NCF Nation: Ed Warinner
MIAMI -- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner huddled with his position group in a corner of the team's locker room following a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl.
Warinner's voice started to crack as he told the players what they'd meant to him and what they'd accomplished. Warinner wrapped it up by saying, "You all are champions in my heart."
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to settle for those kinds of fond memories from their supporters. They've won 24 games the past two seasons, but it's the "And-2" that will haunt them. As in, 24-2.
Those two losses came at the worst possible times, first in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State with a BCS title-game berth at stake, and then on the wrong end of a wild South Florida shootout. A program that went 12-0 the past two regular seasons managed to end up feeling disappointed at the end an otherwise magical run.
It's not hard to pinpoint why Ohio State fell short of earning a championship: a defense that literally limped to the finish line and a still-too-inconsistent passing game.
All of the pregame fears about Clemson's passing attack shredding the Buckeyes proved valid as the Tigers tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins abused a makeshift secondary. With star cornerback Bradley Roby sidelined by a knee injury and two players starting at their defensive backfield positions for the first time, Ohio State surrendered 378 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, while Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards.
Even when they applied solid coverage, the Buckeyes' corners and safeties found themselves almost helpless against the best receivers they'd faced in three years. At one point, Armani Reeves was called for pass interference and tipped the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bryant still caught the ball for a touchdown.
"I can’t get any closer than that," Reeves said. "That’s what happens when you play great players."
Then again, Ohio State's defense made a lot of people look great down the stretch this season, giving up averages of 38.3 points and 539 total yards (Clemson piled up 576) in its final three games. If there's any optimism to be found there, it's that six players who were either freshman or sophomores started on defense Friday, and the future for guys such as Joey Bosa, Jamal Marcus and Vonn Bell looks bright.
Despite the defensive problems, the Buckeyes still had plenty of chances to win the game. They somehow led at halftime even after yielding 362 yards in the first two quarters. They were up 29-20 and were getting the ball back late in the third quarter when Philly Brown muffed a punt return to give the Tigers new life. That would be the first of four second-half turnovers that would ultimately doom Ohio State, the next three coughed up by quarterback Braxton Miller.
No one could fault Miller's effort. He accounted for four touchdowns while absorbing a severe beating most of the night. He injured his shoulder early in the game. He lay on the turf for a few minutes after taking a late hit on a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller said he probably had a cracked rib to go along with his throbbing shoulder.
"That's probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in, as far as being hit-wise and being banged up," Miller said. "Probably the toughest one all year."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer rightly called Miller "a warrior" for his performance. But Miller also turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds and didn't see linebacker Stephone Anthony slide underneath a post route on the game-sealing interception near midfield. Miller was non-committal after the game about whether he'd go to the NFL or return to Columbus. Friday's game made it clear he still has a lot to work on in college as a quarterback, though he might want to save his body from more punishment with a nearly brand-new offensive line next season.
Miller had come through at the end of big games so many times before in his career that it was shocking to see him not do so against Michigan State and Clemson. Same goes for Meyer. Ohio State had made a habit out of choking out opponents in the fourth quarter in his tenure, and before Friday he was 4-0 in BCS games.
"That's what we train for," center Corey Linsley said. "We train to finish. It's definitely disappointing, because that was our M.O."
Ohio State was not far away from its championship goals this season. Another play or two against Michigan State, and maybe the Buckeyes are in Pasadena, Calif., right now getting ready to play Florida State, an admittedly frightening prospect given the tattered state of their defense. Friday's game went back and forth and could have ended differently if not for the untimely turnovers.
But a team's record tells the story. Ohio State won its first 12 games again this season. Then came the "And-2."
"Those were championship games," cornerback Doran Grant said. "And we didn’t win 'em. Plain and simple."
Carlos Hyde had the wrong idea about Urban Meyer's offense when Meyer came to Ohio State.
Like many others, Hyde couldn't get past the S-word -- spread. He envisioned five-wide formations, a hastened pace and a system tailored to track stars, not bruising ball-carriers north of 220 pounds like himself.
Hyde soon found out that he would have a home in Meyer's offense, as long as he earned the right to carry the ball. The scheme didn't simply tolerate his talents; it celebrated them.
Ohio State's offense isn't Oregon's or Baylor's or Arizona's or Auburn's. Aesthetically, the Buckeyes might be a spread team. But at their core, they're all about power.
