Monday, September 03, 2007

Odds & Sods: Revenge of the Nerds Edition | by Mike

Sundry thoughts on the Georgia Tech game...

You Trip Me Up. When I think about Saturday's game, the game I am reminded of is the 1997 LSU game (only with Georgia Tech in the role of Notre Dame and Notre Dame in the role of LSU). In that game, Notre Dame didn't do anything spectacular, but they played largely error-free football. The Irish neither turned the ball over nor committed a penalty, and the result was a 24-6 victory in a game that never really was in doubt. On Saturday, Georgia Tech was remarkably efficient. They didn't turn the ball over once. While they committed a few penalties, they avoided costly ones. Except for a few James Aldridge carries, the Yellowjackets were reliably solid tacklers. I didn't have the appetite to go back and run the numbers, but I suspect GT's MOE was comfortably under 12%. Meanwhile, the Irish played error-filled football, turning the ball over, missing assignments, and even shanking a punt. For the most part, these phenomena are not independent - many Irish mistakes were the product of Georgia Tech pressure. Nonetheless, I was impressed with Georgia Tech's discipline and execution this early in the season when the Irish clearly looked like a young team not entirely sure of their responsibilities. Were too many new starters asked to do too much?

Young Man Blues. My expectations for this year were predicated on the belief that the offensive line would provide a power running game. As the 1993 USC game proved, it doesn't matter who your quarterback is when the OL is imposing its will on the defense. I knew the young '07 OL would not be as good as the '93 OL, but I believed we would see that style of OL play. I had believed that the finesse approach of the previous two years was due to limited personnel options, but as Weis's OL recruits found their way into the starting lineup we would see the return of the power game. Now it seems obvious that this belief was based more on Weis's promise of a "nasty" football team than anything we have seen on the field so far. I keep telling myself that the Irish are still dealing with a young line (four of the five starters committed to ND after Weis's hiring; Dan Wenger was seeing his first game action) that should improve over the course of a season. That said, it will be extremely disturbing if the Irish do not have a power running game by the end of the year.

Sad If I Lost It. Midway through the second quarter, it was hard to be too upset with the defense. The score may have been 9-0, but offensive and special teams miscues had not given the defense much field to work with. Consider Georgia Tech's scoring drives:

1 Notre Dame 33 FG
1 Notre Dame 48 FG
2 Notre Dame 44 FG
2 Notre Dame 47 TD
3 Georgia Tech 16 FG
3 Georgia Tech 30 TD
4 Notre Dame 17 TD
The first three scoring drives all began in Irish territory, but the defense kept the Yellowjackets out of the endzone. On Georgia Tech's first touchdown drive, the Irish appeared to have held Tech on third down, but Justin Brown committed a personal foul that kept the drive alive and got him ejected. While Tech's greater offensive success following the ejection cannot be attributed solely to Brown's absence, the ejection was a painful reminder of how little depth the Irish have along the defensive line at this point. An injury to any of the starting DL - particularly Laws - would have a disastrous effect on the remainder of the season.

Fresh New Eyes. I don't think there aren't any silver linings in Saturday's game, but a few players making their first appearances or their first extended appearances acquitted themselves well. Anthony Vernaglia made his share of plays as a first-time starter. David Bruton notched his first sack and continued to fly down the field in punt coverage. Armando Allen gained 25 yards on 3 carries. While this may not seem like much at first glance, recall that the Irish finished with -8 rushing yards for the day. Allen's burst was obvious in his limited opportunities. I suspect the reason we did not see more of him was because the freshman's practice time was spent learning the spread package with Jones at QB. James Aldridge seemed to break a tackle on every carry.

Catch Hell Blues. Irish fans got to see all three quarterbacks in action Saturday, but I believe fans should refrain from drawing too many conclusions about the long-term prospects of the QBs based on the Georgia Tech game. There's no need to make a scapegoat out of any one quarterback given that mistakes were made across the board, and I'm sure Weis would say the blame should start with the coaching staff. Finally, we're dealing with such limited sample sizes with respect to each QB, that arguments about their performance inevitably rest as much on conjecture as actual data. For instance, Clausen looked good. But this can be countered by pointing out that the defense he faced included many reserves. And this rebuttal can itself be countered by pointing out that Tech continued to send multiple guys on each play, so it's not like Clausen was facing a passive, run-the-clock defense. But ultimately, we're talking about such a limited number of plays in such different circumstances that fans would be best served by letting things play out before giving up on any of the quarterbacks.

A Daisy Through Concrete. The weekend's sole mercy came in the form of the Mountaineers of Appalachian State. Fortunately, Michigan laid the biggest college football egg of my lifetime on Saturday, thereby preventing the Georgia Tech game from being the lead college football story of the weekend. Yes ASU, you and your Van de Graaf generators and keyboard solos truly are hot, hot, hot.