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Same story, different day

Joe Hettler | Monday, September 29, 2003

Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham called it a lack of execution. Running back Ryan Grant said the offense needs to improve. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer claimed the defense didn’t do enough to win.

It was the same result, different Saturday for Notre Dame.

The offense was ineffective, the defense played well but didn’t make the game-changing play, and the Irish lost – again.

Willingham and his team pinpointed many of the same mistakes that were made two weeks ago against Michigan and last week against Michigan State. But after the loss to Purdue, it’s apparent the Irish still didn’t make enough adjustments in practice last week to gain a victory.

“We had dropped passes, we had other mental mistakes, we had things that didn’t go our way that we didn’t make plays on,” Willingham said. “We have to get all those things to go well for us.”

But they need to go well soon for Notre Dame, before the USC’s and Florida State’s of the college football world turn the 1-3 Irish into 1-7.

The team must start doing the things the players talk about after losses if they are to turn around this season.

For starters, the offense has to find some sort of rushing attack. It got so bad Saturday that freshman quarterback Brady Quinn led the team in rushing with 28 yards on eight carries. The offensive line needs to open up holes for Grant and Jones to run through, and those two backs must take advantage of any opening.

They didn’t protect Quinn enough, allowing him to get hit on play after play and be knocked down 14 times. They committed numerous false start penalties and could not move the Purdue defense enough to let the Irish runners break free for gains of more than two yards.

Notre Dame cannot win by throwing the ball 62 times a game. Or gaining a mere 49 yards on 25 carries.

If this same play continues, so will the lack of offensive production.

But it’s not just the line’s fault – the receivers still had drops, the defense didn’t force any turnovers and the return game was a non-factor.

“With the talent we have, there’s no reason to be playing like this,” Grant said.

Sure, the Irish played better this week then the previous two, but it would have been hard to play much worse, especially on offense.

As Willingham said, it comes down to execution. The Irish haven’t executed, and, consequently, they haven’t won.

“You’ve still got to have the same goals,” cornerback Vontez Duff said. “You win a few, you lose a few. But you’ve still got to have your same goals and aspirations and agenda as a team to go out and win ball games. That’s your agenda every week. It doesn’t change.”

For Notre Dame to begin winning, they’ll have to make some adjustments.

The Irish don’t play this weekend, so the team has an extra week to improve its entire game and make sure execution is better against Pittsburgh in two weeks.

If the execution is the same as Saturday, then the result will be the same. And it will remain the same until this team begins to play the way they are capable.

With an excruciating stretch of difficult games coming up, it’s make or break time for Notre Dame. Either the Irish begin to execute and give themselves a chance to make this season successful, or they keep doing the same things wrong.

They have two weeks to right their ship and become a better team or otherwise sink into a disappointing, losing football season.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joe Hettler at jhettler@nd.edu.