Thursday, November 30, 2006

Every Rose has its Thorn | by Jay

Yesterday an ABC affiliate in Louisiana reported that LSU to the Rose Bowl was a done deal, but last night the chief exec of the Rose Bowl refuted the claim:

"That's not true," Rose Bowl CEO Mitch Dorger said from his home Wednesday night. "We have not made any final decisions at all. I think some people have gone out on a limb and are making assumptions. We will make our decision on Sunday."
The LA Times has a pretty good breakdown of the Rose Bowl possiblities this morning, speculating that Michigan vs LSU is the most likely matchup. That's probably how it's going to shake out. But there's one thing that everyone's assuming: that Michigan is definitely going to Pasadena, given the long-standing ties between the Integer and the Rose. But should we automatically assume that? Considering the fact that...

1) ND, with its well-travelled fans and high TV ratings in tow, is the darling of the bowl set, and
2) Michigan has already been to the Rose two of the last three years, and
3) nobody wants a ND-UM rematch, and
4) the Rose has carte blanche to pick its teams,

maybe an LSU-Notre Dame matchup is more attractive to the Rose? Believe it or not, I chatted with two different people "in the know" this week who said it's at least being considered by the Rose Bowl committee.

The Rose picking ND over Michigan? Chuckle. We'd have screwed them over twice.

Update: Eric Hansen also has some more food for thought along these lines in the SBT today, including some more quotes from the Rose Bowl CEO:
"First of all in general, the BCS is not enthusiastic about rematches," Dorger said via telephone Wednesday. "In fact, they specifically tell us to avoid those if at all possible. In most cases, there's not as much enthusiasm for a rematch, particularly if you're going to have to spend thousands of dollars to travel out to see it. I think that's a big factor.

"One of the other things you have to think about is Michigan will be here potentially for the third time in four years. So breeding enthusiasm in Michigan has got to be a big consideration. You can fill in the blanks."

"We do look at TV ratings very closely, because TV ratings drive our brand identity," Dorger said. "When we go to renegotiate our contract in the coming years, we're going to have to lay our TV ratings on the line. So yes, we're looking at good TV ratings."

"Yet in the final analysis, we need to pick what's best for the Rose Bowl," he said. "We're just not sure what that is yet."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

End Game: the Second Half | by Jay

We're set to kick off the second half. One thing I missed in the broadcast: when did Ndukwe come out of the game? Bruton replaces him, which leads to...well, you'll see.

What went wrong?
What went right?
SC Drive 8. ND kicks off and it's a poor one, bouncing out of bounds at about the 30 yard line and giving the ball to SC at the 35. On the first series it's 3rd & 5, and Crum is showing blitz. Instead, he drops back to cover a short zone, but doesn't drop far enough and Fred Davis slips behind him for a first down catch.

On the next series Booty launches one deep to Jarrett in the end zone, but Lambert is there and breaks it up. Nice coverage. Since his first few catches, we're blanketing Jarrett pretty well.

SC ends up in a 4th & 1, and they get it easily on Washington's run to the left down to the SC 25. Great blocking by the Trojans. The next play turns out to be the highlight reel clip of the game...

Jarrett cuts across field to the right side and finds a soft spot between the CB and safety in the zone. We had him bracketed, but not tight enough. Booty throws a crummy pass, just sails it, but Jarrett makes an incredible one-handed grab just inside the sideline, giving SC 1st & goal at the 6.

We run a corner blitz on the next play, with Lambert rushing and Zibby dropping off to cover Jarrett 1-on-1. Ballsy, but ineffective; Zibby commits a pass interference. Washington punches it in on the next play.
Poor kickoff; failure to force a punt on 3rd & 5 and 4th and 1; Jarrett makes the play of the game.


ND Drive 9. Deep kickoff, good return by Grimes to the 25. Walker rips off a great run of 18 yards, his long of the game (even though Morton misses a block here). Another run, then a pass for no gain, then a sack of BQ on a corner blitz we fail to pick up. Not an auspicious start to the half. BQ sacked; no blitz pick-up.
Nice run by Darius.

SC Drive 9. A good punt by Price puts the Trojans on their own 21. Richardson is the star of this short series. First he stops Gable on a short run, then drops Steve Smith on a complete pass, then combines with Brockington to stuff Gable at the line on 3rd & 1 and force a punt.
Excellent job by Richardson; he's all over the field making tackles. Three-and-out.

ND Drive 10. The Trojans sky a bad punt and we get good position on our own 42. On second down, Quinn finds McKnight down the left sideline and Rhema makes a fantastic catch over Terrell Thomas. Finally! Forty-two yards on the play.

We throw a fade to Samardzija in the end zone that goes through his hands; tough catch, but definitely catchable. On 4th & 1 we run Aldridge up the gut and he grits out a first down (barely; it was a horrendous spot, and we ended up making it by a half-inch). SC challenges the call, it stands up and the Trojans have just wasted their second timeout of the game. In the back of my mind I'm thinking, "That's going to come back to haunt them."

Travis Thomas checks into the game, and Musburger says, "Clearly Weis is upset with Darius fumbling down here last time." I want to knee him in the groin.

On first and goal at the 4, the sequence goes: BQ throws it away; BQ rolls right, throws it away again; 4-wide, Quinn sneaks it to the 2. Fourth down.

We use the same 4-wide formation but motion Darius left for an empty backfield. Quinn finds McKnight on the slant from the left. It was first and goal, and we threw it four times. But no matter. Touchdown.

There's only 1:57 left in the third quarter. It's back to 11 points, but we're running out of time.
Didn't (or couldn't) run it from 1st & goal on the 4? It worked out, anyway.
Rhema is the story of the drive: 42 yard bomb, and hot TD catch. Way to bounce back.

SC Drive 10.We pooch the kickoff again but this time it stays in bounds, and SC takes over on the 20. There's a shot of Brady on the sideline, shooing away a phone call from the booth.