"People see me back there and they see our offensive line back there, and they’re like, 'These are some big dudes, they've got a big running back,'" Hyde said. "This is not really a spread. It's more like a power team."
Need evidence? Study the second halves of Ohio State's past two wins against Northwestern and Iowa. After some sloppiness in the first 30 minutes of both contests, Ohio State methodically chipped away at the Wildcats and Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes racked up 142 rush yards and three touchdowns in the second half against Northwestern and 194 rush yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Iowa.
An offense with a knack for big plays -- Ohio State has 34 plays of 20 yards or longer this season -- had just one chunk play in each second half. Instead, the Buckeyes mounted long, sustained drives, swinging away with the Big Ten's best offensive line and a 235-pound hammer in Hyde. After running a meager 25 first-half plays against Iowa, Ohio State opened the second half with touchdown drives of 13, 11, 10 and 11 plays. Hyde's 1-yard scoring run early in the third quarter marked the first rushing touchdown Iowa had allowed all season. He tacked on a 19-yard scoring dash in the fourth quarter.
"Offensive linemen in general, after they look up at the scoreboard and see that you've won the game, the first question out of their mouths is how many yards did we rush for?" Buckeyes offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "Then it's, how many sacks did we give up? And then, where do we eat?"
The Buckeyes are feasting on opposing defenses to the tune of 279.6 rush yards per game, ahead of last year's pace (242.3 ypg), which ranked 10th nationally. Their run focus has helped older players recruited by the previous coaching staff transition to the current regime.From Woody Hayes to John Cooper to Jim Tressel, Ohio State's identity has been closely tied to the power run game. It remains that way under Meyer, despite his ties to the spread.
"That's Ohio State," Hyde said. "When Beanie Wells, Eddie George, Archie Griffin and all the great running backs who came through here, that's what Ohio State has been: traditional, a power I offense. That's basically what this spread offense still is, it’s power.
"That’s pretty cool that the tradition is still going."
The only prerequisites for a spread offense, according to Warinner, are at least three detached wide receivers and the shotgun formation. Other than that, the canvas is blank. Some teams will spread out five receivers and throw 80 passes per game; others will run the ball 60 times.
"A lot like the West Coast offense, there’s many different versions," Meyer said. "I have our version of the spread offense, which is a very physical, power run offense. And it's always really been that way. At Utah, we had the bigger backs. At Florida, the biggest back we had was Tim [Tebow], and Tim became our power guy to offset and complement the speed that we had in the backfield. Here, our speed guy is really our quarterback [Braxton Miller] and some other skilled athletes, and we've got the big, power backs."
When Meyer coached Utah to an undefeated season in 2004, he leaned on two bigger backs in Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther. The 6-3, 235-pound Tebow rushed for 2,478 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final three seasons as Florida's starting quarterback.
Despite his track record in the power run, Meyer never has produced a 1,000-yard rusher, a fact often used against him on the recruiting trail.
"You hear it, but you just have to be armed and ready to go," he said. "And then they see the yards per carry, they see the opportunities you get."
Hyde feels fully prepared for the NFL, not only as a runner but as a pass blocker. Warinner notes that Ohio State's top three run plays are often called on Sundays, and that Meyer's system has produced plenty of pro linemen.
Four of Meyer's linemen at Florida were selected the 2010 or 2011 NFL drafts, including first-rounders in the Pouncey brothers (Maurkice and Mike). Ohio State has had a surprisingly low number of linemen drafted the past five years but produced a seventh-rounder this past April in tackle Reid Fragel, a converted tight end. Warinner expects all four returning starters from last year's line to be drafted.
"We feel that our offense is as close to a pro spread as can be," Warinner said. "So when you watch people play on Sundays, how they run the ball and how they protect, those things have a lot of carryover to what we do. Most players at this level want to play at that level. Their learning curve is very small leaving Oho State with what we do.
"We sell that pretty hard in recruiting, and it's factual. Plus, it wins games."
Ohio State has won 19 straight, the nation's longest win streak. If the power surge continues, the Buckeyes could be playing for a crystal football Jan. 7 in Pasadena.
It's rare when a defensive line coach steps on the practice field and doesn't see a single starter from the previous season. How rare? According to Ohio State's athletics communications staff, the Buckeyes haven't had a complete overhaul of their starting defensive line since the 1985 season, when all three top spots had to be filled. Although Ohio State ended up starting four new linemen in 1998, it had a returning starter from 1997 (end Matt LaVrar) on the roster.
