Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! | by Pat

Go Irish! Beat Cougars!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cougar Town | by Pat

This Saturday marks the official start of Notre Dame's 7-4-1 scheduling model, now made official policy in the NBC contract. Much has been written about this scheduling approach and much more should be written. After all, it has to be a bit embarrassing that tickets (and entire rows) not only are still available for purchase, but they are going for $14 and include a free dinner.

But for now, since it's All Hallow's Eve Eve, we'll pass the scheduling horror stories and go for the macabre, a look at the season to date for tomorrow's opponent: the Washington State Cougars.

Hat tip to reader Épée Fencer for digging up the reason ND is playing the Cougars as the inaugural "barnstorming" opponent. As you might have guessed based on other scheduling matchups, Washington State's AD is a former co-worker of ND's former AD Kevin White.

Sterk says he immediately began pestering White for a home-and-home series, but the Irish already had signed a deal with Washington, played USC every year and were hooked in with Stanford. So the best White could do was offer WSU a 2003 game in South Bend.

"We go there, we lose to them in overtime with some highly controversial calls," Sterk said of the 29-26 overtime decision, "and Kevin swore he would never play us again."

Until he had a conversion on Sterk's "deathbed."

Notre Dame was talking with NBC, its broadcast partner for six home games a year, about a seventh game that would be held at an off-campus site in 2009.

White thought of WSU, Sterk was able to move the Stanford game to the start of the year, and the deal was made for Halloween night. At first, they tried to get the game in New Orleans, where they both had deep ties, but the Superdome wasn't open for this weekend.

So the Alamodome game was made.
Since that arrangement, the Cougars, to be nice, have hit a rough patch. A 2-11 season in 2008 featured only one win against a D1 (FBS) school and even that was a squeaker over the 0-12 Huskies. The Cougs set NCAA records for defensive futility and haven't improved all that much so far for 2009 as they sit 1-6 with the only win being a 3 point victory over Southern Methodist.

If you refuse to shake the idea that this game will come down to the wire just like all the rest of them, then here are some news and notes about just exactly who will be lining up against the Fighting Irish and if there truly are any reasons at all to be concerned about this game.

Washington State has clearly studied ND's defense as they plan to use a tried and true method of offensive success by starting a true freshman at quarterback. Tuel certianly wasn't a recruit on the level of Tate Forcier or Matt Barkley; I didn't even mention him as one of the three possible starters for the Cougars in the position preview back in August. But nonetheless he is now the Cougars starting quarterback and is one of the very few players on the team giving them a slight bit of optimism. In his last game he threw for 385 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions against the Cal defense. If this game isn't over by halftime, it will probably be because of Tuel and ND's maddening inability to slow down quarterbacks only a few months removed from senior prom. So far it seems that Tuel best chance to beat the Irish defense is to throw to Johnny Forzani. On one hand, Forzani is a junior college transfer from Canada and never played football in high school. On the other hand, he's extremely fast and a few weeks ago set a Pac-10 record with a 99 yard touchdown reception. Odds are he'll slip past ND's safeties and corners for at least one long reception.

On the other hand, Washington State has a horrendous defense (114th - rushing, 118th - passing) and just lost their best defensive player for the season.
Bland, who was the team’s second leading tackler, had been battling soreness in his knee throughout the majority of the year.

"(Bland’s) probably been our best football player on top to bottom on our defense in the last year and a half,” Head Coach Paul Wulff said.

A terrible defense with their best player out sounds like a potential banner day for Clausen, Tate, and the rest of the Irish offense. Even if Tuel has some success finding holes in the ND zone defense, it still probably won't matter.

The rest of the Cougar team has been an exercise in plugging gaps left by injuries. Consider this depressing factoid from their game notes (pdf).
So far this season WSU has missed 53 player games due to injury or illness. On the offensive line five players who have started this season have 13 missed games due to injury, while the defensive line has missed a total of 12 games from four players.
Scanning the Cougar depth chart (pdf), there are a lot of freshman and redshirt freshman either making the start or providing second string depth. Oh, and I'd expect at least one corny joke from Haden and Hammond about the name of WSU's backup strong safety Kyle McCartney.

If you're still looking for more, check out an informative Q&A between Keith Arnold of Inside the Irish and the entertaining WSU Football Blog. And for those fans who make the trip, feel free to drop us a line with a report from ND's first ever home game in Texas.

Statistically Speaking: Boston College | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• 8 of ND's 15 forced turnovers have occurred inside ND's 25 yard line.

• No other FBS player has more 100-yard receiving games than Golden Tate.

• The only time since 1990 an Irish player has topped Kyle McCarthy's five interceptions was seven by Shane Walton in 2002.

Battle for 1st Down

Updated table here.

Following up on a strong performance against the Trojans on 1st down, ND put up the best 1st down win rate in the past two and a half seasons. Winning 68% of all first down battles, the Irish defense clearly set the stage for more 2nd and 3rd and longs than they have in a few years. Obviously that isn't enough as the Eagles were able to convert far too many of those 3rd and longs, but combined with the SC game, there has been a definite uptick against offenses to start a series of downs. The next step will be for the defense to carry that success over to 3rd down, but even if they are still maddeningly giving up too many long pass plays on 3rd down, I think all will agree that facing multiple 3rd and longs is better than continually having to face 3rd and short.

Most of the success came against the run, where the ND defense matched their SC performance by winning 70% of all 1st down runs. Against a team with a strong running game like BC, that's a notable mark. And against the pass, ND won 63% of all 1st downs, the first time all season ND has been over 50% against the pass.

As mentioned earlier, these numbers don't mean everything is going to be fine on defense. There is still plenty of work to be done. But they are perhaps positive indicators that the defense is at least pointed in the right direction and making progress.


Updated table here.

