Archive for September, 2007

Giveaway

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Once we get past a 23-0 halftime deficit, a yet-again woeful running game, and the ongoing struggles of the ND secondary (in the first half, anyway), there are lots of different “glass is half-full” kinds of ways for Irish fans to conceptualize yesterday’s loss.

One possibility, taken up for instance over at Classic Ground, would be to think of the game as a coming-out party for ND’s underclassman wide receivers: seven catches for 93 yards by sophomore Robby Parris, six for 68 yards and a touchdown for freshman Duval Kamara, three for 104 yards and a touchdown - plus another where he could have taken it to the house but was underthrown - by freshman Golden Tate, and four catches for 37 yards by sophomore George West. (Junior David Grimes (three catches for 34 yards in the first half before going out with an injury) and fifth-year senior tight end John Carlson (five catches for 30 yards and a great leaping grab to give Jimmy Clausen his first career TD pass - the video is here) also had strong games.)

We could also talk about the play of the defensive line: Trevor Laws (six tackles, three for a loss and one sack) and the much-maligned John Ryan (also six tackles, two for a loss and one sack, starting in the place of the injured Justin Brown) both played tremendously, as did linebacker Joe Brockington, who led the team with nine total tackles. (As I noted yesterday, for some reason Derrell Hand, last week’s replacement for Brown, didn’t see the field at all. No word yet on any possible reasons for this.)

Another possibility, which is pretty ridiculous by my lights, focuses on the strong play of Evan Sharpley, and even argues that Clausen, despite having almost the same numbers, should be benched.

Meanwhile, a somewhat different way to think about Saturday’s storyline, exemplified by OCDomer’s post on the game, turns to the stat sheet to highlight the ways the Irish have improved, but also to bring out the extent to which having lost that game should be regarded as a disappointment rather than a sort of moral victory.

I think this last approach is pretty much the right one, though I want to take it in a somewhat different direction. Last week one of the ways I broke down the game was in terms of what I called Inexcusables: “a tendency for stupid mistakes, bad penalties, and other sorts of errors that are frankly inexcusable for a top-flight team (think Justin Brown getting tossed out of the GT game, Travis Thomas getting into a fistfight against PSU, and so on).” When I look back at the Purdue game and the sorts of mistakes that the Irish made, what I see is a case where what clearly could have been a win against a top-25 team turned into yet another disappointing loss, thanks in this case to many instances of the sorts of mental and physical mistakes that have no place on a top-flight team.

Based on my back-of-the-envelope notes, here’s a narration of some of the key “Inexcusables” from the first half:

  • On the first series of Purdue’s opening drive, the Boilermakers faced third down and two yards to go from the Irish 44 yard line. Curtis Painter was sacked on the play, but freshman linebacker Kerry Neal, who didn’t factor in on the sack, was caught offsides, giving Purdue a free first down. This drive ultimately led to a field goal, and a 3-0 lead for the Boilermakers.
  • On Notre Dame’s second offensive series, with the Boilermakers leading 10-0, the Irish faced fourth and one from the Purdue 35 yard line. Charlie Weis elected to go for it, but freshman tailback Robert Hughes was stopped for no gain.
  • After the Irish - led by Laws, who had two straight tackles for losses of eight and eleven yards respectively, though Painter did follow these up with a 40-yard completion to Greg Orton, on which Darrin Walls was burned badly - forced a Boilermaker punt on the ensuing drive, Tom Zbikowski - who did have seven tackles and a pick, but also missed pretty badly on some plays - let the ball bounce by him at the ten yard line, thinking it would carry into the end zone. It didn’t, and was downed by Purdue just outside the goal line.
  • On the next drive, Clausen got out of his end zone right away, with a 17-yard completion to Grimes. But after two failed rushing plays - both by James Aldridge, who fumbled on the second one - Jimmy Clausen rolled to his left under pressure and then tried to throw across the middle to John Carlson, who was blanketed by the Purdue defense. Clausen’s pass was picked off and returned to the Notre Dame 25, and six plays later - the last of them a John Ryan sack on third and five - the Boilermaker lead stood at 13-0.
  • A few drives later, with the score now at 20-0 Purdue, Sam Young was called for holding on first and ten. The very next play saw Armando Allen fumble the ball after catching a screen pass from Clausen. The Boilermakers recovered, and just over a minute later extended their lead to 23-0.
  • Next up, on Notre Dame’s last drive of the second half, after two nice catches by Kamara and West brought the Irish near midfield, John Sullivan - who made this same mistake either two or three times against Michigan - snapped the ball over Clausen’s head on second and five, for a seven-yard loss. Clausen got out of this jam, though, finding Golden Tate for a 36-yard completion on third and twelve. At this point, though, the Irish offense stalled, with three straight incompletions, and the team lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt, to try and get on the board before halftime. The kick was blocked by Alex Magee and returned to the Purdue 46 yard line.
  • Finally, the ensuing Boilermaker drive saw David Bruton flagged for a late hit after a catch by Selwyn Lymon. He was bailed out, though, when Kyle McCarthy intercepted Painter on the very next play.

In sum, then: we have an offsides penalty that led to three points, a failure to convert on fourth and short from just outside field goal range, a foolish decision resulting in an interception that led to a field goal, a fumble that led to a touchdown, and a blocked kick that effectively took three points off the board - and those are only the cases in which ND’s mistakes actually came back to haunt them.

