Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fiesta Bowl Analysis

With the long-awaited Fiesta Bowl only days away, it is now time to begin breaking down the matchups for the Big Game.

Rather than doing one large article, I am going to try and do several, smaller articles over the next few days.

First up:

Ohio State Quarterbacks and Receivers
Notre Dame Secondary

Ohio State Starters:

Troy Smith, QB
1,940 yds, 62% completion, 14 TDs, 4 INTs

Ted Ginn, Jr., WR
43 receptions, 636 yards, 3 TDs

Santonio Holmes, WR
48 receptions, 853 yards, 10 TDs

Notre Dame Starters

Tom Zbikowski, FS
62 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs, 4 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble

Chinedum Ndukwe, SS
50 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles

Mike Richardson, CB
62 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 3 INTs, 7 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles

Ambrose Wooden, CB
67 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups


Ohio State has two extremely talented and fast wide receivers, but neither is particularly tall. Trpy smith consolidated his position at QB this year, but Justin Zwick has also started for the Buckeyes, and if Smith isn't being particularly effective, or is injured, Zwick will not miss a stride should he have to play. Xwick has played in 7 games, completing 72% of his passes.
The dropoff after the first two receivers is steep. Anthony Gonzalez is next on the team with 27 catches for 358 yards and 3 TDs. Roy Hall rounds out the receiving corps, with 14 catches for 112 tds.
Notre Dame has struggled against the pass again this year statistically, but this secondary plays much better than the numbers show. Also, this unit has been not just opportunistic, but have created turnovers deep in their own territory, costing opponents sure points.
Overall, if the Irish can keep Holmes and Ginn in front of them, they will be able to control this passing offense. Expect a couple of big plays, however, as both starting receivers are deep threats.

Friday, December 09, 2005

See you in Tempe!
I got tickets throught the Student ticket lottery, and my gracious in-laws gave me enough frequent flier miles for Christmas for me to fly out. Look for the crazy green guy with some big goofy sign. Details to follow.

Notre Dame Players snubbed

In college football awards, hype and bias often outweighs actual performance, and Notre Dame players got snubbed in three of the top awards this year.

At the Home Depot College Football Awards show this year, Notre Dame got snubbed in every category they were nominated in.

The Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the Quarterback of the year, went to Vince Young of Texas. Vince Young had a spectacular year this year, and is deserving of consideration for this award, leading the nation in pass efficiency rating.
However, Brady Quinn had a higher completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, total offense, and lower interceptions. Young benefitted from a weak schedule and an offense that used Vince's legs as much as his arm. And his team went undefeated.

The Biletnikoff Award goes to the Receiver of the Year, and was awarded this year to Mike Haas of Oregon State. In a situation opposite the O'Brien Award, Haas won because his team sucked, and was playing from behind much of the year, and he was their only weapon. He led the nation with almost 140 yards per game. However, he didn't do much to help his team win - for all those yards, he only had 6 touchdowns. Jeff Samardzija, on the other hand, tied with Dwayne Jarrett of USC (another finalist) for the most touchdowns this season with 15, and finished with 108 yards per game (10 yards/gm ahead of Jarrett). He also wasn't the only target on his team, as he had to share catches with Maurice Stovall as well (93 yds/gm, 11 TDs).

Another snub this year was from the Heisman trophy, which hasn't even been awarded yet. I'm not saying that Brady should win it, as Reggie Bush made it clear that he is head and shoulders above the rest of the country. However, Leinart's 2004 Heisman and Young's undefeated record bumped them above Brady, even though they had worse numbers. I could deal with all of that. However, every year, the Heisman invites the top four or five finalists to the award ceremony. For no apparent reason, the Heisman trophy decided to pare down the list of invitees to only three this year, leaving Brady Quinn at home.

The worst snub, however, came from the Walter Camp Foundation All-American team. Instead of choosing Quinn or even a worthy Vince Young for Quarterback, last year's Heisman mesmerized them into picking Leinart as teh first-team QB.
Worse than that is the receivers. There are two receivers chosen at receiver, and Walter Camp chose to choose Dwayn Jarrett as their second wideout.

With the exception of being thrown to more (not catching a higher percentage, though), there are NO statistical categories that Jarrett led Samardzija in. Zip. Zero. Zilch. He managed to tie him in touchdown catches, largely due to Coach Pete Carroll's tendency to run up the score. USC beat teams by 53, 47, 46, 42, and 30 points this year. Coach Weis, on the other hand, called off the dogs as soon as the Irish got up by three scores, CHOOSING never to beat their opponents by more than 24 points. (he had opportunities to do so 7 times this year).

Some other snubs include Brandon Hoyte not finishing as a finalist in any defensive awards, Fasano not winning the Mackey Award (won by UCLA player), and that Coach Weis' amazing turnaround of this team was overshadowed by JoePa ressurecting a team that HE had killed in the first place.

Hopefully, Coach Weis will use these snubs to motivate the team into kicking the tar out of the Buckeyes this year in Tempe.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Check out my new Bowl game information page

This took me a while to put together, so humor me and at least click on the link:

Bowl Game Information Page

More BCS mess...

The BCS rankings accidentally got the matchup right this year, an undisputed #1-#2 matchup between USC and Texas.

This does not mean, however, that the process is without controversy. For the first time, the final coaches poll ballots of each coach were revealed. [The ESPN/USA Today poll is composed of 62 current college head coaches] The bias and outright hypocrisy in the system became evident.

The closest thing the BCS has to a controversy is that a 9-2 Notre Dame team got into the BCS with an automatic bid, but 10-1 Oregon did not.

Looking at the final coach's polls, it wasn't for lack of trying by the Pac-10. With the exception of first year head coach Walt Harris (who had the Irish at 5th), the Pac-10 coaches dropped Notre Dame in their rankings and inflated the Ducks to try and squeeze out some of the $14.5 million payout from the Fiesta Bowl for themselves.

The coaches of the Pac-10 voted as follows:
Bellotti - Oregon: Oregon #4; Notre Dame #9
Doba - Washington State: Oregon #5; Notre Dame #12
Tedford - California: Oregon #4; Notre Dame #10
Willingham - Washington: Oregon #4; Notre Dame #9

The SEC, hoping to get a 9-2 Auburn team in the mix and inflate Georgia's ranking, did the same thing. Phil Fulmer, who actually played ND and got spanked, and Sylvester Croom, whose ballot seemed more concerned with inflating SEC schools than deflating other schools, had the Irish ranked close to normal (5 & 6, respectively):

Brooks - Kentucky: Auburn #4; Georgia #7; Notre Dame #9
Nutt - Arkansas: Georgia #3; Auburn #6; Notre Dame #7
Richt - Georgia: Auburn #6; Georgia #7; Notre Dame #8
Spurrier - South Carolina: Georgia #4; Auburn #6; Notre Dame #14
Tuberville - Auburn: Auburn #4; Georgia #7; Notre Dame #9

The SEC is the worst offender as to incredulous rankings. Houston Nutt had West Virginia, a 10-1 BCS conference champion unranked. He had 7-4 South Carolina, sixth in the SEC, ranked 25th. Steve Spurrier dropped Notre Dame down to 14 (the lowest ranking ND received from any coach), while inflating his barely-bowl-eligible team to 21st.

Interestingly, the only coach that Notre Dame faced this year that ranked the Irish lower than 6th was Tyrone Williingham (talk about an agenda). Carr ranked us 6th, and the other teams we played all ranked us 5th.

As a matter of fact, over half of the coaches that voted placed us at or above 5th. Fourteen coaches with an axe to grind against Notre Dame dragged them down to 6th.

Some examples:
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, who used to be the highest paid coach in college football and wants to believe that Oklahoma is the most storied program in college football with their 12 claimed championships. Problem is, if Notre Dame counted National Championships the same way Oklahoma does, we would have 18 championships, instead of the 11 consensus championships we actually claim.
Tom O'Brien of Boston College, who is bitter that Notre Dame discontinued their series after BC bolted the Big East for the ACC, then accused Notre Dame of dropping BC 'cause they don't like losing. In fact, the Irish dropped them for unsportsmanlike behavior (trashing the visitor's locker room) and lack of conference loyalty (ND is Big East in everything but football).
Tyrone Willingham of Washington, who wants the Irish to fail miserably without him, to prove that his coaching was the only thing giving Notre Dame any credibility. His bitterness is almost palpable.
Larry Coker of Miami, the Notre Dame - Miami (Catholics v. Convicts) hatred is strong. Despite winning so much over the past two decades, Miami still can't fill its stadium and is constantly in trouble with the NCAA for recruiting violations and player misconduct. The Irish, however, have a national following and pristine reputation regardless of record, although the Irish still are effectively tied with Michigan for winning percentage.
Joe Tiller of Purdue, who hates the entrance of Charlie Weis into the recruiting area. The Irish have already signed the Gatorade Players-of-the-Year from Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, as well as the top 2 running backs in Indiana. The Boilers have yet to get a commitment from a top 15 Indiana recruit.

Screw the rankings, why not have a playoff?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Notre Dame 38 Stanford 31 - BCS, here we come!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 10

Notre Dame played their worst game of the season on Saturday.

The entire team came out flat and plaed like crap for the entire first half.

Syracuse's defense was actually pretty good, but the offense was shooting themselves in the foot with dropped balls, mental errors, and uninspired blocking.

The defense was undisciplined for the first quarter and a half, giving up a couple of big plays and generally allowing Syracuse, one of the country's worst offenses, to run their offense.

We were actually trailing 3-0 after the first quarter.

Part way through the 2nd quarter, the defense woke up and remembered that Syracuse's offense sucks; thereafter Syracuse could not move the ball at all.

The offense never really got going, as Syracuse's defense played smart football. Brady's throws were off-target all day, and Samardzija was dropping anything that didn't hit him in the numbers. Stovall had an average day, and Walker did as well.

However, due to our athletic superiority, we were able to pull away in the late 3rd and early 4th quarter, getting far enough ahead to put in the seniors for senior day.

What amazes me is that, although the team had a bad day, they still won the game. With Ty as coach, a bad day would have meant a drubbing (like last time this team played Syracuse). With Charlie as coach, this team can beat inferior opponents in their sleep.

Here's hoping, however, that the team wakes up for Stanford. They were realy bad at the beginning of the season (losing to a Div. I-AA opponent), but have picked up their game play and dragged themselves within one win of bowl eligibility. They'll be ready to play, and we can't get caught looking ahead to Tempe.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Syracuse v. Notre Dame Analysis

I'm really having difficulty getting excited about this game.

Syracuse is, by far, the worst team in any BCS conference, and is in the bottom 5 of all of Division I-A with a record of 1-9. The only team they've beaten this year is one of the worst teams in I-A, Buffalo, who is also 1-9, having beaten Kent State (1-9) last week.

