smash mouth it early, I think that Michigan State dictated the tempo, and we weren't going to let that happen again."
We're better without a fullback and spreading the field (though Schwapp is blocking much better.) It simplifies the blocking assignments and gives us many opportunities to win one on one matchups with our talented wide receivers. It also opens the field for Allen.
As Kayo noted, it seemed we were able to use the snap count to our advantage. Weis thinks he's found what works.
"Well, it opened up running lanes. But still at the end of the day the line still has to go that way. Because whether you've got a tight end, three wide receivers, a tight end and five linemen in there, you still have those six guys helping to block at least six, and if the line of scrimmage doesn't move that way, then you're still not in for a good day. I think that it spreads out. It opens up—once you get a crease and you get the line of scrimmage moving that way, it opens up some bigger creases. And that's what led to those multiple 13-plus runs.
"Offensive production comes down to making big plays. When you're just nickel and diming it all the time, you're getting three yards, four yards. I'll give you an example. Probably the biggest play of the second half was the first pass from Jimmy to Grimes on that corner route, because it changed field position. They kicked off. I think we got the ball on the 18-yard line. So that now the momentum could be in their way. We come out on first play. He had stayed on the corner route, and now we're past the 40-yard line, and now field position had changed in one play. So I think that's just the way that goes."
I'm not going overboard, because it's Purdue. But after reviewing the San Diego State game, I knew this was a much better offensive team (and stated my biggest worry was the defense going forward.)
What's changed, besides the redirected scheme, is that individual players are developing fast (we're still absurdly young) and Weis is now gearing the offense to take advantage of their abilities.
Cases in point:
Allen finally ran with his eyes instead of his feet. It looks like Allen figured out that speed is only an asset if you use it wisely.
What made Rocket great was his body control and vision. Same with Bush. Body control and vision are what make fast running backs, great running backs. Unlike the first three games, Allen read the hole before exploding through it on Saturday.
I've said all along he'll be better in this offense by midseason this year than Quinn was, and I'm sticking to it. Clausen has incredible accuracy and rarely throws a terrible pass. His confidence could get him in trouble, but he's making the right reads, and as noted on Rock's House, it appears he's calling plays at the line of scrimmage.
The really promising thing for the Irish is that Crist can learn behind Clausen before taking over without having to go through the painful learning curve. A great QB is essential for Weis because he puts so much on the QB's shoulders. We've got two for the future.
It took just four games for Rudolph to correct his blocking weaknesses. Rudolph's blocking was integral in springing Allen. He's a freak of a talent.
It's heartening to see our young players developing rapidly because...well...we have no choice. They've scored all but two of our touchdowns this year. Think about that and what it's meant to this point (bad) and what it means for our future (very good.)
But it's not just the young players. Older players like McCarthy, Lambert, Bruton, and Grimes were all three-star recruits, but are now playing at a very high level. Imagine if we had double the number of fourth and fifth-year players like these players that most big-time schools do.
That's where we'll be in two years, except now they'll be four-star players who'll have a full four years to develop, and they'll be surrounded by five-star players like Clausen, Rudolph, Floyd, and Wood.
We've been watching this team grow up like an awkward adolescent, getting the crap beaten out of him and made fun of. It looks like we're finally turning the corner.
It won't happen without a few more beatings, but we're going to be dishing it out very soon.