Friday, October 12, 2007

Midterm Report Card

With the first half of the season under wraps, it's time to grade out this team at the halfway point in the season.


Quarterbacks: C
A rough start in the first game carousel certainly set this whole offense off on the wrong foot, but as Jimmy Clausen has settled into the offense, he has shown an ability to manage the game and avoid the game changing mistakes. He has a long way to go to become a weapon. One of Jimmy's strengths is spreading the ball around, havng 5 receivers averaging over 20 yards per game. Helping the grade is Sharpley's quiet readiness and patience as the backup.
Jimmy Clausen: B-
Evan Sharpley: A
Demetrius Jones: W

Running Backs: F
Although our rushing woes are largely due to the offensive line, truly great running backs can gain positive yards more often than not just by running hard and bringing the wood. Aldridge has shown flashes, but flashes aren't nearly enough to redeem the nation's most disappointing rushing team. This is a situation where the final grade is worse than the sum of the parts.
James Aldridge: C
Robert Hughes: B
Armando Allen: C-
Travis Thomas: D
Junior Jabbie: C
Asaph Schwapp: D-

Receivers: D
The receiving corps has been a major disappontment this year, as the passing offense hasn't really opened up, except briefly during the Purdue game. The big surprise here is that our leading receiver is not the experienced David Grimes (played in 12 games last year), the phenom Duval Kamara (true freshman), or the explosive Golden Tate (26 YPC average). It is the quietly reliable Robby Parris, with 178 yards on 15 catches, for an 11.9 yard per catch average. Not flashy, but getting the job done. These receivers need to do a better job of creating plays.
David Grimes: D
Robby Parris: B+
Duval Kamara: A
George West: D
Golden Tate: B
D.J. Hord: F

Tight Ends: C
Largely hamstrung by the offensive line failures keeping him in on max protect, Carlson's numbers are nowhere near where everyone expected them to be at this point in the season. That said, perusing the season statistics I was surprised to find that Carlson is leading the team in receptions, with 18. He could have graded out higher if not for a few untimely drops. The young tight ends are gaining valuable experience, but haven't contributed as receivers as of yet.
John Carlson: C
Wll Yeatman: B
Mike Ragone: C
Konrad Reuland: W

Offensive Line: F-
Despite recent improvements, there is no way that this unit gets anything other than a big fat F for failure. John Sullivan was supposed to be a leader and a calming force on this unit, but all I've seen thus far is a center who can't even take care of his own assignment, much less help the rest of the line with theirs. All of the starters get F's,
John Sullivan: F---
Paul Duncan: F
Sam Young: F
Mike Turkovich: F
Dan Wenger: I
Matt Carufel: W/F (he left the team mid-season as a starter. Demetrius Jones and Konrad Reuland I understand, as they had been passed. But this guy was starting, and quit the team. I don't even want him to come back. Screw him.)
Chris Stewart: D (would have been an F but for his decision not to quit on this team)
Thomas Bemenderfer: B
Eric Olsen: C
Taylor Dever: C

Offense Overall Grade: F-
The stats don't lie: Last in the NCAA in total offense. Last in rushing offense. Last in sacks allowed. Next to last in scoring offense. 109th in passing offense. 108th in passing efficiency.
This offense is the worst in the NCAA at the halfway point, and that is quite simply unacceptable.
They had better step up their game. NOW.


Defensive Line: A
This may be a generous grade for a D-line that is part of the 96th worst rushing defense in the country, but they get a boost for effort. Trevor Laws is leading the team in tackles and has become a force inside, week in and week out. Pat Kunz is doing an amazing job as an undersized nosetackle.
Trevor Laws: A+
Pat Kunz: A
Dwight Stephenson, Jr.: B
Derrell Hand: C
Paddy Mullen: C
Ian Williams: C
Justiin Brown: B-

Linebackers: D
The recent breakout of Maurice Crum, Jr. has saved this unit from a failing grade. The linebackers were not getting enough pressure on the QB, and had given up far too many yards against the rush early in the season. I hope that the UCLA game marked a turning point for this unit, as they looked damn good.
Maurice Crum, Jr.: C+
Joe Brockington: D
Toryan Smith: C
John Ryan: D
Kerry Neal: B+
Anthony Vernaglia: F
Scott Smith: D
Steve Quinn: D
Brian Smith: B
Morrice Richardson: D

