Let's kick off a three part series breaking down how the Irish have performed to this point in the season, where we're headed, and what needs to happen in order to end up where we want. First up is the offensive side of the ball.
Jimmy Clausen is the best quarterback in the country and may be a top ten pick in the NFL Draft next year if he leaves (please don’t Jimmy). It’s been great watching him turn into a great leader and one of the best quarterbacks in school history…From what little we’ve seen of Dayne Crist he’s looked like he is developing well. He’s got a rocket arm and great mobility; it’s just a matter of honing his accuracy and getting more comfortable as the training wheels come off. Obviously we want Jimmy back more than anything, but the drop-off next year should he leave wouldn’t be as catastrophic as when Brady left.
Running Back: B+
Armando Allen has been absolutely fantastic. He’s averaging 5.0 ypc, chipping in a couple catches a game, and doing all the little things well (like blitz pick-up, fighting for the extra yard, holding on to the ball) to make this offense as effective as possible…The lightbulb finally went on for Robert Hughes. He’s running like someone who just realized he’s way bigger than the other kids on the playground. He’s stopped dancing in the hole and jumping over defenders and just plows ahead. His arrival has been huge, especially with Armando getting banged up in a couple games…Jonas Gray has been a bit of a disappointment and doesn’t know how to pass block, but it’s easy to dismiss that with the other two playing so well…Theo Riddick has seen only a handful of carries but already has the look of someone who will be a very valuable four year contributor.
Wide Receiver: A-
Michael Floyd may be the best receiver in the country. Golden Tate may be one of the five best receivers in the country. Floyd’s production was ridiculous until he got hurt. Golden has stepped up and come into his own in Floyd’s absence which has kept the offense rolling. Like Jimmy you can’t say enough good things about both of these guys…Robby Parris has emerged as a Ricky Proehl type of receiver, which every big passing team needs. Proehl was the under the radar, clutch, first down machine from the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf who seemed to always show up at important times. Parris has really come into his own and snared huge catches against both Purdue and USC to keep drives in the waning minutes of the game alive. Hopefully his injury won’t set him back too much…Duval Kamara has chipped in a little but certainly hasn’t emerged and seized the #3 receiver spot like many had hoped…Shaq Evans has shown some good potential although that mistimed route against Michigan still haunts my dreams. He should contribute more and more over the rest of the season…John Goodman will be a VERY good receiver by next year. Think a bigger, more athletic version of Robby Parris.
Tight End: B+
Kyle Rudolph is only a sophomore but he already deserves serious consideration for first team All-American. He’s a force to be reckoned with in the passing game and never seems to be taken down by the first tackler when in space. In the red zone he’s a monster with phenomenal hands and great jumping ability. Had that ridiculous potentially game-tying touchdown catch against SC stood he would’ve been vaulted to legend status…Bobby Burger has made huge contributions as a blocker out of the backfield and as a second tight end. There have been two or three big runs sprung by his blocks that sealed off the hole. What a great find this guy was…Mike Ragone has been a disappointment in the passing game, but he’s only been targeted once or twice. As a blocker he’s been very good but hasn’t stood out like Burger has. On the whole the improved blocking from this position has helped the running game make huge strides.
Offensive Line: B
This unit has been the most pleasant surprise. After watching the spring game I still didn’t think we were close to being as good as we needed to be in order to let this offense reach its full potential. The difference between then and now is night and day. It’s not a dominant unit, but we now have an effective running game to along with very good pass protection. The offensive line wasn’t responsible for allowing one sack until the Purdue game and in short yardage situations we’ve improved light years over the previous two seasons. There is still room for improvement (like cutting down on stupid penalties), but every Irish fan has to be very satisfied with the positive steps these boys have taken under Verducci’s guidance…The transition of Eric Olsen to center has been a huge success—the interior of the line has been rock solid…Sam Young has started to fulfill his enormous potential but needs to cut down on the stupid penalties (to his credit he’s been much better the last two games)…Paul Duncan has improved leaps and bounds from what he once was but still can’t match up with top-end defensive ends (he was brutalized by SC’s line), but all things considered he’s exceeded expectations as well.
Offensive Coaching: A
The two new position coaches, Tony Alford and Frank Verducci, have both had profound and very noticeable impacts on the players under their tutelage. Armando is running far better and picking up blitz assignments well, Hughes has turned into the bruising running back we knew he could be, and the line is starting to live up to their potential instead of hopelessly underachieving. These two guys have been outstanding additions to the coaching staff.
Now for the head honcho and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. He has done small things in games that could be questioned (not running the ball on the last drive against Michigan, same thing against MSU, 4th and 1 against SC), but all and all he’s been outstanding calling the plays. The “schematic advantage” that so many have lampooned actually exists again—there hasn’t been one game where he didn’t have his offense performing at a peak level, including against the vaunted SC defense.
Some may point to the Purdue game as an exception, but consider he put together an effective offensive package without Floyd, Armando, and (for most of the game) Clausen, implementing new wrinkles to the offense in the week leading up to it. Plus, that narrow win looks a helluva lot better now that Ohio State got beat in West Lafayette.
He’s also proven that there’s no one better at blueprinting an effective two-minute drill. The players are confident and precise in executing his schemes no matter whether it’s the first series of the game or the final one. All in all I have been extremely impressed with Charlie the offensive coordinator this season. He’s made just about all the right moves on the field and off it (the new hires).
Cumulative Offensive GPA: 3.72...it hasn't been perfect, but if people are complaining they're greedy--this is a pretty well-oiled machine that will only get better when Floyd comes back.
Offensive MVP: Jimmy Clausen…no brainer even with the spectacular performance of Golden Tate.
Honorable Mention: Golden Tate
Biggest Offensive Surprise: Bobby Burger…don’t underestimate how important he’s been in the running game.
Honorable Mention: Robert Hughes
Biggest Offensive Disappointment: Jonas Gray...I really thought he'd emerge but he's such a terrible blocker that you can't even think about having him in on passing downs. He's now clearly #3 with Theo Riddick breathing down his neck.
Honorable Mention: Duval Kamara
NEXT UP: DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS