The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Irish not making excuses as team struggles

Andrew Soukup | Wednesday, November 5, 2003

He could point to the fact that Notre Dame has the toughest schedule in the nation. He could say he’s playing too many freshmen and sophomores. He could say too many players are injured. He could say that he’s not playing with players he recruited.

But Tyrone Willingham won’t.

Instead, the coach of the 2-6 Irish tries to keep his team pointed toward the future by emphasizing the importance of ending the season on a positive note.

“I don’t think you’ll see me bring up any excuses, and maybe I have inadvertently and I apologize for those if I have,” the Irish head coach said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “But I don’t believe excuses are solutions. So you won’t hear me provide any excuses.”

Willingham firmly believes the Irish are pointed in the right direction. He points to the improvement in Notre Dame’s offense in the second half Saturday against Florida State, when the Irish recorded 14 first downs compared to just one in the first half. And he says he is impressed with the team’s resiliency, despite the fact that the team is off to its worst start since 1963.

But Willingham also knows the Irish have had more than their share of struggles. Notre Dame hasn’t scored in seven quarters, its passing efficiency is ranked last in the nation and the team has only scored touchdowns on four of its 23 trips into the red zone.

“We need to get after teams and start making teams catch us,” running back Ryan Grant said, “instead of trying to play catch up.”

And if there’s ever an opponent that the Irish need to be consistent against, it’s Navy. Notre Dame hasn’t lost to the Midshipmen in 39 years – the longest streak in collegiate football – and, at least before the game, this season represents Navy’s best chance to knock off the Irish in recent years.

To complicate matters further, Notre Dame’s defense has been hit with a rash of injuries. Glenn Earl and Kyle Budinscak are both out indefinitely, according to Willingham. The absence of defensive leaders hurt the Irish so much last year against Navy that the Midshipmen led by eight points with five minutes left in the game.

“The discipline that it takes to play the option scheme is very difficult,” Willingham said. “I think you have to be unbelievably disciplined to play against that system.”

Willingham firmly believes that the Irish are well disciplined, even though they have been plagued by ill-timed penalties in recent weeks. He also said Notre Dame has been negatively affected by players doing things that are “uncharacteristic,” and those breakdowns put an already struggling Irish team back on its heels even further.

The Irish head coach, who was the toast of South Bend after leading his team to an 8-0 start a year ago, has already called turning around this season’s team one of the toughest challenges he’s faced.

But Willingham refused to get frustrated or make excuses. He’ll just keep trying to point Notre Dame toward the future.

“I think you have to learn if you’re going to be a coach in this business for any period of time, you have to be able to handle the good and the bad,” he said. “And never does anyone like handling the bad, but you have to do it. So I figure out ways to do it and move forward so we can reach our goal.”