Monday, October 31, 2005

Volunteers wanted | by Jay

Boy, when things go south, they really go south.

First, the Volunteers lost all-SEC running back and leading rusher Gerald Riggs to an ankle injury last week. Then on Saturday they were pecked to death by Spurrier's Gamecocks, dropping out of the top 25 for the first time in three years (this, after being ranked no. 3 preseason).

Now, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has stepped down, relinquishing the playcalling reins for the Vols' 99th-ranked offense (although he'll remain with the team through the season as the quarterbacks coach). Rumors on some Vol boards have Phat Phil taking over the offense this weekend, and even a possible return to Knoxville by David Cutcliffe at some point.

It's a mess. Even Lulu and Junior have got to be worried.

Happy Halloween | by Pat

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Charlie Weis: Head Coach | by Pat

Just a great article by Jeff Carroll in yesterday's South Bend Tribune that covers the one year Coach Weis spent as the head coach of Franklin Township High School in New Jersey before he took the job with the New York Giants. There have been untold numbers of background stories and puff pieces done on Coach Weis already, but this story really does a great job of highlighting a stop on Charlie's resume that's been mostly overlooked.

Carroll covers how Weis, an assistant in South Carolina, made the move to head coach in New Jersey, and what he did once he had the job. As much as we mention how Weis learned at the feet of Parcells and Belichick, the similarities between what Charlie was doing with his high school team in his pre-NFL period and what he's doing now at ND are interesting. Highly recommended reading.

"The best team he ever had."

Charlie talks about the new contract | by Jay

Mike Frank of Irish Eyes has made available this free video of Charlie's press conference today. Great stuff -- check it out.

"Anytime people put out stories that are unsubstantiated...they have to be addressed sooner or later. And I think the best thing to do was to make it sooner rather than later, and get it out of the way. We no longer have to worry about that being a distraction...

"When I took this job, this isn't just any job for me -- this is my alma mater. The thought of people thinking that I was here for a short-term fix, those types of things affect me. I think it's very important for me to be loyal to this University. They stepped up and hired me, and I thought that I should reciprocate."

DeFilippo = doofus | by Jay

Heisler responded yesterday to the Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo's charge that the reason the Irish dropped BC from the schedule was because we still had a bug up our ass about the vandalism to our locker room three years ago. Sure, Gene.

As we speculated, the actual reason is much more mundane.

A Notre Dame official last night denied a Herald story that stated the Fighting Irish had pulled out of the final three years of their football agreement with Boston College because of field and locker room incidents in South Bend three years ago.

John Heisler, associate athletic director at Notre Dame, said the Irish pulled out of the final three years of the agreement with BC because the school has decided, starting in 2011, to play three Big East schools a season. While still an independent in football, Notre Dame is a Big East member in most other sports.

“It’s part of a complete reworking of our scheduling,” Heisler said. “We aren’t able to start that until 2011 because we had too many commitments. It was born out of a conversation we had with (Big East commissioner) Mike Tranghese. . . . Mike basically came to us and asked if we’d be willing to make a more specific commitment (in football). The commitment we made to the Big East was just part of being a good partner.”

With ND’s long-running relationships with the Pac-10, Big Ten and Navy, that forced the school to make some changes, said Heisler.

the fine print | by Jay

Two articles with two different takes on the contract news. Check out the different ledes.

Hansen, in the SBT:

It was fitting really, that while the sports world was busy trying to measure Charlie Weis' loyalty to Notre Dame this past week, Weis was carrying on with business as usual. His actions spoke louder than any careless article or any verbal response he could have made to end speculation that he would bolt for the NFL as early as the end of this season.
And Mariotti in the Chicago Sun-Times:
You think Charlie Weis drew up devilish strategy against a spooked USC, a dizzy Dave Wannstedt and the rest of a dazed college football world? Consider the game he just won against Notre Dame's power brokers, big-city lawyers and campus priests. The other day, reports [wink-wink] began to surface that Weis, the most creative offensive mind in football today, could be headed to NFL riches if the Domers weren't careful.
Well, one of these articles is worth reading, anyway.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

This, literally, just in | by Jay

Head Coach Charlie Weis Signs Contract Extension
Weis inks a new deal to continue as coach through the 2015 season

(Link to press release)

Oct. 29, 2005

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis has signed a new, 10-year contract to continue as coach of the Fighting Irish program through the 2015 campaign.

Weis, who is in his first season at the Irish helm in 2005, signed an original six-year contract (that took him through the 2010 season) when he was hired on Dec. 12, 2004, as Notre Dame's 28th head football coach. This new agreement - that takes effect with the 2006 season -- adds an additional five years to that commitment.

Said Weis, "Since the first day I arrived at Notre Dame as head football coach, one of my primary goals was to be able to see this job through to the time my son, Charlie, would graduate from the University of Notre Dame and to stay in this position until I retire. By restructuring this contract, adding an additional five years, this allows me to accomplish that goal. Maura, Charlie, Hannah and I are very happy to become a permanent fixture in the Notre Dame community."

Pat here, chiming in with my 2 cents.

First off, I'm truly surprised that Notre Dame reacted this quickly and strongly to the Weis-NFL internet rumors. I'll cop to seeing "Kirk Herbstreit reports Notre Dame..." scrolling along the ESPN ticker and freezing, expecting some gut-punch news about Quinn's arm or Weis' new job with the Vikings. But then the words "...agrees to a 10 year contract extension with Charlie Weis" appeared, and I exhaled. And smiled.

Coach Weis made it very clear during his first few public appearances that he considered Notre Dame a destination, and not a stepping stone. But that still didn't stop the rumors. Given that he and the staff were out recruiting the past few days, I'm sure he got asked one too many questions about all the NFL rumors, and decided to put the speculation to rest.

