Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drawn Up in the Dirt | by Jay

At the end of the half it looked like this game was going to be a huge step backwards. And yet, at the final whistle, it ended up being a modest step forward. No, not a win. But a modest step forward.

We've got a lot of notes on this game, from the dicey quarterback situation to the aggressiveness of Brian Smith to the defensive clampdown in the second half to some postgame Painter perspective. But for now (like I said to Dylan) how... about... Golden... Tate. He only caught three balls, but if I'll remember anything about this game years hence, it'll be him.

First he converts a 3rd & 12 with a 36-yard catch late in the first half; sort of a preview of what was to come. Then, he snatches a 43-yard 'go' ball on 4th & 5 with his fingernails, just over the hands of the corner. Finally, he catches a 25-yard fade in the end zone to bring the Irish to within a score late in the game. Sharpley managed to let it fly just before being crushed by a blitz, and Tate stretched out over the cornerback Pender to haul it in, crashing to the ground but holding onto it for the touchdown.

In the postgame, Charlie commented on Tate's involvement in the offense against Purdue. While fellow freshman Duval Kamara (6-68, 1 TD) was a rehearsed part of the game plan, using Tate was more of an improvisation:

I'll be perfectly honest with you, a couple of those were 'draw 'em up in the dirt plays'. Golden had no idea, and I said, "Get him over here." I told him, run a Go, we're throwing it to you. Real good coaching on my part [laughs]. And you want to know something? It gave us some momentum. Maybe I should just scrap the playbook and just draw 'em all up in the dirt.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Let's Go Irish! | by Pat

(thanks to Barrett for the pic)

Friday, September 28, 2007

BGS Needs You! | by Pat

Anybody going to the Purdue game? We're looking for some intrepid ND fan to email us a cell phone snapshot just before kickoff of the ND/Purdue game for our usual game thread. Just send the picture along to the BGS email address once you get settled into your cozy seat in the warm confines of Ross-Ade Stadium.

There is Superstition | by Jay

We are not above throwing salt over our shoulders, shaking chicken bones, burning sage, or sacrificing goats to appease the angry gods of Notre Dame football. Top 10 Ways to Break the Streak:

1. Tear up the Kentucky bluegrass and replant ND Stadium entirely with four-leaf clovers.

2. Reenact the Clausen commitment ceremony, this time with proper deference to Karma: have it at Minnie-Bo's ribs (next to Bullseye Liquor), with Jimmy arriving on the city bus.

3. Equip the Grotto with flamethrowers.

4. Collect the poison of a Yellow Jacket, the tooth of a Nittany Lion, the hair of a Wolverine, and the sweat of a Spartan. Mix together in a large pot and boil for 24 hours, chanting the ancient Celtic Rite of Purification. Pour mixture in the trash and immediately shotgun 12 Keystone Lights.

5. Perform Stonehenge at Stonehenge on North Quad.

6. Zahm Hall shall remain celibate until the first win. Zahm is delighted to finally have an excuse.

7. Go to Rockne's Gravesite and do a shot of whiskey this afternoon, leaving one full one for the Rock. Do not invite Bob Davie along.

8. Appeal to the Ghost of the Gipper in Washington Hall. To ensure he appears, come armed with everything Gipp loved in life: pool cues, dice, and a buxom blonde on each arm.

9. Get Chandra Johnson started on Rogaine.

and finally,

10. Play an overconfident Purdue team with a young, talented, and finally improving Notre Dame squad.

Statistically Speaking: Michigan State | by Pat

It's a Numbers Game

• James Aldridge broke 100 yards rushing in his first career start. The sophomore totaled 111 yards on 18 carries with the highlight being a 43 yard run. Trivia Time. Who was the last Notre Dame running back to surpass the 100 yard rushing mark in his first career start?

• Looking at another way to view ND's offensive (get it?) numbers, here are the all-purpose yardage totals as broken down by class.

Fr. -  607 yds
So - 434
Jr - 87
Sr - 6
5th - 154
Thanks to BGS' Mark for compiling these numbers.

• Notre Dame's short running game continues to sputter. The Irish have faced 30 third downs so far this year where 1 to 3 yards were needed for a first down. The Irish ran the ball on 13 of those 30 downs, but only managed to make the first down 5 times (38%) The overall average yards per rush in this third and short situation was 2.31 yards. The passing game has been more successful as on the 17 times that ND decided to pass on third and short, they managed to make the first down 14 times (82%).

• Linebacker Maurice Crum, safety David Bruton, and defensive end Trevor Laws are all currently on pace to surpass 100 tackles this season. Not counting Crum's 100 tackle season last year, only 4 players total in the past 12 seasons have cracked the 100 tackle mark during a year. Trivia Time Part Two. With Laws on pace to hit triple digits in tackles, who was the last Irish defensive lineman to total 100 or more tackles in a single season?

Gotta Have M.O.E.

Some interesting results with the M.O.E. numbers this week. After three straight weeks of a M.O.E. result in the twenties, the Irish M.O.E. against Michigan State was 12%. In other words, Notre Dame cut their number of mistakes in half from the previous week. The Spartans did slightly better on offense, but not by much as they came away with an 11% M.O.E, which is the worst performance to date by a 2007 opponent.

Full results here.

Season Long Running Averages. Full season breakdown can once again can be found here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Break out a Dropcloth | by Jay

What a difference a year made for Curtis Painter:

2006: 59.4% cmp, 22 TD, 19 INT
2007: 68.7% cmp, 16 TD, 1 INT (through 4 games)
Painter actually threw for a Big 10 record 3,985 yards last year, but also led the nation in interceptions. This year he's much more patient, and precise.

While it's true 4-0 Purdue hasn't really played anyone yet this year (they've beat up on 1-3 Toledo, 1AA Eastern Illinois, 1-3 Central Michigan, and 1-3 Minnesota), that kind of improvement on interception rate can't be chalked up solely to cupcake opponents. Painter looks smooth and confident in the pocket and has really cut down on his mistakes.

A lot of the credit for Painter's improvement should go to quarterback coach Ed Zaunbrecher, in his second year with the Boilers.
Ten of [Coach Z's] quarterback pupils have set school passing records, including Painter, who threw for a Big Ten Conference record 3,985 yards last season.

"We've grown closer as a quarterback and coach," Painter said of Zaunbrecher, who is in his second season as Purdue's quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator.

"From a technique standpoint and from a football aspect, the two things he's really worked on with me is my balance and reading defenses. Those were probably the two biggest things that were a problem in my game, and those are the two things that have come along the most."

Despite his record-setting season in 2006, Painter was inconsistent. While he passed for 22 touchdowns, he led the nation with 19 interceptions.

After four games this season, Painter has shown drastic improvement.

He leads the Big Ten, and is No. 11 in the nation, with his 322.5 per-game passing average. He's completing 68.7 percent of his passes (114 of 166) for 1,290 yards.

"He's better than he was at this point a year ago, and he's better than he was at the first part of this season," Zaunbrecher said. "He's gotten better on some of the footwork things and the balance, and it's shown up in his completion percentage.

"That's the biggest thing, that he can throw the ball where he knows to throw it."

Let's not forget about that touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Painter currently is second in the nation with 16 touchdown passes, and he's thrown only one interception.

"He hasn't thrown into trouble too much," Zaunbrecher said. "For the most part, if we can't catch it then he's thrown it away. To me that's a good throw.
Painter's been able to spread the ball around pretty well so far this year. Wideout Dorien Bryant leads the team with 32 catches, but four other guys are very much in the mix: TE Keller (15 catches), WR Orton (14), WR Lymon (14), and RB Sheets (14).

Irish Hit the Road Looking for First Win | by Brian

Frank Perdue
"He Was Chicken"

Arthur Perdue first went into the poultry business on Maryland's Eastern Shore way back in A.D. 1917, while The Kaiser threatened Europe and a young George Ruth toed the rubber for Boston's American League Base Ball club. Perdue's son, Frank, was born in 1920, and it wasn't long before he was helping his pop around the farm, eventually becoming an official, full-time employee in 1939, while Hitler threatened Europe and an aging George Ruth enjoyed his retirement. Frank took over the family business in 1950, and became the face of the company for decades, eventually giving way to his son Jim in 1991, while The Scorpions threatened Europe and a deceased George Ruth was about to be portrayed on the big screen by John Goodman/Dan Connor.

In addition to their Empire of Fowl, the Perdue family has been at the forefront of philanthropy in the area. Salisbury University, in Salisbury, MD, boasts the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business, while the Delmarva Shorebirds, Single A affiliate of the mighty Baltimore Orioles, take the field at Salisbury's Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. Truly, the Perdue family has been, and continues to be, a pillar of the Salisbury commun---

[Um, Brian? It's Jay....You're supposed to be writing about Purdue University, not Perdue Chicken.]

