Friday, September 21, 2007

Michigan State at Notre Dame Preview

Michigan State University
Spartans (3-0)

Ranking: unranked
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Coaching Record: 3-0, 1st season (21-17 overall as head coach in NCAA)
Last Year: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
Last Week: Beat Pittsburgh, 17-13


University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (0-3)

Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 19-9, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to Michigan, 38-0

Location: Notre Dame Stadium (aka The House That Rock Built)
Date and Time: September 22, 2007 3:43 p.m.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 44-25-1

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Michigan State Secondary
Jimmy has handled his beating the first two weeks even better than Brady Quinn took his beatings as a true freshman. And his beatings have been far worse. That said, he hasn't been given an opportunity to show his skills as a quarterback.
Michigan State's pass defense is top 20 statistically right now, but they haven't played any heavyweights yet.
Combine all of that with the fact that We went back to training camp this week, and I just don't know what to believe.
Edge: unknown

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Michigan State Linebackers
Very similar to the passing game analyzed above, the running backs we have have looked good when given a hole, but haven't been given many holes.
Michigan State's defense has looked good against some lightweight competition.
We were in training camp mode this week.
Edge: unknown

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Michigan State Defensive Line
The biggest unknown of this training camp mentality is the improvements on the offensive line.
That said, Rome wasn't built in a day.
We are dead last in sacks given up.
Michigan State is first in the nation in sacks.
Edge: Michigan State

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Michigan State Offensive Line
Our defense has struggled late in games, and was beat up pretty good by Michigan's dominant O-line. However, this week's hitting in practice should be exactly what was needed to kickstart our intensity on defense.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Michigan State Running Backs and Tight Ends
Three weeks. Three big games by opposing running backs. Notre Dame has never shown an ablity to consistently tackle Caulcrick.
Edge: Michigan State

Notre Dame Secondary vs. Michigan State Quarterbacks and Receivers
Michigan State's pass offense has been relatively anemic under their first year signal caller. That said, a true freshman in his very first start gashed us just last week.
Edge: Notre Dame (barely)

Notre Dame Coaches vs. Michigan State Coaches
Quote from last week: "I'm giving Weis the edge this week, but if he can't move the ball on this awful defense, I'm gong to stop defending him against everyone. Including Duke." I like Coach's approach this week, and he's facing a rookie coach at MSU, but I'm a man of my word.
Edge: Michigan State

Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Unknown
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge Unknown
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Edge Michigan State
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Notre Dame
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Edge Michigan State
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Notre Dame (barely)
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Michigan State

Analysis and Prediction

Notre Dame has never started a season 0-4.

Notre Dame has never lost to an opponent 6 straight times in Notre Dame stadium.

There has been nothing I've seen on the field that leads me to believe that the Irish have any hope of winning this game. They look outmatched. They look undercoached. They look confused and lethargic.

However, having failed so miserably at back-to-back brutal stadiums and feeling like they've let Notre Dame Nation down, they are coming home.

When they emerge from that tunnel, they will feel the true spirit of Notre Dame. As Coach Holtz once stated so eloquently, Notre Dame is special because "people care about you not just because you win or because things go well, but they genuinely care."

And we do. I'll be there tomorrow, but not to cheer for my team. Sure, I'll go through all of the motions, dancing the jig and doing leprechaun arms. But more importantly, my family needs me. I'll be there to support my brothers out on that field who came to Notre Dame for the same reasons I did. I know the pride that these players have in their school. I know that they feel the weight of history firmly on their shoulders. And I know that they came here so they could pursue excellence in everything for the glory of Notre Dame.

I'll be there. And so will 80,000 strong of the Notre Dame family.

Tomorrow is about more than X's and O's. It's about more than winning or losing. It's about pride. And tomorrow afternoon, at 3:30 p.m., when those golden helmets run out onto the field, the Fightin' Irish faithful will shake down the thunder.

Forget predictions. Forget scores. Forget statistics lke rushing yards and sacks given up. Forget breakdowns and matchups. This game is about waking up the echoes and restoring our pride.

What 'tho the odds...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We need a decider...

I'm all about accountability. I think that when people screw up, they should be called to the table to answer for their mistakes.

However, after reviewing whatever I could find on Saturday's loss, I must say I'm disappointed a little in this coaching staff's (and worse, this fan base's) failure to show any kind of loyalty to the players that lay their bodies on the line every week for this program.

I understand pulling Clausen late in a blow-out to give the backup some meaningful reps. I'm willing to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt on that one.

But the rest of the substitutions and changes throughout the Michigan screams to me of a coaching staff who is struggling with player development and identification of player's core competencies. Weis talks all the time in his press conferences about trusting what he sees on tape, but then he trots out 18,000 different offensive linemen on Saturday, shuffling them from position to position willy-nilly. We can't seem to give any one running back more than 2 carries in a row. We play six corners with seemingly no regard for who earned a starting position in training camp. We punish players for mistakes by yanking them in favor of someone else after penalties or mistakes. And we don't have any clear depth chart at receiver.

This team looks like the Keystone Cops because nobody knows who is going into battle with them on any given play.

I know that developing team chemistry takes time - time spent together. This is particularly true on the offensive line. And between a quarterback and his receivers. Running backs need to develop a feel for the game and where his holes and cut back lanes will develop. And corners need to get a feel for the tendencies of receivers they are covering.