He probably considered that the best way to answer the question was to cement his commitment to Notre Dame, and Notre Dame's commitment to him. Some may think the timing's a coincidence, but there haven't been too many coincidences with Weis thus far. (I also think that giving the scoop to Kirk Herbstreit, the one major TV analyst who publicly bought into ND and Weis before the Pitt game, was a calculated move.)

This new contract really is a credit to the new administration, specifically president Fr. John Jenkins and executive vice president John Affleck-Graves, for not only their incredibly strong vote of confidence in Weis, but also the boldness to go ahead with an extension that will undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two.

I'm sure somewhere out there someone's already writing a "but Ty started 7-0 and didn't get an extension" article. And yes, this new contract I'm sure includes a buyout clause, and performance clauses, and all the other goodies that every single coaching contract in America contains. I'm sure someone will discover the new buyout clause price, but that's really not the point of the contract.

It's not about making sure that ND gets a better payday if Weis bolts for the NFL. Simply put, it's Charlie reminding everyone that he's here to stay.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Put Down the Turf, and Slowly Back Away | by Jay

From this morning's Boston Herald:

ND gets Irish up, will sack BC
By Steve Conroy

BLACKSBURG, Va. – According to a source close to Boston College, Notre Dame has decided not to continue its deal to play BC after the 2010 season because of damage the jubilant Eagles did to the field and locker room at Notre Dame Stadium after their defeat of the Irish in South Bend, Ind., three years ago.

Notre Dame has substituted Rutgers on its schedule after 2010 to fill the BC void, the source said.

BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo would not comment directly on Notre Dame's decision to discontinue its football relationship with BC. The Eagles and Irish were originally scheduled to play through 2013, but Notre Dame informed DeFilippo in the spring it only wanted to go until 2010. The Eagles have beaten Notre Dame three consecutive seasons, including two meetings in South Bend.

"We had an incident that's already been talked about, it's already been played out and it's not nearly as bad as it was made out to be, believe me,'' DeFilippo said of the Eagles' 14-7 victory in 2002. "Whatever they want to say or whatever reasons they want to give (for dropping BC), I'm certainly not going to comment on that. We think Notre Dame is a great, great institution. We've had a terrific relationship with them through the years. We would love to play Notre Dame every year in football, we'd like to play them in basketball, we'd like to play them in other sports.

"If they choose not to play. . . . I realize that scheduling only happens when it's mutually beneficial and if it's not beneficial to them, then that's up to them and they don't have to play. I really, really doubt that those are the reasons. If so, why are we playing in '07, '08, '09, '10?''

DeFilippo said BC will have no problem filling its schedule.

"There's plenty of other teams that want to play us,'' DeFilippo said. "We're talking to Texas, we're talking to Syracuse, Georgia's called and they want to play. There are just so many people who've called. Minnesota's called and they want to play. There's plenty of teams for us to play after 2010.

"Personally, I would like to see the Notre Dame series going, but as I've said, if it's not mutually beneficial for them, then we'll just go our way. There are no hard feelings on my part or anybody's part. I'd hate to have innuendos coming out about something that occurred two or three years ago. And believe me, it was not nearly what some people made it out to be.''
I'd like to see some corroboration from White's office before ascribing the discontinuation of the series to the locker room incident of three years ago. As the article stands, we're made out to appear fairly petulant and vindictive ("And believe me, it was not nearly what some people made it out to be"). I'd like to hear our side of the story.

The truth is, we add and drop teams all the time while arranging our future schedules. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Conspiracy theories aside, the reason we moved away from BC is probably because of our other game commitments (notably our pledge to the Big East to play three per year starting in 2011).

Or maybe, we'd just rather play some better competition than Boston College.

Cougar postscript | by Jay

A couple of odds and ends we enjoyed from the BYU game.

• "I won't lie to you, Notre Dame is such a fun place to play. I loved every minute of it, uh, except for when we weren't making plays." -- Cougar linebacker Cameron Jensen in the SLC Trib.

"I don't know which finger, but about three-quarters of the nail and up is gone. They closed that and sewed it together after the game."

Remember that warm-up taunt/cheer the BYU players did right before the game, that sort of looked like a cross between a Mexican hat dance and the Ickey Shuffle? Well, it turns out it's much cooler than that.

It was actually a New Zealand Maori tribal ritual called the Haka Dance. You might remember it from the movie Whalerider (unless you're a Maori tribesman, in which case you remember it from growing up.)

Haka is the generic name for all Māori dance. Today, haka is defined as that part of the Māori dance repertoire where the men are to the fore with the women lending vocal support in the rear. Most haka seen today are haka taparahi (haka without weapons).

For most non-Māori New Zealanders today their knowledge of Haka is perhaps limited to that most performed of Haka called "Ka mate, Ka mate". Many sports teams and individuals travelling from New Zealand overseas tend to have the haka "Ka mate" as part of their programme. The sports team that has given the haka the greatest exposure overseas has been the All Blacks, who perform it before their matches. It has become a distinctive feature of the New Zealand All Blacks.

More than any aspect of Māori culture, this complex dance is an expression of the passion, vigour and identity of the race. Haka is not merely a past time of the Māori but was also a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors. Tribal reputation rose and fell on their ability to perform the haka (Hamana Mahuika).

The Haka was brought to the Cougars by BYU wide receiver Bryce Mahuika, whose grandfather was a chief of the Ngati Porou tribe, and whose father helped keep alive the family's Maori culture after they moved to Hawaii. Mahuika's father passed away last spring, and after the funeral, Bryce had an idea of how to help build the Cougars' team spirit, as well as preserve his father's legacy. Total Blue Sports has the story:

Following his father’s funeral, Bryce returned to Provo to join his teammates. During a team meeting in April, Coach Mendenhall asked each of his players to address the team with a personal request.