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Irish Look to Slow Down Purdue's Basketball on Grass

In their first four games, a series of fine running backs and gigantic leads has left Notre Dame's opponents content to keep the ball on the ground. That will likely change Saturday, when the Irish will have to contend with a Boilermaker pass offense led by talented quarterback Curtis Painter. Last year, Painter exploded for 398 yards passing and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, in a losing effort at Notre Dame Stadium. While Charlie Weis has spoken about improved depth in the secondary allowing the Irish to be more versatile in their personnel groupings, the Irish pass defense has been largely untested to this point, with Painter and company providing the first significant challenge.

While many would say that Purdue's most dangerous offensive threat is receiver/kick returner Dorien Bryant, the Irish will also have to contend with Boiler wideout Selwyn Lymon. Lymon was a veritable house afire in last year's matchup, with an astounding 238 receiving yards and two touchdowns. What is particuarly dismaying for Irish fans is that Lymon is not exactly the second-coming of Jerry Rice---he finished the 2006 season with a total of 580 yards and three touchdowns. Lymon is hardly the first figure, in sports or otherwise, to have one fleeting moment of greatness which dwarfs all of his other accomplishments. The following are some of the best-known examples of this phenomenon:

"There are some who call me...Tim."
--- Timmy Smith: Twenty years ago, a rookie running back named Timmy Smith stole the show in Super Bowl XXII, rushing for a SB-record 204 yards, and two touchdowns, in Washington's 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos. Remarkably, Smith had more rushing yards in his one game on pro footbawl's biggest stage than he did in his entire regular season career. In juries forced Smith out of the game in 1990.

Unknown apart from that one game, he is also handicapped by the fact that his name is Tim Smith, which is about as anonymous as you can get. He might as well just change his name to John Doe and get it over with.

--- Michael Cimino: Previously best known for directing the buddy flick Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (not to be confused with Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick), Michael Cimino left a permanent imprint on American cinema with his classic examination of the devastating effects of war on three blue-collar friends from Pennsylvania, 1978's The Deer Hunter, which won five Oscars, including one for Cimino for Best Director.

Heaven's Gate Cult leader Marshall
Applewhite (NOT Frank Perdue)

Cimino followed that up with what is widely regarded as one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, 1980's Heaven's Gate, described by Roger Ebert as "a study in wretched excess" and "the most scandalous cinematic waste [he has] ever seen." (Interestingly, Ebert is said to have reacted to last week's Michigan St. preview in much the same way.) Not only did Heaven's Gate effectively ruin Cimino's career, it eventually lent its name to a bunch of wacko comet-riding kooks.

I've sort of lost track of Cimino's career since then, but unsubstantiated reports had him directing an episode of Small Wonder around 1987, as well as a 1993 ad for Crystal Pepsi.

--- Kevin Federline: A few years ago, a musical force burst onto the scene like a supernova, and, just as quickly, vanished. With his hip-hop tour de force entitled "Popozao", Kevin Federline unflinchingly captured the Zeitgeist of the time. The following lyrics are indicative of the song's impassioned warning against the perils of anthropogenic global warming and the sociopolitical divisions in the antebellum South:

In Portugese it means “bring your ass”
on the floor, and move it real fast.
I want to see your kitty and a little bit of titty–
want to know where I go when I’m your city?

Despite the obvious insights he displayed in this meditation on the human condition, Federline has not yet achieved a comparable level of success as of this writing.

The Resistable Force Meets the Movable Object

While the Irish defense will have its handful with Painter, Bryant, and Lymon, the key to the game as I see it is on the other side of the ball, as the struggling Notre Dame offense, which finally showed signs of life behind running backs James Aldridge and Robert Hughes (a.k.a. Thunder and Lightning), takes on a Purdue defense, led by defensive coordinator Brock Spack, which allowed 31 points last week to a struggling Minnesota squad.

On the one side, you have the Irish offense, with a freshman quarterback given little time to throw by an offensive line struggling to meld into a cohesive unit, and a running game which, while it showed flashes last week, still seeks consistency and the ability to run for a first down in short yardage situations. While some improvement was apparent against Michigan St., there is still a long way to go.

On the other side, you have this:

Who will come out on top of this matchup is anybody's guess.

The Dog and Pony Show

The pageantry and spectacle surrounding a Purdue home game would be a ripe topic for this preview, except that Jay already wrote the definitive treatment of the subject two years ago.

Lou to the Rescue

With the Irish at 0-4, it's time for former head footbawl coach Lou Holtz to put down the ESPN microphone and direct his legendary pep talking abilities toward his beloved Irish:

If I were going to talk to the University of Notre Dame team this week, this is what I would say. Men, I'd say, if you want to beat the University of Purdue, you just need to do three things.

The first thing you need to do to beat Purdue is you need to believe in yourselves. Belief in yourself is absolutely essential if you want to beat Purdue.

The second thing you need to do to beat Purdue is you need to believe in your coaches. Trust that what the coaches are telling you is going to put you in the best possible position to win the football game. I mean, that's what they're there for, men. If you fail, you'll still walk out of here in a few years with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. But if the coaches let you down, they'll be out of a job and on the golf course next year. So believe you me, they're going to do everything possible to put you in the position to win. Believing in your coaches is an important thing to do to beat Purdue.

The third thing you need to do to beat Purdue, men, is to believe in that lady on the Dome. That lady represents the Spirit of Notre Dame, and it's a powerful thing. That Spirit has been powerful ever since Father Sorin first founded this university, and it will remain so long after you and I have gone. Look to that lady on the Dome if you want to beat Purdue.

If you do these three things, men, then the rest will take care of itself, and you will beat the University of Purdue.

QB Browns Alert Level: BLACK (Benched)

It's been a few weeks, so let's recap the progress of QB Browns in Cleveland:

In Week 1, the Browns looked positively horrid in a blowout loss to archrival Pittsburgh. Starting quarterback Charlie Frye was terrible, backup Derek Anderson was no better, and the Cleveland faithful were chanting for Quinn to be put in the game. Mercifully for Quinn's sake, he was not.

A few days later, Frye was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a Venti caramel Frappuccino and 23 shares of Microsoft stock (somebody alert Jim Carrey). Many experts viewed this as evidence that the insertion of Quinn into the Cleveland lineup was imminent (though it should be noted that NBC's Peter King has consistently pointed to the Browns' post-bye week game against St. Louis as the most likely date for Quinn's debut). However, Anderson would be the starter for the time being.

In Week 2, to the surprise of absolutely everyone, Anderson suddently looked like a latter-day Otto Graham, passing for 328 yards and five touchdowns in Cleveland's 51-45 win over Cincinnati. If there were a Derek Anderson Alert Level, it would have been upgraded to ORANGE (The Toast of Cleveland).

In Week 3, Anderson came back down to earth somewhat, throwing for 248 yards, a touchdown, and two picks in Cleveland's 26-24 loss to lowly Oakland. Nevertheless, he will remain the Browns' starter for the time being, so the QB Browns Alert Level remains at Black. However, if Quinn is inserted into the lineup at some point in this Sunday's meeting with Baltimore, it could be downgraded to PURPLE (Pummelled by Ravens Defense).

In other QB Browns news, Chris "Berman of Alcatraz" has taken to calling him "The Mighty Quinn". How utterly surprising.


With the accuracy of The Blind Oracle At Bristol's predictions now reaching ridiculous proportions, let's see what he has to say this week.

"Neither Fowl nor Foul, a nearby foe threatens control of the region. A cocoon envelopes them, and the great man (Brimley, not Don Ameche) controls the power of the Sun. Neither lime nor lemon, yet both at the same time, an old nemesis beckons. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Boilermakers. Purdue beats Notre Dame 35-10."

Swapping sides | by Pat

We first noticed it while watching the online practice videos earlier this week and now it's been picked up on Irish Insights as well.

Freshman Andrew Nuss has moved from the defensive line -- where the Virginian started the season -- to the offensive line.
You can see briefly see Nuss, #76, working with the OL in this practice video. If you recall back to when Nuss committed, he was initially considered an offensive line prospect with the ability to play on the defensive line if needed. He was needed on the D-line, so that's where he started. Now, however, he's back to the offensive line where he will give the Irish a bit more depth. Whether that's at guard or tackle, we're not sure yet.

