2007 statistics to date:
Rushing Offense: -4 yards (last in NCAA - 119th)
Passing Offense: 137 yards (107th in NCAA)
Total Offense: 133 yards (last in NCAA - 119th)
Scoring Offense: 6.5 points/gm (117th in NCAA)
Sacks Allowed: 7.5/gm (last in NCAA - 119th)
That's right, folks. The Notre Dame Fightin' Irish are dead last in the country in rush offense, total offense, and sacks allowed.
We're worse than Florida International. Worse than Temple. Worse than even Duke.
So who do we have to thank for these criminally embarassing numbers on offense?
If you listen to Coach Weis, he'd take all the blame on himself. As well he should. But remember that this is the man that created Tom Brady and called every offensive play for 3 Superbowl Champions. Sometimes he gets too cute with his playcalling, or too arrogant, or too cavalier. But he is still one of the best offensive minds in the country. I'm not willing to let the buck settle here just yet.
It would be easy to blame the skill players out there on the field. Call Jimmy Clausen a fraud, or Travis Thomas untalented. Say that John Carlson is overrated, or that the receivers aren't very good. But if you are really honest with yourself, watching tape, this isn't the problem. Physically, the players out there on the field have what it takes to not just win, but obliterate most of the competition. Jimmy's mechanics and decisionmaking are impeccable. Armando Allen's speed, Parris' hands, and even Thomas' athleticism aren't seriously in doubt. Carlson didn't just forget how to be an All-American tight end since last year.
What about the offensive line? On the surface, we appear to have hit our target. Last in rushing. Most sacks given up. Aha! You can't run the ball if the players don't open holes, and the quarterback, no matter how talented, can't win the game from his ass.
But the fault doesn't lie here. These kids aren't some undersized, underachieving no names. Sullivan is an All-American at center. Sam Young was the #1 offensive line recruit in his class. It's not a talent issue - we have so many 4 and 5 star offensive line recruits on out roster that nearly every team in the country would kill for the raw talent we have on our roster right now.
The next logical place to lay the blame would then be our offensive line coach, John Latina. He has all of this talent, and yet our offensive line is poisoning the rest of the team with their ineptitude.
Now we're getting a little closer. Latina has been our offensive line coach for three years. Surely, he has had enough time to coach these kids up, and get them ready to play.
Time is of the essence...
The problem is, he hasn't had 3 years to coach these kids up.
You see, offensive linemen take time to develop in college. Rare is it that a player comes out of high school ready to take his place in the trenches. Sam Young is a rare find in that regard. As a general rule of thumb, the average offensive line recruit can expect to spend their first two to three years of college eating, lifting, and learning the offense, so that they are physically and mentally ready to start.
Each year, any coach worth his salt in the college game would want a starting line comprised of something like two or three seniors and 5th years, and two or three juniors. That way, he can develop players coming in while maintaining a level of experience on the line from year to year.
Everyone that has ever followed recruiting knows that not every kid pans out. Some kids drop out, others just can't cut it in the college game. There is a natural selection process. Therefore, to have a rotation of 2-3 starters each class, there should be 3-4 recruits brought in each class to account for such natural attrition.
Breakdown (literally) of Notre Dame's offensive line recruiting
You see, the starting left guard and tackle, Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich, are the only scholarship offensive line upperclassmen on the roster, other than 5th year Sullivan. And they are juniors. There are NO - zip, zero, none, zilch, nada - true senior offensive linemen on scholarship. Not one.
When recruiting at a position like offensive linemen, there should be enough recruited offensve line players in the upper classes in any given year to make up a full line, with a couple of backups. You should never be forced to start an underclassman - they should only start if they earn it.
Indeed, in Weis' two full classes, he recruited 10 offensive line players (6 then 4). He understands the importance of the offensive line to the offense, and wants to make sure his line is deep and talented. So when his full classes are juniors and seniors, he'll have enough in the upper classes to field two full lines.
In the previous class (the transition from Willingham to Weis, this year's juniors), it was all Weis could do to sign a couple of decent offensive line recruits after Willingham's lackluster recruiting efforts. Only two recruits at O-line is weak, as t assumes bascally that both will develop into quality starters and not transfer out, but can be acceptable for a down year in offensive line recruiting, especially during a transition.
But Ty only recruited two offensive linemen during his last full season of recruiting. As stated, two linemen per year is unacceptable for a single year, much less back-to-back recruiting years. And both of them transferred out of the program (natural attrition).
However, even that failure of recruiting could have been overcome if Ty signed a reasonable amount of linemen the year before (this year's 5th years) so Weis could redshirt some kids and fill out the lineup. But that previous year, Ty signed (you guessed it) 2 offensive linemen.
What this means is that over a 3-year period, Notre Dame signed only 6 total offensive line recruits. Barely enough to field one full line. And 2 2/3 of those recruiting cycles were under the watchful recruiting eye of Tyrone Willingham.
Of the 6 players recruited over that 3 year period (comprising our junior, senior, and 5th year classes), only 3 remain on the team. Both Kadous and Incarnato left the program, leaving us devoid of senors. And Ryan Harris played all four years, and couldn't return for a 5th year even if he wanted to. The other 3? Our starting center, left guard, and left tackle (for better or for worse, as we don't have any other options).
What this means is that no matter what, Coach Weis (and Latina) were going to have to rush offensive linemen through their development to round out the starting 5. As we said before, offensive linemen don't usually develop fully until their junior year.
Blame all around
What this all means is that Tyrone Willingham's lazy recruiting continues to plague this program, and he is the root of all of our offensive problems this year. And when combined with the fact that Notre Dame doesn't accept junior college transfers, which is what every other BCS school does when there is a hole to fill, we are essentially screwed.
However, this doesn't get Coach Latina off the hook. Willingham created the problem, it was Latina's job to fix it. He knew he had to get 5 guys ready to play this season, and he knew all along what he had to work with. He failed.
It also doesn't relieve Coach Weis. He's the offensive mind, the one that signed a 10 year contract. He is responsible for creating an offensive gameplan that overcomes these weaknesses. He failed.
And it certainly doesn't relieve the players on the field from their responsibility as well. They've been practicing this stuff for years. They are physically capable. By virtue of their academic reputation, I'm willing to believe they are mentally capable. And as I said a couple weeks ago, they are bigger than the D-lines they are facing. But they have given up 15 sacks, and haven't opened up holes to give their running backs a chance. They've failed.
This is a dark day for Notre Dame football.
Change is Gonna Come
Ty's recruiting failures which have left us with so few options on the O-line have finally come home to roost. Weis may not admit it, but it is a rebuilding year. We'll improve slowly but steadily all year long. The schedule gets easier from here on out (exceptng SC), and that should eventually start translating into some wins.
From great adversity comes great strength. By pushing up the learning curve for all of these underclassmen, the future of Notre Dame's offensive line is looking bright. Remember those 3 remaining offensive linemen in the upper classes? Next year we'll have 7. The year after that we'll have 10-12. And lots of invaluable gametime experience together to boot. And in addition to all that built in experience, we'll be transitioning from mostly 3 star players to 4 star players with a couple of 5 stars mixed in for good measure.
The wholesale changes Weis has brought to this program means that when the sun comes out, it's coming out to stay. No more recruiting holes. No more graduation hangovers. No more rebuilding. Just reloading.
The adults are in charge now.
So buckle up, Irish fans. The development of this offensive line (and the rest of the team) is going to be a long and bumpy ride. But when we arrive at the promised land, it will have been well worth it.