Saturday, November 08, 2008

Keys to Victory: Dancing in the Rain Edition

With the Irish rolling into Boston tonight, it looks like the weather will be a major factor, with rain throughout the evening.

Normally, weather would be a problem for this matchup, as rain makes it harder to pass the ball, and favors the ground game. the Irish have struggled at times to run the ball, and also have struggled mightily to stop opposing teams from running against them.

However, the Irish have a long history of doing some incredible things in bad weather. Remember the Snow Bowl of '93? Or more recently, the comeback win in a monsoon at Michigan State in '06?

The Irish get fired up for games in inclement weather, and I have a feeling that this week will be no exception.

Protect the ball.

Turnovers have killed us in opposing stadiums this year, and in wet conditions, the number of turnovers should go up.

If the Irish can avoid turnovers, I think that they will force Crane into getting sloppy with the ball - he has more INTs than TDs this season.

Find a running game.

If we attempt to throw the ball over tthe top of the BC defense, which is on paper our strength in matchups, we may have a long day. Rainy conditions and poor footing make cuts harder for receivers, and can lead to slipping and falling on routes, which in turn can lead to interceptions.

We need to establish a strong power running game today, so I suspect we will get heavy doses of James Aldridge running downhill and trying to muscle BC up front.

Use the go route sparingly, but take your shots.

Because this game is probably going to turn into a trench warfare type of game, we need to be able to pull the safeties off the line of scrimmage. I'd like to see the occasional long pass, preferably on simple go routes (to avoid slipping and falling as they try to cut), to gash this team for big gains.

Short passes and runs should be the staple, but when we get a chance on second and short, I'd like us to use our speed advantage outside to try and blow this game open.

Stop the running game cold.

Crane cannot beat us with the pass, so I'd like to see us stack the line of scrimmage and bring run blitz after run blitz to keep Crane in the pocket and get penetration into the backfield to neutralize their running game.

Leave our corners on an island against their receivers, and bring the house.

BC won't beat us through the air, and we need to force them into three and outs to take away their home field advantage.


The Irish are evenly matched with this team on paper, but I think Coach Weis called out their manhood this week. The Irish players all seem to have a chip on their shoulder, and if Corwin Brown's attitude is permeated through the defense this week, this thing could get ugly.

Look for the Irish to out-physical the Eagles inside, and then stick the dagger in with some long passes for scores.

Notre Dame 38
Fredo 14

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Illustrated Edition

I've been lazy about including photos in my posts ever since I got this sweet new job, but since the first question this week asks for a picture, I'm getting my lazy rear in gear and posting a (hopefully) professional looking blog with pictures and everything.

1) What photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something, anything at all, really, says all 1,000 words that need to be said about this team? OR, which photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something would tell 1,000 lies about this team if you only saw the photo and didn't know better? (Double-secret word score bonus for answering both mutations of the same question)

This photo, to me, speaks volumes about this team. Jimmy Clausen, walking all alone in a sea of criticism, head down, but still with a certain air of confidence amid all of the tumult.

In fact, this photo, to me, is like one of those optical illusion pictures that can be looked at in one of two ways.

An Irish critic, looking at this picture, would see vindication of their ongoing claims that Weis isn't a very good coach, that Jimmy Clausen is overrated, and that the Irish are incapable of beating a good team, 'cause they just don't have the athletes. Just another Irish loss to add to the list of disappointments.

Someone who is familiar with the Irish, however, take a different view of this picture. I see in this picture the tempering of the next truly great Irish player - a potential Heisman and Championship winning quarterback who, as a true sophomore, is just beginning to show his potential. Jimmy is completely unconcerned with the crowd surrounding him, and I imagine that at the moment this picture was snapped, he was probably berating himself for not achieving the perfection he strives for on each play.

Just another loss for the Irish? Hardly. North Carolina is one of 7 teams in the ACC with 2 conference losses, putting them tied for 1st place in the Coastal Division with 7-2 Georgia Tech. They could be a BCS team when all is said and done. And we controlled that game until choking it away late, as young teams are liable to do. And while Jimmy had the worst outing of the year against the Tar Heels, he still threw for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns.

This photo, to me, stands for all of the potential in this team, which is still being tempered for a run at a championship over the next two years. This team was disappointed by this loss, not because they lost, but because they genuinely expected to win. Starting very soon, these close losses will become close wins, and not long after, the confidence from winning will lead to the swagger possessed by the USC's and Texases of the world.

2) Some of you may know that I ( am a football stat geek. Which statistic do you think geeks like myself should really be paying attention to this season and why? (Can pertain to ND or CFB in general.)

Average starting field position.

San Diego State (Win) +20
Michigan (Win) +15
Michigan State (Loss) -3
Purdue (Win) +8
Stanford (Win) +6
North Carolina (Loss) -11
Washington (Win) +16
Pitt (Loss) -4

Average starting field position is a stat that doesn't get much pub, but has a huge impact on the game. The ability to make your opponent drive further to score has a direct correlation to your ability to win the game, as evidenced by the stats for the Irish so far this season above.

There are several things that go into ASFP - kick and punt distance, kick and punt coverage, kick and punt returns, turnovers, defensive effectiveness at forcing three and outs, and offensive production to flip field position.

Because the importance of solid special teams play and playing defense to keep the other team out of field goal range, I dislike the current college overtime system. It removes this critical aspect of the game from the equation, making overtime less of a measurement of the overall quality of the football team. And, no surprise, ASFP for both teams is identical in each overtime.

