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Allen: Offensive output must improve (Oct. 5)

Chris Allen | Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Irish fan base is smiling, and with good reason.

Notre Dame will take the field Saturday night outlined against a blue-gray October sky in Chicago with a 4-0 record, a top-10 ranking and the third-best scoring defense in the nation. After disposing of longtime foe Denard Robinson – and with multiple teams on the Irish schedule suffering from injuries and early-season losses – Notre Dame fans are thinking ahead, calculating win totals in the double-digits and looking up plane tickets to BCS bowls. 

The reality is simple, however: If the Irish offense cannot rev into gear and figure out a formula to put up points, this team may miss out on a golden chance.

There are no shortage of superlatives to describe what Bob Diaco and the Notre Dame defense have been this year, and there is little reason to expect that Stephon Tuitt, Manti Te’o and the rest of the unit will level off anytime soon. But a dominant defense can only take a team so far – the game is won by putting points on the scoreboard. Until Everett Golson, or Tommy Rees for that matter, can do that on a consistent basis, there is no game in which Notre Dame is not at least somewhat vulnerable, and that begins this week with Miami.

If you need an example, look no further than two weeks ago under the lights against Michigan. The Irish intercepted five straight Michigan passes, forced a Robinson fumble, and did not allow a touchdown for the second straight game, yet they still needed a late third-down conversion to ice away the victory. The 13-6 victory was a blowout disguised as a one-score game, and the stagnant Irish offense was the only culprit. Were it not for Michigan’s ill-advised running back pass that resulted in a Nicky Baratti interception in the end zone, or Denard Robinson’s lack of ball security on a crucial fumble, the game could have been very different.

The burden to take this Notre Dame team to the next level falls on the offense’s shoulders. Preseason predictions are largely a fool’s exercise, but the consensus of what was written about Notre Dame’s offense has proven to be true. The Irish are still struggling to replace Michael Floyd at wide receiver, and the lack of a marquee option at wideout has bottled up tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert has been battling through double-teams and defenses designed to stop him, and has recorded one catch in the past two games. Matched up against a spotty Miami secondary, the receivers finally have a chance to break out. The emergence of DaVaris Daniels or T.J. Jones could take pressure off Eifert, opening the All-American up down the field and vitally transforming the offense. Of course, another down week at the position will have everyone asking the same questions next week.

The quarterback position is yet another area where there have been more questions than answers. For weeks, Irish coach Brian Kelly has been emphatically declaring his support of Everett Golson as the Irish starter. However, if wins were assigned in football the same way they were in baseball, both Golson and Tommy Rees would be 2-0. It is still unclear who ‘the guy’ is under center, or if the Irish even have one. 

It’s tough to imagine Notre Dame in a BCS bowl unless these questions get answered. Opponents of this view will point to Alabama as a team that’s won two BCS titles recently without a dominant quarterback, but the Crimson Tide’s signal-callers made plays when they needed to on those title runs, and also had a stable of elite All-American running backs to balance the attack. Golson has no such luxury. He must get better, and the offense must get better around him. 

Irish fans are right to see the opportunity that lies ahead in the weakening 2012 schedule, but if Notre Dame is to realize the opportunity, they must get offensive.

 

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu

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