Notre Dame spent the spring trying to get a grip on its new coach's West Coast attack
One indication of the change that Tyrone Willingham is bringing to Notre Dame can be seen in the way the new Fighting Irish coach tools around campus. Unlike predecessors Lou Holtz and Bob Davie, both of whom drove a golf cart to practices and other campus functions, Willingham climbs onto a sleek, blue 24-speed mountain bike. "To accommodate my schedule, the best way to get around would be to have somebody drive me," Willingham said last week. "I'm not comfortable with that."
Adding an element of cool to the South Bend transportation scene may prove easier than dragging the Irish offense into the modern era. The team that went 5-6 running an option-oriented attack a year ago and finished next-to-last nationally in passing yardage (101.5 per game) is trying to learn the West Coast offense that Willingham employed so effectively at Stanford for the past seven seasons. (Last fall the Cardinal averaged 250.5 passing yards and 37.1 points per game and finished 9-2; overall Stanford was 44-36-1 under Willingham.)
Last Saturday's rain-drenched spring game showed how big a challenge the new coach is facing. Neither of the two quarterback candidates was exactly a showstopper. Junior Matt LoVecchio completed six of 14 passes for 58 yards and was intercepted three times, while junior Carlyle Holiday completed three of seven for 27 yards. The 3-0 game was decided on a 37-yard field goal.
Willingham will discuss the merits of individual players in only general terms. The most he'll say about his dueling quarterbacks is that both are progressing well. "We don't want to have to make a decision [about them]," he says. "We like our players' [production] to tell us who should be the starter."
LoVecchio, who is a solid, if unspectacular passer, won seven of eight games as a starter in 2000 but lost his first two games last fall and gave way to Holiday. When the Irish tried to capitalize on Holiday's strength—his running skills—he took a pounding because defenses didn't fear Notre Dame's passing attack. "People may think I don't—belong in this [West Coast] offense, but I feel like I have a lot of the tools necessary for it," says Holiday, referring to his arm and field sense.
The Irish understand that in Willingham's offense the emphasis will be on quickness and execution. Tailback Julius Jones has dropped 15 pounds, to 205, and focused this spring on pass blocking and running routes. "We're not just asking [our backs] to catch the ball," says Notre Dame offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick, one of six assistants who came with Willingham from Stanford. "We're also talking about spacing, field distribution, what adjustments to make against zone coverage." Before spring ball Diedrick said that in 15 practices he hoped the Irish would progress from a crawl to a jog. Last Thursday, Diedrick said, "We're in a swift walk. We're not quite to a jog."
Crawl, walk or jog, the players are trying to catch up with Willingham and his offense before the Irish open the season against Maryland on Aug. 31 in the Kick-off Classic. By then their coach may have shifted to another unexpected mode of transportation. So far, says Willingham, it has been too chilly in South Bend for his Rollerblades.
Ohio State Tailbacks
A Freshman Springs Forward
Win the tailback job at Ohio State and you win a ticket to the NFL. Eight Buckeyes tailbacks have been selected in the last 10 NFL drafts, including Jonathan Wells, a fourth-round pick of the Texans last month. When Ohio State coach Jim Tressel looked for the next future pro this spring, he found four candidates, the most impressive of whom is a freshman who arrived on campus only four months ago.