Friday, February 13, 2009

Things are changing at Notre Dame

A couple of interesting announcements came out of South Bend on Friday, one of which garnered most of the headlines.

Charlie Weis announced that he will take over play-calling duties for the Irish next season, a task he ripped away from offensive coordinator Mike Haywood for the final four games of 2008. Haywood has since left to become head coach at Miami (Ohio), so this wasn't too big of a surprise. The big question is: Will it make a difference for the Notre Dame offense?

In Weis' four games as de facto offensive coordinator, the results were as follows:

* 27-21 win over Navy -- 110 passing yards, 230 rushing yards (one touchdown came on a blocked punt)
* 24-23 loss to Syracuse -- 292 passing yards, 41 rushing yards (one touchdown came on what was essentially a Hail Mary to Golden Tate on the final play of the first half)
* 38-3 loss to USC -- 43 passing yards, 50 rushing yards (the Irish managed four first downs and 1.9 yards per play)
* 49-21 win over Hawaii -- 413 passing yards, 65 rushing yards (one touchdown came on a kickoff return)

I think it's safe to say that USC and Hawaii were outliers compared to the normal defenses Notre Dame will face, but altogether -- not including the special-teams touchdowns -- the Irish averaged 24 offensive points, 162 passing yards and 97 rushing yards.

For a point of reference, Navy, Syracuse and USC all allowed slightly more points on average than the Irish scored against them, and all of those teams allowed far more yards on average than the Irish accumulated against them.

Obviously, Weis wasn't a big boost to the offense overall (I have a feeling that Pete Carroll isn't too terrified about this announcement).

The only real difference in the win over Hawaii -- other than the Warriors' terrible defense -- was that Weis, because of his mangled knee, was in the booth rather than on the sidelines. Weis pointed out in his press conference that this is something he's considering doing on a permanent basis, but I'm not sure there's ever been a major college head coach who's tried that.

And don't forget this quote from almost exactly one year ago:
"I think that when you're play-calling on offense, you might not necessarily be the best head coach. So what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to be a better head coach," he said Friday.

Weis decided to move away from play-calling after meeting with his old boss, Bill Belichick, before the Patriots played the New York Giants in the regular-season finale Dec. 29. Weis said he talked more with Belichick about how to be a better coach than about X's and O's.
I can't see Weis staying in the booth as a realistic long-term option, even with his apparent desire to focus almost exclusively on the offense. And even if he does, it's doubtful that it would make that big of a difference on a game-to-game basis.

What will make a difference, though, is this nugget that was buried a little further down in the stories that matriculated out of the press conference.
Weis also announced that defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has been promoted to associate head coach and now will be co-defensive coordinator with linebacker coach Jon Tenuta.

Tenuta, who joined the team last year and helped change Notre Dame's scheme to a more attacking style, will call the defensive plays in 2009.
Tenuta was considered one of the best and most aggressive defensive coordinators in the country during his tenure at Georgia Tech, with his teams finishing in the top 25 in total defense every year he was there (from 2002-07). What was surprising was not Notre Dame's interest in him last offseason -- a lot of teams were seeking his services -- but that he was willing to take a lesser position on the defensive staff under Corwin Brown.

Now, though, with Tenuta calling the plays, the Notre Dame defense suddenly has the brainpower behind it to actually strike fear into opposing offenses. The Irish had 27 sacks last year -- good for 50th nationally -- while Georgia Tech was first in the country with 48 sacks in 2007. Even with somewhat of a discrepancy in pass-rushing talent, the scheme had a lot to do with each of those numbers.

With some young talent in the front seven -- defensive end Ethan Johnson, nose tackle Ian Williams, outside linebacker Steven Filer, freshman defensive tackle Tyler Stockton (an early enrollee) and uber-recruit Manti Te'o -- Weis and the offense might have to carry just a little less of the load, which I think every Notre Dame fan would agree is a good thing.

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