To give a sense of just how badly we could beat this team, they lost to Pitt by 17 points, a team we smacked around the field and beat by 21. While this doesn't necessarily mean we'll beat them by 38 (although they will, unless Charlie starts sending in the walk-ons by the early 4th quarter), it does mean that we are going to crush them. [read this article for an interesting take on this kind of illogic, proving that mighty Miami (#4 in country) could be beaten by Florida International (#163)]

There is only one matchup in this game that provides any consideration:

Notre Dame Passing Offense (5th in the nation) v. Syracuse Passing Defense (6th)
2959 yds v. 1469 yds allowed
329 yds/gm v. 163 yds/gm allowed
27 TD v. 8 TD allowed
5 INT (.5 per game) v. 11 INT (1.1 per game)
1.8 INT% v. 5.3% INT percentage (passes/INTs)

The only reason this is worth noting is the fact that there is a severe statistical discrepancy. This is not really worth noting, as teams stop passing against a team when they get ahead - other teams in the top 10 are Pitt (who we killed through the air), Buffalo (1 win), Tulane (2 wins), and East Carolina (3 wins).

Even if the numbers are legit, and the Irish passing offense struggles, Syracuse gives up almost 190 yards/game on the ground (97th in nation), so Darius will have a big day.

Notre Dame's second string could win this game. Grag Robinson, Syracuse's coach, will turn this team around and get them to be competitive again, but there is simply not enough talent there to challenge Notre Dame. Don't pay any attention to Coach Weis' rhetoric about this team having beaten us two years ago, as the Irish were emotionally beaten up and had the worst gameplan in Notre Dame's history for that game, thanks to Ty Willie and his merry men.

Look for the Irish to score early and often, taking their pass offense (5th in nation) and proving the Syracuse D to be overrated, as the Notre Dame scoring offense (7th) just keeps rolling, with the run game adding up to big numbers for the total offense (10th).
Syracuse is inept on offense, and will be unable to respond, struggling on the ground (102nd in the country) and in the air (106th), giving up the most total offense (114th) scored by the Irish this year. I'll be surprised if their scoring offense (113th) can put up any points against the underrated Irish D (77th total, 47th scoring), who have faced three of the top 15 teams in total offense.

This game will be over at halftime.

Notre Dame 49
Syracuse 0

Notre Dame puts up 35 in the first half, prompting Wolke to lead the team in the second half.
If weather becomes a problem, Brady may not get to take a break until midway through the third quarter. The Irish defense gets their first shutout of the season against a team that got shut out by South Florida last week. (not Florida or Florida State - South Florida)
In the second half, Wolke gets some substantial practice handing the ball to Asaph Schwapp and Justin Hoskins, and they still stumble into a touchdown. An overzealous second-string corner returns an interception for a touchdown to round out the scoring, and Coach Weis promptly berates him for scoring, telling him to kneel the pick next time we're up by 42 so he can run more clock.

Notre Dame 42 Naval Academy 21

This game was similar to what I expected. Navy ran a little better than I expected, amassing 239 total yards on the ground, but this is still over 50 yards fewer than they had been averaging. The difficulty in stopping the run was their consistency; they averaged a little over 4 yards per carry, and they didn't have any big runs to skew the average (their longest was 12 yards). Also, because of their consistency, they initially went for it on 4th and short, going 2-2 on 4th down in the first quarter. However, as the game wore on, the larger defensive line started getting excellent penetration into the Navy backfield, disrupting the option offense. They only went for it one time on 4th down after the 1st quarter, and the defense stopped them.

Notre Dame's offense was predictable - they leveraged their strength and height advantages, leading to a touchdown on 6 of their 9 drives in the game. The other drives ended in a turnover on downs, an interception (surprising from Brady), and the end of the game.
The Irish leveraged their strength advantage by providing healthy doses of Walker and Thomas on the ground, amassing a total of 221 yards rushing as a team (Walker led the team with 124 yards). The Irish run game also allowed the Irish to even up the time of possession against a ball-hogging team, wearing down their defense as much as they tried to wear down ours.
Notre Dame leveraged their height advantage all day long, scoring 4 passsing touchdowns against the undersized Navy secondary. Navy made a real effort to try to shut down Jeff Samardzija, routinely double- and triple-teaming him. This, of course, left Maurice Stovall in one-on-one coverage with an undersized corner. He took full advantage, grabbing 8 balls for 130 yards and 3 TDs. Also, while Samardzija's TD catch streak was broken, as he caught only 5 balls for 42 yards, he played a crucial role in tying up the Navy secondary. Fasano caught a TD in his second straight game this week as well, which was nice to see.

Brady was consistent, going 22-31 for 284 yards and 4 TD, but also throwing his 5th pick of the season.

Navy played with a lot of heart, never giving up, even after the Irish went up 3 scores in the 2nd quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach. They wouldn't stop fighting, eventually scoring two TDs in the second half, one with only 1:17 left in the game.

The best part of the game was after the final gun, however, when the Navy players walked over to the Navy band, with the Notre Dame players standing just behind. In a great moment of patriotism, the entire stadium fell absolutely silent as the Naval band played "Navy Blue and Gold," the alma mater of the Naval Academy. Not since I was in the empty stadium about 13 years ago have I heard Notre Dame Stadium that quiet, as the entire crowd showed their respect for our men and women in uniform. It was a very poignant moment.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

United States Naval Academy v. University of Notre Dame

This game has always been my favorite game to attend. Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to win, but the game is always hard-fought for 60 minutes and no matter the outcome, game day is imbued with a higher level of respect between opponents than any other games the Irish play.

The service academies always demand a certain level of respect, considering that the men that take that field are first soldiers, then students, and finally athletes.

But Notre Dame - Navy is more. For Notre Dame and Navy, this game has a much deeper historic meaning than other games.

From Navy's game notes for this week:
"Notre Dame and Navy first met on the football field in 1927, while Knute Rockne was the Irish head coach. But to truly understand the Notre Dame-Navy series requires a trip back to the 1940s, when Frank Leahy had the Irish on top of the football world.
"Leahy coached the Irish to a national championship in 1943, his third year as head coach, just before enlisting with the Navy to serve in World War II. Following the war, Leahy and the Irish picked up right where they had left off, going four entire seasons without a loss and claiming national championships in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
"But World War II cost Notre Dame a lot more than its talented head coach and a slew of players (including 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli). It virtually wiped out the small, all-male school. The University was having terrible financial problems, and as an all-male school with so many young men being drafted and going off to war, there was almost nobody left to attend the University.
"As part of the war effort, the Navy needed more officers than the Naval Academy was able to produce in a short period of time. So a decision was made to utilize a number of institutions across the nation in which young men would attend college and receive training to become officers. Notre Dame became the site for one such program. Not only did Notre Dame now have a much-needed influx of students preparing to become Naval officers, but the Navy also built a number of facilities on campus that served Notre Dame for years. It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Navy and the Naval Academy, Notre Dame may not exist today."

Legend has it that, pursuant to the Naval Academy's assistance during World War II, Coach Frank Leahy and President John Cavanaugh agreed to play Navy in football any time they wanted, and sealed the deal with a handshake.

Prior to that agreement, Notre Dame had played Navy every year since 1927, and have continued ever since. The agreement is not legally binding, but the integrity of both schools is in many ways a more enduring bond than any contract.

The stark reality on the football field, however, is that Navy cannot compete with Notre Dame in the current college football landscape. The last time Navy beat the Irish was also the last time Navy fielded a Heisman trophy winner in Roger Staubach. The Naval Academy is simply not equipped to compete with the upper level competition in Division I-A, especially with the height/weight limits placed on the service academies. For example, Navy is starting the smallest offensive lineman in Div. I-A: 249-pound offensive guard Antron Harper.

However, it is worth noting that the Midshipmen are second in the country in rushing, and they operate an unconventional wishbone option attack which is difficult to prepare for. They'll fight hard all game, and the last several victories in Notre Dame Stadium have come by 2 or fewer scores, and the last visit was decided by 3 points.

Notre Dame 56
Navy 17

Here's why:

Notre Dame Defensive Line v. Navy Offensive Line
Navy: 270.4 lbs. per player
Notre Dame: 277.7 lbs. per player
At a position where defensive lineman are usually outclassed by nearly 50 lbs., this week Notre Dame's D-line will have the advantage of weight in addition to speed and power. Look for the D-line to attempt to get quick pressure up the field to disprupt Navy's timing on their option attack.

Notre Dame Skill Positions (WRs/TEs/RBs)
Calrson, TE: 6' 6"
Samardzija, WR: 6' 5"
Stovall, WR: 6' 5"
Fasano, TE: 6' 4"
Shelton, WR: 6' 0"
Thomas, RB" 6' 0"
Walker, RB: 5'11"
Navy Secondary and Linebackers
Tyler Tidwell, OLB, 6' 2"
Rob Caldwell, ILB, 6' 0"
Jake Biles, ILB, 5' 11"
Keenan Little, CB, 5' 11"
Jeremy McGown, S, 5' 11"
DuJuan Price, S, 5' 11"
David Mahoney, OLB, 5' 9"
Greg Thrasher, CB, 5' 8"
Jump ball, anyone?

Notre Dame Defense v. Navy Offense
ND rush defense rank: 25th Navy rush offense rank: 2nd
ND pass defense rank: 110th Navy pass offense rank: 114th
There strengths play into our strengths, they do not play to our weaknesses; this means our better athletes will win these matchups. Finally, Notre Dame's pass defense will look good statistically.

68-9-1: the series record. There is no dominance in college football like Notre Dame's over Navy. If Notre Dame ever loses this game, I guarantee the Midshipmen will bring down the goalposts no matter where the game takes place. To put this in perspective, however, even Ty Willie, Kuharich, and Faust went undefeated against Navy. I don't expect this series to have close games again for a long, long time. Notre Dame wins big.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Notre Dame 41, Tennessee 21

Tennessee's defense was predictably solid, but they haven't faced anything like the Irish offense this year.

Tennessee's rush defense was solid, giving up only 48 yards on 33 rushes, for a paltry 1.4 yads/rush average. However, if you look at just the running backs the Irish gained 77 yards on 23 carries. Their pass rush was excellent, as Brady sruggled all day to find enough time to pitch the ball, getting sacked 3 times, and hurrying him all day.

Tennessee surprised me, however, with their offense. I expected us to really shut the run down, but they committed to the run, and were relatively effective - they gained over 100 yards on the ground. Their passing game was largely ineffective, however, despite our inability to rush the passer. Statistically, our pass rush was as good as Tennessee's, but Brady, on average, had much less time to throw than Erik Ainge. Ainge would routinely sit in the pocket for 7+ seconds, looking for a receiver. Despite all the time, however, he only completed 40% of his passes, and threw 2 picks.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about - the overall complete game the Irish played. There were a couple of weaknesses, but overall the Irish executed well in all three phases of the game.

The Irish offense struggled statistically compared to what they've been able to do all year, but this is largely due to the Tennessee defense. The offense did plenty, however, scoring three passing touchdowns and controlling the pace of the game.

A couple more passing records were broken - most touchdown passes in a season, most touchdown receptions in a season, and consecutive games with a touchdown reception. At this point, the only passing records that may be safe come year's end are: pass attempts in a game (in '67, 63 passes were thrown in one game - Charlie likes balance too much for that one to fall) and yards per attempt/completion (Charlie's offense uses short passes like other offenses use the running game). Other than that, Brady, Jeff, and the rest of the receiving corps will have the rest. This includes the records for quality and efficiency, not just the ones for quantity. For example, look at: season pass interception percentage (record: .016, 4 in 250 attempts; current: .013, 4 in 299 attempts) season completion percentage (record: .638, 118 of 185; current: .652, 195 of 299).

