Friday, September 30, 2005

Boiler Plate | by Pat

Purdue's starting quarterback Brandon Kirsch came into the 2005 season with labels like "cocky", "risk-taker", and "fiery". However, after a 2-1 start and a scant 4 touchdown passes, new adjectives like "uneven" and "inconsistent" have been popping up. Even Coach Tiller has mentioned the need for Kirsch to play better.

Tiller was asked Tuesday to evaluate Kirsch's play after three games.

"Good, average and not so good," he said. "Not necessarily in that order. But he's played OK. He's executed parts of the offense very well, and he's not executed parts of it."

One area the coach would like to see Kirsch improve is running the option plays.

"He's been premature with some of his pitches," Tiller said.

The first time that ND faced an option play this year was against Michigan State. Now Kirsch isn't Drew Stanton, and as long as he keeps pitching the ball more often than not, it might not be terribly effective, but it is something to worry about. One key to stopping the option will be to keep the pitchmen like Kory Sheets from breaking off long runs -- like his 88-yarder against Minnesota. Both Abiamiri and Frome will have to play disciplined football and make sure they don't get caught trying to defend both the QB and pitch-man on the option. From the limited Boilermaker football I've seen, it seems they mainly run the option from the shotgun a la the current Urban Meyer/spread option craze.

One thing that does worry me is if Purdue decides to try the option-play-action pass (my favorite play from NCAA 2004). Given the noted tendencies of our safeties to fly up for run support, I really hope we don't see Kirsch set up for a long pass while Zibby and Nedu are charging the line of scrimmage.

In other Boilermaker personnel news, the Purdue defense will be minus one starting linebacker as strong-side linebacker Bobby Iwuchukwu will miss the game following knee surgery. His replacement is Cliff Avril who started four games last season.

Then again, Purdue might bench all of its starting linebackers. Tiller's pissed, and has threatened to give the starting nod to the current backups.
"It's safe to say they've played better football in the past, and I expect them to play better football in the future," Tiller said.

Other bits and pieces to make you look knowledgeable at your local gamewatch:

• 6'9" wide receiver Kyle Ingraham only has 133 yards receiving over the first three games, but much of that is due to a sore ankle that might still be bothering him on Saturday.

• Purdue's #2 tight end, Dustin Keller, missed the Minnesota game with a sprained ankle and might end up missing the Notre Dame game as well. Keller is currently Purdue's leading touchdown receiver with two of Purdue's four passing touchdowns.

• Building on his 88 yard touchdown run, sophomore Kory Sheets has been officially moved up to backup running back to Jerod Void (5 rushing TDs so far) in the place of 5th year senior Brandon Jones.

Varmint Victory | by Jay

If you missed Purdue's 42-35 overtime loss to the Golden Gophers last week, here's a pretty good article from's Matthew Zemek, wherein he details the cat-and-mouse game of adjustments between the two coaching staffs. It gets a little fawning, but it's a pretty good read.

Trailing 35-28 after one possession in OT, the Gophers had to get seven or lament a devastating defeat. Browning was right back under the gun after having to direct Cupito through a tying TD drive and two-point play. Once again, he had to come up with something fresh under pressure, and once again, Browning delivered. He used a bubble screen to get close to the Purdue goal line, but after a few plays got blown up by Spack’s aggressive defense, the Gophers faced 4th and goal at the 8. What was an offensive coordinator to do?

Browning had the answer.

Realizing that Spack’s defense was aggressive, and also knowing how effective the bubble screen had just begun to be for his offense, Browning used a tripps formation that initiated bubble screen-like action on the part of the slot receiver, only for another pass catcher—Logan Payne, who was set farther to the outside—to break inside while Purdue’s defense flowed to the edges. Payne got wide open, and Cupito made the easy throw for the tying touchdown. Just for good measure, Browning successfully used another bubble screen in the second overtime, but it was that 4th and goal call—which took previous play calls into consideration and manipulated tendencies—that was his greatest stroke of genius.

Lockwood. Chaney. Tiller. Spack. And especially Mitch Browning. All five of these men distinguished themselves in a game for the creative, thinking football fan. The sport to which these guys have given their lives was honored by their efforts on Saturday in the Metrodome. It was an absolute pleasure to watch, so beautiful and artistic that the only thing missing from this contest was a PBS pledge drive at halftime.
On a different note, if you're a masochist, and you'd like to relive some highlights from last year's 41-16 embarrassment, check out this video clip compilation put together by a Purdue fan. (Be sure to turn the volume down -- the music's terrible.) The 2:50 mark is particularly vomit-inducing.

As Charlie said in his presser a couple days ago, last year's game was "just painful".

