Saturday, October 06, 2007


Notre Dame Fightin' Irish 20
UCLA Bruins 6

With a defense like this, who needs an offense?

This defense, which has given up 30+ points in every one of our last 7 losses, stepped up this week.

We got consistent pressure on the quarterback, knocking Ben Olsen out early. Then this defense started to smell blood in the water, and absolutely dominated the Bruins. Sacks. Fumbles. Interceptions. Negative plays. Stuffing the run. And that was just Maurice Crum. I lost count of all the turnovers.

But most importantly, this team was playing with sustained passion and intensity.

This is the team I expected to see this year out of the gate. Not great, maybe not even good. But good enough.

We still have some glaring issues that need to be addressed.

We need a consistent rushing game. We were effective enough at the end of the game in the rushing game to run clock and survive. And despite struggling in the ground, we don't put the ball on the turf.

We need better protection on Clausen, and also need our receivers to work off of coverage and get open. Too many times open routes were missed because of pressure, or good protection was wasted because nobody could get open.

But there is plenty to hang our hats on.

Clausen is a great quarterback in the making. Far better than Brady Quinn at this point in their careers. And unlike the hype surrounding Powlus that quickly sputtered, Clausen has shown an ability to be consistent and improving. In a kind of backwards way, Powlus' first win was the worst thing that could have happened to him, while Jimmy's struggles and trials are exactly what this team needed long-term.

The 3-4 defense is disruptive to opposing offenses, and allows the players to use their athleticism to make plays.

We are also making huge strides in some of our other weaknesses as well.

We are getting better in the kicking game, and on special teams in general. (David Bruton, by the way, is a beast in space on defense and special teams)

Our offensive line is beginning to gel. We still give up too many sacks, but we also have given Clausen opportunities to stand in the pocket and pick apart the defense.

Our rush defense is improving somewhat, as the younger players learn to tackle and be aggressive. Like their leader Trevor Laws has been all day.

We are committing fewer penalties, and playing with more discipline across the board.

By getting the win today, the story swirling around the Irish is no longer going to be about the Irish descending into new levels of ineptitude. Now the story is about the progression of this young team, building chemistry and learning to compete.

And don't feed me a line about the Bruins only losing 'cause Olsen went down. We knocked his ass out of the game. It does not diminish the achievement of this Irish team.

Next week we face a red-hot Boston College team, ranked in the top 10 in the nation.

But we have some confidence and momentum.

And, suddenly, something to play for. With the win today, we are sitting at 1-5 with 6 games remaining. Four of those are against teams we should beat (although Stanford is suddenly scarier than I thought, after knocking off USC).

Which means that with one upset win over BC or SC, we could become bowl eligible and get another giant monkey off our back. Unlikely? Yes.


Ask Stanford if it's impossible. Ask Appalachian State. USC is beatable. Boston College is playing above themselves so far (I'll explain in my preview later this week).

We have the talent. We have the pride. And now we have some confidence and momentum.

Go Irish! Beat Fredo!

Indiana within 1 game of bowl eligibility

My Hoosiers doubled up the pathetic Minnesota Golden Gophers today, 40-20, to bring their record to 5-1 on the season.

Having had the chance to watch every team in the Big Ten this year, Indiana may be the third or fourth best team in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Illinois. They should beat Michigan State next week, although the game is in Lansing. With Michigan and Ohio State off the schedule, the toughest remaining game is at Wisconsin. Everything else is winnable.

[This Indiana update brought to you courtesy of Gwar420's earlier snide comment]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Check out Legends of South Bend

I'd lke to thank Aaron Taylor for putting together this great site over at Legends of South Bend. With his access to former Notre Dame players, he can bring us interviews like this one:

I'm hoping this weekend that Coach Weis can inspire some of that attitude in the Irish as they (for the third time this year) face a crowd of 100,000 plus and yet another 3 touchdown point spread.

We're supposed to be the bullies of the college football world, and we need to remember some of that pride.

I hope on Saturday we come out and punch UCLA in the mouth and watch them flinch.

Save Bruins Nation's ass for me!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Notre Dame at UCLA Preview

University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (0-5)

Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 19-11, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to Purdue, 33-19


University of California at Los Angeles
Bruins (4-1, 3-0 Pac-10)

Ranking: AP: unranked, Coaches: #25
Head Coach: Karl Dorrell
Coaching Record: 29-21, 5th season
Last Year: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-10)
Last Week: Beat Oregon State, 40-14

Location: Rose Bowl
Date and Time: October 6, 2007 8:12 p.m. (EST)
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 3-0-0

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. UCLA Secondary
The UCLA Bruins have an average pass defense, ranking 57th in the country.
Notre Dame's pass offense had been DOA all season until last week's second half against Purdue. By way of comparison, Purdue has a top 25 pass efficiency defense.
If this O-line can continue protecting Jimmy, and if the production of our running game can improve somewhat, the Irish can win this matchup.
Edge: Notre Dame (barely)