While the Irish looked much better in the second half, though, it too was far from mistake-free:

  • On Notre Dame’s first drive of the half, Michael Turkovich was called for holding on third and two from the Purdue 46 yard line, and two plays later the Irish had to punt the ball away.
  • After a Zbikowski interception and a solid drive resulting in Clausen’s TD pass to Carlson, the Irish failed to convert on their ensuing extra point attempt.
  • After another solid defensive series and a solid drive that got the Irish to the Purdue 31 yard line, Junior Jabbie was held to no gain on fourth and one - the second time in the game that this had happened.
  • On the ensuing drive, Purdue faced third and 21 from their own 33 yard line. Painter came under pressure and tried to scramble for the first down, but freshman linebacker Brian Smith ran him out of bounds ten yards short of the marker. But Smith (at least I think it was him - the box score, though, says it was Dwight Stephenson) shoved Painter after he was clearly off the field - a ticky-tack call, but a foolish mistake in any case. On the very next play, after Dan Dierking was held to two yards on first and ten, Stephenson was whistled for a personal foul facemask call, giving Purdue yet another free first down, at the Irish 25. Then, once again on the very next play, Smith was caught offsides, moving the Boilermakers to the 20. The Irish defense held Purdue to a field goal, though, and the score stood at 26-6.
  • The next Irish drive, highlighted by a 43-yard bomb down the sidelines to a speeding Golden Tate on fourth and five from the ND 37, led to another touchdown: but this was followed up once again by a missed extra point, this time with Nate Whitaker kicking in place of Brandon Walker. What could have been a 26-14 game stood at 26-12.
  • A bit later, after the Irish had scored again (and hit the PAT this time) to narrow the margin to 26-19, Walls was flagged for holding on the very first play of Purdue’s ensuing drive. This moved the Boilermakers past midfield, and they were in the end zone five plays later.
  • Notre Dame moved down the field quickly on their next drive, though, with a long completion to Parris and a personal foul against Purdue bringing them to the Boilermaker 18 yard line within a minute. But on second and ten from the 18, Evan Sharpley was intercepted - it is unclear whether he simply misthrew the ball, or whether Carlson or Duval Kamara might have run the wrong route - and Purdue had the ball back, with a two-touchdown lead and 4:33 on the clock.
  • Finally, after the Irish forced third down and four and called timeout with 2:16 on the clock, Walls was called for holding once again, ending any hope of a last-dash comeback as the Boilermakers were able simply to run out the clock on their next four plays.

Once again, then, and even if we overlook the holding penalties against Walls: we have two points taken off the board on missed kicks, a solid drive into opposing territory ending with a failure on fourth and short, an interception from well within scoring range, and a back-to-back-to-back trio of inexcusable penalties extending a drive that had been effectively stopped, leading to a field goal.

If the Irish are going to avoid going 0-8 to start the season, their so-far steady diet of these sorts of mental and physical mistakes is going to have to change. Some of them can be attributed to underclassman jitters, others to players trying to do too much to help a team dig itself out of a hole, and others perhaps to frustration. But they’ve got to stop, and it’s hard to believe that the coaching staff doesn’t know that.

(But hey - at least we’re not the Bears.)

Missing in action

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

According to Michael Rothstein, Dan Wenger, Matt Romine, Justin Brown, and Harrison Smith all didn’t make the trip to West Lafayette for the game today. John Ryan started in Brown’s place and played very well, with six solo tackles (two for a loss, including one sack), but at least according to the box score it doesn’t look like Derrell Hand, last week’s starter in place of Ryan, played at all.

We all knew that Wenger was going to be out at least until the UCLA game. Meanwhile, Brown was supposed to be a “game-time decision,” and Romine was reportedly wearing a big cast and brace in practice this week.

But it’s unclear why Smith - who had been playing on special teams, from what I recall [see update below] - didn’t make the trip, and especially puzzling that Hand seems to have sat the game out. Anybody have any idea what happened?

[UPDATE: I was wrong about Smith playing on special teams. I just now managed to track down the season-long game participation statistics, and he hadn't seen the field in the first four games either. It still seems funny, though, that he didn't dress - Rothstein thought so as well.

One more note, though: according to that same game log, it doesn't look like Ray Herring, who had played in each of the first four games, saw the field today either. Not nearly as puzzling as the Hand situation, to be sure, but still worth remarking on.]

News and notes: Gameday edition

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

I promised on Thursday that I’d run down anything interesting to do with ND’s depth chart, so here goes:

  • At the right guard position, Chris Stewart and Dan Wenger are listed as the two backups to Matt Carufel. This is no change from last week, but what’s notable is that both Stewart and Wenger are going to be missing this weekend.
  • As I noted on Thursday, with the departure of Konrad Reuland, freshman Mike Ragone is now the official third-string tight end. There were some reports from the MSU game that Ragone was seeing the field ahead of Reuland anyway, though, so this isn’t a huge deal.
  • Derrell Hand, who started last week when Justin Brown was out with an injury, is still listed as the #3 LDE, behind co-#1’s Brown and Dwight Stephenson, Jr.

Other than that, there’s not much doing there.