And did I mention we have three of our five weakest opponents ahead, with all of our tough opponents behind us?

The other phases of the Irish game were clicking on Saturday as well.

On defense, our pass rush was weak, but our secondary played as well as I've seen since the Holtz era. They were consistently glued to the receivers, and didn't give up the big play - the longest completion was 23 yards. We gave up a couple of long runs, but our pursuit was excellent, and they had no long scores. We had a fumble recovery, and two interceptions, one of which was returned by Zbikowski for a touchdown.

On special teams, we were great. Tennessee averaged a pitiful 4.7 yards per punt return, and only 21.7 on 8 kickoff returns. We averaged 23.3 per kick return, and a whopping 39.3 per punt return (helped by a spectacular 78-yd TD return by Zbikowski). We were perfect on field goals and PATs.

Yes, you read that correctly, Notre Dame scored a touchdown in all three phases of the game - offense, defense, and special teams.

This was the very picture of a team effort, and puts the Irish in the position to win out, as they should be favored by double digits in all three remaining games.

Navy has the best record of the remaining opponents at 5-3, but they've lost to Stanford, Maryland, and Rutgers with no wins over ranked teams. Syracuse is the worst team we'll play, with their lone win this season coming against MAC doormat and winless Buffalo. Stanford, at 4-4, is the toughest opponent remaining on our schedule; despite an embarassing loss to Division I-AA opponent UC-Davis earlier in the season, the Cardinal has been playing better late in the season, with a near-win over then-#8 UCLA and an upset of Arizona State. None of these teams have the talent to beat Notre Dame this year, barring the sudden loss of Quinn, Samardzija, Zbikowski, Walker, Thomas, Stovall AND Fasano. And even then, our backups could win these games (remember, Wolke drove the second team down the field against Purdue's first team in garbage time to score a TD).

See you in Tempe?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tennessee v. Notre Dame Analysis

Due to some helpful constructive criticism from some of my readers, this week I am going to do my full analysis, but attempt to make the material a little more accessible for the less, well, obsessed readers.

For the first time this year, I am truly excited about a game.

Yes, I was excited about Charlie's first game, but I was anxious about what kind of talent Michigan State was going to bring to the table, and how Charlie would deal with the Circus that is game week on campus for the first time.

For Southern Cal, I was fired up, but excited doesn't really describe the gamut of emotions I was experiencing. As a matter of fact, that entire week I was like a manic depressive, veering wildly between depressed memories of Ty's embarassing losses to the Poodle and wildly optimistic dreams of fairy tale endings that would vault us to a National Championship. I was impatient, but not excited. Also, having my brother in town was a lot of fun, but also quite a distraction.

For BYU, well, it was BYU. I knew we would win, and win big, but despite last year's loss to the Cougars, I just couldn't rile up a lot of emotion. I was way more excited about having my sister in town and showing her and her friend the game day atmosphere than the game.

This week, though, I am absolutely stoked. Excited beyond belief. We have a quality opponent with a talented defense limping in halfway through a disappointing season for them. We are a Top 10 team, well-rested with two weeks of preparation under our belts. It should be a dogfight - a hard-hitting, smashmouth football game in the trenches with the exciting plays and momentum shifts that are inevitable in this kind of matchup. I don't have anyone from out of town to try to schedule around. I can finally go enjoy a game on my own.

Now lets break this match-up down (I'm cutting back the format a little, looking at key match-ups for the game instead of every single player on the field.)

Notre Dame Passing v. Tennessee Secondary and Pass-rush

Key Matchups:

Brady Quinn, QB, 175-266 (65.8% completions) 2,352 yds., 20 TD, 4 INT, 44 rushes, 169 yds.


Parys Haralson, DE, 30 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks
Jason Hall, DE, 26 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks

Brady has been torching teams all year, sitting at 5th in the country in pass completions per game (the most by a quarterback for any team ranked in the top 15). Tennessee is averaging 3 sacks per game (tied for 15th in the nation), while Notre Dame is giving up only 1.5 sacks per game. Something has got to give. Either Notre Dame's offensive line will continue to be efficient, or Tennessee's ends will get theirs. My gut feeling is that Brady's pocket presence will trump the pass rush, and we'll give up maybe two sacks.
Don't underestimte these rushers, though; if they can get to Brady early and disrupt his timing, they could gdrag this offense down to a snail's pace. Also look for Jessee Mahelona inside to collapse the pocket a couple of times.

Jeff Samardzija, WR
Maurice Stovall, WR
Jonathan Hefney, CB
Jonathan Wade, CB

Notre Dame's receivers are getting better by the week, but they haven't faced a tougher corner tandem than this. Returning starter Jonathan Hefney is the team's shut down corner, usually bottling up the opposing team's leading receiver. The opposite corner, Jonathan Wade, beat out last year's starter Roshaun Fellows to emerge as a force at the other side of the field. Teams have tried to pick on him, but he has a knack for getting his hand on the ball. Because last year's starter, Fellows, is the third corner, Notre Dame would have to go at least 4 deep at receiver to expose any weaknesses.
This, for me, is the most intriguing matchup this week.

Notre Dame's Running Backs vs. Tennessee's Linebackers and Defensive Line

Darius Walker, RB
Travis Thomas, RB
Omar Gaither, LB
Kevin Simon, LB
Jessee Mahelona, DT

Notre Dame doesn't have the standout running back many people expected in Darius Walker this year. Some of this is due to the utilization of Travis Thomas and Rashon Powers-Neal. Some of it is Darius learning how to run effectively in Charlie's system, trusting his blocks and hitting the seams decisively, even if they haven't opened yet.
Tennessee is the 5th best rush defense team in the country, giving up only 85 yards per game on the ground.
This could be a long day for ND's runners, as the linebacking core and D-line for Tennessee closes holes quickly and penetrates the backfield effectively.
Much like the Pittsburgh game, look for Charlie to rely on screens to move the ball, rather than attack this defense's strength.
Problem with that: Jason Allen, the All-American free safety.

Notre Dame Offense v. Tennessee Defense

This matchup is what has me excited about this game.

Charlie Weis is an offensive genius-robot.

Phil Fulmer's defense is one of the best in the country, and these kids are like wounded animals backed into a corner. They feel like they have something to prove.

Tennessee gives up 208 yds/gm passing compared to the 340 yds/gm we are accustomed to.

Tennessee gives up only 85 yds/gm on the ground. Despite the disappointments in this area, we still average almost 153 yds/gm on the ground.

Thats a difference of exactly 200 yds/gm between what they give up and what we normally get.

Something's got to give.

Expect the Irish to struggle early against the best defense they'll play this year, but to get a couple of quick strike touchdowns towards the end of the first half.

Tennessee's defense will reassert itself in the second half, but Notre Dame will grind out another score late in the game.

Tennessee Rushing v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Gerald Riggs, Jr., RB - senior returning starter, 1,000 yard rusher
Arian Foster, RB - true freshman, 61 rushes, 285 yds., 2 TD, 3 fumbles
Brandon Hoyte, LB, 56 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Corey Mays, LB, 32 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles

The loss of Gerald Riggs to injury during the Alabama game doomed any hope Tennessee had of consistency on offense this season. Tennessee is average a paltry 110 yds/gm on the ground, while Notre Dame's rush defense is a solid 119 yds/gm. this translates into a situation where Tennessee will struggle to move the ball on the ground all day.
I expect Tennessee to have less than 75 yards rushing at game's end.

Tennessee Passing v. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Bear with me as I go statistic-happy for a little bit, as this matchup is difficult to decipher.

Tennessee's passing game is only averaging a little over 200 yds/gm (79th in the country).

On the bright side for them, Notre Dame is giving up just over 300 yds/gm (114th in the country).

However, these numbers are a bit deceiving.

Notre Dame's opponents have all been pass-happy teams compared to Tennessee. Southern Cal averages 344 yds/gm in the air, BYU 325, Michigan State 307, Purdue 263, Washington 232, Pittsburgh 223, and Michigan 219.

Averaged out, Notre Dame gives up about 25 yards more per game than their opponent's average.

Tennessee has also faced some of the toughest pass defense teams in the country. Their opponents give up very few passing yards: Alabama 160yds/gm, Florida 168, Georgia 174, South Carolina 177, Mississippi 186, LSU 203, UAB 210.

Averaged out, Tennessee is gaining about 25 yards more per game than their opponent's average.

So the question is, does Notre Dame give up about 225 yds (~25 yards over Tennessee's average), or does Tennessee throw for about 325 yards (~25 yards over Notre Dame's average)?

This matchup is interesting because Tennessee will not be able to run, and Notre Dame has been susceptible to the pass.

The statistic I think will decide this is efficiency. Notre Dame's pass efficiency defense is a respectable 122 (for those non-football people, that means that they are actually 58th in the country, not 114th). Tennessee's pass efficiency offense is a pitiful 101 (this puts them at 101st in the country, not 79th).

What does this all mean?

Notre Dame, because of Tennessee's one-dimensionality, will be able to sit on the pass and will bottle up Tennessee's passing game.

Tennessee Offense v. Notre Dame Defense

Notre Dame has faced some incredibly high-powered offenses this year. Tennessee is not high-powered, especially with their best offensive player on the sidelines.

Tennessee is used to playing against stingy defenses. Notre Dame isn't exactly stingy, as they have given up lots of passing yardage.

However, Notre Dame's defense has adjusted well in every game this year, especially in the 2nd quarter.

Expect Tennessee to look good early, as their team is playing with a lot of pride and emotion. I wouldn't be surprised to see them jump out to an early lead.

Notre Dame will adjust late in the first half, pressuring the quarterback and throwing off their timing.

In the second half, the Vols will rally again, but will simply not have enough offense to make up the deficit they'll be facing late in the game.

Also, as usual, expect the Irish to come up with 1 or 2 red zone turnovers against a team that will be pressing most of the game, and will be looking for an identity on offense, due to confusion in the coaching ranks.

Notre Dame Coaching v. Tennessee Coaching

Earlier this week, Tennessee's offensive coordinator resigned, effective at the end of the year. Beginning with this game, their offensive coordinator will be in the press box, discussing the play calls with Phil Fulmer, Tennessee's head coach, via headphones.

Notre Dame's head coach Charlie Weis was just granted an extension to his contract, keeping him here until 2015, amid rumors that NFL teams were courting him.

Do you really have to ask which team has the advantage here?

Notre Dame's biggest worry in this game is complacency by the coaching staff. If Coach Weis doesn't stay agressive on offense despite early struggles, this game could get away from him, with Tennessee's defense dictating the pace of the game. As long as we stay aggressive, we should be OK.


Notre Dame 24
Tennessee 13

Tennessee will jump out to an early 7-0 lead, but Notre Dame will score 14 straight in the second quarter to retake the lead. Tennessee and Notre Dame will grind out a couple of field goals early in the second half, and Tennessee will slim the lead to 13-17. Notre Dame will respond with an epic fourth quarter drive to put the game out of reach.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Re-writing the Notre Dame record books

Brady broke the all-time records for touchdowns in a game and in a season, Stovall broke the all-time record for TD receptions in a game, and Jeff "The Shark" Samardzija tied the record high for touchdown receptions in a season.