Secondary: A
I don't care what you say, this secondary is the 4th best unit in terms of pass yards given up, ranking in the rarefied air of LSU, South Carolina, and Clemson. And even if you consider pass efficiency defense, we are still in the top 25, ranking near undefeateds like Cincinatti and Boston College. Against the opponents we've faced, that is quite simply a stellar achievement.
More importantly, it signals a major change from years past. Consider this: the longest pass we've given up this year was a 51 yarder against Penn State, which didn't result in a touchdown. Last year? 88 yards for a TD against Purdue. 2005? 85 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Minter is gone, and the new boss has fixed the one thing that has haunted us under Minter - giving up the big pass play. Corwin Brown has cut a full two yards off of opponent's average yards per pass from 7.7 and 7.8 in 2005 and 2006 to only 5.7 in 2007. Eveybody gets at least a B.
Tom Zbikowski: B+
David Bruton: A+
Darrin Walls: A
Terrail Lambert: B+
Ambrose Wooden: B
Leo Ferrine: B
Raeshon McNeil: B
Munir Prince: B
Kyle McCarthy: B
Sergio Brown: B
Jashaad Gaines: B
Harrison Smith: B
Ray Herring: B
Leonard Gordon: B

Defense Overall Grade: B
This would have been much, much lower a grade if not for the UCLA game.
This defense single handedly took this team on its back and drug it out of the gutter. Also, I was a little more forgiving of the poor scoring defense (74th in NCAA) considering the poor positions the offense put them in.
After the opponents we've played thus far (the 3rd toughest schedule in the country), and the ineptitude of our offense, our 41st ranking in total defense is a major achievement, and gives this young team a strong foundation to build upon.


Kickoffs: B-
No kickoffs returned for touchdowns guarantees a passing grade, and 0 touchbacks guarantees that I'm not giving out an A. We give up a little too much yardage on returns, but not so much that it's a major concern.
Nate Whitaker: B+
Brandon Walker: B-

Kickoff Return: B
We haven't broken any really impressive runs on kick returns, although we've seen the potential in these young kids. Golden Tate ranks 62nd in the country in kick returns, which isn't great, but it's not horrible either. No major blunders here, so they get a solid B.
Golden Tate: B+
Armando Allen: B-
Junior Jabbie: B

Punting: D
Geoff Price was a preseason All-American at punter, but a long string of inconsistency by him, when we needed him most, killed his grade here. Overall, though, his punting is average. I'm just dinging him for not meeting expectations.
Having Eric Maust around is encouraging for the future.
Geoff Price: D-
Eric Maust: B

Punt Return: D
The punt returns haven't been the strength that it should have been at this point. Penalties on big returns have robbed the Irish of golden opportunities at crucial times, which could have changed games. Zbikowski's returns have been good when he's had some space to run.
Tom Zbikowski: A

Field Goals / PAT: F
The Purdue game alone was enough to give this unit an F for the first half of the season. UCLA was encouraging, but it isn't enough to overcome a season long weakness for this team.
Brandon Walker: B (4/5 FGs, 5/6 PATs, 1 blocked kick)
Nate Whitaker: F (0/1 FGs, 1/2 PATs)

Field Goal / PAT Block: F
No blocked kicks, and opponents have gone 13/15 in field goal attempts. We aren't getting any disruption here.

This grade includes player development, as well as in-game strategy.

Head Coach Charlie Weis: D-
Weis had to see this coming with the recruits on hand. However, he wasn't able to be successful in fielding a competitive football team. The only reason this isn't an F is because Weis was willing to change strategies when things didn't go as planned, and the team has improved as a result.

Offensive Coaching Staff: F
The offense is bad. Really bad. And there is no excuse for that.
Charlie Weis, playcaller: F
Michael Haywood,, Offensive Coodinator & Running Backs Coach: F
Rob Ianello, Receivers Coach & Recruiting Coordinator: B (credit for top ranked recruiting class)
John Latina, Offensive Line Coach: F-
Ron Powlus, Quarterbacks Coach: B
Bernie Parmalee, Tight Ends and Special Teams: C

Defensive Coaching Staff: A
Brown has worked wonders with this defense, making it the strength of the team, rather than a weakness, and did so very quickly.
Corwin Brown, Defensive Coordinator: A
Bill Lewis, Defensive Backs Coach: A
Jappy Oliver, Defensive Line Coach: A
Brian Polian, Linebackers and Special Teams: F-


Team Overall Grade: F

You are what you are, and right now you are a 1-5 football team. There's no chance of an A come the end of the season (and a B- would require us to win out), but if this team continues to make strides, they can earn a passing grade by season's end.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Boston College vs. Notre Dame Preview

