Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 53 of 55

54 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED "Chicks dig the long ball." — Nike ad circa 1999 with Hall- of-Fame pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine T hat popular commercial came at the height of the steroid/juiced ball era in Major League Baseball. The sudden and dramatic prolif- eration of home runs trumped low- scoring "small ball," and it has been the way of the world in college foot- ball for nearly two decades now as well, with no slowing down in sight. More and more, college football is reminding me of the defunct Arena Football League. And no, this is not an old man, get-off-my-lawn rant, and how the game "used to be better." Like technology, medicine or life in general, football constantly evolves and one must change with the pres- ent and future rather than live in the past. Still, today's football is remind- ing me of the arena days where the rules and talent have swung so much toward the advantage of the offense, that defense is more about damage control than dominance. Examples from the Oct. 10 week- end included No. 2 Alabama surviv- ing a 63-48 shootout with Ole Miss, No. 4 Florida falling 41-38 to Texas A&M, No. 8 North Carolina hanging on for a 56-45 win versus Virginia Tech, and even reigning national champ LSU losing 45-41 to unranked Missouri two weeks after getting up- set 44-34 by Mississippi State. It used to be the highest form of praise one could give to a top high school defensive prospect was, "he looks like one of those SEC guys." The way defense has been in the SEC of late, it almost seems more like an insult than adulation. Alabama head coach Nick Saban is one of the game's savants when it comes to defense, yet in three of his last eight games entering Oct. 17, and dating back to last year, his Crimson Tide lost 46-41 to LSU and 48-45 to Auburn prior to holding on at Ole Miss while surrendering 48 points and 647 yards (379 passing, 268 rushing). That's not even including yielding 44 points to Clemson while losing the 2018 national title in the championship outing. When Notre Dame hosts No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7, I doubt it will be about the "defense wins champion- ships" bromide. That's likely one of those contests where one must win by a 35-31 type of count — although Notre Dame nearly did it recently with defense in losses to Georgia in 2017 (20-19) and 2019 (23-17). And with coordinator Clark Lea, one takes solace in knowing prepara- tion should be strong and provides a chance against even a Clemson. Part of the defensive woes is how the game has evolved. I trace it back mostly to 1978, when the NFL changed two rules to enhance scor- ing — or "the long ball." The first was freeing up receivers by restrict- ing contact beyond five yards down- field. Second was loosening the in- terpretation of holding by offensive linemen, allowing them to extend their arms and open their hands on pass plays. Ever since then, virtually every rule change in football has been de- signed for more, more, more scoring. "The offenses certainly have an ad- vantage," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said two days before this year's Louisville game. "In some in- stances you're seeing the talent level continue to outpace in a lot of areas of defensive personnel." Matchups between tall, rangy and fleet receivers against corners much shorter are among them, and tall cor- ners with exceptional hip-flipping ability are one of the rarest commodi- ties in the sport, as are premier pass rushers. A second function likely contribut- ing in 2020 is COVID-19, which meant limited to no spring practice. The way schools are cautiously approaching practices with live tackling (or lack of it) compounded problems already existing on that side of the ball. "Taking spring drills away and not having that base — and then scram- bling to get into August camp," Kelly said of defenses playing catch-up. "Having to spend a lot of time on scheme over technique has not been the friend of defense. It has definitely helped offenses." Simplifying the defense during prep- aration for Louisville was a priority. "Offenses are structured a lot more around the scheme than they are the technique," Kelly said. "Technique's important, don't get me wrong. But, when you're talking about scheme, it tends to favor [offense]." Still the single-season Notre Dame scoring record of 37.6 points per game dates all the way back to 1968, while top offenses today are rou- tinely in the 42- to 49-point range. Eventually, that mark will be bro- ken in today's long-ball era. Some- where along the line, the defense also must help chalk up a win — and rest its own case. ✦ Notre Dame And The 'Juiced Football' Era THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Notre Dame's scoring defense was well above average in 2019 (17.9 points allowed per game) and 2018 (18.2), the first time since 2001-02 it didn't allow more than 20 points per game in back-to-back seasons. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Oct. 24, 2020