Monday, September 28, 2009

It's a Beautiful Morning...

Notre Dame comes back and wins in the final minute. Penn State takes the gas at home against what’s becoming a hated rival. Great weekend in my book. Let’s tackle ten topics today.

10. Jimmy Clausen

Consider his Heisman campaign officially launched. He comes in off the bench after sitting out 2/3 of the game with an injury and engineers a drive for the ages to keep the season alive. You can’t say enough about how this kid has matured and come of age in every single aspect of his game. Forget the fact that he’s been lights out and his stats are off the charts (three 300 yard games, 66% completion pct, 10:1 TD to INT ratio), it’s the other things that point towards greatness.

For example, right after Purdue scored the first touchdown of the game and before the offense took the field for the first time, he went up to every offensive starter to get them fired up. It’s obvious that he’s taken on the role of leader that so many clamored for him to seize…and one of the best things about it is that it isn’t contrived. It’s very apparent that his teammates like him and respect him—a claim you couldn’t have made with any degree of certainty two years ago. He’s answered the bell and proven to those who doubted (including many former Notre Dame legends like Marc Edwards) that he could take the reigns and flourish. He’s poised, has a great sense of the pass rush, and always has his eyes downfield—you just can’t say enough about him. His calm under fire rubs off on his teammates as well. Think about it: in the last three weeks he’s led drives late in the 4th quarter to give the Irish the lead—two of them when he was injured. I can honestly say I’m just as confident that Jimmy will deliver in the clutch as I was when Brady was at the helm.

He arrived in South Bend with unbelievable fanfare and it seemed as if there was no way he’d ever live up to the expectations he was burdened with. If he sticks around for next year he may end up surpassing them.

9. Penn State

Let’s go back to my preseason Penn State preview!

“Penn State has never handled preseason expectations well—the two highest rankings they’ve achieved in the past ten years have come in years where no one picked them to do anything (unranked in 2005, #22 last year). They were routinely a top ten preseason team in the late 90’s and played in more Alamo Bowls than BCS bowls. They had a chance to head to the championship last year and just had to take care of an Iowa team that was headed to the Outback Bowl but they laid an egg. They have to replace their entire secondary and three All-Big Ten Offensive Linemen. Sorry Bill, you won’t get a shot at Tebow. You won’t even be close. The Nittanys go 10-2.”

See, what Billy learned this weekend is that all the noise 110,000 fans wearing white tees can create doesn’t help an offensive line block. It also doesn’t help a quarterback complete passes to his own team. Daryl Clark started the game with a bang and ended with a thump. The first two drives he went 6/9 for 104 yards and a 79 yard touchdown pass. The rest of the game he was 6/23 for 94 yards and three interceptions. His Heisman predictor rating on ESPN just has a picture of a skull and crossbones. Look at the bright side Bill—if the Nittany’s take care of business against the teams they should beat for the rest of the year they could end up in Capital One Bowl, which is in Orlando! Don’t look past Eastern Illinois though…heard they’ve got a fiesty pass rush.

8. Sam Young

Young has improved leaps and bounds since Frank Verducci arrived, tapping the vast potential everyone saw when he was a five star recruit coming out of high school. That being said, he has mental lapses that are so inexcusable that I can’t say he’s having a great season. I would guess that he’s the most penalized player in America through four weeks. He has to be! I can remember six different penalties called on him—holding, false starts, and personal fouls—off the top of my head. This Saturday the trend continued and on top of the stupid penalties he whiffed on a block on 4th and 1 during the first drive of the game that resulted in a turnover on downs. He’s like a quarterback who has played great…but every other quarter he just fumbles a snap and sabotages a drive.

This is something we just can’t afford from a four year starter; I don’t care how good he’s playing the rest of the game. As far as I’m concerned he’s doing as much harm with these mental breakdowns as he was the past few years when he blocked like a matador. I hope Verducci rides him hard and fixes this so we can focus on the fact that the rest of the time he’s playing himself into a high draft pick.

7. Robert Hughes

A big welcome back to Mr. Hughes! When he got in the game in the second quarter he kicked it into a gear we hadn’t seen since his freshman year. He ran like a bull and would not go down without three people on his back. This is exactly what most people expected him to be like out of the gate last year, but for whatever reason he just stopped running with a purpose. Slowly he slipped down the depth chart and suddenly he found himself being shifted to fullback. Armando’s injury provided what could have been his last chance to make a case for him to stay at running back—and he ran like he knew it. His stats didn’t light the world on fire (15 carries for 68 yards…37 of them on 4 carries during a 2nd quarter drive), but if he can run with the power he displayed against Purdue he’ll be back in the mix for touches especially in the red zone.

6. Charlie Weis

He’s still under fire from a lot of Notre Dame fans and it seems like each week he has to win to maintain any sort of support, but credit needs to be given where credit is due. Weis put together a fantastic gameplan against Purdue. His quarterback was banged up, his best receiver was out, and his top running back was out…but he found a way to win. A heavy dose of the running game, a second package put in place for Dayne Crist, and another brilliantly called and executed two minute drill with the game (and maybe—as always—his job) on the line. My buddy Brad pointed out Weis has proven that he calls the best two minute drill in the country. Couldn’t agree more.