Folks might be upset with the defense letting another freshman quarterback have a career day, but the D balanced it out with an impressive clampdown on the BC running game. Overall, BC only picked up 41.6% of the yards available to them. This compares to Nevada (38.9%) and Purdue (37.9%) as the least efficient output against the Irish defense.

The Irish offense was another story, putting up the worst number of the year: 40.1%. That's a good 18 percentage points below where the season average was before the game. Many are looking for high point totals against Washington State, but the more important thing would be to see a high drive efficiency rating, especially in the first half.

Gimme M.O.E.

Updated table here.

Offensive penalties were still an issue, but another turnover free game kept the ND M.O.E. under 12% for only the 3rd time this season. With a score of 11%, ND played more mistake free than in games past, but the conservative BC defense kept everything in front of it and ND didn't attempt to test it too much.

On defense, BC tied Purdue and Washington for the worst M.O.E. score of the season with 18%. And like Purdue and Washington, the game went down to the wire. The odd thing is the difference between ND's and BC's M.O.E. was the 2nd largest of the season. Only the 9% difference against Nevada was larger and that game was a 35 point blowout win. Clearly just looking at M.O.E. isn't telling the whole picture of the ND-BC game.

Season Long Running Stats

Updated table here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Boston College Photo and Video Galleries | by Pat

Crazy week here, so let's flush out the pipeline before Saturday's barnstorming battle in San Antonio. First up, pics.

Here's the roundup of pictures for this Saturday's win over the Eagles. has the collection of AP Photos and Irish Sports Report has their usual gallery of shots. After publishing 291 shots of the ND/Southern Cal game, there are 0 of the matchup with BC. ND's great gameday site has a series of shots from campus and on the field. For the picture of the week, I think the easy winner is Darius Fleming hitting BC's Shinskie as he threw the interception to Brian Smith that sealed the Irish victory.

Videos are up on Here's the 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, and 4th quarter. Here are some of the game highlights to boot. If you want a better vantage point of just what exactly the ND defense was doing when BC converted a 4th and 17 late in the game, here's a near endzone view. If you're wondering what the deal was with Clausen and the BC receiver after the game, here's the bit that showed on NBC.

Monday, October 26, 2009

what the 2009 season feels like... | by Pat

Don't look down. Don't take a wrong step. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Odds & Sons: Here We Go Again Edition | by Mike

This is not what you had planned. If you had told me before the season that Notre Dame would hold Boston College to 70 yards rushing and would force five BC turnovers, I would have wanted to know whether Weis let Dayne Crist pass in the fourth quarter or just the third quarter. Instead, the now-familiar struggles in the red zone, on special teams and in pass defense turned what could have been a blowout into a nailbiter.

Red-eyed and blue. The Irish were only able to cross the goal line on one of their four trips to the redzone, settling for two field goals and getting stopped on fourth down the other time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the winning TD was scored from outside the red zone. On the first trip Parris dropped a pass that would have been a touchdown, and on the second trip a touchdown on a well-designed fake field goal was negated by a holding penalty. However, these are not isolated instances; the Irish offense has struggled in the red zone ever since Floyd was injured. When the Irish faced fourth and goal from the 1, I was hoping at the time that Weis would decide to kick the field goal. On further reflection, I don't have a problem with the call. Following the Washington game, I wrote that one of the ways settling for field goals hurt Notre Dame was the ensuing field position exchange. Following ND kickoffs the opponent will usually start their next drive with great field position due to ND's poor coverage, so it's even more important to get the seven point before kicking off. Even though BC stopped Hughes, the Eagles were so close to their own endzone that they had to run on their ensuing possession. Following three rushes as ineffectual as the rest of the BC running game that day, BC punted and the Irish started what would be the winning touchdown drive on BC's side of the field. As an aside, on the Hughes fourth down rush, it looked like Hughes was knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet hit. I'm not sure what I think is the appropriate call in this situation. On the one hand, things are so crowded in goal line situations that the defense is simply trying to hit any exposed part of the ballcarrier. It's tough to tell the defense to look our for the helmet in those scrums. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to make those allowances when you're not the one taking a shot to the brain.

Exchange. The Irish continued to lose field position on the exchange of possessions due to inferior special teams play. BC averaged 42.0 yards per punt to the Irish's 32.7 average. BC had two punts of 50+ yards; ND had none. BC had three punts downed inside the 20; ND had one. Additionally, Boston College's second touchdown drive started at the 44 following poor coverage on the opening kickoff of the second half. I would probably peg the cumulative field position advantage BC obtained through superior special teams play as comparable to a turnover or two.

Put it in the air. For the third time this season, a freshman quarterback put up big numbers against the Irish pass defense. It was to the point where I would have felt more confident about stopping BC on 3rd and 2 than 3rd and long. BC converted 7 of their 14 third and fourth downs. However, not one of these conversions came via the run. Boston College completed passes of 24, 23, 22, 7 (TD), 20, 33 and 28 yards on 3rd and 4th down. This would be a shocking performance from a freshman had we not already witnessed the success of Matt Barkley and Tate Forcier against the Irish defense. WIth each passing game (both by ND and Michigan), Forcier's success against the Irish looks less attributable to Forcier's skill and more like an indictment of the ND defense.

Roll the credits. Despite those negatives, the Irish still did enough things right to win. Armando Allen led all rushers with 98 yarrds on 21 carries. The defensive line and linebackers seem to really be improving over the course of the season. One week prior, Montel Harris rushed for 264 yards and 5 touchdowns on 27 carries. At the time, that was the highest rushing yardage in a single game this year in Division I-A. The Irish held Harris to just 38 yards on 22 carries. Randy Hart and Bryant Young have done a great job with a fairly young unit. Manti Te'o again led the Irish defense with 9 tackles (2.5 for loss) and added a pass break-up. His fantastic stop on the screen pass on BC's final drive should have been enough to seal the game. While the attacking defense gave up play after play through the air, the aggressive play helped generate the five turnovers. On the final interception, for example, Shinskie was under pressure from two defensive linemen and was about to get hit by Darius Fleming when he let go of the ball.

