Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Notes from Campus

Before I get into tomorrow's game, let me take one last shot at the Michigan State game, courtesy of the boys at the House That Rock Built. Do yourself a favor, and listen to the following mp3 of a Michigan State radio host going into complete meltdown mode after last week's loss. He is so lost in his deluded belief that Michigan State lost that game that he completely loses sight of the fact that the Irish completely dominated the Spartans for that final quarter of the game, just like the Spartans dominated the 1st quarter of the game. This is quite possibly the funniest rant I've ever heard in the history of radio:

Now, on to the Purdue game.

I've gotten my distaste of the Purdue, ahem, "mystique" in my previous post, and I can now focus on the X's and O's.

First of all, let me say that the Purdue offense is nearly as scary as the Michigan State offense that absolutely destroyed us in the first quarter last week. They have a lot of experienced talent on their ball club. Curtis Painter is no Drew Stanton, however, and that will ultimately be the demise of the Boilermakers in this game, as Purdue just won't be able to score enough points to keep up with the Irish.

Some of you may have noticed the gaudy 56 points I'm predicting for the Irish to put up against the Boilermakers, and thought I was crazy.

However, look at what the Purdue defense has done thus far:
Indiana State [I-AA]: 35 points
Miami (OH) [MAC]: 28 points
Ball State [MAC]: 28 points
Minnesota: [Big 10] 21 points

Now, it may seem at first glance that the Purdue defense is improving, and that holding Minnesota to 21 points was a good sign. However, the Purdue defense is really not that great. Minnesota's stats going into Purdue were inflated by blowout wins over Temple and Kent State. Minnesota was thouroughly dominated by Cal in their second game.

Indiana State put up 35 points against the Boilers. Yes, the vaunted Sycamores with their powerful offense that is so good that it ranks 30th in Div. I-AA. To put that into perspective, only Murray State has given up more points to the Sycamores, and their defense is ranked 108th in Div I-AA. let me say that again - 108th. In Division I-AA.

Now try something for me. Without looking, name a player on any one of those three offenses. I'll wait for you to rack your brain.

Couldn't come up with one either?

Now name a player on the Notre Dame offense. Or three. Or five.

Purdue hasn't seen this kind of firepower this year. Oh, and Notre Dame's vaunted 5-star running back recruit, ranked by many as the best incoming back in the nation last year (yes, better than Emmanuel Moody at USC), has finally been cleared to play. Now, I'm sure we won't see too much of James Aldridge, who is finally fully recovered from offseson knee surgery, but we may get a glimpse or two. And more importantly, having a talent like that healthy can light a fire under Darius, pushing him even harder than before.

And Brady Quinn finally appeared to find his rhythm last game.


Notre Dame Pass Offense v. Purdue Pass Defense:
ND rank: 16th (versus toughest schedule in NCAA) Purdue Rank: 115th (versus I-AA and MAC schools)
EDGE: Notre Dame - HUGE (why even run the ball?)

Notre Dame Rush Offense v. Purdue Rush Defense
Notre Dame rank: 108th Purdue rank: 59th
EDGE: Purdue (but why run the ball?)

Purdue Pass Offense v. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Purdue Rank: 7th Notre Dame rank: 50th
EDGE: Purdue, but not as big an edge as you might think - Purdue's BCS opponent's average pass defense rankings: 80th (including worst pass defense in Div. I-A), and ISU was 90th in I-AA.

Purdue Rushing Offense v. Notre Dame's Rush Defense
Purdue rank: 40th Notre Dame rank: 92nd
EDGE: Purdue, but again not as big an edge when you consider that Notre Dame has played the 5th, 23rd, 29th, and 31st rushing teams in the country, all higher than Purdue - we've been there, done that.

Notre Dame Offense v. Purdue Defense
Notre Dame: 348 ypg, 29 ppg Purdue: 410 ypga, 28.75 ppga

Purdue Offense v. Notre Dame Defense
Purdue: 461.50 ypg, 40.75 ypg Notre Dame: 342 ypga, 27.75 ppga

Once you factor in the quality of opponents, it becomes clear that Notre Dame will feast on the Purdue defense, and the Purdue offense, while they will get their points, has not played a defense as tough and quick as ND.

So, I stand by my previous prdeiction, where Brady throws for 7 touchdowns and the Irish roll: 56-34

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The (Purdue) Circus is coming to town!!!

In some weird, twisted way, the Purdue week is both the best and worst football week in my eyes.

My beautiful wife attended Purdue University, and as an educational institution, Purdue is very good. My wife got an excellent education, and her experiences as an undergrad are a big part of who she is today. I love her dearly, and that includes the fact that she bleeds black and gold.