“When I had gotten back here, Coach Mendenhall asked the team, what it would take to win this year, and he wanted people to come up and tell the team what it is going to take.” said Mahuika. “I had just gotten back from my dad’s funeral, so I just wanted to go up and thank the team for all the support they gave me through the whole thing. So I went up there with that intent.”

With a heart full of gratitude for the support he received during his time of trial, Bryce Mahuika was simply going to thank the team for their support, but while addressing the team he received a flash of inspiration that would meet the requirements Coach Mendenhall gave to his players.

“When I got up there it just kind of hit me that doing the Haka would help our team out and get us ready before the games. There were times last year where I thought we kind of came out flat and not as focused as we should have been. So I brought it up because I thought it would help, and basically just told the team what it was and what the Maori people used to do it for, and I just said that I would love to lead you guys in a Haka before the game if you guys were up for it.”

Coach Mendenhall and the team accepted Mahuika’s request and war dance practices began soon thereafter.

“It makes me feel good because I know my dad was such a big fan, and honestly I wish he could have been there to have seen it, but just to know that we are doing it is a really good feeling,” Mahuika said. ”It’s in somewhat of dedication to him, at least the first one I feel was in dedication to him, but really there are a ton of purposes for doing this. For one, to bring the team together, for another in dedication to my dad, it gets us fired up before the game and it gets the crowd going it early. I think it will be a new tradition as long as I’m here and the coaches want to do it, I don’t think any of that will ever be a problem.”

For a video of the Cougars doing the Haka Dance, click here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sixto Pix-cano | by Jay

Pick Six Standings updated based on this week's BCS rankings.

TheseAreMyDadsShoes retains the lead with 101 points.

In the BlogPollers' division of the Pick Six, Army blogger KingMouse still commands the high ground.

Ranked games this week: Michigan vs Northwestern, Va Tech vs Boston College, and of course, the Cocktail Party.

Schefter-riffic | by Jay

Just picked this one up off the wire.

Michigan Football Faces Allegations?
by Myron Brabble
special to BGS

At least one college team has found out that it might be the subject of NCAA penalties this off-season.

The University of Michigan has been under scrutiny from the NCAA before, most notably for a recruiting scandal involving the basketball team. This time, it might involve football. "I wouldn'[surprised]", said one high-ranking official. Michigan is one of the premiere football programs in the country, and a scandal, if it transpires, would be disastrous.

If any severe allegations are proven true, Michigan would get the death penalty from the NCAA for up to ten years. Alabama, an elite program just like Michigan, once received the death penalty from the NCAA, so there is precedent.

As it is now, the NCAA has been quietly investigating several teams behind the scenes, possibly including Michigan. This doesn't mean that Michigan has committed violations; it just means it might be under consideration. But this is a developing situation sure to get lots of attention in the weeks to come.

On average, there are numerous NCAA violations each year in college football. And Michigan might be linked to some -- guaranteed.

Let's get something straight | by Jay

Charlie Weis isn't going to the NFL.

Earlier in the week, professional moron Adam Schefter floated this rancid air biscuit, claiming that Charlie has designs on the NFL. The article was thick with innuendo: "Developing situation"..."though Weis could be leaving"..."under consideration..."

Rock-solid journalism, backed by multiple sources and plenty of on-the-record testimony? Hardly. Turns out, Schefter's a one-man source, raking muck and stirring the pot.

No, Schefter didn't talk to Charlie. Didn't talk to Charlie's agent, Bob Lamonte, who said to the Boston Globe yesterday, "Charlie has his dream job...he's on top of the world right now." Didn't look back at what Charlie said when he took the job at ND. Didn't base the article anything more substantial than the presence of a buyout clause in Charlie's contract, which is standard in coaching contracts throughout sports.

The SBT rebutted Schefter's rumor-mongering. As did Bill from the always-solid baredown blog. NDN's the Rock column slapped him silly.

Why would he do this? Well, surprise, surprise...Schefter's a notorious Michigan homer. (Check this out, direct from the annals of Wolverine nostalgia.) Schefter's "developing story" was nothing more than buckshot from Ann Arbor, aimed not only at Irish fans who are feeling pretty good about their coach, but also directly targeting recruits who are considering the Irish. ("Despite the fact that he has one of the country's most heralded recruiting classes coming in next season, Weis has positioned himself to leave Notre Dame after this season for the NFL...") What better way to shake the foundation of an up-and-comer than insinuating he's not long for college ball.

Let's put this to rest, once and for all. Take a look at what Charlie himself said on the subject:

Opening presser:

And when I come here, I don't come here to leave and take a job in the NFL in three years. This is not a stepping stone. This is an end-all for our family. We come to Notre Dame, it's with the intent of retiring here. That's why we're coming here. We don't come here to bounce somewhere else. If that's what I was going to be doing, I would not be taking this job and I would be waiting till the season ended in the NFL and try to get one of those jobs. I'm here because I want to be here.
And this, from Charlie's first day on the job, when he spoke to the students at a 6am warmup in the JACC:
[My wife] knew from our conversations that there were only a couple of jobs in the country that I ever coveted. In the NFL, the only job I ever coveted was the Giants, because I grew up in New Jersey, and I grew up a diehard Giants fan. Ironically, last year the Giants job opened and I was one of the few finalists for the job, and it came down to them hiring the guy with head coaching experience. And that kind of crushed me at the time, because I'd never interviewed for a job in my life and not gotten it.

This isn't like I wouldn't have had options in the NFL. There were a couple of teams -- and I don't want to go into it, but there were a couple of teams. And they can't offer you a job until your season's over.