As frustrating as the game was, I have to remember the context. Following the Southern Cal game, I wrote about how the timing of this game worried me and the Irish did appear to come out sluggish. If you find yourself upset by the game, just remember how difficult it would have been to stomach Rich Gunnell's postgame antics and yet more post-whistle shots from Austin Giles had BC won.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Go Irish | by Pat

Beat Eagles!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Statistically Speaking: Southern Cal | by Pat

Just going to squeeze this in for some late Friday reading...

It Came From the Game Notes

• Since becoming a full-time starter vs. Washington, freshman LB Manti Te’o ranks first on the Irish defense with 18 tackles.

• Only three FBS schools have committed fewer turnovers than Notre Dame this year (Air Force, Cincinnati and Oregon State).

• Junior QB Jimmy Clausen – nicknamed Captain Comeback by the South Bend Tribune – has been tremendous in the clutch this year, recording 11 touchdowns and no turnovers when the Irish are tied or trailing (10 passing TDs, one rushing TD).

Battle for First Down

Updated table here.

Somewhat surprisingly, ND posted the best 1st down win rate against the run of the season and 3rd best of the past two seasons with a 70% win rate. As Mike mentioned earlier, ND's success against the run was much better than anticipated. Even the pass defense wasn't so shabby, winning 47%.

Overall, it was the best defensive performance of the season, with ND winning 55% of all 1st downs. For as bad as the defense has been this season, especially yardage wise, the play on 1st down defensively is probably what prevented SC from running away with things in the 2nd half.


Updated table here.

While the overall percentage of 56.7% was very solid, what is noteworthy is the 1st half/2nd half split. After largely getting shut down in the 1st half and only gaining 35.5% of all available yards, Jimmy and the offense were as efficient as they have been all season, posting an incredible 76.6% in the 2nd half.

In addition to the strong 2nd half, ND enjoyed a distinct advantage in starting field position. ND's offense started on average at the 35 yard line, the best starting spot of the year, while SC started on average at the 22 yard line, the worst starting spot of the year for ND opponents.

Gimme M.O.E.

Updated table here.

I confess I wasn't able to rewatch the game yet and tally up the number of drops. If you recall some, let me know so I can update the table.

As it is, both ND and SC put up good M.O.E. scores with a 9% mark. That's great news for the Irish offense as it's the best score of the season against what is clearly the best defense. Unforunately the team still lost, only the 3rd time under Charlie that ND got under a 12% M.O.E. and still lost ('08 Pitt, '08 'Cuse).

As for the Irish defense, well, it's only the second game all year that teams hit single digits in the M.O.E. metric and ND is 0-2 in those games. With the idea that ND's defense is built around disruption and forcing mistakes, when those mistakes don't happen, winning becomes a tall task.

Season Long Running Stats

Updated table here.

Don't look now, but for the first time all season, an offensive stat category isn't doing better than last year. Hopefully Jimmy's toe heals as much as possible in-season and this stat improves.

Eagle in Atlanta | by Jay

As we've done in the past, we had a little Q&A yesterday with Bill from the excellent Boston College blog Eagle in Atlanta. Our answers to his questions are over there; below are his answers to ours.

BGS: What the hell? You guys were supposed to be terrible this year.

Eagle: Well I think there are a couple of different factors in play. Unlike Notre Dame, the general media doesn't really pay attention to the little details when it comes to BC. They see two DTs get drafted, no returning QB, weird coaching turnover and Herzy's unexpected cancer and think "BC's done." Yet no one realized that most of the offense was coming back, the DBs were probably the best group BC has had and that there was plenty of young talent at Linebacker.

I expected BC to be a bowl team this year but even the most optimistic BC fan probably didn't think we would be a top the standings in the division and nearly bowl eligible by Halloween. Ultimately I think it speaks to the underrated nature of good position coaching and player development. Under three different coaches now, BC has been able to find 3 and 2 star guys, get them in the program and make them better each year. Some day people will catch on, but for now BC uses the "no respect" card to their advantage.

BGS: We usually think of Boston College teams as a veteran-laden unit filled with tough 5th-year guys. This year your leading passer and tackler are freshmen (even if Shinskie is a year older than Matt Ryan). Are those two just notable outliers or is Spaz breaking the mold a bit in terms of relying exclusively on veteran players? If so, do you see this as a good thing?

Things started to change when Jags came in. While TOB was pretty strict about redshirting, Jags wanted to play the guys who could play. Spaz has done a little of both. He is sitting most of the guys he could and the ones who are playing are a little bit about their skill and our lack of depth at QB and LB. I don't think it is a good or bad thing because I imagine that long-term BC will continue to find and develop kids that fit in their system.

BGS: ND has been using the wildcat this year to somewhat surprising success. BC has also been using the wildcat to get the ball into Harris's hands more often. What's your take on BC's use of the wildcat, and do you expect a lot of it against ND?

I like the idea of the wildcat. The strength of the team is the Offensive line and Harris, so why not call plays that build on that strength? The pattern so far is use it occasionally regardless of the opponent. Then if the other team has trouble stopping it (like NC State) keep running it. If Notre Dame cannot stop it early, expect to see it over and over until something gives.

BGS: Do you miss Jags at all? Why, or why not?