All that said, I asbolutely completely totally and without reservation hate, detest, and otherwise abhor Purdue.

In the interests of full disclosure, I attended Indiana University for undergrad, and Notre Dame for law school, which means that I have a deep-seated hatred for Purdue by matriculation.

But I also hate Purdue for the culture that they espouse. As a Hoosier by choice, I take great pride in my state, and I feel like Purdue oozes the kind of tacky, cliched Midwestern silliness that people deride Hoosiers for. Baton twirlers. A ridiculous drum that claims to be the largest in the world, but isn't even close. The general carnival atmosphere surrounding the program. They just emit this aw shucks, look at us silly cowpokes kind of atmosphere that gives the state of Indiana a bad name.

And, if all that wasn't bad enough, they come out with something like this:

If the fact that the cheese-factor of creating comic book covers for every player on the team wasn't bad enough, the University decided to make one for the trumpets, too.

The fact of the matter is that Purdue is a carnival sideshow. I wouldn't be surprised to see the bearded lady and the dog-faced boy as co-mascots with Purdue Pete.

And the worst part of it is that the Purdue grads aren't up in arms.

If Notre Dame pulled some stunt like this, I'd be PISSED.

But, the school that has had more astronauts graduate from their prestigious engineering program doesn't ever seem to care. They embrace their comical image so completely that I seriously wonder sometimes whether they even realize that it is comical.

Every Purdue grad that I know is a great person, and they have a great school. Problem is, nobody realizes it because of the circus that is Purdue football.

As for this week's game, I expect a rehash of last year's game, where Notre Dame's offense comes out fast and builds a big lead, and then ND's second team trades scores with Purdue's first team until the clock runs out.

Notre Dame 56
Purdue 34

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Classless U Spartans

While Coach Weis was over singing the alma mater with his team before jogging into the locker room, Coach John "Loser" Smith was worried about Coach Weis being as classless as he is, sending out his players to "guard" the 50 yard line.

There have been several completely unsubstantiated rumors, completely without proof of any kind, that Notre Dame planted a flag at Michigan State a couple of years ago. However, I find these rumors difficult to believe, as it seems like post-game celebrations always get snapped by some photographer. There are lots of pictures (and video) of MSU planting the flag last year. And none of Notre Dame ever planting a flag at MSU. Even MSU's "guarding" got snapped by someone.

The fact that MSU thought that Coach Weis would stoop to their level is exactly why the Spartans lost this game.

They underestimated their opponent.

Let the Spin Begin

Last night's game was incredible, and an amazing testament to the talent of this team when they play like a team.

In the first half of yesterday's game, this didn't look like a team. Defenders were overpursuing and losing contain on Stanton because they weren't trusting their teammates to make a play. They weren't communicating. On offense, the offensive line wasn't working as a unit, and the receivers were running uninspired routes. Quinn looked like he was still thinking about the meltdown from last week, and was trying to play conservative to not lose the game. We spotted the Spartans 17 points before we got our feet back under us. Here we go again.

However, the Irish regained some composure and traded scores with the Spartans. They had their moments late in the first half where they looked like they could get back in it, but then somebody would make a stupid mistake and we'd be staring at the business end of a 3-score lead again. In fact, after the scuffle on the Notre Dame sideline, this team got pissed off, and looked like they were ready to take over this game. But then, Brady's DUMB DUMB DUMB interception pass that was returned for a touchdown deflated the team, and was the low water mark for this team in the Weis era. At that point, we were wondering out loud whether this team would even go to a bowl game, much less National Championship and Heisman aspirations.

While the Irish were looking lost, the Michigan State Spartans looked better than Michigan. In fact, if history didn't tell me that MSU will start their annual skid in the next couple of weeks, I'd say that this Michigan State team is better than Michigan, and the balance of weapons on this team make it very difficult to defend. If you focus on stopping the pass (as the Irish did - we completely shut Matt Trannon down), they will beat you on the run. And then, to defend the ru, you have to pick your poison. If you rely in speed to get to the ball, man-beast Jehuu Caulcrick will bowl you over. If you stack the box, speedster Javon Ringer will run around you. If you sell out against the run, Stanton beats you with the pass. If you manage to control the run while still maintaining pass defense, then Stanton will beat you on his feet as well. This offense is sick, and we were flat out getting beat in the first quarter. We made adjustments, and traded scores in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but couldn't get back in it.

At halftime, Coach Weis laid down the gauntlet. He looked his team in the eye, told them that he'd call the plays to put them in a position to win, and that they had a responsibility as a team to step up and decide where they wanted their season to go. If they play as a team and execute, he;ll lead them to victory.

