Notre Dame Limited by Second-Half Play Calling

Steve GormleyContributor INovember 4, 2008

Another game, another first-half lead, another disappointing defeat. On Saturday, Notre Dame took a 17-3 lead into the locker room only to see it disappear in the second half and eventually watch victory slip from their grasp in a battle of field goals in overtime.

This is the second such loss in three weeks for the Irish, who are beginning to make a habit out of "playing not to lose" instead of "playing to win" in big games. The first and second halves were almost unrecognizably different. 

The first half consisted of Notre Dame attacking through the air, Jimmy Clausen hitting Michael Floyd on 10-to-15-yard out routes, the occasional deep ball, and the occasional run play to draw defenders to the middle of the field.

In the second half, the Irish consistently called running plays on first and second down trying to run the clock to protect the lead instead of going for the jugular and throwing Pitt into submission.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Notre Dame needs to pass to set up the run...not the other way around.

When Charlie Weis was winning Super Bowl rings with Tom Brady at the helm, were the Patriots concerned with keeping a 50/50 run-to-pass ratio? No. This offense is crafted in a way that makes it a pass-first offense. Quick strikes to the sidelines and to the tight ends in the middle of the field, then three or four deep balls a game.

This is what I remember of Weis' offenses in New England, and the Brady Quinn days, but it has morphed in the last two seasons.

Last season, it was a bit more understandable. Clausen was sacked 58 times. Weis ran the ball so that we would be able to see Clausen on the field for three more years as opposed to in a full body cast.

However, this season, the offense is coming into form. Floyd and Golden Tate are tremendous weapons on the outside. Duval Kamara and David Grimes are strong third options, not to mention young tight end Kyle Rudolph. 

The best example of how the offense should be run was the Stanford game. The Irish came out and passed all over the stadium. Once Stanford was back in a coverage, Allen ran wild. It was a terrific game plan executed perfectly.

But now, twice in a month, the team has gotten out to comfortable leads only to watch them slip away as play calling has gotten more conservative as the game progresses.

Is it a lack of faith in the offense? Is it a lack of faith in play calling? I can't answer these questions. But until Weis and Mike Haywood figure out how to put games away like the Pete Carrolls and Urban Meyers of college football, Notre Dame fans might be in for more games that should be victories turning into demoralizing defeats.