So when Notre Dame came open, I said, this is it honey, this is one we're going to go get. And I intereviewed for the job, and went through the process, and here I am.

I intend to be here for a long time. I'm not three-and-out. I'm not taking this job to go get a job in the NFL, because I had one waiting for me this year, if I wanted it. I had people calling me the night I was taking the Notre Dame job saying, "Just don't take it", and there was a job sitting there waiting. But I wanted to be here. I have a kid who's going to be in the seventh grade next year, and I'm definitely going to be here until he graduates from here. So I intend to be here for at least ten years. I don't need to go get an NFL job, because I can already do that.

A lot of college coaches hear, "Well, he's going to be the next head coach there [in the NFL]". Wellington Mara, owner of the Giants, called me up on Friday, and I said, "You had your chance." Because this is where I am, and it's good to be here.
No, Charlie isn't going anywhere, and that's a frightening thought to the Wolverines. Schefter's fabrication is one more piece of evidence that the fat and happy CFB establishment is scared shitless of a rejuvenated Notre Dame.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Five Wide, and Yards After the Catch | by Jay

From week to week, it often seems like there's a brand-new theme to Charlie's offensive gameplan, tailored specifically to that opponent. Something that's more than just a new wrinkle, but a entirely different approach...something that defines the way we're going to move the ball that day, and when you recognize it, sort of gives you a glimpse into the war room: "Gentlemen, on Saturday, we're going to do this. This will be our identity this week."

Against Michigan State, we threw long quite a bit -- something we hadn't seen that much to date. Against Washington, the toss-sweep was run about ten times. For USC, it was the presence of Travis Thomas getting equal billing in the backfield, splitting carries with Darius and giving our running game a brand-new dimension.

And against BYU, the defining theme was no-huddle, five-wide.

On Saturday, we came out in the no-huddle, five-wide, empty backfield, threw the ball nine times, never once ran it, and drove the length of the field (finally scoring on a pass to Stovall out of a three-wide, 1-RB set). We kept returning to the five-wide for long stretches against BYU, mixing in a few tight ends here and there. As far as I can recall, the only time we've seen that set was for a few drives against Michigan. Against BYU, it defined the offense.

And it worked like a charm. Coach Mendenhall, after the game:
"There weren't many surprise, but I was a little surprised early by the number of empty formations and quick throws. We never really took that away from them. Either way, they were attacking us through the air and that is where we were the most vulnerable and that is where they were most successful today."
One thing about putting five wide receivers and no running backs on the field: you can't run the ball very much. After last year's dismal rushing output, I'm sure many of us thought we'd rectify that deficiency this year. Even the team considered last year's rushing attack woefully inadequate. Before the game:
"Everybody knows that we had 11 yards rushing last game. That's just unacceptable," offensive tackle Ryan Harris said. "That's nowhere near where we want to be as an offensive line. We've come a long way."
Talk about sandbagging. When the game was over, we had 23 rushes on the day, but a few of those were sacks or QB hurries, and eleven of those carries came during the fourth quarter while holding at least a 19-point lead. As a matter of fact, we had only two actual running plays (not including sacks and sideline laterals) in the entire first half of the game, if you can believe that. From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:

A year after the embarrassment of being held to a mere 11 yards rushing - their worst rushing game in 39 years - the No. 9-ranked Fighting Irish didn't even try to run the ball in a 49-23 victory over Brigham Young until they were trying to run out the clock.

With BYU blitzing and stunting, Irish coach Charlie Weis was only too happy to keep passing. He talked after the game how he was amused at halftime when he was asked by an NBC sideline reporter if the Irish planned to run the ball in the second half, and replied: "Not if they keep blitzing."

"They look at me as if I'm stupid," Weis said. "I'm looking at them like they're stupid, too. I don't know who's right and who's wrong, but football doesn't have to be as complicated as people make it out to be sometimes."

Weis made it look simple on Saturday, putting the ball in the hands of Brady Quinn, who threw for 467 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. In the first half, the Irish ran the ball eight times for a total of 1-yard lost, while Quinn set a school record for passing yards in a half with 287.

"Obviously we didn't run the ball very many times," Weis said. "The risk you take when you do that is if your quarterback has a bad day, you lose. That's a calculated risk you have to take. But I have no problem putting the ball in his hands."

Weis tipped his hand in the opening drive, going with an empty backfield most of the drive. He didn't put tailback Darius Walker into the game until on third-and-6 from the BYU 10, and then he was in as a blocker when Quinn threw a TD pass to Maurice Stovall, who had four TD catches.

"When you see a mismatch with any team, you want to throw it there and that's what we did this game," Stovall said. "We knew in order to be productive we had to be productive in the passing game."

That's what makes Notre Dame (5-2) so difficult to prepare for this season. They depend on the run in some games, like in the opening game victory against Pittsburgh, go more balanced in some games, like the victory against Michigan, or depend on the pass, like the victory over Purdue.

So, the BYU box score says we hardly ran at all on Saturday. Or did we?
COACH WEIS: Overall I'm not as upset when you look at the stats and say, well, you rushed for 1.9 per carry, but all those look passes and swing passes that we threw out there when they're bringing the house, and we throw those balls to those receivers at the line of scrimmage, to me they're like outside runs. You'd be adding another couple hundred yards to your running game. If anyone took a couple hundred yards added to the running game, I don't think anyone would be complaining too much about the yardage there.
Now, maybe that's stretching the definition of run a bit. After all, it's not like a long handoff, or a pitch -- it's actually a pass that gets the play started.

However, it is a remarkably high-percentage pass, and when you've got a strong-armed QB like Quinn slinging it, the ball gets out there in a hurry. Whatever you call it, it's better than running up the middle against a 7- or 8-man front. Why try and pound it, when a short cornerback is single-covering Stovall, and all you have to do is chuck it out to him and let him ramble in for a touchdown from 24 yards out?