Still Boiling | by Jay

Just wanted to point your attention to a piece that Michael did back in June called Boiling Point, which discusses a little bit more on Brock Spack's defense. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Boilermaker Benchmark | by Jeff

For the ten coaches that played Purdue during their first season, the game against the Boilermakers has surprisingly been a good indicator of a coach's future success, as the four coaches that won by 17 or more all went on to win National Championships. Leahy didn't play Purdue in his first season, although he did beat Purdue 49-6 in 1946 after his two year hiatus as coach. Even Elmer Layden (.770 record at ND) won by a double digit margin.

Certainly one game doesn't serve as a (cough) referendum on any coach, and the Purdue teams of days gone by were not as talented as the teams of today, but it was interesting to see the correlation between this game and a coach's future success.

First Year Games vs. Purdue

Year Coach Career
Win %
Result Score Location Purdue's
1986 * Lou Holtz .765
W 41-9 Home 3-8
1918 * Knute Rockne .881
W 26-6 Away 3-3
1964 * Ara Parseghian .836
W 34-15 Home 6-3
1975 * Dan Devine .764
W 17-0 Away 4-7
1934 Elmer Layden .770
W 18-7 Home 5-3
2002 Ty Willingham .583
W 24-17 Home 7-6
1981 Gerry Faust .535
L 14-15 Away 5-6
1997 Bob Davie .583
L 17-28 Away 9-3
1954 Terry Brennan .640
L 14-27 Home 5-3-1
1959 Joe Kuharich .425
L 7-28 Away 5-2-2

* won a National Championship

Spack Attack | by Mark

When the 2005 season began many Notre Dame fans believed that the Purdue defense, led by defensive coordinator Brock Spack, would be one of the two toughest tests for Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame offense. And there is very good reason for that: Spack has been magnificent against Notre Dame. Consider that in the three years of Diedrick's Offensive Offense, ND managed a grand total of 29 points on offense against Purdue. (For a point of comparison, Notre Dame scored 30 in its three losses to USC.)

But something strange is going in West Lafayette. Despite having all 11 starters back on defense, and having excellent depth along the defensive line and among the linebackers, the Purdue defense isn't playing anywhere near the level it was at in 2004. Take a look at the difference in where Purdue currently ranks in the major defensive statistical categories and where they finished in 2004:

'04: 14th
'05: 41st

'04: 49th
'05: 84th

'04: 40th
'05: 87th

'04: 15th
'05: 82nd

Purdue gave up 24 or more points only three times in twelve games last season, but so far this year, Purdue has yet to keep an opponent under 24 points. Against each team they've played this year - Akron, Arizona, and Minnesota - they've given up three touchdown passes in every game. Three of those TDs have covered between 32 and 79 yards in the air. Even Minnesota, who will run on any team, also threw for nearly 300 yards against the Boilermakers.

So you might be saying "This is great news for Notre Dame!" Well, it might be. We know that the only thing that has really managed to stop the ND offense so far this year is the ND offense. But Spack and his players have a history of success against Notre Dame, they have a tremendous amount of pride, and Spack remains one of the better defensive coordinators in the country.

Expect the Purdue defense to play its best game of this still young season -- I certainly do. But if they somehow continue to play at the sub-par level we have seen over the first three games, the Boilermakers will be making a mistake worthy of Sean Connery: they'll be bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Cirque du Purdue | by Jay

Playing Purdue is a little like going to the circus.

You sir, STEP right up! STEP right up! Come see PURDUE FOOTBALL!

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MARVEL at the fairlyand GOLDEN GIRL, and the mysterious WOMAN IN BLACK!

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OOH and AHH at the Purdue Golden Silks!

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the Pom Squads!

Baton Twirlers!

the Moustaches!

and ROARING Choo Choos!

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Enjoy the COMMEMORATIVE Sun Bowl Rings!
BE AMAZED at a 6'9 wide receiver!

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and CHEER to cut-blocks so VICIOUS, it's a part of the school fight song!

Fighting Varsity
Here's The Fighting Varsity
That Wears The Black And Gold.
They Fear No Foe
And They Hit Them Low.
GAZE in AMAZEMENT at not just football players, but SUPERHEROES!

DELIGHT in the wonders of the magical SHILLELAGH!

"I think it is a whoopin' stick," Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch said Tuesday."It's a walking stick," Tiller said. "I have no desire to take the stick off the trophy and go for a walk with it.""I've seen it. I don't know what it is though," Bryant said. "It looks like a flute."

Your huge, plastic head,
Giant sledgehammer, big drum.
Worst mascot ever.

and most of all, COWER at the GIRTH of the DRUM!

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It's Spectacular, Spectacular!

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Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages, get a ticket for the Greatest Show in West Lafayette!The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.


Yep, after all that, I think I need a drink.


1 shot blended whiskey (preferably Wild Turkey)
1 mug of beer

The method of drinking varies. Some shoot the whiskey straight and use the beer as a chaser. Others pour the two together and drink it. A "Depth Charge" occurs when you drop the shotglass into the beer glass and down the drink all at once.
Recipe c/o the Global Gourmet.

