Saturday, August 16, 2008

2008 Season Preview: Birthday Edition

It's my birthday, and I was accidentally awakened far too early, so I have way too much time on my hands. Therefore, I thought I'd take the opportunity to post random thoughts about the upcoming football season.

Because of my new job and my birthday (and a steadt stream of Diet Mountain Dew), I am overly optimistic this morning, so I thought I'd preview the upcoming season through my newfound rose colored glasses while drinking some heavily spiked Kool-Aid (how's that for mixing metaphors?).

2008 Season Preview - Birthday Edition

vs. San Diego State University

The San Diego State Aztecs are bad. Awful. They don't even belong on the same field as the Fightin' Irish.

Notre Dame comes out with an attitude, and kicks SDSU up and down the field. After scoring 5 touchdowns in the first quarter, Weis sent in the second string. After they scored another 2 TDs halfway through the second, Weis sent in all the freshman. On the first down, Crist launched a laser to Floyd, who (sprung by a superb block by Deion Walker), raced for a touchdown. After kneeling the next two possessions, the all-freshman defense got another score to close out the half up 63-0. Rather than coming out for the second half, the team gave their jerseys to the Knott Hall interhall team, who came out and drove 80 yards for another score. The rest of the half saw several interhall teams come onto the field, with mixed results. Dillon Hall scored on a long pass, and Morrissey got a fumble recovery for a TD. Keenan and Siegfried both threw INTs, and Zahm kept getting lost in between the huddle and the ball, resulting in several embarassing delay of game penalties.

SDSU did come up with a huge goal-line stand at the end of the game, when the girls from Farley were stopped just inches from the end zone as time expired.

Prediction: 84-0 Notre Dame

vs. University of Michigan

The Skunkbears and Dick-Rod roll into South Bend after convincing wins against powerhouses Utah and Miami (OH). They have creeped back into the top 10 again, and are heavily favored against the lowly Irish.

Notre Dame loses the toss, and Michigan gets the ball first. Due to a rash of injuries to their QB corps, Dick Rod decides to do without a quarterback, instead direct snapping to the running backs and receivers. At first, things go great for Michigan, and they go up 14-0 early as the Irish offense struggles to move the ball against the Michigan D.

Then Tenuta and Brown decide to put all 11 men in the box, and start calling all-out blitz every down, old school video game style. Mo Crum and Dave Bruton each return a fumble and a tipped pass for a touchdown, and Brandon Minor and Kevin Grady go down with injuries.

Michigan, despite trailing by two touchdowns at the half, comes up with a new strategy. Michigan starts punting the ball on first down, and the Michigan defense actually picks off a Clausen pass and returns it for a score, bringing the Wolverines within 7.

However, with only a couple of minutes remaining in the game, Dick Rod decides to try to run an offense, and calls his team to the sideline to quickly install the A-11 offense. On the very next play, a walk-on QB from Michigan just gets off a desperation pass before being trampled by the Notre Dame defense. (Doctors say he is in stable condition, but may never walk again).

Michigan bobbles the pass, but eventually one of the receivers comes up with the ball, and takes off for the endzone. David Bruton, who read the defense and dropped back to the goal line in deep zone coverage, faces 8 blockers leading the way for the Michigan receiver. He sheds 6 blocks, and leaps over the final two blockers to rip the ball from the receiver only feet from the end zone, before racing to the other endzone for the final score of the game.

Prediction: 35-21 Notre Dame

at Michigan State University

Despite their back-to-back wins, ESPN votes the Irish into their Bottom 10 this week, chastising Tenuta for blitzing poor Michigan so much the week before, and calling for a congressional inquiry into the blitz scheme, claiming that it creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk a death or serious bodily injury.

Michigan State, on the other hand, has moved up to the top 3, largely on the strength of their win over Cal-Berkeley and ridiculous dismantling of Florida Atlantic the week before.

Notre Dame comes out of the gate strong on offense, as Clausen appears to have found some swagger and confidence in his wide receivers. He efficiently moves the ball through the air, with short, controlled passes for the first three scores, then a 73-yard bomb to a wide open Parris.

Problem is, Michigan State is moving the ball as effectively as the Irish, pounding the ball against our green defensive line until Tenuta brings Bruton down into the box. Hoyer proves especially adept at making the Irish pay when they stack the box, throwing touchdown passes of 65, 37, and 43 yards. Also, MSU adds a rushing touchdown.

Bruton finally gets the better of Hoyer late in the half, returning an interception down to the 31 yard line with 2 seconds left on the clock.

Brandon Walker's kick puts the Irish up 3 at the half.

After the halftime adjustments, both defenses stiffen, and neither team can move the ball.

The only fireworks in the second half are when a crazed (and naked) John L. Smith parachutes into the stadium late in the fourth quarter. Upon landing, he plants a Notre Dame flag at the 50-yard line and then runs over to Dantonio, attempting to rip the headset off of his head. He is finally subdued and taken to a nearby hospital for observation.

Prediction: 31-28 Notre Dame

vs. Purdue University

Purdue has been an exciting team to watch coming in to this game, with Tiller's new all-trick-play offense. He spent the offseason finding every trick play ever run by a football team, and has even invented a few of his own.

As a result, there are a lot of big plays both ways for the Boilermakers.

The game against Oregon many are claiming was the most schizophrenic game they've ever seen, with Oregon changing jerseys in between every play.

The Boilers dropped the game against Oregon 74-71, and beat Northern Colorado 67-34 and Central Michigan 62-56.

Now Purdue's crazy offense rolls into South Bend, and the Irish blitz happy scheme has blown the hype for this game way out of proportion. Nobody knows what to expect, and campus is abuzz.

Fittingly, the game starts with an onside kick - called by Coach Weis. Purdue recovers, however, and immediately runs a triple reverse, which results in a loss of 37 yards.

They follow that with a statue of liberty play that loses another 10, and a fumblerooski that gives the Irish the ball at the Purdue 3. A quick Hughes touchdown on the next play, and Weis and Haywood decide that maybe they should stick to a basic gameplan.

On the subsequent possession, Purdue tries the A-11 offense, but the Irish were not fooled this time, blowing it up and forcing the Boilers to run a swinging gate punt.

The Irish settle into a grinding offensive game plan, slowing down the game and limiting Purdue's opportunity to run all over the field.

Purdue does get some big plays, scoring on a hook and ladder and again on a free kick return after giving up a safety. But the Irish play disciplined defense, getting away from Tenuta's blitzing, causing the linebackers coach to run around the press box headbutting people as Brown calls a conservative game.

Notre Dame scores on long drives in each quarter, three touchdowns and a field goal. The defense gets another touchdown on a blocked fake kick on 2nd down.

After the game, Tiller refuses to shake hands with Coach Weis, and grabs the giant drum and starts banging it incessantly during Notre Dame's alma mater.

Prediction: 33-14 Notre Dame

vs. Stanford University

After all of the craziness to start the season, nobody knows what to make of the Irish at this point in the season. has them in the Bottom 10 and in the Power 16, the Coaches have them unranked, and the AP ranks them 17th.

For the first time in the season, the Irish play something resembling a football game, rather than a circus of crazy.

Aldridge, Hughes, Allen, and Gray all score rushing touchdowns, and Clausen adds another pair of passes himself, one to Kamara and another to Grimes in a beautiful diving catch.

On defense, Bruton and Mo Crum lead a defensive effort that renders the Stanford attack completely impotent, holding them to only a pair of field goals.

Prediction: 42-6 Notre Dame

at North Carolina

Notre Dame is finally getting some respect at this point in the season, and they are ranked in the top 20 going into the game with Top 20 and undefeated North Carolina.

In fact, both teams are tied for a 16th ranking in both polls.

To this point, in fact, the teams have had identical seasons.

North Carolina, with their sophomore quarterback, beat the snot out of McNeese State by a score of 84-0.

They survived a strange game against Rutgers in which 5 Rutgers players were ejected for chop blocking, as they were confused by Schiano's constant chopping motions on the sidelines by a score of 35-21.

Then they survive another game against Virginia Tech, where Beamer does away with the offense and defense and runs nothing but special teams plays all game long, but North Carolina ground out a victory on the ground. Tarheels won 33-14

Their game against Miami was a tale of two halves, with both teams jumping out early, and the offenses stagnating in the second half. Jimmy Johnson parachuted into the game, then punched out Coach Davis before trying to wrangle the headphones from Randy Shannon during the fourth quarter. He and John L. Smith are reportedly both heavily medicated but showing signs of improvement at an undisclosed sanitarium. They won the game 31-28.

The game before this one was a methodical dismantling of Connecticut by a score of - you guessed it - 42-6.

The Tarheels and Irish met on the gridiron, and they battled it out in an epic game. The lead changed hands 5 times, and both teams had big plays on offense and defense. It was like a championship bout, with the teams trading blow for blow. Burkhart missed a field goal, bouncing it off of the upright, from 61 yards as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime.

Hours later, Greg Little fumbled on the 1 yard line during an attempted two point conversion, recovered by the Irish and ending the longest game ever.

Prediction: 96-94 Notre Dame (13 OT)

at Washington

There was much anticipation regarding this matchup between Weis and Willingham in each of their fourth seasons as the leader of their respective programs.

The first quarter got started under the leadership of Ed Donatell, the defensive coordinator, sparking whispers around the stadium that the winless Huskies had finally jettisoned the beleagured Ty Willingham.

However, part way through the game, Willingham pulled into the stadium in his golf cart, with his golf bag still in the back. After signing his scorecard, he took the clipboard and headset, and started glaring at his players, who had already fallen behind 14-0.

The Irish rolled easily over the Huskies, although they did have some trouble with the athletic Jake Locker, who threw for one touchdown and ran for two more. Problem is, they were all called back for penalties.

But the Irish offensive attack was on full speed during this game, spreading the ball to 20 different receivers and using 12 different players to run the ball. They had 7 different players score. Crist played the entire fourth quarter, throwing for a touchdown of his own - the second of his career.

Prediction: 49-0 Notre Dame

vs. Pittsburgh

Charlie Weis put on a clinic this week at Pitt. Aside from an early mistake by Brady Quinn Jimmy Clausen, which I'm willing to chalk up to first game jitters, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on 6 of their first 7 drives. They made Wannestedt, a "defensive guru," look silly. And, Notre Dame's first team never had to punt.

First of all, as much as I obsess about football, even I had trouble keeping up with Weis' playcalling. He was calling plays in the first quarter that led to successful plays in the third quarter. He was about five steps ahead of Wanny, and if he hadn't pulled his first string, he would never have punted. An example of Weis' playcalling:
In the first two drives, Weis called two screens, and Brady Clausen checked down into two more (one of which was their first touchdown) before Pittsburgh was able to catch on. Also, Weis consistently called runs to the right side, in which Walker Allen would inevitably beat the linebackers to the corner.

