Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wojo Rising

Gene Wojciechowski and the ESPN crew are at it again. I know that these people are just trying to bring hits to their website and money to the bank, but some of the fantastic journalism surrounding the Notre Dame coaching situation is bordering on the inaccurate. Here's some commentary on the worldwide's most recent attempt to exploit a program that is no longer nationally relevant (by the way, how much press has the impeding coaching change at Michigan been getting lately?).

For starters, the obligatory jab at Weis while comparing him to Ty:

"Unlike Tyrone Willingham before him, Weis got a full five years to build his program with his own recruits, his own system and his own assistant coaches."

What disappoints me about this comment is that any Notre Dame fan can refute this claim with a stock rebuttal so commonly used that I'm not even going to waste space writing it. ESPN needs to recognize that the factors that kept Weis around for five years are so different than Ty (and really even Davie) that they don't merit being discussed.

Now another personal jab that merits a longer response:

"As an NFL coordinator, your constituency is your owner, your head coach and your players. At Notre Dame, that constituency stretches like a pair of Sansabelts, from school president, to athletic director, to administrators, to players, alumni, NBC, media and subway alums. I'm not sure Weis totally embraced that role. One of his final acts at Notre Dame -- cancel all media access to his players this past week -- was more fitting of Belichick than of a college coach. And then to slink out a back door …"

While Weis may have entered Notre Dame with these personality issues, most ND fans will probably disagree with the statement. The national media has chosen to keep the easy caricature of Charlie as the arrogant coach, but the truth is that by his third season, Weis began to make considerable efforts to become accessible to his fan base. From augmenting his busy travel schedule to include visits to many alumni associations, to holding autograph sessions for the student body, to creating a Twitter account, to changing his tone with the media, I feel that Weis has made a considerable effort to appease all of his constituencies. And as for sneaking away at the end of the Stanford game, can anyone really blame him? Hasn't this guy been dragged through the ugliest of media mud the last few weeks that he should be allowed to exit holding onto some dignity?

And to end the article:

"Swarbrick told me months ago he'll use a two-page checklist to assess the state of a Notre Dame program, but Weis knows better. His dismissal comes down to two letters, not two pages: W and L."

It's a nice conclusion; in fact, its a way better conclusion than the abrupt "Go Irish" that I usually end posts with. However, this is another gross over-exaggeration that underscores what Weis has done for the program. Dear ESPN, its pretty easy to write why Weis should (and probably will) be fired this week, but for feature article after the Stanford game, I find it irresponsible to only include Weis' shortcomings. Yes, Weis didn't win enough football games over the last three years, but throw the guy a bone for the talent he has been able to bring to South Bend, the improvements he's made to the offense, and the countless hours that he has given to the program.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tough Stanford Loss

Tough Stanford loss tonight. I thought everyone played hard except for a few boneheads out there. If this is the last Charlie Weis and Clausen game, it was an exciting one, and exemplary of their time together: Great offensively, but could not put a full game together. The only thing now is whether Tate joins them in the NFL or not... I think he'd be as good a playmaker as Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, or Steve Smith.

IGB: Goin back back to Cali Cali

Just when the Domer Law Blog thought to have claimed the latest entry for this week's IBG, The Nasties crew published Sarah's questions from Bad Trade 15 minutes to kickoff. Here we go:

1. Take a second and go look back at your post from the first game, with all of its promise and optimism (or not). What is the single biggest difference between the team you thought we had at the beginning of the season, and the team that we've seen on the field that now sits at 6-5?

One of the questions in the first week of this season's IBG asked us to find an image to describe the season, and in hindsight, I still think my pic was appropriate, albeit maybe for the wrong reasons:

The picture inadvertently previewed the edge-of-your seat action that was this season. A bounce of the ball here, a better play in the redzone there, and Notre Dame could very well be undefeated (or perhaps just as easily be 2-9).

To answer the question though, the single biggest difference has to be the secondary. I understand that it is tough to cover receivers when the quarterback has all day to throw, but I did not foresee the tackling issues that our veteran secondary would have.

