Friday, July 03, 2009

Clip Show '08 | by Jay

What better way to celebrate the holiday than some football fireworks? Herewith, the Top 10 plays for the 2008 Notre Dame football season, compiled and annotated, as always, by Paul of Classic Ground.

It should come as no surprise that most of the top plays from 2008 are of the "passing and catching" variety. Also of note: 8 of the 10 top plays featured a freshman or a sophomore. Here we go.

10. Christmas Present. In the play that put the final nail in the coffin of Notre Dame’s ugly bowl losing streak, Armando Allen returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. If it seemed like a very long time since an Irish player had accomplished the feat, it was: Allen’s effort was the first kickoff return for touchdown by Notre Dame since Vontez Duff went 92 yards in the third quarter against Navy on November 9, 2002. The 96-yard return was also a new bowl record for the Irish, as Allen topped the legendary 93-yard return by Al Hunter in the 1973 Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

9. Golden Acrobat. Although the play occurred during the Irish loss to Pitt, Notre Dame would not have made it to overtime against the Panthers without big plays for its two wideouts, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. This play is emblematic of the highlight reel plays both wide receivers made all season for the Irish. On a third and 12 with the score tied at 3-3 in the middle of the second quarter, Golden Tate made an acrobatic catch for 47 yards. Talking about the catch, Tate said, “I honestly just played it wrong. I should have caught it the first time. For some reason it bounced off the guy's head, and I saw another guy about it catch it, so I just went to make sure he couldn't catch it. I caught it and got a few yards. I was just trying to break it up so that he wouldn't get it.”

8. Fabulous Frosh. Arguably no player was more important to the Irish offense than first-year wide receiver Floyd. Without Floyd in the lineup, Notre Dame lost to lowly Syracuse and could muster no offense against Southern California. Versus Stanford, Jimmy Clausen threw for a then-career-high 347 yards and three touchdown passes as Notre Dame held on for a 28-21 victory. Floyd played a large role in the victory taking in five passes for 115 of Clausen’s 347 yards. Floyd’s 48-yard snag late in the second quarter against Stanford, as he beat Wopamo Osaisai (the PAC 10 champion in the 100 meters) on 3rd and 10, put Notre Dame up 21-7 going into halftime against the Cardinal.

7a and 7b. “He’s a Playmaker.” Notre Dame won a statistical national championship this year: the Irish led the nation in fewest average yards allowed per kickoff return. A very large reason for that fact was the special teams play of safeties David Bruton and Sergio Brown, and former walk-on Mike Anello. Two specific plays, among many, represent the major impact Anello had on the Irish season. Against Michigan, Anello had three tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. With the Irish already up 7-0 on the Wolverines, he pounced on a bumbled kickoff return by Michigan’s Michael Shaw, setting Clausen and the offense up at the Wolverine 14-yard line.

Against Navy, Anello blocked a punt that Toryan Smith caught on a bounce at the Navy 14 that put the Irish up 7-0 in the first quarter.

Coach Weis, on Anello: “Give me a bunch of Mike Anellos on special teams that run like that and show heart, and he doesn't just show heart, he's a playmaker. I'll take a bunch of guys like him.”

6. Impact. A trip to Seattle to face former Notre Dame head coach Ty Willingham and his 0-8 Washington Huskies offered very little advantage to the Fighting Irish. Michael Floyd, Jimmy Clausen, and the Irish defense overmatched the Huskies in a 33-7 win. After holding the Huskies to a 3-and-out on their opening series, Notre Dame took the ball at its own 37-yard line. Three plays later, including Floyd's 51-yard catch and run (sprung by good blocks from TE Kyle Rudolph and RT Sam Young), the Irish had opened the scoring against awful Washington (Willingham would be fired the following Monday).

5. Aztec Fumble. With Notre Dame trailing 13-7 in the fourth quarter, San Diego State had the ball 1st and Goal from the Irish 4-yard line and was threatening to widen its lead. Instead, Irish safeties David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy force a fumble near the goal line, Bruton recovers, and Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and the Irish take the lead for good a few plays later. Bruton, on the play: "Nobody panicked. There was no wavering in anybody's attitude. Our defense was like, `We got you, offense,'..."

4. "In the Bucket." As time ticked away at the end of the first half on Christmas Eve, Clausen found Tate in the corner of the endzone with a perfect pass. The touchdown capped an 8-play, 67-yard drive that resembled many of Brady Quinn's end-of-half/end-of-game drives in 2005 and 2006. Notre Dame led Hawaii 28-7.

3. Solo. After the Irish got a 4th-down stop against Michigan at the ND 37-yard line, offensive coordinator Mike Haywood had Clausen "go long" on back-to-back plays. On the first one, Donovan Warren grabbed Michael Floyd's arm and got called for pass interference. On the next play, the Irish left 9 guys in to block, and only Tate went long, burned the Wolverine secondary, and opened a 21-0 first quarter Irish lead.

2. Blanton Bests Boilers. Freshmen (again) made a large impact for the (improving) Irish in 2008. Floyd's contribution, as mentioned in the above plays, was obvious and immediate; players like Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming made some big plays on defense and special teams; and TE Kyle Rudolph held down the position after injuries and attrition forced him into action and earned some freshman All-America honors. Meanwhile, the defensive freshman play of the year was cornerback Robert Blanton's very important "Pick 6" for 47 yards to tie the game at 7-7 against Purdue. Coach Weis on the play: "Defensively, obviously one of the biggest, if not the biggest play in the game, is R.J.'s (Robert Blanton) interception for a touchdown, which is the only turnover in the game."

(Sorry about the audio in this one; it drops in and out.)

1. When it Rains, it Pours. And it rained, and rained, and rained on Michigan at Notre Dame in September. Trailing 28-17 at the start of the fourth quarter, Steven Threet fumbled the shotgun snap in the driving rainstorm, Irish linebacker Brian Smith picked up the loose ball, and returned it for the Notre Dame touchdown. The Irish avenged two years of futility against the hated Wolverines. Smith, on his play: “I was just thinking about jumping on it [the football] and recovering it. When I looked, there was no one near the ball. People said it was a good scoop since it was so wet outside, but we run that drill every week, so there was a lot of practice there.”

For previous clip shows, click here for 2005 and here and here for 2006.