(Or, alternately, pump-fake the quick sideliner and throw it over the top for an easy score. "Wasn't that a thing of beauty?" said Charlie. Yes. Yes it was.)

Interestingly, running the ball was sometimes actually part of the original play-call from the sidelines; BQ oftentimes has a run-pass option on the play. Charlie explains:
"There were a lot of runs in there that were run-pass checks, and the quarterback was close to flawless on his decision-making. When you bring that many guys on every play, obviously, the quarterback and the receivers have to make some plays, but you leave yourself very vulnerable. I was kind of hoping that was the way it was going to go."

"Q: Is [Quinn] actually checking off a run to a pass?"

"It's built-in in the play. When I call a play it's a play where he doesn't have to say anything -- we're set and ready to go."
This is similar to what was employed against Purdue -- that quick pass as a second-option on what might have been a running play. Charlie commented after Purdue that there were a few more runs on the call sheet that ended up being passes:
''Brady played exceptional [against Purdue],'' Weis said. ''He checked off runs into passes and just picked 'em apart. He's playing liked the leader I expected him to be.''
So, you must remember this...a pass is just a pass. Except when it isn't.

Anyway, how did all that passing -- I mean running -- break down into positive yardage against BYU?

• We had 467 yards passing in the game.

• By my count, we had 177 yards after the catch. (I don't know how this compares to other games; unfortunately doesn't keep track of YAC). That's 38% YAC.

• About 133 yards of the YAC were from passes complete around the line of scrimmage: zero-yard passes that were almost all YAC. Specifically:
Five sideline passes to Stovall for 55 yards
Four sideline passes to Samardzija for 36 yards
One screen to Darius for 37 yards
One screen to Fasano for 5 yards
• In addition, we also had a couple of pass interference calls that would have boosted our offensive stats even further.

To put it succinctly, we were Yac-tacular.

Finally, a postscript on last year's BYU game and some interesting statistical oddities.
• Time of possession was almost exactly equal this year compared to last year (26:28 to 26:21, a seven-second difference).
• We threw more passes last year, believe it or not (47 to 45).
• We had almost the exact same rushing yardage (if you discount the garbage time rushes in this year's game).
• We actually won the turnover battle last year (+1). This year we broke even.
So, to recap: same time of posession, same passing attempts, same rushing yardage, worse turnover ratio. That translates to...
2004: Three-point loss.
2005: Twenty-six point blowout.
What a difference a year makes.

Week 7 in a Nutshell | by Dylan

Another week, another astounding display, and I'm not talking about Mark May's shirt/tie combo (kudos to Mark for restraining himself and not basing his wardrobe every week on Notre Dame's opponent's colors). At least, that's what I heard, as the NBC affiliate in Santa Barbara pre-empted the game in favor of the Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo / Montana grudge match. Good gravy. Thank God for internet radio. Given the choice between Tony Roberts and Tom Hammonds, I may never watch the NBC telecast ever again.

Weis and the Irish easily dispatched the Cougars with an aerial assault that irritated the Neo-Holtzians on the ND Nation Game Day board to the point of self-immolation, the cries of "Why aren't we running the ball?!?" burning in their throats as Brady Quinn threw for his fifth touchdown. It's astounding that, with seven games of impressive football submitted into evidence, including a fluky loss to the best team of the past three years, people on message boards think they have a better handle on the game than Charlie. It's like watching high school sophomores critiquing Chaucer, and it ain't pretty.

Tennessee and Alabama set the cause of civilized football back a couple of centuries in their 6-3 tilt, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the epic contests between the Colts and Jets in the early nineties. This was the ugliest battle to come out of the South in 140 years. All that was missing from this game was a letter from Sullivan Ballou.

Dearest Sarah,

We have crossed our 35 yard line, but have found the enemy determined and our will shaken. Our bellies are as empty as our barrels, yet we endeavor to persevere, despite the oppressive weight of the sheer averageness of our quarterbacks. I fear that, should our eyes lock once more in the depthless gaze of the infinite, I will have been exposed as a poor craftsman and shall have let you down once again. Oh, and Fulmer ate at least fifteen apple fritters at breakfast. I swear to freakin' God...
I'm not sure I can remember a season with so much, to overuse a made-up word, averageness. Which conference is down? All of 'em. Every week, a team confirms their "Not Ready for Prime Time" status. This week, the honors went to Texas Tech, who had spent the first seven weeks of their season staddling the pastry cart in the Lubbock Perkins squeezing Hershey's syrup directly into their gaping maws. That high-flyin' offense came crashing to earth in Austin. However, given the overall craptacular state of the Big 12, they'll likely finish in the top 15 this year having beaten no one. This year's Big 6 conferences in inverse order of their goodness:

1. The Big East
2. The Big 12
3. The Pac-10
4. The Big 1?
5. The ACC
6. The SEC

Four of those conferences have one or more very good teams. Four of them have one or no very good teams. What the hell is going on?

Michigan State, not to be outdone by Purdue in the “Good Start Wasted” contest, was humiliated on their home field by Northwestern. Television viewers got the chance to witness John L. Smith flip his lid after his team attempted a field goal sans blockers. It was awesome. If either AD has half a brain, the upcoming MSU-PU “Most Disappointing Bowl” will feature a halftime cage match between Smith and Joe Tiller.

North Carolina beat Virginia 7-5 behind 8 solid innings by Matt Baker, who scattered 6 hits and four earned runs.