Also, Charlie’s utilization of Golden Tate was a thing of beauty. He put together a gameplan that resembled one of Lou Holtz when he had Rocket and Tim Brown—get the ball in your playmaker’s hands as much as possible by any means necessary. Golden lined up as quarterback in the wildcat, tailback in the I-formation, and split out wide. He performed well in every role and I hope this continues going forward—the guy just makes plays.

5. The Offense’s Next Step

Notre Dame has learned how to come from behind and win. They’ve done it two weeks in a row (three straight weeks of lead-taking drives in the final quarter counting Michigan) and that’s something you must do in order to be a great team…but there’s still one thing they must learn how to do if they’re going to officially take the leap: SLAM THE DOOR. The past three weeks we were clearly the better team on the field and allowed the opponent to hang around instead of putting them away. Two times we got away with it, one time the opponent jumped up and bit us. Let’s look at what we could call potential “Slam the Door” drives in the 4th quarter of the past three games.

MICHIGAN: Took over with 3:07 left to play after a good stand by the defense. Armando picks up a first down on the first play with a 13 yard run. Hughes is then stuffed for no gain, Michigan has to burn a timeout. Clausen attempts a fly route to Tate which falls incomplete (should have been pass interference). No time runs off the clock. Clausen can’t hook up with Evans on 3rd and 10 and the Irish are forced to punt.
Drive Summary: 4 plays (2 rush, 2 pass), 13 yards, 0:54

MICHIGAN ST: Took over with 4:48 left after another great stand by the defense. Armando had a five yard rush on first down but it was backed up 12 yards thanks to a personal foul penalty after the play on Sam Young. This essentially amounted to a loss of down. Clausen then bailed out Sam Young with an 18 yard pass to Tate for a first down. Armando was stuffed in the backfield for a five yard loss on first down, ripped off a 9 yard run on second down, followed by an incomplete pass intended for Goodman on 3rd and 6.
Drive Summary: 5 plays (3 rush, 2 pass), 15 yards, 1:50

PURDUE: Took over the ball with 7:34 left after Darrin Walls intercepted a 4th down pass in Irish territory. Robert Hughes had a three yard run on first down. Second down we gave up a sack. Third down a dump to Hughes got three yards (a holding penalty was called on Notre Dame and declined)
Drive Summary: 3 plays (1 rush, 2 pass), 1 yard, 1:38

The averages are four plays for 9.7 yards and 1:17 run off the clock. That’s pretty atrocious. We’re constantly on the defense for not being able to come up with the necessary stop at the end of the game, but you’ll notice that in each of these instances the defense DID make the necessary stop and provided the offense with a chance to close the game out. That doesn’t exonerate the defense by any stretch but it certainly is cause for pause.

The defense loaded the box and dared Notre Dame to pass on all three of those drives. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t simply impose our will and jam it down their throats, but if we can’t we need to figure out how to be effective in other ways. I think Charlie has made some good calls in these situations (many—namely my roommate—disagree), it just comes down to executing. If Shaq Evans has the timing correct on that comeback route we’re 4-0 and ranked top 10 in the country right now. If we don’t take a five yard loss on first down in that Michigan State series we’re looking at a 3rd and 1 after Armando’s 9 yard run instead of 3rd and 6. I tried but I really can’t say anything redeeming about the three plays in the Purdue game.

Notre Dame works on the two-minute drill hard in practice and you know what? It shows. I think it’d be wise if Charlie started simulating circumstances in practice where we need a long, clock-killing drive to close a game out. Our longest drive of the year came against Purdue in the second half and it was only 6:20 (and resulted in zero points). If we put practicing those drag-out drives that kill the will of a team to use like we do the two-minute drill we’ll be taking one of the final necessary steps to being a great team on the offensive side of the ball.

4. The Irish Defense

For how much confidence I have that our offense will deliver, I have an equal lack of confidence that our defense will make the necessary play to win a game. Two straight weeks there was a total coverage breakdown on a drive late in the fourth quarter and there wasn’t a defender within 20 yards of a running back out of the backfield. Purdue quarterback Joey Elliot connected, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins did not (thank you God in heaven).

This is a unit that plays on its heels (in spite of the fact that they blitz on almost every down). I don’t know whether it’s a matter of still not being totally comfortable with the system or what, but it seems like rarely do you see anybody in a position to make a big play. Darius Fleming has made some great strides, Kyle McCarthy has been a rock in the secondary, and (gulp) John Ryan has actually been solid on the defensive line (this is the first year he has as many tackles as high fives)…but other than that it’s been pretty sub-par.

