Monday, September 29, 2008

Purdue Duds and Studs

The economy may be tanking right now, but stock in the Notre Dame football team looks like its on the rise.


Pass Rush: As long as I've been writing the Duds and Studs article, I've never found it too hard to identify at least a few negatives out of a win, but this week showed a team that played just about as cohesively and efficiently as you can hope for coming off of the sloppy game against Michigan State. Sure Duval had another drop and Walker missed another field goal, but Kamara nearly hauled in a great TD catch (which I'm told was about as close to being an actual touchdown as Grimes' catch against Stanford last year), and Walker was 5/5 on PATs and knocked in his first field goal of the year (41 yards), so even those players showed improvement. Thus, I'm forced to focus only on one 'Dud' this week, which is our pass rush. Against a team like Purdue that is going to throw the ball as much as possible (55 attempts by Painter), Brown, Tentuta, and Co. should have had a grand time teeing off at the snap of the ball, but the Irish were still void of a sack. Hopefully this unit can also improve heading into next week against a Stanford team with a below average offensive line (...but a better conference record than USC).

Class of 2011 Early Admits: Jimmy Clausen put together his best game of the year, throwing for 275 yards and 3 TDs, but more importantly, JC was able to avoid turning the ball over. The Irish's ability to hold onto the ball all game was a big reason that we won. Armando Allen did his best to prove me and everyone else wrong by running all over the Boilermakers on Saturday; the 7.9 yards per carry and long run of 21 yards finally gave fans hope that Allen may finally be reaching the game speed that has been absent since his junior year in high school. Lastly, the third and last early enrollee of their class, Gary Gray, played a solid game in the secondary. Especially with Walls missing this year, Gray stepping up has helped the Irish more than he has been given credit for.
Other Young DBs: Another member of the sophomore class, Harrison Smith, also had a great day in the defensive secondary. With his speed an athleticism at the linebacker position, Smith gives Brown an nice Ace in the Hole to bring in against pass happy teams like Purdue and it was refreshing to see him take advantage of the opportunity. Freshman R.J. Blanton also provided the play of the game, housing a Curtis Painter INT for 47 yards to put the Irish on the board.

O-Line: After a slight hiccup last week, the much improved offensive line is back on the good side. The 5.0 yards per carry and 1 sack are pretty good numbers, but what I liked best was the 3/4 on fourth down conversions, two of which came on short yardage smash mouth runs.
WRs: Weis said after the MSU game that holding Grimes out would pay visible dividends against Purdue, and it looks like Charlie was right. Grimes looked good out of the slot, especially on his 31 yard 4th down TD reception. Floyd has been so impressive lately that Rakes has called an emergency meeting to find him a good nickname, and Tate continues to show diversity and consistency with his routes, hauling in his 3rd TD of the year on top of a 5 reception performance. Wack stat courtesy of the Observer: Golden's 367 receiving yards are the most through 4 games since Tom Gatewood in 1970. Freshman Kyle "call me Dallas" Rudolph also got into the mix on an excellent play action TD catch.

Other thoughts: Some people have knocked ND's recent recruiting success with complaints that the young talent hasn't transferred to the field. Looking at the plethora of young studs, hopefully this argument can be proven false in the next few games. After such a strong win against Purdue, I really hope the Irish don't suffer a letdown against Stanford this weekend. Toby Gerhart is a poor man's Jevon Ringer, and if ND isn't careful, he could have a Ringer-like day.

Until then, Go Irish!

Monday, September 22, 2008

MSU Duds and Studs

Diving right in...

