Having answered a few questions lately about why our beloved school fired Tyrone Willingham, I always find myself pointing to this game during my response - Ty's last game - as a perfect microcosm of the Ty Willingham era. I wanted to organize my thoughts and put them in writing, so all of us can combat ignorance with more biased ignorance.
First I want to be clear - my main problem with Tyrone Willingham has nothing related to him as a person, a leader, a mentor, or a representative of our school - who could have a problem with the man there? But, much like a CEO that everyone likes but simply does not produce, he had to go. Many said that his firing translates to winning being more important than integrity at Notre Dame. Since when do you have to have one or the other, with both being impossible? We strive for both, and Ty was great in one and very poor in the other.
The main crux of my anti-Tyrone sentiment were his game plans - or rather, lack thereof. I wanted to dissect this game in particular and point out a few strategies that Ty used that were just plan horrible choices. Honestly, I think you can use Madden 2005 - yes the video game - as the litmus test to determining how good these choices were.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first quarter immensely. My pride was apparent to all as I was watching this quarter in front of family and friends. I acted like I expected this to happen, calmly watching what unfolded. We started the game as I would by taking what the defense gave us, and at the same time testing the interior of the vaunted Trojan D Line, both via running the ball. However, anyone that has played Madden football, or even Super Tecmo Bowl
, knows that if you continue to run the ball, the opponent can and will call defensive plays that will simply stop the run (except for stopping Bo Jackson in Super Tecmo Bowl, but I digress). So not surprisingly, after scoring both of our first two drives (one a 92 yard drive, the other a 73 yard one), we never only had one drive longer than 6 plays the entire rest of the game, as you can see below.
(plys-yards time )
TOUCHDOWN 13-92 06:24
FIELD GOAL 12-73 04:35
Punt 3-0 02:11
Punt 5-11 01:52
Punt 3-9 00:45
Punt 5-16 02:11
Missed FG 11-58 04:32
Punt 5-14 02:58
Punt 3-9 01:47
Punt 3-3 01:14
Punt 6-15 03:01
We didnt even score a point in the second half. Brady passed for 105 yards
, while rushing for 195 yards - pathetic. Looking at the drive chart shows that somebody made adjustments, and it certainly was not us.
After thinking about it some, I began to think how I would play Notre Dame if I were a defensive coordinator. Personally, I would make the Irish pass the ball by ganging up against the run - obvious right? Well, I think Tennessee and Michigan both tried that a decent amount, and a few times they got burnt because of key, rather easy completions on plays where the defense was sold out to the run. USC seemed to employ another strategy - shut down the pass with most all of their secondary devoted to our WRs and TEs, with a linebacker playing man/zone combo, and then take their chances with just their D line and maybe 2 linebackers to stop the run. The result was that we got our running yards - against a very basic more pass oriented defensive look - while our passing game was nonexistent. Thus it took longer to move the ball and drives eventually fizzled out because of the inability to gain more than 5 to 7 yards a play.
If you have to run 12 or more plays to score
, and you basically have to run the ball to move it, then its going to be hard to consistently score. The USC strategy of letting us slowly move the ball downfield until they stopped us on a play or two forcing a punt, was a great move. Kudos Pete Carroll. I still hate you and think of you as garbage. And oh yeh, its all Norm Chow.
Did we make adjustments? Of course not. We obviously should have stretched the field more, but thats easier said than done. Our offense was nowhere near innovative, nor was it adaptable week by week, game by game, at any point during the season. The inability to make big gains of 10 yards or more put us in too many third downs to consistently score.
But believe it or not, defense - not offense - was my main problem with Ty Willingham. Because on the defensive side of the ball, he did less with more.
Wow. Thats all I can say after watching the decisions made on the defensive side of the ball for the Irish in this game.
1. Freddie Parish (IV) started his first game at CB ever.
Against USC. Silence.
2. Our defense regularly had 8 men in the box against the Trojan offense. Sorry Ty, thats offensive.
3. Goolsby guarded Reggie Bush man to man a few plays, with no support. Uh, can anyone on our team (much less our run stopping middle linebacker) contain
Reggie Bush. Not smart Ty. If I was playing Madden I would had Bush on a swing or go route on every play, with a few out and ups.
4. No meaningful adjustments were made. I guess we tried a zone, but linebackers guarding WRs doing crossing routes just didnt cut it.
5. Why not only use two LBs, and put Freddie Parrish as a rover type position just zoning the middle? Bulky LBs might need to sit a little more against a team like the Trojans. Its called a modified Nickel defense. (ALA John Madden Football, '92)
Notice how all my comments center around coaching decisions - not dropped interceptions (1 or 2) or missed tackles (plenty), or even poor play(hah). There is a huge difference between a team being prepared and in position to win mentally, versus a team that didnt have a popsicle's chance in hell due to a lack of coaching.
The game essentially started out slow for Mr. Chow
as he was disecting what our defense was presenting to him. As expected under an offensive mastermind, or even someone with common sense, the USC offense adjusted and got better as the game went on. They threw many passes on downs when we were completely sold out to the run (the 3rd and 2 pass to Reggie Bush that went for a 50 yard touchdown, with Mike Goolsby guarding him one on one - fucking brilliant). Throwing the ball downfield became very easy since our defense was often in neanderthal mode (8 in the box, pressing superior WRs). With the Trojans' WRs, many of these "chances" had no "chance" at all - resulting in big gains, 408 yards passing for Leinart, and another Heisman trophy for the Trojans.
While the Irish outgained the Trojans on the ground by 100 yards, that old school statistic can be very misleading. The Trojans, quite simply, did not need to run the ball on offense. As for us, USC quite simply was willing to be a 1/2 men down against our run if it ensured completely stopping our pass and ability to get big chunks of yards.
Old school football people (not me, as Ive never played the game - probably obvious by now) talk about establishing the run before passing. I think Notre Dame needs think the opposite way - establish the pass, then run the ball. If you ask me, the intelligence in the old addage of "establish the run first, then pass" is not centered around the importance of the running game, but rather establishing what will undermine the defense's gameplan the most. Teams playing Notre Dame are already run-conscious in their game plans - and usually (and justifiably so) our opponents assume we cannot pass.
We need to establish what the defense does not expect, what the defense considers our weakness. Enter Charlie Weis, a man priding himself on the ability to gameplan each week, changing everything if needed for each, very different opponent. Charlie plays game theory
all week - using psychology as much as any tool for the upcoming game. I am excited to see how he will do for the Irish, but especially against USC on October 15th. I'll be there, and I will be staying at, of course, the Irish Condo.