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. UCLA Linebackers
Notre Dame had some success running the ball aganst MSU, but we haven't shown any consistency in the running game. UCLA has the 16th ranked rush defense.
This doesn't look good for us, but I hope that this growing team will rise to the challenge.
Edge: UCLA

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. UCLA Defensive Line
This doesn't really look good for us, as UCLA is 16th in the country in sacks. However, this offensive line has shown some heart of late, and has begun to play as a unit. That said, there is no evidence that they can eliminate enough of the miscues to win this battle.
Edge: UCLA

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. UCLA Offensive Line
This is one intriguing matchup. The UCLA offensive line has done a good job of opening holes for their running game, but they do give up some sacks (84th in the country in sacks allowed). Our defensive line, led by Superman Trevor Laws, has been pretty solid this year, and consistent to boot. The rush defense falls more on the linebackers than the D-line, so I'm giving this matchup to the Irish.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Linebackers vs. UCLA Running Backs and Tight Ends
UCLA is 27th in the country in rushing, which places their rushing attack on par with Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue. And we all know how those games went for us.
Edge: UCLA

Notre Dame Secondary vs. UCLA Quarterbacks and Receivers
A lot of people have said that Notre Dame's 7th ranked pass defense is due to the fact that nobody has to throw against them. There may be some truth to that, but the Irish secondary is better than people realize, and have shown a knack for forcing turnovers. Olsen is an experienced veteran, but doesn't wow you.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Coaches vs. UCLA Coaches
Both coaches are in their third seasons, but their paths and situations have been so different that it's really too difficult to compare raw numbers.
Dorrell is erratic as a coach, beating #1 USC last year, then bringing almost everyone back and getting blown out 44-6 by unranked Utah. Weis is a little more consistent, with his team's performance more closely resembling their talent level.
Edge: Weis

Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Notre Dame
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge UCLA
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Edge UCLA
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Notre Dame
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Edge UCLA
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Notre Dame
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Notre Dame

Analysis and Prediction

This game is a bad matchup for the Irish. UCLA is a strong running team that is stout against the run on defense. Notre Dame hasn't stopped a running game all year, and has struggled moving the ball on the ground all year.
There isn't a whole lot for the Irish to hang their hat on, except that they have built some confidence.
If Coach Weis isn't too stubborn in trying to establish the running game, our passing game could outgun the Bruins.
The biggest thing that needs to happen for the Irish to win this game is improved run defense. I don't expect it to happen, as that is the one area that has shown no signs of life. However, if this linebacking corps can have a breakout game, this is a winnable game.

7 games left, we need 6 to get to a bowl game (which at this point would salvage the season). USC is almost unbeatable right now, so each game s a must-win from here on. Another loss, and we might lose this team.

First one to 30 wins.

schizophrenia is setting in...

Prediction from the head:

Notre Dame 24

Notre Dame continues to make progress as a team, but just can't muster enough offense to keep pace.

Prediction from the heart:

Notre Dame 30

The Notre Dame rush defense finally steps up, and the Bruins don't make it to their magic number (Dorrell is 19-2 when they score 30). Weis lets Jimmy chuck the ball all over the field, allowing us to score like we used to with Brady at the helm.

Purdue Postmortem

This is going to be pretty brief, as it is about time to move on to the UCLA Bruins, but I wanted to take a couple of minutes to talk about the big stories coming out of South Bend post-Purdue.

Our kicking game is atrocious, and I blame Brian Polian.
As I watched our kickers miss 2 extra points, and drill our end-of-half field goal try into the backs of our O-line, all I could think in my head is how much I want Coach Weis to fire Brian Polian at the end of the season and do a nation-wide search for the best kicking coach in the country.
We have used two scholarships in recent years on kickers, and neither one has earned their scholarship on the field. Our All-American punter has slipped so far that he's been benched. We aren't kicking it far enough on kickoffs.
With a young team like this, and an offense that has shown explosiveness, if not consistency, a good kicking game can relieve some of the pressure on our offense.

There is no quarterback controversy here.
The only controversy is whether Clausen can overcome his hip injury.
It's nice to know that Sharpley is a very good backup, but he just can't compete with Clausen in mechanics and accuracy. Sure, he showed some moxie in tossing that 4th down completion to Golden Tate, but that pales in comparison to Clausen trying to battle through his injury and lead this team to victory.
Mark my words - if Clausen doesn't sustain that injury, we win that game.
Clausen has a quicker drop, better footwork, and a quicker release. Clausen has better touch, and similar velocity to Sharpley. Most importantly, Clausen has better pocket presence. He knows when to step up, roll out, and can deliver the ball efficiently just before getting hit. It's something that Brady Quinn has in spades, but that is difficult to measure. However, if you want a measurable statistic to hang your hat on: Clausen - sacked 0 times. Sharpley - sacked twice.

