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Learning process for Irish

Matt Lozar | Thursday, August 28, 2003

To understand a basic concept of Notre Dame’s offense, think of a basketball court. Think about how the five players on offense want to achieve proper spacing on the court to find the open shot. That concept, which seems so basic, is essential to running offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick’s pro-style offense. Last year, the Irish didn’t totally grasp that concept. On paper, Notre Dame’s 2002 offense wasn’t very much different from the 2001 edition. The 2002 offense finished 108th in total offense and 91st in scoring offense compared to 2001 when the Irish were 110th and 99th, respectively. Looking at the passing game is a little more encouraging, as the Irish ranked – 91st in 2002 and 114th in 2001.One reason for the marginal improvement came from the major switch in systems and concepts between the two radically different offenses. Before the switch to the pro-style offense, the Irish were always a run-first, pass-second team. Diedrick’s system strives for balance, but emphasizes the pass. Running the offense well all comes down to spacing.”What you have to understand first of all, is what a passing game means. Spacing is important. It opens up lanes,” Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “When you understand that in a passing offense, then you begin to open up lanes and put pressure on a defense at certain points. It’s the overall learning process and knowledge that we are gaining that is better than last year. “Hopefully, every guy on our squad has learned a little bit more this year, and we learn a little bit more next year.”With the team now improving its understanding of the spacing concept, the coaching staff builds off those fundamentals to install the thick playbook. “It now becomes how you apply the concept, is it vertical, horizontal, how do you work in the concept?” Willingham said. “The great thing about the system is once you understand the concept, you can take the concepts and show it to people in plays.” One player in particular who has improved from a year ago is starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday. Last season, Holiday didn’t seem to have a total understanding of the new system. After getting on-the-field experience in a more pass-oriented offense, studying film over the winter and having another off-season of practice, Diedrick can’t even begin to explain the difference between the third-year starter from this year to last.”Oh God, it’s like light years,” Diedrick said. “Even with the veteran receivers and the returning group, we have been able to install so much more and do so many more things. I think he has a much better handle on things now than he did at last year this time. “He is a totally different person.”Diedrick wasn’t able to quantify the difference in how much of the offense is currently in place compared to last year, but he said, “Quite a bit more of the offense has been put in [this year].”

No Game Tape:

With Washington State opening its 2003 campaign Saturday against Idaho, some fans would argue Notre Dame has the advantage in seeing the Cougars’ game film. But that is not necessarily the case.”We are handicapped, because I don’t know of our ability to see them play. We don’t trade this film. We don’t have a game to trade with them,” Willingham said. “We hope we can watch the game. It’s very difficult when you watch a football game on television, to watch the game of football…To actually see all of the nuances of a football game, you can’t see with a television copy.”Willingham actually said he would prefer the option of having the roles reversed this weekend, the Irish playing and the Cougars on the sideline, on one condition – only if the Irish would win of course.

Tight End Situation

With the transfer of Greg Olsen and the unknown severity of Gary Godsey’s knee injury, the tight end position has suddenly become a minor area of concern for the Irish.Throughout the off-season, the tight ends – namely Jared Clark and Billy Palmer – tried to become better all-around players.Last year, Clark was viewed primarily as a receiving threat while Palmer was at his best blocking.”[Clark’s] doing a much better job with his blocking, and is much more consistent. What that brings is an opportunity to be an every down tight end,” Diedrick said. “I think Billy has made strides in that area [of receiving].”Anthony Fasano and Marcus Freeman – both were redshirted in 2002 – are pushing for playing time as well.