Oh, and for those that are counting, Brady has 2,352 yards on the year to date, just 401 behind all-time leader Jarious Jackson - at his current pace, Brady will beat that mark by over 1,200 yards at season's end.

And its not all passing. Despite having some less-than-stellar performances the past couple of games, Darius Walker is still on pace to finish the season with nearly 1,100 yards, which would place him in the top 10 seasons in the history of Notre Dame. And, lest we forget, he's a sophomore. Only Autry Denson and Allen Pinkett have had sophomore years as prolific.

And the weakest part of the schedule is still ahead. This team still has four more games to play. And of those four, three of them have losing records, and the toughest opponent (Tennessee) has a .500 record right now (they'll likely be 4-3 when they coming limping into Notre Dame Stadium).

This team has plenty of time to pad their stats for the post-season awards, and I wouldn't be surprised if Brady starts to get even more Heisman cred late in the season with the numbers he'll put up. However, barring an injury or horrible case of fumblitis (and possibly even despite anything that happens) Reggie Bush will win the Heisman.

My predictions for post-season awards (through this week):

Heisman Memorial Trophy (Player of the Year)
Reggie Bush, USC
Runner-up: Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Invited: Matt Leinart, USC; Vince Young, Texas; Maurice Drew, UCLA
Snubbed: DeAngelo Williams, Memphis;

Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Runner-up: Reggie Bush, USC

Walter Camp Award (Player of the Year)
Reggie Bush, USC
Runner-up: DeAngelo Williams, Memphis

Davey O'Brien award (Most Outstanding Quarterback)
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Runner-up: Matt Leinart, USC

Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Outstanding Senior Quarterback)
Matt Leinart, USC
Runner-up: Brodie Croyle, Alabama

Doak Walker Award (Best Running Back)
DeAngelo Williams, Memphis
Runner-up: Maurice Drew, UCLA

Fred Biletnikoff Award (Best Receiver)
Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame
Runner-up: Dwayne Jarret, USC

Fred Mackey Award (Best Tight End)
Garrett Mills, Tulsa
Runner-up: Anthony Fasano, Notre Dame

I am a big football geek, but I don't have any way of determining the best offensive lineman awards or any of the defensive awards, as I don't have time to watch that much game tape. And I didn't feel like figuring out the Groza Award for best kicker.

Notre Dame 49, Brigham Young 23

As I predicted, this wasn't much of a contest. Notre Dame came out a little flat, and weren't really able to stretch their defensive muscles until the second half. The offense, however, looked good pretty much all day.

Coach Weis, as he is apt to do, surprised me once again. Sometime towards the end of the first series, I was beginning to wonder if we had even dressed a running back. The game started in a 5-wide formation, and Darius didn't come into the game until very late in the drive. Weis bumfuzzled the opposing defenders with a series of three-step drops, quickly punching them in their soft spots. Their befuddlement only increased as the game wore on, and at one point, the defense was so confused that they let Jeff Samardzija into the end zone a good 7-10 yards behind EVERY defender. Needless to say, Brady found him for a TD.

The biggest surprise of this game was the breakout game of Maurice Stovall. He suddenly developed All-American hands and some wicked speed during his runs after the catch.

The defense, after a slow start, settled down, and developed some momentum at the end of the game, culminating in an 83-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tom Zbikowski.

I've lost count of how many red-zone interceptions the Irish have recorded this year, but at this point, it's well past luck, and well into habit.

Friday, October 21, 2005

BYU v. Notre Dame Prediction

Fall Break, emotional hangover from last weekend, and a week bookended with visits from siblings all conspired to prevent me from completing my usual in-depth analysis of the BYU game.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't attempt some kind of prediction.

BYU has a pass-happy scheme on offense that has the capability of catching our D-backs off guard early, but after the athletes they were covering last week, this week will make the Irish feel like they are playing a really good 1-AA opponent by comparison. I expect them to get a fluke touchdown sometime in the first half, but otherwise be limited to a couple of field goals tomorrow.

BYU's defense is a different scheme than what we have faced thus far: a 3-3-5 formation with two defensive ends and a nose tackle up front, 3 athletic linebackers with a run-stuffing middle linebacker, 2 corners and 3 safeties. This scheme will slow down the Notre Dame offense in the first quarter, but as soon as Brady starts to see the seams in the scheme, this offense will find this scheme amenable to the passing game, despite all of the defensive backs. Charlie will spend much of the first half running the ball inside, trying to force the safeties up in run support and freeing up the wide receivers to attack the deep seams.

While BYU may look impressive early, and will certainly be fired up to play in a hung-over Notre Dame stadium, the depth and athleticism of the team will pull ahead late, and the fans will remember, probably around the third quarter, that:


Notre Dame 48
Brigham Young 10

Monday, October 17, 2005

Notre Dame 31, Southern Cal 28

I refuse to admit that the Trojans won this game. I watched it from the stands, and I've watched countless replays over the past few days.

I don't like complaining about calls that decide games, and there have been countless times where I've felt that Notre Dame was jobbed, but have conceded that officiating is part of the game, and that we should be content with the outcome.

I can't do that here.

I watched Notre Dame win that game. Southern Cal wouldn't go quietly into the night, and they are a worthy adversary, deserving of praise. However, Notre Dame won that game. The bend-don't-break defense of Notre Dame allowed the Trojans to get into scoring position, but they stopped the Trojans on their goal line. Twice.

The refs, after the first stop, went out of their way to kick the fans off the field and put time back on the clock for the Trojans to try again, and spotted the ball on the 1-inch line to make it easy for the Trojans. Okay, no problem. If they go for the win, all Notre Dame has to do is stop them.

And stop them Notre Dame did.

Leinart took the snap from center, and tried to push forward. The Notre Dame line stiffened, however, and pushed him back, keeping him out of the endzone.

Then the Trojans committed a penalty. Reggie Bush, watching his Heisman hopes pirouetting toward the ground, pushed Leinart into the end zone. In case the Pac-10 officials don't know this, assisting the runner is a 10-yard penalty. An offensive player is not allowed to assist the runner by pushing or pulling them forward. The officials sure took their time in making sure that the Trojans got another chance at the end zone, but none of them bothered to pull out the flag when Reggie Bush blatantly and admittedly pushed Leinart into the end zone.

I am not an official, have not been trained by the NCAA. But I know the rules of the game. And I could have told you the moment it happened, 30 rows up on the other side of the field, that that was a penalty. But five Pac-10 officials apparently decided it wasn't.

Yes, Notre Dame had every opportunity to put the game away; yes, they gave up a 61-yard pass on 4th and 9. But Notre Dame won the game by the rules, and the Pac-10 officials made damn sure that they wouldn't be credited with it.

I know this won't count for much, but in my mind, for as long as I live, this game will go down as a win.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Electric atmosphere on campus...

Nothing can compare to the atmosphere on campus this week. The last time I remember there being this much energy and atmosphere surrounding a Notre Dame game was 1993 - Florida State v. Notre Dame. The result: ND breaks FSU's winning streak.

As a student at Notre Dame who is living out a dream I've had for as long as I can remember, the following post on Blue Gray Sky blog has summed up my feelings on this game.

All of the predictions are in, ESPN has arrived (my brother and I rolled out of bed at 7 am to get to campus for the taping of Cold Pizza, the morning show on ESPN2), and rumors surrounding tonight's pep rally and the celebs on campus abound. According to [I'm not making this up] a classmate's sister's best friends professor, who is a friend of the owner of the Saint Mary's Inn, Bon Jovi is staying there. Also, there was a confirmed sitting of Brad Pitt at Recker's yesterday. The current favorites for the pep rally are Springsteen and Bon Jovi performing, with Montana and Holtz speaking.

All that is left is to play the game.

I believe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Southern Cal v. Notre Dame Analysis

This is the biggest game Notre Dame has played in the last 12 years. Not since the 1993 #1/#2 Florida State/Notre Dame matchup has so much hype, so much promise, and so much prestige been on the line in one game.

Notre Dame was ranked in the 40s in almost every preseason poll in the country, with only 1 player ranked in the top ten at their position in any of the preseason mags (Anthony Fasano). The talking heads said that Weis was the wise choice for coach, but that he would need time to recruit talent to compete with the Michigan's and USCs of the world. Fast forward 5 games, and the Irish are sitting at 4-1, having been an underdog against Pittsburgh and Michigan before stumbling at home against a red-hot Michigan State team in overtime. Now ranked 9th in the country, the team just completed their most impressive game to date, a methodical dismantling of 22nd ranked Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. Brady Quinn has thrust himself into the Heisman picture, and virtual unknown Jeff Samardzija is suddenly on track for a consensus All-American season. Darius Walker tied the school record for the most consecutive 100-yard rushing games to start a season.

Southern Cal is undeniably the #1 team in the nation. While they have shown some weaknesses, their offense scores over 50 points per game, and average over 600 yards per game. They have a 27-game winning streak coming into this game, the longest current streak in the nation. They have the top 2 Heisman Trophy Candidates in Matt Leinart and LenDale White. And despite all of the talk of their first-half letdowns over the last three games, there will be no such letdown when the suit up against the Irish. The Trojans know all too well what Notre Dame can do to a winning streak.

History may have something to say about this game. Notre Dame has a habit of breaking winning streaks. The NCAA-record 47-game winning streak of Oklahoma in 1957 ended at the hands of the Irish. So did the school-record 31 game winning streak of Georgia Tech in 1953. And the 37-game regular season winning streak of Miami in 1988. And the 16-game winning streak of Florida State in 1993. Even Notre Dame basketball has gotten in on the bubble-bursting; they defeated UCLA to snap their NCAA-record 88-game winning streak.

But perhaps the most important streak the Irish have broken: the last time a 20+ game USC team came to town. In 1973, the defending National Champion Trojans came to South Bend sporting a 23-game winning streak, and left with a 23-14 loss.

Now the stage is set. The mighty Trojans roll in sporting all of the confidence and swagger of a two-time defending national champion. The Irish are sitting at home with two weeks to heal and prepare themselves, more confidence in their offensive abilities than ever before, and are suddenly acting like a team that expects to win every game.

Its time for Notre Dame to retake their reputation as THE team to beat in college football.

Notre Dame Quarterbacks and Receivers v. Southern Cal Defensive Backs

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Starters

Brady Quinn, QB, Sr.
124-190 1,621 yards, 13 TD, 3 INT

Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr.
28 rec., 499 yds., 8 TD

Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr.
23 rec., 388 yds., 1 TD

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr.
14 rec., 159 yds

Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr.
(in 2 games) 5 rec., 69 yds., 1 TD

David Grimes, WR, Fr., 1 rec., 11 yds.

Southern Cal Starters

Justin Wyatt, CB
14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT

Scott Ware, FS
16 tackles

Darnell Bing, SS
12 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 INT, 5 pass breakups

John Walker, CB (2nd string)
21 tackles, 2 INT, 3 pass breakups

Josh Pinkard, S, 18 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 INT
William Buchanon, CB, 1 tackle

Terrell Thomas, CB, 6 tacklesand 1 pass breakup in 2 games (out)

Brady Quinn is poised to launch himself into the Heisman Trophy lead if he out-guns current Heisman leader Matt Leinart on national TV. He has all of the weapons he needs healthy (by all accounts, Rhema and Shelton are back to 100% and will play extensively). His robot-genius coach has had two weeks to calculate how to score the most points against SC. Oh, and there is a 2nd string corner starting in SC's backfield. I expect the Irish to gash this pass defense all day long, especially when Carroll gets frustrated and starts to be over-aggressive in defending the runs and screens.