Statistically Speaking | by Pat

• To quote directly from the game notes, here's a reflection of how much the offense has improved this season.

With 560 yards of total offense in today's game, Notre Dame has now piled up over 500 yards of offense in three of its first four games. The team compiled 502 at Pittsburgh and 594 against Michigan State. The last time the Irish put up 500 yards of offense three times in a single season was 1996, when the Irish accomplished that feat four times. From 1997-2004, Notre Dame reached 500 total yards of offense in a game only five times.
• Darius Walker has now topped 100 yards rushing for the first four games of the season. He's the first player to do so in the first four games of the season. Allen Pinkett had 5 100-yard rushing games in a row so Darius can tie him with a century mark performance against Purdue. The ND record for consecutive 100 yard rushing games is 7, set by Lee Becton in 1993.

• Brady Quinn not only rapidly moving up the career attempts, completions, and yardage records, he also moved into a tie for 2nd place with 8 career games notching over 250 yards passing. The all-time leader is Jarious Jackson with 9 so it's possible that Quinn could reach a tie for first with a good showing against Purdue.

• Say what you will about his coverage, but Chinedum Nduwke is making an impact in the secondary. So far this season he has four fumble recoveries. Going back through the stats for the past 10 years, no player on the Irish defense totaled four fumble recoveries in a single season. Nduwke also has an interception giving him 5 turnover recoveries so far only a third into the season. Over the last ten year period, here are the Irish defenders who over a whole season have at least matched that total.
8 - Lyron Cobbins, 1995 (3 FR, 5 INT)
8 - Shane Walton, 2002 (1 FR, 7 INT)
6 - Quentin Burrell, 2003 (2 FR, 4 INT)
5 - Gerome Sapp, 2002 (1 FR, 4 INT)
• So far this season, Notre Dame has successfully completed 26 of 61 third downs into first downs or touchdowns. So just how have we been doing it? Who's the most likely target? Of the 26 successfully converted 3rd downs, one has been by penalty, leaving 25 conversions. Here's the breakdown.

Third Downs Converted, by Player

Player Rush
Anthony Fasano

Jeff Samardzija

Maurice Stovall

Rhema McKnight

Asaph Schwapp

Rashon Powers-Neal 3

Brady Quinn

Darius Walker
2 5
David Wolke

15 25

Season-long Running Averages


Category Pitt UM MSU UW 2005
Yards per rush
Avg yards per pass attempt
7.7 7.2
Avg yards per pass completion
11.0 11.7 14.8 13.1
12.4 13.4
Pass completion %
Third Down conversions
10/15 (67%)
4/15 (27%)
6/18 (33%)
6/13 (46%)
26/61 (43%)
68/183 (37%)
Rushing yd average 275.0
179.75 (39th)
127.4 (85th)
Passing yd average 227.0
295.72 (17th)
218.1 (54th)
Total offense yd average
475.00 (13th)
345.5 (81st)
Time of possession / game 32:45 30:55 35:4936:56
34:07 30:50
Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency
5/ 6 (83%)
2/2 (100%)
4/ 5 (80%)
3/5 (60%)
14/ 18 (77%)
25 / 36 (69%)


Category Pitt
Yards per rush given up
Avg yards per pass attempt
6.3 5.1
12.1 10.2
7.3 7.9
Avg yards per pass completion
11.0 11.7 20.421.5
14.0 13.6
Pass completion percentage
Quarterback sacks
5 2 1 3
11 30
Rushing yd average against 103.0
104.75 (32nd)
88.2 (4th)
Passing yd average against 220.0
294.5 (105th)
281.2 (116th)
Total yd offense average against
399.25 (76th)
369.4 (54th)


Category Pitt
Interceptions by ND
Fumbles Forced / Recovered
2/ 1
3/ 1
4/ 2
11/ 6
27 / 12
Turnovers gained
2 233 10 21
Had Intercepted 1
Fumbles / Lost 1/ 0
3/ 1
1/ 1
7/ 2
15 / 6
Turnovers lost
Turnover Margin +1

Special Teams

Category Pitt
Kickoff return average
Kickoff return average allowed
16.0 18.0 20.8 16.0
17.9 19.9
Punt return average
23.0 19.0 11.0 15.5
15.8 10.8
Punt return average allowed

Playmakers | by Pat

QB - Settling down after a somewhat erratic game against Michigan State, Brady Quinn had one of his best games of this young season. He looked calm and on target for the most part. We also got to see the deep ball and it looked pretty good. One of the best things I noticed is that he's getting really good at feeling the pressure in the pocket and deciding to use his feet when it's warranted. He's not the fastest quarterback in the nation, but he's fast enough and much quicker than opposing teams realize. When he's able to spin out of sacks and run for first downs on 3rd and long, that's just one more way he can break a defense's confidence. It sure is fun to watch him develop into an upper-level college quarterback.