Duval Kamara: Terrible route running almost made me put him on this list for the Michigan game, but a touchdown reception saved him. By all means, Kamara should be a go-to receiver this year. His height, speed, and strength combine to create what should be a huge mismatch problem for all secondaries, but poor route running, poor execution, and miscommunication have been the theme for his first three games. Clausen got credited for the two picks against MSU, but one of them came from Duval failing to out-jump a shorter DB on a risky, but in my opinion a pretty well thrown ball, and the other resulted from him failing to shorten his route to adjust to the corner blitz. Keeping that in mind, the line becomes blurred between who should have the INTs in their stat line.
Haywood/Weis/Latina: I know that all of these coaches break down countless hours of film (on our team as well as opponent's teams). I also know that these coaches also spend a good deal of time in person with the offensive line in practice. So how can coaches that know their personnel so well perceive such a glaring weakness (run blocking) as a strength? How can the offensive line get dominated play after play on run blocks, but the coaches continue to call exclusively running plays? Notre Dame's runningbacks picked up 30 yards on 15 carries during the game. Either the coaches need to adjust their blocking schemes, magically find much better run blockers, or admit that Notre Dame will not be a 'power running team' in 2008 and begin using the pass to set up the run.SBPD: Raiding nearly all student frequented bars to make sure bar tenders aren't serving underage? Fine by me. Allocating 5+ units for this task? Questionable, but still explainable. Taking the time to arrest (as in taking to jail, not ticketing) 40 students for drinking at a house party? Unless the students were rioting against the police, I find this one hard to explain. See JY's write up for more.
Brandon Walker: 0-3 in attempted field goals this year. Sure the team has had some problems with long snapping consistency. I don't care. My interhall football team was able to scrap together a field goal unit minutes before our game, and guess what? The one field goal we attempted was from about 40 yards out, one of our offensive linemen was kicking, and he missed... but I swear to you it was closer than Walker's was.


Tate/Floyd: No surprise here. These receivers have played their tails off all season. If other players could break a tackle like Tate did on his 3rd and 17 reception, I would like our chances much more this year. Floyd, despite his fumble, makes the list because he gave the extra effort on his TD reception that Duval should have given on his INT non-reception. The pair combined for 169 of the team's 242 receiving yards (70%), and Tate added a run of 24 yards. If that wasn't enough, MSU kicked away from Tate the entire game, which either says a lot about Tate, or very little about Allen.
Brian Smith: Another player who seems very comfortable in the Studs column, Smith played another solid game at linebacker, stripping Ringer for the only MSU turnover of the day.

Ethan Johnson: It looks like Notre Dame has found at least one freshman to contribute on the D-Line. Johnson looked at worst capable and at best disruptive during the game, logging two pass deflections from the defensive end position.

3rd Down Offense: The Irish entered the contest having converted only 6/24 (split evenly against Mich and SDSU) times on third down, but were able to perform considerably better Saturday, picking up the first 6 times in 13 chances. This stat was very encouraging, and shows that our offense isn't trying to keep the defense on the field the entire game.

Other Notes: Clausen played pretty well, completing 24 passes for 242 yards, but I would like to see a little more variety in his passing tree (i.e. less Grossman-esque fly routes). It still confuses me when the coaches put Allen in at RB when so far this season Hughes and Aldridge, while they haven't been great, have both been better than #5. I know that Yeatman probably shouldn't have been out drinking considering that a.) he just lost a winnable football game, and b.) that he is on probation, but keep in mind that the kid was just at a house party. Also, I haven't seen any reports about how much the kids had been drinking, so don't accuse him of throwing back a case when he could have been drinking much less. Otherwise, let's keep the home winning streak rolling.

Go Irish!

Crazy Weekend On and Off the Field

With the first few weeks of the semester behind us, things were bound for a change this weekend. Tests started around this time for students on campus, the football team began the meat of its season against opponents with functional offenses, and the Notre Dame community gots raided Saturday nite. As I'm sure you all have heard, junior Will Yeatman and freshman Mike Golic Jr. were arrested on Saturday nite while at an off campus party held at a lacrosse house. This is both an isolated incident and a recurring one in my time at Notre Dame, and I want to set the record straight about what is going on, what has happened in the past, and what can be done about it. Pops and I took time away from our studies last nite to read up on news reports and message boards, as well as discussing our experiences with this matter.

Reports are still coming in about what happened (including the alleged use of the K-9 unit), but this is what we know so far... there was a party at a lacrosse house, at around 2:30, a group of students were outside of the house waiting for a cab when multiple police cars came to the scene and arrested 41 underage students. It is not exactly known if there was a specific complaint or call which brought about the activity, or how the police entered the home. Multiple authorities were on the scene including SBPD, and state excise police. In a related story, a large number of the popular south bend bars and nightclubs were raided by state excise police searching for underage drinkers. These are facts reported through the news sources.

This is my personal experience with the Saturday nite activities... a few friends and I went to CJ's bar and grill at around 11:30 after everyone returned from the MSU game, immediately there were rumblings that a number of other bars have already been raided that night and if underage we should leave. At this time, a number of the football players came into the bar as normally does on the weekends at CJs. Tensions calmed down until, the bartender went around to every group in the bar and told anybody who is underage or with anyone underage should leave. Soon after, the aforementioned group of football players quickly left even though they were of age, as far as we could see. While in the parking lot calling a cab, I saw a marked NDSP police car roll into the parking lot with its lights off, pause for 30 seconds and then pull out towards campus waiting awhile before turning its headlights on. A number of our group then went over to the Linebacker. While waiting in line to get in, 3 black vans and a number of marked cars rolled in front of the bar. Excise police jumped out of the vans in a manner which was described, "as if a swat team was entering a bank robbery". Everyone's ID was checked and one student was arrested. At the Michigan game, local law enforcement promised to step up efforts to curb underage drinking and unruly behavior at tailgates before the game. Also that nite, off-campus students were warned from their renters not to have parties at nite because police were searching to shut them down and ticket those involved.

There is always a silent agreement between local police and students in a college town. Most students understand that when the cops come, it means to end the party, get everyone inside who you want to, make those you dont get a cab, turn down the music, and make sure they dont come again. If the cops are brought back a second time, it is understandable how there would be trouble. The cops want students to have a good time, but all within reason. If someone acts up, talks back, or makes themselves known as visibly drunk, they are of course liable to be ticketed. But as normally happens on a saturday night, ND students go out, have a good time, stay within means, and if the cops come, they shut it down.
It is perfectly within their right for the state excise police to check the local bars and make sure that they are policing themselves and not letting in underage students. Anyone stepping into a bar realizes the danger and risk they are taking by possessing a fake id. Going to a party off campus is another story. Judging from the 41 arrests at a sports house, it was not a large party. I suspect it is the type of thing where if it were another weekend, the arrests wouldnt have happened, the party would have been dispersed, and nothing would be out of the ordinary. But to raid a house party as it was winding down and arrest the individuals involved instead of ticketing them, is out of line.
The raids of the bars, the heightened presence at the Michigan game, and the arrests at the house party are all tactics used by law enforcement to "flex their muscles" and make sure the students know they dont have free run of the area. There is nothing wrong in doing this, but there are better ways to do it. By arresting students instead of ticketing or deferring them to ResLife, they simply created an angry student body and angered alumni instead of solving any of the problems. It is understandable how neighbors to these student houses do not appreciate music at 2 in the morning on a Sunday, and are within means to ask the police to put an end to it. But at the same time, they live next to a house which is rented to students and need to understand that there are certain considerations which need to be taken. There are ways to help with who lives next door, especially if they change every 9 months. Others say that there should be no underage drinking in SB and Notre Dame, due to the heightened risk of DUI. The vast majority of students who go to off campus parties take cabs or if they drove, plan to stay over or nearby. With regards to tailgates, I do believe more police presence is a good thing when coming to dealing with unruly fans, students and alumni. There are plenty of older fans in the parking lots who are belligerent and a disturbance to others around them, but the feeling is that law enforcement and excise police target students even if they dont stand out. At the Air Force game last year, I was having a beer in a solo cup around 12 with my family and my roommates. I was on my second beer, but when I saw police coming up the aisle, I placed down my beer on a nearby table. Soon after I was tapped on the shoulder by a undercover excise officer in a hooded sweatshirt and large glasses demanding to see my ID. I obliged and after the incident, the officer, my family, and I were all embarassed from the situation. I felt targeted by law enforcement over the obviously drunk and loud tailgaters next to us because I looked like an underage student.