2. Clearly, even from Coach Weis' own comments, it appears that the conversation has shifted from "Will Coach Weis be fired?" to "Who will be his replacement?" With that in mind, I'd like you to answer the following three questions:
a. If we lived in a perfect world, and could lure any coach to Notre Dame, who would be your choice? (Please limit yourself to coaches actually alive and able to coach right now - yes, we'd all love to have Knute Rockne back on the sidelines.)

In my mind, there isn't one clear favorite, and I think that there are 2-3 coaching hires that could improve this football team. If I'm forced to pick, though, I'll land on Brian Kelly. I'm impressed with his ability to turn around programs like Central Michigan and Cincinnati (and I particularly like his ability to take the Bearcats to the BCS), but I'm actually most impressed with Kelly's ability to coach Grand Valley State to a 118-35-2 record during his 13 years as head coach. Especially with how the success of programs tends to ebb and flow (even for the powerhouses - remember USC in the 90s?), this consistent trend of domination is very appealing.

b. If you were the AD for the University, who do you think is the best hire you could actually pull off, and how would you do it?

I suppose the most prestigious get would be Urban, and I think their are two points to sell it. Firstly, lets congratulate how Urban has been able to turn around program after program and win multiple titles with the Gators. So early in his career, Meyer seems to have already accomplished everything a coach dreams for. There is another unmet challenge in South Bend. Coach Meyer, take on the challenge of resurrecting a once national powerhouse, that the entire nation now thinks has a competitive disadvantage, and returning them to glory. The second point would probably be about moving Meyer's family to the Bend as a way to stay close to them.

c. Prediction time - taking everything you know about the program, the AD, and the current coaching situations around the country - who will be the head coach for the University of Notre Dame next year?

Every day actually leads me closer to thinking that Weis may actually return. ND won't be able to get there hands on a Kelly, Johnson, or Meyer until after they coach their current teams through the BCS, and like Brady Quinn said, there are a lot of factors that contribute to having a bad season, and not all of them fall on the coach. I feel like if Jenkins and Swarbrick don't find someone they really like, then I think that they might not pull the trigger. I'm still going to throw my hat in the ring for Kelly, but if Weis ends up back at Notre Dame for one more chance, I won't be as surprised as most.

3. As the title of this IBG post says, there is still one more game to be played. And, in fact, it's a red-hot Stanford team that scores points in bunches and beat SC in the Coliseum 55-21. To say that our program is in turmoil at this point would be a drastic understatement. So, what do you think is going to happen this weekend? Do the players rally and play up to potential for their embattled coach, or come out and go through the motions trying to get this season behind them?

I will say that at +10, Notre Dame is a pretty good Vegas bet. Unless we're playing teams with a vast disparity in talent (one of whom #6 ranked Boise State took down 44-33 last night), the Irish like to keep things close. Look for our offense to spurt out some impressive drives among some head scratching stalls while our defense makes some big stops and gives up some big gains. In the end, though, I am unfortunately expecting Stanford to win.

4. Finally, with all of the disappointment and frustration and a lame duck coach, what are your plans this weekend for the game?

Plain and simple. Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Catchin up

Sorry for the brief hiatus. I just couldn't bring myself to do write ups following losses to Pitt and UConn. While reflecting on why I didn't want to write the Duds and Studs issue for the Pitt game, I stumbled across this bit from Blue Gray Sky:

There isn't much to rehash in ND's ugly 27-22 loss to Pitt this past Saturday. It featured many of the same issues that have become all too familiar lately: a running game that disappeared, curious play calling, lackluster defense, questionable interpretations of "indisputable" by the replay officials, some amazing plays from Golden Tate, and ultimately a game that came down to the final drive, this time with ND coming out on the losing side of the ledger. And as the game wound down to the unsatisfying conclusion, Brent Musburger accurately noted that with the loss "the long knives are now out for Charlie Weis".

This quote seems to ring true after the UConn game as well. Whether it was because of untimely penalties, missed assignments, or questionable play calling, our star studded offense found itself stalling during critical times (which in the UConn game consisted of the entire second half). Tate has been getting praise all year, but at this juncture in the year, a team needs some other people to come up big when the team is struggling. Not to be all negative, I'll throw some props to kicker David Ruffer, who stepped in for an injured Nick Tausch and delivered in both games while getting Notre Dame its first touchbacks in years, and Ben Turk has found his groove as a punter, registering 47 yards per punt against UConn.