In other OL swap news, freshman Taylor Dever is now listed as the backup left tackle behind Sam Young and freshman Matt Romine is now listed as the backup right tackle behind Paul Duncan. It's probably nothing and they were just flipped on the official depth chart when Sam and Paul flipped, but it's something to look for if ND starts subbing in new linemen again. Then again, against Michigan State it was backup left guard Eric Olsen who came in for a series at right tackle rather than either of the freshmen. With the musical chairs on the OL, it looks like the staff is still casting about for a consistent two-deep. At least plenty of guys are getting some battle experience.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Six Pickin' | by Jay

Just an FYI: I added a link on the upper right of this page to the Pick Six contest that will remain there all season long. I should have the rankings updated each week by Tuesday night at the latest.

Peacock Power | by Jay

NBC is having me on again at 1pm Eastern today for their weekly ND Football show, Notre Dame Live. John and Tiffany will be fielding a few phone calls as well: the number's (203) 569-4848. (Challenge: try to beat John's dad to the punch as the very first caller.)

Call up!

Update: here's the link to the show.

the Unknown Offense | by Jay

That pretty much sums it up for this season so far, doesn't it?

Although I have to say, I think I finally peeked out from under my own metaphorical paper bag this week. In fact, I think I can pinpoint the exact series: right when James Aldridge broke off the longest Irish run of the year, and Robert Hughes pounded it up the middle, dragging four Spartans with him into the end zone. Until the Michigan State game, the rushing attack had been Four Horses Running Backwards. What we saw on Saturday was a semblance of what we thought this team's identity was going to be to start the season. Finally, it looks like we're developing an identity, a core competency, or as Charlie put it, that "niche you can hang your hat on" (malapropism aside). Other thoughts:

• Aldridge & Hughes, with Allen mixed in: there's your rushing recipe for the rest of the year, and on into 2008.

• Aldridge's 43-yard gallop was the longest run by an Irish RB going back to Travis Thomas' 43-yarder against Penn State last year, on the fake punt. The only run longer was Quinn's 60-yard scramble against Southern Cal last year. (Darius Walker, God love him, only had 4 runs over 20 yards in '06). By the way, in all of 2005 we never had a run longer than 38 yards.

• Credit Turkovich on that drive. He may not be the best pass blocker in the world, but he mauled a lineman or two on some of those runs. Also, George West popped a couple of nice blocks downfield.

• Sharpley was in at the end of the game to manage the two-minute drill (and possibly a no-huddle). Don't read anything more into that.

• McNeil came in for Zibby for a defensive package called "penny", where you've got three cornerbacks on the field, and all your regular linebackers. Knowing that Purdue likes to spread it out (and still run the ball out of the spread), I wonder if we won't see more "penny" this week.

• We cut our sacks given up in half (and gave only one up to the "Sackmaster") and we cut the penalties way down, too (4 total). Progress. (I feel like a reporter for Pravda: Progress: Building a Better Future -- Today!)

• 3rd & 9. They convert. 3rd & 17. They convert. 4th & 2? No problem. That fumblerooski on 4th down was a nice play, but Danantonio was a little smug in explaining how it worked. He made it sound like a low risk proposition to put the ball on the turf and scoop it back up. I don't care how many times you practice it, fumbling the ball, whether on purpose or not, is risky. Credit to MSU for pulling it off.

The Big Picture. Our own Pete had an interesting take over on Cartier Field that I hadn't seen expressed in exactly this way so far. Read on...

"You're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose." - Lou Holtz

This quote and others with a similar message have been kicked around these parts pretty often this season, as an attempt to shore up the troops and remind everyone that, as bad as things appear on paper, there are positives to be found and appreciated in this young team. We may look bad, and people may say that we are bad, perhaps the worst, but it's not as bad as it can feel when you're trying to reconcile your hangover, sunburn, and bruised ego following another defeat.

Taking a look at the projected depth charts, you may have expected 2007 to be a down year for the Irish, but it's probably a safe contention that nobody expected it to be this bad. Three games without an offensive touchdown, an offense in the cellar in nearly every statistical category, and defense that isn't strong enough yet to make a game competitive on its own. It's been bad. Very bad. Historically bad.

And people look back at Charlie Weis's track record, in particular his losses, and express concern over the fact that when he loses, he loses big.

However, others may point out that those losses aren't as bad as they appear. Notre Dame, despite hemorrhaging yards on defense, was in it against OSU in the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl. The yardage against USC in 2006 indicated a much closer game than the score. Notre Dame was a few plays away from LSU at halftime of the Sugar Bowl. But the scores looked like we were just blown out of the water.

Simply put, Charlie Weis doesn't care about appearances. While many of us found enjoyment and hope among the despair in the heroic 2005 loss to USC, Weis said he didn't believe in moral victories, even though he just made the best case for one possible. The beginning and end of Charlie's motivation is to win football games, all the other chatter and white noise exists somewhere far off over the horizon.

In those blowout losses, Charlie Weis never relented from his attempts to win the game. It'd be easy enough, as the lead grew, to keep the ball on the ground, grind up a few more yards while chewing up clock, work harder to keep the defense on the bench than the offense in the end zone, and walk out of the stadium having "kept it close."

But Charlie didn't. He passed the ball, made every attempt to continue scoring points to reduce the deficit, and when the team sputtered, gave the opponent chances to take advantage of the defense. That's the risk you run when you try to win. Charlie's losses look so bad because he never took his foot off the gas pedal, and never accepted anything less than the maximum effort to win. If he's going to lose, he's going to lose big while still trying to win. Appearances be damned.

As this season approached, Charlie knew he was dealing with a different type of team. Inexperience abound, lack of leadership, and a dearth of talent amongst the players he should be able to count on to pick up the slack of the departed. If we schlubs can see how this season was going to be trouble, I have no doubts that Charlie knew he was in for a bumpy ride as well.

As the season has disastrously progressed, Weis has been criticized (and rightfully so) for overemphasizing his scheme and gameplanning at the expense of fundamentals and establishing an identity. Some have speculated that Weis did it because of his arrogance and over-reliance on his X's and O's acumen, but I disagree. Weis did it because he wanted to give the team the best chance to win, and win now. So he risked it on specific game plans to take advantage of the opponent, in an all or none situation.

It looks now like we got none, and that being recognized after the Michigan game, Weis went back to square one and started building this team brick by brick. Perhaps Charlie should have recognized that no scheming and tweaking could compensate for a rudimentary offensive line and players across the board learning their positions. It may have been a mistake, but I don't think it was an oversight. I think it was Charlie taking a risk to win now, like he has his whole career, and it blew up in his face, as risks are sometimes wont to do.

He told us this was going to happen at the beginning of the season. He was going to deliberately refuse any rebuilding behavior, and expressed a continue desire to win, and to win now. So he develops game plans that try to compensate for weaknesses on the team so we can win now. It didn't work.

He could have slammed players around in training camp, risking injuries he couldn't afford, but that doesn't help him win now. He could have started establishing the playbook from scratch, running sparse plays until perfected, but that wouldn't help the team win now. He could have started building this team brick by brick over the summer, but he threw his lot into the schemes in an attempt to win now. It was a risk, and it didn't work.

But Weis probably saw it as a risk worth taking, as he said, he had an obligation to the seniors to win now.

Maybe he should have recognized the severity of our deficiencies from the outset and set out to travel the long road of correcting them, but it's not his style. We've loved and lamented his risk-taking style in the past, and this season, like those blow-out losses, was made worse because of a commitment to win now, appearances be damned. But that's our coach's way, come hell or high water.

We love this quality (among Super Bowl rings, Charlie Jr. on the sideline, and taking the responsibility for the team) when he wins, and hate them when he loses. Guess what? That's because losing sucks, and we don't feel good when it happens. Anything Charlie does would be criticized if we continued losing, and those criticisms would have nothing to do with the validity of the claim, but just another way of saying, "I feel bad that we continue to lose." Go to any message board of a losing team and you'll see the same.

Charlie took a huge gamble to start the season, and it didn't pay off. That's why they're gambles. So now we're back to square one, and we're building the team brick by brick.

We could have lost to Georgia Tech by 10, or lost to Penn State by 6, or lost to Michigan by 14, and it would have looked better. But we still would have lost, and that's all Charlie cares about.

No amount of bellyaching and criticism will change the outcome of the first four games, and while there are critiques of Weis to be had, you can never doubt his desire to win.

So what do we do now? We continue to support the team and its staff, we continue to look for improvements and development, and we trust that, with Weis committed to rebuilding, we continue to get better and close the margin of defeat. Don't worry about wins and losses, just worry about how the team looks. At this point, the record is just about appearances, and guess what? Appearances be damned.