RB - Another day, another century mark for Darius. It seemed that Washington had some success stringing out the draw plays, but I don't think anyone expects Walker to beat everyone to the corner. His strengths are patience and vision. Walker does seem to end every run out of bounds, but given how many carries he gets a game, that doesn't bother me. Besides, when the call is inside and ND needs a few yards, Walker has yet to shy away from lowering his helmet and delivering a pop to the defender. The only real negative from the game was when he failed to reel in Quinn's pass on 4th down.

Rashon Powers-Neal was back in action this week. But while it was great to see him explode into the endzone, most of the credit should go to the offensive line as the hole was huge. He still seems to strictly be a north-south runner, but that has its place and so far he's been effective on the receiving end of short passes. I also noticed that he did a great job blocking in the Washington game. Once he got on a guy he would keep on him until the play was over. Given how much Purdue is going to blitz, I hope RPN gets more than a few appearances in the backfield for both his blocking and change of pace from Walker's running style.

Speaking of change of pace, Travis Thomas made the most of his limited time. He was fast, decisive, and kept the ball firmly in his hands. I'm sure I'm not the only one that enjoyed watching him run over that poor Husky defender that tried to bring him down on the 5-yard line. A performance like that is a big confidence booster and hopefully is enough to earn him a few more carries outside of garbage time.

WR - New game, new breakout player. This time Samardzija took the honors as he leapt from red-zone receiver extraordinaire to all-around threat. Notre Dame's "possesion" receiver showed some great wheels on the 52 yard bomb for a touchdown and incredible hands as per usual the rest of the game. One of the best plays was pulling in a rifled 3rd down pass from Quinn in the red zone that was just a bit too low. He also made a nice play on the Husky hail mary to end the first half. About the only disappointment was that we didn't get to see him attempt that trick play pass.

Stovall appeared to regress a bit from the MSU game, but it's hard to tell from TV exactly why. Quinn seems to really look for Samardzija and Fasano (for good reason, they both catch everything) but I'd have to think that unless Washington was doubling him more often that not that Stovall was open. Stovall did make a great catch on the deep ball in the endzone and only came inches from a spectacular touchdown. The grab of a late Quinn pass on 3rd and long was equally impressive. The good news is that we've had two receivers have big games, which will only serve to make it harder to double one of them. I would like to see Shelton and possibly Grimes see some more passes thrown their way, but that's just me being greedy.

TE - The big play that everyone will remember of course is Fasano leaping over the UW cornerback. He had a great day as usual. Against Washington he also had some nice yards after the catch, which is great to see. With his size, when he catches the ball in motion he's a load to bring down. And after his leap, many of the Husky defenders made sure to hit him higher, which then resulted in Fasano being able to use his size to churn out a few extra yards. There are plenty of good tight ends in college football, but Fasano is going to be a definite challenger for All-American status if he can keep up this pace.

OL- The offensive line looked good all day, especially when it came to pass blocking. One of the reasons that Quinn had a great game is because he had all day to throw the ball. And on Walker's touchdown run, the hole was about 5 yards wide. A running back has to love being able to see the entire defensive backfield while he's running through the hole. What is really impressive is that the line held Manese Hopoi -- last year's Pac-10 tackle-for-loss leader and soon to be UW career tackle-for-loss leader -- to only 1 tackle. This is the same guy that sacked Matt Leinart 3 times last year. After too many penalties in the MSU game, I thought they did a great job on eliminating mental mistakes like jumping offsides too much. However, the holding penalty on the first drive was a costly one as it turned a first and goal into a 2nd and long that eventually became a botched field goal attempt. There is still the issue of failing to convert a 4th and 1 for the second straight game. At that point, the OL should have been able to blow the Huskies off the ball and that didn't happen. Credit to the Washington DL I suppose, but against better teams we're going to need to get those tough yards in close games. The injury to Bob Morton is a bit worrisome. It's true that Sullivan is more co-starter than backup, but the team will miss Morton, who I think is the most improved player on offense so far this young season. Hopefully Bobby won't miss too much time.

DL - The lack of a pass rush again is troubling. Stanback had entirely too much time to set up and throw deep balls on our secondary. Washington's offensive line is big, but really not all that great so it is a bit disconcerting that we couldn't generate consistent pressure on Stanback. Of course, they were incredibly tough against the run, but as we learned that year, that alone doesn't win games. To be fair, the line did come up with some big plays in important situations. The best play was Landri blowing through the line and forcing Stanback to roll out and try a forced pass that was picked off by Wooden. Abiramiri also sacked Stanback for a big loss to force a hail mary to end the half. But still, too much time for Stanback most of the day. He obviously had trouble when he was forced to leave the pocket and far too often he wasn't forced out. It seems that ND is really missing a true pass rusher ala Justin Tuck. Frome is a solid, dependable player, but he's not the edge pass rusher that we need in certain situations. One bright spot has been the play of Ronald Talley, who really does seem to get better every game. However, he does need to cut down on the needless penalties, such as his big (late) hit on Husky QB Johnny DuRocher.

LB - You didn't hear the linebackers' names called out much, but that could do with the fact that Washington was trying to throw over their heads all game. Mays did force another fumble but didn't seem to blitz as much. I could be wrong on the blitz frequency though, that's just my perception. It also seemed like we stayed in our base 4-3 and didn't see much nickel or dime package. Perhaps Minter was just trying to keep things vanilla before we played Purdue and USC. Let's face it, it wasn't fun watching Washington complete all of those long passes, but it's not like the game was really ever in any doubt. I'll take the hit in defensive pass rankings if it means we give Purdue looks they haven't seen all that much. Hoyte was solid as usual, but did have a costly facemask penalty that prolonged a drive that led to a TD. Crum was all over the place, but wasn't terribly involved in each play as he finished with only one tackle. I don't think that's a reflection of his play more than Washington's tendency to attack other areas of the defense.

DB - Well, when it comes to complaining about the play of the secondary, I figure Notre Dame fans have it down to a science by now. Once again, the play of the safeties seems to be the big topic of consternation. Both Zibby and Nedu love to hit, and perhaps that's the problem. They are both still biting on the play-action way too much. When a play actually is a run, they fly up and deliver the big hit, but as we saw on that botched halfback pass, they still get caught in no-man's land on play action. Whenever Zibby ended up in one on one coverage it was pretty obvious that Stanback was going to throw his way. On the big 69 yard pass completion to Marlon Wood, TZ actually was doing a good job keeping up with one of the Huskies' fastest players, but lost a few steps when he peeked over this shoulder to make sure nothing was going on behind him. That's an error that can and should be corrected with coaching so I don't buy any of the talent complaints about why our secondary has been lackluster thusfar. Zibikowski did have a great play on a jump ball to the back of the endzone. He was in position and came over and knocked the pass away.

Nduwke is not the typical ball hawking free safety. but does have 4 fumble recoveries so far this year to go along with one interception. That's a lot of production considering our entire defense in 2004 only had 15 fumble recoveries. So the question is, can you stomach giving up 15 and 20 yard pass plays in the middle of the field if your free safety has a knack of coming up with the turnover? We should keep in mind too that he's only 4 games into meaningful playing time. Some fans will claim that he'd make a great Apache linebacker, but at some point you have to stop moving a player from position to position and just let him grow into the one he's playing. Besides, the coaching staff tried him at Apache linebacker in the spring and moved him back to safety. As with Zbikowski, his mistakes seem to be the variety that are correctable with good coaching. Physically he has more than enough size and speed to play.

Richardson still tends to not look for the ball, but he's much improved from last season. Wooden keeps impressing me. He didn't have the best game against Washington, but is showing a tendency to be more physical, which is nice to see. Towards the end of the game, Terrail Lambert came into the game and Washington went right after him. It was very encouraging to seem him make a great play on the ball in the air and deflect a touchdown pass. According to the latest depth chart he's now the definite #2 cornerback behind Mike Richardson and I would hope he gets more and more playing time this season. On Washington's last touchdown, Leo Ferrine missed the ball, but was in good position and actually turned around to look for the ball. Like Lambert, he's young and I think they both are going to turn into very productive members of the ND secondary.

Special Teams - Good and bad for special teams. The good include more kickoffs into the endzone and Chase Anastacio laying out to block a punt. The bad includes botched field goals and extra points due to poorly handled snaps. As for kick returns, Grimes looked pretty good on his one 30 yard return. He took off with no hesistation, picked a lane, and went right at it. ND fans are still holding their breath that the Irish can return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown for the first time since 2002, but Grimes and Zibby on punt give me hope that we'll see one this season.

Given all the pre-game distractions, I think the team played a good game. Sure a 50 point blowout would have been nice, but there are also benefits to comfortable wins that still leave the team feeling like they could have done more. I'm sure the coaches will have a busy week of practice planned and the best part is that now the focus is all on football rather than our choice of head coach and the surrounding media circus. The pass rush and secondary remain a concern, especially with Purdue up next. Here's to hoping that honest to goodness coaching can actually make an impact mid-season.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On the Upswing | by Pat

Tip of the cap to poster "MCB" on ndnation who pointed out the increase on ratings for Notre Dame games so far this year.

The Michigan State-ND game had a 3.8 rating, significantly exceeding ND's average rating of 2.6 last year. It was just a hair below the 4.0 ABC late afternoon game(s) and the 4.0 ABC primetime game, and more than double the 1.8 CBS game.
That 3.8 rating translates to approximately 5.5 million viewers.

According to this St. Petersburg Times article, the ratings for the Notre Dame-Michigan game a week earlier drew a 4.3 rating nationwide while it has been reported that the Washington-Notre Dame matchup drew a 4.4 rating.