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Southern Cal Linebackers

Edge: Draw

Notre Dame Starters

Darius Walker
116 rushes, 571 yds., 3 TD, 17 rec., 116 yds., 2 TD - 5 Total TDs

Rashon Powers-Neal
31 rushes, 101 yds., 6 TD, 9 rec., 90 yds.

Anthony Fasano
23 rec., 249 yds.

Travis Thomas, RB, 19 rushes, 109 yds., 2 TD
Asaph Schwapp, 9 rushes, 19 yds.
John Carlson, 4 rec., 40 yds., 1 TD

Southern Cal Starters

Thomas Williams, SLB, So.
12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups

Oscar Lua, MLB, Jr.
32 tackles, 1 INT

Keith Rivers, WLB, So.
25 tackles, 2 tackles for loss

Clay Matthews, LB, Fr.
Collin Ashton, LB, Sr.
Rey Maualuga, LB, Fr.

Dallas Sartz, LB, 9 tackles and 2 sacks in 2 games (questionable)
Brian Cushing, LB, 1 tackle in 1 game (out)

Despite Notre Dame's experienced line and great running backs, the Irish will struggle if they try to run up the gut of this defense; SC's middle backer is a stud, and will plug the gaps all day long. Also, the defensive team speed will frustrate Darius' attempts to get to the corner. However, Weis will probably not test that too much, and will run screens, off-tackle, and short passes to Fasano to stretch out the 'backers, loosening up the run later in the game. I don't expect Darius to run for a lot more than 100 yards, but I wouldn't be surprised for him to get real close to the century mark.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Southern Cal Defensive Line

Edge: Draw

Notre Dame Starters:
Ryan Harris, LT
Dan Santucci, LG
Bob Morton or John Sullivan, C
Dan Stevenson, RG
Mark LeVoir, RT

Michael Turkovich, Fr., T
Brian Mattes and Scott Raridon, Srs., G

Southern Cal Starters

Lawrence Jackson, DE
20 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 pass breakups

Sedrick Ellis, NT
14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 additional tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups

LaJuan Ramsey, DT
8 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss
Fili Moala, DT
3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss

Frostee Rucker, DE
27 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 additional tackles for loss

Jeff Schweiger, DE, So., 2 tackles, 1 for loss
Alex Morrow, DE, So., 3 tackles
Travis Tofi, NT, Jr., 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Travis Draper, DT, Fr.

Southern Cal has some very good defensive ends who will pressure Brady all day, but this shouldn't be a huge problem with this team's tendency to use three-step drops, screens and draw plays to frustrate the pass rush. The Notre Dame experience will pick up many of the blitzes that Carroll will throw at them, but I do expect Brady to get hit more than he has all day. The SC numbers for this unit will look good, but Brady's presence will allow him to make some big throws before the hit. Brady will leave this game bruised, but not beaten. The short running game should still be effective, as RPN rarely loses yards, and keeps his feet moving. Don't be surprised if Charlie uses less of Schwapp and more of RPN to pick up blitzes and lead block to avoid mistakes.

Southern Cal Quarterbacks and Receivers v. Notre Dame Defensive Backs

Edge: Southern Cal

Southern Cal Starters

Matt Leinart, QB, Sr.
108-166, 1,646 yards, 12 TD, 3 INT

Dwayne Jarrett, SE, So.
35 rec., 467 yds., 9 TD

Steve Smith, FL, Jr.
27 rec., 575 yds., 1 TD

John David Booty, QB, So., 9-17 96 yards, 2 TD
Patrick Turner, SE, Fr., 3 rec. 45 yds., 1 TD
Chris McFoy, FL, Jr., 5 rec. 50 yds.

Notre Dame Starters

Ambrose Wooden
36 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 INT

Chinedum Ndukwe
21 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries

Tom Zbikowski
31 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble

Mike Richardson
25 tackles, 1 sack, 4 pass breakups, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery

If there is any match-up in this game that makes me indecisive about calling this game for the Irish, it is this one. Our pass defense is not great, and Leinart has been lighting it up all year long. The key here will be for the defensive backfield to play the same game it has played all year: keep the game in front of the safeties, get disciplined pressure on the QB, don't give up the big play, and tighten the noose in the red zone. More than any other team in the country, SC has the talent to score from anywhere on the field on any given play. Hopefully, Weis' focus on technique and fundamentals last week will allow this defense to slow the juggernaught that is SC's offense enough that our dependable offense can out pace them in the end.
A couple of picks by this unit (especially one for a score ala Shane Walton) could gift-wrap the Heisman for Brady Quinn.

Southern Cal Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Edge: Southern Cal

Southern Cal Starters

Reggie Bush, RB, Jr.
71 rushes, 601 yds., 6 TD, 13 rec., 191 yds. 2 TD - 8 total TDs
LenDale White, RB, Sr.
81 rushes, 616 yards, 10 TD, 3 rec., 44 yds - 10 total TDs

David Kirtman, FB, Sr.
12 rec., 169 yds., 2 TD

Dominique Byrd, TE, Sr.
10 rec., 95 yds.

Brandon Hancock, FB, Jr., 5 rec., 60 yds.
Dale Thompson, TE, So.

Notre Dame Starters

Brandon Hoyte
42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles

Corey Mays
25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble

Maurice Crum, Jr.
20 tackles, 1 forced fumble

I can guarantee that this game will be the only one all year that I give the edge in this matchup to the opposing team. The biggest reason that Southern Cal is undefeated, and that Leinart is a favorite to win his second Heisman, is the play of their starting tailbacks: Bush and White. White is a classic, pound the ball running back, a sure starter on any team in the country, who runs hard north-south and makes you mob him to bring him down.
Bush is possibly the most talented running back since Barry Sanders, a slasher who can beat you running the ball, or shift from the backfield into the slot and play better than most receivers in the country.
Notre Dame has a solid run defense, and All-American Hoyte will have his hands full all day long. Hopefully, his conditioning will allow him to run with Bush and out-muscle White. I expect SC to run the ball effectively, but not spectacularly. If Notre Dame trails late, these backs could put the game away for SC by wearing out our linebackers. However, if Notre Dame leads late, Expect Bush to come in more as a receiver, allowing the Irish to improve their pass rush as SC scrambles to get back in the game.

Southern Cal Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line

Edge: Southern Cal

Southern Cal Starters

Sam Baker, LT
Taitusi Lutui, LG
Ryan Kalil, C
Fred Matua, RG
Winston Justice, RT

Kyle Williams, T
Alatini Malu, G/T
Chilo Rachal, G
Matt Spanos, C

Notre Dame Starters

Victor Abiamiri, DE
18 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble

Derek Landri, DT
9 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup

Trevor Laws, DT
6 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 blocked kick

Chris Frome, DE
6 tackles, 1 sack, 3 pass breakups

Notre Dame's defensive line is good, but not great. Southern Cal's offensive line is a lot like our own - big, talented, and experienced. I don't expect our D-line to get manhandled, but I also worry about our ability to get pressure on Leinart. The biggest problem: Derek Landri is giving up 100 lbs. on SC's left guard Taitusi Lutui. This matchup could be decided by the officials; if holding is called tightly, our speed on the line can get around the muscle, but if the line is permitted to grab hold of our D-line, this could get ugly.

Notre Dame Coaches v. Southern Cal Coaches

Edge: Notre Dame

According to my wife, a co-worker was at Armando's on Saturday, where Coach Weis had taken his son to get his hair cut. Coach was asked whether we were going to win on Saturday. Never one to guarantee victory, Charlie responded "He [Pete Carroll] couldn't beat me in the pros."
Charlie obviously feels that he is familiar with Carroll's schemes and isn't worried about being able to out-coach him. Carroll is a great college coach, but he doesn't understand the game on the same level as Charlie. There isn't much by way of offensive coordinator at USC, where Leinart is effective largely due to his tutelage under Norm Chow the last couple of years. Carroll has always been a defensive coach, and never hired a defensive coordinator, electing to take on that role for himself. Although Charlie has an offensive coordinator, he calls the plays himself, and is responsible for all offensive adjustments. Rick Minter's bend-don't break defense has largely gotten the job done, with the exception of a couple of series early against Michigan State. I can guarantee that Charlie's offense will get the better of Carroll's defense. Also, Leinart will probably move the ball all day long against Minter's defense. However, look for the Notre Dame defense to stiffen up the closer the Trojans get to the end zone, as the Irish have forced turnovers inside the red zone in every win this year.

Final Prediction:

Notre Dame 38
Southern Cal 28

'Cause Bobby Brown said so.

Every part of my mind, looking at matchups and statistics and data, says that Southern Cal wins this game. However, having watched every Notre Dame game this year, and having watched two of the last three Southern Cal games, I can't seem to shake this confidence built up deep inside that the Irish are going to win this game. All of the factors not discussed in my usual analyses go towards the Irish. It's a home game. The weather should be chilly and wet, which will slow down the Trojan speedsters. Southern Cal's biggest weakness is kickoffs and punts, which the Irish have done well in, but have been unable to break out. Notre Dame is 38-4 coming off of bye weeks.

And Bobby Brown said so.

I expect the Trojans to come out strong, and the Irish may even trail by a touchdown early. However, the Trojans will make a couple of mistakes costing them points in the first half, as they have the last three weeks, while the Irish offense continues its efficient and nearly mistake-free offense, churning out time, yards, and points. Notre Dame 17 - 14 at the half. In the second half, Carroll's vaunted halftime adjustments give Minter's defense some fits early, and the Trojans take the lead going into the 4th quarter. However, the offense of Notre Dame continues its march as the Trojan defense starts to tire. Notre Dame outscores Southern Cal 21-7 in the final quarter, and come away with the victory.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Expert Analysis (No, Really, It's not me...)

Yesterday, as I was attempting to scarf down a lunch during my 45-minute break between classes, none other than former Notre Dame football player Bobby Brown sits done a couple seats away from me. Another student stopped to ask him about the game this Saturday, and so I thought I would share his insightful analysis of ND's chances this week against the Condoms of Southern Cal.

His first point was that the key to this game will be which offense will be able to control the clock and keep the other offense off of the field. He thinks that Notre Dame will edge out the Trojans in this category. (Due to my obsession, I was able to share with Bobby the fact that the Irish are #1 in the country in time of possession).

Edge: Irish

His next point is that the elements will play a factor in this game. The Trojans haven't played anywhere but balmy, dry weather thus far, having played games in Southern Cal and Arizona thus far. When they come to town this week, the forecast is 54 degrees and sporadic showers for the game, with cooler temps as the game wears on. The precipitation will slow down the Condom's speedsters, and the cool temps will be a bit of a shock for the Southern Cal pretty boys. Wind won't be as much of a factor, but this definitely plays into the Irish game plan.

Edge: Irish

Finally, Bobby's last comment was that the ND defense will be much improved this week, and both teams' attempts to control the pace will result in a lower scoring game, and not the shootout that the experts are predicting. With the Weis offense, a lower scoring game plays in our favor, as this offense is quite possibly the most consistent unit in all of college football, whereas the Trojan's offense has lived and died by their ability to explode for points over a short period of time.

Edge: Irish

I pushed Bobby for a score prediction, but he wouldn't get too specific. The one thing that he kept repeating throughout the conversation was:

Notre Dame by 10.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Notre Dame 49, Purdue 28

Notre Dame got a big monkey off its back this week. Not the Boilermakers, who have never been much more than an annoying zit on the back of Notre Dame football, but instead have finally developed an offense.

It's not often that a player can achieve a first at Notre Dame, the most storied of football programs. Brady Quinn defies logic, however.

Every time in Notre Dame history that the team has thrown for 400+ yards, it has been in a loss, where the Irish went to the air in a desperate game of catch up. Several of those games were with Brady at the helm, including last year's loss to Purdue.

This week was different. We went to the air early and often, and Brady torched the Purdue secondary to the tune of 440 yards.

Brady has already put a big dent in the Notre Dame record book. He is currently well ahead in average passing yards per game (199.9, second is Powlus with 172.7) and has the record for most touchdown passes in a single game (5, against Michigan State earlier this year).

A couple other records Brady is closing in on are: consecutive games with touchdown passes (10, tying the record held by Heisman Winner John Huarte) total career passing yards (6,038, good for third behind Beurlein with 6,527 and Powlus with 7,602) total career touchdown passes (36, behind Mirer with 41 and Powlus with 52) single season passing yardage (1,621 yards through 5 games, record is 2,753 - Quinn needs to average only 189 yds/gm, or 135 fewer yds/gm than he has thus far this year, to break that mark).

In short, Brady Quinn has all but guaranteed, if he stays for his senior year, that he will break every passing record in the books.

Also, he is getting better with every start, which is important with #1 USC coming to town in 2 weeks. More than any other team that USC has faced this year, Notre Dame can hang with them in a shootout. And if USC lays an egg in the first half like they did against Oregon and Arizona State, I can assure you that they will not be able to shut down the Irish offense to allow a comeback. If USC is going to beat ND, they will have to score early and often to do so.

As for Purdue, they were just plain outmatched in this game. Coach Weis proved that he was coaching on a different level than Tiller and his cronies. Tiller attempted to turn up the offensive pressure in the second half by switching back to his old spread offense in a hurry-up, but by then the Irish were happy to settle into a soft zone defense and match each Boilermaker score to run out the clock.

The saddest thing about this game was Tiller's stubborn refusal to accept what the Boiler fans knew at half time: there was no way that Purdue could win that game. He used his timeouts on defense with 5 minutes left in the half, and kicked onside kicks after his last two scores. The saddest moment for Tiller was when his defense gave up a touchdown to the Irish second team, with David Wolke running the offense and Travis Thomas running the ball. Tiller embarassed himself and his team, and even the announcers called out Tiller for refusing to back down. Someone should explain to Tiller how sportsmanship works.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Week 6 Rankings

1 - Southern California - (4-0) – W 38 – 28 @ #20 AZ State
2 - Texas - (4-0) - W 51 – 20 @ Missouri
3 - Virginia Tech - (5-0) - W 34 – 17 @ West Virginia
4 - Georgia - (4-0) - Bye
5 - California - (5-0) – W [score] Arizona
6 - Alabama - (5-0) - W 31 – 3 #5 Florida
7 - Ohio State - (3-1) – Bye
8 - Texas Tech - (4-0) – W [score] Kansas
9 - Notre Dame - (4-1) – W 49 – 28 @ #23 Purdue
10 - Tennessee - (4-1) - W 27 – 10 Mississippi
11 - Florida State - (4-0) - W [score] Syracuse
12 - Miami - (3-1) – W 27 – 7 #25 South Florida
13 - Louisiana State - (2-1) - W 37 – 7 @ Mississippi State
14 - Wisconsin - (5-0) - W 41 – 24 Indiana
15 – UCLA – (4-0) – W 21 – 17 Washington
16 - Florida - (5-1) - L 31 – 3 @ #13 Alabama
17 - Penn State - (5-0) - W 44 – 14 @ #19 Minnesota
18 - Michigan State - (5-1) - L 34 – 31 (OT) Michigan
19 - Georgia Tech - (3-1) - Bye
20 - Oregon (4-1) W 44 – 20 @ Stanford
21 – Auburn (4-1) W 48 – 7 South Carolina
22 – Boston College (3-1) W 38 – 0 Ball State
23 – Virginia - (4-1) - L 45 – 33 @ Maryland
24 – Colorado (3-1) W 34 – 0 Oklahoma State
25 – Texas A&M (3-1) W 16 – 13 Baylor

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Notre Dame v. Purdue Analysis

The Irish have really settled into their offense, consistently putting up 35-45 points per game with the lone exception of the Michigan game, which is always an ugly game. At this point, there is no reason to believe that there are any teams out there (with the possible of exceptions of Virginia Tech and USC) that have the talent on defense to slow down this offense. I expect the Irish to continue scoring at the pace they have been.
The defense, on the other hand, is not as consistent, and has shown several time this year that they are susceptible to the big pass play. They are extremely good against the run, and hit harder than most other teams out there.
Notre Dame finishes its 4-out-of-5 road game stretch at Purdue this week, with the opportunity to go 4-1 over those five games, a far cry better than any of the so-called-experts ever would have thought they would be at this point in the season. I thought going in that 4-1 would be exactly the record coming out of that stretch, although I expected Purdue’s offense to be as potent as Michigan State’s turned out to be. Instead, the Boilermakers have struggled somewhat on offense with their modified spread offense / option attack. Also, Purdue pass defense has been one of the worst in the nation.

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers v. Purdue Secondary
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:
Brady Quinn, QB, Jr., 95-154 1,181 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT, 23 rushes, 54 yards
Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr., 15 receptions, 254 yards, 1 TD
Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr., 21 receptions, 346 yards, 6 TD

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr., 7 receptions, 91 yards
David Grimes, WR, Fr., 1 reception, 11 yards
David Wolke, QB, So., 1 rush, 22 yards

Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr., 5 receptions, 69 yards, 1 TD (day-to-day, should play)

Purdue Starters:
Brian Hickman, CB, Sr., 16 tackles, 1 INT
Zach Logan, CB, Fr., 10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU
Bernard Pollard, S, So., 20 tackles, 1 PBU
Kyle Smith, S, Sr., 12 tackles, 2 INT

Paul Long, CB, So., 4 tackles, 2 PBU
Lance Melvin, S, Fr.
Brandon Whittington, S, Fr.

Purdue’s pass defense this year is as bad as ours was last year. With the possibility of Rhema being back in the lineup, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some 5-receiver sets if Purdue’s run defense re-appears after taking last week off. There is almost no depth to this unit, with only one backup corner. Purdue only has 5 players with statistics on the defensive secondary, which makes me wonder if they even run a dime defense. The 5-wide sets could result in pure man coverage all day long, and with our depth at receiver, this could be a key matchup problem for Purdue.

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Purdue Linebackers
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:
Darius Walker, RB, So., 93 rushes, 479 yards, 2 TD, 16 receptions, 118 yards, 2 TD
Asaph Schwapp, FB, Fr. 9 rushes, 13 yards
Anthony Fasano, TE, Sr., 21 receptions, 219 yards

Rashon Powers-Neal, FB/RB, 23 rushes, 90 yards, 4 TD, 6 receptions, 55 yards
Travis Thomas, RB, 15 rushes, 92 yards, 1TD
John Carlson, TE, 3 receptions, 18 yards
Marcus Freeman, TE

Purdue Linebackers:
1st string:
Bobby Iwuchukwu, LB, Sr., 7 tackles, 1 TFL
Stanford Keglar, LB, So., 16 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
George Hall, LB, Jr., 22 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 PBU
2nd string:
Cliff Avril, LB, So., 10 tackles, 1 TFL
Kyle Williams, LB, Fr., 17 tackles
Dan Bick, LB, So., 9 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT

After last week’s loss to Minnesota, which saw the nation’s number one rush defense dissolve, giving up 200+ yards to Minnesota’s stud running back, Coach Tiller said that this week he’s going to start his second unit. While I’m not sure I believe him, his confidence in this unit is clearly shaken. Look for this to be an area where Charlie tests the less experienced starting backers by shifting into and out of different formations.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Purdue Defensive Line
Edge: Draw

Notre Dame's Starters:
Ryan Harris, LT, Jr.
Dan Santucci, LG, Sr.
John Sullivan, C, Jr.
Dan Stevenson, RG, Sr.
Mark LeVoir, RT, Sr.

Scott Raridon, G, Sr.
Brian Mattes, G, Sr.
Michael Turkovich, T, Fr.
Paul Duncan, T, Fr.

Injury: Bob Morton, C, Jr. (will not play, should be back in 1-2 weeks)

Washington Starters:
Brent Grover, DT, Sr., 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL
Brandon Villareal, DT, Sr., 18 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
Ray Edwards, DE, Jr., 9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack
Anthony Spencer, DE, Jr., 4 tackles, 2 sacks

Ryan Baker, DT, Fr., 3 tackles, 0.5 sack
Alex Magee, DT, Fr., 3 tackles
Rob Ninkovich, DE, Sr., 7 tackles, 1 sack
Eugene Bright, DE, So., 4 tackles, 0.5 sackT

he reason that Purdue had the best run defense the first two weeks of the season is stellar play by this unit. They were shedding their blocks and stuffing up holes. Last week, against a tougher O-line, they weren’t nearly as effective. I expect this unit to be effectively neutralized by our line, but I called it a draw simply because this is the only unit that has performed for Purdue, and if this D-line can play like they did the first two weeks, Darius could get a breather this week.

Purdue Quarterback and Receivers v. Notre Dame Secondary
Edge: Purdue

Purdue Starters:
Brandon Kirsch, QB, Jr., 44-84, 638 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT, 19 rushes, 81 yards
Kyle Ingraham, WR, Jr., 8 receptions, 133 yards
Dorien Bryant, WR, So., 18 receptions, 247 yards, 7 rushes, 49 yards, 1 TD
Ray Williams, WR, Sr., 2 rushes, 13 yards, 1 TD

Curtis Painter, QB, Fr., 1-3, 15 yards
Brian Hare, WR, Sr.
Kevin Noel, WR, Sr., 1 reception, 8 yards
Andre Chattams, WR, Jr., 2 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD

Notre Dame's Starters:
Mike Richardson, CB, Sr., 16 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU
Ambrose Wooden, CB, Jr., 29 tackles, 4 PBU, 1 INT
Tom Zbikowski, SS, Jr., 27 tackles, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 forced fumble
Chinedum Ndukwe, WS, So., 19 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble

LaBrose Hedgemon II, CB, Jr.
Leo Ferrine, CB, So., 3 tackles
Terrail Lambert, CB, So., 3 tackles, 1 PBU
David Bruton, S, Fr., 1 tackle
Kyle McCarthy, S, Fr.