A quick update on the injury front, though: as I mentioned earlier this week, Charlie Weis has said that Dan Wenger, who has a left leg injury, will definitely miss today’s game, and will be back by next Saturday at the earliest. Meanwhile, Justin Brown, who sat out against MSU and reportedly still looked a bit hobbled in practice this week, is going to be a game-time decision today.

Also worth noting: the South Bend Tribune managed to get in touch with Chris Stewart on Friday, and here’s what he had to say:

I’m trying to be careful not to say too much right now, because everything’s up in the air. I’m just trying to figure everything out first and then move forward.

Clearly a good sign for fans who’d like to see the young man return to the team. The official ND position is that Stewart has left the team for “personal reasons,” with Weis’s blessing.


Meanwhile, I know it doesn’t quite count as Notre Dame news, but I thought it was worth sharing this snippet from a USA Today profile of Cal-Berkeley superstar running back Justin Forsett:

For Justin Forsett, February 2004 arrived with no place to sign on the dotted line.The 5-8 running back assumed he was headed to Notre Dame, but the Irish offered scholarships to two bigger running backs. Which was news to him.

It would be easy to say Forsett, now a senior at California, had the last laugh. Notre Dame is 0-4. The school where he landed is 4-0. But holding grudges isn’t Forsett’s nature.

“It was a tremendous blessing for me to end up where I am,” he says. “At the time I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know where I’d be after Notre Dame turned me down, and it definitely hurt. But God works in mysterious ways, and there couldn’t be a better place than here.”

So how did Forsett get from nowhere to here? From castoff to Cal’s most valuable player so far as the No. 6 Golden Bears head into Saturday’s critical game at No. 12 Oregon?

Before signing day in 2004, Notre Dame’s running backs coach at the time, Buzz Preston, visited Forsett and his father, Rodney, and mother, Abby, at his high school, Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas. According to the Forsetts, Preston said Notre Dame would have a scholarship for him.

“We left the meeting feeling wonderful because we were on our way to Notre Dame,” says Rodney, a minister.

About a week before signing day, Justin called Notre Dame, then coached by Tyrone Willingham. “I hadn’t heard from them in a while,” he says. “They told me they didn’t need me anymore.”

Preston, now at New Mexico, says the Irish never offered Forsett a scholarship. It wasn’t for lack of ability; the Irish simply were looking for taller backs.

This much was certain: Forsett was blindsided by the news. “Forsett loses lone offer,” read the headline on the Rivals.com recruiting site on Jan. 28, 2004.

After signing day passed, Forsett’s high school coach, Mike Barber, a former NFL player, feverishly sent more highlight tapes to coaches around the country. None of the schools in Texas or Florida, where Forsett played his first two years of high school football, were interested. “Nothing. Nobody. Even Baylor didn’t want him,” Rodney says. South Carolina State was an option, but Forsett’s goal was to play Division I-A.

Forsett’s highlight tape landed at Cal.

“We watched his tape and thought this is too good to be true,” coach Jeff Tedford says. “There’s got to be something wrong with this kid. There’s a skeleton in the closet somewhere. So we thoroughly investigated everything about him and brought him here with his father, and he’s the greatest kid you ever want to meet.”

(snip)

When needed the most, Forsett has shined. In Cal’s opening win against Tennessee, Forsett ran for 156 yards on 26 carries. Last week against Arizona, Cal’s offense stalled when Forsett was nursing ankle and quadriceps soreness. After the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points, Forsett lobbied to go back in and led the Bears on their final touchdown drive.

Forsett is the Pacific-10’s second-leading rusher (121.0 yards a game), behind only Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart (125.8). He’s also tied for the conference lead with seven touchdowns. “He’s been a guy who’s carried the load for us so far,” Tedford says.

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but if what Forsett says is true, then it’s appalling: not just because an offer was pulled from a kid who’s turned out to be this talented, but because of the incredibly shady way in which it was done. Next time somebody starts telling you about Willingham’s classiness, make sure to bust this one out.

Oh, and next time you see Junior Jabbie or Travis Thomas get dragged down for a loss, remind yourself that at least they’re tall.

(HT: GoshenGipper.)


Finally, a quick thought on today’s game.Earlier this week I argued that the key to beating Purdue is running the ball effectively. I think this was only half right: the other crucial component if the Irish have any hope of winning is stopping the pass. This BGS post talks about the improvement of Purdue QB Curtis Painter from last year - when he led the nation in interceptions - to this. When I first read it, I thought that his improved numbers - 68.7% completions, 16 TDs, and only one interception through four games this year - might be due to Purdue’s weak schedule, but a bit more research proved that wrong: at this point last year, with an equally woeful foursome of opponents to start the year, Painter had thrown only 8 TD’s and had been picked off five times. Make no mistake about it: the Irish are going up against a good QB tomorrow, and a downright scary offense.Notre Dame fans are fond of pointing out that the team ranks eleventh in the nation in pass defense so far this year, but that statistic is a bit misleading, especially given both (1) the ease with which teams have run the ball against the Irish and (2) the degree to which these first four games have been blowouts. And as the South Bend Tribune pointed out today, when we consider pass efficiency defense, the Irish rank only 52nd nationally. The opening drive of the second half against Michigan State, which saw the Spartans convert through the air on 3rd-and-9 and 3rd-and-17 and then for a sixteen-yard touchdown, was a case in point of ND’s struggles against the pass this year. Ryan Mallett threw for three touchdowns against ND two weeks ago, and MSU scored four through the air last week. Tomorrow’s game will be a huge indicator of whether first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown is making progress with this team. Expect to see plenty of frosh LB’s Brian Smith and Kerry Neal (profiled in today’s SBT, by the way), who played well in passing situations against the Spartans, but - according to Charlie Weis in his Sunday press conference - aren’t quite ready to play consistently against the run.No matter how effectively ND runs the ball today, unless the Irish can hold Painter to no more than three TD’s passing and perhaps pick off a pass, Purdue will almost certainly win going away.