The first half of this drive is abysmal: Booty finds Davis for a first down, then Gable runs 14 yards, then Booty hits Jarrett for another first down. On that last play, we brought six men on the line and Booty saw the man coverage with no one deep, checked off, and hit Jarrett easily.

Booty launches one to the end zone and Steve Smith is open, but the pass is a little long and Smith can't get a handle on it. On 3rd & 9, Booty completes a pass to McFoy into triple coverage. I don't know how we didn't break that up. After a Brockington sack, Booty connects with Jarrett on yet another 3rd down conversion, where he just outjumps everyone. He's a tree. Musburger mentions the grudge that Jarrett has against ND for dropping him during recruiting.

SC wastes their last timeout trying to get something called correctly, and ends up on 4th & 13 and having to kick a field goal. A Pyrrhic victory for the defense: we kept them out of the end zone, but they were able to chew up the clock and still put 3 more points on the board. Ten minutes left in the game.
Despite blitzing, we get very little pressure on Booty, who throws for 60 yards on this drive alone. Gave up 5 first downs, allowing key conversions on 3rd & 9 and 3rd & 13.
We manage to bottle up Gable pretty well, and we kept them out of the end zone. That's about it.

ND Drive 11. A good return by Zibby out to the 30, but it's wasted. BQ completes a pass to Freeman for four yards, then a false start, then an incomplete, then a sack where Morton gets blown up. We punt (after a delay of game). This isn't how you come back. Punt from our own 19.
Nothing working; penalties; bad sack of Quinn.


SC Drive 11. Ball on the SC 43. Gable rushes up the middle for 14 yards -- is the defense gassed at this point?

The next play-- well, dammit, no need to mince words. It's the worst play of the game.

SC lines up in an I-formation with Jarrett split left (pre-snap diagram here.) The fullback Williams (#41) motions left, wider than Jarrett (#8) is lined up. Richardson (#30) was lined up across from Jarrett with Bruton (#27) over the top. Now, with Williams coming across, there's mass confusion. Bruton looks like he wants to take the outside man, but then Richardson shoos him back inside. The ball is snapped.

Williams streaks down the sideline uncovered. Jarrett runs a post. Richardson sort of splits the difference, unsure of whom to cover, while Bruton hangs out in middle with nothing to do.

It's an easy pitch-and-catch to Jarrett down the middle. Richardson reacts to the ball in the air, recovers, and tries to tackle Jarrett after the catch, but can't wrap up and instead bounces off. Jarrett gallops into the end zone.

Booty had his choice of two wide-open receivers. Horrible miscommunication by the Irish defense.
Worst play of the game. The backbreaker. Miscommunication leads to blown coverage, then a poor attempt at a tackle gives up the touchdown.

ND Drive 12. It's not looking good. We're down by 20 with only 8 minutes to go, and we need a quick score. Unfortunately, we get a long, drawn-out drive instead. We run a series of nice plays here, dinking and dunking our way down the field, and getting six first downs in the process. Even thought we're running a hurry-up, it takes us 14 plays to get down the field.

An 18-yard pass to Samardzija brings us to first and goal at the 9, and we can't punch it in. The maddeningly stubborn SC defense holds us to 4th & goal, when Terrell Thomas gets called for pass interference, and it starts all over. First and goal, second and goal, third and goal, and finally -- Quinn hits Samardzija on a fade for the score. That's eight plays inside the ten yard line.

3:39 left in the game, down by two scores. Let's onsides kick it.
Took way too long to get down the field.
At least we scored.

SC Drive 12. Does this even count as a drive? Carl Gioia executes the worst onsides kick I've ever seen, chopping the ball way short of the coverage. Brian Cushing snaps it up and runs it back for a touchdown. The final nail in the coffin.
We had an outside chance until this blunder.


ND Drive 13. The last drive for the Irish is an exercise in futility. Quinn hits Grimes for a nice gain of 27 yards into SC territory. After that, it's a sack, an incomplete pass, a pass complete on 3rd & 16 to make it 4th & 1, and a final incomplete pass ending the drive.


SC Drive 13. The Trojans get the ball back with about a minute and a half left, and run out the clock.


If you told me that we would a) win the turnover battle, b) have the same number of yards as SC (404), and c) Quinn would throw more touchdowns (3) than any other opponent had against SC this year, I would have predicted an Irish win. But as we can see, the problems were pervasive: offense, defense, special teams, playcalling, coverage, communication, mistakes, poor execution. Any way you slice it, it was a butt-kickin'.

(In fact, the only good thing to come out of this game is that we inadvertently screwed Michigan out of a rematch with the Buckeyes. A good thing, no doubt, but now I don't have a use for my t-shirt idea. Bummer.)

It's tempting to say it's strictly the defense that let us down, from poor schemes (middle wide open early on), to biting on fakes (Zibby), to miscommunication (final Jarrett TD), to poor tackling. And yet we had some spectacular defensive plays as well, especially the two interceptions by Richardson and Laws, some fine run-stopping, and a nice TD pass breakup by Lambert.

But the truth is that both units (well, all three) were manifestly culpable. We had 12 possessions in the game and only scored on 4 of them; our conversion rate was horrendous; our playcalling was suspect in the red zone; we dropped too many passes. It's two years into the Charlie Weis era, and we still can't get the short yardage reliably when we absolutely need it.

Let's give due deference to the Trojans. Their offense had us twisted in knots for much of the game. Jarrett is absolutely incredible, and just as Reggie Bush was "the difference" in the SC game last year, Jarrett was "the difference" this year. Their young secondary is tremendous, with superb recovery speed and instincts. Terrell Thomas batting the ball away from McKnight in the end zone was amazing. Against any other coverage, that's a touchdown.

Where do we go from here? To a bowl game, and hopefully to a win. But next October looms large even now, and the Trojans are a young team loaded for the future. Their secondary starts two freshmen and a sophomore, Maulauga is a sophomore, Gable is a true freshman, Booty is around for another year (with Sanchez right behind him), and Patrick Turner steps into Jarrett's shoes next year. Someday we'll beat these guys again, and I hope it's sooner rather than later, but we've got our work cut out for us.

