Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Thoughts on the Weekend | by Jeff

I think it will be a couple of weeks before I fully understand what happened on Saturday. Although it certainly was not what I expected or predicted, a win is a win. Returning home injury-free and 1-0 is all that really matters for a road opener, and a close win like this certainly gives the coaching staff plenty of ammunition to coach up the players without hurting the W/L record. In reality, September doesn't matter all that much by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, so this may have been the perfect wake-up call for the Irish.

Tip your hat to Charlie and his staff for their continued ability to make in-game adjustments. Comparing the first and second half stats, there was improvement across the board in every meaningful category. This continues the trend from last season, in which opponents scored significantly fewer points in the second and third quarters than they did in the first (fourth quarter scoring was a skewed due to several blowout wins).

1st Half
2nd Half

+260% +93%


1st Half
2nd Half

-32% -10%


Limiting the Big Play
That the Irish gave up big plays in our losses last season is beyond discussion, and Georgia Tech certainly had big play threats in both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Ball. But, despite Johnson's monster first half (5 catches for 94 yards and a TD), he was held in check during the second half (2 catches for 16 yards). The Irish defense also did a solid job of containing Reggie Ball on the ground, 3 rushes for 17 yards in the first half, and 8 rushes for 38 yards in the second (although that includes sacks). However, the big play was still somewhat of an issue. Each team had two passes of 20+ yards (ND had an additional 19 yarder). But, Georgia Tech had six runs of 10+ yards, while the Irish had only three. This certainly was not a repeat of the Fiesta Bowl, and the defense appears to be able to contain a threat or two. Look for the offense to get back to mounting threats of their own against Penn State.

Mistakes and Penalties
I'm not going to get into Rhema's holding call, but suffice it to say that the penalty killed an opening drive which had just gained 18 yards on four plays and turned 1st and 10 on GT's 22 yard line into 1st and 15 on GT's 47. It is impossible to predict the momentum of a game, but I suspect the outcome would have been very different had the Irish scored on the opening drive.

Mistakes were prevalent throughout the game, but most of them are correctable. Eleven penalties for 80 yards is far too many, but I feel confident the coaching staff and players will be addressing that in practice this week. Field goal kicking may be another story, but let’s see what happens in game two before passing judgment.

Great Expectations
There was some movement in the polls this week, as teams now have a game under their belt to put some substance behind the voter's expectations. Most of the changes made sense, but certainly not all of them. Using the spread as the basis for pre-season expectations, most of the big moves make sense:
  • Tennessee gained 12 spots in the polls after covering by 15.5 points
  • Cal correspondingly dropped 13 spots
  • Southern Cal covered by 28 and jumped from 6th to 3rd
  • Oklahoma dropped 5 spots when failing to cover by 15
But several changes don't make sense at all:
  • Michigan gained 3 spots in the polls despite failing to cover by 5 points
  • Despite beating the spread by 17.5 (the 3rd best performance among the Top 25), Nebraska dropped a spot
  • Oregon gained one spot, despite crushing the spread against Stanford by 26.5 (second only to Southern Cal among the Top 25)
The good news is that all of this should wash out by the end of the season as the voters continue to make adjustments over the first few weeks. If the Irish keep winning, there is no reason why they shouldn't inch into one of the top two spots. The outcome of the Texas-Ohio State game this weekend should have a significant impact on the National Championship hunt, and the resulting ranking of the loser might prove to be a lower boundary for teams that are in the hunt for the National Championship.

Putting the "AA" in NCAA
Besides some extra lucre, who knows what the NCAA was trying to achieve when it authorized a twelfth game for the 2006 season and beyond. But, given that the twelfth game went into effect during the same year as a rule allowing one 1-AA victory per year to count towards bowl eligibility, it is very clear what they got. The number of games against non-division 1 teams jumped from 45 last season to 74 this season.

As Dylan mentioned below, kudos to Montana State and Richmond for joining TCU in a rare feat last weekend: beating a BCS conference school. The BCS conferences were 22-1 against non-BCS conferences and 17-2 against Division 1-AA (and only four of those fifty two games were on the road). I suspect the NCAA was shooting for more gate money from season ticket holders and more eligible teams for the ever-expanding list of third-tier bowls. If so, they got exactly what they were looking for.

Among the BCS conferences, the Big East was the big winner, going 3-1 against the other BCS conferences. The big loser was the ACC, going 1-2 against the Big East and 0-1 against ND (in addition to Duke's loss to Richmond). Wins by the ACC over Syracuse, Northeastern, Central Michigan, Appalachian State, William & Mary, and Florida Atlantic probably did little to take out the sting out of losses to Richmond, Notre Dame, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh.

The Big Ten completed an 11-0 weekend by feasting on the MAC (6 games), 1-AA (3 games), the WAC (1 game) and the bottom of the SEC (1 game), and half of the Big 12 teams played 1-AA schools. The PAC-10 and SEC actually played reasonable schedules, including games against each other as well as conference matchups.

One thing that still gets my goat: the NCAA is willing to add meaningless games to the schedule, but is unwilling to allow an extra week or two for a football playoff. Meanwhile, Myles Brand and the boys are busy knocking the headdress off of Chief Illiniwek. Nice priorities.