Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spring Recap - Bringing the "Wood"

Under Willingham, the commitment of 5-star running back Cierre Wood would have been THE highlight of the Blue-Gold weekend. Hack, Tyler Stockton's commitment would have been front page news, and as a 4-star D-lineman, he's taking second chair to Cierre's lead this weekend.

Under Weis, it's just another recruiting win for Notre Dame. Consider that there are only 4 teams during Weis' tenure that have had top 10 recruiting classes in each of his full recruiting cycles - Florida, USC, Georgia, and Notre Dame. That places us in elite company, and positions us well to turn the corner this year. Also, Cierre's commitment underscores that this staff nows how to represent Notre Dame to high school students - and it will continue to keep us at the top of recruiting rankings.

If we've managed to recruit this well with our record last year, what are we going to do when we win a championship or major bowl game? Talk about waking a sleeping giant.

*****

Jimmy is healthy, and appears to be the answer at QB. I like the way Subway Domer put it:
Jimmy Clausen can sling the motherfucking football. Anyone else that says otherwise is a dick and deserves to rot in hell with a flaming goalpost stuck up their ass
I still hear grumblings around the campus that he's not all he's cracked up to be, but the evidence in front of my eyes points to a successful future for the true sophomore. That said, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I want to see wins, not just a laser-rocket arm.

*****

I like the intensity the defense played with during the Spring game. Lambert planted Armando Allen in the first half with as much force as you'd expect in a game against SC. Mo Richardson was quietly all over the place, and Harrison Smith showed us all why the coaches are looking for ways to get him on the field.

*****

The receivers struggled a bit with separation and drops, but I think that's more of a testament to our coverage unit than to the receiver's skills. I did like the patience of Clausen, who appeared to be getting enough time to find the open receiver. Also, if you take out the two-hand touch "sacks," Clausen actually did much better than his stat line - he had a couple called back on sacks.

Also, keep in mind that we played the whole game without Robby Parris. He is a lot like Samardzija in that he draws safeties to him, freeing up the likes of Kamara and Tate. The safeties don't have the same kind of respect for Grimes, who is an amazing possssion receiver, but lacks the height or speed to draw safeties to himself. Most teams will put their best corner on him mano-a-mano and take their chances. With Parris out, the safeties could key on Kamara, who looked like a sophomore when they were able to do so. What I like about this receiving corps is that Tate can make the safeties pay if they bite too hard on Kamara or Parris with his speed. If Tate can develop the vision and skills to run the wide receiver screens, he could become extremely dangerous. Right now, though, West is our best screening receiver.

Add to that mix incoming freshman Michael Floyd and the pressure from D.J. Hord and Richard Jackson, and this receiving corps should develop nicely through the summer and be one of the deepest receiving corps in the country this year.

*****

The offensive line.

That sieve that was the source of so much angst and agony last year appears at first glance to be much better. However, our D-line is an unknown quantity going into the season, so we can't take too much from the game. I did like the commitment to the run during the game, which allowed the line to tee off and take the fight to the defense, rather than letting the fight come to them. Last year, we couldn't find a running game to save our lives until we were playing the likes of Duke and Air Force. ("We're not Duke bad...." - Thanks, Hoss)
This year, our success in turning this ship around is going to depend on our ability to move the ball on the ground. Expect to see heavy doses off running off the right side this year, as Sam Young and Chris Stewart grade the road for Robert Hughes early in games. As the games wear on and the passing game opens up, expect to see more of Aldridge and Allen mixed in as a 1-2 punch once Hughes has softened the defense up.
The sheer size on that size should create matchup problems for opposing defenses - look for more on this in the pre-season previews.

*****

Team chemistry is the most important single factor in a football team's success, and Notre Dame lacked any chemistry last year, as there was infighting and dissension throughout the ranks, and Coach Weis didn't help matters, according to some of my sources.