All four starters from the 2012 team -- ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel -- have moved on. The effort to replace them is arguably Ohio State's top offseason story line, as the Buckeyes could be a defensive line away from contending for a national title in 2013.
Vrabel is stressing three areas for the linemen this spring -- attitude, effort and toughness. If all three are achieved, Vrabel thinks the players can "let their God-given ability to take over."
The Buckeyes' linemen boast plenty of ability. Ohio State had arguably the nation's top defensive-line haul in the 2012 recruiting class, signing four ESPN 150 defensive linemen, three of whom -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt -- saw the field as true freshmen. More help is on the way from the 2013 class with standouts like tackle Joey Bosa, an ESPN 150 selection. Two incoming line recruits, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, enrolled early and are participating in spring ball.
But the group has only nine combined career starts, five from junior end J.T. Moore. Its career tackles leader, junior tackle Michael Bennett, has a whopping 28 stops in 21 games.
"The guys we've got have a little bit of experience with Adolphus and Noah and Tommy," Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Steve Miller, those guys have been here, contributing and giving us some leadership. And Tracy and Tyquan are just trying to figure their way through this thing.
"We're learning every day."
Although Ohio State's defensive line undoubtedly will be younger, Vrabel also thinks it will be faster with players like Spence and Washington, who finished third on the team with three sacks in 2012. Again, talent isn't a problem, but the line needs leadership after losing two-time captain John Simon.
Head coach Urban Meyer challenged several of the older linemen at the start of the spring, saying, "Steve Miller's been here for a while. It's time to go play. Chris Carter, how long has he been here? At some point you can't redshirt anymore." At the very least, Ohio State needs the veterans to fill out the line rotation.
Ideally, they can take the reins.
"No one's going to replace what John Simon provided for this program," Vrabel said. "We can only hope that we find guys who are willing to lead, be the same person every day, be competitive, play with some toughness and play with some effort. We'll have guys step up."
Vrabel should get an accurate gauge on his group this spring because of the men they'll be lining up against. What the Buckeyes lack in defensive-line experience, they make up for on their offensive line, which returns four starters with 81 combined career starts.
"If we can compete against them," Vrabel said, "we feel like we're going to be OK."
Spence evidently has been competing well, impressing Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner with his edge-rushing speed.
Vrabel's return to his alma mater in 2011 generated tremendous excitement, and he made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. But his coaching skills will be under the microscope as he works with a group that, for now, is Ohio State's biggest question mark.
"I'm a young coach, I'm new to this, so every day is a challenge," he said. "I enjoy it, I embrace the challenge and try to do my best."
Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who served as the Irish's offensive line coach and run game coordinator last season, is also a nominee. The Irish and the Buckeyes are the nation's only two unbeaten teams.
Five finalists for the award will be announced Monday, and the winner will be announced Dec. 4.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis won the award last year.
Most of this information has been publicized in team-by-team form, but it's interesting to examine from a league-wide perspective. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are the league's highest-paid assistants, both earning $750,000. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges ($550,000) is next, followed by Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($500,000), who recently received a raise that more than doubled his previous salary ($233,000).
Several of the Big Ten's highest-paid assistants from 2011 -- Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning -- since have left the league for other jobs.
Here are the totals paid for assistants among the 10 schools reporting salaries:
1. Ohio State -- $3.22 million
2. Michigan -- $2.755 million
3. Illinois -- $2.314 million
4. Michigan State -- $2.18 million
5. Iowa -- $2.16 million
6. Nebraska -- $2.13 million
7. Wisconsin -- $1.973 million
8. Indiana -- $1.96 million
9. Minnesota -- $1.745 million
10. Purdue -- $1.61 million
When factoring in the head coach salaries, the rankings look like this:
1. Ohio State -- $7.22 million
2. Iowa -- $6.035 million
3. Michigan -- $6.009 million
4. Nebraska -- $4.905 million
5. Wisconsin -- $4.571 million
6. Michigan State -- $4.098 million
7. Illinois -- $3.914 million
8. Minnesota -- $3.445 million
9. Indiana -- $3.22 million
10. Purdue -- $2.535 million
The Big Ten had 40 overall coaching changes during the past offseason (head coach and assistant). Here are the highest-paid new assistants among the programs reporting salaries (not including assistants promoted internally).
1. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers -- $450,000
2. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman -- $420,000
T-3. Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks -- $400,000
T-3. Illinois co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales -- $400,000
T-3. Illinois co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty -- $400,000
6. Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warinner -- $350,000
7. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis -- $300,000
8. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada -- $265,000
T-9. Purdue defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar -- $250,000
T-9. Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell -- $250,000
- It's no surprise Ohio State paid top dollar for head coach Urban Meyer, but the school also has increased its commitment for assistant coaches. Former coach Jim Tressel had a fairly anonymous staff for a big-time program, and while there were good coaches on it, you knew the overall financial commitment would need to be increased. The Buckeyes have three assistants making more than $400,000. Interestingly enough, Illinois is the only other Big Ten squad listed here with three aides at the $400,000 mark.
- As Rexrode points out in his post, Michigan State's staff was a major bargain before the recent raise. The Spartans paid approximately $1.6 million for a staff that helped them to 21 wins in the past two seasons. The pay increases put Michigan State fourth in the Big Ten in assistant coach pay, which sounds about right.
- Illinois' athletic director transition from Ron Guenther to Mike Thomas didn't change the school's approach toward rewarding assistants. Guenther allowed former coach Ron Zook to open the coffers after a disappointing 2009 season and land high-priced coordinators (Petrino and Koenning). While new Illini head coach Tim Beckman ranks eighth in the league in salary, he was allowed to spend a lot for his staff, which includes just one holdover (D-line coach Keith Gilmore, who earns $200,000). It's why Illinois ranks third in the league in assistant coach pay.
- Wisconsin's staff turnover after the Rose Bowl resulted in lower overall compensation, which isn't a huge shock because of Chryst's departure. It's a bit surprising that Badgers coordinators Chris Ash (holdover from staff) and Matt Canada (new addition) are near the bottom of the league in coordinator pay. Wisconsin did spent a good amount for new offensive line coach Mike Markuson ($255,000).
- Some Nebraska fans I've heard from complain that Bo Pelini's staff lacks prestige, given the program's tradition and resources. The Huskers have a mostly young staff that ranks in the middle of the league in compensation. Pelini lured new secondary coach Terry Joseph for $230,000, while new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski made the move from Iowa and will earn $195,000. Kaczenski is a bargain in my view.
- Anyone else find it odd that Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, promoted during the winter from secondary coach, makes $1,000 more than new offensive coordinator Greg Davis? While it's nice for Iowa to reward Parker's loyalty as a position coach, the $1,000 difference seems a little trivial, especially since Davis has been a coordinator for decades.
- Purdue pays less for assistant coaches than the nine other Big Ten schools reporting information here. Penn State obviously doesn't rank at the bottom in paying assistants, and I've been told Northwestern doesn't, either. Factoring in head coach Danny Hope's salary, and Purdue's overall coach compensation is significantly lower than others, including its arch-rival Indiana. Boilers fans, how do you feel about this?
Bill Sheridan, who coached the Irish defensive backs in 2001, has rounded out the Buckeyes' staff and will be their new secondary coach, according to multiple reports.
The 53-year-old Sheridan has also coached at Michigan, Michigan State, the New York Giants (2005-09) and the Miami Dolphins (2010-11).
Former Irish assistants Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running game coordinator) were hired away from Notre Dame by Meyer this offseason. They will coach the tight ends/fullbacks and the offensive line, respectively.
Warinner will coordinate the running game as the team's co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. Hinton will be the tight ends and fullbacks coach.
"I was very pleased with the coaches already in place on this staff," Meyer said in a statement, "and now we’ve gotten even better with the additions of Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton. Both are excellent coaches who bring a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to our staff."
Warinner had served as the Irish's offensive line coach and running game coordinator. Hinton was the team's running backs coach.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had promoted former safeties coach Chuck Martin, not Warinner, to offensive coordinator when Charley Molnar left the post to become head coach at Massachusetts. Warinner had served as Kansas' offensive coordinator for three seasons before joining the Irish.
"I really wanted to hire a coach with coordinator experience," Meyer said. "That was very important to me. Ed has that experience. His offenses at Kansas were not only impressive, but they were some of the top offenses in the country."
Hinton had served as a graduate assistant with Meyer under former Buckeyes coach Earl Bruce in 1986, and his named had been linked to Meyer's staff the minute Meyer was hired by the Buckeyes, though he had previously denied any interest.
