Coach Rogers shakes up Irish offense
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assistant Sports Editor
The Irish have tried to diversify their offense this year with the addition of a new face on the coaching staff, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers who hails from Syracuse.
"The teams that are scouting us really have to be prepared for anything because they don't know what to expect," junior tailback Tony Driver said. "We're doing some trick plays that Notre Dame doesn't normally use a lot. He [Rogers] has brought the tailback out of the backfield a lot more and is putting the ball in the air a lot."
Rogers spent the last eight seasons at Syracuse, and has tried to bring many elements of Syracuse's offense to Notre Dame this season. The challenge has been implementing a whole new set of plays with an inexperienced squad. In the early going, the Irish have been plagued by untimely turnovers which have contributed to the team's three losses.
"I came in with this plethora of things to do, and we were very limited at first," Rogers said. "Implementing what had accumulated over eight years is very difficult to get done in a finite period of time, especially with a young crew. We've had some difficulty in the translation."
Notre Dame had a lot of holes to fill on offense after losing a number of key veterans to graduation.
"If you look at our team player for player, we're very limited in terms of experience," Rogers said.
The team lost all-time leading rusher Autry Denson, receiver Malcolm Johnson, and four out of five offensive linemen Mike Rosenthal, Luke Petitgout, Tim Ridder and Jerry Wisne to the NFL.
Many of the Irish starters this year have little game experience, so one of Rogers' biggest problems has been getting young players to step up in a hurry. Irish who have been forced to leap into big roles this season include redshirt freshman Jordan Black at starting offensive tackle, senior offensive guard Jim Jones with three games of college experience before this season, and redshirt freshman Julius Jones at running back.
"I see us getting better by leaps and bounds," said Rogers, "but we turn the ball over at an alarming rate and we turn it over in the red zone."
Head coach Bob Davie expressed his confidence in Rogers. "He's brought a lot of diversity to our offense, not only from a formation standpoint, but also from a play-calling standpoint. It's unfortunate because we've kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times with turnovers, but I think everyone sees the long-range potential of what he's brought," he said.
Rogers is a 1974 graduate of William and Mary with 21 years of college coaching experience, nearly all on offense.
Under Rogers, Syracuse ranked third nationally last year in scoring, and was among the top 25 in the country in rushing and total offense. Syracuse also won the Big East championship the past two seasons.
His star player as a coach was quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb was the second overall pick in this year's NFL draft, and was named Big East offensive player of the year the past three seasons.
Although Notre Dame doesn't have the same experience at quarterback in Jarious Jackson and back-up Arnaz Battle, Rogers thinks the Irish quarterbacks have possibilities.
"Sometimes Jarious tries to do too much; he's got to let the game come to him. He's a great leader, though," Rogers said. "We've got to get Arnaz into the game sometimes for experience."
Senior Raki Nelson said Rogers has made the offense a lot more diverse, both by using a variety of plays and different players.
"Our passing game is better as far as throwing deep goes," said Nelson, a flanker. "As far as moving the ball, we're doing that. We've just got to find a way to score when we're in the red zone and get rid of the turnovers.
He's made a definite difference in our offense as far as big-play capability and passing downfield. We're doing a good job; we've just got to eliminate some mistakes."
In the first four games of the season, Notre Dame has averaged 26.5 points per game, four more than the teams it has played. It has gained 1598 total yards on offense, compared to 1496 by its opponents. However, its turnovers and poor coaching calls have left the Irish on the losing end of a 1-3 record.
One questionable offensive decision by Notre Dame so far was that of punting on a fourth-and-1 with just over three minutes left in a losing venture against Michigan State.
"Hindsight's 20-20," said Rogers.
Rogers replaced former Irish offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, who is working as an assistant coach in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens. Colletto received a lot of flak from fans who doubted his capabilities. It has yet to be seen if Rogers will satisfy the high expectations of Irish onlookers.
"We have the capability to make some big plays; unfortunately, we're making as many mistakes right now," Rogers said.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, September 30, 1999