Boston College
Eagles (3-0)

Ranking: consensus #4
Head Coach: Jeff Jagodzinski
Coaching Record: 6-0, 1st season
Last Year: 10-3 (5-3 ACC)
Last Week: Beat Bowling Green, 55-24


University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (1-5)

Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 20-11, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Beat #25 UCLA, 20-6

Location: Notre Dame Stadium (aka The House That Rock Built)
Date and Time: October 13, 2007 3:43 p.m.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 9-7

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Boston College Secondary
Here's a little statistic for you, concerning the teams we've played this year, as far as pass defense is concerned:
Penn State #13 - 172.67 yds/gm (144 yards passing)
Michigan #40 - 205.33 yds/gm (ND: 85 yards passing)
Georgia Tech #71 - 233.8s yds/gm (ND: 130 yards passing)
Michigan State #78 - 241.17 yds/gm (ND: 86 yards passing)
UCLA #79 - 242.83 yds/gm (ND: 94 yards passing)
Purdue #84 - 247.50 yds/gm (ND: 377 yards passing)
Boston College #110 - 290.83 yds/gm (ND: ???)
The Fredo defense hasn't stopped a passing offense this year, and the only success we've had through the air this year was against Purdue, the weakest secondary we've played. Fredo's secondary is far weaker than Purdue's, so don't expect Charlie to play a conservative game this week. I'll be surprised if we attempt much in the way of running the ball, as their is no need to. Jimmy Clausen has his breakout game this week against Fredo.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Boston College Linebackers
Boston College has the 3rd ranked rushing defense in the nation, giving up less than 50 yards per game. Since our run game only averages a pitiful 33 yards per game, it's no doubt that Fredo gets the edge in this one. The good news is that there is no reason to rely on our running game, with the vulnerable Fredo secondary.
Edge: Boston College

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Boston College Defensive Line
Fredo's defensive line isn't that scary, compared to the other teams we've played. Indeed, only Purdue's pass rush is weaker than Fredo's. They don't have a lot of sacks or tackles for loss, considering the caliber of opponent they've played. They are good run stuffers, but we don't need to run the ball this week.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Boston College Offensive Line
Laws and Kunz have established themselves as dominant defensive linemen. Boston College's offensive line has been very good at protecting Matt Ryan so far, but they haven't had to deal with a lineman like Trevor Laws. They did a decent job picking up Georgia Tech's blitz packages, but they are vulnerable to 1-on-1 matchups, being almost as young as our offensive line. Expect us to bring some basic pressure packages, and relying on our stellar defensive backfield to diffuse this attack.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Boston College Running Backs and Tight Ends
Fredo has enough of a rushing attack to keep their passing game going, but the Eagles haven't been placed in a situation where they absolutely have to run the ball. Notre Dame's defense is getting much better at stopping the run, but still
grade out as one of the worst rush defenses in the country halfway through the season.
Edge: Boston College (barely)

Notre Dame Secondary vs. Boston College Quarterbacks and Receivers
This is the big matchup in this game. Fredo has the 11th ranked passing offense, averaging over 300 yards per game. Notre Dame has the 4th best pass defense in the country, allowing only half that.
Also, last week's game against UCLA showed that the Irish pass defense is not just a function of their poor rush defense. When this defense got a lead, they brought pressure and gobbled up passes like they were tic-tacs.
Say what you will about the Irish defense, but they are not weak against the pass.
This is strength versus strength, and if the Irish D can continue to be stingy through the air, this bodes very well for the Irish overall.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Coaches vs. Boston College Coaches
Charlie is in his third year as head coach, and has learned how to overcome adversity. Jagodzinski is in his first year as a head coach, and inherited a solid senior QB, experienced rusher, and good receiving corps - they haven't faced any adversity yet this year. In fact, this year's Fredo team is deja vu of the 2005 Irish, just waiting for someone to exploit their glaring weaknesses.
Fredo isn't use to the type of hype and success they've been experiencing, and will be overconfident coming in to the House That Rock Built this week. Jagodzinski hasn't done anything to show that he is an above average coach, except for handling an early season game against the Yellowjackets.
Weis has all the film he needs to study the new head coach, and Coach Brown and him can surely identify some weaknesses.
Edge: Notre Dame

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

Analysis and Prediction

Notre Dame is, by far, the more seasoned team at this point in the season. Boston College's only quality opponent thus far was Georgia Tech. Notre Dame has faced 6 straight talented high level bowl quality opponents.
Notre Dame's young team is just waking up, and have suddenly learned how to win a game and sustain their effort through 60 minutes.
Brown's defense turned the corner two weeks ago against Purdue. Charlie's offense won't be far behind.
More importantly, this team is chomping at the bit to play spoiler for a team that has made their entire reputation playing spoiler for others. Coming home after a long, tough string of games, this team is going to be fired up and ready to hit.

