Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
After a highly successful debut season in South Bend, even Tyrone Willingham had to look at the 2003 schedule and concede that the team would have a tough time coming close to the 10-3 record it posted a year earlier. However, guarded optimism for this season has turned to deep concern, as no one could have envisioned the complete domination by the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor last week.
Michigan pushed the Irish around on both sides of the football, whitewashing the Irish (38-0) in just the second shutout loss by Notre Dame in the last 185 games. The complete meltdown by the Golden Domers had not been experienced by Notre Dame since the Gerry Faust era (well, maybe a couple of times under Bob Davie).
So the question is -- Where does Willingham and his Irish go from here?
First things first....Carlyle Holiday is not the answer at quarterback. He is never going to grasp the offense and if Willingham is bent on keeping the gameplan as is, there are youngsters on the roster more suited for the job. Turn the reins over to Brady Quinn and move on with the
Quinn (6-4, 210) is the prototype for the offense Willingham wants to
run. He has the size and needs only time
under center to grow into the position. Standing on the sidelines and watching
the game only aids a young QB if the veteran on the field is getting the job
done. That simply isn't the case with the Irish. Holiday has completed just
54.2 percent of his passes on the year with one TD and two interceptions. It
hasn't been all his fault, with the offensive line shouldering some of the
criticism as well. The unit has resembled a turnstyle in the first two games,
allowing 16 TFLs, including nine sacks.
Carlyle Holiday has been a valiant warrior for the Irish in his career, but he is clearly not the future of the team and it is time to get on with it.
Holiday has been a valiant warrior for the Irish in his career, but he is
clearly not the future of the team and it is time to get on with it.
It's not as if Quinn has to be thrown to the wolves. There is a
great deal of talent in the backfield in the form of Ryan Grant and Julius
Jones. Let the pair shoulder much of the workload while the young QB gets
his feet wet. The team will be much better off for it.
The offensive line is in a state of change this year with four new starters,
but it would be an easier transition up front if the unit was attacking (run
blocking) rather than taking a defensive posture (pass blocking) for now.
Grant rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2002 (just the seventh back in school
history to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season) and got the opportunity to
showcase his wares when Jones was ruled academically ineligible. To Jones'
credit, he left school, went to Arizona to get away from South Bend and right
the ship, make himself eligible, and then return. Jones worked out feverishly
in the Desert with his brother (NFL running back Thomas Jones) and is only two
years removed from a 700+ yard campaign. Combined, the pair of Irish tailbacks
have amassed over 3,000 yards in their careers.
A gameplan weighted heavily with the run, will open up the passing lanes, and
with talent on the outside in the form of wideouts Omar Jenkins (6-1, 205) and
Maurice Stovall (6-5, 221) only good things can happen. These two receivers
can make a difference downfield if defenses have to concern themselves with a
potent ground game.
I know that Willingham wants the West Coast Offense to take form in South
Bend, but the personnel in place aren't ready to flourish in such a system.
If Irish eyes are to smile at all this season, they will do so thanks to Grant
and Jones. Running the football is the key to long term success at any level
of football, even on the hallowed gridiron of South Bend.
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at