I am probably the wrong person to ask about Jags. I liked Jags and have remained one of his bigger apologists. I've done my best to let it go and winning has made the sting better. But I am not alone in missing him at times. Jags confidence and aggressiveness had its drawbacks but on gameday it also gave you a feeling you could beat anyone. And during games he never took he foot off the gas. Spaz has been opposite of that. It felt like we were playing not to lose against Virginia Tech and Clemson and going to prevent and clock killing nearly cost us Florida State and Wake Forest.

BGS: Finally, where do you think this game will rank in terms of toughness on BC's schedule this year? Easier than Virginia Tech?

I think this will be the best offense BC plays this year. But I don't think the crowd or the defense will be as intimidating as a trip to Virginia Tech. I also think there is something to be said for playing Notre Dame at this point in the season. The guys have confidence, really want to win and believe they can. I don't think things will be easy, but the team should be ready and motivated.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Odds & Sods: Songs of the Day Edition | by Mike

Ready, able. What most will remember from Saturday's game is that the offense had three plays from the Southern Cal four at the end of the game, but couldn't get the ball across the goal line. While unable to capitalize on this opportunity, the offense did not lose the game. The Irish put up the best offensive performance against Southern Cal this year - by far. Southern Cal had not conceded a single passing touchdown in any of their first five games, and no opponent had scored more than one touchdown against the Trojans. In the second half, Jimmy Clausen threw two touchdown passes to Golden Tate and rushed for another. The Irish scored as many points against Southern Cal as Ohio State, Cal, Washington State and San Jose State combined. All this was accomplished without Michael Floyd (or Shaq Evans). Clausen performed admirably in the face of the Southern Cal pass rush, Golden Tate made spectacular catches (including two touchdowns in the face of shots from Taylor Mays), Robby Parris consistently made himself available to a scrambling Clausen and Armando Allen ran well between the tackles. The offensive line had its problems with the Trojan pass rush, allowing five sacks and often allowing Southern Cal to get pressure when rushing three or four. However, there aren't many college linemen that wouldn't struggle with Everson Griffen, and the line did give Clausen enough time to complete critical drive-sustaining passes.

The Irish special teams also played well. Aside from Nick Tausch's field goal kicking, special teams had been a disappointment this season. In previous games, special teams breakdowns (allowing a touchdown on a kickoff return, surrendering an onside kick, poor kickoff and punt coverage, etc.) kept opponents in the game despite Notre Dame's considerable offensive production. Going into the game, I was worried about the big plays Southern Cal's athletes would produce when presented with the characteristic special teams lapses. Aside from the blocked extra point and the penalty on Jordan Cowart for interfering with receiving a punt following a late fair-catch signal from Damian Williams, the Irish special teams rose to the occasion. The fake field goal that set up the first touchdown was glorious. The switch to David Ruffer on kickoffs was effective. Although Ruffer didn't get the distance that Tausch did, he appeared to have better hangtime on his kicks. While the Trojan kick returners were fielding the kicks farther upfield, they were also met by the coverage team before they could get a head of steam. Now that the special teams have shown how they can play, they need to continue this level of play.

Half right. Heading into the game, I was concerned about Notre Dame's ability to stop the Southern Cal rushing attack. In his position previews, Pat judged Southern Cal's running backs and offensive line as the best of this year's opponents. Former five-star prospects Joe McKnight (Rivals's #2 prospect in his class, regardless of position) and Allen Bradford (Rivals's #9 prospect in his clas, regardless of position) would be running behind former five-star prospects Kris O'Dowd, Jeff Byers (Scout's #1 prospect in his class, regardless of position) and Tyron Smith. The Irish defense held Southern Cal to 121 yards rushing on 33 carries for a 3.7 ypc average (or 139 yards on 30 carries and a 4.6 ypc average if you take out sacks). While the numbers with sacks removed are not great, it's tough to complain about them given Southern Cal's weapons and the youth in the Irish defensive front seven. If you had told me before the game that these would be SC's rushing numbers, I would certainly have taken them against a Clausen-led offense.

While the run defense got the job done, the pass defense was ugly. Freshman Matt Barkley threw for 380 yards on 29 attempts. The defense gave up 20 yards per completion and 13.1 yards per attempt. For comparison, these numbers are not far off from Clausen's crazy numbers against Nevada (21 yards per completion and 17.5 yards per attempt). Selling out to stop the Trojan running game (e.g., the two long completions to Anthony McCoy on 3rd and 1) can explain some of these numbers.

Yet other plays reminded me of two recurring themes with this year's pass defense, patterns that we have seen even when the opponent's rushing offense paled in comparison to Southern Cal's. Opposing offenses have responded to Notre Dame's blitz-heavy defenses by turning to their tight ends and by spreading the Irish defense out. Anthony McCoy joined Michigan's Kevin Koger, Michigan State's Brian Linthicum and Washington's Kavario Middleton as tight ends who had one of their more productive outings against the Irish.

Opponents have also spread the Irish defense out to prevent the defense from disguising their (many) blitzes. When he was with the Patriots, Weis liked to use "empty sets" (i.e., five wide - though not necessarily five wide receivers, often splitting out RBs and TEs). Weis explained that he liked these sets because it made it easier for the quarterback to pick out blitzes. Weis has not used empty sets as frequently at Notre Dame. I would guess this is because empty sets allow the defense to send an unblocked blitzer, so even if the quarterback recognizes the blitz and gets the ball out of his hand quickly he is still likely to get hit. But when nothing else was working against MSU in 2008, Weis broke out the empty sets to help the relatively inexperienced Clausen identify the Spartan blitzers. Whatever the reason for Weis's decreased use of empty sets, my point is that Weis recognizes the difficulty in blitzing against spread formations. Yet when Southern Cal lined up with trips left in the third quarter, Sergio Brown, one of the three defensive backs covering the three Trojan receivers on the left, showed that he was blitzing prior to the snap. Barkley recognized that only two defensive backs were left to cover three receivers and Damian Williams had an easy 41-yard touchdown. (Incidentally, the Falcons scored a similar touchdown against the Bears the following night. The Falcons lined up with trips rights. The Bears left two defensive backs to recover the three receivers and had Nick Roach show blitz before the snap, intending for Roach to bail out into coverage at the snap. But Roach couldn't get back in time and Roddy White scored a 40-yard touchdown when the Falcons had their own 3-receiver/2-defensive-back mismatch.) I would like to see the Irish defense play spread formations straight-up more often. This was the way to beat the Drew Brees-led Purdue teams, which carved up blitzing defenses but struggled against defenses that played solid assignment football. Perhaps the coaches felt Southern Cal was simply too talented to sit back and play straight up. This may have been the correct decision against the Trojans, but it will be interesting to watch how often the defense blitzes against spread formations over the remainder of the season.

