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Football: Team just needs time to gel

Chris Hine | Monday, September 10, 2007

It would be easy to write a column and slam coach Charlie Weis for another poor game plan or crucify the offensive line for another poor performance. It would be easy, and even cathartic, but it would be useless.

Weis knows these past two games have not been his best coaching efforts, and the offensive line knows it did not play well. Notre Dame is 0-2 and fans are, to say the least, frustrated.

Still, there were some glimmers of hope defensively during Saturday’s game.

Notre Dame cornerback Darrin Walls ran back an interception for a touchdown. Two plays later, the Irish recovered a fumble inside Penn State territory and gave fans hope that last week’s nightmare against Georgia Tech was long gone.

But then reality set in – the reality that Notre Dame has a young, and mostly inexperienced, offense.

After the fumble, the Irish committed an illegal procedure penalty, followed by a 12-yard sack. Notre Dame had to punt despite starting the drive on Penn State’s 37.

Notre Dame’s inexperience showed at another critical time in the game.

In the third quarter, the Irish had an opportunity to cut Penn State’s lead to 17-14 following a Tom Zbikowski punt return to the 7-yard line. But Notre Dame settled for a field goal.

All game, the Irish offense struggled.

With no help from the other side of the ball, the defense wore down once again late in the game and allowed Penn State to put the game out of reach.

The Irish offensive line, which only returned two starters this season, had trouble creating room for the running backs, most of whom are young (Armando Allen, James Aldridge) or are not used to being the primary back (Travis Thomas). Without a solid running game, the Irish had to rely on the arm of a freshman quarterback, who had to throw to an inexperienced receiving corps that had trouble getting open downfield. It’s going to take some time for this team to gel every Saturday, but just how much time that will take is a mystery.

Every good team, regardless of age, has a moment where everything clicks. Things that were hard to do a week ago become second nature, and everybody on the team elevates his game to the next level. Once an offense clicks under Charlie Weis’ system, the possibilities are endless.

In 2005, the offense clicked immediately, but that group had played together for a significant amount of time before Weis came to Notre Dame. They had already developed a solid chemistry from playing together and learning each other’s tendencies.

In order for this year’s team to click, Clausen has to develop a rapport with his receivers so that on every play, they are thinking the same thing. The offensive line has to trust each other that everybody will pick up their man. When that happens, Clausen will not have to worry so much about the pass rush. It will take a lot of effort, and a little luck, but it will happen.

The talent on offense is apparent. Nearly everybody that has played was once a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. But it takes more than talent to make a good football team. Teams need chemistry, that intangible quality that turns talent into a good football team. Right now, the Irish don’t have chemistry, but they will get it. They have a good coach and good players. They are too good not to click.

But don’t worry if the Irish never click. You can always blame the coach.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu