Wednesday, November 12, 2008

IBG Back to the Past Edition

This week's questions from Brawling Hiberian, a hysterical blog that readers should check out.

1. In the parlance of DJs, a "deep cut" is a song that wasn't released as a single and, generally, is not well-known. What Notre Dame victory is your favorite "deep cut" from the Irish catalog? In other words, what is your favorite victory that is not widely celebrated (i.e., not the "Snow Bowl" or the 1988 Miami game, etc.). Explain in much detail.
Think back to the start of the 2004 campaign, where Marcus Wilson and TT combined to produce a whopping 11 rushing yards on 21 attempts to open the season in a loss to BYU. My “deep cut” is the following game against 7th ranked Michigan. Two Brady Quinn interceptions and a stagnant first half offense had ND down 9-0 entering the 3rd quarter, and then freshman Darius Walker was given the chance to win the RB job. Walker excelled in the game, rushing for 115 yards and 2 TDs. Sadly, inconsistency would plague the remainder of the season, making this upset a little less enjoyable in hindsight, but then again, I don’t think I ever even saw ND win a bowl game, so this is my deep cut.
2. As much fun as it is rooting for our heroes, it can be just as enjoyable to trash those we consider to be villains. A few years ago, the great Irish blog, Blue Gray Sky, wrote a post discussing the biggest villains in Notre Dame history. That post focused on external villains. Today's question is, of those associated with the program, who is the biggest villain? This individual must have been a player, coach or administrator at ND who, through reckless acts of cowardice, stupidity or malice, damaged the football program. (Note: Ty Willingham is off the board)
How about Heisman trophy winner Paul Hornung, who after a disappointing 2003 campaign, proclaimed that, “We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athlete. We must get the black athlete if we're going to compete." Notre Dame is not a very diverse campus to begin with, so this comment was particularly disappointing as it gave the media fuel to perpetuate the perception that the University has racism issues. A quasi-tangential effect of this comment is that perhaps if this comment hadn’t been made, Irish fans wouldn’t have had to put up with as much post-Willingham backlash. The most disheartening aspect of this comment is that such a prominent figure in Notre Dame history may be forever linked to the racism that the University has tried so hard to fight.
3. Falling in love is a wonderful thing. As Lt. Frank Drebin once observed, "you begin to notice things you never knew were there before; birds sing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stop signs." Describe the moment that you knew that there would be no other; you were in love with Notre Dame.
When I read this question, I thought it was odd that I couldn't really come up with any spectacular or even specific moment. The closest thing to a 'moment' was probably sometime in the beginning of winter my Freshman year when I found my self on a late walk across South Quad on the way back to my dorm. The first real fresh snow had just fallen (and it was the big, slow, puffy kind, not the usual Midwest sideways sleet stuff), and the campus in general looked beautiful. Sure there are times when students complain about invasive construction (see: having to walk through a construction sight for two semesters to get to every single one of my classes), but when everything quiets down at night, the magnificent history and tradition of the University always seem to get me a little awestruck.

Kind of sappy, I admit, but you know it's true
4. Regrets, we've had a few but, then again, too few to ever let go of any of them. What game, or specific play, in Irish history turns your dreams into nightmares and haunts your every waking moment? Describe this moment and why you wish ND could have another crack at it?
Is there any better moment to pick than the Bush Push in 2005? With their only loss being an overtime shootout against MSU, Irish fans around the nation were foaming at the mouth to slay the Goliath that was the 2005 Trojans, and the crazy thing is that in the fourth quarter, we were actually winning. The most crazy thing? When the clock hit 0:00, we were winning! I guess that a certain immortality comes with the end of that game in the fact that the nation basically recognized that USC unjustly scored on the last play (whether it be from ball spot, untimely booth review, or push), but I would still have liked to see Notre Dame pull out that W. It would have given Weis a win against USC and possibly given the team a shot at Texas in the National Championship. I’m not sure how that squad would have done against Vince Young and a dirty Texas defense, but it probably wouldn’t have been any worse than the massive OSU losses in recent years. 5. With 79 consensus All-Americans and 48 inductees in the College Football Hall of Fame, it is clear that there have been many great players in the history of Notre Dame football. What was the greatest single season from a player that you ever witnessed during your Irish fandom? Be specific. Use adjectives.
Unfortunately, my football watching before I attended ND is almost entirely composed of the Davie/Willingham eras, which did not yield the All-America talent that some of the more senior members of IBG may be able to name. The easy pick for me would be someone from the ‘05/’06 teams, but I’d rather go with more of a ‘deep cut’ in ND’s all time sack leader, Justin Tuck. In a 2003 season that was generally pretty forgetful, it was memorable to see Tuck line up at DE every play and see who he was going to dominate on every play. 11 games later, #44 had tallied 13.5 sacks in the season, the largest single season number since Notre Dame began recording sacks in 1982. There was just something about the passion and intensity with which Tuck played the game that made him one of my favorite Irish players to watch.

Let's see some of this intensity! Go Irish!=

Monday, November 10, 2008

BC Duds and Studs


Haywood: Jimmy was sick, hurt, and generally playing awful. When your QB is just barely completing 50% of his passes, including some terrible interceptions, it's probably a good idea to hand off to your runningbacks instead of hucking the ball 46 times (another example of ND losing when JC has 40+ attempts). While I was watching the game it seemed that our runningbacks were also ineffective, but Allen averaged 4 yards per rush and Hughes averaged 6. The problem is that Allen only got 6 carries and Hughes got 3! Can't we just see what happens if we give Armando 5 or 6 carries per quarter?
Weis: Speaking of Jimmy being sick and hurt, one has to wonder why he was in the game at all. Last season, against a BC team ranked 4th in the country, the veteran Evan Sharpley went 11/29 for 135 yards and a TD; not great numbers, but he didn't turn the ball over. Hopefully Weis' decision to resume the play calling duties will breathe some life back into our offense. And the last point on Weis, Notre Dame has averaged 12.6 points a game in the first half, but only 9.8 points a game in the second half; someone needs to teach these kids how to finish a game, and until then I think seeing an Irish comeback any time this year is an impossibility.
Special Teams: Holding calls on Jonas Gray, a block punt for the second week in a row, and a fumble by Tate on a punt return. Notice how the BC returner (although he looked like a total wimp at times) often waved his hand when it looked like he might have had room to catch? That's because he was in a game where neither offense could do anything, so his coach told him to make sure to secure the ball before trying to be the hero.

Latina: While I'm ripping the other coaches, I might as well keep going down the line (I know, sweet joke...). I believe that (especially when JC isn't on his game) running the ball more gives us a decent chance of winning, but the reason the coaches may not agree with me is because of the terrible inconsistency of the O-Line. For every 8 or 12 yard run, there is a play stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Whether this is due to a mental or physical error varies on play to play, but to have a line with 3 juniors, a senior (who is playing very well this season), and a very talented freshman, one would hope that a good coach could fix some of these problems by the ninth game of the season.

Defense: BC has only been held to under 17 points once this season (16 in a loss to GT), and discounting the pick six means that our defense was able to hold the Eagles to 10 points in Boston. Good individual efforts came from Brian and Harrison Smith (9 and 8 tackles, respectively), and Kyle McCarthy (unfortunately) had another impressive tackling day with 8. The secondary only gave up 79 passing yards on 9/22 attempts from Chris Crane; Brown and McNeil helped contribute to the 40% completion percentage with 5 combined pass breakups. As Her Loyal Sons so eloquently put, "Nobody would blame you if you held the ND offense down in their beds tonight and beat them with bars of soap in tube socks."

Asaph Schwapp: The 10 yard reception was one of the few exciting offensive plays that I can recall.

CJs Pub: Thank you for providing beer and a good burger to distract me for some of the game.

Brady Quinn: In his first NFL start, Quinn went 23/35 for 239 yards and 2 TDs (and no turnovers) in a loss to Denver. All is not well for my Browns in Cleveland, but at least BQ was able to give fans the performance they were hoping for. He was calm, cool, and collected in the pocket, used some mobility to make plays under pressure, and ran the offense relatively well - the only thing missing was the W.

Other Thoughts:
I would have put Clausen on the Duds list, but 1: I thought it would be a little repetitive, and 2: you have to appreciate someone that is willing to go out and play even when he is far from 100%. JC spent all of last season fighting a bad elbow and has recently been playing with a banged up ankle and the flu, but we haven't ever heard him give any excuses yet.
I often wonder why ND has 3-5 players that rotate in at the PR/KOR positions. To me, it makes more sense to get 2-3 guys all the reps in practice so that miscues (like Tate's) can potentially be avoided.
Did anyone else think it was funny that even after Quinn's first NFL start, he still had nothing to do on Sunday (ala the Subway commercial)?
Anyone talking about Weis getting fired after this season is rightfully upset, but probably not right. Keep in mind that this guy has been standing on the sidelines with a completely busted knee for a month, which (I think) should be somewhat commended. Also, Charlie's recruiting success has created a substantial exit barrier; do you think a first year AD would risk firing a coach at the expense of our incoming recruiting class (let alone young players on the current team that might leave with Weis)?

That's it for now. Go Irish. Beat Navy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: The “Saying A Lot By Asking Obtuse Questions” Edition

This week's IBG questions come from Her Loyal Sons:

What photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something, anything at all, really, says all 1,000 words that need to be said about this team? OR, which photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something would tell 1,000 lies about this team if you only saw the photo and didn’t know better? (Double-secret word score bonus for answering both mutations of the same question)
DomerMQ wrote about the picture of Olsen growling over Michigan’s Mouton. At the time, the picture seemed to offer hope for Irish fans; our young players were beating down on a rival that had thumped us two years straight, and they were looking angry (in a good way) while doing it. In retrospect, I think this picture (courtesy of MS Paint Like A Champion Today) may say some things about our team:
A lot of ND fans got so pumped about the Olsen picture, but since the UM beatdown, our team has gone 3-3, showing a lot of second half softness in four of those games and only showing the same fire in wins over 3-6 Purdue and 0-8 Washington. So if ND is represented by this superhero-like picture of Olsen, it seems that our kryptonite comes from playing close games against above average teams, which doesn’t seem to make us much like a superhero at all.

Some of you may know that I ( am a football stat geek. Which statistic do you think geeks like myself should really be paying attention to this season and why? (Can pertain to ND or CFB in general.)

Clausen’s 44 attempts last weekend gave my QB analysis chart another data point that supports one of my conclusions from the article: when Jimmy has more than 40 pass attempts, we lose. This stat may be most correlated with the running game, but not necessarily in terms of YPC. When we throw the ball a lot, opposing defenses tend to only rush 3-5 linemen and drop the rest into coverage, and JC has struggled when facing a lot of defensive players in the secondary, turning the ball over or displaying a low completion percentage. Until Clausen makes the next leap in his development, we should try to stay between 20-35 attempts if we can run the ball (with Allen!) with any success at all.

Give me the damn ball!

Seeing as how Boston College is nothing but an up-jumped program enjoying the luxury and soft Corinthian leather of an ACC schedule, which team from the current top 25 would you love to see this year’s Irish play this weekend in Fredo’s stead? Why? Do you think the Irish would win? Describe the game. Paint us a picture! I’ll get the popcorn!

First off, I would very much like to play (and destroy) Boston College this weekend because while they are not generally a great team, they have won five straight against the Irish, moving the all time series record to 9-8 in favor of the Irish. This game gives us an opportunity to distance ourselves from the Eagles, which I hope the team takes advantage of.
Not to dodge the question though, if we could play any team in the top 25 this week, it would be Ball State for me. Boring pick, you ask? Maybe, but when I went to the Purdue game last year, some trash talking fan claimed that Notre Dame was the worst team in the state of Indiana, saying with a thick West Lafayette accent, “You can’t even beat Ball State!” The sad thing is that the jumbo-tron-loving Boilermaker may actually have been right last year, so I would like to see Notre Dame thoroughly handle Ball State this year just to give me some peace of mind.
Just beat 'em already!

Let’s dispose of the gradient colors and subtle vagaries of college football for a moment and answer this question with one of the supplied, absolute answers and a blurb defending your pick. No waffling! The Question: Why is Notre Dame unable to put away games when leading going into half time? The possible answers: 1) ND Players all have a soft, nougat center 2) The Coaches don’t want to tick off potential future employers 3) God doesn’t think it’s classy to blow a team out 4) The ND Fanbase can’t really stomach blowouts any more than they could stomach a protracted land war in Asia. Remember, you must pick one and you must defend it with great vigor!

While I may be able to write a more humorous answer by responding to 2-4, I really do think that right now the problem is with the players. Sure the coaches may have hurt their chances by dampening their “strategic advantage,” but the fact is that when you come out flat and don’t execute, you aren’t going to have much success. Coming out flat doesn’t have much to do with a nougat center, but not being able to recapture control of the game after you give your opponent momentum does. Remember that picture of Olsen I mentioned? The Irish have shown a lot of positive nastiness when they have been in control of games, but when the game begins to slip away, the players visibly begin to lose confidence. As Weis said following the Pitt loss, the confidence should improve as the team wins a few close nail biters, thus hardening the nougat center into something more like hardened caramel.

Tennessee just began celebrating the career of Phil Fulmer today this week as he announced that he’d been given the opportunity to make it look like resigning was his idea. Certainly, this is a clarion call to ADs across the country to begin worrying over their tea that, should their current HC not work out, they wont get a shot at #s 1-5 on their candidate list. Tell us about an AD who may be looking at this move by Tennessee and acting a bit more aggressively towards a reduction in force of his current football staff now rather than later. And who might that AD be trying to seduce before Tennessee already has a “hand shake agreement” with the guy?
I’ve never been a big coach candidate follower (unless ND or the Browns are looking for one, which I guess has been fairly often over the last decade), so don’t put much into my answer here. If I had to pick one coach that is hot on the market, my knee-jerk reaction is Skip Holtz, who has displayed some great coaching capability by beating a few ranked teams with an understaffed ECU squad. I think that Holtz will have a couple offers to choose from after this season.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pitt Duds and Studs

Sorry for my Monday posts getting put up later every week... maybe I'll blame this one on daylight savings time. With that...


Weis/Haywood: To start off, here are a few fragmented stats about the run game:
Allen rushed for 45 yards on 7 attempts (6.4 ypc) over the first 3 series. Then, after the third series (3:44 remaining in the first quarter), Allen did not get a carry until after half time. Other ND backs averaged 2.8 ypc the rest of the 2nd quarter. After getting only 5 carries in the second half, Allen rushed for gains of 3, 2, 8, 7, and 7 in overtime.
I realize that we have three pretty good runningbacks on our team, but when your best back appears to perform best when he is in a rhythm, it might be a good idea to let him run the heck out of the ball instead of giving his carries to Hughes (who has been ineffective all year) and Aldridge (who is good in short yardage, but not as good as Allen otherwise).
As far as the decision to run an elaborate play action on fourth and 1, all I'll say is that we used to praise Weis for running those plays 2-3 years ago, but the fact that he had to take two timeouts to explain the play to his players should be evidence enough that it was not a good call.
Lambert: On a close breakup in the endzone that looked like it could have been pass interference, a student near me said "Its OK - that won't be a flag - if the ball was catchable, it would have been caught." That pretty much sums up the pass coverage Lambert has shown this season, and while he has been used as a run-support corner, he has been also recently been unable to breakdown and tackle receivers in the open field. The Sports Illustrated rumor mill predicts a few shakeups in the Irish starting lineup for the BC game, and I'll be surprised if this isn't one of them.

Clausen: Some people might disagree on this one; 23/44 for 271 yards and 3 TDs without turning the ball over is pretty impressive, but Jimmy's finish puts him soundly in my dud category this week. In overtime, Clausen was 2/7 for 15 yards and a sack. I also partially blame JC for the flat play in the second half; Clausen has shown the leadership to make his team play hungry and aggressive at times, but this fire was absent for much of the second half.
Inconsistent DBs: I thought that Raeshon McNeil overall had a pretty good game, and his two interceptions were excellent plays that stalled the Irish collapse, but McNeil was picked on when Pitt threw to him three straight times from the 10 yard line, with a Jonathan Baldwin touchdown coming on the 3rd attempt. I was startled that McCoy didn't get any carries then, but maybe (gulp) Wannstedt knew what he was doing...
The other DB is Harrison Smith, who is perhaps getting a little too much hate for his late hit penalty that extended Pitt's first scoring drive of the second half. I appreciate the intensity (and Smith continued to impress me the rest of the game), but there are some penalties that you just cannot commit, and drive extending, post play personal fouls are at the top of the list.


Bruton/McCarthy: The senior tandem combined for 31 tackles, and Bruton came down with an interception after landing on his head so hard that he couldn't get up for several minutes... and then he went back in the game to shut down Pitt in 3 straight OT series. Notre Dame fans should be praying for that McCarthy uses his last year of eligibility; taking two losses this big in the secondary would hurt a lot.

Tate/Floyd: Fortunately for Irish fans, these two are guaranteed to be around for at least one more season. Golden kept flashing big play ability, hauling in 6 receptions for 111 yards and a TD (including one ridiculously heads up circus catch), and Floyd looked unstoppable at times, getting his hands on the ball 10 times for 100 yards and 2 scores. What is somewhat disappointing is that only three other Irish players had receptions in the game (Rudolph - 2, Kamara - 2, Allen - 3). If Clausen's accuracy is going to improve to the 65% area, other receivers need to take advantage of the coverage these two are drawing and get open.
Brandon Walker: There are some people that jump to blame Walker for the loss because ND lost by three points and he missed his final field goal, but lets take a look at what this kid accomplished this weekend:
He got the Irish on the board with a no-doubter 39 yard field goal. In a close game, he was 3/3 on extra points, and when his number was called to keep Notre Dame in the game during overtime, he responded by kicking three straight field goals, including a 48 yarder. After kicking 1/7 to start the season, Walker has upped his field goal average to 53%, and he was 4/5 in perhaps the highest pressure game he has experienced.
The bottom line is that Notre Dame got the ball at the 25 yard line four times and could not score. That is what should be troubling fans, not the kicking game.

Other Thoughts:
It was a great idea for the grounds crew to wet down the field to slow McCoy for the second OT, although I think it was a little less subtle than growing out the grass for Bush in 05.
I was generally disappointed Pat Bostick was able to throw for the same yards per attempt (about 6.1) as Clausen... I guess average quarterbacks can do alright when they have a good running game to rely on...
In a somewhat unexpected announcement, Brady Quinn will be starting for my Browns Thursday night against the Broncos. As much as I have wanted Quinn to play, it seems strange that the coaches would choose such a short week to make the transition, but let's hope that he can take advantage of a porous Denver secondary and get his first NFL win. Check out this link to see how pissed ex-Browns qb Trent Dilfer is about Cleveland's decision to switch QBs at their fan's request.

Go Irish!