The first three games were a complete wash, as schematic adjustments failed miserably. The MSU game was the first game where the team was committed to growing and improving, and surprise surprise, they did. But they had a long way to go, and therefore still lost. And the team will probably continue to lose, but also continue to improve. And after a while, we'll start winning, and continuing to improve and win.

In a noble attempt, Weis tried to win now with a severely overmatched team, and failed miserably. You can't blame him for trying his best to win now, considering that's what we hired him for. He's a risk-taker, and if we want to enjoy the benefits it brings, we also must be prepared for the dangers it possesses.

But now that he's committed to improving the team, forget about the past, and stay focused on the future. Because it's going to be bright.
Agree? Disagree? Let's hear it.

Finally, here's a bit that ran on NPR last week on the Irish's toils and troubles.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Going back to Cali? | by Pat

Tight end Konrad Reuland has withdrawn from school and will transfer.

“Basically, it came down to the fact I wasn’t happy with where I was,” the 6-foot-6, 255-pound sophomore from Mission Viejo, Calif., told the Tribune via cell phone Monday. “It was combination of things, not just football, not just the school. I wanted badly to be happy again, and felt this move was the best thing for me.

“I realize Notre Dame is a very special place. I wouldn’t have picked it from all the schools in the country if it wasn’t. But it didn’t work out for me on a personal level. I felt the change was the best.
Reuland's transfer makes some sense from his point of view. He came into ND as the 3rd ranked tight end and 81st player overall in the class of 2006, according to Rivals. Yet as a freshman he was already behind fellow classmate Will Yeatman on the depth chart. He was looking to get more playing time this year, but freshman Mike Ragone has really been pushing him for playing time and according to those who are at practice, he has passed him on the depth chart.

Besides contending with Yeatman and Ragone for playing time, Reuland likely looked at the incoming class as potential competition as well. Kyle Rudolph, currently the 25th overall player in the class of 2008, and 6'8 Joseph Fauria are both coming in as tight ends. All in all, this was a smart move for Reuland who hopes to latch on somewhere with more opportunities for playing time.

After the soap opera that was the Demetrius Jones transfer, Reuland went about making sure his departure wouldn't involve nearly as much drama.
“This wasn’t an impulsive decision,” he said. “I actually finally made up my mind that I was leaving last Wednesday. I just wanted to make sure I took the right steps to make this as positive a move for everyone involved. I didn’t want to be a distraction for myself, my teammates and the coaching staff. I want the best for them too.”
He met with Charlie on Sunday after playing in the Michigan State game -- he was in as a blocker on both touchdown runs -- to discuss his intentions.
“After meeting with Konrad Reuland on Sunday, he has decided he will leave the team and withdraw from Notre Dame,” Weis said Monday in a statement. “I appreciate all Konrad has done for Notre Dame, and I wish him nothing but the best.
As for the somewhat curious decision to leave the program four games into the season, it appears that by leaving now he may be able to salvage a year of eligibility.
The 6-foot-6 Reuland played in seven games last season, and played in three of Notre Dame's four games this season. Ralf Reuland said his son would still have three years of eligibility left.
The reason he'd be eligible for three more years is that the NCAA looks at the academic calendar, not the sporting one. If a player can enroll in a new program by the 12th day of class, that semester will count towards their transfer penalty, making them eligible the following season. Still, it doesn't appear that Reuland's path has been set yet.

Former Mission Viejo High tight end Konrad Reuland was given his release to transfer from Notre Dame, and one of the schools with high interest is UCLA, according to sources.

Reuland's father, Ralf, was asked if the interest was mutual.

"Oh, yeah. That was one of the top schools for him before he decided on Notre Dame," Ralf Reuland said. "(Notre Dame) just wasn't a good fit for him. Konrad really wasn't happy. It's more than just football. The losing had nothing to do with it."

The preliminary plan for Reuland, who is a sophomore, is to attend a junior college for a year, earn his associate's degree, and then enroll in a four-year school.

However, a move to UCLA this fall is not impossible. UCLA does not begin classes until Thursday, and a player has until the 12th day of the quarter to enroll. It is unlikely Notre Dame would release Reuland to UCLA before the Oct. 6 matchup with the Irish, but he could be released after the game. That would still give him time to enroll at UCLA.

Update: A bit of clarification on the eligibility issues mentioned above. Reuland can only play football for two more years. He does not have three years like his dad claims. Once you play in a game, baring a medical exemption, a player has effectively used up one year of academic eligibility. Since Reuland has played in games both this year and last, he has used up two years of eligibility and can only play for two more.

However, the transfer rules regarding the 12th day of classes still apply with regards to the one year in-residence transfer penalty. If Reuland enrolls before the 12th day of class, he will be eligible to play in 2008 and will have three years -- since he still has a redshirt year option -- in order to play two. If he does not enroll by the cutoff, he will be forced to sit out the 2008 season, and in effect burn his redshirt year, and then can play in 2009 and 2010. Check SavageDragon's post on ndnation for more information.

Scholarship-wise, there have been a few changes since we last took a look at the numbers for ND, so here's another quick breakdown of where the Irish stand at the conclusion of this season.
Potential 5th year candidates: 7
Seniors: 15
Juniors: 26
Sophomores: 18
Add those numbers up and you get 66 scholarships currently in use. This includes senior-to-be Thomas Bemenderfer and junior-to-be Eric Maust. Bemenderfer was awarded a scholarship prior to the start of the season and once he started playing, Eric Maust's scholarship should transfer from a baseball one to a football one per NCAA rules.

With the 85 scholarship restriction the upper limit, the Fighting Irish have 19 available scholarships to give out in the current recruiting cycle, assuming all potential 5th year players will be back in 2008. As it turns out, Notre Dame currently has 19 verbally committed recruits, meaning that all 85 scholarships are spoken for, to some degree. Of course, not all seven 5th year candidates will be back next year. I don't think it's particularly fair at this point to guess who will or won't be back, but it's safe to assume that not all of them will return. Therefore, barring any more attrition, for each 5th year player that does not return, Notre Dame has room for another freshman, up to the 25 scholarship limit for the freshman class. In other words, expect ND to pick up a few more recruits this year and wind up with 20 to 25 new freshman for 2008.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Odds & Sods - Drive Like Jehuu Edition | by Mike

Dig Your Own Hole. While the defense was not stellar, once again turnovers and poor special teams play left the defense with little field to work with. A holding penalty during a punt return, a Clausen fumble on a sack, and a 52-yard MSU kickoff return led to three MSU scoring drives that started in Irish territory. This year, Irish opponents have produced 23 scoring drives. Eleven of these drives have been 45 yards or less. The longest scoring drive by an Irish opponent this year was Michigan's 79-yard touchdown drive. While the defense - as with all areas of this year's team - has considerable room for improvement, special teams and offensive miscues continue to lose the field position battle before the defense even takes the field.

Start To Move. For one drive in the second quarter, we saw the offense I had hoped to see prior to the season. Following a 13-yard George West reception, James Aldridge and Robert Hughes combined for 67 yards on the ground. Surprisingly, the Irish offense produced a longer touchdown drive than any of Notre Dame's opponents have so far. (Of course, the aforementioned field position difficulties have limited opponents' opportunities for such drives.) A 17-point loss shouldn't be called encouraging, but at least now we know there is something the Irish can do on offense. Hopefully continued focus on the run game in practice will produce similar improvement this coming week as between the UM and MSU games.

Follow The Leader. As the losses mount, the importance of holding the team's psyche together will only increase. In this regard, I have to tip my cap to Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz. It's hard for fans to know who the leaders are in the huddle, but from their play on the field they are clearly leading by example. Given all the double teams these two have faced, one might think they would be the first to tire or take plays off. However, these two have continued to fight throughout the painful start. Whether it's blocking a kick, recovering a fumble, or deflecting passes, these two seem to give their all every play. John Sullivan also deserves recognition for playing through pain yesterday. While Sullivan has garnered criticism for some bad snaps and the OL's troubles, his dedication should not be questioned.

Two & Two. On both offense and defense, two underclassmen gave the coaching staff reasons to find bigger roles for them. On offense, James Aldridge and Robert Hughes demonstrated the power and vision to find yardage against a defense expecting the run. On defense, freshmen linebackers Brian Smith and Kerry Neal found ways to pressure the quarterback and flow to the ball.

A Passing Feeling. So far this season, every Irish opponent has been able to put up over 30 points with only mediocre (at best) quarterback play. Opposing quarterbacks are a combined 41 of 84 against the Irish. Only Anthony Morelli has managed to complete at least half of his attempts (12 of 22). Such performances have been rendered irrelevant by the anemic Irish offense and big days for Tashard Choice, Mike Hart and Thunder & Lightning. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter is far more accomplished than any of the quarterbacks Notre Dame has faced so far. The offense is going to need to score more than 14 points against Purdue.

May I have your attention please? | by Jeff

"It takes a strong heart to drive on clogged arteries."

- Tim McCarthy for the Indiana State Police

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

All the Way to State | by Jay

A little Spartan surveillance to get us warmed up...

• Defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic is the Spartan's best pass rusher. Saint-Dic — known as the "Sackmaster" by teammates — was named the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week after recording five tackles, three tackles for losses, two sacks and two forced fumbles against Pitt.

He's quick around the edge, eh? The stats bear it out: MSU is tops in the nation in sacks. ND leads the nation in sacks given up. Gulp.

State returns one OL starter from injury this week, but lost another against Pitt:
The potential return of a top offensive lineman and backup spots for two starting defensive backs are among the changes on Michigan State's depth chart for Saturday's game against Notre Dame.

Senior Mike Gyetvai, who hasn't been on the field since the sixth game of 2006, is listed as a starter at right guard along with junior Mike Bacon. Bacon replaced starting right guard Roland Martin, who suffered a leg injury in the first half against Pittsburgh and did not return. He was on crutches after the game. Martin does not appear on the current two-deep chart.

Head coach Mark Dantonio declined to discuss injuries on Monday, but senior left tackle Pete Clifford gave an unofficial update Tuesday.

"Roland's a little banged up, but he's working out and I think he'll be alright in a week or two," Clifford said. "Everyone else is pretty healthy."

Sophomore center Joel Nitchman, who injured his hand last Saturday but returned at the end of the game, is expected to play this weekend.

Mitch and Murray (aka McMillan & Wife) seem to be the two guys that most of the game previews are focusing upon, and the presumption is the Irish defense, which can't stop the run, is going to be bludgeoned to death by the two-headed Spartan ettin. The yards given up certainly aren't encouraging. But I had a sneaking suspicion our susceptibility to the run is a little overstated.

So I looked into it. My hypothesis was that the high yardage is a product of a general apathy that sets in as the game goes on, once the defense realizes the offense isn't going to be able to put up any points. Perusing the excellent breakdowns on, you can see how the rushing defense deteriorated as the games went on, and as the scoring deficit ballooned:

Irish Rushing Defense over Time
Situation Att Yards Avg.
Overall 150 712 4.75
1st Half 69 297 4.30
2nd Half 81 415 5.12
1st Quarter 32 110 3.44
2nd Quarter 37 187 5.05
3rd Quarter 35 180 5.14
4th Quarter 46 235 5.11
Irish Rushing Defense by Score
Situation Att Yards Avg.
Winning By 1-7 Pts 6 7 1.17
Tied 17 57 3.35
Losing By 1-7 Pts 27 92 3.41
Losing By 8-14 Pts 24 123 5.13
Losing By 15+ Pts 76 433 5.70

It would be nice for the defense if some of that early-game determination were rewarded. I wonder what the stats would look like were we playing ahead in a game, instead of constantly from behind.

Motivation? Sparty hasn't forgotten about last year.
Despite the fact that the Irish are winless and statistically rank among the nation's worst teams in nearly every offensive category, the Spartans weren't about to give Notre Dame any ammunition.

"They might be 0-3, but to me, that's Notre Dame," Saint-Dic said. "We're going there with the mindset that they're 3-0."

Over the past two years, both Michigan State and Notre Dame have felt the elation of a dramatic win and the anguish of a crushing loss.

In 2005, the Spartans beat the Irish 44-41 in overtime. Last year, Notre Dame rallied to a 40-37 win, after trailing by 16 points entering the fourth quarter.

"It was a pretty big contrast," Hoyer said. "That was one of the top wins I've ever had here at Michigan State and one of the lowest losses that we've had."

The Spartans appeared to be on their way to another 4-0 start last season before the a late-game meltdown against the Irish. That loss started Michigan State on a slide in which the team lost eight of its last nine games of the season.

Hoyer said last year's game will provide both motivation and education this week.

"There's a lot of guys here this year that were there last year," Hoyer said. "The way I see it, we've learned from that situation. The main thing you can take from that is not giving up."
Meet the new Sparty, care of coach D: no trash-talking, no more meltdowns?
MSU coach Mark Dantonio tried to eliminate any bulletin-board material by making quarterback Brian Hoyer, defensive end Jonal Saint -Dic and captains Thornhill, Travis Key , Jehuu Caulcrick and Pete Clifford available to the media this week.

The Spartans have had a tendency to get drawn into some trash-talking in the media before big games in the past.

"That's something we have to learn from," Caulcrick said. "That's just a step in us maturing as a team.

"You've got to be above that. We know when it comes down to it, what we do on the field is going to win the game, not what's said in the media."
(Of course, the quickest and easiest way for MSU to clean up its act was to lose guys like Johnelle, and his toadies, like Matt Trannon).

Dantonio was actually known as a fire-and-brimstone kind of guy at Cincinnati, so you know he's pepping the guys up, even if the public front is rather placid.
University of Cincinnati football players have noticed a real contrast between first-year coach Brian Kelly and former coach Mark Dantonio, who is now coach at Michigan State.

In brief, Dantonio, who was a defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, talked frequently about playing with "great emotion" and made it a key part of his weekly preparation. Kelly is more businesslike and conducts practice at a rapid pace with almost all of the emphasis on preparation for that week's opponents' strengths.

"It's real different," UC defensive end Anthony Hoke told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Dantonio, he tried to make every game personal."

It's all a matter of style, of course.

"We've tried to move away from being emotional as possible," Kelly said.

Both teams are 3-0, so it's hard to quibble with either methodology.

and...scene. | by Pat

As far as we're concerned, here endeth the Demetrius Jones story.

"I'm going to root for those [Notre Dame] guys," Jones said. "The only thing I regret is how I had to leave. [Notre Dame] let me go the best way they could and that's pretty fair to me. If fans want to bash me, I understand where they're coming from. But this was a very hard decision."

One person Jones does not want to see bashed, however, is Irish coach Charlie Weis.

"He made an impact on my life, how to be a family man, lots of things," Jones said. "Everybody may not like him but he takes care of his business and he takes care of it every day. He doesn't change for anybody. He doesn't even let something like being 0-3 rattle his character or personality.

"When we talked [this week], we had a healthy conversation. He was talking to me like a father, not just a coach. I admitted to him that if I'd come to him before the Michigan game, he would've talked me out of [leaving].People didn't acknowledge that coach Weis and I had a great relationship. We've been through some rough times and some good times but we're linked to each other.

"I represent him. No matter what happens down the line, my career started at Notre Dame and that was because of coach Weis. I was a soldier in 'Charlie's army' and I enjoyed every minute of it."

When others suggested Jones should switch positions with Jimmy Clausen coming to Notre Dame, "the only one going to bat for me, saying 'Demetrius is a quarterback,' was coach Weis," Jones recalled. "Coach Weis told me this would be the hardest decision I would make. I feel like I'm blessed to have a second chance to do something so important."

Honoring a Legend | by Pat

This Saturday morning, put aside the tailgating for a short while and head over to the stadium, as Irish great Ara Parseghian will finally be honored with a statue at Gate D of Notre Dame Stadium. has the details.

A statue of former University of Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, will be dedicated on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007, at Notre Dame Stadium.

The dedication, slated for 9:30 a.m. EDT, on the morning of the Notre Dame-Michigan State football game, will take place at Notre Dame Stadium's Gate D, which honors the Irish national championship football coaches.

All of Parseghian's former players and coaches have been invited to the dedication ceremonies - and more than 200 of them are expected to attend. John Huarte - winner of the 1964 Heisman Trophy - will be speaking at the dedication on behalf of Parseghian's former players. The general public is welcome to attend the ceremony.
The statue itself is a larger-than-life representation of Ara being carried off the field by his players after the 1971 Cotton Bowl upset over the Texas Longhorns. Notre Dame alumnus Jerry McKenna created the sculpture, making it his third sculpture of an Irish coach. He also created the statue of Frank Leahy between the Stadium and the JACC and the statue of Knute Rockne at the downtown College Football Hall of Fame.

The Era of Ara was an impressive one. 11 years coaching, 95 victories, a staggering .833 winning percentage, two consensus national championships, and of course, one famous 10-10 tie against this Saturday's opponent. Ara arrived during one of the darker periods in the program's history and instantly revived the Fighting Irish and restored them as a national power. What's more, he's remained a vibrant consigliere and champion for the program to this day. Charlie talked about Ara during yesterday's press conference and about how he values his relationship with Ara..
Q. They're unveiling a statue of Ara Parseghian on Saturday. Thoughts on that?

