Friday, October 06, 2006

Tree Hugging | by Jay

In prepping for the Stanford game, I still find myself asking the question "why did we give up so many yards to Purdue?" I think a variety of culprits reared their ugly heads in our game against the Boilermakers.

• For starters, the Purdue offense isn't too shabby, and Brimley knows how to put together a game plan. Purdue in recent years has had total offenses ranked 25th, 13th, 65th, and 7th. The Purdue offensive line is tremendous, and will likely send four or five guys to the pros. While we got some pressure occasionally, they didn't give up any sacks, and Painter wasn't knocked around very much. Plus, the Boilers have good skill position players in Bryant, Sheets, Keller, Lymon, and especially Painter, who looks like a good QB on the rise. I think a lot of ND fans, myself included, sort of pooh-poohed the Purdue offense coming into the game, but out of all the "second-tier" opponents on our schedule, it wouldn''t be that surprising if Purdue compiles the most yards against our defense this year.

• Injuries & substitutions. Missing Wooden and Travis Thomas, and having to play guys like Brockington in his first start puts us at an immediate disadvantage. Also, Zibby got knocked in the head on that punt return, and clearly wasn't himself the rest of the game. Which was a factor, but doesn't excuse...

• Poor tackling by our defense. Are the effects of playing so many tough games in a row taking their toll on endurance? Or is it just lack of concentration? Quite a few times against Purdue (and throughout the year) we've had guys bounce off instead of wrapping up.

• Inability to cover their second wide receiver (Lymon) one-on-one. Our game plan seemed to be: minimize Bryant (41 yards), Sheets (47 yards), and Keller (36 yards); see if a freshman wide receiver can beat us. And beat us he did, to the tune of a ND record (238 yards receiving). We did such a great job on the main playmakers, but when we face a team with a variety of weapons like Purdue, we need to be able to clamp down on the 3rd & 4th options just as much as the first. Oftentimes that boils down to a mano-a-mano matchup (Walls versus Lymon, for instance).

• Failure to limit the big play, especially the 88-yard TD right before the half. Without that whiffed tackle, the complexion of the game changes and the statistics don't look nearly as beastly. But even so, Purdue had successful passes of 39, 23, 26, 40, and 22 yards in the game.

• Prolonging Purdue drives with bad penalties. 'Nuff said.

What can we expect from Stanford?

There were high hopes for Stanford on offense this year, returning its quarterback (the talented Trent Edwards), a leading running back, both its receivers, its entire offensive line and its tight end, and the Cardinal hoped to improve on their 99th-ranked offense in '05. But injuries have hit hard. Both senior receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore are out as is starting center Tim Mattran. Running back Anthony Kimble suffered a concussion against Washington State, but he should be back on the field tomorrow. As a result, Stanford is averaging only 12.6 points per game so far this year against decent competition (Oregon, SJSU, Navy, WSU, UCLA). It's been spiralling downwards all season, finally hitting rock bottom against UCLA (166 yards total offense, 2.8 yards per play).

Shall I go on? They rushed for 28 yards on 31 carries against Wazzou. They have two rushing touchdowns all year. Their most experienced remaining receiver, tight end Matt Traverso -- who notched 7 catches for 85 yards and 1 touchdown against ND last year -- doesn't have a single reception so far this year. As Pat noted below, they've given up 21 sacks, which equates to about 12% of the time they drop back for a pass. Edwards has thrown six interceptions; only about twenty teams have more. The Cardinal are 81st in time of possession (28:57 per game). In fact, the only spot where they best the Irish O is in third down conversion rate (36%, 78th to 33%, 96th).

Bottom line: this is not a good offense. It is not anywhere near Purdue's offense. It is not even last year's Stanford offense, which put up 336 yards against the Irish.