by John Vannie
Basking in the glow of Jimmy Clausen’s oral commitment to Charlie Weis and Notre Dame, Irish fans have all but forgotten the recent years of offensive misery. Before Weis came aboard, Notre Dame’s attack was the subject of richly-deserved ridicule by rival schools and even among its most ardent supporters.
Bob Davie’s offensive philosophy was a well-placed punt, while Tyrone Willingham brought Bill Diedrick and the bubble screen to South Bend. Top flight recruits stayed away in droves, and Brady Quinn took a vicious pounding as he searched in vain for an open receiver.
In order to appreciate Weis’ impact on the Irish offense, a quick statistical comparison between 2005 and previous five years is particularly enlightening. During the 2000-2004 seasons, Notre Dame averaged 23.5 points per game. This number grew by more than 50% to 36.7 under Weis.
The total offense comparison for the same period is equally impressive. The Irish gained 5728 total yards last year after averaging 3850 in the five previous seasons, while the yards per game statistics are 477 and 326, respectively. The average increase under Weis is between 46 and 49%, depending on how you slice the data. Third down conversions also rose from 35% to 49%.
In the passing game, the 2005 squad racked up 3963 passing yards as compared to an average of 1920 under the last five autumns of Davieham. That’s better than a 100% improvement. What may be even more impressive is that Quinn threw 32 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions in 2005, while the totals for 2000-2004 are 58 TDs and 57 INTs. Quinn also completed 65% of his passes last season, while his predecessors could manage only 51%.
Despite these compelling numbers, the depth of Notre Dame’s offensive futility prior to 2005 cannot be fully understood unless you saw the Irish play. Quarterbacks were shuffled in and given the hook with alarming regularity, and wobbly third down passes either fell harmlessly to the turf or were caught two yards short of the first down marker. The two minute offense was an entire rosary of Hail Marys. Irish fans wondered why the team could not emulate Michigan or even Purdue, and now we can’t wait to play them.
Clausen opted for Notre Dame because he wants to prepare for a productive career in the NFL. There is nothing surprising about this given the history at Notre Dame, except that recent Irish quarterbacks were destined to play on Sunday as wide receivers.
I have no objection to the fact that Clausen chose the Irish for football reasons, calling it a “business decision.” I’m sure some purists winced as Clausen did not include the obligatory mention of academics in announcing his choice of schools, but it’s actually a welcome sign that Notre Dame has become a destination of choice to football prospects with legitimate professional aspirations.
Over the previous five years, star athletes at the skill positions have seen no connection between the Irish offense and the NFL. Not only has Weis altered that perception, but his cutting edge attack has elevated Notre Dame from the Stone Age to the hot program for blue chip athletes who can read and write.
It happened so fast in reality, but the rebirth of Notre Dame Football could not have come soon enough for those who endured the recent, tortuous past. In order to appreciate where we are about to go, let’s not forget the overall mediocrity and utter futility of where we’ve been.