COACH WEIS: Ara Parseghian, a lot of people look at him as a legendary coach, great ambassador to Notre Dame. To me he's been more than that. He's been much more of a mentor. He's the first person that calls me after a loss. It's easy for people to call you after a win.

But he's always there. He's always there to give me advice on the good and the bad. I can't think of anyone that is more deserving to be honored than Ara. He's been just great to me.
Here's a clip of the 1975 Orange Bowl against Alabama, Parseghian's final game as a Notre Dame head coach. (Many thanks to T.J. for once again providing the video.)

If you want to watch more of the game, here's the second half highlights.

And here's a special that was done at halftime of the 2004 Notre Dame-Boston College game on the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, that was formed to study and combat Niemann-Pick Type C Disease. If you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, here is the place to do so.

Finally, here's a profile of Ara from Time from 1964 that we posted a while back. It's a great read, and interesting, too, because it was written just as his first year at ND was underway. Even then, you could see the foundation he was laying for a spectacular Irish career.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

the other shoe | by Jay

This just came out from ND SID:

September 20, 2007 -- University of Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White:

"Since learning of the situation surrounding the departure of Demetrius Jones on Friday, Sept. 14, the University of Notre Dame has been gathering facts to better assess his interest in transferring. Today, without formal confirmation of Demetrius' status, we reached out to him to assist him and his family in ascertaining his athletic and academic future plans.

"We are helping Demetrius compile a list of prospective schools that are not on our immediate future football schedules. We will grant him a release to those schools, and we will assist him in settling at another institution as best we can. It's our hope that Demetrius can enroll at an institution at which he might be able to receive a scholarship, possibly be eligible for the 2008 football season and, importantly, continue to make progress toward his degree without interruption.

"We have initiated our normal protocol by identifying a list of institutions to which he has an interest in transferring. While Demetrius did not consult us on his decision, the University and he are now working together in our customary fashion. Our hope is that this process assists him in finding an institution that will enable him to meet his goals both as a student and as an athlete."

Irish, Spartans to Play Football, Engage in Territorial Dispute | by Brian

Throughout this young millennium, the Notre Dame/Michigan State series has been marked by high-scoring affairs, astounding individual efforts, and last-minute heroics. With the early struggles of the 2007 Irish offense reaching Prognosis: Negative proportions, one wonders if such a game is in the offing this Saturday. But if recent ND/MSU games have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

"We Claim This Land in the Name of Jennifer Granholm"

Iwo Jima it ain't.
For the past decade, Notre Dame Stadium has been the Spartans' querencia. They last lost in the House That Rock Built in 1993, beginning their current five-game winning streak at the venue in 1997. (The two schools did not meet in 1995.) Following their 44-41 overtime victory at ND two years ago, several Michigan St. players engaged in a daring geopolitical gambit, staking their school's claim to the stadium by planting a flag in the field and, metaphorically, in the hearts of Irish fans and grass enthusiasts the world over.

The Irish exacted a measure of revenge last year, overcoming a 16-point fourth quarter deficit for a stirring 40-37 win at Spartan Stadium. Fearing a reprisal of the previous year's flag planting, then-MSU head footbawl coach John L. Smith sent several of his players onto the field as the game ended, protecting the field with all the subtlety of Horatio Sanz performing in drag. Smith was still preoccupied with the loss a week later, slapping himself in the face, in some bizarre attempt at payback to Charlie Weis, during his postgame remarks following MSU's game with Illinois. To their credit, the Spartans' fans, and the local media, had a more reasoned, subdued reaction to the hellacious choke job.

The Spartans are now under the tutelage of head footbawl coach Mark Dantonio, hired from the University of Cincinnati. Dantonio, a former assistant at Ohio St., is often cited as a potential candidate to replace The Vest as OSU's head footbawl coach at some point down the line. It will be interesting to see if he will allow the Spartans to break out the flag if they win this Saturday. The playful, light-hearted hooliganism of flagplantery would prepare Dantonio well for the cartoonish überhooliganism of Columbus.

Michigan St. enters the game undefeated, but they looked unimpressive in their 17-13 win last week over Pitt. However, history has taught us that the Spartans can look flat and uninspired one week, and unleash the hounds of hell the next.

Frick and Frack

"In the Latin, Jehuu begins with an 'I'."
In their attempt to prevent another offensive outburst from the Spartans, the Irish defense won't have to deal with former quarterback Drew Stanton, who is now on Sunday clipboard duty, but they will have to contend with the imposing one-two punch of running backs Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick.

Ringer is the slasher of the two, a quicker back who is like the freakish result of a suburban Chicago lab experiment combining Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Caulcrick is the power back, a straight-ahead runner who is a veritable brick wall. He is a human battering ram, in the style of Master of the Universe's Ram Man.

Both backs have a proven track record against ND, combining for 224 total yards and two touchdowns in last year's meeting.

Surely such an impressive duo merits a nickname, and as usual, footbawl players and media types alike have failed to disappoint, dubbing them "Thunder and Lightning". How utterly original. No duo of players have ever received that particular appelation, except perhaps for these guys, and these other guys, and them, and them, and many more. The following are alternative nickname suggestions for Ringer and Caulcrick, as well as any other duo in need of a nickname in the future:

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Reserved for running backs who are so fast,
it's like they're travelling through time.

-- Arm & Hammer
-- Sturm und Drang
-- Thelma & Louise
-- Peat & Repeat
-- Mitch & Murray
-- Peas & Carrots
-- Tango & Cash
-- Fat Man & Little Boy

-- The Falcon & The Snowman
-- Mr. Peabody & Sherman
-- McMillan & Wife

Hearts of Darkness: A Blogger's Apocalypse

Venezuela, Six Months Ago...

My journey took me along the Orinoco, deep into the dense Venezuelan rainforest. I had entered the lands of the Guancaro tribe, and I knew that they did not suffer outsiders lightly. And yet, if the stories were true, the man I was sent to find was here. It couldn't be true. This was madness. And yet, this was my mission. The message had to be delivered.

Leaving the river behind, my guide led me deeper into the jungle. Though it was midday, the thick brush made it nearly pitch black, and the limited visibility only added to my sense of dread. After what seemed like hours, we suddenly came upon a clearing. In the middle stood a thatched hut, guarded by two Guancaro natives. They were half-naked and carrying spears---the Guancaro, I knew, eschewed modern technology not out of ignorance to outside society, but out of respect for the ways of their forefathers. These were a proud, disciplined people. With great reluctance, I approached. My guide, who had a rudimentary knowledge of the Guancaro's native tongue, explained to one of the guards my purpose, while the other guard eyed me warily, spear at the ready. My heart pounded in my chest.

Remarkably, the guide's words were satisfactory, and the guards stood aside. So it's true, I thought. He's here. I entered the hut, leaving the guard outside.

With the entrance to the hut open, some light from the clearing allowed me to get my bearings. I was standing in a small room, with a doorway leading to another. There was writing on one of the walls, in a brownish-red color. Is that blood?, I thought. The writing appeared to be a series of slogans: "Failure is Not an Option," said one. "Death Before Dishonor," read another. A noise from behind made me turn. A man entered from the other room. This was not the man I had been sent to find, and yet he was familiar. Though his hair was long, his face unkempt, and his clothes ragged, I could tell that this man was none other than Walt Harris.

Harris had ultimately succumbed
to the influence of Bay Area hippies.

"Is he in there?," I asked. "I was told that he's here."

"What are they gonna say about him?," Harris answered. "What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans? That he had wisdom? Bullshit, man!"

"So he is here!," I exclaimed. "Can I see him?"

"Hey, man, you don't talk to the Coach. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll... uh... well, you'll say 'hello' to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you. He won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say, 'do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you'... I mean I'm no, I can't... I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's... he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas..."

After much persuasion, Harris led me into the other room. It was dark, as the room contained no openings to the outside. The room was dimly lit by two torches on the wall. Looking into the corner, I spotted him---there, face lit by the torchlight, his head shaved, was the man I had been sent to find---John L. Smith.

John L. Smith, at the crossroads of
genius and insanity, six months ago.

Smith never looked up. He was eating a banana. Not meeting my eyes, he addressed me: "Are you an assassin?," he asked.

"No, coach. I've been sent here to deliver a message."

