Sunday, October 12, 2008

Odds & Sods: Doh Edition | by Mike

Don't let go. The story of the game was North Carolina's ability to force turnovers and Notre Dame's inability to return the favor. UNC's 5-0 lead in the turnover column proved decisive. I've never subscribed to the theory that turnovers are largely random, the downward turn of Fortuna's Wheel. Turnovers generally result from bad plays by the offense, good plays by the defense, or offensive miscues that create a window of opportunity for a defensive player to force a turnover. It's no coincidence that Southern Cal is tops in the nation in turnover margin during Pete Carroll's tenure. His quarterbacks have been a succession of upperclassmen, his skill position talent is so deep that any running back or receiver knows a fumble can be a ticket to an extended stay on the bench, his defense's pass rush forces quarterbacks into rushed decisions, and his defense is physical and hard-hitting. The nonrandom explanations leap out at you. It's also probably not a coincidence that all five Irish turnovers were committed by freshmen or sophomores. Accordingly, I don't think you can say, "Take away the turnovers and Notre Dame would've won." This is still an inexperienced offense and turnovers come with an inexperienced offense. More disappointing was the inability of the more experienced defense to force the Tarheels into turnovers.

Something to look forward to. Aside from the (critically important) issues with protecting the ball, it's hard to find fault with the offense's performance. Clausen completed 65% of his passes for 383 yards and 8.0 yards per attempt. The running backs rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries. The 5.0 yards per carry pace was well ahead of every game save Purdue. Although he only had four carries, James Aldridge made the most of them, picking up first downs on two of them and a touchdown on another. The offense converted 10 of 16 third downs. The turnovers show that the offense's improvement is not linear, but the offense's progress is clearly discernable.

Kamera. Duval Kamara came in for his share of criticism early in the season, but he had a great game against the Tarheels. His 58 yards receiving trailed Golden Tate's 121 yards and Michael Floyd's 93 yards, but the statistics don't tell the whole story. On the play where Clausen must have scrambled thirty yards left and right, Kamara stuck with the play and provided an outlet for his harried quarterback. Perhaps his best play, however, was breaking up a would-be interception. If Kamara continues to play this hard, the Irish receiving corps will really test opposing defenses.

Turnaround. The most disappointing part of the game was the minute of game time that followed the Floyd touchdown reception late in the second quarter that gave Notre Dame a 17-6 lead. While the 2008 Irish team has a number of weaknesses, many of these weaknesses (e.g., run defense) are difficult for an opponent to exploit when the Irish have a meaningful lead. With only 52 seconds left in the first half at that point, it looked like Notre Dame would get the ball first in the second half with an opportunity to make it a three-score game. Instead, North Carolina was able to march down the field and get a field goal before the end of the first half. When Quan Sturdivant picked off Clausen on the first play of the second half and returned it for a touchdown, the lead was down to one and all the momentum was on North Carolina's side. The opportunity was there, but the Irish were unable to capitalize on it.