UCLA’s offensive juggernaut rolled over Oregon State (remember them? Whatever happened to those guys?), scoring 51 points. Quarterback Drew (1 of 2) Olsen matched Brady Quinn with six touchdowns. The Bruins also got a lift from their dual-threat Heisman candidate, Eddie Gaedel.

The truth about Week 7, however, is that I didn’t really care. It was like a week of Colorado States versus New Mexicos. For the first time in my life, I have a rooting interest in the World Series. Go White Sox.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

MOV'in on up | by Jeff

Notre Dame's stellar performance against BYU further improved the Margin of Victory of the 2005 Irish from last year's squad: replacing a 3-point loss on the road with a 26-point home win extends the margin of victory gap from +11.8 to +14.3 (or +13.8 to +15.1 when adjusted for home field advantage).

Maintaining this against Tennessee will be tough, however. To stay two touchdowns ahead of last year, the Irish will have to beat the Vols by 24 (4pts + 14pt MOV + 6pts home field adjustment).

Looking at the season to date:

Category vs Common Opponents
0.429 0.714 +67%
PPG 25.4 37.9 +49%
PPG allowed 27.1 25.3 +7%
MOV -1.7 +12.6 +14.3

Opponent 2004 MOV 2005 MOV Home Adj Change
Pittsburgh -3 +21 +6 +30
Michigan +8 +7 +6 +5
Michigan St. +7 -3 -6 -16
Washington +35 +19 +6 -10
Purdue -25 +21 +6 +52
Southern Cal -31 -3 -6 +22
Brigham Young -3 +26 -6 +23
Average +15.1

The strength of schedule gap also improved, despite Irish opponents going .500 last week and adding 3-4 BYU to the slate. Excluding games vs ND, our first seven opponents are .545 this season vs .579 last season, a 6% drop off.

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.

Big Game Hunters | by Jay

...whippin' up some Cougar stew.

"Brady and Mo put up some crazy numbers. They were scoring touchdowns left and right." -- Jeff Samardzija, after the game

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Injuries, Awards, and Trophies | by Pat

Injuries. Notre Dame lost two players for the year as Weis offically announced that both Rhema McKnight and Chris Frome will miss the rest of the 2005 season with injury. McKnight has been sitting out since wrenching his knee during the Michigan game while Frome twisted his knee during the game against Southern Cal while jumping over a teammate.

Both will be able to return next year and play as 5th year seniors. McKnight is quick to point out the positives of that situation.

"I get another year in this system and hopefully it pays off for me," McKnight said."If Brady (Quinn, Notre Dame's quarterback) and myself as well as the other receivers have another year in this type of offense, it's going to be fantastic," he added.
McKnight also added on the educational benefits of a 5th year at Notre Dame.

McKnight is on track to graduate in December, so he'll start work on his master's degree in January.

What, no ballroom dancing classes, a la USC's quarterback Matt Leinart?

"Nah," he said, "although it would be nice to be more cultured."

Before the 2005 season, the 2006 wide receiver depth chart looked like a potentially veteran-laden team's biggest question mark, but now is looking like it will be able to provide proven production to go along with potential. McKnight and now Samardzija are proven players that will be much needed mentors for the rest of the young and inexperienced (Grimes, Hord, Anastacio, Gallup, Parris, West) receiving corp.

As for Frome, he will return to a line that returns everyone from the 2-deep except one (Beidatsch) and possibly could be bolstered with the return of Travis Leitko. In the meantime, Ronald Talley -- my pick for this season's surprise player thusfar-- will get the start at defensive end and be backed up by Justin Brown.

"I know Coach (Jappy) Oliver talked to them extensively (Monday) and said, 'This is your time,' because now they're not just in the background, they're in the mix," Weis said of Talley and Brown. "They're going to be out there and they're going to be playing and they're going to be playing a lot. We need for them to step up and make a bunch of plays."

As with the McKnight injury, Coach Weis has made it a point not to dwell too much on the fact the team is minus another starter.

“It pushed (Brown and Talley) up a spot. That’s what it does. That’s the way we think around here. One guy goes out, the next guy goes in. That’s the way it is.”

Awards. One of the pre-season award lists that actually did include a Notre Dame player has narrowed down its list and Brandon Hoyte did not make the semi-finalist cut for the Butkus Award. Hopefully this means that Hoyte isn't forever barred from coaching high school football on ESPN or high school basketball on Teen NBC.

The semi-finalists who did make the cut include Chad Greenway (Iowa), Aaron Harris (Texas), Spencer Havner (UCLA), AJ Hawk (Ohio State), D'Qwell Jackson (Maryland), Tim McGarigle (Northwestern), AJ Nicholson (FSU), Paul Posluszny (Penn State), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama), and Ernie Sims (FSU).

Let's take a look at how Hoyte matches up statistically. The first two columns are per game averages.

Player Tackles
Brandon Hoyte
Chad Greenway
13.29 1.0
Aaron Harris
Spencer Havner
1.5 1
AJ Hawk
11.33 1.33
D'Qwell Jackson
Tim McGarigle
AJ Nicholson
Paul Posluszny
DeMeco Ryans
Ernie Sims

Plenty of great linebackers on this list. But I would certainly hope that Hoyte was close to making the semi-finalist cut because statistically he's right there with most of these players. Ernie Sims seems a bit lacking in the stats department, but there is more to being a good linebacker than just numbers. And, I suppose it's fair to say that there is sometimes more to making semi-finalists lists like this than just being a good linebacker.

Interestingly, it appears that Texas likes to give its players a bit of a statsitical bonus. Usually on assisted tackles for loss, a player gets credit for 0.5 tackle, just like for a sack. That's how the NCAA and pretty much every other school records it. Texas however on their official site gives the player credit for a whole tackle. So the NCAA site says Aaron Harris has 8.0 TFL (7 solo, 2 assisted) while the Texas site credits him with 9.0 (7 solo, 2 assisted). Nothing to complain about too much, but it is interesting and something that should be kept in mind.