Time trap. Once again, the Boston College game falls at a time when the Irish are ripe for a letdown. For the last two-and-a-half weeks, all Irish fans have been able to think about is Southern Cal. ND message boards remain fixated on the game, with little discussion of the BC game. On the other hand, I am told that when ESPN's Gameday broadcast from Boston a few weeks ago for the BC-Florida State game, BC students spent their time on camera engaging in anti-ND and anti-Weis chants. If the teams' psyches mirrors those of their respective fanbases, the Irish will come out in a post-rivalry game malaise and BC will come out like the game is their Super Bowl. This has certainly been the case in the past. Since 1993, the Boston College game has been the game immediately before or after a much bigger matchup - Florida State, Southern Cal or Tennessee - eight times (in one year, the BC game was sandwiched between games against Southern Cal and Tennessee; in another, between Southern Cal and Florida State). In those eight games, Notre Dame is 2-6 against BC. In the five years where the schedule has not left the Irish ripe for a letdown or looking past the Eagles, Notre Dame is 3-2 against Boston College. It's up to the Irish seniors and Jimmy Clausen to make sure that their teammates don't come out flat and at least approximate the intensity Boston College brings to this game. Notre Dame's performance on Saturday will tell us a lot about the leadership abilities of the upperclassmen.

Mr. Jones | by Pat

One of the few bright spots of the weekend was the announcement that ND managed to land another commitment. The recruit in question this time was Georgia wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, who switched his commitment from Stanford to the Fighting Irish.

"It was the team chemistry outside of football activities and how the coaches interacted with the players outside of football," Jones told Irish Illustrated. "It wasn't anything in particular, just the whole atmosphere...

"I feel that I may have committed (to Stanford) before exhausting all measures. Now that I have exhausted all measures and looked at every aspect of all the schools I was interested in I feel I made the best choice for me."
Despite the early Cardinal pledge, Jones's connection to ND do run pretty deep though as his father Andre played on the 1988 national championship team (this is when you go "man, I'm getting old"). His god father is someone you maj have heard of as well: Rocket Ismail.

On the recruiting sites, the 6'0" 185 pound Jones is a unanimous pick as a 4-star recruit. Rivals gives him 4 stars and slots him as the 16th best receiver and 121st overall recruit in the nation. Scout lists him a bit lower as a receiver at #21, but higher overall at 106. ESPN gives Jones the highest overall ranking as the 77th best recruit in the country, along with an 81 grade, which is the highest grade given to any ND commit so far this year. Their evaluation ends in this glowing summary.
Overall, Jones is versatile and extremely productive with gamebreaking ability and he is a guy that could hurt you from a variety of positions, which gives him terrific value. He runs well, can make you miss and possesses great ball skills. Excellent prospect.
Offer-wise, Jones can match scholarships with just about anyone in the country. Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, Michigan, and many other programs all extended offers to Jones. His highlight clips on youtube have pretty terrible resolution, so here are a few from summer time 7 on 7 games and 1 v. 1 drills against other 3 and 4 star recruits.

Like fellow Cardinal de-commit Chris Badger, Spencer Boyd, and Lo Wood, Jones is on track to enroll early at ND and participate in spring ball.

Usually I don't look ahead to future recruiting and leave that to the recruiting sites, but I figure with the possibility of the next few months going in a few drastically different directions, it would be worth preserving for posterity where we are in recruiting at this moment.

ND currently has 16 publicly committed recruits. Add in 17 seniors for the 2010 season, 22 juniors, and 18 sophomores, and you get 73 out of a possible 85 scholarships off the table. That leaves 12 more scholarships for recruits and 5th year seniors (possibles: Burkhart, Gallup, Gordon, Mullen Stewart, Wade ,Walls, Wenger, West) Factoring in attrition and a limited number of 5th year guys coming back, it's a reasonable guess that ND has room for 8 to 10 more recruits in the current class. 10 would put ND over the 25 man limit per class, but early enrollee candidates can count against the previous class and let ND effectively bring in more than 25 new recruits as long as the total number of scholarship is under 85.

With that 8-10 number in mind, here is a brief rundown of the positions with already committed players and main targets that are still by most accounts seriously considering ND. As you can see, there are a lot more names on the board than open slots. After a few years of just filling back up the roster depth, now ND is hitting up against the 85 man scholarship limit and will have to be selective in filling up the remaining few slots.

Have: Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees
Targets: none
Notes: ND is done at QB with Hendrix and Rees in the fold.

Running Back
Have: Cameron Roberson
Targets: Jordan James, Gio Bernard, Marquis Flowers
Notes: With Roberson filling the big back role, ND might like to land one of the three remaining targets to compliment Cameron.

Wide Receiver
Have: Daniel Smith, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones
Targets: Kyle Prater, Corey Cooper
Notes: With Jones, ND has a full set of receivers, but it's hard to turn away the nation's top WR in Prater if he wants to come. Cooper, Prater's friend, is also a safety prospect.

