Saturday, September 23, 2006


I've been real busy this year between work and school and finishing the text book for my professor, and dealing with stuff at home, so I haven't really had time to do the research that I like to do for each game's post.

And this week is no different.

I know what I'm getting from Stanton (QB), Caulcrick (RB), and Trannon (WR) from Michigan State, 'cause I've seen them first-hand during last year's 44-41 nail-biter shootout in the home opener. Their offense has been clicking on all cylinders the first few games, but their inexperienced offensive line (who lost three starters from last year's team) haven't faced the talent that we have on the defensive line. Also, the refs will be keeping a close eye on holding penalties, as the Big 10 refs have been, shall we say, notified (read: bitch-slapped) about the 10-0 holding call differential against the Irish through three games.

What I don't know about is their retooled defense. They have two young corners that haven't really been tested, and three new starters on the defensive line (which might mean that Brady has some time to throw the ball). They return their entire linebacking corps, but we seemed to do fine against the best linebacking corps in the country (Penn State).

And, ultimately, I expect to see a Penn State type of performance from this team. While the home field advantage may keep the Irish from running out to a 41-3 lead like they did against the Nittany Lions, the Irish should score at about a 2-1 pace today. These kids are angry and pissed off after their performance last week, and they are playing with nothing to lose.

Brady no longer has the Heisman hype wearing him down, and I expect him to be more relaxed and focused today.

After review, the prediction stands as called on the field.

Notre Dame 42
Michigan State 17

Friday, September 22, 2006

1-2 punch?

I recently received an e-mail asking about the running back situation here at Notre Dame, to the effect that we need a 1-2 punch at running back to be effective, and that Darius lacks the power and explosiveness of an elite back.

I disagree.

While James Aldridge looks like he could be a game-changing type back, I wouldn't rush him through rehab and onto the field this year. Darius is a great running back, who is patient and wits for his blocks to set up before exploding through the hole. Because he is so patient, he often looks slower than he actually is when the hole doesn't develop. However, Darius' acceleration is one of the best in the country, and I have seen him flat out beat some of the best linebackers in the country (H.B. Blades, Paul Posluzny, A.J. Hawk, etc.) simply by turning on the jets.

Granted, Darius lacks top-end speed, and therefore doesn't break 60+ yard runs. Also, he isn't that pound-em type of back that will get 3 yards and a cloud of dust no matter what. However, Darius is a great back because he forces the defense to play disciplined on every single play. He has great vision, and the moment a defense allows a hole to open up, he will break a 20-30 yard run. Also, even when the defense does everything right, if his blockers make their blocks, he'll run for 7-10.

Also, Darius is far underappreciated by many people who look at his rushing statistics (which are better than many people realize) and ignore what he brings to the passing game. He is a sure-handed receiver that is excellent at finding holes in a defense to give Brady a check-off receiver to throw to, and he can be very shifty and difficult to tackle in the open field. Also, his blitz pickup is excellent, giving Brady more time to find an open receiver down the field.

The solution to the offense's problems are not to bring in someone else to go with Darius.. What we need is simply improved blocking on the offensive line.

To be quite frank, nobody except Ryan Harris has achieved to expectations, much less their potential, this year. The interior line has been porous, allowing far too many blitzers and inside pressure.

The worst blocking I've seen thus far this season (and I hate to kick a man when he is down...) is from Bob Morton. I'm not sure that Bob has his head in the game, with all of the emotional turmoil he is dealing with from his father's death. I know firsthand how devastating that can be, and until he can focus on the game at hand, he should be replaced by Brian Mattes.

Now, much like Charlie, I'm not into sacrificial lambs after a big loss. However, Morton has had three straight games where he just hasn't been blocking with the consistent level of intensity required of him, and I'm of the opinion that he either needs to shape up or ship out.

The rest of the line hasn't been very good either. While Harris has largely shut down some of the best pass rushers in the country, far too many blitzes are not being picked up. This is a veteran line, and there is no excuse for failure to recognize blitzes and communicate the blocking scheme to teammates.