Notre Dame’s pass defense has been suspect to say the least the last couple of weeks, and Purdue’s basketball-on-grass offense woulld normally be perfectly set up to challenge this unit again. However, Kirsch is more of an option-oriented QB, and Tiller has revamped his offense this year, looking to Urban Meyer’s success at Utah. That said, Purdue hasn’t completely forgotten last year’s game, and could still burn this unit, especially if Zbikowski gets over-anxious to cover the option.

Purdue Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers
Edge: Notre Dame

Purdue's Starters:
Jerod Void, RB, Sr., 36 rushes, 240 yards, 5 TD, 2 receptions, 15 yards
Charles Davis, TE, Sr., 9 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Kory Sheets, RB, So., 32 rushes, 195 yards, 3 TD
Brandon Jones, RB, Sr., 19 rushes, 88 yards
Dustin Keller, TE, So., 3 receptions, 53 yards, 2 TD

Notre Dame Starters:
Brandon Hoyte, WLB, Sr., 37 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble
Corey Mays, MLB, Sr., 20 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Maurice Crum, Jr., Apache, Jr., 19 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Joe Brockington, LB, Jr., 2 tackles, 1 TFL
Mitchell Thomas, LB, Jr., 1 tackle
Anthony Vernaglia, Apache, So.
Steve Quinn, Apache, Fr.

Purdue’s modified option/spread attack plays right into the strength of this defense – the linebacking corps. Hoyte will by all over Kirsh like white on rice this week, and will force Purdue to beat us through the air. Purdue’s running backs and tight ends are unspectacular, but do get enough production to make this work. Kirsch, for all his supposed running skills, does not produce much on the ground game, but has excellent timing on his pitches and fakes.

Purdue Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line
Edge: Purdue early, Notre Dame late

Washington Starters:
Mike Otto, T, Jr.
Robbie Powell, G, So.
Matt Turner, C, Sr.
Jordan Grimes, G, So.
Sean Sester, T, Fr.

Garret Miller, T, Fr.
Nick Fincher, G, So.

Notre Dame's Starters:
Victor Abiamiri, DE, Jr., 16 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU
Trevor Laws, DT, Jr., 4 tackles. 1 PBU
Derek Landri, DT, Sr., 8 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
Chris Frome, DE, Sr., 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU

Brian Beidatsch, DT, Sr., 6 tackles, 1 sack
Dwight Stephenson, Jr., DT, Jr.
Ronald Talley, DE, So., 5 tackles, 1 PBU
Justin Brown, DE, So., 2 tackles

Purdue’s offensive line is good, but not deep. Their starting tackle is also a backup guard, and a starting guard is the only backup center. The only players besides the starting five that could see the field are underclassmen, and as the game wears on, expect the line to start getting meaningful pressure on Kirsch. Early on, though, the D-line will struggle.

Notre Dame Head Coach v. Purdue Head Coach
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Head Coach: Charlie Weis, 1st year, 3-1

Purdue Head Coach: Joe Tiller, 8th year, 2-1 (62-37 at Purdue)

Tiller has had recent success against Notre Dame, largely due to the fact that he was simply a better coach than either Davie or Willingham. Tiller is a lot like Lloyd Carr at Michigan, in that Purdue comes into each year with high hopes and expectations, but by mid-season, Purdue is eliminated from the National Title hunt. However, unlike Michigan, Purdue inevitably goes on to fall out of the BCS picture by season’s end. You can count on Tiller to get a couple a win against a top team, but also a couple of losses against evenly matched opponents. Sadly, if the game is close at the end, you can almost always count on Purdue to lose. Weis will out-scheme, out-prepare, and out-coach Tiller, and squeak out a win.

Final Prediction:
Notre Dame 38
Purdue 27

I expect the Irish to come out and run their offense with the usual methodical and efficient success they have all year. Notre Dame will get up by a couple of scores in the second half, at which time Purdue will discover that they can pass the ball. After cutting it to a one-score game (or perhaps even a tie), their inability to stop the Notre Dame offense will spell their eventual doom, as they simply won’t be able to keep up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More proof that the BCS is useless.

The latest addition to the BCS formula, replacing the venerated AP poll, who no longer wanted to be associated with this pile of dung, is the Harris poll. This laughable poll is made up of a panel of persons nominated by the 117 Div-I football programs. There are no qualifications for a spot in this poll, you simpply get nominated and accept.

I was optimistic about the Harris poll going in. I had hoped that these people would not bring a bunch of agendas to the table, as the coaches and writers certainly do. But then the first round of rankings were released.

At first glance, they don't seem that bad. USC #1 - no surprise. As a matter of fact, most of the top 25 was acceptable, except for the fact that .500 Michigan was still ranked, as was Louisville that just got smoked by pernnial powerhouse: South Florida. South Florida? And by 31 points no less.

But I can swallow all of that. I don't agree with it, but I can deal with it.

The real lunacy is farther down, in the list of other votes.

Down near the bottom, the University of Idaho Vandals got 5 votes. That means that either 5 people voted them as the 25 th best team, or more likely, someone thought they were the 21st best team in the nation.

Idaho is 0-4.

Yes, 0-4. That's not a typo. They have yet to win a game. And they haven't exactly played stellar opponents. They lost to 1-3 Washington. And 1-3 UNLV. And 1-2 Hawaii. They've handed three bad teams their lone victory this year. And there is no hope in sight.

The BCS just became even more of a laughingstock than they ever had been before.

Dammit, NCAA, just get up off of your pansy, politically correct duffs and institute a playoff. The best sporting league in the world deserves as much.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rankings - Week 5

Ranking - School - Record - This Week - Next Week
1 - Southern California - (3-0) - W @ #18 Oregon - @ #20 AZ State
2 - Texas - (3-0) - Bye - @ Missouri
3 - Virginia Tech - (4-0) - W 51 -7 #10 Georgia Tech - @ West Virginia
4 - Georgia - (4-0) - W @ Mississippi State - @ Tennessee
5 - Florida - (4-0) - W 49 – 28 @ Kentucky - @ #13 Alabama
6 - California - (4-0) - W @ New Mexico State - Arizona
7 - Ohio State - (3-1) - W 31-6 Iowa - @ #21 Penn State
8 - Michigan State - (4-0) - W 61-14 Illinois - Michigan
9 - Texas Tech - (4-0) - W 63-7 Indiana State - Kansas
10 - Virginia - (3-0) - W 38-7 Duke - @ Maryland
11 - Notre Dame - (3-1) - W 36-17 @ Washington - @ #25 Purdue
12 - Alabama - (4-0) - W 24-14 Arkansas - Florida
13 - Tennessee - (3-1) - W 45-14 #4 Louisiana State - #5 Georgia
14 - Florida State - (3-0) - Bye - Syracuse
15 - UCLA - (3-0) - Bye - Washington
16 - Miami - (2-1) -W 23-3 Colorado - #25 South Florida
17 - Louisiana State - (1-0) - W #22 Tennessee - @ Mississippi State
18 - Wisconsin - (4-0) - W 23-20 #23 Michigan - Indiana
19 - Minnesota - (4-0) - W 42-35 #7 Purdue - Bye
20 - Iowa State - (3-0) - W 28-21 @ Army - @ Nebraska
21 - Arizona State - (3-1) - W 42-24 Oregon State - #1 USC
22 - Penn State - (4-0) - W 34-29 @ Northwestern - #8 Ohio State
23 - Purdue - (2-1) - L 35-42 Minnesota - #12 Notre Dame
24 - Georgia Tech - (3-1) - L 7-51 @ #5 Virginia Tech - NC State
25 - South Florida - (3-1) - W 45-14 #8 Louisville - @ #16 Miami

Dropped from rankings:
#8 Louisville (L 45-14 South Florida)
#18 Oregon (L 13-45 Southern California)
#23 Michigan (L 20-23 Wisconsin)

Honorable Mention: Vanderbilt (4-0), Indiana (3-0)

Notre Dame 36, Washington 17

It wasn't a pretty win, but it also wasn't nearly as close as the score suggests.

The Irish defense struggled all day to contain Washington's passing attack, giving up over 400 yards passing. Maybe this secondary isn't as far removed from the horrible unit of last year, but they were effective in keeping Washington out of the end zone. The Irish held the Huskies to only a field goal until late in the game, during garbage time, when Washington was able to put up two scores. The Irish rush defense was stellar, holding the Huskies to only 41 yards on the ground. Also, the defense is showing a real intensity in the red zone, garnering two more red zone turnovers this week, a fumble recovery on the 1-foot line, and an end-zone interception. The Irish also forced a tunover on downs and another fumble inside their 40. The Irish defense 1st string didn't give up a touchdown, but did give up plays of 39, 69, and 49 yards.

The offense moved the ball all day, but sputtered early in scoring position. The first drive, which started at our own 1-yard line (see the picture below for a related story), ended with a muffed field goal attempt. The second drive ended with a field goal from the 7, after failing to punch it in after a first and goal on the 7. Finally, our third drive resulted in a touchdown (although a botched XP). Our final drive of the first half sputtered again, resulting in a 39-yard field goal.

After turning the ball over on downs inside our 30-yard line twice to start the second half, the going was much smoother for the offense. The next four drives were TD, FG, TD, TD, including a beautiful 52-yard strike to Samardzija, who is quickly establishing himself as an All-American receiver.

Notre Dame finally punted the ball for the first time with seconds left on the clock, the final play of the game.

Special team were inconsistent this week. A botched field goal and extra point, and a fumble on a punt return (which we recovered) marred the effort. High points were a nice looking 31-yard kickoff return by David Grimes, and a blocked punt by Chase Anastacio.

Overall, the team was sloppy, but good enough to give the reserves a couple of series. If the Irish expect to win next week at Purdue, they need to improve their pass defense and pass rush, but Purdue's pass defense is even worse than ours was last year, and what was the nation's best rush defense the first two weeks against weak opponents for Purdue gave up over 300 yards to Minnesota, who has a similar caliber rushing attack to our own.

Exciting news

I have been selected to participate in the new ND Nation, Blue-Gray Skay, Irish Eyes top 25 poll.

My weekly rankings will be combined with other voters to create an alternative poll to the traditional AP and ESPN / USA Today polls. I will continue to post my rankings here, as well as a link to the results of the combined poll.

For a brief moment, one brave young man looked down from heaven and gave this team wings.
Rest in Peace, Montana Mazurkiewicz, 1995 - 2005
Story here

Friday, September 23, 2005

Departing from football for a moment...

I'd like to personally congratulate Fr. Jenkins, who was officially inaugurated today as the new President of the University of Notre Dame. He nodded and smiled at me this afternoon during the academic procession, and I'll be praying that he serves Our Lady's University with integrity and clear leadership.