A special response to a quote which Pops and I saw (paraphrased), "the entire Notre Dame community should be to blame for allowing underage drinking at a party, especially with football players. This is not something which Lou Holtz would have had under his watch."

Honestly, if you mean to tell me that Lou ruled over his players and what they did outside of football with an iron fist, and the student body didn't have a few celebratory brews in 1988, then you are lying to yourself.

In closing, I just hope that these are isolated incidents which dont start reappearing in the next couple months, or all the good work that has been done to increase relations between school and city would be washed away.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

This one comes from UHND's podcast, Spanning the Dome. In this particular podcast, the guys had Aaron Taylor on the show to talk about Notre Dame's offensive line, and here's some of what he had to say about Eric Olsen:

"I saw him a couple plays running down field and jacking guys. Of the things that I have seen (on the O-line), that is the most positive. That is a confidence and arrogance that you have to have... that chip on your shoulder. You'd be amazed at how much that can set the tone of a team by being aggressive and running downfield. Olsen getting down field and smacking people got me more excited than anything I've seen in a year and a half."
Here's looking forward to the O-line getting some work done this weekend.

Go Irish!

And if that wasn't enough, this never gets old.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Duds and Studs Michigan

Just as Notre Dame was better than the 21-13 score over SDSU, they were worse than 35-17 over Michigan; UM had 6 turnovers, and while a few of the turnovers were the result of great plays by the defense, several of them were blatantly UM gaffs. These plays which Rodriguez referred to as 'unforced errors' may have skewed the score somewhat, but for now I'll definitely take a 35-17 rain soaked win, no matter how we attain it.


Michigan Coaching: Speaking of Rodriguez, did anyone get a chance to watch the post-game media session? Weis showed up with a 'blown up' knee, soaking wet, and still wearing all of his coaching gear. Rodriguez, appeared much later, issuing an apology to the press for taking so long to 'take a shower and get ready to leave as soon as possible.' I understand why he wanted to get out of South Bend so quickly following the loss, but keeping the media waiting in a damp smelly room for an hour is just another example of Rodriguez not understanding college football etiquette. Additionally, I'm pretty sure I could have performed Corwin Brown's job on Saturday; how hard is it to stop an offense that either runs: 1. HB off tackle or 2. play action pass? I realize that the team is still installing its new offense, but after 3 games, the playcalling seemed pretty bland.

Armando Allen: With Aldridge back in the lineup and Hughes looking like he did at the end of last year, Allen saw a huge drop off in carries last weekend, running the ball only twice for four yards and dropping the only pass thrown to him. Even returning kicks, the speedster managed just 9 yards on two attempts. Perhaps Weis limited his action because he thought UM's front seven was stronger on the outside and elected to pound it inside more with the bigger backs; let's hope he can eventually deliver on his big play potential.

Rush Defense: For the second straight week, ND let up a higher per carry average (3.8) than its offense was able to produce (3.3). If it weren't for UM fielding such a green offensive line, the McGuffie virus could have really run wild on the Irish. If you think that 131 yards on 25 carries is a big game for a running back, wait until next week when Notre Dame will have to face a running back with 3 more years of experience, a much better line, and NFL scouts willing to bet a first round draft pick on him.

Pops: I got my first prediction of the year wrong as I predicted an Irish loss in a low scoring game, but as consolation, I did write this in my Michigan preview:

"If the Irish are successful in this one, it will be due to ND’s defense drumming up come circa 2002 turnovers, and Michigan's defense surrendering one or two big plays on offense and special teams."and "Notre Dame’s best bet [at moving the ball] will be to stretch the field"

Also, Weis mentioned in his post game talk that the two main elements of ND's game plan were:

1. To air the ball out because Weis didn't think he could succede by 'nickle and diming' UM's talented front seven, and
2. Win the turnover battle. Weis was convinced that turnovers would decide this game.

So I'll accept flak for being too pessimistic, but at least give me the benefit of an asterisk on this loss.


