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.