Fredo has no idea what's coming for him.

Notre Dame 24
Boston College 21

Sunday, October 07, 2007

UCLA Postgame Breakdown

Photo courtesy South Bend Tribune

Injuries are a part of the game, and it doesn't diminish our achievement.
Much will be made in the coming week by Notre Dame haters about us lucking out by playing against a 3rd string walk-on QB. However, I've always felt that injuries are a natural part of the game, and you play with the team you can field.
If you really want to trot out that excuse, how about considering that we were playing without our top receiver and a starting offensive guard. For that matter, we lost a top cornerback recruit for the season during spring ball, and dime back Ferrine was sitting out as well. Every team has to battle through injuries throughout the season, and it is an insult to this Irish team to blame the win on UCLA's injuries. I still contend that the Irish would have won last week if Jimmy had stayed healthy, but you don't hear me blaming the loss on him sitting out the 2nd half. We rolled in Sharpley, and had to suck it up and compete. There are 11 players out on that field for each team every play, and the loss of one is no excuse for losing the entire game.

This defense is quckly becoming a Corwin Brown defense, and forgetting the bad habits from the Minter era.
You can't talk about this game without becoming impressed with the young Irish defense. Led by the upperclassmen Laws, Zibby, Bruton, and especially Crum, the rest of the defense played largely mistake-free bend-don't-break defense, holding the Bruins offense well below their average in all phases of the game.
I loved the heads-up play of the corners, staying with receivers, getting their heads around, and knocking balls down. I felt that we played too soft at the line of scrimmage and should have been in more bump-and-run, but I'm no professional coach and the game plan of Corwin Brown worked in spades.
I think this week was that week where the players finally bought into Brown's system. The reason I think this isn't just the results, but how those results manifested. In a 3-4, the best inside linebacker becomes your gamebreaker, disrupting the opposing offense. Crum's breakout game is a symptom of the rest of the defense doing their jobs. After this week's game, I bet Filer is drooling for the opportunity to play on this defense.

The offense is still 'Under Construction,' as Coach Weis is still searching for an offensive identity
Deion Walker and Michael Floyd, please please PLEASE come to Notre Dame.
Our protection is improving, but we still need breakout receivers to kickstart this offense and take the pressure off of the running game. Too many times I watched Clausen stand in a beautiful pocket, lacking only a receiver to throw to.
As long as Coach Weis is calling the plays, we are going to have to get used to using the pass to set up the run. We have the best freshman QB in the nation, but for some reason the elite receiver recruits haven't followed. With another 5-star QB on his way in next year, I hope our two top receiver targets take notice and come to a team where they can play early and be difference makers and superstars. They'll be the first option, and get plenty of opportunities to get their hands on the ball.
The offensive line still needs to work on their aggressiveness in the running game, but they are starting to come together and look like a decent competitive unit. If they continue to work hard, they will be a very good unit by the end of the year, and will be in a position to dominate starting next year. If we can find a breakout receiver or two.

The Special Teams weren't a liability!
Welcome back, Geoff Price. Nice to have you here, Brandon Walker.
I nominate David Bruton to replace Travis Thomas as Special Teams Captain.
For the first time this season, the special teams play of the Irish contributed to the team's success, rather than digging us into holes. Two for two on field goals (contrary to media reports, the 48 yarder did not hit the crossbar, it hit the center post behind the crossbar, and would have been good from almost 50). A 40+ yard punt average, with most of them pinning the Bruins inside the 20, including one inside the 1. Good coverage (especially by the solid Bruton), and a couple of decent returns. All in all, I was happy with the special team play.

This was a team playing Notre Dame football.
They weren't always successful, especially on offense, but I finally saw 60 minutes of Notre Dame football. This team played together, played hard, and never gave up on themselves or each other. There wasn't any bickering or confusion, and everyone played with a quiet air of confidence, all the more impressive considering their 0-5 record coming in.
At no point while I was watching that game yesterday did I feel like anyone on that field thought they could lose. That kind of attitude could lead to some special moments over the next couple of weeks, as we play highly ranked opponents.