There are certain things that just don’t make sense to me. For example, why was Toryan Smith in the game so much against Purdue when they were spreading us out? He’s terrible in coverage and the Boilers continually picked on him over the middle and he could do nothing about it. Toryan is a tough guy but he’s proven to be the Asaph Schwapp of our defense—if someone is directly in his path he’s devastating, if hitting the person requires an iota of lateral movement then he’s toast. Why not put Te’o in there? By almost all accounts he’s one of our top three linebackers; why not give him a chance to learn against these less talented teams where he’s the better fit anyway?

Another thing that doesn’t make sense is that our cornerbacks don’t look great. Everyone thought the secondary would be one of our biggest strengths this year but we consistently are giving up 8 and 9 yard passes with little to no resistance. Why are we sagging off of the receivers so much? Is that a schematic flaw or are they just underperforming? I can’t really remember any true coverage sacks—please correct me if I’m wrong—which is staggering given our talent.

We have studs out there in Blanton, Walls, McNeil, and Gray. Why not give them a chance to jam the guys at the line (especially Blanton and McNeil because they’re the more physical of the co-starters) and throw off timing? Walls was on the receiver like a glove when he made that pick but there have been far more times where receivers were roaming free in the intermediate range of our defense than times I remember great coverage.

The honeymoon period with Jon Tenuta has officially been over for a couple weeks now. He really needs to make some adjustments in order for this team as a whole to reach its fullest potential. He’s not playing with a stacked deck like Charlie is on offense (our defensive line should be known as IHOP), but if he’s one of the best in the business he needs to figure out a way to be a GOOD defense.

3. Eric Maust

I’m ready to move on to the future. Maust’s punting average has dropped from 42.1 in 2007 to 41.1 in 2008 to 39.8 this season. He’s incapable of unleashing a bomb like Geoff used to and he’s not consistent enough to justify keeping him out there, especially when he lays 30 yard eggs at the most inopportune times. I know Charlie isn’t hesitant to yank the punter if he isn’t performing even if he is a senior (just look at 2007 when Geoff was yanked for Maust) so I’m assuming Turk has been doing something to keep himself off the field. I’d certainly like to know what though. My college roommate Jeff was at the game this weekend and said Turk was booming punts 10-15 yards further than Maust in warmups. I’ll be very interested to see what happens over the next couple weeks.

2. The College Football Landscape (rapid fire reactions to the weekend)

Michigan plays with 12 men in the Big House…the officiating crew being the 12th man, not the fans. As far as I’m concerned both Notre Dame and Indiana were victims of abhorrently bad officiating in Michigan Stadium. Imagine what would be going on in Ann Arbor if the Skunkbears were 2-2 (like they should be)…

Analysts need to settle down on the conversation of whether non-BCS schools deserve to be in the national championship game if they run the table. Every year a couple mid-major teams emerge early in the season and everyone flips out over how they’re going to blow up the BCS. With very few exceptions they trip up along the way in conference play and the discussion is squashed (Fresno State a few years back, East Carolina last year, etc.). Before we start making statements like “if BYU runs the table and they aren’t in the national championship I’m done watching college football” (how’d that Tomahawk Chop taste Steve Young?), let’s wait and see how October goes. If there was a way to short Houston stock right now I’d have unloaded my bank account already.

Did the video of Tim Tebow being taken out in the ambulance make anyone else think of the WWF? Didn’t you expect Jim Ross to be announcing that scene?

Is the quarterback sneak not in Mississippi State’s playbook?

Big thanks to Washington for getting their doors blown off this weekend by the Fighting Jim Harbaughs of Stanford. The only redeeming thing about them beating Southern Cal was the fact that they’d be ranked when we played them. They have exactly zero votes in both polls now. Super. Honorable mention to the Wannstache and his Pitt Panthers for losing to NC State.

Southern Cal is already back up to #7 in the country. I can only hope they climb into the Top Five somehow before October 17th.

The U is back! The U is back! The U is…uh ohhhh.

Bobby Bowden, it’s time to go…

1. Stress

Here are the five texts that rolled in two minutes after we scored the final touchdown against Purdue:

“I’m way too old for this.” –Hot Carl
“Heart attack within five years.” –Pat
“We’re living ten years less.” –My girlfriend
“I had legit chest pains. Felt like a NOS hangover.” –Panzer
“These games aren’t fun.” –John Ifky

Median age of the people who sent those texts: 23

I love college football and I love the emotions it conjures up; that’s why it’s hands down the best sport in America. But for the love of God Charlie, if you want more than half of your fan base to make it to January without a massive heart attack please just give us some more games like Nevada. I don’t know how much more I can take of this. That being said, if the alternative is losses go ahead and keep doing this. I’ll just watch games with a defibrillator handy.


  1. NOS Hangover..BLASTOFF

  2. Consider his Heisman campaign officially launched.

    I refuse to read any further than this...ND is 3 minutes away from being 1-3 playing cupcakes.

  3. He's the reason they're 3-1 instead of 1-3.

    But thanks for stopping by John Saunders.