With that happy thought in mind, though, let’s take a look back into the history of the Notre Dame-Purdue series, courtesy of YouTube …[NOTE: For some reason, I've been having trouble embedding YouTube clips since we switched the site over from Blogger, so I'm just providing links for now.]We begin in 1964, Ara Parseghian’s first year as head coach of the Irish, as John Huarte leads the Fighting Irish past Bob Griese’s Boilermakers. (You can see a copy of the program here.) Notre Dame would go on to go 9-1-0 that year, their only loss coming at the hands of the USC Trojans. Lindsey Nelson has the call here.Next up is 1966, the year the Irish won their first national title under Parseghian. This game - a picture of the program is here - started off well for the Boilermakers, as Leroy Keyes returned an interception for a touchdown. But on the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame’s Nick Eddy took one of his own to the house.This game also saw the famous duo of QB Terry Hanratty and wideout Jim Seymour, whom Time magazine would call “the hottest young passing combination in the US,” hook up for three long passes, all shown here.Up next is 1973, with highlights from West Lafayette. Notre Dame would go on to win the national title that year as well, under head coach Dan Devine.

Four years later, in 1977, a young Joe Montana would come off the bench to lead the Irish to victory in what would be yet another National Championship season.

Next up, let’s fast-forward to 1996, as Allen Rossum - who looks SICKENINGLY fast in this clip - returns the opening kick for an Irish touchdown.

The next three clips - from 1999, 2003, and 2004 respectively - remind anyone who may have forgotten why Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were fired. Ugh. I was there for that last one, and I think it is burned into my retinas for eternity. Ugh.

We can end on a positive note, though, with highlights from the last couple of years.

Anyway, enough messing around on the web. Time to start some proper pre-gaming.

Go Irish!

Attrition

Friday, September 28th, 2007

In 2006, after Charlie Weis’s first season as Notre Dame’s head coach and a 9-3 record, the Irish pulled in Rivals’s eighth-ranked recruiting class: 28 players, with an average rating of 3.46 stars. Now three of those players - QBs Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, and TE Konrad Reuland - have all left the team, and another - OL Chris Stewart - is thinking of doing the same. In each case, these have been players low on the depth chart - Frazer was the #4 quarterback and Jones was a backup at best, Reuland was reportedly in a battle with freshman Mike Ragone for the #3 spot, and Stewart hadn’t seen the field at all this year - apparently looking for a place where they’ll have a better chance to play. Following up on a suggestion from domer.mq at Her Loyal Sons, though, it seems worth comparing this rate of attrition with those at other top programs.

Let’s start with Southern Cal, which had the #1-ranked 2006 class according to Rivals, with 25 total players. That class has seen the following players depart (USC’s current roster is here):

Florida’s second-ranked class is considerably more intact (official roster here), as their only transfer so far out of 27 total players was that of 3* ATH Derrick Robinson, who quit the team to pursue a career in professional baseball. But Florida State’s third-ranked class has lost four players out of their original 31 (official roster here):

Similarly, Georgia’s fourth-ranked class has lost three players of its original 28 (official roster here):

And the University of Texas (official roster here) has lost five players from their original 25, which ranked fifth:

In sum, ND’s transfer rate so far is not much to worry about. As I said, all of the players who have left, or are thinking about leaving in Stewart’s case, seem to have done so primarily because of depth chart issues, and when four-star highschoolers don’t manage to get on the playing field, that suggests that the talent level - in ND’s case, among the underclassmen - is very high.

Moreover, note that with an NCAA-imposed limit of 85 total scholarships, having a class of 28 can be a bit problematic. The Irish can get away with it - and indeed, can use all the bodies they can get - right now because of their incredibly small junior, senior, and fifth-year classes, but the size of the ‘06 class could have posed a problem down the line. That said, other schools make up for players who transfer away from their program with others who transfer TO it - whether from junior colleges or other D-I programs - and ND has a policy of not doing this.

Don’t jump, though. At this point there’s every reason to think these transfers have been a product of what’s happened on the practice field and the players’ inabilities to rise to the top, rather than ND’s lack of success this season on Saturday afternoons.

A bit more on the latest news

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

A brief article that appeared online this afternoon in the South Bend Tribune confirmed a rumor that had spent most of the day spreading like wildfire around the ND internet universe:

Notre Dame’s 6-foot 5-inch, 339-pound offensive guard Chris Stewart has left the school with the intent to transfer. … Stewart practiced at both nose tackle and offensive guard, but did not see game action at Notre Dame.

But an hour or so later, another article appeared that suggested that Stewart’s departure might not be for good:

Stewart’s father, George, confirmed that the 6-foot-5, 339-pound offensive guard was flying home to Spring, Texas, Thursday with the intent to transfer, but George Stewart also said Chris left the door ajar back in South Bend.Or at least his family is hoping so.

