Thursday, September 6, 2007

Can you fix "tempo"?

Okay, it's been a long, painful week of introspection and depression. We got our asses handed to us by Georgia Tech. Congratulations to the Yellow Jackets and Coach Gailey for having his team better prepared to play on Saturday. As Irish fans, we can only wish them well. If Georgia Tech wins the ACC and goes to a BCS bowl game it might make the Irish look just a little less pathetic than we feel right now. Just a little.

But we have to go on the road this week and play a Nittany Lions squad that believes they are all that and a bag of chips. They were already feeling pretty good about themselves before they hung 59 points on sacrificial lamb Florida International University. I think I've made my feelings about such scheduling pretty clear already, so we'll have to move past that.

The one arguably good thing that came out of Saturday's debacle is that Coach Weis is done being cute with the quarterback situation. If Demetrius Jones and/or the offensive line had played better on Saturday, we might still be living through the long national nightmare of a continuing quarterback controversy. Watching all three of his quarterbacks under fire convinced Charlie Weis (if he didn't know it already) that the future is now for the Irish quarterback of the future, Jimmy Clausen. One can only hope that the public announcement of the starting QB and a return to an offensive style that the players are more familiar with will contribute to team stability and confidence heading into Happy Valley. I take some solace in the fact that, as bad as last Saturday was, both Evan Sharpley and Clausen showed some ability to move the ball through the air when we were in a passing mode on offense. And when the ball was in the air, the Irish receivers surprised me in a couple of ways. First, they were open! Second, they did a good job catching the ball.

But will Clausen have the time he needs to deliver the ball down the field? As I wrote last Saturday, the Irish offensive line was badly outplayed by Georgia Tech. Watching the game at home, it seemed that our guys were having a very difficult time figuring out their assignment. It seemed to me they were completely confused about who they were supposed to block, thus allowing Tech defenders numerous free runs into the Notre Dame backfield. In talking about the loss, Coach Weis had a different take. It wasn't that our guys didn't know what to do, it was a "tempo" problem.

“It isn’t just the players playing each other, it’s handing the speed of the game. You can simulate it in practice the best you can, but obviously they did a much better job than we did of handling the speed of the game. They controlled the tempo with their defense versus our offense.”
And again -
“I thought the speed of the game, especially the offensive front against their defensive front, we were playing at two different tempos.”
What does that mean? Is that like "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Domer, it's not that little Johnny can't read. He actually reads very well. It's just that he reads at a slower tempo than the other children."

Oh, is that all?

And, more importantly, can you fix a "tempo" problem? Because if we don't fix our "tempo" problem I have a very strong feeling that this could be an issue down the road. Like this week in Happy Valley. Or in Pasadena. Or when the Trojans come calling.

This "tempo" issue has been discussed before here at OC Domer. Following the fan appreciation day practice in August I posted my thoughts on what we learned (or didn't learn) from that public practice. Included in my ramblings was the following:
It seemed to me that the line play was only going about 80% speed. Very little real smash-mouth going on. That, and the poor overall quality of the video posted at (too small, too grainy) makes it very difficult to evaluate line play. So I won't try.

Much has been made of the coaches requiring the defense to "run" a lap around the field when they lined up with only ten men on one play, as though the coaches were really cracking the whip. I was disappointed in how most of the guys dogged it on the lap. They pace was very slow, and many of the guys cut the corners in the end zones. I know the guys are fatigued after a week of camp, but maybe the reason USC and LSU run laps around us on game day is that we don't really "run" our laps at practice. Practice slow and play slow. Maybe I'm being unfair and too harsh, but that "lap" bothered me.

So maybe we've had a tempo problem for a while. If so, I am really disappointed. Living in Southern California, I am subjected to a rather steady stream of USC coverage. I've built up some immunity to it and no longer break out in hives. One common, recurring theme from those who visit Trojans' practices is that they are impressed by the high tempo of USC practices. If I know that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the current top program in the country is their high-tempo practices, surely that word has gotten out to the coaching community. Why wouldn't we (Notre Dame) be trying to emulate that? And if we are trying, why isn't it translating to Saturdays? Is it because we're coaching it wrong? Or is it because our guys are just too slow to play at that higher tempo? I sure hope it's the former, because coaching techniques can be fixed. If it's the latter, we're in serious trouble, because you can't teach speed.

It's commonly said that teams will improve the most between their first and second games. I hope that's more true of the Irish than Penn State. In my pre-season expectations post I felt that the Irish matched up pretty well with Penn State, strength on strength, weakness on weakness. I still feel that way, although one of the strengths I was counting for Notre Dame was an offensive line that would "have it's way" with PSU's defensive front. I certainly don't expect that anymore. I expect to see a Notre Dame team that has dramatically improved from week 1 to week 2, but that still has a way to go. We compete, and we return to respectability, but we lose by a touchdown.


JVH said...

On the speed of the game, any chance Weis kept the fall practices light trying to avoid injuries? I look over at USC and they have a ton of injured players coming out of Fall camp. Of course, they have the depth to replace any player that gets hurt.
Meanwhile, the Irish have no injuries. Obviously, having nobody hurt is a good thing, but it may be an indication that Weis failed to let the boys really rip it up in practice.

OC Domer said...


I think CW probably does worry about injuries, and you're right that USC has been a meat grinder lately, chewing up players and spiting them out.

But, supposedly our depth is better this year (especially in the O-line) than it has ever been, so we should be able to have more full contact practices.

Plus - is full contact the only way you can practice fast? I think you need to ask for full speed when they're doing drills, running sprints, etc... Fast has to be a way of life, not something where you flip a switch on Saturday.


Ryan said...

One reason I think our offensive line played so poorly against Tech is the lack of quality live reps in fall camp. Kind of like you guys alluded too. We have no depth on the defensive line. Guys like Stephenson Jr. and Paddy Mullen got pushed wherever G.T. wanted them to go. If our scout team can't give the offensive line a good look in practice you'd expect them to struggle against a "real" defense.