Sunday, October 23, 2005

Odds & Sods, 3.2% Edition | by Mike

The new workout plan. Maurice Stovall arrived at Notre Dame with the highest of accolades. He was a first-team USA Today All-American and played in the U.S. Army All American Bowl as a 16-year-old high school senior. Within a few months of his arrival at Notre Dame, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, catching a touchdown. Yet over the past three years, Stovall had not exactly lived up to expectations. When Charlie Weis arrived, he recognized both Stovall's talent and one of the things holding Stovall back. Weis instructed Stovall to lose fifteen pounds, and Stovall did his part. The result? A school record 14 receptions for 207 yards and a school record four touchdown receptions. As with Quinn's "duck squat," Weis immediately identified a problem (and the solution to that problem) that had eluded the previous staff.

Feels like the first time. D.J. Hord made his first appearance for the Irish Saturday, joining fellow freshman David Grimes as a kick returner. Out of the 15-member freshman class, Hord is the eleventh to see game action. Due to the five-wide formation on Notre Dame's opening possession, Grimes earned his first collegiate start. Sophomore Ronald Talley, making his first start in place of the injured Chris Frome, notched his first sack.

Do the collapse. With 12:50 left in the third quarter, Notre Dame allowed BYU to travel 75 yards in 10 plays to close the score to 28-17. Miscommunication between kick returners Hord and Grimes left the Irish at their own 13-yard-line to start the following possession. A false start and three straight incomplete passes set up a D.J. Fitzpatrick punt, which BYU returned 22 yards to the Notre Dame 33. From there, BYU punched in a touchdown to close the gap to 28-23. Notre Dame had collapsed in every phase of the game - defense, kick returns, offense, punt coverage, and defense again. However, the Irish kept their cool. Zbikowski intercepted BYU's two-point conversion attempt, and within 51 seconds Notre Dame scored another touchdown on a 36-yard toss from Quinn to Stovall. While one hopes Notre Dame gets to the point where such collapses don't occur in the first place, Notre Dame has shown a resilience in such situations (see also the MSU game) that had been sorely lacking in recent years. The attitude - particularly, the confidence - of the head coach has been permeated through this team.

Hands down. By now, you're probably quite familiar with Quinn's superhuman numbers - 32 of 41 for 467 yards and a school record 6 touchdowns with no interceptions. However, Quinn came quite close to having one picked off early in the game. Quinn's first incompletion came when a pass off a quick drop was deflected at the line of scrimmage. The tackle failed to get the defensive end's hands down on this play, as he must do. It was a similar failure against Purdue that led to Rob Ninkovich's interception. Overall, our tackle play has been excellent this year, and given the number of passes Quinn has attempted this year, one cannot expect perfect blocking every time. However, with the best defensive line Notre Dame will face all year arriving November 5, this is a problem that may deserve closer attention during the bye week.

Hurt. While there have been some significant injuries, Notre Dame has not lost an unduly large number of players to the injury bug this season. However, the defensive line may be showing signs of wear. Chris Frome is out for the season, and Derek Landri missed about one quarter of the BYU game before returning to the field with his forearm wrapped. While Ronald Talley, Justin Brown, and Brian Beidatsch have performed capably in their opportunities (indeed, Talley has more tackles than Frome), an already thin defensive line cannot afford much more in the way of injuries. Nonetheless, I'm pleased to get by Purdue and BYU (two teams with reputations for questionable o-line play) without any major d-line injuries.

Live and learn. Since the agreements Kevin White negotiates usually call for the referees to be supplied by the opposing team's conference, Notre Dame gets to see how the game is called all over the country. While the NCAA rules are the same for every team, it is a curious fact that the enforcement of these rules varies across conferences. To use one of the more well-known examples, Pac-10 officials tend to tolerate more in the way of holding than other conference officials. This can also result in the Irish finding themselves called for violating rules they are not accustomed to being enforced. Saturday, this took the form of the Mountain West officials flagging John Sullivan for an illegal snap, which reminded many Irish fans of the Pac-10 crew that negated a Vontez Duff punt-return touchdown on a roughing the center penalty. This is not meant to blame the refs. Rather, it's to point out that entrusting officiating to conferences reduces uniform application of the NCAA rules, which is not a place for federalism. In other words, I agree with what Weis said in his Tuesday press conference:

I just wish the rules were standardized week in and week out, regardless of who you're playing. This week it's BYU's officials. Last week it was USC's officials. It all depends on where you are, who's playing and who has them.

I have no problem with officiating crews. I really have more of a problem with the big picture that there's different rules at different places, not what's off sides. I'm talking about things like replay.
Out of time. Saturday marked the first time all year that Notre Dame lost the time of possession battle. BYU held the ball for 33:39 to Notre Dame's 26:21.