Monday, September 10, 2007

Odds & Sods: Ghost Brigade Edition | by Mike

Thoughts from Saturday's wake:

Space and Time. Notre Dame's offensive woes will continue until the offensive line achieves competence. It's obvious to anyone that follows recruiting that much of the OL problems are the result of Willingham's apocryphal offensive line recruiting. Yet while the devastation wrought by the Purveyor of Platitudes is undeniable, it also seems unlikely that the coaching staff is getting the most out of the linemen on hand. Corwin Brown has been able to cobble a competent defensive front seven from more limited options than he would undoubtedly prefer. Even without the upperclassmen options available at the vast majority of programs, I'm still surprised that the offensive coaches have not been able to produce a line capable of even modest success at opening holes or sustaining a pocket.

Rollin' Back. Penalties continue to have a devastating effect on the 2007 Irish. The Penn State game saw the Irish penalized 14 times for 97 yards, a Weis-era record. Given the troubles protecting the QB, the Irish offense can't afford to place themselves in long-yardage situations. Simple mental mistakes become drive killers. However, as frustrating as the penalties are, this is probably the area where dramatic improvement is least unlikely. If the Irish are to beat Michigan, cutting down on the penalties will be essential.

Slight Return. Zbikowski's 47-yard punt return to the Penn State 7 yardline was the last gasp of excitement for Irish fans. It was also the lone special teams bright spot for Notre Dame. There doesn't seem to be a clear explanation for the Irish's special teams struggles other than the lack of an established special teams coach on the staff. I can't help but wonder if things would be different had Weis's rumored pursuit of Rich Bisaccia come to fruition.

Young Folks. Several members of the freshmen and sophomore classes showed flashes of promise against the Nittany Lions. The most obvious examples are Darrin Walls and Jimmy Clausen. Walls's 74-yard interception return was clearly the high point of the game for Notre Dame. It was a great play by Walls, and the rest of the defense set up their blocks beautifully on the return. Clausen's statistics are nothing special, and he occasionally held onto the ball too long or tucked and ran too early. Yet Clausen did show the resilience and poise that Brady Quinn demonstrated in the losing effort against Purdue in 2003. (It bears repeating, however, that with all the other issues with the offense, it's probably premature to draw conclusions about any of the quarterbacks.) Though his 43-yard reception was negated by a holding call, Golden Tate showed that he may be able to contribute at wide receiver earlier than expected. I also liked what I saw of Morrice Richardson, who showed added moves to his pass-rushing repertoire, no longer relying solely on his speed to the outside.

One Time For Your Mind. In the Michigan game, early success is critical to each team from both a psychological and strategic standpoint. Michigan may be struggling in numerous facets of the game, but they do know what they do well - run the ball with Mike Hart. If Michigan gets off to a good start, they can stick to a steady diet of Hart runs and play-action passes that could allow them to regain some confidence. On the Notre Dame side, the defense has played well to start each game. However, they have been unable to hold up as the game has gone on and the offense has failed to put points on the board. If the Irish offense can somehow put things together early against Michigan, this should motivate the defense and elevate their play. On the other hand, continued offensive floundering could really damage the defense's psyche and make things much easier for the Michigan offense.