Late in the first quarter, Weis, having seen Pitt's tendency to watch for screens to Walker Allen and shade to the right side, called a play which had a fake to Darius Armando to the right (sucking in some of the defense), then a fake reverse to Rhema McKnight Duval Kamara (which fooled nobody on the D). Quinn Clausen looked at Walker Allen in the flat to the right side of the field, which caused the ENTIRE Pitt defense to collapse towards that side. Then Quinn Clausen quickly tossed the ball to Rhema Kamara in the flat to the opposite side of the field, where Rhema Duval caught it in the flat, with nobody within 10 yards of him. Twenty yards later, the corner on the left side brought him down.
Weis knew before the play started that this would happen, and this is the beauty of his system. He has so many plays in his playbook, nicknamed The Phonebook by his players, that he has a play for literally every defensive tendency. He sees a weakness, and he exploits it.
The best thing about the Irish offense is the number of weapons they have at their disposal. At wide receiver, they have McKnight, Stovall, Samardzija, and Shelton Grimes, Kamara, Floyd, Tate, Parris, and Walker. At running back, they have Walker, Thomas, and Powers-Neal Aldridge, Hughes, Allen, and Gray. At tight end, they have Fasano and Carlson Ragone, Yeatman and Rudolph. They have two stud quarterbacks in Clausen and Crist. That is 11 15 players on offense that would start at their position on any other team. And don't even get me started on the incoming freshmen.
The key play of the game was ND's first score, in which ND ran a called screen to Darius Walker James Aldridge. The play itself wouldn't have been spectacular, except that Charlie's coaching reared its beautiful head. A great block by a lineman and Walker Aldridge outrunning H.B. Blades would have given ND a 20 yard gain, but for the fact that Fasano, Samardzija, McKnight, and Stovall Ragone, Grimes, Parris, and Kamara all formed a convoy for Walker Aldridge, blocking downfield. They turned a good gain into a game-breaking touchdown, and showed the world the discipline and depth of a Weis offense, as his play called for that type of downfield blocking, it wasn't a fluke.
The wonderful thing about Weis is that he has put in an offense where every single playmaker on the team is a threat to move the ball on every single play. These guys have the capability to put up 40 points on EVERY SINGLE TEAM THEY PLAY THIS YEAR.

Prediction: 42-21 Irish

at Boston College

There was a huge controversy this week that dominated talk radio. The argument was whether it was poor sportsmanship for Coach Weis to keep his first string in the entire game, and to go for two in the final play of the game, thus ensuring the Irish would have sole possession of the most lopsided game ever in college football history.

Prediction: 223-0 Notre Dame

vs. Navy

The Irish had an almost perfect game against the Midshipmen, who were clearly outclassed on the field.

After jumping out to a 28-0 lead by the end of the 1st quarter, Weis played his backups the rest of the way, which made for an exciting game, as the teams traded scores until the end.

There was one major loss for the Irish, as they lost Emeka Nwankwo, who was so inspired by the heart of the Navy team, that he left the team to sign up for a tour of duty. He is expected to return to the Irish after his time in the Navy.

Prediction: 42-24 Notre Dame

vs. Syracuse

Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson tried to get his football team off of the team bus, but the team revolted and threw him out of the bus and drove back to New York, fearful for their health and safety should they take the field with Robinson calling the shots.

Not to disappoint the "sellout" crowd, the Irish decided to take the field anyway, and honored their past coaches by having Holtz and Parsegian take the field opposite Coach Weis. They flipped a coin to see who picks first, and drafted two teams to play that afternoon.

After four quarters of play, the two sides could not get the better of each other, and they finished the game tied at 28. Not wanting to risk injury, the team decided to call it a draw.

Prediction: Forfeit

at Southern Cal

After an epic battle where two undefeated teams battled back and forth throughout the game, The Irish pulled ahead on a Jimmy Clausen run with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation.

After giving up a 61-yard pass on 4th and 9, the defense stiffened and stopped the Trojans on their one inch line. With only one second remaining on the clock, the Trojans attempted a quarterback sneak. Marc Tyler pushed Sanchez into the end zone, and the SC student body rushed the field, celebrating their epic win over the Irish.

But after about 15 minutes of attempts at crowd control, it was finally determined that a penalty flag had been thrown on the final play.

Marc Tyler was flagged for Assisting the Runner.

Notre Dame wins, and moves on to the National Championship game.

Prediction: 31-28 Notre Dame

vs. the Ohio State University, 2009 BCS National Championship Game

The Irish roll into this game as the undisputed #1 team in the country, facing a 1-loss Ohio State team that lost a squeaker to Southern Cal earlier in the season.

They jump out to an early lead on some impressive long passes from Clausen to Kamara and Floyd. Grimes adds an impressive run on a wide receiver screen to put the team ahead 3 scores.

Then the Irish ground attack shifts into gear. With their top 5 backs rotating into the game, the Buckeyes have no answers to this attack, and their defense quickly wears down.