Smith tossed the remainder of the banana at Harris, who left the room. Still not looking at me, he spoke. "The Guancaro use the same word for 'message' as they do for 'threat'. To them, outsiders epitomize the unknown---innocence and mayhem all at once."

My message could wait. I needed to know something.

"Coach," I began. "How did you manage to get the Guancaro to accept you?"

Without looking up, he answered. "There is an ancient rite of passage among the Guancaro, by which they choose their tribal chiefs. In the waters of their lands lives the fearsome anaconda. If one meets the anaconda in combat, and takes from the great beast its fangs, he earns a place of honor."

Smith gestured toward something around his neck. It was a necklace, from which hung several three-inch long fangs. He continued, "After that, they accepted me, much as Mr. Belvedere accepted Wesley as a surrogate son."

Another question was eating away at me. "When you lost to Notre Dame last year," I began, "you sent some players out to protect the field. Were you worried that, after your guys had planted a flag the year before, you would be hoisted by your own petard?"

"What the hell is a petard?" Smith replied.

"Nevermind. Anyway, as I said, I was sent to deliver a message. Ed Gennero has been hired to turn around the program at Texas State. He needs a tough-as-nails guy who won't take any guff to coach the defense. He's offering the job to you."

Suddenly, Smith looked up. There was fire in his eyes. He got to his feet, exclaimed, "What are we waitin' fer?" and stormed out of the room. Before leaving the hut, he turned to Harris and said, "I've leaving, Walty. I have footbawl to coach."

"Is there a job for me?," Harris asked earnestly, eyeing us both.

"'Fraid not," I said, and Smith and I left.

CUT TO: Last week...
Coach Gennero was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, leaving Smith in charge. With his Texas State team trailing at halftime, Smith issued the following locker room pep talk:
"Now, let's analyze what's been working for us... [Long pause] NOT A GODDAM THING'S been working for us. Like this goddam suit doesn't work for me... and this stinking tie... and this goddam shirt. IT DOESN'T WORK FOR ME. You know how to play winning, hard-nosed football? You play football like ED GENERRO played football. A guy who gave his life for this football team. He was a 140-pound halfback, and he played like a goddam WILDMAN! NO! LIKE A GODDAM RAMPAGING BEAST! And that's the way you got to do it! YOU GO OUT THERE! YOU TEAR THEIR F----G HEADS OFF, AND YOU SH-T DOWN THEIR NECKS! Let us pray."

Coach John L. Smith was back. (Interesting note: As amazing as this story seems, it was not wholly unexpected.)


I recently had the opportunity to spend a few hours chatting with Sparty in his living room, to get an idea of what makes MSU's mascot tick. Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

Me: Thank you for welcoming me into your home. [Extends hand]

Sparty: [Shakes hand] THIS...IS...SPARTY!!!

ME: Yes, yes it is. I must say, [laughs] your head is huge. That is one massive noggin. I mean, you could block out the sun with that thing.


Me: Whoa, relax! I was just kidding. Heh, [points] you're dangerous.

Sparty: You speak in the manner of the actor Val Kilmer. I enjoy his work.

Me: Oh yeah? What's your favorite Kilmer movie?

Sparty: [Grabs DVD off of shelf] THIS...IS...SPARTAN!!!

Me: Really? What about Tombstone? What about Real Genius?

Sparty: Yes, Tombstone, of course! [Looks wistfully into distance] I've made a huge mistake.

Me: An Arrested Development fan, I see. That's one of my favor---

Sparty: [Interrupting] THIS...IS...MARTA!!!

The discussion continued in this manner for about three more hours. I gained no real insight. I did learn one thing, though---Sparty makes a lovely pasta primavera.

ND-MSU Football: Cradle of Thespians

Which former Notre Dame or Michigan St. footbawl player has had the finest acting career?

Bob Golic, Notre Dame
Role: Michael Rogers, Resident Assistant and ex-NFL footbawl player, Saved by the Bell: The College Years

Acting Challenge: Having attended Notre Dame, Golic was all-too-familiar with single-sex dorms. So imagine the challenge of playing a character who lived in a dorm which was not only coed, but which had coed suites. Can you imagine having to deal with three guys that shared a suite with Kelly Kapowski? The mind boggles.

In addition, Mike was a multifaceted character who mirrored and related to to the diverse personality traits of the six leads: the rakish charm of Zack, the athleticism of Slater, the geeky earnestness of Screech, the sweet disposition of Kelly, the intellect of the blonde girl, and the comedic naivete of the ditzy brunette. Golic pulled off this feat with the ease of a veteran actor.

Actor: Bubba Smith, Michigan St.
Role: Moses Hightower, the physically imposing but sensitive cop, in six Police Academy movies

Acting Challenge: The gritty realism of the Police Academy series provided Bubba with a meaty character piece. Smith often used the methods of Stanislavski to dig deep to find the vulnerability needed for certain intensely personal scenes; for example, if the gang needed to enter a room whose door was locked, Hightower would be called upon to rip the door clean off of its hinges. It was hauntingly beautiful in its understatedness.

Addendum: Smith, a former Baltimore Colt, for many years after the team moved to Indianapolis, did commercials for a local law firm, with the catchphrase, "They're still my lawyers, and they're still in Baltimore." (Take that, Robert Irsay.) In recent years, Bubba has passed the torch for these commercials to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

The Verdict: On second thought, the award for Best Actor goes to MSU alum Tyrone Willingham, who has pretended to be a head footbawl coach for 13 years running.

Prediction From The Oracle

Almost right on the money for three weeks in a row, The Blind Oracle At Bristol has become increasingly cocksure about his gift for communing with the footbawl spirit world.

"Warriors of ancient nobility, their thirst for blood unquenched, claim the battlefield as their own. Barbarians at the gate, an unstoppable force, ready to wreak havoc. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Spartans. Michigan St. beats Notre Dame 35-10."

Businessman Jones | by Pete

The Demetrius Jones transfer has all the makings of a top-notch football soap opera: a program performing at historically low levels, an “arrogant” head coach finally getting his just desserts (insert fat joke here, naysayers), a quarterback scorned and cast aside for a hot-shot whiz kid everybody loves to hate, and finally, as the cherry on top of the Schadenfreude Sundae, a double-secret, eleventh-hour defection.

And yet, timing notwithstanding, this transfer is not all that different from the ones that occur in competitive programs every year. As Weis started bringing in higher levels of talent in greater numbers, many Notre Dame fans expected a number of transfers, and in a bittersweet way, almost looked forward to it. Increased depth and competition, and yes, transfers, are the signs of a healthy, vibrant program, one that Weis is trying his damndest to build.

Sometimes, a transfer is just business. Take Jones, for example: his was made for all the right reasons. But it was executed in a very poor fashion. Failures to execute haven’t occurred just on the field this year.

Imagine you’re Charlie Weis. You’ve got four quarterbacks competing during spring practice, and one – Jimmy Clausen – has taken the lead in your mind. However, he needs surgery over the summer, and won’t be able to take the reps needed to prepare for the first game (let alone as a first-time freshman) so he can’t be your starter. So you turn to the next guy in line, a sophomore with some feet to go with his arm, and tell him he’s going to be the starter for the opener. You throw your support behind him, and try to develop an offense to cater to his dual strengths. It doesn’t go well, and so you want to prime the pump with your highly-touted freshman, who's getting healthy just in time.

Now imagine that you’re Demetrius Jones. You take a role as an outspoken leader of the team, going so far as to put on the mantle of the fabled #3 jersey ("No busters wore number 3," he said at the time. "I'm just setting high expectations for myself.") After spring practice, you start taking more reps with the first team, and you learn that you’re going to be the starter against Georgia Tech. An offensive package has been developed to take advantage of your skill set, and you’ve prepared for it the best you can.

But the game doesn’t go well, and you’re pulled before you’ve had the chance to play a half of football, and you're ultimately replaced by that hotshot freshman quarterback everybody's had their eye on.

Obviously, Weis and DJ came to different conclusions about how much he should be playing, and that’s when transfers happen. It’s business. Unfortunately, business decisions, made for all the right reasons, can still go poorly.

Missed the bus. On the Friday before the game, Jones didn't show up for the team bus to Ann Arbor. Charlie didn't hear about it until about fifteen minutes before it was set to leave. Reporters caught up with DJ on Sunday, where he spilled the beans about why he jumped ship. His chief beef was about being misled by Weis. After the Georgia Tech game, Charlie had talked about Jimmy being #1 coming out of the spring. DJ heard that, and was miffed.
"When I heard Jimmy was the No. 1 all the way through spring and that the only thing that was keeping him out of the lineup was his surgery, well that's not what I was led to believe going into the summer. I thought I was getting a chance because coach Weis believed in me. Then I didn't know what to believe anymore.”
Demetrius was understandably upset about being yanked for Jimmy, and felt stung by being told he was the starter, only to see it taken away before one half of football had been played.