“I know he’s been a little homesick and he revealed to me he would like to come home and see his family, just visit with us,” George Stewart said via telephone. “Transferring is something he’s thinking about, but, really and truly, my family and I are hoping we can all sit down and talk and possibly iron out a few things and try to get him headed back to South Bend if possible.”

(snip)

Stewart was a second-team USA Today prep All-American coming out of Klein High School and enrolled early with running back James Aldridge and wide receiver George West in January of 2006 to get a head start academically and athletically.

He didn’t play as a true freshman, and then was moved to nose tackle in the offseason. He was moved back to offensive guard this fall and was laboring to move up the depth chart ever since.

Stewart will not accompany the team to Purdue.

“We’re going to visit over the weekend and see what we can do to help him,” George Stewart said. “We don’t want to see him miss out on a golden opportunity, maybe, because of a miscommunication or whatever. Usually there’s a miscommunication involved in incidents like this.

“I don’t quite know everything right now. One thing I do know is my feelings haven’t changed about Notre Dame. That’s why I wanted him to go there all along and I want him to, hopefully, be back up there next week.”

Similarly, Michael Rothstein cites an article from Irish Illustrated in which Stewart’s father is quoted as saying that he’s “not allowing him [Chris] to give up on it just yet.”

On one level, this development is promising, since Stewart was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school and has a good chance to perform well for the Irish at some point in the future. On the other hand, if he really doesn’t want to be at ND and he just comes back because his father pushes him, then that isn’t the best thing for anyone. If it’s just a case of homesickness, though, then perhaps a weekend back in Texas really will straighten it out. The fact that Ben Ford describes Stewart as having been “excused for personal reasons,” which is probably the official line that the team is taking at this point, suggests that the Irish may be leaving the door open as well.

According to ND’s official web site, Stewart hasn’t seen the field yet this year, though he moved up to second string at the right guard position on the team’s depth chart when Dan Wenger went down with an injury. Andrew Nuss, who reportedly switched from the defensive line to the offensive line earlier this week, is not listed on the depth chart as of yet.


Ford and Rothstein also report two other bits of injury news worth pasisng along. The first also pertains to the offensive line:

Freshman left tackle Matt Romine has a very large brace/cast on his left arm, going from well below the elbow to way up his bicep/tricep area. He was requested for freshman media chatting tonight, but was rejected.

Secondly, Ford notes that defensive lineman Justin Brown, who sat out against Michigan State, still looks a bit hobbled:

Justin Brown did not run latterally when the rest of the team did, and still ran pretty gingerly when moving straight ahead. I’m not sure what this means in relation to his availability for Saturday’s game, but if he plays, it won’t be at 100 percent.

There probably won’t be anything revealed about this until game time Saturday, but we’ll keep our ear to the ground.


Finally, one last bit of news along the transfer front, this time pertaining to Konrad Reuland:

Former Irish tight end Konrad Reuland told the Tribune Thursday he’ll take his time shopping for his new school and instead attend Saddleback Community College in his hometown of Mission Viejo, Calif., for the balance of the academic year.He will not play football for Saddleback, a junior college power in California.

“This will make me eligible at my new school in 2008, although, I’ll have to sit out the first three or four games, as I understand the NCAA rules,” he said. “I just don’t want to rush into anything. Everything is looking up.

With Reuland’s departure, freshman tight end Mike Ragone has officially moved into the third spot on ND’s depth chart. I’ll have a bit more analysis of the depth chart at some point tomorrow.

News and Notes: 9/27

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

As noted by BGS, Michael Rothstein reported yesterday that freshman Andrew Nuss has moved from the defensive line, where he started the season, to the offensive line. This may have something to do with the injury to Dan Wenger, who Charlie Weis said will not be playing against Purdue:

“I’d say, optimistically, it looks like maybe UCLA,” Weis said. “He’s not going to be a go this week, but he’s out there running around now. (UCLA is) what he’s shooting for right now.”

In other news on the injury front, defensive end Justin Brown still seems a bit hobbled in practice. Weis admitted that he “still doesn’t look full speed,” but insisted that Brown “looks a heck of a lot better than any time last week.”

[UPDATE: Rumors abound that sophomore offensive lineman Chris Stewart is going to be the latest player to transfer from ND. This could have something to do with Nuss's move to the OL, though I didn't see Ford or Rothstein mention Stewart being absent from practice yesterday. We'll have to see.]


In other d-line related news, Derrell Hand spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since his arrest for solicitation:

He expressed regret and knew he did a bad thing. And more than anything else, Derrell Hand thanks those who stuck by him as he went through his suspension from the beginning of training camp until last weekend.And in that time, the junior from Philadelphia went from suspended to starter. Hand had been suspended the day before Notre Dame training camp started in August for soliciting a prostitute in South Bend.

“I think I survived it pretty well,” Hand said. “I have a huge supporting cast. What happened was unfortunate. I learned a huge life lesson and I’m just happy I got a second chance to be a part of this Notre Dame family.

“These first four weeks couldn’t have happened any better.”

An injury to starter Justin Brown placed Hand in the lineup in his first game back. He said it was difficult to hear himself associated as someone with bad character but had a bunch of people helping him out.

