Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Odds & Sods: Slap Happy Edition | by Mike

Thoughts on a victory that sent Jim Harbaugh further down the path to becoming the next John L. Smith...

Fame throwa. One week after turning in a career-best performance against Purdue, Jimmy Clausen played even better against Stanford. Clausen notched career highs in completions (29), attempts (40) and yards (347). The statistics reflected Clausen's visibly improved command of the offense, as he completed passes to seven different receivers and produced some of the game's biggest plays when he changed the call at the line of scrimmage. Weis's offense requires the quarterback to shoulder a heavy load. While Clausen will undoubtedly struggle with this burden at times this year, he's really doing all you can ask a sophomore quarterback to do.

Power doesn't run on nothing. Notre Dame needed every bit of Clausen's performance, as the running game struggled once again. If we look at the carries by the running backs alone (which takes out Harrison Smith's fake punt run, Clausen's sacks and rushes, etc.), the numbers are disappointing. Against Stanford, the Irish running backs rushed 22 times for just 56 yards, or 2.5 yards per carry (Allen - 3.7; Hughes - 1.8; Aldridge 1.8). The Purdue game is the only game this season where the Irish RBs have averaged over 4 yards per carry (SDSU - 3.4; Michigan - 3.7; MSU - 2.0; Purdue - 5.7). Even when the passing game is clicking - as it obviously was against Stanford - the lack of a running game hurts. When the Irish offense tried to switch to a power-running game in the second half to run out the clock, they were largely ineffectual. In future games where ND has a substantial lead, the Irish offense would probably be best served by remaining aggressive and attacking until very late in the game.

Everything hits at once. Heading into the Stanford game, the Irish defense had generated a number of deflections and bad throws with their blitzes. However, we weren't seeing the sacks that we'd all hoped Jon Tenuta's influence would produce. Stanford offensive tackle Chris Marinelli provided the missing ingredient to the Irish defense after he hit upon the brilliant idea of publicly ripping the Irish D. The defense responded to his challenge with five sacks. Sergio Brown, Brian Smith and Darius Fleming each had one. Pat Kuntz, the man who spent much of the day battling Marinelli, had two, to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. In the team's previous wins, the opponents' weaker rushing games meant that the tipped passes and rushed throws resulting from Irish blitzes were enough to derail drives. But against Stanford, whose power-running game gave the Irish defense fits, simply holding serve against the Cardinal passing game would not have been enough. Fortunately, the defense was able to produce numerous drive-killing plays when Stanford attempted to pass. Thanks, Chris.

Comment. During the second quarter, a Stanford player interfered with Armando Allen's attempt to field a punt. Allen was unable to corral the ball, and a Stanford player picked it up and ran it into the endzone. The officials flagged Stanford for interference and Notre Dame took over at midfield. After a Jim Harbaugh temper tantrum, Clausen connected with Michael Floyd on a beautiful 48-yard touchdown. After the game, Harbaugh still had not regained his composure:

"We got a couple of bad calls," Harbaugh said after the game. "It's hard to imagine people don't know football any better than that. Maybe I'll be swayed differently after I see the replay, but from what I saw on the field, I still can't get over it. It was a really bad call. It should have been our ball and a touchdown for us."
Of course, the person who actually should "know football better than that" was Jim Harbaugh. Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen made the following statement tonight:
"Pac-10 officials have reviewed video of the play and it is apparent the Stanford player covering the punt impeded the Notre Dame player attempting to catch it. The call was correct. NCAA playing rule 6-4-1 states in part 'A player of the receiving team within the boundary lines must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick.' Even though the player attempting to catch the kick was bumped by his teammate, he still attempted to catch the kick and was impeded by the Stanford player. The rule places the onus on the kicking team member to avoid impeding the opportunity to catch the ball."
No word yet on whether Harbaugh threw his hat on the ground after reading the release.

Shot in the arm. The freshmen class continues to come up with big plays. Floyd and Kyle Rudolph combined for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 receptions. Darius Fleming sacked Tavita Pritchard. The sophomore and freshmen classes complement each other well, and it will certainly be fun to see these guys play together for another two-and-a-half years.

Sleep on the left side. When he left the game with an injury, I realized how much I have overlooked Mike Turkovich's play this year. Heading into the season, left tackle was one of my biggest concerns. Yet after moving from left guard, Turkovich has been solid at the toughest position on the line. Credit to Turkovich for developing himself into such an important contributor.