The Buckeye offense has some success passing late in the game, but Bruton makes some excellent plays in the end zone to hold the Buckeyes to field goals on 4 straight drives.

Prediction: 41-12 Notre Dame

I know we're still a year away from being title contenders, but it's my birthday - a guy can dream, can't he?


valpodoc said...

can i have some of that koolaid?

toolfan666 said...

Is Charlie Weis Just The Wizard of Oz In A Fat Suit?

Because Fornelli was at his sister's wedding yesterday afternoon, I felt compelled to do something I rarely ever do, watch an Irish football game from start to finish.

Here's what I came away with:

1. Demetrius Jones knew what he was doing getting the hell out of Notre Dame.
2. Charlie Weis is incompetent.

Watching the game just took my breath away. Mangled plays that high school players would know better than to try. Snaps sailing over the head of the quarterback. So many fumbles, baubles and missed tackles that when one of the announcers mentioned Weis' passion is special needs kids, I began to wonder if he hadn't loaded the offensive line with them.

This is the post-Brady Quinn era team he puts together?

I can hear Weis' defenders: "But he's had to replace all the key offensive positions."
So what? He's been at Notre Dame for three years. Three years to recruit and train in anticipation of this very season. Three years to create a team in his own image and he puts together an offensive line a Pop Warner team could pick apart?

Oh my God, maybe he has created a team in his own image.

I don't care how many players you lose, this is a top program; your kids should be able to execute the basics. And spectators should be able to witness a whisper of potential, a moment where you sit back and say, "Okay, I see why Weis recruited him."

For me, anyway, there wasn't one of those moments to be had.

But beyond yesterday's joke of a game, two things bother me even more.

First, the way Weis handled the whole quarterback situation. What he did to Demetrius Jones was unfathomable, pulling his starting quarterback out of the first game of the season before the end of the first half.

Think about it. You've had seven months - an entire off-season - to put your team and strategy together and in the span of less than 30 minutes, you change your mind. I mean, I'm more decisive about what dress I'm wearing to a party than Weis is about the lynch pin of his offense?

(And while we're talking about Jones, let's consider the kind of relationship Weis must have fostered with his young charge that in just three weeks he went from starting quarterback at Notre Dame to a student at a Northern Illinois. What the hell is that about? What coach worth his salt would let a situation devolve to that point?)

Second, in an ESPN article today with the incredible title, "Notre Dame Decides to Start Season Over," Weis is quoted as saying:

"We are going back to our first day of installation of training camp. That's what we're putting in [Sunday], just as if it were the first day of training camp. And everything is even steven, like it's the first day out there and everything's up for grabs."

Earth to Coach Weis: this isn't a Sunday morning golf game. You don't get a mulligan here. It's too friggin' late to go back to the first day of training camp. And besides, given what we've seen over the last three weeks, your training camp must have sucked. Why on earth would you do it again?

No wonder this guy is so bad at losing weight. He probably starts every morning with egg whites, then by the end of the day he's inhaling cartons of Twinkies washed down with a few dozen Yoo Hoo's, then he wakes up the next morning chirping, "Hey, it's a new day! Pass the egg whites!"

Seriously, someone tell me why this guy is so revered.

Cuz he coordinated the Patriots offense under Bill Belichick? Belichick hasn't exactly suffered with Weis' departure. (All he had to do was buy a new camera.)

Because he helped Tom Brady develop as quarterback? Taking credit for Tom Brady's development is like Eileen Ford taking credit for making Giselle Bundchen pretty.

For the sake of all the Irish fans out there, I sure hope I'm wrong, but I don't think Charlie Weis is anywhere close to being the genius you all think he is.

In fact, I'm guessing that within a couple years, he'll be packing his bags and disappearing into the night, muttering, "Pay no attention to the man behind the very big curtain."

adamn said...

You are nuts, and I like it! what do you really expect this year. It could really be and 8 or 9 win season if the line improves and the running game lives up to it's potential. Good to see that Tate and Floyd are in the position already to make play for this offense.

That being said, it could just as easily be a 6 win season.