So, despite all of the clamor that Darius lacks the speed and power of an elite back, I have to disagree. Darius is a lot like Emmit Smith of Cowboys fame. He isn't flashy like Barry Sanders, he isn't slippery like Sweetness. He isn't a bruiser like Bettis. He simply goes out there, lets his O-line open up a hole, and then he runs through it. He is durable, dependable, doesn't fumble, and doesn't make mistakes. Just because he doesn't break the big runs does not make him a sub-par back.

I'll take Darius on my team any day.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


It be talk like a pirate day today, matey. And I'll be doin' me preview of the Spartans of Michigan State in pirate speak, if it do ya.

The Spartans'll be swabbin the deck of their football field on Staurday afternoon tryin' to clean the bloodletting from the cutlasses of the Irishmen on Saturday night. Captain Weis will right the ship, let out the sails, and set a course for victory after the Wolverine storm last week left the Notre Dame ship lilting a bit to starboard.

Avast, ye scaliwags of Lansing, for the pinpoint sharpshooting of Brady Quinn will lay low the Spartan defensive backs.

The Irish defense will take no quarter, and by the end of regulation Drew Stanton will be begging for parley.

But parley will be no solace from the incessant pounding of Darius Walker, wearing down the Spartan defense like the waves wearing at the shore.

John L Smith will be overrun by the Weis gameplan, and it'll be to the plank with any of the Spartan's futile efforts.

The Irish will battle to regain the respect they lost in the battle against a formidable opponent last week, and Michigan State's season will be relegated to their traditional place - Davey Jones' locker.

"Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" will be the singing of the Irish faithful next week, as the Irish count their booty and celebrate their plundering revenge against the state of Michigan.


Notre Dame 42
Michigan State 17

Monday, September 18, 2006

Turn those frowns upside down...

Coach Weis proved again to day why, even after a blowout loss, he is far superior to the coaches that immediately preceded him.

Today, the Notre Dame Fightin' Irish received a verbal commitment from Gary Gray, the #2 cornerback prospect in the country.

Gray had committed to South Carolina earlier in the recruiting process, but after talking to his mother, he decommitted from South Carolina to consider Notre Dame. After a couple of months sitting on the fence, Gray committed to the Irish.

What is great about this announcement is the timing. Notre Dame was embarassed by Michigan on the football field this past weekend, and with all of the recruits (including Gray) visiting this weekend, I thought that our recruiting would take a big hit.

Apparently, Coach Weis and Recruiting Coordinator Ron Powlus had other plans.

To put this commitment into perspective, the Irish did not land a single 4-star or better cornerback prospect during the entire Davieham era. Under Weis, we have picked up Terrail Lambert (4-stars), Darrin Walls (5-stars), Raeshon McNeil (4-5 stars), and Gary Gray (5 stars). We've all seen what happened in the Ohio State game, and the lack of elite speed was apparent again this past weekend with our corners trying to cover Mario Manningham. This commitment places the Irish in the position where we can expect to field one of the fastest, most athletic secondaries in the country in the next few years.

Now we just need some game-changing defensive linemen and linebackers to go with the already stellar recruiting at QB (3 top five QBs in the past two years, including the #1 overall prospect this year), RB (Aldridge - 5 stars), Offensive line (#1 recruiting class in the country last year), Wide receiver (5 4+ star receivers in the past two classes, with a possible two more in this class), Tight end (#1 overall tight end two years running), and cornerback.

Oh, and we could probably use a good kicker.

I'd like to commend the Notre Dame football staff for picking up such a high profile recruit at a time when we so desperately needed one.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Yesterday was a very bad day for the Notre Dame football program.

For the first time in the Weis era, this football team was unprepared, did not execute, made far too many mistakes, and was completely outclassed and outcoached by an opponent. In short, Weis looked like Willingham yesterday.

Now don't get me wrong. The honeymoon may be over, but I still have far more confidence in Weis than I ever did in Willlingham. However, this team's performance yesterday was an abomination.

Notre Dame lost any shot at the National Championship.

Brady Quinn lost the Heisman Trophy.