Now for my two cents about everything that has been going on the last two weeks:

On Clausen: I don't know about Tate, but Clausen is gone next year. He posed for pictures with his family after the game, he didn't return his jersey with the team laundry, and his parents have put their house on Angela on the market. Am I glad that he is going? Jimmy is an incredible football player, and his absence will be felt next season as Dayne will struggle getting acquainted as the starter with a green offensive line. However, it will (unfortunately) be refreshing not to have him around. The program needs his athletic ability, but all of the noise surrounding him is getting old.

On Weis: Thanks for those of you who inquired about the future name of this blog - it gives me some confidence that Charlie's Nasties won't die with the coach. That being said, I have no idea what will happen at the end of the season. On one end, our team has played down to all but two opponents this year, and losing three weeks in a row is inexcusable to the point that I think we should let him go now and spare his family the grief of another week of criticism and jabs from the media. On the other hand, this guy loves Notre Dame, works his freakin tail off, and scores well in all of Swarbrick's performance metrics except winning games.
I was able to find odds on who will replace Weis next season, but I wasn't able to find odds on whether or not Weis will be fired. I speculate that whatever this mythical number is, that it is probably overvalued because I do see a situation where Weis comes back. If Swarbrick doesn't think he can land a better coach, then as a business man I can't see him taking the risk while eating the rest of Charlie's contract. I could also see Jack using his performance metrics to justify keeping Weis based on his elite graduation rates and recruiting abilities.

You can't question this guy's effort. Remember how arrogant Weis appeared when we hired him? Well Weis cared so much about this that he consulted a professor at the University about how to better his image to the public. Have you seen the other coaches from the Belichick tree? How many of them would have created a Twitter page in an effort to be more open with their fan base?

That being said, this is an unlikely scenario. Notre Dame has blocked the tracking of its private jet used for coaching searches, Swarbrick has cancelled Weis' west coast recruiting trip, and even Charlie is acknowledging that his record will probably not be enough to justify keeping him as a head coach. If tomorrow's game against Stanford ends up being Weis' last , then I would like to say thanks for the long hours and hard work. Thanks for putting up with the media. Thanks for reminding us that Notre Dame can recruit the best of the best while maintaining our academic integrity. The last three years have not met my expectations from a win - loss perspective, but I thank you for your hard work and wish you the best of luck in the future.

Go Irish.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Marshmallow Time!!!!


It's been 3 years of sitting in the student's section at the games where I got to see the seniors throw marshmallows at eachother. Come tomorrow, I can't wait to be a part of it. Some people will inevitably put gravel or pennies in their fluffy projectiles to make them go farther, and for that the ushers will try and stop anyone who look suspicious enough to throw one. Whatever, if I get kicked out of the stadium for throwing something two rows above me which feels like a light breeze to whomever I hit, so be it. And for those sitting in the section next to the seniors or those below them in the gold seats- tough. Get a hot chocolate and be thankful for the free toppings raining down on you.

Security is going to be tight, so until the magic moment, all marshmallows must be kept away from the ushers' eyes. Some ideas on where to stash them.

- the seat of your pants - conceals, fulls out those apple bottoms, and also provides a cushion for halftime

- stuffed into winter gloves- the temp is going to be on the warmer side tomorrow, but bring gloves anyway to pack full of marshmallows. My guess is that you can fit 12-15 in each hand.

- cowboy hat - tried and true method of concealing things, whether it be a hidden camera, or a bag of pillowy marshmallows

- duct taped to your chest - works for both guys and girls, get taped up like your going undercover in a sting operation, and then when they least expect it, unload a barrage on them

and of course...... prison rules if need be

Tomorrow's game is going to be fun no matter what. Hopefully we will win and do so in convincing fashion, but if we are down, come 4th quarter- there is going to be some interesting things being chanted towards Charlie's direction. GO IRISH!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Get the Moving Vans Started

Herbstreit thinks decision is made and Weis knows as well....

My only thoughts on this matter are if he is a lame duck coach, thats fine. But if he loses either of the last two games, fire him or ask him to step down before the bowl game. Bowl games are rewards for coaches and teams who have played well in the season. They are showcasing those teams for fans and recruits with the hope of coming home with hardware. The players deserve to be there, but the coach does not if he can't find a way to win out with his job on the line.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Navy Duds and Studs

I feel like with all of the negative fan criticism towards Weis stemming from the loss that I should add my two cents on how this loss affects Weis' job security before launching into the weekly Duds and Studs segment.

Effect: The defense is a major point of concern. Yes, we let Navy dominate us on the ground and let them score 23 points. However, even with a shutout against Nevada, our team is giving up 29 points a game, so the Navy performance can almost be viewed more as a continuing trend than anything new.

Cause: Everyone knows by now that Weis is an offensive coach, but as a head coach, he still must be held accountable for the defense. The poor performance of the defense this season leads me to believe that A) Weis does not understand defense enough to be a head coach, or B) Weis has not done a good job of hiring and promoting his defensive coaching staff

With two All-American receivers and a (former) Heisman candidate quarterback, our offense was shut out in the first half and managed only 21 points.

I am actually going to give Charlie a pass here. His offensive game plan lit Navy up for over 500 total yards, and we gained as many first downs as we did against a hapless Washington State. The missed opportunities while going 2-6 inside the red zone seemed to be more the fault of the players than the coaching. Weis is a damn good offensive coach.

Verdict: Weis has three games left, and he must win out to keep his job. Our last win against a ranked opponent was in 2006 against Penn State, and we were favorites in that game. Losing to Pitt next week would cement the idea that Weis' teams cannot win against anyone ranked higher than them, which is unacceptable. Losing to UConn or Stanford (both of which are having good years) cements the idea that Weis' teams play down to (on paper) inferior opponents, which is unacceptable.

Now for what I'm sure everyone really came to read:


Excise Police: On a weekend where there is so many football related issues to talk about, I'm not going to spend too much time here, but the same week Notre Dame sponsored an event for off campus students to learn how to live safely in the dangerous city of South Bend, the Indiana State Excise Police broke up a party thrown by my friends only to ticket 2 younger siblings that were visiting for the weekend. Great use of resources.

Sergio Brown / Robert Blanton / Harrison Smith: Our defensive backfield has had issues all season, but this was one of the more frustrating performances. I'm not sure if Sergio took one step downfield to stop the run as he was content catching the fullback after ten yard gains instead of proactively trying to hit someone. Blanton's showboating after big plays is really starting to irritate me. Against Washington State, he was able to tip down the only deep ball thrown at him, but his celebration seemed unwarranted considering that a better ball would have resulted in an 80 yard touchdown. Similarly against Navy, RJ was heavily lobbying that the receiver should have been down at the 1 after he missed an assignment that resulted in a touchdown; just get off the field and get the next play right. This paragraph is getting kind of long so I'll let Brawling Hibernian comment on Smith.
Remember Washington?: This time Notre Dame was unable to get points in the red zone as missed field goals and turnovers inside the 20 negated an otherwise stellar performance by the offense. Credit Navy for standing strong when it counted, but one, if not both of our turnovers, were more mental errors than great plays by Navy, so this blame really goes on the players.

Coaching: The offense was great, but the defense was hard to watch. We gave up 348 yards on the ground because our coaching staff was not able to make adjustments. Our DBs were not prepared to defend the one pass that hurt us. Most importantly though, is that down 2 touchdowns with 12 minutes to go in the game, our entire sideline looked like they would rather be sitting in an Accounting class. In the NFL, its hard to tell someone who's making millions of dollars a year to yell; in college ball, it should be easy, but yet not one of our coaches made an effort to motivate the sidelines during the game. Maybe the cliche of coming out flat was why we couldn't score in the first half or why we couldn't make stops when we needed to. To me, this is my single biggest knock on Charlie Weis' teams; it is too hard to get them excited unless the game is in its final minutes.


Clausen / Floyd: I have to put them in here for the stats. Jimmy ran off 452 passing yards and Floyd grabbed a game high 141 receiving yards to go along with his touchdown. Even though Floyd had a few big drops, you have to applaud the guy's ability to come back after an injury with such a big game. Jimmy almost found himself in the Duds column this week for his two turnovers and poor reads in the fourth quarter. This is probably overstepping my bounds as I don't know what was going on after Clausen's fumble, but I can tell you that it reinforced every negative stereotype about Clausen when he laid on the ground showing off his injury after the fumble.