Halftime | by Jay

At one of the breaks in the SC game, ABC showed a clip from the Trojan pep rally from the night before. Right after the rally, on the eve of the biggest game of the season, the players had a little "pep circle" of their own, hootin' and hollerin' and having a good time.

That's Petey on the far right.

Maybe our players do this kind of stuff to stay loose as well. I don't know. I don't want to extrapolate too much from just a minute of footage, but for the first time in the Pete Carroll era, color me a little envious. Here our team struggles and plays tight, while their team looks like they're having the time of their lives. Our man shows up on 60 Minutes cursing players out left and right, while their man pops out in a Wonderbread jumpsuit.

There's no question Petey runs a terribly loose ship. But say what you will about his gumchewing, backslapping, goofball antics, somehow he keeps his team relaxed and confident for the big games.

The Trojans are in the midst of one of the great runs in college football history. They're 47-3 since 2003, having won three Heismans and 1-1/2 national titles. They're probably in the title game again this year. And they're having a blast doing it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

End Game | by Jay

I rewatched the rest of the game last night with the Tivo remote in hand, a dictaphone, and a clipboard, deconstructing the debacle like a detective from CSI: Coliseum. Southern Cal is a talented team, sure, but as in the Michigan game, it seemed like we shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit. Thus I wanted to look at all the missed opportunities, tally 'em up and see where the drives broke down for us.

Right off the bat, something is different: Zbikowski shows up for the kickoff return. I'm mystified, but then Charlie mentioned in his interview yesterday he wanted to get a bunch of starters involved in special teams, to have "all hands on deck", which was a rallying cry in the week leading up to Southern Cal. I guess we're pulling out all the stops; everything but the green jerseys. (Zibby actually ends up doing a pretty good job on KO return.)

What went wrong?
What went right?
ND Drive 1. Terrific catch by McKnight down the left sideline to start the game, a 38-yard pass. The field looks patchy, and Samardzija slips twice on two more plays, once on a swing pass and another on route downfield. (Maybe SC should have grown the grass a little bit to prevent injuries?) ND stalls out at 4th & 9 on the SC 29. If we had a more reliable kicking game, I think we would try the FG (a 46-yarder) here, but instead we go for it. Morton gets blown off the ball by a defensive lineman and Brady has to scramble and improvise, overthrowing McKnight in the end zone.
Samardzija slips twice; bad blocking/good pressure by SC on 4th down.


SC Drive 1. Southern Cal immediately goes to the air. Booty hits Gable for a long pass, and converts two more third downs on passes down the middle to Turner and the TE Davis. The middle coverage (or lack thereof) looks wide open. It's first and goal on the 9, and Booty hits Jarrett on a lob over the middle. The coverage seems to be there; it seems like Ndukwe had a play on the ball, but gets outrebounded by the taller Jarrett. Poor coverage over the middle; athletic play by Jarrett.


ND Drive 2. The sequence is Walker run for 5 yards, incomplete pass, incomplete pass. On the last incomplete, McKnight simply drops an inside slant that would have converted. We're forced to punt, and the coverage is terrible: there's nobody down the right side and Reed goes 43 yards to the ND 26 before Price forces him out of bounds. McKnight drops a third down conversion.


SC Drive 2. From the ND 26, Booty hits Steve Smith over the middle (again) who comes down right in front of the goal line. Two plays later Jarrett makes his second TD grab, another jump ball with Richardson right on him. Terrible punt coverage results in short field for SC; two terrific grabs by Smith & Jarrett.


ND Drive 3. Starting at our own 20, Quinn finds Freeman for a first down, then again for a first down, then Walker breaks a run for another first down. We're moving the ball well and Freeman looks to be comfortable filling Carlson's shoes. On second and 10 from the SC 34, McKnight drops a touchdown pass at the back of the end zone that goes through his hands. Next play, Samardzija makes a leaping grab down to the SC 9, setting up first and goal. Sequence goes: rollout right, throw it away; pass to McKnight on an in-and-out route, where Terrell Thomas makes one of the best recoveries and pass knockdowns I've ever seen; Quinn looks for Freeman over the middle but misfires and overthrows him. Gioia kicks the FG.
McKnight drops a TD; Terrell Thomas makes a great play in the end zone to bat away another TD; Quinn overthrows Freeman. Another failure to convert.
We're finally on the board. Gioia hits his kick.

SC Drive 3. Starts off with a short kickoff by ND and no discernible coverage downfield; SC returns to the SC 41. SC starts running the ball; this drive will feature 7 rushes and two passes. Gable gets a first down on a burst through a tackle; Abiamiri should have taken him down but he slipped out. On the next play, Jarrett beats man coverage by Richardson; gets him all turned around and bumfuzzled -- 25 yards down to the ND 19. On the plus side, it looks like we adjusted coverages to compensate for the wide-open middle on the previous two drives, switching to a man-under zone here with Richardson assigned to Jarrett. No matter; Jarrett just beats him on a move and turns him right around.

SC rushes a few times, then there's a key play here on 4th & 1: a fake quarterback sneak by Booty with a pitchout to Gable who beats Zibby around the side for 9 yards and nearly a TD. Watch Zibby bite on the dive fake -- Booty sells it pretty well -- and Zibby can't recover, missing an open-field tackle (and committing a facemask to boot). Booty sneaks it in for the TD.
Missed tackle by Abiamiri; Richardson can't keep up with Jarrett on the fake; Zibby bites on the fake sneak and fails to tackle on 4th & 1.


ND Drive 4. Zibby returns the kick again, out to the ND 21. After a Walker run, Quinn tries to force one to Samardzija, but Dallas Sartz bats down the pass on the inside slant -- great coverage. On third and seven, BQ drops back to pass, finds no one, and takes off on a 60-yard scamper down to the 17, breaking a couple of tackles along the way. Tremendous run by Quinn.

A couple of runs and a pass and we've got another first down, converting on a draw to Walker up the middle. On first and goal, Walker gets pegged on a dive and coughs up the ball (he also got shaken up on the play, but would return). SC recovers.
Walker fumbles in the red zone.
BQ ate up most of the field on his long run; we converted again and were poised to score.

SC Drive 4. Terrific defensive stand by the Irish; we force a three-and-out on three incomplete passes intended for Smith and Jarrett. SC punts.

But Steve Quinn jumps in there and blocks it! Irish ball on the SC 7.

Excellent pass coverage; blocked punt.
Blocked Punt

ND Drive 5. First and goal. First play, a thread-the-needle bullet to Freeman in the end zone.

I feel like we're back in this thing.

Perfect throw by BQ and good hands by Freeman.

SC Drive 5. A line drive kickoff bounces around and SC ends up at the 19. On the first play, Booty tries to hit Jarrett down the middle again, but this time Richardson reads it perfectly and picks it off. Beautiful play. Rich runs step for step and turns right into the pass. ND finally takes away the middle (for a while, anyway).

Now I really feel like we're back in it.

Awesome INT by Richardson.

ND Drive 6. Ball on the ND 48. We run a trick play, something we haven't ever seen before. Grimes lines up at running back, takes the handoff from BQ and then immediately looks to pass the ball to McKnight who's streaking down the left sideline. Rhema's covered, so Grimes tucks and runs for two yards. This play was a bust because Grimes didn't sell the run, and the CB covering McKnight never dropped off.

A pass to Samardzija makes it 3rd & 1, and then disaster strikes. First, the Irish attempt an identical fake-sneak-it-and-pitch that Booty and Gable ran with such aplomb a few drives earlier. When ND runs it, however, Sartz never bites on the sneak and wraps up Walker for a loss with a clean, open field tackle. (Zibby, take a note). On fourth and 1, BQ finds McKnight open on a slant and puts the ball on the money -- and Rhema drops it. Again.

That's one catch, three drops by Rhema so far: a nice catch to open the game, then a dropped third down conversion, a dropped TD, and a dropped fourth down conversion.
Grimes trick play goes nowhere; fake sneak & pitch fails miserably to convert 3rd and 1; Rhema drops another catch on 4th down.


SC Drive 6. Another great stop by the Irish defense. First, Crum drops Gable for a 8-yard loss, then Trevor Laws (!) gets his first interception of his career, dropping into coverage, putting a paw on a ball over the middle and hauling it in.

Superb tackle by Crum; Laws makes a helluva interception.

ND Drive 7. It's our ball on the SC 36. At this point there's about 3:30 left in the half; plenty of time to punch it in. What happens? We run a draw that goes nowhere; Brady has to scramble out of bounds on a pass when the blocking breaks down; BQ fires one over the head of McKnight on a bad pass.

It's 4th & 4 on the 32. As in the opening drive, here's another situation where we might have kicked a FG to get within 8 points (if we had a decent kicker). Instead we have to go for it, and we don't just try for the first down, we go for all the marbles. BQ tries to hit Samardzija on a fade to the right corner of the end zone, but it's way too long. That's three times we go for it on fourth, and three times we miss.
BQ throws two uncatchable passes; lack of a kicker forces another 4th-down try. Questionable decision to go for the end zone when all we need is 4 yards.


SC Drive 7. 2:19 left, and Southern Cal decides to turtle until the half. Three runs by Gable go nowhere and Southern Cal has to punt.


ND Drive 8. 22 seconds left, ball on the ND 27. Quinn hits Freeman for a nice first down pass, but the clock runs out and that's the half.


Let's take a station break here. At the half, it's an 11-point game: 21-10 Southern Cal. The offense has sputtered, failing on three 4th down conversions, and McKnight is the first-half goat with three crucial drops. On defense, after getting out-hustled, out-jumped, and out-maneuvered by Jarrett, the D has salvaged itself with a middle adjustment and two interceptions. Unfortunately the offense couldn't capitalize on the turnovers, especially with the short field after the Laws interception. The special teams are a mixed bag: we gave up a big return that set up a Trojan TD, but we also blocked a punt deep in SC territory that led to seven points.

Stats at the half:
                  ND        SC
Total Yds 218 149
3rd-Down 5 of 10 2 of 5
4th-Down 0 of 3 1 of 1
We had the ball 7 times (discarding the short possession right before the half) and came away with 10 points. That's terrible. Yet despite the inefficiency on offense and the TD passes given up on defense, we're still very much in it, and the defensive adjustments have to be encouraging: the Trojans have failed to score on their last four possessions. Too bad it all goes to hell in the second half.

(One quick PSA during the half: I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Brent Musburger was an exceptional doofus in the booth for this game, even by his usual standards of doofusness. See you after the break.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Stats Are For Losers" | by Jay

So said Charlie in his postgame comments. When I got the paper yesterday morning I flipped immediately to the box score. It's pretty amazing that if you just look at the surface indicators, the offensive performances between both teams were remarkably similar (on paper):

                      ND     SC
First Downs 18 21
Rushing Yds 130 139
Passing Yds 274 265
Total Yds 404 404
Time of Poss. 30:53 29:07
Total Plays 76 60
Turnovers Lost 1 2
Looks like it should be a close game, right? Yet that added up to a 20-point loss. Scanning the box score further, I think the story of the game is right here:
                             ND        SC
Average Per PA 6.1 9.5
3rd-Down Conversions 7 of 18 5 of 11
4th-Down Conversions 2 of 6 2 of 2
I rewatched the first half when I got home last night, but already it's pretty clear. In an otherwise statistical dead heat, this game boiled down to efficiency: Southern Cal's ability to make the most of its possessions, and our failure to do likewise. More on the way.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

But Look on the Bright Side | by Jay

My sister's wedding yesterday was a blast.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

It is on. | by Pat

Dwyre takes down doofus Trojan media | by Dylan

Former L.A. Times sports editor Bill Dwyre, '66, comes to the defense of his alma mater with a column in today's sports section, taking Trojan media lackeys to task for their bogus reporting on Desmond Reed and the knee-high Notre Dame Stadium grass. The tone is pitch perfect for such a ridiculous allegation, somehow passed off as fact in a supposedly reputable paper: pure scorn.

Can't Hardly Wait | by Pat

If you are having a hard time sitting still waiting for the night game against the Trojans, here's a great video retrospective of the Notre Dame-USC series from

Friday, November 24, 2006

Poodle Party | by Jay

Six questions I have about Southern Cal:

1. With Chauncey Washington banged up, who's the main running back now for the Trojans? It's #25, freshman C.J. Gable. Gable picked up the slack from season-long starter Washington, who went down with a knee sprain against Oregon. Gable looked pretty nifty against Cal, getting 91 yards on 19 carries and ripping off a couple of nice runs and returns (Gable is also one of the kickoff returners for the Trojans). Washington is supposedly back in the fold for tomorrow, but don't be surprised to see the tall speedster Gable shoulder the rushing load.

2. What's up with Dwayne Jarrett? Jarrett suffered a mild concussion on a TD catch against Cal, but he says he's fine for Saturday. It bears mentioning that even if Jarrett isn't 100%, it doesn't really matter; when he missed the game against Washington State, Steve Smith calmly went out and caught 11 balls for 186 yards and two scores. Then there's third-option Patrick Turner, who put up over a hundred yards against Washington. The Trojan wide receiver position are like a crimson and gold hydra: cut one All-American down, and another grows in its place.

Southern Cal '06
at Arkansas W 50-14
Nebraska W 28-10
at Arizona W 20-3
at Washington State W 28-22
Washington W 26-20
Arizona State W 28-21
at Oregon State L 31-33
at Stanford W 42-0
Oregon W 35-10
California W 23-9
Notre Dame 8:00 pm
at UCLA 4:30 pm

3. I know the Trojans have played some close games. Seriously, how good are they this season? The nutshell answer: better than last year on defense, worse than last year on offense, and still one of the best teams in the country.

The offense is decidedly less explosive, especially in the running game. Comparing Trojan offenses between last year and this year:
Offense rush avg    rush td/g    pa avg     pass td/g
2006 4.83 1.50 7.37 2.30
2005 6.44 3.92 8.64 2.46
You don't have to scrape at those numbers too long to come up with an obvious conclusion: this isn't the same offense without Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Consider that last year they had 101 rushes of 10+ yards over 525 attempts (or roughly 20% of all carries going for 10 yards or more). This year it's 38 rushes of 10+ yards on 383 attempts (or less than 10%).

Scoring is way down too: 31.10 points per game in '06, vs 49.08 last year. But let's not minimize this: they're still dangerous. They still have the 19th-best offense in the country.

Defensively they're terrific; this might be Petey's best Trojan defense yet. Their scoring D is 11th-best in the country (14.2/game) as compared to 35th last year (22.8/game).
Defense   rush avg    rush td/g    pa avg     pass td/g
2006 3.02 0.50 5.97 0.80
2005 3.82 1.32 6.62 1.38
And here's something worrisome: they haven't given up more than 2 offensive touchdowns in a game all year long.

4. So who's good on defense? Three names you'll probably hear tomorrow: junior lineman Lawrence Jackson, who despite the low sack total, is one of the best defensive ends in the country; sophomore inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, who not only owns the police, but is playing so well he sent incumbent ILB and '05 defensive star Oscar Lua to the bench; and cornerback Terrell Thomas, who typically covers the opponent's top receiver and leads the young, impressive Trojan secondary in pass breakups with 10.

5. We know they're mortal, because they already have a loss. Go over that Oregon State game again. How did that happen? Yep, one of those Trojan near-losses finally turned into a near-win this season. Petey had a great quote after the loss to the Beavers: "We thought we were going to win all the way until we didn't."

Basically, the loss boils down to three fumbles, an interception and a punt return for a TD. That and Oregon State All-American kicker Alexis Serna, who won the Groza last year and is one of the frontrunners again this year. He hit four field goals, including a 53-yarder. The Trojans were down 33-10 as late as two minutes to go in the third quarter. Even so, Booty led a furious comeback and Southern Cal got within a two-point conversion of tying it.

Does this game hold any special insight for the Irish? I don't think so. We don't have that luxury of an All-American kicker, and we certainly can't bank on four turnovers going our way. We're going to have to get it done with offensive touchdowns against a stingy defense that is much improved from last year (see above). Charlie sez:
Weis dropped a subtle hint of how he was going to approach this game when he said he did not want to get into a track meet. "Ever hear of four corners?" he said, referring to a basketball formation designed to kill the clock. "Any team that has gotten into a track meet with them has lost. We don't want a 50-49 game."
To me, that's the biggest question of the game: can we move down the field and put the ball in the end zone more at least three times? If we can do that -- a tall order, as the Trojan D hasn't given up more than two in a game all year -- we've got a shot.

6. Finally, what in the hell is Desmond Reed still squawking about? What in the hell, indeed. He seems to know a lot about grass, though.

the Quotable McKay | by Jay

Some great memories here in this LA Times article, with guys reminiscing about the ND-Southern Cal matchups of yore. J.K. McKay (legendary Trojan coach John McKay's son) recalls, "In our house, we had a good Christmas if we beat Notre Dame. And a crummy one if we didn't."

John McKay. In addition to being quite possibly the best coach Notre Dame ever faced, McKay had one of the sharpest wits around. Some quotes from the McKay file, culled from his coaching days both in college and in the pros:

In response to a question about the team's execution: "I'm all for it."

After walking off the field in his final game and being cursed by Jets players for his decision to surrender a score so James Wilder could try for a record: "How embarrassing to hear language like that in the NFL."

On the prospect of a late-season game in Wisconsin: "Going to Green Bay is like winning the 98th prize in a contest with only 97 prizes."

On USC's effort after a 51-0 loss to Notre Dame: "The bus leaves in an hour. Anyone who needs a shower, take one."

On that same loss to Notre Dame: "I told our players there were 700-million Chinese who didn't even know the game was played. The next week, I got five letters from China saying, 'What happened?' "

On Leeman Bennett, his replacement: "It's going to be better for Leeman Bennett if he and I don't get real close. If we do, it might get him shot."

On sports writers: "I said on my TV show they didn't know a quarterback from a banana stand, and someone sent me a crate of bananas. This week, I'm going to say most sports writers don't know a quarterback from a Mercedes."

On a play in which a Bucs running back fumbled as he crossed the goal line, and an opponent recovered as the Tampa Bay players stood with their arms in the air: "We looked like the Italian army out there."

On comparing St. Louis quarterbacks Jim Hart and Steve Pisarkiewicz: "Hart is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Pisarkiewicz is hard to spell."

On kickers: "Kickers are like grass. You can find them anywhere."

On kicker Garo Yepremian, who accused McKay of dodging him after he was waived: "[Bleep] Garo Yepremian. How old he, 37 or 12?"

On kicker Bill Capece, who missed a short field goal against Detroit: "Capece is kaput."

On kicker Peter Rajecki, who complained that McKay made him nervous by watching: "Please inform Mr. Rajecki that I plan to attend all of the games."

To a reporter after a 55-14 loss to Green Bay: "Get the hell away from me or I'll punch you in the mouth."

On an interception thrown by Steve DeBerg: "It was thrown to nobody. Well, it was thrown to somebody -- Harry Carson. But he happened to be playing for the New York Giants at the time. It would have been a good pass if Harry was playing for us."

On leaving a practice and hearing a fan yell "Four more years!": "I didn't know what he meant. He might have thought I was Ronald Reagan."

On the difficulty of his childhood: "There weren't many cookies floating around."

On his first job, when he had to help coach Len Casanova, who was in a body cast, change his pants: "Damn it. I should have read the fine print in that contract."

On USC being ranked No. 1 by Playboy: "Playboy knows a lot more about the female formation than the T-formation."

On rival Stanford: "I'd like to beat Stanford by 2,000 points. They're the worst winners I've ever gone up against."

Before playing No. 1-ranked Notre Dame: "If we play our best and don't make any mistakes, we'll definitely get a first down."

On Bear Bryant: "When you scrape away all the hayseed, there's a royal flush underneath."

In a pregame speech to his players: "It's obvious you aren't going to win this game for yourselves. So how about winning it for the coaching staff's eight wives and 23 children?"

After watching a kick returner fall untouched: "My God, they shot him."

To his wife, Corky, who mentioned she didn't sleep all week before his Southern Cal team played UCLA: "Why? I didn't plan on using you."

On going 0-14 his first year: "Who cares? It doesn't matter if you aren't first. Seattle won two games. Should we throw them a party?"

On his last season, when the defense missed Hugh Green, who was injured when his car was hit by another driven by an interior decorator: "It's the first time I've ever been done in by an interior decorator."

After a USC running back admitted he wasn't tough enough: "Finally, I've found an honest man."

After the Bucs broke their 26-game losing streak: "Three or four plane crashes and we're in the playoffs."

On pressure from the fans: "I'll never be hung in effigy. Before every season I sent my men out to buy up all the rope in Los Angeles."

On recruiting son J.K.: "I had a rather distinct advantage. I slept with his mother."

On intensity: "Intensity is a lot of guys who run fast."

Why O.J. Simpson carried the ball so much: "Why not. It isn't very heavy. Besides, he doesn't belong to a union."

After his unbeaten '69 team, the Cardiac Kids, beat UCLA 14-12 on a touchdown pass by Jimmy Jones with 1:32 to go: "I've checked my heart, and I don't have one."

Told by son J.K. and quarterback Pat Haden that they were considering going to Stanford: "If it was between Stanford and Red China, I would pay your way to Peking."

In 1965, USC had to wait on the field for 20 minutes before Notre Dame came out. In '67, McKay said he wasn't coming out before Notre Dame. The referee threatened the Irish would win by forfeit 2-0: "That would be the best deal we've ever gotten in this stadium."

On losing: "Boy, do I hate to see that (movie) scene in the dressing room where a player gets up with tears in his eyes and says, 'We'll get 'em next year.' Damn it, I think, why didn't we get them this year? Don't worry about the next one. Next year may come and we may all be dead."

Statistically Speaking - Army | by Pat

Passer. Going into his final regular season game, Brady Quinn is tied with Tom Clements and Ron Powlus for career victories by an Irish quarterback. All three have 29 career wins. If Quinn breaks the three-way tie, it will give him 36 different Irish school records.

Runner. Darius Walker hit the 1,000 yard mark and in doing so became only the 4th Irish running back to record back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. The other three were Vagas Ferguson (1978-79), Allen Pinkett (1983-85), and Autry Denson (1996-98). Walker currently has 1,083 rushing yards, which is only 23 yards behind last year's 1,106 yard total. With two games and an entire season left in his career, Walker is 1,253 yards away from Autry Denson's career rushing total record.

Receiver. Already holding the career records for touchdown catches and total receptions, Jeff Samardzija is 57 receiving yards away from overtaking Derrick Mayes (2,512 yards) for career reception yards.

Winner. With the victory over Army, Coach Weis became the first coach in Notre Dame history to win at least 10 games in his second season and the first to notch 19 wins in his first two seasons. Looking at the first 23 games of each Irish head coach's tenure, Charlie is currently 5th in winning percentage (.826) and only trails Knute Rockne (.913), Jesse Harper (.830), Ara Parshegian (.848), and Frank Leahy (.848).

Blitzkrieg. The Irish blitz stats against the Black Knights of Army.

# of blitzes# of chancesPercentage

Season Long Running Totals

Check out all the season long averages and totals here.

Brady Clutch | by Dylan

The ND-Southern Cal game dominates the sports section of today's LA Times, anchored by a terrific profile of BQ from Chris Dufresne. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

With God as my witness.... | by Dylan

This has nothing to do with football, but it's funny.

