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Willingham hopes for consistency

Pat Leonard | Thursday, November 4, 2004

Heading into an opportunity to beat a top BCS team Saturday, Notre Dame coaches are working to correct the team’s main consistency – inconsistency.But that problem presents another problem – coaches and players cannot solve it until game day.”To be quite honest, our play has been good at times and then not so good,” coach Tyrone Willingham said. “Our running game has been a bonus for us some weeks, then sometimes we are not where we need to be. It is probably that inconsistency right now that has us at 5-3.”The inconsistency running the ball has frustrated Notre Dame all season. While coaches speak of a balanced attack in the pro-style system, Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick ideally would like to call more running plays to open more productive passing opportunities.Notre Dame finished its loss to Boston College with a game total of 104 yards rushing. Freshman back Darius Walker has dropped to 3.65 yards per carry after a hot start against Michigan.And Tennessee brings a No. 26-ranked run defense that gives up just 109.7 yards per game.”Overall defensively, they have excellent team speed,” Diedrick said. “And that front is probably [as good a] a group that we’ve faced. That would probably include the size of Michigan State and the quickness of some of the other units.”Notre Dame also lacks consistency on the defensive side of the ball. But that consistency could also be described as a lopsided or unbalanced threat.While opposing offenses gain 232.3 yards passing per game against Notre Dame [No. 52 in the nation], the Irish run defense ranks No. 21 nationally in stopping the run, holding teams to 105.3 yards per game.Willingham thought a reporter pinpointed the word to describe the overall defensive effort.”‘Struggle’ is probably a correct word to some degree, because we have been inconsistent,” Willingham said.Despite Notre Dame’s woes, Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer says he fears this Irish team no less as he welcomes them into Neyland Stadium Saturday.”We have great respect for Notre Dame and the job they have done,” Fulmer said. “You don’t beat Michigan unless you [are] a pretty darn good football team.”Notre Dame may have given its best effort of the season against Michigan Sept. 11, beating a team now considered one of the top teams in the Big Ten behind undefeated Wisconsin.But even in that game, the Irish fell behind 9-0 at halftime. The defense played well throughout the game, holding wide receiver Braylon Edwards without a touchdown. But the offense needed the defense to hold for three first half field goals before rattling off 28 second-half points to win the contest.”If we could be a little bit more consistent, then I think we could improve on our record and be a much sounder … football team,” Willingham said.The Irish know the improvements need to start immediately, and there have been whispers of possible new faces on the offensive side of the ball.”Those decisions haven’t been finalized yet,” Willingham said. “We start the week off with what we think, as we start the week who will be the starting group, and as we progress through, we see how they track what they do and then we’ll look at it and see. In the vast majority of cases, those will probably come just before the game, once we have seen exactly how things worked out this week.”But the improvements will gear in particular to improving the running game and making it more consistent.”We do believe that the running game is so important, that you have to be a solid running team and be able to execute in that area,” Willingham said. “And when we do … when we have Ryan Grant and Darius Walker contributing to our running game, then we are a much stronger and much better team.”