Progression...Or a Lack Thereof
Pronunciation [pruh-gresh-uhn] – noun
- the act of progressing; forward or onward movement.
- a passing successively from one member of a series to the next; succession; sequence.
Progression—in football, it's used to describe two things. First, it's used to describe the mental and physical process a quarterback goes through on a passing play to "check off" his receivers when they are not open. It's called going through a progression.
Second, it's used to describe how a team develops during a single season. Certain games, series, or plays in the season mark specific points that a fan or someone associated with the program can look at and see the team getting better. They are benchmarks in the season where the team matured. They shed their old technical, mental, and physical inadequacies.
When you add these up, the visual and statistical evidence that a team is "progressing" and getting better is evident.
Unfortunately for the Irish, this progression has been absent this entire year—rather, call it regression. No doubt this team is better than the team the Irish fielded last season, but have the Irish gotten better since Sept. 6?
Notre Dame played its most impressive game, statistically, on Sept. 13 against Michigan. They played their most complete game from start to finish on Sept. 27 against Purdue. But since those two hallmark games, have the Irish progressed this season? It's tough to say that they have.
From the beginning of the season, the Irish have been plagued with mental errors. What causes mental errors? Youth? Inexperience? The Irish have both.
Some might argue that this team is no longer inexperienced. However, one just needs to look at the statistics and the roster to understand that at all of the skill positions, with the exception of David Grimes, James Aldridge, and Robby Parris, Notre Dame is starting and giving most of the playing time to freshmen and sophomores.
Additionally, Robby Parris and James Aldridge both have only two years of regular playing time under their belts.
Furthermore, the offense has prided itself on its ability to make the big play, yet consistently fail, and are getting progressively worse at the most fundamental aspects of football: running, throwing, catching, blocking, and tackling.
When opposing defenses learned of the Irish’s ability to make big plays, they starting defending the big plays, which made the Irish switch to the running game—one aspect that this offense has failed at miserably.
Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t been able to progress in their running game, which is a mixture of the offensive line’s lack of ability to block, the wide receivers and tight ends failing to block downfield, and the running backs not running with confidence.
While there are several plays or series where one can spot a particular team getting better, there are other plays or series where one can spot a team getting progressively worse. Such is the case for the Fighting Irish.
1. Jimmy Clausen misses a wide-open Mike Floyd in the end zone to stall the first drive of overtime against Pittsburgh, forcing a second overtime, and ultimately, a defeat.
2. In the first offensive series of the second half against North Carolina, Jimmy Clausen forces a pass that’s intercepted and returned for a touchdown, starting a snowball effect which results in an Irish loss.
3. Coming out of halftime with the lead again, the Fighting Irish Offense shoots themselves in the foot with a rash of penalties and a 17-yard sack to face fourth down and 47, taking them out of field goal range.
These three plays hallmark the type of season that Notre Dame has had this year. However, the offense is not the only part of the team at fault. In every game mentioned above, the Irish defense let the opposing offense creep back into the games. Coming into games with high expectations, the Irish played up to their potential and subsequently played defensive football instead of aggressive football.
But who’s at fault for the type of season that the Irish have had?
The coaching this season has been less than stellar. I think it’s safe to say that Mike Haywood has failed thus far as an offensive play caller, but Charlie hasn’t done much better. Furthermore, Mike Haywood has failed in developing three running backs who were highly praised coming out of high school to play effectively in college.
The offensive line has continued to underperform all season, even with the surprising start they had to the season. Finally, the special teams units have been very inconsistent this season, with David Bruton and Mike Anello being the exceptions.
Even though the coaching has been subpar this season, there is one universal truth to coaching football: You can coach your players until you're blue in the face, but you can't make them execute.
The reason for Notre Dame’s inability to have a consistent offense and defense once the ball has been snapped is due to the inexperience on the field, which results in mental errors. These mental errors have caused more than their fair share of failures for the Irish. Without them, the Irish could very well be 9-2 right now. As it is, they stand at a paltry 6-5.
So where does this leave the Irish for the remainder of the season and heading into the bowl game? At the end of the Syracuse game, it seemed that the media had caught on to the cries of some of the Irish fanbase, as they relentlessly asked Charlie Weis several questions on whether he thought the team was improving, and if not, could he be the person to turn that around?
Understandably, Coach Weis bypassed those questions, instead choosing to focus on Syracuse and looking forward to Southern California.
Much to the dismay of some Irish fans, Coach Weis will not be fired at the end of this season, even if the Irish lose to USC. He currently has the support of Notre Dame’s new Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, and the last thing that Swarbrick would want to do is fire the most high-profile coach at Notre Dame within months of taking his new job.
But what these Irish fans fail to realize is that if the three plays mentioned above would have went the opposite way, most Irish fans would be discussing which New Year’s bowl the Irish will be playing in rather than pondering whether Charlie Weis is the right man for the job.
However, if the squad that the Irish field next season isn't as good as or better than the squad they fielded in 2005, Charlie Weis’ job security could be seriously be in question, and there will be some validity to calling for someone else to take over at Notre Dame.
This week's game against USC will be the benchmark in which the Associated Press, the players, the coaches, and the fans will determine how much better this Notre Dame team is than last year, even with its ridiculously easy schedule.
With all of the confusion that this season has brought, most Irish fans are ready for this season to end and to see if the Irish can keep their finale against USC somewhat close. I wouldn’t count on it.
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