Happy Thanksgiving | by Pat

Among all of the many things to be thankful for on this day, I think we should also note that it was 119 years ago today that a handful of Notre Dame students got together with a group from a school up in Michigan and played the very first Notre Dame football game. That was the start of what has turned into something special: a football tradition that has been a source of entertainment and inspiration for many, many people.

We here at BGS want to also say thank you to all of the readers and commenters and emailers who make this blog a joy to write. At this time last year, BGS had just passed it's 1,000,000th visitor and now we are nearing in on the 3,500,000th visitor. The increase in traffic is very flattering and quite frankly, more than we ever expected. Thanks again to everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Beat SC | by Pat

Plenty of spirited debate in the past few days about the potential matchups in the BCS bowls, the feasibility of a playoff system, and various poll conspiracy theories. But I'm here to tell you: none of that matters right now. There is only one thing that deserves attention: The University of Southern California Trojans.

This is SC week. Nothing else matters. I've seen way too many hypotheticals start with "if ND beats SC...". Wrong. We are not overlooking this game. It is the sole focus. The Trojans are a huge challenge for this Irish team and the game will have even more at stake than last year's classic.

I'll take it a step further: this game is going to be one of the defining games of the Weis era. A win will validate the praise heaped upon Charlie for the last two years, while a loss will crush us, giving critics (and opposing recruiters) even more ammo against a program that still would not have a signature win over a truly great opponent.

Brady Quinn and his classmates are going to go down as one of my favorite all-time classes at ND. And yet they are 0-3 against the Trojans, and one loss away from joining the 1981, 1982, and 2005 classes as the only graduating classes in ND history that lost to the Trojans for four straight years.

Consider that Notre Dame has a chance for 11 regular season wins for the first time since 1993. Consider that the collective rankings of the Irish (#5 AP, #6 Coaches) and the Trojans (#3 AP, #2 Coaches) going into the game is the highest combined since 1988, the year the Irish had to defeat SC in LA for the chance to play for the national championship.

Need more motivation? Consider that while Charlie is undefeated on the road, Pete Carroll has a home winning streak of 33 games and is undefeated, lifetime, in the month of November. Consider that none of the media pundits are giving the Irish a snowball's chance in hell of winning this game. Consider that the talk that the Irish "backdoored" themselves into the BCS has already started.

The players and coaches have all said the right things to the media, but we all know that this game has been a gold star on the schedule ever since the comeback win against Michigan State that salvaged the season. Each week they've had to say that the focus is only on Stanford, or North Carolina, or Army, and they've acquitted themselves pretty well in taking care of the business in front of them.

But how could you not look ahead? There is a reason the end of the Army game spontaneously erupted into a Southern Cal pep rally: we're finally here. We're finally at the game that everyone has been looking forward to since last October, when Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone.

Go Irish. Beat Trojans!

Turkey Legs | by Jay

I'm about two days late on this, but since this is a blog of record I wanted to archive a few things before we move onto the matters at hand: eating some turkey, and beating SC.

Green Jerseys. I was scratching my head when we ran out of the tunnel in the gold-on-forest colors. Here's Charlie's rationale:

Two nights ago I was sitting there with my wife and my son. My son actually brought it up he said, "Dad we should wear the green uniforms." "Charlie, that's an unwritten rule, uniforms you never wear when you're playing against the No. 1 ranked team in the country."

"He goes, well, Dad you tell me how special this senior class is. It just doesn't seem right that they don't get an opportunity to be honored as seniors going out." I thought for a 13 year old kid to make a statement like that, I thought it made a lot of sense.

So I sat down with our captains and I brought it up and we went over the pros and cons of wearing green. I felt that we would get a little juice in the locker room and by the fans when we went out there, which I was definitely concerned with us being flat...

But I thought more importantly, it gave an opportunity to let this special group of seniors, which we really feel that this is a special group, is kind of like our gift from the team, the coaching staff, the underclassmen, to our seniors.
I get it. I think this redefines the rules of when we wear the green, but I get it. I almost expect a yearly appearance from now on, and not just when we're underdogs to a top team.

A Moment for Bo? Bo Schembechler was a giant personality, and despite his record in the bowls (and a distinct lack of a national title) he was definitely one of the iconic figures of the game over the last thirty years. His death was a sad event for Michigan, a proud program which he rescued from the doldrums; and a loss for college football at large, which is now deprived of one of its more cantankerous, colorful characters.

And while we offer our condolences, we shouldn't forget who Bo Schembechler was vis-à-vis Notre Dame. His passing is a newsworthy event, and we acknowledge it and we pay our respects and everything, but we shouldn't forget that this is someone who really hated us during his lifetime. This was the guy who famously said, "to hell with Notre Dame", and the guy who not even six months ago was once again bitching publicly about ND. I remarked to a friend of mine at the game that any knowledgeable Irish fan should be treating this like the death of a lifelong enemy, like the passing of a Soviet Premier or something. (NDoldtown ran with the same sentiment and came away with this brilliant parody.) CNN actually had frontpage coverage of the Schembechler memorial yesterday, and Lloyd Carr summed up Bo's feelings for our alma mater:
Bo did not have a particular fondness for Notre Dame. One day I got a call from Lou Holtz, who offered me a job as defensive coordinator. So I went in to see Bo, and told him about the job, and how I thought I should take it. Bo leaned back in his chair and said, "NO. You're NOT going to Notre Dame. You're MICHIGAN. So forget that." Now I was 40 years old, and it was better than he was paying me, but I didn't go. I can promise you this: the first time that Bo Schembechler will ever cheer for Notre Dame will be this Saturday.
So color me confused as to why we gave Bo a moment of silence at the Army football luncheon on Friday, calling him "part of the Notre Dame family", and then gave him another moment of silence at the game, on national TV. I realize a lot of people (especially in Michigan) were sad to see him go, but Notre Dame was an object of scorn for this man for his entire life. There is paying respects, and then there is reverence, and I think some of the PTB at Notre Dame got swept up by the (inexplicable) national outpouring and forgot exactly who it was we were eulogizing.

