Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Clearing the bench | by Pat

Not sure a full position rundown is warranted after playing what looked like Syracuse's JV team. So I'll just comment on a few things that I noticed and that Mike didn't cover in his excellent Odds and Sods.

Honestly, the Orange had one of the worst offenses I've seen in a very, very long time. Poor play-calling, bad throws by the QB, bad drops by the wide receivers. Outside of the one long run and two broken play scrambles by their QB, the Syracuse offense didn't accomplish anything...except a 51 yard touchdown scoring drive against our walk-ons that still required 11 plays to complete.

Perhaps a function of being less than enthused about playing a 1-8 Syracuse team, the Irish started the game pretty flat. The line didn't seem to get the same push and 'Cuse linebacker Kelvin Smith slipped through the line on delayed blitzes a bit too much. Eventually the Irish righted the ship, but it was a pretty lackluster beginning. It was the first time all season that ND failed to score in the 1st quarter.

One player that did show hustle and effort from the start was Chase Anastacio. He never seems to get much credit and recognition from ND fans, but his two blocked punts were a major reason that ND held Syracuse's punter -- who was averaging over 43 yards a punt -- to a 30.6 yard average against ND. That gives Chase three punt blocks on the year and he will be the special teams captain for the Stanford game, the second time he has earned the honor. It's great to see a guy that has been knocked down the depth chart a bit at his main position contribute elsewhere on the field.

It helps that Syracuse couldn't really hit the broad side of a barn with their passing game, but the secondary still looked good out there. Richardson made some nice moves to step in front of passes and Ferrine took full advantage of a gift-wrapped interception. I hope that the increase in confidence in our secondary leads to more blitzing from our linebackers. Mays and Hoyte were all over Patterson all game long and if it wasn't for the fact that Patterson is built like a linebacker, they would have had about 5 or 6 more sacks.

Of all the improbable stats, who would have guessed with one game left in the season -- after all of the inexperience in our defensive backfield and facing QBs named Palko, Henne, Stanton, Leinart, and Ainge -- that the ND defense would have intercepted as many passes (13) as they allowed to go for touchdowns (13). I don't think anyone would have predicted that.

Lastly, one of the best things that I didn't witness was a Halls Fruit Breezers "Screaming Fan of the Game" contest. Yeah, the time spent comparing Brady Quinn's look to Zoolander's Blue Steel was a minute of my life I'll never get back. And I certainly didn't need to hear Pat Hayden hypothesize that Quinn was probably "all night tough" in addition to "all day tough". But we made it through an entire home game season with nary a single second wasted on what was definitely the most obnoxious form of advertising I've ever seen on an ND on NBC telecast. The absence of that annoying gimmick alone is one of the best developments of the 2005 season. Actually, it's almost a pity they didn't bring it back for the last game because I think Weis would have locked up the award with his diatribe towards the sideline official after the questionable personal foul penalty called on Tom Zbikowski.