This is going to be pretty brief, as it is about time to move on to the UCLA Bruins, but I wanted to take a couple of minutes to talk about the big stories coming out of South Bend post-Purdue.
Our kicking game is atrocious, and I blame Brian Polian.
As I watched our kickers miss 2 extra points, and drill our end-of-half field goal try into the backs of our O-line, all I could think in my head is how much I want Coach Weis to fire Brian Polian at the end of the season and do a nation-wide search for the best kicking coach in the country.
We have used two scholarships in recent years on kickers, and neither one has earned their scholarship on the field. Our All-American punter has slipped so far that he's been benched. We aren't kicking it far enough on kickoffs.
With a young team like this, and an offense that has shown explosiveness, if not consistency, a good kicking game can relieve some of the pressure on our offense.
There is no quarterback controversy here.
The only controversy is whether Clausen can overcome his hip injury.
It's nice to know that Sharpley is a very good backup, but he just can't compete with Clausen in mechanics and accuracy. Sure, he showed some moxie in tossing that 4th down completion to Golden Tate, but that pales in comparison to Clausen trying to battle through his injury and lead this team to victory.
Mark my words - if Clausen doesn't sustain that injury, we win that game.
Clausen has a quicker drop, better footwork, and a quicker release. Clausen has better touch, and similar velocity to Sharpley. Most importantly, Clausen has better pocket presence. He knows when to step up, roll out, and can deliver the ball efficiently just before getting hit. It's something that Brady Quinn has in spades, but that is difficult to measure. However, if you want a measurable statistic to hang your hat on: Clausen - sacked 0 times. Sharpley - sacked twice.
Golden Tate is damn fast with great hands, but he's not a starting receiver.
I've read post after post all around ND Nation begging Weis to have Golden Tate in on every play. I disagree.
Golden clearly has the elite (dare I say Rocket-esque?) speed which we've been looking for in a receiver. However, you can't put a player in just to run go routes on every snap. Connecting on a go route is not a high percentage play, especially when a safety can key on it. Until Tate has shown an ability to run other routes (in particular the curl and stop-and-go), he won't be able to consistently fool a defense.
All that said, I do expect a heavy dose of Golden Tate in the UCLA game. And probably we'll see him get an end-around or reverse or two as well, as his experience was more as a running back. He'll probably be our 3rd receiver, giving him enough time on the field to stretch the field and put pressure on the UCLA defense.
Our offensive line is no longer the problem - our defense is.
Yes, we struggled on short yardage. Yes, we stuggled to run the ball effectively. However, if you remember that before the MSU game we had less than 10 net yards rushing on the season, the 49 net yards was more a function of our play calling than our inablity to run. With the exception of Aldridge, our other leading rushers all averaged more than 4 yards a carry.
On the other hand, the defense that gave up 23 points in the first half failed to step up when it mattered, with the Irish down only 7 and plenty of time left on the clock. They gave up too many rushing yards, which hurts us not only in field position and scoring, but also kills us in time of possession.
Purdue is who I thought they are.
They have a good passing game, and a nice rushing game to maintain some balance. But, of you hit them in the mouth, they'll collapse like a house of playing cards. I blame this week's loss on our schedule - if we had even one win to hang our hat on going in, we would have believed in ourselves enough to come out firing, instead of waiting until the second half.
Biggest problem: Special Teams. Much like Michigan State, our kicking game killed us. Consider this: if we had not left 5 points on the board, we would have been down only 2 with 7 minutes left. The difference in emotional boost you get from being down 2 and down 7 is significant. Down 2, a field goal wins the game. Down 7, you still have to score twice. (I consider 2-point conversions as if they are another score, whereas extra points are SUPPOSED to be automatic.)
Player of the game: Golden Tate. His long pass plays provided the spark to kick start this passing game. If Tate and Aldridge both show up on the same week, we may just get ourselves a win.
Scapegoats of the game: Brandon Walker and Nate Whitaker. Leaving 5 points on the board is inexcusable.
Positive stat of the game: Notre Dame: 426 yards offense Purdue: 371 yards offense
Negative stat of the game: Notre Dame: 2/4 in red zone Purdue: 7/7 in red zone