Golden Tate is damn fast with great hands, but he's not a starting receiver.
I've read post after post all around ND Nation begging Weis to have Golden Tate in on every play. I disagree.
Golden clearly has the elite (dare I say Rocket-esque?) speed which we've been looking for in a receiver. However, you can't put a player in just to run go routes on every snap. Connecting on a go route is not a high percentage play, especially when a safety can key on it. Until Tate has shown an ability to run other routes (in particular the curl and stop-and-go), he won't be able to consistently fool a defense.
All that said, I do expect a heavy dose of Golden Tate in the UCLA game. And probably we'll see him get an end-around or reverse or two as well, as his experience was more as a running back. He'll probably be our 3rd receiver, giving him enough time on the field to stretch the field and put pressure on the UCLA defense.

Our offensive line is no longer the problem - our defense is.
Yes, we struggled on short yardage. Yes, we stuggled to run the ball effectively. However, if you remember that before the MSU game we had less than 10 net yards rushing on the season, the 49 net yards was more a function of our play calling than our inablity to run. With the exception of Aldridge, our other leading rushers all averaged more than 4 yards a carry.
On the other hand, the defense that gave up 23 points in the first half failed to step up when it mattered, with the Irish down only 7 and plenty of time left on the clock. They gave up too many rushing yards, which hurts us not only in field position and scoring, but also kills us in time of possession.

Purdue is who I thought they are.
They have a good passing game, and a nice rushing game to maintain some balance. But, of you hit them in the mouth, they'll collapse like a house of playing cards. I blame this week's loss on our schedule - if we had even one win to hang our hat on going in, we would have believed in ourselves enough to come out firing, instead of waiting until the second half.


Biggest problem: Special Teams. Much like Michigan State, our kicking game killed us. Consider this: if we had not left 5 points on the board, we would have been down only 2 with 7 minutes left. The difference in emotional boost you get from being down 2 and down 7 is significant. Down 2, a field goal wins the game. Down 7, you still have to score twice. (I consider 2-point conversions as if they are another score, whereas extra points are SUPPOSED to be automatic.)

Player of the game: Golden Tate. His long pass plays provided the spark to kick start this passing game. If Tate and Aldridge both show up on the same week, we may just get ourselves a win.

Scapegoats of the game: Brandon Walker and Nate Whitaker. Leaving 5 points on the board is inexcusable.

Positive stat of the game: Notre Dame: 426 yards offense Purdue: 371 yards offense

Negative stat of the game: Notre Dame: 2/4 in red zone Purdue: 7/7 in red zone

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The College Football World is on LSD... (or is it LSU? I'm so confused...)

Cal #3
South Florida (yes, South Florida, that's not a typo) #6 (again, not a typo)
Kentucky #8
Indiana 2/3 of the way to a bowl game at 4-1, with a win in Iowa City behind them. (GO HOOSIERS!!! -alma mater love spilling over-)
Michigan loses to Div. I-AA team.
Notre Dame still winless after five games, while Fredo flirts with the Top Ten (#7).
South Carolina at #11.
Hawaii at #16.

If there was ever a sign that the world is approaching the end of days, this is it.


There appears to be a trend in college football developing - teams that just seem to have another team's number.

Florida is a better football team than Auburn, but they couldn't beat them to save their lives. Stat, last two seasons: FLA vs. AUB: 0-2; FLA vs. EVERYONE ELSE: 17-0

Texas won a championship a scant two years ago, but they just suffered their second consecutive loss to Kansas freakin' State.

Indiana couldn't beat anyone three years ago, but they are well on their way to a bowl game, after beating Iowa. Again.

Last week Michigan State won their 6th straight at Notre Dame Stadium.

South Florida (yes, South Florida, that's not a typo) won their second straight over
a Top 10 ranked West Virginia.

These teams aren't better than the teams they are beating, but they are quickly becoming a perennial thorn in the side of their traditionally more successful opponents.

And very soon may spawn the creation of some of the more virulent rivalries in sport. (Think Notre Dame - Boston College... one team takes their only pleasure in ruining the aspirations of the object of their obsession). Like Notre Dame really needs another one of those rivalries. (BC, Purdue, Michigan State, enough is enough!!!)



I don't have the energy to talk about the continued ineptitude of the Irish (despite the strides this team took in the second half), so for a little while, please indulge me.

I'm switching this blog (for a couple of days at least) to an Indiana football blog.

That's right, folks, my heart (and liver) can't take much more of this Irish losing streak, so I'm climbing up onto the Hoosier bandwagon for a rest.

This team isn't getting much press (yet), but it will, especially when it works it magic against Michigan State in a couple of weeks to become bowl eligible.

They lost their head coach to a brain tumor in March, but they have rallied to show that they are a more competitive team than anyone gave them credit for. This team plays with passion for the memory of their coach, and Indiana hasn't been to a bowl game since 1993.

I love my Irish more than anyone (I got a friggin' tattoo on my arm, for cryin' out loud), but this year's team hasn't won a game.

My Hoosiers, with far lest talent, have been playing with heart and pride, and winning as a result.

Go Hoosiers! Beat the Gophers!

EDIT: This doesn't mean I'm giving up on the Irish, or somehow not being a Notre Dame fan, and if you took it that way, I apologize. I simply wanted to give some props to my alma mater, who is having unprecedented success (for them) this year. My Purdue roundup and UCLA preview will be forthcoming.