Also, I'd like to extend my condolences to a classmate of mine, Brendan Loy, who lost a friend, Sarah, earlier this week. The Notre Dame family will be praying for him and his friend's family and friends as they grieve their loss.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Week 4 Rankings

1.  Southern California (2-0)     Next: at #18 Oregon     Last week: W 70 – 17 Arkansas
2.  Texas (3-0)       Next: Bye     Last week: W 51 – 10 Rice
3.  Louisiana State (1-0)     Next:  vs. Tennessee     Last week: Bye
4.  Georgia (3-0)     Next: at Mississippi State      Last week: W 44 – 7 Louisiana Monroe
5.  Virginia Tech (3-0)     Next: vs. #10 Georgia Tech      Last week: W 45 – 0 Ohio
6.  Florida (3-0)     Next: at Kentucky      Last week: W 16 – 7 #7 Tennessee
7.  Purdue (2-0)     Next: at Minnesota      Last week: W 31 – 24 Arizona
8.  Louisville (2-0)     Next: at South Florida      Last week: W 63 – 27 Oregon State
9.  California (3-0)     Next: at New Mexico      Last week: W 35 – 20 Illinois
10. Georgia Tech (3-0)     Next: at #5 Virginia Tech      Last week: W 28 – 13 Connecticut
11. Ohio State (2-1)     Next: vs. Iowa      Last week: W 27 – 6 San Diego State
12. Texas Tech (2-0)     Next: vs. Indiana State      Last week: W 80 – 21 Sam Houston St.
13. Virginia (2-0)     Next: vs. Duke      Last week: W 27 – 24 Syracuse
14. Alabama (3-0)     Next: vs. Arkansas      Last week: W 37 – 14 South Carolina
15. Iowa State (2-0)     Next: at Army      Last week: Bye
16. Michigan State (3-0)     Next: at Illinois      Last week: W 44 – 41 #6 Notre Dame
17. Notre Dame (2-1)     Next: at Washington      Last week: L 41 – 44 Michigan State
18. Oregon (3-0)     Next: vs. #1 Southern California      Last week: W 37 – 34 Fresno State
19. Florida State (3-0)     Next: Bye      Last week: W 28 – 17 #14 Boston College
20. UCLA (3-0)     Next: Bye      Last week: W 41 – 24 #24 Oklahoma
21. Miami (1-1)     Next: vs. Colorado      Last week: W 36 – 30 #17 Clemson
22. Tennessee (1-1)     Next: at Louisiana State      Last week: L 7 – 16 #8 Florida
23. Michigan (2-1)     Next: at #24 Wisconsin      Last week: W 55 – 0 Eastern Michigan
24. Wisconsin (3-0)     Next: vs. #23 Michigan      Last week: W 14 – 5 North Carolina
25. Vanderbilt (3-0)     Next: vs. Richmond      Last week: W 31 – 23 Mississippi

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Notre Dame v. Washington analysis

After a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Spartans at home last week, this team is going to be hungry for revenge, and who better to take out their frustrations on than former head football coach Tyrone Wilingham and his inept Huskies. The Huskies went 1-11 last year, and haven't improved much from last year to this year. For the first time this year, Notre Dame are substantial favorites going into the game, and the Huskies are outmatched at every position. Look for this year to be even uglier than last year's 38-3 blowout win.

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers v. Washington Secondary

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Brady Quinn, QB, Jr., 70-117 854 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT, 19 rushes, 46 yards
Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr., 12 receptions, 220 yards, 1 TD
Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr., 13 receptions, 182 yards, 5 TD

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr., 7 receptions, 91 yards
David Grimes, WR, Fr., 1 reception, 11 yards
David Wolke, QB, So., 1 rush, 22 yards

Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr., 5 receptions, 69 yards, 1 TD (upgraded to day-to-day, could play)

Washington Starters:

Matt Fountaine, CB, So., 13 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 fumble recovery
Josh Okeobor, CB, Jr., 6 tackles, 1 INT
Darin Harris, S/CB, So., 9 tackles, 1 PBU
Dashon Goldson, S, Sr., 24 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
C.J. Wallace, S, Jr., 17 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 forced fumble

Clarence Simpson, CB, Jr., 2 tackles
Chris Hemphill, S, So.

Roy Lewis, CB, So. (did not play vs. Idaho last week), 9 tackles

Ty Willlie can't seem to make up his mind who his starters are here, and has been forced to shuffle people around the last coupe of games. This plays right into Notre Dame's hands, as Weis' schemes should bumfuzzle this secondary, leading to a handful of broken coverages as the game progresses. The passing game may become important, as it will be be easier to pass than to run against this defense.

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Washington Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Darius Walker, RB, So., 72 rushes, 337 yards, 1 TD, 13 receptions, 98 yards, 2 TD
Asaph Schwapp, FB, Fr. 9 rushes, 13 yards
Anthony Fasano, TE, Sr., 15 receptions, 153 yards

Rashon Powers-Neal, FB/RB, 14 rushes, 60 yards, 3 TD, 2 reception, 27 yards
Travis Thomas, RB, 8 rushes, 40 yards
Marcus Freeman, TE
John Carlson, TE, 2 receptions, 3 yards

Washington Starters:

Joe Lobendahn, LB, Sr., 23 tackles, 1 INT
Evan Benjamin, LB, Sr., 24 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
Scott White, LB, Jr., 20 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 forced fumble

Tahj Bomar, LB, Jr., 2 tackles
Dan Howell, LB, So., 1 tackle

One of the problems with defensive statistics is that a high number of tackles may not necessarily be a good thing. These linebackers have a lot of tackles, but many of them are too little, too late. Cal ran roughshod over the Huskies, and I expect us to do the same. These linebackers will be active, but they can't do everything.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Washington Defensive Line

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:
Ryan Harris, LT, Jr.
Dan Santucci, LG, Sr.
Bob Morton, C, Jr.
Dan Stevenson, RG, Sr.
Mark LeVoir, RT, Sr.

Scott Raridon, G, Sr.
Brian Mattes, G, Sr.
John Sullivan, C, Jr.
Michael Turkovich, T, Fr.
Paul Duncan, T, Fr.

Washington Starters:

Manase Hopoi, DT, Sr., 13 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks
Mike Mapuolesega, DT, Sr., 3 tackles, 1 blocked kick
Donny Mateaki, DE, Jr., 8 tackles, 2 sacks
Greyson Gunheim, DE, So., 11 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU

Erick Lobos, DT, So., 4 tackles
Wilson Afoa, DT, So., 7 tackles, 2 TFL
Caesar Rayford, DE, So., 1 tackle, 1 sack
Walt Winter, DE, Fr., 2 tackles

Manase Hopoi is a beast on the interior line, but the rest of this group is sub-par. Again, I expect Charlie to run a bunch of off-tackle runs and sweeps to avoid the interior of the ine and square off with the linebackers. Hopoi could throw the occasional wrench into our passing game, as he is an effective pass rusher from the inside, which collapses the pocket. Therefore, expect a few bootlegs and rollouts for Brady to move the pocket. Also, expect Hopoi to get double-teamed much of the game, allowing the other blockers to go one-on-one against the rest of the line.

Washington Quarterback and Receivers v. Notre Dame Secondary

Edge: Notre Dame

Washington Starters:
Isaiah Stanback, QB, Jr., 50-82 688 yards 4 TD 2 INT
Sonny Shackleford, WR, Jr., 12 receptions, 199 yards, 1 TD
Anthony Russo, WR, Jr., 9 receptions, 86 yards

Johnny Durocher, QB, So.
Casey Paus, QB, Sr., 1-2 3 yards
Craig Chambers, WR, So., 5 receptions, 129 yards, 1 TD
Corey Williams, WR, Jr., 3 receptions, 54 yards

Notre Dame's Starters:

Mike Richardson, CB, Sr., 13 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU
Ambrose Wooden, CB, Jr., 20 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 PBU
Tom Zbikowski, SS, Jr., 24 tackles, 2 INT, 1 forced fumble
Chinedum Ndukwe, WS, So., 12 tackles, 1 INT, 3 fumble recoveries

LaBrose Hedgemon II, CB, Jr.
Leo Ferrine, CB, So., 2 tackles
Terrail Lambert, CB, So., 3 tackles
David Bruton, S, Fr., 1 tackle
Kyle McCarthy, S, Fr.

Notre Dame struggled with Drew Stanton last week, being unable to get to the quarterback and bring the necessary amount of pressure to disrupt the Spartan passing game. Washington has another tall receiver (6'5" Shackleford) that can give us some matchup problems. However, we'll probably sit back in a zone coverage most of the game, as the Husky rushing attack will be largely non-existent.

Washington Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Washington's Starters:

Louis Rankin, RB, So., 55 rushes, 271 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 11 yards
James Sims, FB, Jr., 14 rushes, 31 yards, 2 TD
Robert Lewis, TE, So., 3 receptions, 23 yards

Shelton Sampson, RB, Jr., 4 rushes, 20 yards
Ty Eriks, FB, Sr.
Johnie Kirton, TE, Fr., 8 receptions, 103 yards, 1 TD

Notre Dame Starters:

Brandon Hoyte, WLB, Sr., 29 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble, 1 PBU
Corey Mays, MLB, Sr., 17 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 fumble recovery
Maurice Crum, Jr., Apache, Jr., 17 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Joe Brockington, LB, Jr., 1 tackle
Mitchell Thomas, LB, Jr., 1 tackle
Anthony Vernaglia, Apache, So.
Steve Quinn, Apache, Fr.

Hoyte has been having a stellar season thus far, and he and Mays should spend much of the game in the Husky backfield, bumfuzzling the quarterback and running backs. The Huskies don't utilize the Tight Ends enough to keep us from bringing the house up front and sitting in zone coverage in the secondary. I'd be surprised if the Huskies break 50 yards rushing.

Washington Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line

Edge: Notre Dame

Washington Starters:

Robin Meadow, T, Jr.
Stanley Daniels, G, Jr.
Brad Vanneman, C, Sr.
Tusi Sa'au, G, Sr.
Chad Macklin, T, Fr.

Tui Alailefeula, T/G, Sr.
Nathan Flowers, T, Fr.
Clay Walker, G/C, Jr.

Notre Dame's Starters:
Victor Abiamiri, DE, Jr., 13 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
Trevor Laws, DT, Jr., 4 tackles. 1 PBU
Derek Landri, DT, Sr., 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 PBU
Chris Frome, DE, Sr., 4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU

Brian Beidatsch, DT, Sr., 6 tackles, 1 sack
Dwight Stephenson, Jr., DT, Jr.
Ronald Talley, DE, So., 4 tackles, 1 PBU
Justin Brown, DE, So., 2 tackles

Another set of big boys up front, but they don't have the discipline and technique to match up with our D-line. Also, there is only so much they can do against 5-7 man blitzes.

Notre Dame Head Coach v. Washington Head Coach

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Head Coach: Charlie Weis, 1st year, 2-1

Washington Head Coach: Tyrone Willingham, 1st year, 1-2

This is a no-brainer. If there is anyone out there that thinks that Tyrone Willingham is a better coach than Charlie Weis, I have yet to meet them. Even perenial Notre Dame haters like Lee Corso, John Saunders, and Mark May would concede that point, regardless of whether Notre Dame was right to fire Ty. Also, Coach Weis has the added benefit of having the Huskie's defensive playbook, thanks to Ty's undying loyalty to his assistants. Which leads me to my other point; Ty's assistants are little league coaches compared to CW's assistants. The Irish have former college head coaches, former NFL assistant coaches, a NFL Europe head coach, and numerous other proven coaches from all levels of coaching. On Ty's staff, he has a handful of lifelong assistant college coaches, who haven't really achieved anything. Kent Baer, in particular, is a completely incompetent fool. Just look how he dismantled the Irish secondary in three short years.

Final Prediction:

Notre Dame 63
Washington 7

Blowout. Easiest game of the year for the Irish. We can finally stop talking about the Willingham firing.