April 17, 2006

Irish find unexpected room for improvement

Days like this used to be labeled above average. Now they're posterized as proof Notre Dame's offense might not be as good as advertised.

When the Irish racked up 348 yards total offense against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, the mark topped the program's season average in each of the five years prior to Charlie Weis' arrival. But in the context of last season, when the oft-repeated goal was raising expectations, the mark only topped efforts against Tennessee (343 yards) and at Michigan (244 yards).

"You all see in a game like Ohio State, times when we didn't perform the way we needed to," said quarterback Brady Quinn. "Until you see us perform the way we're capable of week-in and week-out on a consistent basis, no one is going to be satisfied with where we're at."

Statistically, there isn't much room for improvement, but the Irish want to get what mathematical real estate is available under contract. Notre Dame ranked in the nation's Top 10 in total offense, passing offense, scoring offense, passing efficiency, time of possession and third down efficiency. The only category that finished in forgettable fashion was the rush offense at 55th, although Darius Walker ended the season with 517 yards and six touchdowns in the final four games.

The Irish offense has holes to fill at right tackle and tight end, but the unit would rather focus on building off last season's performance that set 11 program records including total offense (5,728 yards) and points scored (440). That means taking some of the team's most skilled players and increasing their max lifting capabilities.

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