Offense hinders No. 4 Notre Dame

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 11:28 p.m.
South Bend, Ind.-Although Notre Dame's offense has improved over the last two games, the Fighting Irish still rank among the worst teams in the nation statistically. The fourth-ranked Irish (8-0) are 109th out of Division I-A 117 teams, averaging 313.3 yards a game. The last team to win a national championship with an average of under 313 was Texas, which won the 1963 title while producing 304 yards a game.
How bad is it? No team with worse numbers has finished a season ranked in the top 10 since Washington ended 1981 ranked 10th, averaging 286.6 yards a game.
No Irish team has ever won a national championship averaging less than 388 yards a game. That squad, in 1988, was ranked 36th in the nation in total offense.
"We'd like everything to happen the next three or four weeks," coach Tyrone Willingham said. "We'd like to have the perfect football game, that we take every drive down the field and score, whether it's a long field or a short field."
The reality, Willingham said, is that his offense isn't there yet.
Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, who's preparing the Golden Eagles (4-3) to face the Irish on Saturday, said the most important thing is winning.
"It doesn't matter what you're rated in the country, as long as you're undefeated," O'Brien said. "That's where they are."
The Irish have remained unbeaten using a defense that forces timely turnovers, making it easier on the offense. The Irish defense has scored or set up 95 of Notre Dame's 192 points.
Through eight games, the Irish offense has nine touchdown drives of 60 yards or more. Four of those have come in the past two games, though, a sign that the offense is getting better.
"We feel we've made steady improvement from game one to where we are now," offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. "You work to improve yourself, improve your efficiency, improve your execution and get to the point where you want to be. We're not there."
Unless the offensive numbers improve dramatically - a possibility with Navy and Rutgers still to go - this season will mark the second-worst offensive output for Notre Dame in the last 35 years. The worst was last year, when the Irish went 5-6. They averaged 289.7 yards a game, 110th in the country.
Notre Dame tailback Ryan Grant doesn't want to look at the statistics. He believes the Irish offense is carrying its share of the load.
"Our defense has been playing phenomenal, and they have been playing great for us all season and making plays for us. I think that's an added asset," he said. "At the same time, we feel we can make big plays just like that. We feel like we have. Maybe not as much as we'd like."

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