And he wasn’t surprised with the way Notre Dame chose to handle it, by allowing him to stay in school.

“I feel as though I’m a good kid. I made a lot of close friends, students and faculty, and I just feel like what happened was bad but I feel Notre Dame handled it the way Notre Dame handles these things.”

Best of luck to Derrell as he works to get things back in order. ND can certainly use him on the field, especially if Justin Brown is not 100%.


According to the Cincinnati Post’s Jeff Katzowitz, former Irish QB Demetrius Jones might end up at the University of Cincinnati - Jones was at the Bearcats’ practice on Wednesday, and UC coach Brian Kelly, who recruited Jones out of high school when he was the head coach at Central Michigan, said that he and Jones had been in contact:

We had a good conversation. We talked about the situation here and what we think our strengths are. He’s in that evaluation process now. He’s looking at his options. We’re one of a few of the options he has. He thinks highly enough of us to drive five hours to come up and visit.

When Katzowitz got Jones on the phone yesterday evening, Jones denied rumors that he’d made a final decision, but said that watching the UC practice was “nice.” More on this story as it comes in.

[UPDATE: It's official. Jones walked into Kelly's office this afternoon and told him he wants to play for the Bearcats. Apparently Notre Dame has given UC the go-ahead. Jones will pay his own way for the coming fall quarter, and then will be on scholarship starting in January once several seniors have graduated.]


Meanwhile, want another example of the difference between a respectful sports journalist and an inflammatory hack? Compare Al Lesar’s article about the Purdue offense (it’s a “work of art,” the headline tells us) in today’s South Bend Tribune with the latest screed from the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz, who was recently, and rightfully, named “Asshat of the Week” by KGreen:

Here was Purdue football coach Joe Tiller’s challenge for Tuesday’s media briefing: Find something nice to say about this week’s opponent, Notre Dame. Try to convince the media and, by extension, his players, that Notre Dame is still Notre Dame and not Apalachicola Junior College.

“They have the fourth-ranked pass defense in the nation,” Tiller said flatly.Give the guy credit: He said it with a straight face.

Holding up Notre Dame’s pass defense is like complimenting the movie “Beer League” on its soundtrack.

Are you kidding me?

Of course the Irish have impressive pass defense numbers. It’s because they have the 111th-ranked running defense in the nation. Nobody passes on Notre Dame because nobody needs to pass on Notre Dame. Opponents get huge early leads, then run off tackle the rest of the game.

Next thing, we’ll hear that Notre Dame has a sparkling personality and practices good hygiene.

I’ll let that one speak for itself.

Bob Kravitz: Still an asshat.


There’s also a bit of recruiting news to report. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Irish DL commit Omar Hunter received an official offer from USC on Tuesday, and expressed some excitement about it:

When Pete Carroll talks, recruits listen. Even ones already committed to Notre Dame. Buford’s Omar Hunter visited with Carroll over the phone Tuesday and received an offer from the coach of top-ranked Southern Cal.

“It was pretty exciting. Southern Cal, that’s pretty big,” said Hunter, who verbally committed to Notre Dame in June.

That doesn’t mean the blue-chip defensive tackle has changed his mind about heading to South Bend.

“I’m sticking with Notre Dame for right now,” Hunter said.

At this point, there’s no reason to worry too much about this, since Hunter has said that his commitment to the Irish is solid, and this sort of thing is really a normal part of the recruiting cycle. But it’s certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on, and I can guarantee you that Weis and the coaching staff will be doing just that.

Pound it

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I know it’s been discussed before, but it’s worth emphasizing: if Notre Dame is going to beat Purdue this weekend, they’re going to do it by running the ball successfully. Here’s a breakdown of ND’s last four games against Purdue: two losses under Tyrone Willingham in 2003 and 2004, and two wins under Charlie Weis in 2005 and 2006.

What these numbers make clear is exactly what most of us already thought: if you run the ball successfully against the Boilermakers, you can win the game, and if you don’t, you can’t. (Let me re-emphasize this point for all those bemoaning how historically bad our offense has been this year: in 2003 and 2004 Willingham managed an average of 57.5 rushing yards a game against PURDUE.)

When asked about his game plan for Saturday, Coach Weis said on Tuesday that a key aspect of it is “that you have to try your best to try to keep their offense off the field.” Interestingly, though, a closer look at Purdue’s numbers from last year doesn’t necessarily bear out the specific importance of possessing the ball for long periods of time. Here’s a game-by-game rundown of Purdue’s wins and losses from the 2006 season, with their opponents’ rushing statistics and time of possession:

So these numbers don’t indicate a strong relationship between POSSESSING the ball, and so keeping the Purdue offense off the field, and beating the Boilermakers. They do, though, reemphasize the importance of gaining serious yardage on the ground, and also give further support to a point I made yesterday: namely, that Purdue is REALLY BAD at defending the run. (316 rushing yards given up to ILLINOIS?!)

Come Saturday, then, the best hope for Irish fans rests on the backs of the four horses.

Some news and notes

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

According to both Ben Ford and Michael Rothstein, Irish offensive lineman Dan Wenger was absent from practice once again on Tuesday. Wenger suffered an undisclosed injury and has reportedly been seen around campus with a cast on his leg. ND head coach Charlie Weis didn’t address this in his press conference on Tuesday, but he did say on Sunday that Matt Carufel looked “decent” playing in Wenger’s place against Michigan State.

Another worrisome bit of news on the injury front comes from Rothstein’s remarks on Justin Brown, who as noted earlier missed the MSU game with an injury:

Defensive end Justin Brown stretched with a trainer again and when the rest of the linemen were doing drills, he was off to the side, clearly hobbled. If we were to guess, we wouldn’t think he’ll be ready for Saturday, but it is still early in the week.

Weis said on Sunday that sitting Brown was a “game time decision,” and that he’d be “able to go” in practice that day. ND is far too cagey about things like this to think we’ll know anything about Brown’s status before the Irish take the field against Purdue.

One other notable thing from Tuesday’s practice reports is that, as Ford notes, it was “extremely physical at the start,” much as it reportedly was through all of last week. Weis spoke to this issue in his press conference on Tuesday, saying that they planned to find a sort of middle ground this week:

Q. Could you kind of outline your practice week in terms of compared to what you tried last week and what you did last week?

COACH WEIS: We still have to have elements of last week in there, because I think last week helped us — what we did last week helped us in the game. So today the first half of practice is going to be dedicated to ones versus ones, full speed, take them to the ground. What I didn’t do was I didn’t do full speed, take them to the ground on Sunday, because I had a bunch of guys beat up. So it becomes counter productive. You have to be objective, too. And you want to be tough, and you want to have a mentality at the same time you want to be intelligent and not do something stupid.

So today, they all know that we’re going ones against ones and it will be the first hour of practice. Then we’ll have a break and we’ll practice special teams. And then after that break, the rest of the practice will be dedicated to Purdue first and second down.

Q. From that point, it’s kind of Purdue the rest of the way?

COACH WEIS: I think it will be a little bit closer to a normal schedule come tomorrow [i.e., Wednesday].

Most of the press conference, as well as what’s been said about practices so far this week, has been pretty standard stuff.


One other bit of news worth noting, though: according to the Chicago Sun-Times, former Irish QB Demetrius Jones has had a brief telephone conversation with Northern Illinois football coach Joe Novak, but he hasn’t been practicing with the Huskies football team and in fact isn’t even enrolled at NIU:

”The last I heard, he’s not [enrolled],” Novak said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. ”He has got a lot of things available to him.”

Jones was listed in NIU’s online student directory two weeks ago, then wasn’t listed last week. To transfer directly from Notre Dame to NIU and be eligible to play in 2008, he would have to have been enrolled by the 12th day of classes (Sept. 12) for this semester to count toward the year he would have to sit out.

He does have the option of enrolling in a school, such as Northwestern or Ohio State, that uses the quarter system and started fall classes this week.

A source familiar with the situation said Jones might have another option to be eligible to play for the Huskies next fall. The source said Jones has accumulated 40 credit hours at Notre Dame and could earn an associate’s degree at a junior college by completing 20 hours by the end of next summer, then enroll at NIU.

This is a bit puzzling, since as the Sun-Times notes it contradicts much of what has been said in the media. It is unclear whether this has anything to do with ND’s refusal to release Jones from his scholarship to play for NIU. Look for more details to come out on this soon.

By the numbers: Is there hope for the Irish against Purdue?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

When the o-4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish arrive in West Lafayette to face the 4-0 Purdue Boilermakers, they’ll have their work cut out for them. Purdue is ranked #25 in the nation in the coaches’ poll, and is just one spot out of the top 25 according to the AP. They also rank seventh in the nation in scoring offense with 48.5 points per game, and eighth in total offense with 527 yards per game.

Nor is Purdue the kind of pass-first, pass-second, pass-third, run rarely team that some might take them to be: the Boilermakers are averaging almost 203 yards per game on the ground, good for 29th in the nation, to go with their twelfth-ranked passing offense (324 yards/game). While ND head coach Charlie Weis said in his press conference yesterday that Purdue is still “a passing team first,” one that runs the ball “to keep you honest,” it’s clear that this has worked well so far for them in both categories: they average almost six yards per rush, and have given up only three sacks in their first four games.

None of this bodes well for an Irish defense that, while it ranks 52nd in the nation in yardage against at 352 yards per game, is 91st in scoring defense (as BGS noted earlier this week, the chief reason for this disparity rests in field position: Irish opponents have had to go 45 yards or less on eleven of their 23 scoring drives). ND’s defense looks good statistically against the pass, giving up only 120 yards per game (good for 55th in the nation), but this is largely a factor of the “blowout” quality of their losses: teams have run for an average of 232.8 yards per game against the Irish, leaving ND’s rushing defense with a national ranking of 111th.

All of this adds up to a point spread that favors the Boilermakers by more than three touchdowns, and a general sense that Notre Dame’s first-ever 0-5 start is all but inevitable.

