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Football Commentary: A Christmas list for the Irish

Chris Hine | Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The biting wind whistles down South Quad, the early-morning ice on the sidewalks adds an exciting tinge of danger on your walk to class, frostbite is in the air and the music of Mariah Carey and Darlene Love is in heavy rotation in the dining halls. That’s right, it’s yuletide at Notre Dame.

And in the Christmas spirit, I’ve prepared a small wish list for Notre Dame this off-season.

Fix special teams.

Notre Dame’s special teams need work. The Irish gave up too many yards on kickoffs and didn’t gain nearly enough. This hidden yardage can win games, but that hidden yardage was harder for the Irish to find than the toys my pare … er, Santa Claus bought me each year.

Before the season, Weis said he and every assistant coach had a role in special teams. That system, however it worked, didn’t. Luckily, Christmas came a little early on this one. Weis said at a news conference Monday that he will re-evaluate the special teams and do things a little differently in 2008. That can only help, if only because they can’t get much worse.

Get Golden Tate the ball.

The freshman wide out nearly swung Notre Dame’s 33-19 loss to Purdue in Notre Dame’s favor. Tate had 104 yards on three go-routes, which only require the receiver to run as fast as he can down the field. There are no cuts, slants, posts – nothing like that. It just requires Tate to use his blazing speed. The problem is, that’s the only pass route Tate could run properly all season. Weis has always said you have to design an offense for the personnel you have and not force them into a system. But Tate, who converted to wideout after paying running back in high school, barely saw the field because his skill set didn’t mesh with the offensive system.

Hopefully, one of two things happens here. 1) After one season, Tate becomes more comfortable in Weis’ offense and learns when to cut his routes shorter or make them longer. 2) Weis simplifies his offense to allow Tate to get the ball in the open field in ways other than a go-route. If Tate is on the field every play, he’s going to draw attention that will open things up for other receivers. This doesn’t apply just for Tate either. This goes for all current and future (Michael Floyd, I’m looking at you) playmakers on Notre Dame’s squad.

Don’t lose anyone in recruiting – Notre Dame has the No. 1 rated class in the country right now. The coaching staff did an excellent job hanging onto to its 21 verbal commitments in such a crummy season. The worst thing that can happen to this program right now, outside of a campus-wide fire, is for recruits to start dropping like flies.

No more back to basics. After Notre Dame’s 38-0 drubbing at the hands of Michigan, Weis went back to square one to try and improve his team. Why wait until the middle of the season this year? Re-teach the basics when the new recruiting class comes in over the summer, and teach the older guys again in the spring. Weis learned his lesson this year. He has to teach fundamentals to his young squad before they start to learn a complicated offensive scheme.

Lastly, and most importantly, develop an edge. Head into this offseason mad. Put Mark May’s picture on the wall of the weight room and curse him out as you fight through the pain of getting that one last rep. Do something, anything, to get fired up. Without a bowl to prepare for, you get an extra month of workouts. That must be fun. But with proper self-motivation, it doesn’t have to be that bad. This way when you play San Diego State on Sept. 6, 2008, you’re ready to run through a wall.

So, that’s it. Just a few things on the Christmas list this year. Notice it doesn’t say a bowl win. Hopefully, that’ll be on next year’s list.

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