Notre Dame probably lost their best chance to sign the best recruiting class this year, as visiting recruits such as Joseph Barksdale can't be that excited after their visit yesterday.

And to top it all off, the road for this program only gets tougher going forward. Unless Notre Dame can begin to play with a lot more discipline, the Irish will lose to USC at the end of the year, and could even lose to UCLA or Michigan State. Or both.

9-3 not good enough? Right now, it might be too much to ask for this team.

I just want to win a bowl game.

Doomsday predictions aside, this game wasn't as bad as the score looked. Don't get me wrong, even if the Irish don't turn the ball over 5 times we lose that game. Michigan had a defensive gameplan that made Brady Quinn look like he was a freshman again. Michigan pounded the ball down our throats, exposing our run defense as the weakness of this football team. However, if the Irish didn't continually shoot themselves in the foot, that game would have been much closer.

Let's look for a moment how that game plays out if the Irish and Wolverines are even in turnover margin:

Michigan had one turnover that led to 7 Notre Dame points, Notre Dame had 5 turnovers which led to 24 Michigan points. So, subtract 17 points from the Michigan score, and we get a more accurate view of how this game would have played out - Michigan 30, Notre Dame 21. A respectable 9 point loss.

More importantly, the entire dynamic of the game shifted in Michigan's favor far too early in the game, forcing Weis to abandon the running game and allowing Michigan to play dime defense the rest of the evening. Without the massive rash of mental mistakes, the Irish could have won that game.

Not to take too much away from the Wolverines. They were as much responsible for those turnovers as Notre Dame. Also, the Wolverines dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. While Notre Dame's defense did enough to keep the Irish in the game, the Wolverine's pressure took our offense out of the game.

So now what? Brady's confidence is shattered; he was responsible for 4 of the team's 5 turnovers. Samardzija got completely shut down by Leon Hall, and has become an afterthought in the All-America race at receiver. Rhema McKnight played an embarrassing game in which he dropped far too many balls, and gave up on plays that could have changed the game; he spent all day worrying about getting injured rather than worrying about how to help his team win the game. Our defense played a solid game, but also displayed the lack of discipline that burned us against Ohio State last year (exhibit 1: Mario Manningham's 69-yard TD reception where he broke free from everyone, getting a 10 yard cushion all the way to the endzone). Darius Walker was ignored by Coach Weis, and rushed for only 25 yards. Which brings me to Coach Weis.

Coach Weis has been outcoached before (Tressel in the Fiesta Bowl), and has been matched several times (Carrol, Carr, Smith). But this is the first time that Weis has looked completely lost. He did not have his team ready, and did not have any focus. He never had his team in position to win the game, and did not make any significant adjustments on offense. He looked like Willingham, stubbornly sticking to the game plan that he came into the game with. While I'm not ready to jump off the Weis bandwagon yet (he is still a better recruiter and representative of the university than Willingham or Davie), I do think that he needs to make some major adjustments to his coaching style.

Weis is still an NFL coach. In the NFL, a loss like this doesn't really matter. In fact, every team in the NFL loses at least one game every year (no perfect records since 1983). A loss isn't the end of the season, as all you need to do is be good enough to make it into the playoffs. And once you are in the playoffs, you just need to get on a roll. There is no playoff system in college football, and one loss like this destroys any chance at winning a National Championship.

Weis also hasn't figured out how to coach his team at home. Weis is still undefeated on the road (6-0), but an unimpressive 5-4 at home or neutral sites. I'm not sure what he is doing wrong, but something has got to give.

Final game note: I really do hate to complain about referees (as I say for the third straight week), but has anyone ever heard of a kickoff team get called for a block in the back? Kick teams aren't blocking anybody, they are trying to shed blocks.

Block in the back against the kicking team? Give me a break.

One highlight from the weekend: seeing Jerome Bettis at the pep rally and getting this great picture during pre-game in the stadium:

Once again, the tailgating yesterday was a lot of fun. Thanks again to the Stoltes for setting up the tailgate. And a big thank you to my beautiful wife Becky, for coming out to tailgate with me. It made the loss much easier to swallow.