Tight End
Have: Alex Welch
Targets: none
Notes: With both freshmen tight ends preserving a year of eligibilty (Eifert is likely to get a medical redshirt), Welch is going to be the only tight end in the class.

Offensive Line
Have: Christian Lombard
Targets: Seantrel Henderson, Brandon Linder, James Stone, Matt James
Notes: ND is looking too add a few more with tackles being the priority. Still a number of excellent candidates conisdering ND, but there isn't much margin for error.

Defensive End
Have: Chris Martin, Blake Leuders, Prince Shembo, Justin Utupo
Targets: J.R. Ferguson
Notes: ND has four ends already committed with each bringing a slightly different size and skill set. Keeping Chris Martin in the fold will be one of the bigger tasks from now until Signing Day.

Defensive Tackle
Have: none
Targets: Louis Nix, Beau Allen, Bruce Gaston, Jr.
Notes: ND needs to land at least one DT every year. Odds are ND will get one of the three here and maybe more.

Have: Kendall Moore
Targets: Anthony Barr, Christian Jones, Hayes Pullard
Notes: Barr is one of the bigger names still left on the board as he could wind up at RB, DE, or LB. Jones might be a longer shot, but he's set to visit this weekend.

Have: Spencer Boyd, Lo Wood
Targets: Joshua Shaw, Cody Riggs, Lamarcus Joyner, Toney Hurd
Notes: Two solid CBs on board already, ND has a very impressive list of remaining targets.

Have: Chris Badger
Targets: David Amerson, Dietrich Riley, Sean Parker
Notes: Like at CB, ND has a a lot of very talented safeties seriously considering the Irish.

Special Teams
Have: none
Targets: none
Notes: With Turk, Cowart and Tausch all looking like four year starters, ND doesn't need any special teams players this year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the Big Picture | by Pat

I suppose it's hard to recap the weekend without dwelling on the obvious fact that ND lost for the 8th straight time to Southern Cal. But I still haven't worked up the nerve to re-watch the game. I don't think I'm quite yet over the numb, frustrated, exhausted feeling that kept me frozen in the stands as everyone else silently filed out around me.

We'll probably talk more later about the defensive strategy choices, the John Goodman wildcat formation, the gutty play of Robby Parris and sheer fun of watching Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen. In the meantime, it's probably time to address the bigger picture issue that is on everyone's mind. What does the loss mean for Charlie?

It seems that fans are starting to really dig in for a protracted argument about whether Charlie will be back next year or if he'll be let go. However, while mulling the topic on the flight home, I think much of the current debate is largely wasted bandwidth and ink. Nearly all angles have been exhausted and at this point much of the discussion is the equivalent of shouting past each other. With the team already saddled with two losses, the results on the field the rest of the season should make the decision about Charlie largely obvious. Either the team will build off the late rally against the Trojans, play up to their ability the rest of the season, and run the table, or perform a redux of the second half of 2008 and drop a few clearly winnable games against teams with inferior talent.

We all hope that Jack Swarbrick is performing any and all necessary due diligence to prepare for a coaching change, if needed. At the same time, Charlie's fate still rests solely in his hands: there are six games left to play. Let's just hold off on the hard and fast conclusions for a bit and see where he takes us over the next few weeks. By then we should know what the next steps should be and can all move in that direction together.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Speaking of all things 2009 | by Pat

Building off the previous post, we figure we'll mess around this weekend with the most media-covered tech of 2009: twitter. We signed up for an account months ago, but haven't seen much need to post anything yet. As a bit of an experiment, we'll try posting stuff to it throughout the weekend while on and around campus. We really don't know how it will turn out, and it's safe to say it won't be anywhere as awesome as Play4Brew!!1!, but hopefully it will give you something to read as we wander around campus get ready for the showdown with Southern Cal.

Anyway, here's our twitter page. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In the Year 2000...and 9 | by Pat

If you're still watching your Notre Dame football on a "tee vee", it's time to embrace the future. While NBC broadcasts and their choice of announcers are always a ripe target, NBC has been making some pretty impressive strides in the online world with regards to the Fighting Irish.

Recently, the good news was the addition of ND games to Hulu, where you can rewatch any game, anytime, and even clip and embed your favorite parts. Over on there are even more highlights and press conference clips (and clips of UW running illegal pick plays).

The next step was earlier this year when NBC put out something that ND fans stuck at fall weddings and family events have wished for for years, the ability to watch ND games live and streaming over your cell phone. NBC asked us to review the iPhone app (take that Gizmodo!) and when I tested it during the Nevada game, I was pretty surprised how well it worked. The obvious caveat is that I was connected to my wi-fi and not on the AT&T 3G cellular network. Those that have tested it without the benefit of wi-fi report it still provides an occasionally jumpy but passable view of the game. The app also provides other uses like live stats, a game schedule, and replays of old games. Check out some screenshots here. If anyone has tried to use the app in the Stadium during a game already, drop a note in the comment section and let us know how it works.If you're interested in checking out the app this weekend and for the rest of the season (and I assume future seasons), the price is $4.99 and you can get it here (heads up: link opens iTunes).

A lot of folks don't have iPhones though and today NBC announced another great online addition to their coverage that is fantastic news for those stuck at work and especially ND fans abroad who can't get NBC. All ND home games will now be streamed live over the internet.

For the first time this season, Notre Dame fans will also be able to follow the action live online this Saturday. will be streaming a unique, bonus camera feed for the duration of Saturday's game vs. USC (3:30 p.m. ET) marking the first time this season fans can also get an online-only complimentary video experience to the broadcast of the game on NBC.

This is in addition to the digital experiences that have already been available all season, including live-streaming of the games on iPhones and live postgame webcasts, which originate from Notre Dame Stadium and include live coverage of coach Charlie Weis' postgame press conference.
Keith over at the excellent and comprehensive Inside the Irish blog talked to those setting up the feed and clarified what people should expect.
Just to be clear, you won't have all the bells and whistles of a standard NBC telecast, but you'll get the broadcast audio feed with Tom Hammond and Pat Haden, as well as a cool camera view for the entire game.
So there you go. As more and more teams are getting their own conference TV channels and cable coverage, it's great that ND's NBC contract is still providing ND fans with more access to ND Football than you'll find for just about any other program.

Talking Troy | by Pat

Let's dig into Charlie's recent presser and see what he has to say about the biggest game of his career.

On injuries:

COACH WEIS: Everyone's a go. As a matter of fact, in warm-ups today you'll even see Floyd out there in a uniform today. He won't be playing; I'm not going to do that for window dressing, but he's getting -- he looks like he might be ahead of schedule and looks like come November we might -- there is a chance we might get him back and playing again. But he can go out there, can't catch balls but he can run around today.

But, you know, Jimmy's Jimmy, you know. Turf toe is better but he'll have it till after the season's over. Flemming's back. Aldridge is back. They're all back.
On the possibility of green jerseys:
COACH WEIS: No, we'll be wearing blue jerseys on Saturday.
On the "USC Owns Notre Dame" hat he keeps in his office:
COACH WEIS: I do have that cap but I keep it for a different season, Tom, which is kind of private. But with that cap came a letter from somebody with a very derogatory comment towards my daughter. So until we win a game, I'll hold on to that cap. And when we've won a game, that cap won't be around any more. It's kind of a refresher for me and I'd just rather than share the derogatory comment I'd like to just keep that private.
On Clausen taking the next step as a quarterback:
COACH WEIS: I think the bottom line is when he had to play in the fourth quarter [against Purdue], when he had to come in the game, when the game had changed and we had gone from a ten point lead to going down and he led us on the drive at the end of the game and threw a touchdown pass, you know, with 30 seconds to go in the game, I think that that was a moment where his career might have changed on that drive. Because it showed the team a toughness that, you know, the team has to witness that, and it was visible to his teammates and our fans and everyone else. I think that was a turning point for Jimmy Clausen.
On Te'o:
COACH WEIS: Manti is getting to look more like a guy who is been out there. You know, I'd say he is far from a finished product, but, you know, the fact he is getting so many reps now and he's got that one game of starting under his belt, I think that, you know, he looks a lot more comfortable now. That being said, you know, he's going against a dynamic offense this week, so he's going to have to be ready to bring his lunch pail with him.
On the differences from last year's game to this one:
COACH WEIS: Well, Jimmy's part of this answer, but part of the answer starts with the offensive line. I think that if we played like we did last year and get dominated like we did last year, it won't make a darn bit of difference what Jimmy does, and I think that is where it all starts.

I think last year it was just a man-handling. And I think that's what they'll try to do to us again. You know, they had great success doing it, there's no reason to believe they won't try that same approach.

That being said, I think that, you know, Jimmy's become the leader. So when he's out there, the guys expect good things to happen, and he expects good things from his teammates. And I think if you are there in the huddle in practice every day, it's just different. You know, his expectations for his own play are through the roof, but his expectations for the performance of his teammates, you know, has risen everyone's level.

a trojan tale | by Pat

I think this might be a first for BGS, but I just wanted to pull this out of the comment section from the previous post and give it its own post for those readers who usually gloss over the comments.

I graduated from USC in 2007. I'm a Trojan fan 11 out of 12 weeks on that schedule. I'm an ND fan for all 12 of those games.

Notre Dame brought my family to this country when a professor sponsored my dad's green card so he can do his post-doc research here. The school paid for everything to just give my dad a chance at a better life.

I got a great education from USC and respect both schools tremendously - but even my allegiance to SC in the form of a diploma cannot parallel the profound gratitude my family has for Notre Dame. This is always a tough week for me personally because it's hard rooting against your alma mater.

But then I think about playing cricket barefoot in the streets of Calcutta and it's pretty clear that I wouldn't have even had a chance at SC if not for ND.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All In | by Pat

It's Southern Cal week, one of the longest weeks of the year as we all stare towards Saturday and the annual tilt with the Men of Troy. However, as I started to poke through the facts, figures, and game reviews, looking for the overlooked open exhaust port in Carroll's Death Star of a program, it quickly became clear that their expected roadbumps haven't really shown up. Even though they will show up in South Bend led by a true freshman at quarterback, he already has a 4th quarter comeback win on the road at night over Ohio State to his name. And despite losing nearly their entire defense to the NFL, this year's squad is actually ahead of the dominating pace set by last year's crew. Sure, they hit a pothole against Washington, a team that ND just beat, but the transitive property has little value in college football and shouldn't be much solace for Notre Dame fans.

More than SC's strong stats and deep depth chart is the unavoidable fact that the past few years worth of matchups have been a horror show of Irish ineptitude. The players and staff just don't know what it is like to experience success against Southern Cal. I can think of no better way to sum it up than with this unfortunately 100% true statement:

70% of the scholarship players on Notre Dame's roster were not a part of the program the last time Notre Dame scored a touchdown against Southern Cal.
Re-read that statement a few times and you might find yourself looking to make other plans for Saturday.

And yet....despite the odds favoring the Trojans and the unpleasant thoughts of what another loss means for Charlie and the future of ND football, I found myself today looking up last minute airfare to Chicago. Maybe it's because today is 100 years to the day that my grandfather was born, the man that decided to head to college, picked a small school in northern Indiana, and was in the Stadium the first time the Trojans came to visit in 1931. Or maybe I just want another chance to tailgate and catch up with friends. But I think the main reason is that I'm getting the feeling that I don't want to be anywhere other than Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

I bought the plane ticket and that is where I'll be this weekend. Charlie is pushing all his figurative chips into the middle of the table for this game -- the list of recruits in town for the game is as impressive as any that have been on campus in years -- so I figure if he's going all in, I'm going to go all in too and will be screaming my head off from a seat inside the House that Rock Built this Saturday at 3:30.

Maybe I'm wrong and Saturday's game will be no different than the last seven (7!). Maybe I'm just letting my heart overrule my head once again and setting myself up for another heart-crushing letdown. But damn if it doesn't just feel like this is one game not to miss.

So I'm all in and I hope you are too. If you're coming to ND this weekend, join me outside the Stadium at 1:30pm on Friday to greet the Trojans as they show up for their walk-through. Join me to fill up campus all day on Friday as some of the top recruits in the nation start to roll into town. Join me wearing your green as you show up early on Saturday. Join me inside Notre Dame Stadium to once again make it a loud and tough place to play. Don't expect to sit much. Don't expect to have a voice left at the end of the game. Don't expect to let your confidence waver even slightly.

Because it's time to go all in.

Statistically Speaking: Washington | by Pat

At the start of the most important week of the season, let's take a look at where ND is standing so far numbers-wise.

It Came From the Game Notes

• Junior QB Jimmy Clausen has conducted three straight comebacks for victories, tying the school record for most comebacks in a year since 1950.

• Senior SS Kyle McCarthy is the No. 1 tackler among all defensive backs in the FBS, averaging 9.8 tackles per game.

• Senior All-America candidates OC Eric Olsen and RT Sam Young have not only helped improve the Irish rushing attack, but have also helped the passing offense as neither has allowed a sack.

• With his 244 yards receiving game against Washington, Golden Tate moved into the Top 10 for ND career receiving yards.

Receiving Yards
1. Jeff Samardzija..........2593 (2003-06)
2. Derrick Mayes.......... 2512 (1992-95)
3. Tim Brown................ 2493 (1984-87)
4. Tom Gatewood......... 2283 (1969-71)
5. Rhema McKnight..... 2277 (2002-06)
6. Maurice Stovall........ 2195 (2002-05)
7. Jim Seymour............ 2113 (1966-68)
8. Tony Hunter............ 1897 (1979-82)
9. Golden Tate...........1813 (2007-)
10. Ken MacAfee.......... 1759 (1974-77)
Battle for First Down

Updated table here.

The ability of ND's defense to stop the run on 1st down was still subpar against Washington with a mediocre win rate of 29%. What was interesting is this came is that among the 14 attempts, 4 of the rushes were what qualifies for a "draw" in this metric. Lately ND has been a bit of boom or bust against the run. They would stop the run for 2 or fewer yards or let up a long run. Perhaps the increase in draws is somehow tied in with the reduction in overall blitzes. With the backers not flying in on every snap, sometimes they are holding back and in position to make the stop after only 3 yards. Or perhaps the spike in draws this week is just a coincidence. Either way it's something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.

Against the pass, tied their best output of the season, winning 50% of 1st down pass attempts. However, the long ball hurt ND as half of Washington's successful 1st down pass plays were over 10 yards (30, 24, 12, 14, and 12 yards).

With the game total average of 41%, the overall season 1st down win percentage is 39%, which is a percentage point below where it was in 2007 before Tenuta came to ND. I don't know if he has some sort of goal percentage, but I have to imagine it's higher than what the defense is currently producing. With the Trojans coming to campus on Saturday, it will be a tall task for the defense to start a second half of the season improvement.


Updated table here.

While the offense stalled in the redzone, it had no trouble marching through the middle of the field. The drive percentage for ND against the Huskies was a robust 62.2%, second highest of the season.

The Huskies weren't too far behind that number though, picking up 57.8% of their available yards. So far this season ND has already had two opponents crack 56% while only one team (Southern Cal) managed to do so last season. Eventually ND is going to play a team with a defense that limits the offense (this week is a likely candidate). It would be rather nice if ND's defense could return the favor.

Gimme M.O.E

Updated table here.

Another game, another high M.O.E for ND's explosive but still sloppy offense. The offensive M.O.E. of 15% was the highest of the season and only the 3rd time the ND offense hit 15% since the start of the 2008 season. It makes one wonder, just how good could this offense be if they kept the big plays but could greatly reduce the mistakes that have continually popped up this season?

ND is doing much better in the turnover area, with fumbles and interceptions totaling 5 after 5 games for a rather obvious 1 turnover a game average compared to last season's 23 turnovers in 13 games (1.8 per). But where ND is hurting is drops and penalties. Last year ND dropped 16 passes on the year. Factor in the 447 attempts and you get a dropped pass percentage of 3.5%. So far in 2009, ND has dropped 10 of 163 attempts for a dropped pass percentage of 6.1%. That's a huge jump from last year and sort of surprising given how accurate Clausen has been so far this year. Penalty-wise, ND has gone from 2.5 offensive penalties per game last year to 3.8 so far this year. If the OL can avoid false starts and the receivers can hold on to the ball a bit better, there is no telling how effective the offense can be.

Over on defense, whether you want to credit ND, the weather, unforced errors, or a combination of all of the above, the Washington M.O.E. was 18%, which ties Purdue for highest of the season. In this particular case, penalties and drops were the major reasons why and usually those are the more mental mistake type of errors an offense will commit. Still, it's good news for ND as long as opposing offenses continue to hit over the 12% mark and, more importantly, play more mistake filled offensive football than the Irish.

Season Long Running Stats

Updated table here.

For clarification, the season long stats table is using the rankings as of the previous week and do not include the results of last weekend when ND was on a bye.