Trophies. Notre Dame is moving ahead with the plan to add "themes" to each gate of Notre Dame Stadium with the dedication of the "Heisman Gate" at what is also known on your ticket stub as Gate B. The display includes large banners of each Notre Dame Heisman winner displayed inside the concourse along with a larger-than-life replica of the Heisman Trophy attached to the wall. Next time you head to a home game, swing over and check it out. posted a photo gallery of the new design including a profile shot that gives a good look at the Heisman replicas.

Along with this new pro-tradition campaign in and around the Stadium and photos like this one of ND's National Championship rings that recently popped up on, I do enjoy the fact that Notre Dame is being more outgoing about the proud history of the football program.

While the University can sometimes get a bit too cheesy with their football promotions, I think the new banners are very well done. If the other gates are completed in a similar manner as this one I'll consider the whole thing a success.

Hard-Fought Yards | by Jay

One thing I noticed in looking at the NCAA offensive rankings is the way we're grinding out the yards this year. Despite having the 12th-best offense in the country, we rank only 36th in yards per play (5.77).

How does that happen? Well, seeing as we're #2 in the country in plays run per game, it sort of makes sense.

Plays Per Game, best 20 teams

O-Rank Team Games Plays Plays/Gm Yds
14 Missouri 6 516 86.00 2858 5.54 476.33
12 Notre Dame 6 509 84.83 2938 5.77 489.67
4 Northwestern 6 496 82.67 3172 6.40 528.67
28 Oregon St. 6 490 81.67 2572 5.25 428.67
38 Indiana 6 490 81.67 2464 5.03 410.67
13 Oregon 7 555 79.29 3411 6.15 487.29
15 Houston 6 474 79.00 2843 6.00 473.83
17 Purdue 6 469 78.17 2747 5.86 457.83
5 Arizona St. 6 468 78.00 3112 6.65 518.67
29 Nevada 6 468 78.00 2566 5.48 427.67
11 Minnesota 7 545 77.86 3432 6.30 490.29
25 Boise St. 6 467 77.83 2597 5.56 432.83
85 Tulane 5 387 77.40 1671 4.32 334.20
70 Georgia Tech 6 464 77.33 2159 4.65 359.83
2 Texas Tech 6 463 77.17 3437 7.42 572.83
31 Boston College 7 538 76.86 2964 5.51 423.43
1 Southern Cal 6 458 76.33 3678 8.03 613.00
50 Western Mich. 6 458 76.33 2353 5.14 392.17
60 Illinois 6 458 76.33 2254 4.92 375.67
3 Michigan St. 6 457 76.17 3288 7.19 548.00

In comparison, check out USC: best offense in the country, and also the best yards-per-play average. Reggie Bush will do that for you. We, on the other hand, have no gamebreakers at running back; as Pat mentioned below, our longest run of the season is backup QB David Wolke's 22-yard scamper.

We're not a quick-strike offense, and I think a lot of that is by design. Occasionally we'll hit on a long pass, but mainly, we just grind it out, control the clock, move the chains, and punch it in the end zone when we get down close. We're a yardage- and time-eating machine.

Friday, October 21, 2005

BYU Preview | by Mike

After the drama of the USC game, it's been hard for fans to turn their attention to BYU. Fortunately, Charlie Weis's "second season" concept appears to have done the trick in focusing the team's attention on BYU.

"If I told you we were opening up this week against BYU at home," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis asked defensive captain and starting linebacker Brandon Hoyte, "how fired up would you be?"

Hoyte's response: "Pretty fired up."
That this week also happens to be fall break has further helped the team adopt a season-opening, fall camp attitude.

Here at BGS, we're not the beneficiaries of Weis's attitude management. We've had a hard time shaking the USC game. In fact, until Jay's posts today detailing the BYU offense and defense, we'd largely neglected this Saturday's game. We're not even sure what BYU stands for. Many maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago, but at least one scholar has uncovered evidence indicating BYU is an abbreviation for "Buddy, you're unfortunate."

However, we can direct your attention to some BYU-related pieces we prepared before the USC malaise set in.

First is Michael's profile of BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. Included are discussions of the coaching staff, offensive philosophy, and defensive philosophy.

Next you can turn to Pat's position previews and familiarize yourself with BYU's personnel. If you compare Pat's previews to an updated BYU depth chart (page 12), you'll get a sense for how injury-depleted the Cougars are.

Last there are our comments in our overall season preview. We were unanimous in expecting a win. I predicted we would surpass last year's rushing total against BYU on our first drive, and Mark revealed his nonchalant attitude towards men named Bronco. Dylan's comment reveals that the USC hangover may not be the only reason we have been so delinquent in preparing BYU previews this week:
From this day forward, as it once was, there should be no analysis wasted on the BYU game. It was a "W" when they signed the contract.

Cougar Chicanery, par deux | by Jay

Here's some reading on the "Air Raid" offense, which BYU offensive coordinator and Mike Leach disciple Robert Anae brought with him from Texas Tech. Leach was a protege of Hal Mumme, and ironically, Mumme first got the idea for the scheme from the old Lavell Edwards BYU offenses. Leach developed an offshoot for Texas Tech, and now the system's come full circle back to Provo with Anae.

The Air Raid typically features multiple receivers flooding zones and a quarterback who can make quick progression reads. In other words, airing it out -- a lot. Texas Tech, for example, throws the ball 50+ times per game, rain or shine.

BYU, on the other hand, isn't afraid to mix it up -- they're using TT's offense, but aren't married to it. They'll run it if they think they can move the ball that way, and unlike other WAC teams, their OL is actually big enough to run it (they average 325 lbs across the front).