Biggest problem: Offense. Only 140 yards on offense, and no rushing game to speak of. With a +7 turnover ratio, we should have won this game by 40. Instead, the Irish offense couldn't move the ball enough to run clock late in the game, forcing us to sweat out the win. And 1st-and-goal from the 1 should never, ever, EVER, result in something other than a TD.

Player of the game: Maurice Crum. I was tempted to give it to Trevor Laws or David Bruton, but ultimately I couldn't argue with Crum's numbers. Four total turnovers by one guy is DAMN impressive. More importantly, it is what you would expect from this 3-4 scheme - big plays from your best inside linebacker.

Scapegoats of the game: Finally, a win. No need for scapegoats!!!

Positive stat of the game: + 7 turnover margin

Negative stat of the game: Notre Dame: 140 yards of total offense UCLA: 282 yards of total offense.

Look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a ... pig?

The craziest college football season I've ever seen continued unabated today, as there appears to be nobody in the country that wants to challenge LSU on the way to their championship.

Consider for a moment this list of unbeaten teams:
LSU, Ohio State - not a big surprise at this pont
California, Missouri, Arizona State, Boston College - middle of the road BCS teams having a good year, we'll have to see if they hold up through a long season
Hawaii - the obligatory non-BCS unbeaten
Kansas, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut - Seriously, WTF? Did anyone, anywhere, pick these teams to be undefeated halfway through the year?

Besides LSU, how many of those teams did you have picked in your preseason top 5? 10? 25?

I'd recap all of the zaniness this season, but I'd rather stick to the basics of this week.

We'll start in Southern California, where there were a pair of college football games going on at the same time across town from each other.

USC were 41-point favorites over Stanford, and were protecting a record 38 game home winning streak. Easy win, right? Apparently, Stanford didn't get the memo, beating the vaunted Trojans 24-23.

Across town, Notre Dame was staring down the barrel of their 0-8 start, sporting the nation's worst offense and no significant signs of life. UCLA almost beat Notre Dame in their own stadium last year with Brady Quinn at the helm with almost all of the same players, and now they got the Irish in their house with revenge on their mind. Easy win for the Bruins? Apparently Maurice Crum didn't get the memo. Notre Dame won 20-6 after forcing 7 turnovers.

Earlier, the 12th ranked Georgia Bulldogs were supposed to roll over a .500 Tennessee squad en route to their showdown with Florida in a couple of weeks. Apparently, Georgia's offense didn't get the memo until the second half, when it was too little, too late. Georgia got smacked down to the tune of 35-14.

#5 Wisconsin just had to dispatch the long-suffering and unranked Illinois squad to keep their national title aspirations alive. I'm beginning to think the guy that was supposed to deliver the memos should get fired, as Rashard Mendenhall didn't get his memo either, rolling over the Badgers to lead his team to a 31-26 victory.

Add on the 7 Top Ten losses from last week, and you have a lot of tired poll voters tomorrow morning.

With the LSU Tigers battling back against the Florida Gators, picking the top team in the country isn't too hard. It's 2-25 that gets kind of tricky.

My rankings at the halfway point:

1. LSU
2. California
3. Ohio State
4. Missouri
5. South Florida
6. Kansas
7. Cincinnati
8. Arizona State
9. Boston College (I just threw up a little bit in my mouth)
10. Connecticut
11. Hawaii
12. South Carolina (L at LSU)
13. Virginia Tech (L at LSU)
14. Oregon (L vs. California)
15-T. Purdue (L vs. Ohio State)
15-T. Illinois (L vs. Missouri)
17. West Virginia (L at South Florida)
18. Kentucky (L at South Carolina)
19. Wisconsin (L at Illinois)
20. Indiana (L vs. Illinois)
21. Virginia (L at Wyoming)
22. Wyoming (L at Boise State)
23. Oklahoma (L at Colorado)
24. Florida State (L at Clemson)
25. Boise State (L at Washington)

These rankings reflect what a team has earned on the field this year, rather than hypothetical postulating about neutral fields and reputation. So I don't want outraged comments about how SC would beat so-and-so. 'Cause they lost to Stanford - find me a worse loss among my top 25. The top 10 include ALL of the undefeateds, as I feel that you deserve to be at the top until you lose. And don't even bitch about your [insert 2-loss team here]. That means you, crazy Florida fan. You lost twice. You no longer matter, to me or to anyone.