Monday, September 29, 2008

Odds & Sods: The Right Thing To Do Edition | by Mike

Three is a magic number. Statistically, Saturday's game was the best offensive performance of the post-Quinn era. Using a balanced attack, the Irish offense rolled up over 200 yards on the ground and Jimmy Clausen threw for the most yards of his career. A number of factors contributed to the offensive success - including the weakness of Purdue's defense - but one that stood out was the extensive use of 3 WR sets. Although a pass-first formation, the Irish enjoyed considerable success on the ground from this formation. The running backs ran 34 times for 194 yards (5.7 yards per carry), with Armando Allen rushing for 7.9 yards per carry en route to 134 yards on 17 carries. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes the offense's base formation in the future or whether the heavy use of this formation was simply a Purdue-specific gameplan. Recall that in 2005 and especially in 2006, the Irish used three-wide-receiver sets more than any other formation.

Still Grimey. After missing the Michigan State game due to injury, senior WR David Grimes returned against Purdue and caught four passes for 65 yards. While Grimes may not have the size and natural ability of Michael Floyd or Golden Tate, he's a fundamentally sound player who provides needed experience when the Irish employ 3 WR sets that include sophomores Clausen, Tate and Allen and freshmen Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. Grimes is also a more effective blocker than you might expect from someone his size. His 30-yard fourth-down touchdown reception was one of my favorite plays of the game, and in his post-game comments, Grimes described how the play happened:

"[W]e saw that it was blitz 0 which means that there was no safety in the middle of the field. Jimmy looked at me and I looked at him and we made a play. Jimmy threw it up and I ran under it and caught it."
Nice recognition by Grimes and Clausen.

Caught, can we get a witness? An overlooked play [EDIT: but apparently not overlooked by Pat] from the first quarter was Kyle McCarthy catching Desmond Tardy and preventing a touchdown. With Purdue leading 7-0, Tardy caught a Curtis Painter pass and raced towards the endzone. It was a big play for the Boilermakers, covering 39 yards, but McCarthy caught Tardy at the 9 yard-line. The Irish defense then held the Boilermakers to an unsuccessful field goal attempt. Had Purdue scored a touchdown on that drive and gone up 14-0, we could have seen a much different game since the offense may not yet have had confidence in its ability to play as it did in the third quarter.

Fighting in a sack. Once again, the Irish defense failed to record a sack. On the one hand, Purdue's offense features a fifth-year senior quarterback and a veteran offensive line that included four seniors and one junior and emphasizes quick passes. On the other hand, Painter attempted 55 passes and not all of them were three-step drops. Additionally, this was the third consecutive game without a sack. Even without reaching the quarterback, the defense has deflected a number of passes and forced many inaccurate throws due to pressure. Nonetheless, to compensate for the heightened risk of such frequent blitzing, it would nice to see the heightened reward of actual sacks.

Brand new. The latest freshmen to announce his presence was Robert Blanton, who intercepted a Curtis Painter and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. I loved Blanton's determination to get into the endzone on the play. Ethan Johnson started and showed some pass-rushing ability. Kyle Rudolph recorded his first career touchdown reception and demonstrated some improved blocking. Michael Floyd had six catches for 100 yards, just four short of Golden Tate's total in his big game against Purdue last year. Jonas Gray also saw the field on special teams.

Kicked it in the sun. Notre Dame won the field position battle most of the game, in large part due to excellent coverage against Purdue's formerly successful kickoff return units. The Boilermakers were second in the nation in kickoff returns at 31.8 yards per return entering the game, but Mike Anello & Co. limited Purdue to 13.9 yards per return.