The Cougars' play mix thus far looks like this:

Run   16  32  39  19  30  52
Pass 60 41 51 49 44 18
That last game was against Colorado State, which has the 103rd-worst run defense in football.

One worry Charlie mentioned in his presser are the extraordinarily large splits the BYU offensive line takes:
You'll notice this team (BYU) takes very, very large splits, so you have to be very careful on how you play inside with your inside players because they almost bait you into just taking the gaps. As they bait you into taking these extremely large splits that they're taking, a lot of times, if you don't play the fundamentals and techniques, you find yourself out of position.
The leading rusher is Curtis Brown (#6), who's got 504 yards and 5 touchdowns. They also throw to Brown quite a bit out of the backfield, and he ties the tight end Johnny Harline (#89) as the leading receiver on the team. They do spread it around in the passing game, though: five guys already have 20 or more receptions this year. Quarterback John Beck isn't much of a runner, but he's savvy and smart, completing 65% of his passes.

But it's Brown who really makes the 26th-ranked offense in the country go.
"Curtis, in terms of touches, accounts for about 60 percent of our offense," Mendenhall said. "For our offense to succeed, (Brown) has to have the ball in his hands either having it handed to him or throwing it to him."
I'm not sure Bronco's breakdown is exactly correct, but it is true they'd like to feature their top playmaker more and more.

Prediction for the D? I'm guessing we'll play a very conservative game on defense, bend-but-don't-break stuff, preventing the big play while stopping the run. The five-yard hitch -- we'll give 'em that. If they want to chew up the clock, that's fine with Charlie & Rick...because we should be putting the ball in the end zone on every one of our drives.

A few more fun BYU facts, courtesy of the South Bend Tribune:

BYU has an 11-game losing streak against ranked teams.

The Cougars are tied for last in the nation in interceptions. BYU's defense has picked off one pass.

Thirty BYU players are married. Six of them have pregnant wives.

Cougar Chicanery | by Jay

The 3-3-5 defense is as unusual as it is enigmatic. The three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks and free safety all line up close to where they would in more traditional defenses. But where the 3-3-5 differs is in the presence of two special "roving" safeties, whose makeup can be described as part outside linebacker and part strong safety.

These "KAT" safeties (as they are called in the BYU version of the 3-3-5) can rush the quarterback, drop back into coverage or even defend against the run if needed. The result is a defense that is very flexible, capable of rushing between three and eight players at any time, and blitzing from various angles.

From this article in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:

For offenses, Weis said the defense leaves the possibility for big plays, but it also could end up with a lot of linebackers sprinting around the opponent’s backfield.

“If you hit it right, you have an opportunity for plays,” Weis said. “But the other thing is in terms of hitting it wrong, you could have a lot of people free.”

Part of recognizing it, Weis said, comes from junior quarterback Brady Quinn. He needs to be able to pick up the different defensive fronts BYU will throw at the No. 9 Irish.

Otherwise, it could be a long day.

Another way the players might prepare, besides the tape they’ll watch this week, is through video games.

While Walker hadn’t thought of it, “NCAA Football ’06” does have a 3-3-5 defensive scheme among its defensive packages and other coaches have said in the past that video games will occasionally help players pick things up quicker.

While fellow running back Travis Thomas scoffed at the suggestion, Walker seemed to think about it.

“Yeah, that might not be a bad idea,” Walker said. “See how it works.”
Bob Morton talked a little bit about it:
“It really demands that extra focus,” Irish center Bob Morton said. “So it really has been easy to get our nose back in the books, watch the film and try and perfect things as much as we can.”

Morton added that the offense usually focuses only on its own problems and goals. But this week players have been forced to master BYU’s “exotic” defense, which relies heavily on blitzing.

“Run or pass, their blitzes are designed to pose problems,” Morton said. “Their coach (Bronco Mendenhall) has them everywhere and has done so for a few years. We really have to make sure we’re gap responsible.”
Here's an example of one of the hazards of the 3-3-5 if you're not prepared for it. Stills are from last year's opening-game debacle.

In the first frame, that's the pre-snap defensive look.

In the second frame, you can see that the DB over Stovall has moved down and is now giving a blitz look. So now you have possibly three guys rushing the passer on the weak side.

In the third frame, see how the three rushers on the left side outnumbered the two OL, and meanwhile, you have your RB in blitz pick-up to the right and an extra OL blocking no one. Quinn didn't get sacked here but he got hit as he threw it, and we never had a shot.

This is a great example of how ill-prepared we were for our first game last year. I'm not sure who was at fault. It's Diedrick's system so some fault should lie on his shoulders, but at the same time, I think the RB Wilson got confused. As you can see, we had six blockers get beaten by five pass rushers. That should never happen, especially when you have the talent advantage that Notre Dame has.

The good news for tomorrow? We're fairly familiar with the scheme. South Carolina used it when Weis was an assistant there, and Latina mentioned the other day he went up against it once or twice a year in the SEC. And despite the exotic nature of their scheme, the Cougs aren't exactly world-beaters on defense, ranking 53rd in scoring (25 ppg) and 79th against the pass (241.3 ypg).

Last year, we didn't scheme against the 3-3-5 very well at all -- only 285 yards, and a scant 11 yards rushing on 21 carries. (This, against a team that ended up being ranked 59th nationally against the run, and gave up an average of 377 yards overall). Tomorrow, I think we can expect much better.

Lastly, I was doing a little googling on the BYU defense, and this popped up. Check out book #6. I couldn't figure out why the 3-3-5 would show up in a list like that, but then it hit me: since it's so risky, if you screw up the 3-3-5, you might as well gouge your eyes out.