The Black Knights Ride Again. Bobby Ross called three timeouts at the end of the game so he could score a meaningless touchdown against our second string and walk-ons. Did Bobby have money on the game (the early line was +32, and Army would have covered with the extra point)? Or was this retaliation for us going for it on 4th on our own 20? When asked about why we went for it, Charlie replied cryptically, "There is a reason, but I don't want to talk about it." I am truly mystified. What was he talking about? Any guesses?

I met up with my cousin Pete after the game at a big Army tailgater. Pete's a former West Pointer who also played football for them (he was the "passing quarterback" in an option offense, and when he would come in -- maybe twice a game -- you could see the defensive backs immediately start backing up). We jawed about the game a little bit. He likes Bobby Ross, but we both agreed that Army had no business running any offense but the option.

A TV was on, and we watched the end of the Ohio State-Michigan game, with the dreams of a title shot for the Irish going up in smoke (any other outcome would have been better than a close Buckeye win: an OSU blowout, a Michigan win, anything).

But no matter. The circled game of the season for us was always this Saturday at the Coliseum. It's our Super Bowl; the bowl game is far away. Pete also has an MBA from USC, and he actually switched hats from Army to So Cal at the tailgater, shifting allegiances with the swap of a baseball cap, for which he caught no small amount of shit. We will be watching the game together this Saturday at my sister's wedding reception between toasts (and dodging my mother). It's going to be a doozy.

At the end of the Army game, after the players did a victory lap, and Brady & Rhema jumped into the crowd and led everyone in a cheer, "BEAT SC! BEAT SC!", the scoreboard magically changed:

With those green jerseys in the foreground, I couldn't help thinking about last year's game, and how close we came to knocking off #1, and how gut-wrenching the final minute was, and how devasated I was at the loss. Well, it's payback time. Happy Thanksgiving, and game on!

Fight On | by Jay

By the way, congrats to Morrissey Manor for winning the interhall football championship on Sunday in the stadium, beating O'Neill 14-7. I was proud to be there cheering on the Manorites to victory, including my brother-in-law (who scored a touchdown). Well done, gents.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anyone But Michigan | by Dylan

Let's do a little thought experiment. Imagine you, Sherman, and Mr. Peabody could hop into the way-back machine and journey back in time, all the way to last Friday night. Imagine observing Ohio State coach Jim Tressel being proposed the following scenario by a sportswriter, fellow coach, or BCS bigwig: Ohio State will play their next two games against Michigan. If they win both, they're the national champion. If they win one and lose one, Michigan is the national champion. What would you say if you were Tressel? What would any neutral party make of the mental capacity of the poser of the question?

Michigan is an outstanding team, but they do not deserve another shot at the national title. They had that shot and they lost, and it's really that simple. Head-to-head extrapolations and hypothetical "this one would beat that one" exercises don't stand up in the face of the fact that the Ohio State-Michigan game has been played and the result is not disputed. Ohio State beat Michigan. There is no reason to think the outcome of a second OSU-UM game will be any different.

Although the final margin on Saturday was just three points, the outcome was never in doubt, at least not after OSU scored three straight touchdowns answering UM's opening touchdown drive. From the six minute mark of the second quarter when OSU went up 21-7 until the final 2:16 of the game, UM managed to reclaim only three points of their fourteen point disadvantage, despite three Ohio State turnovers. With 2:30 left to play in the fourth quarter, the margin was 11 points and OSU had gone, essentially, into a prevent defense. Yet only as a result of an astonishing phantom pass interference call was UM able to move the ball quickly enough to cut it to three. If the game were five minutes longer, UM would not have completed the comeback. They likely would have done what they had done all game long; let OSU walk down the field and score, and lose by ten.

Michigan should still have a shot at a National Championship, just not the BCS Championship. They lost a one-game playoff for their conference title and the right to play in the national title game, and should be content to go to the Rose Bowl. Once there, they can make their case that they truly are the second-best team in the country by beating Pac-10 champ USC. If they do that, and Ohio State somehow loses in the BCS Championship game, then Michigan will surely win the MNC in the eyes of the Associated Press. It was good enough for them once (I've not heard any UM fans disavow the 1997 split title), so they should have no problem with a second 1/2 title.

Who should play against Ohio State in the BCS Championship game? Basically, anyone but Michigan, barring a complete meltdown by all the current one-loss teams. In the order of today's latest inexplicable coaches' poll, here's how the contenders would need to disqualify themselves from consideration over Michigan:

  • USC - By losing to either Notre Dame or UCLA.
  • Florida - By losing to either FSU or Arkansas.
  • Arkansas - By losing to either LSU or Florida.
  • Notre Dame - By losing to USC
If all of these things happen and the current top 6 of the BCS gets shot to hell, then UM should get a "do over" against a team that put up over 500 yards and 42 points against them in their last game. "But Dylan," you say, "didn't Michigan beat the hell out of Notre Dame back in September?" Yes, they did. But it really doesn't matter in this context. If the situation involved a one-loss Notre Dame team and a one-loss Michigan team vying for a chance to play an undefeated opponent to whom Michigan had not already lost, then the answer would be clear and the vote would be unanimous. Michigan would go.

If there is any justice, the coaches and Harris voters will come to this realization as the post-game afterglow fades and will vote to send a different opponent for the Buckeyes to face in Glendale. If they insist on a UM-OSU rematch, they will provoke two possible outcomes: one in which Michigan wins and nullifies OSU's victory, making the Big Ten season a meaningless exhibition; or one in which OSU comes out, does not turn the ball over three times, and beats Michigan by three touchdowns. Both outcomes damage the spirit of the competition for the title of "National Champion" by forcing us to watch a replay of the championship game of a conference in a down year. Both outcomes provide a less satisfying result than the old bowl system would have, a system that the BCS, ostensibly, improved.

For those who would think this is just an anti-Michigan crusade, I'll remind you of two things. First, Notre Dame fans have no love of Ohio State. Second, Notre Dame was in this situation (for one short week) in 1993, and the sentiment was the same. You get one chance at the title. If you lose, you lose, and that's it. There are no mulligans.