In order for this team to make any progress, and to begin to win some games, Coach Weis needs to display some leaadership (and some of that accountability he speaks so much of) by naming a solid 2-deep depth chart, and then sticking to it, barring injury. This is a rebuilding season, and he needs to identify who his starters are, and then step up to the plate to protect them when they falter.

A former coach who shall remain nameless used to throw his players under the bus with the media, blaming their lack of production for his failures as a coach. But, he didn't yank players every time they screwed up. Weis does a decent job of protecting his players from media criticism, but he also needs to learn, especially this year, to forgive some mistakes.

This entire program feels to me like it is in full-on panic mode. Everyone inside the program seems to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off. And that all comes from the indecisiveness of the head coach.

I hope that at the end of this week, Coach Weis will make some tough decisions on who is going to play in the game, and give those players a chance to succeed. To develop chemistry.

I hope that Coach's return to training camp is the equivalent of hitting the reset button on this season. I hope that he gives ALL of the meaningful reps to his starting QB. I hope that he gives ALL of the meaningful reps to his starting running back. And I hope that he identifies his starters on the offensive line (as well as a set plan for subbing in backups) and then STICKS TO IT!!! He needs to find his starting corners and his nickel back and his dime back. And let them play their positions.

He needs to tell his players to listen to the advice of The Rock of WWE (WWF?) fame:

Know your role. And shut your mouth.

Demetrius Jones' defection this week was a clear signal to the public that despite Weis' maniacal control of media access to his program (which, by the way, I absolutely LOVE in our head football coach), there is dissent within the ranks. And the lines of communication from player to head football coach are not running at optimum levels. Any good football coach (with the weird and more than kind of creepy exception of Pete Carroll) scares the hell out of his players. Mine always did. I've known some of Holtz' former players, who have told me how much of a hardass he could be. And from all of Weis' quips in his press conferences, that is the type of coach he not just strives to be, but seemingly cherishes being.

So, he needs to be the decider. Decide who plays. Decide who doesn't. Tell everyone else it's his way or the highway. And then be accountable for it if he's wrong.

Because either he's a coach who understands how to identify and develop talent (which I still fervently believe), or he's a fraud who rode other people's coattails to the top. Either way, it's time for him to decide where he is going to lead his team, and then lead them there.

If I'm right about him, he'll lead us (sooner rather than later) to the promised land.

If I'm wrong, we will crash and burn in a most spectacular fashion, and be back to square one.

But if we stick with this wishy-washy mediocrity that has infected the program since the days of Davie, we'll continue to be what we have been for the past 20 years: an also-ran.

Decide. Implement. Accept the consequences.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

We are worse than Duke...

That's right folks, Duke got themselves a win (against a Big Ten team nonetheless), and we are still staring at a bagel in the win column.

I didn't get a chance to watch the game, as I was a groomsmen in a friend's wedding. Normally, I'd be miffed about having a wedding on gameday and no way to catch even part of the game. But now, I'd like to thank him for sparing me that particular torture.

This is a dark day in Notre Dame football, and one that I am no longer placing on the shoulders of Tyrone Willingham. In fact, I have decided that I am turning the page on the Willingham era, and I will never utter his name on this blog again. The failures of this team are approaching such historical and monumental proportions that a lack of seniors on the team no longer suffices to explain this level of incompetence on offense.

Coach Weis is the head football coach, and also serves as the offensive coordinator. He will be the first to tell you that he is responsible for the performance of the organization that he is in charge of. As coordinator, he is also directly responsible for the performance of every aspect of the offense.

I respect and admire Coach Weis.

I believe that though recruiting he has done what is necessary to build a program capable of long term success.

I believe that he is a man of integrity that understands how to win and lose with class and character.

I believe that he understands the game of football incredibly well, better than any other coach in the college ranks.

I believe that he is a great leader and manager.

I believe that he is the right person for the head coaching position at Notre Dame, now and in the future.

But Weis talks all of the time about accountability. And now it's time to hold him accountable. At this point I have to question Coach Weis' ability as a teacher and motivator.

I agree with Coach Weis that he needs to go back to a training camp mentality, and re-install our basic packages - from an X's and O's standpoint. But he needs first to identify why he so utterly failed to teach them properly in the training camp he already had. If he just goes back to do the same installation, we'll get the same results. Identify the problem and fix it.

More importantly, he needs to find a way to get these kids excited again about playing the game. From what I have seen of yesterday's game, Weis' NFL approach to the game is insufficient to motivate 18 year old kids. Those players looked confused and demoralized yesterday, and showed no signs of the passion which makes Notre Dame football great, and which has inspired the greatest fanbase in the history of sport. Weis needs to learn from his young and energetic defensive coordinator, and spend some time talking to Coach Holtz about delivering a halftime or sideline speech. Maybe he should take some drama classes in the offseason. He needs to spend more time inspiring his players, like he did back in 2005 with "Pass Right."
He needs to remind these kids that this is a game and that they have to have some fun out there. He needs to inspire some passion for the game and get the team to display some of that promised nastiness.

It's time for Coach Weis to step up to the plate and earn his paycheck.

I don't care if we lose next week - in fact, I expect it. But Weis had damn well find a way to keep his quarterback on his feet and move the ball on the ground. And to establish an identity. If he can do that, winning will eventually follow. And he can stop making me look a fool for defending him every week.

Because if he can't find a way to do something right - and I mean THIS WEEK - I'm done being a Weis apologist. This is your last chance, coach.