3) Seeing as how Boston College is nothing but an up-jumped program enjoying the luxury and soft Corinthian leather of an ACC schedule, which team from the current top 25 would you love to see this year's Irish play this weekend in Fredo's stead? Why? Do you think the Irish would win? Describe the game. Paint us a picture! I'll get the popcorn!

Penn State.

Playing JoePa in potentially his last year with the chance to knock him out of national title contention? In Happy Valley against another whiteout crowd? Count me in.

Now, Penn State is a damn good football team this year, and most Irish fans wouldn't give us an icecube's chance in hell of beating the top 5 Nittany Lions in their house this weekend. However, after having watched Penn State and Notre Dame this year, I think the Irish would have a shot in this game.

The Irish would start by taking a page out of Michigan's playbook to get an early lead on the Nittany Lions. However, unlike the times we have laid off the opponent when up 14 points, even God wouldn't get mad at us for continuing to run up the score (more on this later...).

I think the Irish would jump out to an early lead, and then Penn State would methodically work their way back into the football game with their punishing offense. However, the Irish have been very good at not giving up the big play this year, so Penn State would have to work for it's points.

On the other hand, while the Irish might suffer a few three-and-outs, the explosiveness of our receivers would lead to some long scores against an overrated Penn State defense.

I'm picturing a game where the Irish hold a 4 point lead at the end of the 4th quarter, with Penn State lined up on the Irish 2 with 4 seconds on the clock. A light snowfall has begun to fall in Happy Valley, adding some more white to the whiteout crowd. Penn State lines up for the final play in a goal line formation, and runs a dive play up the gut to Evan Royster, who launches himself over the offensive line. And is stopped cold by Mo Crum.

But JoePa has seen this happen before! It was a play action fake! Royster never had the ball, and Darryl Clark is now streaking for the corner of the end zone, with nobody in position to stop him!

Out of nowhere, David Bruton closes from midfield to make a spectacular tackle of Darryl Clark only inches shy of the pylon.

Game over, Irish win!

4) Let's dispose of the gradient colors and subtle vagaries of college football for a moment and answer this question with one of the supplied, absolute answers and a blurb defending your pick. No waffling! The Question: Why is Notre Dame unable to put away games when leading going into half time? The possible answers: 1) ND Players all have a soft, nougat center 2) The Coaches don't want to tick off potential future employers 3) God doesn't think it's classy to blow a team out 4) The ND Fanbase can't really stomach blowouts any more than they could stomach a protracted land war in Asia. Remember, you must pick one and you must defend it with great vigor!

3) God doesn't think it's classy to blow a team out.

I know the question says I can't waffle, but I think that the coaching staff at Notre Dame has an NFL mentality when it comes to protecting a lead. Throwing the ball downfield when you are up by two scores is more dangerous, statistically, than running the ball and using safe, shorter passes to move the ball.

In the NFL, the caliber of play is on a different level, and more conservative play calling shortens the game and increases the chance of your team winning the game.

In college, however, the game isn't as fundamentally sound, and the defense is more likely to give up points to the opponent.

In addition, I don't think Coach Weis wants to place this football program in a position where they are getting criticized for running up the score.

However, to get that ability to close out the game, I think Weis needs to simply increase the cushion at which he changes his playcalling strategy. I think, instead of 14, the margin should be 24 points at which you call off the dogs. Then, you could run the ball and shorten the game, and if the other team gets it back to a two score game, you reopen your offense, which gives you some time to get back into the groove.

By calling off the dogs up only 2 or 3 scores, you create a situation where your offense, after settling into a run mode, has to turn the lights back on, and it is often too little too late by then. (Exhibit 1: End of the North Carolina game.)

5) Tennessee just began celebrating the career of Phil Fulmer today as he announced that he'd been given the opportunity to make it look like resigning was his idea. Certainly, this is a clarion call to ADs across the country to begin worrying over their tea that, should their current HC not work out, they wont get a shot at #s 1-5 on their candidate list. Tell us about an AD who may be looking at this move by Tennessee and acting a bit more aggressively towards a reduction in force of his current football staff now rather than later. And who might that AD be trying to seduce before Tennessee already has a "hand shake agreement" with the guy?

I think that the people at Auburn have to decide what they are going to do with Tommy Tuberville. In a very similar predicament to Tennessee, they have a coach who is very very good, but hasn't gotten his team over the hump. And now, if they wait until season's end to pull the trigger, they have to get in line behind some powers, including in conference, that have been conducting a search for far longer (remember the Irish courting of Urban Meyer?).

As far as who I would be looking at for replacements in Tennessee:

Brady Hoke, Ball State: This guy can flat out coach, as he has taken the laughing stock of Indiana Division I football and made them the best team in the state in a very short time. With the talent sitting there at Tennessee, he'd have to be at the top of my short list.

Mike Leach, Texas Tech: This guy has built a program from the ground up in a BCS conference, and is the hottest coach in the country right now. Good luck trying to get him to leave a program on it's way up, after all the work he's put in, though. Tech's gonna have to open up the checkbook this offseason to keep this guy.

Gary Pinkel, Mossouri: With the Chase Daniel era coming to a close soon, Pinkel may jump at the opportunity to move to a tradition-rich school like Tennessee, where his offensive prowess will be tested against those stingy SEC defenses.

Todd Graham, Tulsa: Another guy, like Brady Hoke, that knows how to build a program from nothing.