Tate: 9 catches for 132 and a touchdown. Also made a great play on the onside kick to give us a chance to win. After Clausen missed on his fourth consecutive first down fade to Floyd in the fourth quarter, a student next to me lamented about Floyd's return, complaining that now less passes will get thrown to Golden.

David Ruffer: The kickoff specialist gave Notre Dame it's first touchback in a long time.

Bye Week: At least I didn't have to watch my Browns lose this weekend, too. If Notre Dame decides to cut ties with Charlie at the end of the year, the school might learn a lesson from the Browns, who have found a comfortable place in the cellar of the AFC North behind two former Belicheck coaches in Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini (who we inexplicably hired after he was fired from the Jets). Our next coach should be proven, either with BCS appearances in college or with rings in the NFL. Notre Dame should be an attractive coaching job, and we need to stop trying to find the next breakout coach and make a hire with less risk.

That's it for the Duds and Studs segment. Go Irish! Get a freakin good win, please!

Photos from the AP.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IBG: Lots of Gold Helmets Edition

I'm finally done with my overloaded first half of the semester, I've had a chance to travel the great state of Ohio over fall break, and after a fantastic Halloween last weekend, I have finally run out of scheduling excuses and must finally host an installment of the Irish Blogger Gathering. In addition to finally having some free time, posting for the Navy week seemed to make sense over here because our very own JY has two younger sisters attending the Naval Academy this year. So with that intro, let's jump into the questions.

I'll be linking other member's responses as they come in, so keep checking back to satisfy your mid-week Notre Dame fix.1. With all of the recent injuries, what scenario would you rather have? Option A: Dayne Crist out for the season, Trevor Robinson out indefinitely with an ankle sprain and Jimmy Clausen suffering week to week with turf toe OR Option B: All of the above players are 100% and Floyd is out for the year?

I'll be interested to hear everyone else's take on this, but I'm going with option A for two reasons. Notre Dame has not performed well in the red zone in Floyd's absence; Air Mike is able to use his 6'3" frame and superb hands better than anyone when he has little space to work with. While not having Crist available if Clausen goes down is a scary prospect, the second reason I'm picking option A is our depth at quarterback. Sharpley isn't going to win the Heisman, but he has gotten some quality playing time over the past few seasons, and if he had threats like Tate and Floyd to through to, I'm sure he would do alright.2. After experiencing our first neutral site game at San Antonio this week, it got me thinking about our upcoming off site game against Navy. What are your thoughts on playing Navy in Ireland in 2012? Should the 7-4-1 model take us abroad?

I was more focused on trading baseball cards and pursuing my inevitable career as a comic book artist in 1996 when Autry Denson led the way to a 54-27 victory in Dublin, but I can still say that the upcoming Dublin game is (gasp) a good thing. Firstly, this matchup speaks to the incredible versatility that Notre Dame has in scheduling; how many other Universities can offer recruits the chance to play ball in front of thousands of crazy football (the other kind) fans? Second, unlike in the NFL, college teams, and especially Independents, are afforded the opportunity of scheduling around big games. For the 2012 matchup, it looks like Notre Dame will open the season against Navy and then return home for a bye week before facing Pitt, likely avoiding the chance to have a 'let down' or 'looking ahead' or a 'we got screwed up by the time change' game. As for regularly going abroad, I feel like once a decade is plenty enough; these types of games should be special.

3. Navy's unique offense and personnel always seem to test the Irish in some ways that other opponents don't. What position matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?

ND Offensive Line vs. Navy Defensive Line. The last two seasons, ND averaged 4.5 and 3.7 yards per rush, and this year I want to see us reassert some dominance in the trenches. Expect a healthy dose of Allen and Hughes while the offensive line flexes some muscle.

4. The Navy football stereotype is generally that the players are undersized and have less star power, but by emphasizing the fundamentals, minimizing mental errors, and playing as a team, they are always able to put up a fight. What position or player on Notre Dame's roster do you think could benefit from approaching games with this attitude?