"Tim is an awesome coach," Meyer said. "He and I worked together on the Ohio State staff in 1986, but what I am most impressed with is his time spent as a high school coach in Ohio. He had some outstanding teams at Harding, and his extensive experiences coaching in the state were crucial in my desire to want him on our staff."
"I have always felt it would be an honor to have an opportunity to coach for and to represent Ohio State," Hinton said in a statement. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to work with great people and great coaches at such a wonderful place."
Both assistants are Ohio natives -- Warinner from Strasburg; Hinton from Amanda.
"I’ve always strived to coach in positions where I have a lot of responsibility," Warinner said in a statement. "Serving as a coordinator goes beyond just coaching what my guys are doing. It is a thought process of attacking and moving the ball, and strategies and reading plays. There is a big picture as a coordinator that I am into and really enjoy, and it’s a position from where I think I can make a significant contribution to the success of a team."
1. Tyler Eifert is back. This is the best news for Notre Dame in the wake of its 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. Eifert was the Irish's second-leading receiver in 2011, will be the key to the passing attack next season and joins linebacker Manti Te'o in passing on a potentially high NFL draft selection to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
2. There are still staff uncertainties. Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running gamer coordinator) are gone, not long after Charley Molnar took over head-coaching duties at Massachusetts. Offensive intern Scott Booker is now a full-time staff member, though his position has yet to be announced. Chuck Martin has moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is now an assistant head coach. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks is now a co-defensive coordinator. Everyone has received a contract extension as well, as Brian Kelly received a two-year bump through 2016 on Tuesday. There are still two open positions on staff, however.
3. New face in the backfield. Former USC running back Amir Carlisle is transferring to Notre Dame. The freshman will have to sit out the 2012 season under NCAA rules after a first year with the Trojans that saw him tally 118 rushing yards on 19 carries and 41 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
"While Coach Kelly and I are focused on the additional work that must be done to reach our goals, I am very pleased with the progress we have made during the past two years," Notre Dame vice president and athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. "Our football team's performance on the field, in the classroom, and in the community reflect Coach Kelly's commitment to building a program that will be able to sustain success in the long run, and to doing so in a manner consistent with Notre Dame's values and tradition."
The Irish have gone 8-5 in each of Kelly's first two seasons at Notre Dame. They finished this season with an 18-14 loss to Florida State on Dec. 29 in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Notre Dame announced contract extensions Jan. 2 for its six returning assistant coaches.
"I want to thank [school president] Father [John] Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick for their unwavering support of me the last two years," Kelly said in a statement. "My family and I are truly blessed to be at Notre Dame and we are excited about what the future holds for the Fighting Irish football team. I also want to thank Father John and Jack for the commitment they made to the football program last week by renewing the contracts of our assistant coaches. I think we have one of the finest coaching staffs in the country at Notre Dame, and the confidence our administration has shown in us is truly appreciated."
Assistants Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running game coordinator) left the program last week. Scott Booker was promoted from offensive intern to full-time assistant, though his duties have not yet been announced.
Notre Dame has yet to announce any new hires.
"The quality of the assistant coaches that Coach Kelly has brought to Notre Dame is evident both in their performance and the interest that other schools have shown in them since the end of the regular season" Swarbrick said in a statement. "Building on the foundation we have now created and maintaining continuity is critical to the future success of our football program, and that is why we have secured the continued service of our football staff."
Kelly's extension should momentarily quell whatever premature concerns there might be about his job security two years in and help form an image of stability moving forward. Of course, Kelly's predecessor, Charlie Weis, received a 10-year extension just seven games into his Notre Dame career and was let go after season five.
At least it seemed to Gray that was how he escaped his defender. Then, the running back's brief end-zone celebration was interrupted by center Braxston Cave.
"He knocked the guy off of me actually and I didn't even realize it until I watched the film," Gray said of Cave. "And he said something to me in the end zone about it and I didn't know what he was talking about.
Perhaps Cave's clobbering block of Lucas had the Notre Dame offensive line so eager to get back to the line of scrimmage every play Saturday night. The Fighting Irish's 287 rushing yards may have had something to do with that as well.
Regardless, the camaraderie of the rushing attack has been at a high through five games this season, with Notre Dame averaging more than 179 yards per game on the ground.