The Irish came out in the 2nd half a changed team. We started to move the ball better. However, the Spartans hadn't given up yet. They decided to sit on their 3-score lead, and started pounding us on the ground. By game's end, the Spartans had racked up an impressive 248 yards on the ground. But as we realized that John L. Smith had put in his "just don't lose" offense, the defense began to slow down this potent offense.

And then Brady finally remembered that there is a reason he was the preseason Heisman favorite. He put this team on his shoulders, and carried them back into this game, clawing, scratching and playing with a fire I haven't seen since the USC game last year. Brady did have the one pick early in the game, but once he got through the Michigan hangover, he threw for FIVE touchdowns. He threw for over 300 yards. This comeback is the type of performance that can single handedly vault a player back into the Heisman race.

The Irish defense did their part, too, dictating the game in the final quarter. They ripped the ball out of Stanton's hands to set up an Irish score, and a combination of pressure and aggressive pass defense forced an interception which Terraail Lambert returned for a touchdown. The pick wasn't a stupid mistake by Stanton (like Brady's pick in the first half was a stupid mistake for Brady), it was this defense forcing the issue. We DOMINATED the Spartans in the fourth quarter.

But then the anti-ND spin machine got its gear turning. Without level-headed Kirk Herbstreit in the studio (he provided color commentary for the ND game), Fowler, Corso, and Desmond Howard proceeded to completely deny the awesome display of tenacity and grit that the Irish showed in snatching victory from the claws of defeat. Desmond Howard, the Michigan homer, was quick to blame the win on Michigan State, calling them the only team in football that could lose that game. He said that Michigan State gift-wrapped the win for Notre Dame. In fact, while Corso and Fowler both initially agreed with Howard, eager to spin the Irish victory as a Michigan State loss, Howard's bias became so obvious and pervasive, that Fowler and Corso backtracked, not wanting to lose credibility as analysts. In all honesty, Howard was worse even than John Saunders in his blatant anti-ND agenda.

I was pissed, and I had to drive home, so I flipped on the radio to 1490 am, hoping to catch the Weis post-game presser. Instead, I had to suffer through some no-name hack who wouldn't even call the game a Notre Dame victory. It was the "Michigan State loss" and "Michigan State snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory" and "Michigan State made mistakes that handed the Irish the game." He even slipped once to call it an Irish victory, then quickly corrected himself, reframing it as a Spartan loss.

Now, I'm not sure what game they were watching, but the credit for the win yesterday is all on the Irish. They dictated the terms of the fourth quarter, quite literally ripping the victory out of the hands of the Spartans. And even more impressive, the Irish did it by throwing the ball in a torrential downpour.

If you turn off ESPN and just watch this game, this battle was as epic as last year's USC game (without the national title implications). Notre Dame didn't get lucky bounces and miracle plays (except perhaps the interception to ice the game with :30 left). They simply took the game in their hands and beat the Spartans.

And Coach Weis kept his promise to the team. Like I said last week, the honeymoon was over for Weis after last week's game, and he earned his paycheck last night. He not only called the plays needed to win the game, he managed the entire game situation. While we were watching the game, Weis didn't panic and spend timeouts to stop the clock while we were still down two scores with 5:00 left. He let the clock run, placing the onus on his defense to get the stop on 3rd and 5, saving the timeouts for the Spartan's last drive. The defense made the stop, and the Irish got the ball back, scoring quickly.

The go-ahead interception, which all of the haters want to use as evidence of the Michigan State meltdown, occured on third down deep in their own territory and also occurred with over 2 minutes left on the clock. With the way Brady Quinn was playing, did anyone doubt his ability to lead the game-winning drive with over two minutes left on the clock? If anyhting, the interception return kept the door open for the Spartans, allowing Drew Stanton the opportunity to come back and preserve the victory with a heroic 2-minute drive.

The other evidence of Michigan State's so-called meltdown is the final interception. That interception, however, wasn't even the first interception of that drive. If not for an admittedly legitimate incidental facemask by Vic Abiamiri, the game would have been over on the second play of that drive when Tom Zbikowski intercepted Stanton's pass. Also, the defense had bottled up the Michigan State receives and were in Stanton's face the entire drive. They forced Michigan State to dink and dunk their way down the field. In fact, Michigan State had to convert a fourth and 1 to even be in a position to throw the interception, and they were still 15 yards from field goal range with time running out when they threw the interception. Also, Abiamiri had Stanton in his grasp when Stanton threw the pass, and Stanton threw it into disguised double coverage. While the bounce was lucky, if you watch the replay, Wooden almost had the interception himself, and his tip is what allowed the pick. This wasn't Michigan State making dumb mistakes, this was Notre Dame dictating the game to the Spartans.

Make no mistake, this was Notre Dame winning, not Michigan State losing.