We have been starting to see more of it lately, but I would like our defensive front seven, especially the linebackers, to play a little more like Navy. Against the run from a pure statistical standpoint, things have been bad, but they could be worse. With Tenuta's blitzes, though, it becomes even more important for the first defender to make a sound tackle because there might not be much help if he misses. Let's start bringing our feet, wrapping up, and driving through the ball! Te'o will lead the charge for improvement over the final stretch.
If we can get these many bodies in the backfield every play, we should be fine

5. Everyone in the country saw that Navy took #6 Ohio State down to the wire in the opening week; how will the Midshipmen fare against the Irish? Predictions please.

Before losing to Temple last week, Navy looked like a very respectable 6-2 team, with their two losses coming on the road at Ohio State and at Pittsburgh, and they even put up 63 points against Rice. However, Notre Dame's fire power should be too much to match. My stat of the game is that Navy has not given up more than 35 points this season; look for the Irish to top that mark and beat Navy 38 - 13.

IBG Responses:

Domer Law Blog is excited for Dublin
One Foot Down is looking forward to some option football
Brawling Hibernian picks Option C

Monday, November 2, 2009

WSU Duds and Studs

Here we go again...Duds

Young Special Teams: For the first time that I've noticed this season, freshman longsnapper Jordan Cowart had some trouble snapping the ball, which led to the blocked extra point. Cowart's snap may or may not have been the primary cause for Ben Turk's sky high 10 yard punt, but the other Aquinas special teams product also struggled. Similar to the difficulties Brandon Walker faced, the issue doesn't appear to be talent with Turk (he's only a freshman), but inconsistency has been a problem, and inconsistency is the last word you want to use when talking about special teams.

Injuries: With a 24 point lead halfway through the 3rd quarter, I have no problem leaving Jimmy in the game to let him try and get 1 more security touchdown before handing the game to Crist. Fortunately, Clausen's turf toe doesn't look to be bad as Weis said he could have continued playing if needed. Unfortunately, Crist suffered a more serious injury shortly after. "At first, we thought it was definitely really bad" said Weis, "now we're thinking it might not be as bad and we're waiting on the MRI." The worst injury, however, was to Trevor Robinson. I hope TRob can make it back soon, but from what I saw on the tape, an pretty solid ankle sprain (2-4 weeks) or a broken ankle (longer) don't look out of the question.Eric Olsen: Two personal fouls is bad. The second personal foul by itself didn't look that bad, but you have to figure the ref gave him some warning before that one. At the same time though, you have to love the aggressiveness from the offensive line. Watch the next time we complete a 15 yard pass; Paul Duncan and Chris Stewart will be there to pancake a DB 2 seconds after the ball gets there.


Duval Kamara: Duval, to put it mildly, had some consistency issues last season after exceeding expectations in 2007. With Floyd and Parris out, though, Kamara provided Clausen with some key outs when he needed it, registering 3 catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. Also with a key block on Tate's TD run, Kamara deserves a some credit for his performance this week.

A for Effort: Obviously you have to throw some major props to Mike Ragone this week. Its pretty easy to stand out on the field after a turnover, hang your head, and say "f it," but sprinting 95 yards to stop a 2 point play that (very likely) would have had no outcome on the final score speaks to the heart and pride that this team has. Another catch by Rudolph demonstrated the same effort (even though it was negated by a penalty) as he churned his legs for 10+ yards with 3 defenders on his back. And speaking of dragging defenders...

Robert Hughes: It seems like, for better or worse, Hughes specializes in beating down on lesser opponents. His stat line of 131 yards (5.5 ypc) and a touchdown downplay the tough running by 33. Allen got to rest, Riddick looked good during his time (9 carries for 51 yards and 3 catches for 24 yards), but this night belonged to Robert Hughes... haha TRICK - nice try Rob, but how could I leave out...

Golden Tate: A regular on the studs list, Tate lifted himself past Clausen in the Heisman (at least for me) with his performance against Washington State. With 4 rushes for 61 yards and a score, I'm questioning whether our best runningback on the team doesn't play wide receiver, but with plays like this, how can you keep him behind the quarterback? Maybe Floyd's return will finally let me stop writing about this guy every Monday.

Fun fact to send everyone off: the Irish are 15-0 when playing on Halloween, and USC lost this year... anyone think the AD should start scheduling that game asap?