"It's good, it's a confident group right now," offensive line coach and running game coordinator Ed Warinner said. "They're playing hard. They've been together, they like each other, we have good chemistry and so they know that if they do their job good things happen.
"So those guys are getting some nice creases and [it's] just kind of infectious. It just gets going. And moving the ball and being physical is why they play football. That part of it is fun for them and they're enjoying it."
Fun is exactly how Gray described going back to the sideline after each possession Saturday. Excluding a knee to end the first half, only one of the Irish's first nine possessions at Purdue ended with a punt.
Gray finished with 94 yards on 15 carries. Cierre Wood rushed for 191 yards on 20 carries.
"Whenever we go to the sideline during a media timeout or something like that, we were just communicating with each other, telling each other what we saw, and they were like, 'Run behind me. Do this. Do that,'" Gray recalled. "And when you get that from your offensive line, it's refreshing. When they wanna run it and they wanna continue to be physical up front, it was just, they were putting on a lot of positive energy and just being physical up front."
Still, Gray saw plenty of room for improvement, namely in not leaving any more yards out on the field. The senior also hopes to hold up his and Wood's preseason promise of not allowing a sack all season.
The latter area is something running backs coach Tim Hinton believes will go largely unnoticed until a running back actually does miss a crucial block.
Avoiding that is one big challenge for a rushing attack that thus far has exceeded everyone's expectations but its own. Another is simply maintaining the edge that has helped the Irish set the bar so high to begin with.
"The biggest thing right now is to do it every week and have that consistency to run physical, and there will be games where they may not have the highs, but we can't ever have the real lows," Hinton said. "We gotta have a consistent approach to our practice, a consistent approach to how we go about our day and then every game we have to bring a physical mentality and a drive and a relentlessness. We're mad if we got tackled; even if it was a 20-yard gain, we're mad we didn't get 21.
"And I keep trying to instill that that every play: fall forward and try to get one more, try to get two more. And you get that mentality that, 'Listen, I got a little more in me. I got a little more in me,' and that's what we're working for every day. We gotta continue to bring that consistently and I'm telling them every day. And I had a long talk with them [Tuesday]: 'You gotta be able to manage success, because you get a lot of media at Notre Dame and you better manage success.'"
"The Big Ten champions are coming to town," Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "They're a smash-mouth team, pride themselves on knocking people around, and if you're a tough guy and you see yourself as a big guy and tough guy, well then you're getting ready for that game and you're mentally preparing for that style of battle."
In other words, the Irish know what they're getting, know what they need do and know they just have to go out and do it.
"They're the same team every year," center Braxston Cave said. "They're big, they're physical and that's their game -- they're going to try to come in and out-physical you. And this isn't a team you want to out-physical, and we're planning on proving that on Saturday."
The Irish have shown a steady run game themselves this year, with Cierre Wood surpassing the 100-yard mark in each game and the team rushing for 315 yards overall.
But the offense's fourth-quarter performance Saturday in which it went 0-for-3 in third-down situations of three yards or fewer itches at the linemen.
"Definitely," Cave said, "because you'd like to go man-on-man and just out-physical the other team, but when you get those extra guys in there it becomes maybe one against two, and that's really not in your favor sometimes."
Running game coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner believes the ground game has been much more efficient in the second season under this staff, short-yardage plays excluded.
That's where execution comes into play, and the Irish's ability in those situations will determine whether the run game can ultimately be deemed successful or not.
"Production is what you look for, and that doesn't necessarily mean the total number of yards," guard Trevor Robinson said. "It means being efficient when you need to. Just like being a balanced offense doesn't mean you run the ball and pass the ball the same amount of times; it means you do them efficiently when you need to."
As the Irish have learned through two weeks, turnovers and blown assignments can be costly, something that takes on even greater meaning this week against a sound team like MSU.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly succeeded Mark Dantonio as head coach at Cincinnati, and he knows the trademarks of a Dantonio-coached team.
"He demands discipline, attention to detail," Kelly said of the MSU coach. "He demands all those things on a day-to-day basis, a toughness to his football team. He wants them mentally and physically tough, and that's what you've got to be to be a Big Ten champ like they were last year. I know Mark does a great job in attention to those specific areas."
"You think all we had to do was this ..."
"But when I was sitting there watching the field goal, it took me until the play was over to realize they're in a fake, because I was zoned in on them missing the field goal. I was picturing that in my mind.