Weis has taken accountability for his actions going into this season, both inside and outside the program. He was told to be more accommodating of the alumni, and the recent ruling by the NCAA has allowed him to do as he was told, without losing face publicly. He was at least partially, if not wholly, responsible for much of the turmoil and tension in the locker room last year, and he is attempting to improve his relationship with his players. One of the biggest improvements, in my mind, is his commitment to speak individually with each player this spring to let them know exactly where they stand. Miscommunication, noncommunication, and malcommunication with his players has hurt the team, and better communication should improve team morale.

Weis has also encouraged more emotion from his players, something that EVERYONE around the program complained about the past couple of years. Many, like myself, blamed it on his NFL background and he business-like atmosphere of the program. Whatever the cause, he seems to hav found the cure. The fights in practice and during the spring game come from playing with unbridled emotion. As Weis said in his presser, the team also needs to play with composure. However, with this team I would rather be spending energy reining them in than searching for ways to manufacture emotion.

If we are a competitive teamat the end of the year, I would love to see a pre-game scuffle at USC this year, ala Miami 1988. SC has been a thorn in our side under the Poodle, and that's gotta stop. At this point, I'd take 1-11 if it meant we kicked the shit out of USC.

*****

Tenuta is the X-factor on this team that gives me the most hope as we head through summer and into the season. Our defense struggled at times against the run and deep pass, but they played disciplined. Tenuta wasn't overly involved in the defense during the Blue-Gold game, and the rules didn't permit the pressure-oriented defense that he's been cooking up with Corwin. Give this defense a summer to simmer, and they could be something special going into the season.

*****

Post-Spring prediction for the Irish in 2008:

Regular season: 9-3, Cotton Bowl win for final record of 10-3

San Diego State: Should be an easy win in what amounts to a warm up game for the Irish. Irish win.

Michigan: The Wolverines are expected to take a step back without a QB to run Rodriguez' offense, and the Irish are starting to turn things around. Coin flip game.

at Michigan State: Tough game on the road against a team with a winning record last year and lots of returning starters, including their QB. Winnable, but I'll place it in the loss column for now.

Purdue: Tiller is on his way out, and this is a team just looking for bodies to fill out a roster. Notre Dame should win going away.

Stanford: It's hard to get too confident playing against a team that has beaten USC recently, and the Cardinal have a lot of experience and should have found their starting QB by now. I still think we win this game.

at North Carolina: An experienced team loaded with upperclassmen who are returning starters. Our young team should be in mid-season form, playing with more poise. I'll call this one a coin flip as well, as the Tarheels were 4-8 last year, only a game ahead of us in the win column.

at Washington: A program in turmoil, with Willingham likely on his way out the door. Unless Locker has a career game, we win this one.

Pittsburgh: Wannestedt has a good team loaded with experience, but he revamped his whole coaching staff. Things should be settling down by this time, but I think the Irish squeak one out here, being at home.

at Boston College: New QB, new RB, new LT. A lot of leadership and talent are missing from this team, and an underperforming Notre Dame team gave them a fight last year. I expect another coin flip game.

at Navy: Things return to normal in the series, as we begin a 49-year winning streak with this game. Notre Dame wins.

Syracuse: Syracuse actually won fewer games than us last season. Notre Dame wins easily on senior day.

at USC: The most obvious loss of the season, USC is just better than us right now. Count this as a loss unless we recapture some magic in this year's team.

The first 11 games of the season are all winnable, with Michigan State our biggest threat, followed by Michigan and Boston College. Two coin flips, a loss, and a squeaker win. A couple of good games against the state of Michigan and we could be headed into USC with as little as 1 loss (even I'm not that optimistic, but it's not impossible...)

And if we are that good at the end of the season, who knows what could happen?

Most likely we'll see a year similar to 2005, where a battered Notre Dame team far exceeds the expert predictions before stumbling late. It will be nice to see the Irish back in the Cotton Bowl, though. Mark your calendars now.

3 comments:

JTLA said...

You list three "coin flip" games, but only count two.

Anonymous said...

Now won't you feel bad if the next time Navy beats us is 2056 and we don't get to win 50 in a row???

Wacko said...

I call 'em like I see 'em, and in 2056 Navy's Quintuple option attack will overwhelm a rebuilding Notre Dame squad who lost half the team in a tragic flying car accident the week before.