Willingham looking for Irish to make offensive adjustment

Saturday, November 23, 2002

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame has had strong rushing games and strong passing games and games where neither worked. Coach Tyrone Willingham thinks it's about time all parts of the Irish offense came together.

"It's going to happen. There's no question about that. I know that," Willingham said. "There are too many good things in place. Our system is good. The young men are good. They work hard. They're trying, they're giving us the effort. So at some point it's going to show."

The No. 8 Irish (9-1) would like it to show today against Rutgers (1-9), which has the nation's 81st rated defense and has given up at least 400 yards total offense in four straight games.

"It would be nice for it to be this weekend to really kick us in gear and finish the season strong," Willingham said.

A win gives the Irish a shot at a Bowl Championship Series berth even if they lose next week to No. 7 Southern Cal. Lose to Rutgers, though, and Notre Dame probably is out of the BCS running.

The Irish offense has been slowed by a myriad of problems this season: inopportune penalties, fumbles, mental mistakes.

Willingham sees signs, though, that things are getting better, that his team is starting to grow into the West Coast offense he installed this season.

He points to the play of quarterback Carlyle Holiday. In the first four games of the season, Holiday completed 44.5 percent of his passes for an average of 128.5 yards a game with one interception and one touchdown pass.

In the five games since sitting out against Stanford with a shoulder injury, he has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for an average of 182.4 yards a game with one interception and five touchdowns.

The Irish coaches think a bye week before the Stanford game, coupled with watching from the sideline against the Cardinal, helped Holiday develop.

"I thought it was a great assist and a great opportunity for him to stand back and see it from a different perspective," offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. "To see it almost like a coach and see the whole thing develop. I think it was a great learning process for him."

Willingham has said all along it would take more than a season for the Irish to learn his complex system. Each defense calls for different routes and different progressions, so each week Holiday has been faced with different reads.

Willingham says the quarterback is thinking less and reacting more.

"Now he can take control of more of the personnel issues that fly around him in directing a team and motivating a team," he said.

Holiday is feeling more comfortable each week.

"As the season's gone on, it's slowed down a whole lot," he said. "I'm getting comfortable with the plays that have been called, just the way we approach our game. You know what's going on around you. You know where people are supposed to be."

The Irish coaches are hoping that another off week has helped Holiday, who had a season-high 272 yards passing against Navy, progress even more.

"It's a process of growing and learning and becoming more comfortable with the system and more comfortable with the personnel around you," Willingham said. "You build on your successes. Each one allows you to grow a little bit more and be able to command a little more respect from your peers, especially as a quarterback."

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