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.