Sunday, October 02, 2005

Odds and Sods, Take Five | by Mike

Bouncing from thought to thought like Jeff Samardzija bouncing off Purdue defensive backs.

Time is on my side. After the Pittsburgh game, Weis commented on the steps he would take to draw officials' attention to a play that needed to be reviewed.

"If I think that they were really wrong and it was a critical mistake, I'll burn a timeout just to hope that 90 seconds or minute or two that this comes into play, maybe they can go ahead and review their thinking and go ahead and challenge a call."
Such a situation presented itself yesterday, as recounted by the Daily Southtown:
It came with the Fighting Irish already ahead of Purdue 28-0, but with the Boilermakers mounting their best drive since their second possession. Quarterback Brandon Kirsch threw a low pass to Andre Chattams in the left flat, and at first, it appeared Chattams made a clean catch while on his back, good for a first down on the Irish 45-yard line.

The play was in front of Notre Dame's sideline. Weis didn't think there was a clean catch, and replays — which under NCAA rules neither Weis nor his assistants upstairs could see — proved his hunch correct. In order to give the replay officials more time to review the play, he called time.

That bought him 90 seconds, and at the end of it, it was announced the play was under review. Another minute passed, and the call was reversed. Rather than first down on the Irish 45, it was fourth-and-7 on the Purdue 44, and the Boilermakers had to punt.
This may seem like an easy call, but the possibility of using timeouts as de facto coach's challenges eluded the coach of at least one of our opponents. Rather than waiting until after Henne's fumble on a subsequent play to demand review of Michigan's preceding goalline plunge, Lloyd Carr should have called a timeout after Henne's first dive if he thought the play should have been reviewed.

Dazed and confused. The look of utter befuddlement on Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack's face following Darius Walker's second quarter touchdown scamper was a thing of beauty. The last time I saw someone look that flummoxed on the sidelines was when Norm Chow and Pete Carroll had just finished applying a tag-team atomic wedgie to our previous staff.

Knock on wood. Yes, I did see the play where Ambrose Wooden failed to finish a tackle near the sidelines. However, that play was quickly cleaned up by the safety. More importantly, Wooden made two of the biggest defensive plays of the game. On Purdue's first possession of the game, Kirsch launched a deep ball as Dorien Bryant raced to the endzone. Yet before Bryant could haul in the ball and give Purdue a 6-0 lead, Wooden turned his head, kept pace with Bryant, found the ball, and batted it away. It's hard to cover the opponent's best receiver any better than that. On Purdue's second possession, Wooden beat Kory Sheets to the endzone, forcing the Purdue RB out of bounds at the 1. Just as he had done to Jason Avant in the Michigan game. And just as in the Michigan game, Wooden's play made a goal line fumble possible. Similar effort was displayed by Maurice Stovall, who chased down Purdue DE Rob Ninkivich after Ninkivich intercepted Quinn. Once again, the Irish were rewarded for playing to the whistle, as Mike Richardson intercepted Brandon Kirsch in the endzone on Purdue's first play following the turnover.

Recognize. One offseason. That's the apparent answer to the oft-repeated question, "How long will it take Brady Quinn to understand Charlie Weis's NFL offense?" According to a Jason Kelly article in the South Bend Tribune, Weis's confidence in Quinn's recognition abilities has led to increased freedom for the junior signal-caller:
Weis gave him freedom to choose his weapon at the line of scrimmage on several plays and the quarterback liked the look of the pass coverage most of the time.

"I probably called 15 more runs in the game than we actually ran because they were run-pass options based off of pressure," Weis said, "and then Brady just picked them apart."
Blood in the water. Jeff Samardzija snared his seventh and eight touchdown receptions of the season. Five games into the season, Samardzija has already tied Tom Gatewood and Jim Seymour for third place in single-season touchdown receptions. Both Gatewood and Seymour were consensus All-Americans. With six regular season games remaining, Samardzija needs only three touchdowns to tie the mark of 11 set by All-American Derrick Mayes. Could Samardzija be playing his way into All-America recognition?

Feel the rush. In 2004, Purdue recorded seven sacks against the Irish, and Brady Quinn spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon picking himself up off the sod of Notre Dame stadium. In 2005 - with all eleven starters back for Purdue's defense and the pieces virtually the same for Notre Dame's offense - Purdue failed to record a single sack. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic turnaround. In particular, Ryan Harris did a stellar job of shutting down star Purdue defensive end Ray Edwards. The only bad play on Harris's part I can recall was failing to get Rob Ninkivich's hands down on a quick pass, leading to Quinn's interception.

Blitz pick-up was excellent all around. While Purdue's defense doesn't quite possess the speed of Michigan's defense, the breakdowns that occurred in the Michigan game appear to have been addressed. However, we have yet to face a team that can really get pressure just by rushing its front four. (I should admit I thought Edwards might be able to do so. Again, a credit to our tackles.) The defensive lines of USC and Tennessee will pose formidable challenges.

I was frustrated by the Notre Dame defense's inability to record a sack against Purdue. Part of this can be attributed to Kirsch's mobility. Several times what would have been sacks against slower quarterbacks turned into positive plays for Purdue on Kirsch scrambles. However, the defense simply can't afford to give Leinart the time Kirsch had.

First of the month. On October 1, several Irish players recorded career firsts. Backup quarterback David Wolke completed his first pass, tight end John Carlson hauled in his first touchdown reception, former walk-on Rob Woods caught his first pass (a 28-yarder), and defensive back Leo Ferrine got his first start as Notre Dame came out in its nickel package. Finally, while he has already seen a fair amount of playing time for a freshman, David Bruton's tackle on kickoff coverage deserves recognition.

You stay classy, West Lafayette. Accomplished jazz flautist Ron "Burgundy" Franklin provided one of the more humorous moments in yesterday's broadcast. When sideline reporter Holly Rowe tried to put a positive spin on Brock Spack's timeout late in the fourth quarter, Franklin responded, "It's 49-21, sweetheart." Great Odin's raven!

Wrong way. Last week, I raised the possibility that Dave Wannstedt had merely ruined Pitt's offense and that their defense might still be decent. Allow me to retract. I also suggested that this might be the year Sparty finally abandons their rollercoaster ways. After all, the 1998 team was a couple coaches, uniforms, and field logos ago, to say nothing of the turnover in players. Different coaches, different players, different uniforms, same result. Dropped third down passes, breakdowns in the kicking game, an interception of a wide receiver's weak pass attempt - it was all classic Sparty. Javon Ringer fighting to stay in bounds as the Michigan defender was about to drive him out of bounds near the end of regulation was one of the more surreal sights in college football this season. Mea culpa.

Miracle man. UM's Mike Hart had an impressive performance against Sparty (36 carries, 218 yards). However, that performance pales in comparison to the wonders wrought by the person responsible for keeping Hart academically eligible. After the game, Hart proclaimed:
We don't ever lose three games a year. If we lost three, what would that make us look like?
Is Hart unable to count to three? Because that would make you look exactly like a Llloyd Carr-coached Michigan team, Mike.
2004: 9-3-0
2003: 10-3-0
2002: 10-3-0
2001: 8-4-0
2000: 9-3-0