But is it? Sticking just with the numbers once again, I think Irish fans can find a few reasons for hope:

  • The first lies in the extremely low quality of opponents that Purdue has played thus far. The Boilermakers blew out 1-3 Toledo, 2-2 Eastern Illinois, 1-3 Central Michigan, and 1-3 Minnesota in the first four weeks of the season: hardly a gauntlet of the sort that the Irish have faced. (For what it’s worth, Toledo, Central Michigan, and Minnesota are ranked 86th, 107th, and 100th in the nation by SI, and Eastern Illinois is a I-AA team. Compare this to ND’s opponents: both Penn State and MSU are either ranked or just outside the top 25 in both polls, while Michigan ranks 30th and Georgia Tech 44th.)
  • The second lies in the generally low quality of the defenses that Purdue has had to face. Toledo ranks 106th in the nation in total defense, giving up 476 yards per game, while Eastern Illinois (386 yds/game) ranks 99th, Central Michigan (509.8 yds/game) 115th, and Minnesota (543.3 yds/game) 119th. It sounds strange to say it, but the Fighting Irish will be the BEST defensive team that Purdue has faced so far this year.
  • The third point relates to the overall quality of Purdue’s defense: while the Boilermakers rank 15th in pass efficiency defense at 97.3 yards per game, they’ve given up 147 yards per game on the ground, good for 61st in the nation, and last week’s game saw Minnesota rush for 232 yards against them. This bodes well for an Irish running game that started to get rolling last week, with their three underclassmen tailbacks totaling 150 yards between them against a Michigan State team that ranks 26th in the nation in rushing defense. If the Irish can run the ball effectively once again and keep Purdue off the field, they’ll have a shot.

In sum: this is going to be a tough one for the Irish, but the fact is that they’ve squared up against four quality opponents so far this season while Purdue has been able to cakewalk. Will the Irish win? I have my doubts. But look for them to put a scare into the West Lafayette crowd come Saturday.

(Team statistics courtesy of NCAA.org.)

Attention ND recruits: Charlie Weis isn’t going anywhere

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

When a poster on the IrishEnvy boards wrote that there were “reports out of Chicago” that Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was going to leave his alma mater to take up the head coaching position with the New York Giants, I was puzzled. I mean, I remembered reading an OPINION column from the Chicago Sun-Times in which Irish-hater and all-around asshat extraordinaire Jay “Mute Him, Please” Mariotti wrote this:

Don’t be shocked, should the Flailing Irish start 0-8 and finish 2-10, if Weis seeks a convenient escape hatch in January: the New York Giants. How interesting that Tom Coughlin’s tenure is ending as Weis, a New Jersey native and former Giants assistant under Bill Parcells, stumbles in his so-called dream job. … Very quietly, as we see happen every year in the coaching racket, politics will move incrementally to airlift Weis from his South Bend nightmare and into the Meadowlands. The longer he stays, the more sheen he loses from his once-golden reputation. And with the Chicago Public League becoming a recruiting problem zone after the fiasco involving benched quarterback Demetrius Jones, who was used as an unwitting short-term pawn while designated hotshot Jimmy Clausen recovered from injuries, Weis is falling out of favor in too many places.

This, of course, is hardly a “report”: it’s just a columnist with nothing intelligent to say, making things up to stir the pot. But this didn’t stop other newspaper and internet columnists, gullible bloggers, and - apparently, reading between the lines of that original post as well as this one - sports talk radio hosts from treating Mariotti’s idle musings as if they were based on some sort of inside information.

On closer inspection, it turns out that Mariotti wasn’t even the first columnist to “break” this non-story: almost a full week earlier, Akron Beacon Journal columnist George Thomas had written of “[r]umors swirling around Weis and his future and how the New York Giants would love to make him mentor to Eli Manning as that team begins its free fall.” The fact that this sentence occurred just two paragraphs before the claim that “None of today’s high school seniors were born” (!!) would, one might think, be enough to discredit such “rumors” altogether.

But it won’t, nor will the fact that Mariotti and the rest of his ilk haven’t got a leg to stand on, let alone anyone “inside” ND or the Giants organization to back them up, when they make claims like this. Mariotti happily reminds us, of course, that Charlie Weis reportedly called the Giants his “dream job” when he interviewed with the Giants back in 2004 for what is now Tom Coughlin’s position. But even if that story - which is once again all that it is, mind you - is true it’s hard to put much stock in what someone says when he’s angling for a promotion. Meanwhile, Mariotti naturally fails to mention that Weis said a year or so ago, when first round of unfounded Weis-to-the-Giants speculation started rolling, that “I’m staying here until they fire me or I die.”

My real gripe, though, doesn’t lie so much with idiot sports journalists as with the nefarious ends to which desperate coaches will employ their musings. Georgia defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who committed to the Irish over the summer, has reportedly said that opposing coaches are using rumors like this one to encourage him to jump ship. This, of course, is scuzziness of the worst sort, but it’s hardly unsurprising to anyone who follows recruiting much.

But Big Omar is not one to be swayed by such nonsense, nor - hopefully - are the rest of our recruits. By all accounts, Weis and the rest of the coaching staff have been doing a great of staying in touch with his committed players, to make sure that they’re up to speed on what’s happening with the program, that their questions are answered, and that they have no reason to worry about whether he’ll leave his beloved alma mater hanging out to dry. That this kind of thing needs to be done is certainly clear enough to them after the fiasco that was the end of the 2007 recruiting season - and with defensive coordinator Corwin Brown as his right-hand man, there’s no reason to think that Weis isn’t more than capable of keeping this little brushfire under control.

Have you heard, though, that Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll are on the short lists for 0-3 Buffalo, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Miami? Watch out, kids …

Look at me, Ma!
I’m a shameless rumor-mongerer and an all-around jerk!