Sunday, October 01, 2006

Odds & Sods - Hum Drum Edition | by Mike

Here comes a regular. What does it mean when a 14-point victory over Purdue doesn't inspire particularly strong feelings in either direction? It means another trace of the Davie-Willingham era is being purged. While neither Davie nor Willingham ever managed a double-digit victory over the Boilermakers, Weis's squad just recorded a two-touchdown victory and the talk of most Irish fans seems to center on the areas that need improvement. A return to normalcy?

The dump off. Throughout 2005, Notre Dame's offense leaned on the screen pass. Heading into the Purdue game, opponents this year had rendered the Irish screen game largely ineffective. Against Purdue, Darius Walker's 219 yards of total offense included 73 yards receiving on 9 receptions, with much of those receiving yards coming on screens. It's too early to say whether the Irish screen game is really back or whether the success was simply due to a weak Purdue defense, but it was comforting to see the Notre Dame offense finally executing this staple again.

Get it together. Despite a dropped would-be touchdown pass, Brady Quinn and Rhema McKnight finally seemed to be on the same page. Weis mentioned that he had devoted considerable practice time this past week to communication and timing between Quinn and his receivers. The move paid off, as Quinn and McKnight ate up Purdue's young corners on the out route. McKnight hauled in a career-best 10 catches for 120 yards. Perhaps most importantly, three of those receptions came on third down, keeping drives alive in a way that the Irish had been unable to do against Michigan and Michigan State.

My first mine. Showing the wear and tear that comes with playing legitimate opponents exclusively in the first month, several Irish players sat out with injuries. As a result, several players recorded career firsts. Joe Brockington garnered his first career start due to the injury Travis Thomas suffered on the final play of the Michigan State game. Freshman George West's first career rush was also his first career touchdown, as he took an end-around in for the score in the first quarter. Weis noted that the play was originally designed for David Grimes, but with Grimes out with an injury, West's number was called. With Bobby Renkes also nursing an injury, freshman Ryan Burkhart recorded his first game action when he handled the Irish's first kickoff of the game. Though not necessarily attributable to injury, Chase Anastacio grabbed his first reception of the year and Jeff Samardzija recorded his first career rushing touchdown.

So much beauty in dirt. In 2004, Michigan came back from a 17-point 4th-quarter deficit to beat Michigan State in triple overtime. The Spartans went 1-3 in their next four games. In 2005, Ohio State scored 14 unanswered 4th-quarter points to beat Michigan State. The Spartans went 1-4 in their next five games. Given this history of implosions, an intelligent MSU coach would have responded to Notre Dame's comeback win over Michigan State by making sure his team focused on the next opponent. Johnelle Smith is not an intelligent coach. Rather than mentally preparing his team for Illinois, Johnelle engaged in baseless ranting about his team's loss to Notre Dame. The stupidity of the content of Smith's rant was matched only by the stupidity of focusing on a past opponent. The result was entirely predictably. Smith managed to lose a homecoming game to a member of the Big Ten's Troika of Ineptitude, a team that hadn't won a conference game in two years and hadn't won a road conference game since 2002. If ever there were grounds for a player mutiny, surely they exist in East Lansing.