"It is what it is. It's a gutsy play call and it worked out for them."
For the Fighting Irish, a matchup with Michigan State this Saturday serves as a harsh reminder of the way the Spartans utilized a play out of a video game to record a home victory last season.
The situation: Overtime, down 31-28 and facing a fourth-and-14 and from the Irish 29, MSU trotted out its field goal unit, seemingly hoping to force a second overtime.
"I was getting ready, me and Armando [Allen] were sitting right next to each other," Jonas Gray recalled, "and we were sitting and going over what we thought the defense was doing."
But not even the best-prepared unit could have predicted punter, holder and former high school quarterback Aaron Bates taking the snap, hopping to his feet and hitting tight end Charlie Gantt with a perfect throw for a game-winning touchdown, securing a 34-31 Spartans win and making the play call, "Little Giants," a smashing success.
"We were on the sideline just watching, and it was unbelievable," Braxston Cave said. "I couldn't believe it just happened. It did. It took some time. Even walking back into the tunnel I couldn't believe it just happened. I still can remember the feeling of walking off the field after that play."
Added head coach Brian Kelly: "I think the down and distance was a bit of a surprise. We know in that situation, regardless of it, we had to defend it better. But no, I thought it was a great call. It worked."
Offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Ed Warinner called the ending "devastating." Warinner coached the Spartans' linebackers and secondary from 1985-86, when he met his wife, Mary Beth.
She, of course, was working in the school's football office. And, of course, is from a family full of MSU graduates.
"I always go back there, there are so many people there that I still know that I worked with that are part of the shaping of my career and the support mechanisms," Warinner said. "Mark Dantonio and I coached together at the University of Akron, we actually lived together for six months, so we're very close and I know other guys on that staff very well as well.
"So it's one of those things."
Gray drew parallels to that loss and the one Notre Dame is currently rebounding from, a 35-31 loss to Michigan that saw three lead changes in the final 72 seconds.
But Kelly's 24-hour rule couldn't prevent Gray from running into the fake field goal while randomly turning on the television during the offseason.
"You pretty much take the reaction you had before," Gray said. "Still surprised, and realizing how close we were and just a guy here, there and they were able to get that play. You just realize how close you are and how you don't ever wanna be put in that position again."
Hours later, Dantonio, the Spartans' head coach, suffered a mild heart attack. He returned to coaching in the press box three weeks later at Michigan, then to the field two weeks after that at Northwestern.
The Spartans won that game thanks in large part to a fourth-quarter fake-punt call, appropriately titled "Mousetrap."
MSU finished the regular season 11-1 and in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title, and it now has the bull's-eye on its back against a 0-2 Irish squad all-too-familiar with last-second defeats.
"Very shocking," Cave said. "It was the last thing I expected, and it's disappointing. Definitely still got that bad taste in our mouth from that, and to see the highlight over and over when they show the top plays from last year, makes you sick to your stomach.
"And it's definitely something we haven't forgot about, and it's a little extra motivation going into this week."
Here's a roundup of what's been happening the last few days:
The Hoosiers on Friday announced the hiring of Brandon Shelby as cornerbacks coach. Shelby, who previously held the same position at Louisiana-Monroe, starred as a defensive back at Oklahoma during IU coach Kevin Wilson's time there and also served as a Sooners' defensive assistant in 2006. Shelby replaces Corey Raymond, who left Indiana to take a position at Nebraska. Although Nebraska hasn't made an official announcement about Raymond, he's expected to replace secondary coach Marvin Sanders, who resigned Thursday.
Indiana also last week hired Nebraska defensive assistant Brett Diersen as defensive tackles coach and Air Force running backs coach Jemal Singleton to the same position. Diersen replaces Jerry Montgomery, who Wilson said left for a position at Michigan.
These appointments complete Wilson's staff for 2011.
So far, Sanders' resignation is the only official announcement Bo Pelini has made about his staff. But Wilson said Raymond is on his way to Lincoln, and all signs point to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and receivers coach Ted Gilmore being on their way out. Nebraska's offensive production dipped toward the end of the 2010 season, and the Huskers' receivers had an up-and-down year.
Multiple media reports from Nebraska state that Pelini might be targeting Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Huskers' star quarterback, and Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner as replacements. Warinner served as Kansas' offensive coordinator from 2007-09 and spent time in the Big Ten as Illinois' offensive line coach and run game coordinator from 2005-06.