To put these numbers in perspective, when NBC first started to air the Notre Dame home games in 1991, they averaged a 5.3 rating for the first three years and a 4.4 rating for the first eight years. The last six years are a different story though. According to this USA Today article, ratings for the past six years have been 63% lower than the first eight.

It's not surprising that interest is high in the first home game for a new coach and obviously the Washington game had a compelling subtext that no doubt brought in a number of curious one-time observers. The battle against USC should produce stellar ratings, but the real test of how Weis and the resurgent Irish affect NBC ratings will come against games against lesser "name" opponents like Navy and Syracuse. With the increase lately in the number of games shown weekly on TV, I seriously doubt the ratings will ever approach the levels of the early 90's, but if the ratings do take a significant upswing, maybe NBC will finally spring for new intro music.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Odds and Sods: Live Edition | by Mike

This one's going to be a little rough around the edges. Thirty-nine states in our great nation received the Notre Dame-Washington game Saturday. Your humble correspondent resides in one of the eleven benighted states that aired the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game instead. Thus I had no choice but to watch the game at a local sports bar. My observations this week reflect the fact that I had no sound, was peering through a forest of backwards hats, and couldn't tape the game to review certain plays. Feel free to chime in with any corrections.

Chemical warfare. During Willingham's time at Notre Dame, Irish fans witnessed a phemonenon that I came to term "forgo the links" games. These were games where, though expected to lose, Notre Dame would play with a fire and preparedness rarely seen during those years. Florida State 2002 and Michigan 2004 are examples. One suspected that the coaching staff had devoted far more time to motivation and gameplanning in the preceding week than they usually did. Saturday's game had every sign of being Willingham's latest forgo the links game. According to a Seattle Times article, Willingham's players noticed a difference.

Willingham insisted all week, however, that wasn't his main motivation, that the game meant no more to him than any other.

His players weren't fooled.

"There was a difference at practice last week," said cornerback Josh Okoebor. "We knew he wanted this game bad, and I feel real disappointed that we let him down because we really could have won. He's intense every week, but you could tell he had that extra oomph for this one."
Go. I continue to be pleased with Weis's willingness to go for it on fourth down, even though Notre Dame failed to convert on any of its three attempts against UW. As revealed in the South Bend Tribune, the party line on the fourth-down attempts related to problems in the kicking game.
Weis said that Fitzpatrick's difficulty kicking toward one end of Husky Stadium in pre-game factored into the decisions.

"We had a little problem in warm-ups kicking field goals into the open end over there," Weis said. "In hindsight, I probably would have just gone ahead and kicked the field goals anyway.

"That's why we went for it, in case you were wondering why we went for it on fourth downs. That's why we did that."
While successful conversions against the Huskies would obviously have been preferable, Weis's decision to attempt the conversion on seven occasions in the first four games bodes well. First, Weis's continued willingness to go for it on fourth down communicates to his players that he believes fourth down conversions are routine. The more confidence the players have in these critical situations, the better. Second, attempting the fourth down conversion puts considerable pressure on the opposing defense. After putting all their effort into getting that big third down stop, the defense finds out their work isn't done after all. Recall that Michigan's two biggest plays -- Manningham's touchdown and Avant's scamper to the 1-yard-line -- occurred on fourth down. I believe the offense usually has a psychological edge on fourth down. Third, in many situations the expected value of going for it is greater than punting. Finally, I dug the play call on the pass to Walker, even though the pass ultimately slipped from Darius's hands.

The Specials. Special teams against Washington were a mixed bag, but I suppose it's better to discover the kinks against the hapless Huskies than most of the teams on our schedule. Samardzija and long-snapper Scott Raridon didn't seem to be on the same page in the first half, leading to botched field goal and PAT attempts. With Samardzija being rather preoccupied with other business, perhaps we can entice Adam Tibble to return from med school and use his remaining eligibility.

As expected, Weis was able to take advantage of Washington's weak special teams. In the first quarter, Chase Anastasio came right up the middle to block a Husky punt. According to the Seattle Times:
[Anastasio] said coach Charlie Weis approached him during warmups and said the Huskies were ripe to have a punt blocked.
Ray. Ray Herring, whose serialized recruiting journal for Florida Today forever endeared him to Notre Dame Nation (if you missed it before, be sure to check it out now), saw his first collegiate action Saturday. Herring's special teams appearance brought the number of freshman who have seen playing time in the first four games to 10 out of last year's 15-member recruiting class.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn there is a connection between Weis's penchant for playing freshmen and this year's early recruiting returns.

Bullet on the chart. Willingham apologists - including a certain defenseless coordinator - have made much of the fact that Weis defeated Willingham with "Willingham's players." While Willingham recruits such as Quinn and Walker played critical roles in Saturday's game, many key positions on the depth chart are still occupied by players who committed to Bob Davie. Here's Saturday's official starting line-up, along with the head coach to whom they committed:

X 21 STOVALL - Willingham
LT 68 HARRIS, R. - Willingham
LG 50 SANTUCCI - Davie
C 76 MORTON - Davie
RT 73 LeVOIR - Davie
Y 88 FASANO - Davie
Z 83 SAMARDZIJA - Willinhgam
QB 10 QUINN, B. - Willingham
TE 87 FREEMAN - Davie
HB 3 WALKER - Willingham
LE 95 ABIAMIRI - Willingham
LT 98 LAWS - Willingham
RT 66 LANDRI - Davie
RE 75 FROME - Davie
WLB 39 HOYTE - Davie
MLB 46 MAYS - Davie
OLB 40 CRUM JR. - Willingham
LCB 22 WOODEN - Willingham
WS 18 NDUKWE - Willingham
SS 9 ZBIKOWSKI - Willingham
RCB 30 RICHARDSON - Willingham
 Over half the offensive starters and four starters on defense committed to Bob Davie. (While one can argue that, despite appearing on the first play, Marcus Freeman is not a true starter, he took the place of Rashon Powers-Neal, who also committed to Davie.) Thus, it is inaccurate to claim that Weis beat Willingham with the team Willingham "built." While Willingham did leave Weis some important pieces, such as the aforementioned Quinn and Walker, Davie in turn had left Willingham with sure-fire first-round-draft-choice Jeff Faine and first-round-draft-choice-under-any-other-coaching-regime Julius Jones. I reject John Saunders' canard that Weis inherited a better situation at Notre Dame than Willingham did.

Take it from the man. The secondary continues its "make a big play, lose a big play" play against the Huskies. (Is Terry Silver instructing them?) While Washington gained 227 of its yards on a mere five plays, Ndukwe and Wooden came up with huge plays in the red zone. Ndukwe ripped the ball free at the one and recovered the fumble, and Wooden made his first career interception in the endzone after a harried Stanback was flushed from the pocket. Four games into the season, the good plays have overcome the bad plays, but improvement will be needed to earn wins against our coming opponents.

What happened. With the season a quarter complete, we can look back at some of our previous games with the benefit of more context. Immediately after the Pitt game, Irish fans had to be happy with the 42-21 defeat of a ranked team. Then Pitt went out the next Friday and proceeded to drop an OT game to Ohio, 16-10. At this time, self-professed analysts throughout the media crowed about how little Notre Dame's victory over Pitt meant. When Pitt was gummed to death by a Callahan-led Cornhusker team, 7-6, the chorus only increased. While the Pitt victory has certainly lost a good deal of its luster, Notre Dame's offensive performance against Pitt remains impressive even in light of Pitt's collapse. While Wannstache destroyed Tyler Palko in remarkably quick fashion, he does appear to have improved the Pitt defense. In fact, in the three games Pitt has played since their thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame, they have given up exactly one offensive touchdown. Ohio netted a field goal and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Nebraska's sole score came on a 39-yard drive, and Pitt shut out Youngstown State. While these defensive performances came against weak teams, this underscores how ruthlessly efficient Notre Dame's offense was against Pitt, scoring touchdowns on six of ND's first seven possessions before calling of the dogs.

In traditional Sparty fashion, one might have expected MSU to follow up its win at Notre Dame Stadium with a loss to the Zook-led Illini. Instead, MSU dropped 62 points on the former defensive coordinator. So far, MSU looks to be for real, rather than their typical rollercoaster year (such as beating Ohio State's best team in decades in a year they finished 6-6).

And that Michigan victory? Okay, they just suck right now, but the loss to Wisconsin did occur at Camp Randall rather than Ann Arbor. On a semi-related note, it would be a personal affront to Bo if Michigan were even to entertain firing Lloyd Carr any time soon, so Michigan shouldn't even think about it.

Soon forget. This weekend should represent the closing of a chapter in Irish football. While that certain subject couldn't be avoided in the lead-up to and review of this game, hopefully that distraction has passed. We're leaving behind, "Hold me, I'm Irish." Let someone else deal with, "Mold me, I'm a vicious animal."

Poll Madness! | by Jay

College Football Polls! The scourge of our youth!

(Keep in mind these came out before last night's stirring Tiger-Vol tilt.)

USA Today/Coaches: we're 14.

Craziness! Texas Tech ranked ahead of us.

Harris Interactive: we're 13.

Lunacy! Michigan still ranked; Idaho getting five votes.

POLLS! One moment of BLISS...a lifetime of REGRET!

17 and Counting.... | by Pat

The music is speeding up and the empty chairs are getting fewer as offensive lineman Eric Olsen decided to give his committment to Charlie Weis and the Fighting Irish this past Friday. The 17th known verbal commit is an important one as large offensive lineman are one of the biggest priorities for this class. At 6'5" 300lbs, a member of the Rivals Top 250 (for whatever that's worth), and possessing scholarship offers from Miami, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and finalist Boston College, Olsen certainly fits the bill. He also seems to have the proper mindset.

"I've got the decision out of the way," said the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Olsen. "Now, I can straight-up play and maul people."
A defensive end and offensive tackle for Poly Prep in Brooklyn (alma mater of Marcus Wilson and JW Jordan among others), Olsen appears to be recruited as a guard, or possibly a center, for Notre Dame. Instant playing time will be his for the taking as there are currently no offensive guards in the junior, sophomore, and freshman class. (Ouch.)

Olsen also plays on his high school lacrosse team, which is an excellent sign that his footwork will be more than fast enough to be a productive college lineman. In fact, his results on the lacrosse field -- last year Olsen was the leading scorer on the team with 55 goals to go along with 10 assists -- suggest he's an excellent athlete moreso than just a big body.

After coming to Notre Dame's summer camp and performing for the coaches, Olsen left without a scholarship offer, but a vow that an offer would be extended or not after the ND coaches viewed film of the first two games of his senior year. However, the wait didn't last that long as Coach Weis informed him of a full ride offer in late August a few weeks before Olsen's season started. And in a bit of a role reversal, it was Olsen's viewing of Notre Dame's first few games that convinced him that ND was the place for him.
I visited a bunch of schools this summer and I got a good feel for Notre Dame, the mystique is above every other school and with the success they're having, it's become such a hot commodity that I didn't want to miss my chance."
With 17 of the 25 open scholarship spots taken, perhaps it's time to don the recruitnik cap and gaze into the crystal ball a bit. After all, it's likely that Olsen isn't the only one who doesn't want to miss his chance to play for the Irish. At least we can hope so.

This type of speculation is perhaps better covered on the recruiting oriented websites like Irish Eyes, Irish Illustrated, and Blue and Gold Illustrated, but I won't pass up an opportunity to pen a little "recruiting state of the union" that can be referenced in the future with "I wish we could have signed him" laments and "Boy, Pat sure was wrong" mocks.

Currently, Notre Dame has 17 known verbal commits. Here's the breakdown:
2 Quarterbacks (Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones)
3 Running Backs/Fullbacks (James Aldridge, Munir Prince, Luke Schmidt)
3 Wide Receivers (Barry Gallup, Robby Parris, George West)
2 Offensive Linemen (Bartley Webb, Eric Olsen)
1 Tight End (Paddy Mullen)
2 Defensive Lineman (John Ryan, Kellen Wade)
1 Cornerback (Raeshon McNeil)
2 Safeties (Leonard Gordon, Jashaad Gaines)
1 Kicker (Ryan Burkhart)
(Quickly, before we go on to possibilites for the rest of this class, here are updates from the past two weeks that cover how our recruits did in their high school games: Week 3 / Week 4)

Now then, the chance of early enrollment means that Notre Dame can take more than 25 recruits this year. Whether the number of early enrollees is one or greater than one is unknown at this point but there are potential early enrollment candidates out there. So, with a minimum of 8 spots left, here are some of the more popular names associated with Notre Dame's recruiting efforts. Keep in mind that by no means is this a complete or exhaustive list. Nor are the listed positions where players will end up should they come to Notre Dame. And expect even more names to pop up, especially if Notre Dame keeps winning. Ok, enough with the disclaimers and qualifiers, here are the names to try and fit into the few remaining spots in the Class of 2010. Have fun mixing and matching. If these names are meaningless to you, be thankful you haven't been sucked into the vortez/male soap opera that is college football recruiting.
Wide Receiver - David Ausberry, Terrance Austin, Richard Jackson
Offensive Lineman - Sam Young, Matt Carufel, Butch Lewis, Aaron Brown, Chris Stewart, Daron Rose, Jim Barrie, Lou Eliades, Alex Stadler, Dan Wenger
Tight End - Konrad Reuland, Will Yeatman, Andrew Quarless
Defensive Lineman - Jason Kates, Gerald McCoy, Lawrence Marsh
Linebacker - Anthony Lewis, Toryan Smith, Morrice Richarson,
Cornerback - LaRon Moore, Darrin Walls
Safety - Sergio Brown
With the 8 (minimum) remaining spots I'd like to see ND bring in 3 more offensive lineman, 1 tight end, 2 defensive lineman, 1 linebacker, and 1 cornerback. If early enrollments increase the available scholarships, I'd hope for an extra offensive lineman to bring the total Big Ugly count to 6, then get guys that are athletic enough to have potential at multiple positions.

With the expected announcements of a few on that list coming in the next week (5-star all-everything cornerback recruit Darrin Walls being one) and a number of the aforementioned names coming into South Bend for the tilt with the Trojans, recruiting is going to be pretty interesting the next few weeks.