David Bruton: Here's a write up from Blue and Gold that sums up the stellar play of the senior:

"the All-American candidate added two more big plays against Michigan when he foiled two Wolverine drives deep in Irish territory. The first was a forced fumble at the 5-yard line that helped Notre Dame preserve a precarious 28-17 lead that could have become 28-24. Bruton later added an interception at the 5-yard line that he returned 39 yards in a play he almost broke for a touchdown."
Asked about his knack for creating big plays, Bruton says that it is just a result of executing what he has been coached:

“Practice what we preach, especially in wet conditions, ripping at the ball.”

Mike Anello: An obvious snub from the Week 1 Studs list, the undersized but speedy walk-on had another phenomenal game, causing one fumble and recovering another on special teams. It was great to see #37 get some action at CB towards the end of the game; you can't argue that he didn't deserve it.

Golden Tate: The Tennessee native accounted for 86% of Notre Dame's receiving yards (127/147) despite only catching 4 passes. It was nice to see Tate have a big game against SDSU last week, but if he can keep this pace up for the rest of the season, I don't think an All-America honor is out of the question. Floyd also looked good again, drawing some key pass interference penalties, and opposing defenses better hope that both of ND's top receivers don't develop to their full potential, otherwise they could be in some serious trouble.

O-Line: For the first time since 2003, Notre Dame's offensive line kept the QB upright for consecutive games. This was expected against SDSU, but it still baffles me that Michigan's front seven was unable to sack Clausen on Saturday. Even a freshman got in the action as Trevor Robinson stepped in after Stewart left with a minor ankle injury. Because Robinson contributed to the zero sack total, his first appearance in Blue and Gold should be looked at as a positive, but he doesn't quite seem to be able to drive off the line like the Titan from Texas just yet. Hopefully Chris will be back for MSU.

Brian Smith: With two fumble recoveries, a touchdown, pass deflection, and a plethora of tackles, Smith gets the last spot in the Studs list this week; linebackers dream of having stat lines as sexy as this. Beyond the numbers, however, Irish fans should appreciate the fervor with which Smith plays the game. He is an emotional leader on a defense that dug deep and made plays when it had to against Michigan.

Other Notes: How awesome was Hughes' fake-right-go-right juke move that made a Wolverine defensive player actually fall over? For the second straight week, Weis elected to use play action passes in 3rd/4th and short situations. I thought the kicking game was good, especially considering the weather; Anello and Bruton aren't the only reason that opponents haven't been able to do much on kick returns. Finally, Kudos to Weis for handling his injury with such poise; watching him on the field and at his press conference reminded me of some of his better characteristics, like his devotion to his team and this university. Good luck on the recovery.

Go Irish!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Duds and Studs: San Diego State

Finally after a long offseason, the Irish are back on the gridiron, and with the completion of another game comes the revival of the Charlie's Nasties Duds and Studs edition.


Weis: After having their hopes inflated for the second straight offseason, Irish faithful can't help but be a little disappointed by a 21-13 victory over a cupcake opponent. Before I talk about Weis, let me first preface that 1. any coach and coaching staff has every reason to be optimistic heading into every season; there's no way you're going to win if you don't think you're any good, and 2. Notre Dame is still not in the realm of the top 10 teams that handle their cupcakes with laughable margins of victory, thus it may seem unfair to expect multiple touchdown victories against our cupcakes...

However, it is absolutely unacceptable as a head coach to bring a team out so flat that it fails to score a point until the first two minute drill, it is unacceptable to average under 3.5 yards per rush against an injury plagued defensive line that was among the worst in the Mountain West last season, and it is unacceptable to focus on special teams in the offseason only to fail at the season's first two field goal attempts.

Maybe Weis was saving something for Michigan when he chose not to put his best playmakers on the field (see Floyd) or chose not to run behind his best linemen (right side), but if the Irish continue to put forward the same effort they did Saturday, Skip Holtz is looking frighteningly good as a future coach.
Duval: We laughed off Kamara's failure to make weight heading into training camp, and I dismissed rumors that #18 looked lazy during the majority of summer camp. With his freakish athleticism and size, I was convinced that Duval could come out on Saturdays and be Duval, continuing to dominate defenses. It goes without saying that I was disappointed with Kamara's start to the '08 campaign. Several miscommunications between him and Clausen as well as at least one glaring drop worry me that Duval relaxed after his success in 2007. Hopefully this game will serve as a wakeup call because other receivers seem ready to take his playing time.