But let’s also look at it from Weis’s side of things. You know that the guy leading at the spring won’t be in shape to be the starter come the opener. Do you tell the next guy that he’s just keeping the seat warm? Tell him, try not to screw up too much out there before we can bring in the REAL quarterback? Hardly. You do your best to make a game plan that gives Jones the best chance of winning, and you give him your support. Try this thought experiment: if Demetrius had gone out against Georgia Tech, thrown 3 touchdowns and run for one more, would Charlie have still benched him? I don't think so. Starting Demetrius was brought about by necessity, by continuing a stated objective of giving the team the best chance to win, but it still was a shot at the starter's job.

In reality, Demetrius was named the starter because he gave the team the best chance of winning, and Charlie did believe in him more in that regard than the other two guys. He wouldn’t have been given the spot if he didn’t think that. Unfortunately, he struggled early, coughing up the ball twice and, despite those that say he never got the chance to throw due to his measly three attempts, failed to execute the offense and bailed out early on pass plays due to pressure.

After that, DJ wanted another chance to prove himself, and when he felt like he wasn’t going to get that, he looked for another opportunity to play. Business.

Benched forever? DJ may have felt that he was now forever trapped behind Clausen, but Weis may have had a different outlook on the situation. Remember that disastrous snap on the first play of the Michigan game? The one that was supposed to go to Armando Allen from a spread formation? Given Michigan’s well-documented weakness to the spread offense, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that, prior to missing the bus to Ann Arbor, that snap was originally meant to go to Demetrius. Other voices in the ND press (Irish Illustrated, for one) have surmised as much. If Weis had indeed put together a spread package, it would suggest he hadn’t given up on Jones just yet.

Yet it still wasn't enough to mollify DJ. Demetrius had made no attempts to hide the fact that he came to Notre Dame to be the starting quarterback, not to be trotted out to run specific packages like a poor man's Tim Tebow. (At least Tebow had the luxury of knowing he had the starting gig waiting for him after one season, whereas Jones saw his starting spot disappear for his entire tenure under Clausen.)

DJ deciding he didn’t want to be Pat White-Lite for Weis would also explain his sudden departure from the team. As Notre Dame prepared for Michigan, DJ learned he’d be expected to run the spread offense again, suggesting that he may never get a shot to truly run the offense, and would strictly be a package-specific tweak. He’d never get another true shot at the starting job.

Where the Huskies go. With a couple of high school buds and a cousin on the team, Northern Illinois, just a few hours west, had to look like a comfortable place for DJ to land.
''I'm Phil's [a linebacker for NIU] cousin,'' Jones said. ''I'm here to check [the Huskies] out. These are my boys from Morgan Park.''
So Demetrius decides to transfer. It's a sound decision, but executed poorly. This is where things start to unravel.

First, we know DJ had to have been enrolled at NIU by the time classes began for this semester in order to not waste a year of eligibility. It appears that his enrollment took place on either Tuesday or Wednesday night. But DJ practiced with the Irish all the way through Thursday, hiding his true intentions from the staff. There's never a conversation with Charlie about leaving. No sit-down. No phone call. He goes through the motions as if he's with the team 100%. But when the bus warms up on Friday, he's MIA.

In retrospect, DJ admits the move was "immature."
“I admit I made an immature decision, but I think it's going to turn out to be a good decision. It probably won't be the last immature decision I make. I'm human. But what we're talking about here is a dream -- my dream. I'm a man. I made my bed, and I'm willing to lay in it, whatever that might bring."
It would take until Monday night for Charlie to track down DJ and "clear the air", as Charlie put it.

I don't think DJ's a villain here. He’s a 19-year old kid making a big decision, but he obviously shirked his responsibility to be up front about it. Again, the problem isn’t the transfer, it’s the way he handled it.

No release. Late Tuesday another twist in the soap opera would materialize: ND wasn't going to let Jones out of his scholarship, which meant Jones couldn't accept one from NIU this year, and would have to pay his own way for this school year.

Typically speaking, when a school doesn’t release scholarships for transfers it's because the player wants to transfer to a school that they directly compete with, or because they’re not happy with how the transfer was handled (see Southern Cal receiver Jamere Holland not being allowed to transfer to Florida). This is obviously a case of the latter.
"We don't believe [Jones'] departure was handled appropriately," a spokesman for Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said.
When a player doesn't call his coach, and simply skips the team bus, (and ends up landing on a team stocked with friends and relatives), that’s probably a sign of a transfer that wasn’t handled appropriately.

On its face, this move might look like petty retribution from ND. But I think the facts tell a different, and much more mundane, story.

First of all, a spokesperson in the NIU athletic department said that even if they wanted to give Demetrius a scholarship, they couldn’t this year since they’ve already all been allocated. DJ is paying for the opportunity to be a Husky this year whether Notre Dame releases his scholarship or not.
He will not be able to receive an athletic scholarship from Northern Illinois this school year without the release -- though a spokeswoman for the football program said it doesn't have a scholarship to give Jones anyway.
Knowing this, Notre Dame is presented with a choice: release the scholarship anyway as a sign of good will and to play nicey-nice with the media, or hold the scholarship to express concern about how the transfer was handled. Given that the move is entirely symbolic, Notre Dame took the opportunity to show that this kind of 11th-hour, don't-tell-anybody transfer will not be condoned by the athletic department.

It's important to note that Notre Dame potentially is holding the scholarship because they can't be sure some transfer tampering didn't go on as well. As noted above, DJ had several high school friends and a cousin at Northern Illinois. And it appears they knew Demetrius was transferring before Weis did:
Another hint surfaced Friday on Jones' Notre Dame page, where Northern Illinois linebacker Phil Brown, a teammate of Jones' at Chicago's Morgan Park High School, wrote "So loong" at 1:08 p.m.

“I found out at quarter after 2 yesterday,” Weis said. “I’ll wait (to comment) until after I talk to him. I don’t know all the gory details. I was very, very surprised.”
The transfer didn't go through the appropriate channels, and when a player's new teammates know about the transfer before his current head coach, Notre Dame has reason to be suspicious. Throw in the fact that DJ's abrupt transfer means he must have handled some of the more time-consuming aspects of it (transfer application, enrollment, transcripts, etc.) beforehand while acting as if nothing was wrong, and you've got reason for Notre Dame's athletic department to not be so magnanimous in giving him back his scholarship.

And if you really look at it, there isn’t that much of a choice to be made here. Consider DJ’s handling of the situation. Unhappy with his role in the program, he goes out and enrolls at another school without notifying any appropriate parties at Notre Dame, continues to practice with the team as Transferred Man Walking, only to fail to show up to travel to a game less than 24 hours away. If DJ’s behavior doesn’t merit a refusal to release a scholarship, what will? A Molotov Cocktail lobbed in the direction of the Gug as the player peels out of South Bend, playbook in hand? Notre Dame isn’t holding the scholarship to screw DJ, they’re holding the scholarship because DJ transferred in just about the worst way he could manage, and a precedent needs to be set.

Old friends in familiar places. As an epilogue, it's worth mentioning that immediately prior to becoming Northern Illinois' athletic director, Jim Phillips served as senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame. He and Kevin White obviously know each other pretty well, and I imagine both parties realize that this situation was handled in less than an ideal fashion. Recognizing the fact that there is no scholarship waiting for DJ at NIU, and empathizing with White about the messy transfer, I don't think Phillips has any problems with Notre Dame adhering to standards by not releasing the scholarship. In fact, I bet if the roles were reversed, he'd do the same.

Some people would like to say that DJ’s transfer was a sign of the wheels coming off of Weis’s program, but that’s simply not the case. It’s just a transfer, made for the same reason transfers are typically made: business. Unfortunately, when your program is doing a great impression of a smoking, rusted-out Pinto, it’s easy to think every little ding is going to make the wheels come off.

In short: DJ wanted to be the starter, and Weis thought there was someone else better suited to play the role. So DJ went elsewhere for an opportunity to play. It’s a textbook transfer case. Notre Dame has had several notable transfers over the last two years (Zach Frazer, exhibit A), but this is the only one to blow up into a brouhaha. The way it was handled, and Notre Dame’s responsibility to subsequently address that irresponsible approach by withholding the scholarship, are the only deviations, and even those aren’t as dramatic as they first appear.

Good luck to DJ and all that, but we've got bigger fish to fry.