The interesting part of this is Pelini reportedly will hand over play-calling duties to running backs coach Tim Beck. The Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald both report that Frost might not leave Oregon unless it's for a job as a play-caller elsewhere.
Pelini seems to be reshaping his staff before Nebraska's jump to the Big Ten. It will be fascinating to see how things play out in Lincoln.
Coach Brady Hoke will finalize his staff Monday and announce the defensive assistants to join coordinator Greg Mattison.
Montgomery is on his way to Ann Arbor, and he'll reportedly be joined by Akron defensive coordinator Curt Mallory on the Michigan staff. Expect Mallory to coach the Wolverines' secondary, while Montgomery will work with the defensive line. Mallory played at Michigan and has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest, serving as Illinois' secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator from 2007-09. Montgomery played at Iowa and most recently served as Wyoming's defensive line coach.
After promoting Dan Roushar to offensive coordinator last week, Mark Dantonio reportedly has found the final member of his staff.
According to The (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun, Central Michigan receivers coach Terry Samuel has left to take the same position on Michigan State's staff. Samuel, who played wide receiver at Purdue, worked his way up through the FCS ranks before joining former Dantonio assistant Dan Enos at Central Michigan last year.
He'll coach the position group that previous Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell oversaw. Samuel inherits a deep and talented receiving corps led by B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.
The Badgers lost a key assistant over the weekend as running backs coach John Settle departed for the same position with the Carolina Panthers. Settle did an outstanding job with Wisconsin's running backs, helping to mold standout players like P.J. Hill, John Clay, James White and Montee Ball.
Although Wisconsin always recruits talented backs, Settle leaves some big shoes to fill. It will be interesting to see who coach Bret Bielema hires as his replacement.
Akron fired former coach J.D. Brookhart at the end of the regular season after the Zips finished 3-9 and sixth in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
Warinner began his career at Akron in 1984, when he served one season as the running backs coach before leaving for Michigan State. Warinner also coached at Army, Air Force and Illinois.
Warinner, who just completed his fifth season at Kansas, was not retained as one of three interim coaches from former coach Mark Mangino’s staff. Mangino resigned last week.
In the past three seasons under Warinner, Kansas has produced its top three passing and top three total offensive seasons in school history. This season, it finished the year ranked seventh in the NCAA in passing offense (310.3 yards per game) and 25th in total offense (422.42).
Warinner was one of three finalists for the American Football Coaches Association's National Assistant Coach of the Year Award this past season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
In only two seasons, Dezmon Briscoe has developed into one of the most explosive players in Kansas football history.
Now, if the Jayhawks could be absolutely sure he'll be playing for them this fall.
Earlier this spring, Kansas coach Mark Mangino suspended Briscoe for all of their practices so far for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He still isn't back yet heading into the Jayhawks' spring game Saturday afternoon.
It's hard to imagine the Jayhawks being able to contend for the North Division championship if Briscoe isn't a big part. It would be hard to fathom if Briscoe doesn't fulfill whatever demands that Mangino has for him to rejoin the team.
Player: Dezmon Briscoe
Position: Wide receiver/kick returner
Vitals: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds; Jr.; Dallas (Cedar Hill)
Why he was picked: Briscoe blossomed into one of the Big 12's most explosive players last season, snagging 92 passes for team-high totals for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdown receptions. He also set the school's single-game record with 269 receiving yards against Oklahoma - a total that was the nation's single-game high last season for FBS teams. He also and tied the single-game record with 14 catches in the Jayhawks' Insight Bowl triumph over Minnesota.
Briscoe already has broken the school career mark for touchdown receptions after only two seasons. And he showed flashes of being able to counteract one of Kansas' biggest weaknesses when he produced 195 yards in kickoff returns in Kansas' final regular-season game to spark the upset over Missouri.
What 2009 will hold: First, he's got to get back in Mangino's good graces. But if he does that, it's not unimaginable that Briscoe could develop into one of the nation's most explosive players. Considering he has another season of experience in coordinator Ed Warinner's offense and Todd Reesing back throwing passes, it wouldn't be out of the question that Briscoe could grab more than 100 passes and produce 1,600 receiving yards. And if he continues his late-season success running back kicks, he might emerge as one of the biggest keys in the Jayhawks' Big 12 title hopes.
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp