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Things People Forget About Notre Dame Football: Schematic Madness

Just crazy enough to work...

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With fall camp on the horizon for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it’s time to start talking about X’s and O’s. Past coaches have provided some blueprints that are successful, some that were failures, and some that were just plain bizarre. You know we’re talking about the last of those today, so let’s get into it. People forget...

The Leprecat

The wildcat formation took the football world by storm in the late 2000s after Darren McFadden and the Arkansas Razorbacks used it to set the SEC on fire. Anyone who was anyone in the world of offensive schematics was thinking up how to use it, and Charlie Weis certainly considered himself someone. The 2009 Irish christened their version the “Leprecat” and while it wasn’t as successful as some might have hoped, Golden Tate was involved and that meant some good things happened.

Running back Armando Allen also took snaps out of the Leprecat, and found some success:

But probably the best moment of the Leprecat came in what ended up being the final game for Weis, as Tate and Jimmy Clausen put on one last show:

The Leprecat left Notre Dame with Weis; it is pretty much gone from the Irish playbook and most others these days. But that can’t take away our love for it.

The All-PI Offense

What do you do when you have a surfeit of talented wide receivers who your quarterback can’t find downfield with any kind of consistency going against slower, but highly physical corners? Answer, according to Chuck Martin: have those receivers run deep and count on said corners to interfere with them before the ball lands. The results:

At the time, this was just a gritty and satisfying win made possible by Notre Dame’s savvy decision to exploit the physicality of the Michigan State Spartans’ defensive backfield. In retrospect at the end of that season, it became absolutely hilarious as the Spartans finished 13-1 with a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl win, and the only thing that came between them and a shot at the national title was Notre Dame and its sclerotic all-PI offense. That’s the kind of spite-inducing win that rivalries like this used to be made of, and man do I want that back.

The Game that Broke BVG

It’s hard to fathom now, but in the first half of 2014 Notre Dame fans were really excited about their new defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder. The Irish were undefeated and scored a since-immortalized shutout of the Michigan Wolverines, and the Uncle Rico-looking DC’s highly complex, blitz-heavy schemes were given a lot of the credit. But then along came Larry Fedora and the North Carolina Tar Heels, who laid out the weaknesses that opposing teams spent the next two years exploiting:

93 points and over 1,000 yards were racked up in this surprise barn burner (the Tar Heels were also aided by three turnovers from Everett Golson, showing signs of his eventual downfall in the latter half of the season). Fedora’s Heels ran a hurry-up scheme that threw VanGorder’s intricate option progressions and pressure packages into disarray, laying all of Notre Dame’s weaknesses bare. The only thing worse than this kind of defensive showing? The fact that it continued for two more years with its orchestrator remaining employed.