Mo Crum: Plain and simple here. A fifth year captain cannot have back to back penalties at any point.

D-Line: It looks like the offseason fears about the line are true. I would be surprised if we ever got pressure on a quarterback this season without sending at least two other players. SDSU was able to average 4.7 yards per rush, our two leading tacklers were both safeties (McCarthy with 14 and Bruton with 7), and with Lambert and Brown also registering 6 tackles, that means that Crum (6) and Brian Smith (4) were the only LBs to be found in our top 6 tacklers. This is a bad sign that the front 3 are failing to take on blockers to let the backers make plays.


Clausen: True, Jimmy had two picks and seemed to lock onto receivers early and often, but throwing 62% for 237 yards and 3 scores isn't a bad day. What elevates JC into the Stud category more than his numbers, however, was his performance under pressure. Namely, he was able to regain the lead and seal the victory when his team needed him most.

O-Line: The run blocking was not good, but after letting up an average of 5 sacks a game, registering a goose egg in the first game has to be considered a victory, no matter who it is against.

Tate: After catching only 6 passes in 2007, Golden made his presence felt Saturday by doubling his career receptions for a total of 93 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, Tate was able to draw a defensive pass interference by beating his defender and was close to making another spectacular catch. Perhaps what is most encouraging about #23's performance, however, is that he was able to get some receptions on a few different routes while still flashing his big play ability. This has prompted the creation of another Golden Is Thy Tate shirt, which can be found here.

Safeties: Bruton and McCarthy lived up to their high expectations, not only keeping everything in front of them and punishing anyone that got close, but also by breathing life back into their team by creating what very possibly might have been the game winning fumble. Recovering from an inconsistent first half, Sergio Brown also made his presence felt (highlighted by a punt block), and I look forward to seeing more of him this season.

Other thoughts: After coming so close to losing our top 2 runningbacks, I was a little surprised that Allen and Hughes were the only two backs that got carries. Floyd looked good in his only reception of the game; that kid is going to be something. Good game by Grimes also as he began his quest to silent his doubters. Surprise not to see Robby Parris on the field at all... Next week's game may be among the sloppiest of all time if out team doesn't fix some things quick.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Gameday

The season is finally here. Readers looking for an SDSU preview can look here.

Go Irish! Beat Aztecs!

P.S. sorry for the shoddy pic - my photoshop has been acting funny so I've been forced to resort to Paint.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Random Excitement

MSN once again justified itself as my homepage by supplying me with this short video of Weis talking about the season opener. There's nothing really too revolutionary in it, but the combination of Charlie talking about the team's improvements edited together with a few highlights from last season was a great way to increase my excitement for this weekend.

Notre Dame will open up against a somewhat uncharacteristically weak opponent. San Diego State didn't do much to worry Irish fans, falling to FCS school Cal Poly 29-27 in its opening game. However, Weis seems confident that his team won't come out flat against the Aztecs.

"They're tired of hitting each other. Just having a fresh opponent will be exciting in its own right. Take that and put it into Notre Dame Stadium with over 80,000 people, a home opener, all the college kids are here in town, all the fans come rolling in, the band is playing... I think the players will be plenty excited for 3:40 on Saturday. They'll be ready to go."

Another interesting clip from the video had to do with Charlie's thoughts about our defense. He mentioned that while we may look slightly undersized at some positions (I think he was particularly referring to LB and some of the DL), he is pleased with the speed and athleticism. An article in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated broke down the challenges of stopping a spread offense, and the primary ingredients seemed to be speed and sure tackling. If the spread offense is the new offense of college football, it looks like ND is doing its best to keep up with the Jones'.
Finally, it looks like my full season game-by-game preview may not be making it this year, but just for the heck of it, here are predictions for the second half of the season:

Washington: W 38-20

Pitt: L 21-29

BC: W 17-10

Navy: W 24-16

Syracuse: W 42-24

USC: L 21-44

See you Saturday! Go Irish!