Archive for the ‘Opponents’ Category

Off to Palo Alto

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

My wife and I are packing up the Volvo in a few hours and heading down and across the Bay to take our son to his first ND game. If you’re at the alumni club tailgate, I’ll be the guy in glasses who’s in bad need of a haircut, toting around a big-eyed eight-month-old in a green #10 jersey. Feel free to say hello.

For my kid’s sake, I’m going to try to enjoy this game no matter what happens, but here are a few things the Irish could do that would help me achieve that more easily:

  • Protect the offensive backfield: Stanford is a horrible defensive team (81st against the run, 107th against the pass, 106th overall), but they’re pretty good at blowing plays up. Their 3.1 sacks per game are good for 11th in the nation, and their average of 7.9 tackles for a loss is 10th. They’ve got three different players - Clinton Snyder, Pat Maynor, and Udeme Udofia - with at least five sacks on the year. Maynor ranks 18th in the nation with almost 1.5 TFLs per game. Please, PLEASE keep them on the proper side of the line of scrimmage.
  • Defend the pass: Stanford’s rushing offense and total offense are similarly horrible, as they’re each ranked 106th overall. But they do pass for over 200 yards per game, and are right around the middle of I-A in that category. Trent Edwards may be gone, but senior quarterback T.C. Ostrander has given the Irish fits in years past: I for one remember the 2005 Fiesta Blow “play-in” game, when he torched ND with 11 of 15 passing for 197 yards as I cried in the stands. Ugh, flashbacks.
  • Show some mental toughness: Reality is that something’s going to go wrong at some point, though hopefully it won’t be on the game’s first series. The Irish managed to rebound pretty well from last week’s early setbacks, but the fact is that the offense spent most of the first half pretty much curled up in the fetal position until the defense went ahead and made some plays for them. Maybe with another win - and an all-around quality game on offense - under their belts, Jimmy Clausen & Co. can be even a bit more resilient this week.
  • Protect the rock: The Irish have lost 13 fumbles this year, including six in their last four games. There’s little doubt that they’ll be able to move the ball against Stanford at least somewhat effectively, but any combination of sacks (see above), penalties (ND has been whistled ten or more times in three games this year, including 11 for 103 yards against Duke), and - especially - turnovers can quickly bring that to a halt. Like I said last week: throwing a pick is one thing; putting the ball on the carpet is quite another.

Look: the fact is that this is another pretty bad team. Since their wins over USC and Arizona, Stanford has lost 23-6 to Oregon State, 27-9 to Washington, and 33-17 to Washington State. The Irish are certainly capable of winning today. Here’s to a fun afternoon of laughing at the LSJUMB and mocking their stupid mascot, a victory to close out 2007, and a happy drive home.

Go Irish, beat Cardinal!

* * *

A few more statistics and bits of news, for the junkies out there … the Cardinal give up over 180 rushing yards and almost 275 passing yards per game … they gave up 449 passing yards to Washington State last week, and 388 rushing yards to Washington the week before … they’re 117th in the nation in sacks allowed, at 4.2 per game … they average only 2.86 yards per carry on offense, and yield 4.3 on defense … they only convert 27% of their third downs, but they have a 76% success rate in the red zone … senior placekicker Derek Belch is just 13-of-20 (65%) in his field goal attempts this year … Stanford’s 3-7 record has come against what Jeff Sagarin ranks as the nations third-toughest schedule … the Irish have not won two games in a row to end a season since 1992 … John Sullivan, Pat Kuntz, Geoff Price, and Sergio Brown are all likely to miss the game with injuries, though Sully may get to see the field briefly for nostalgia’s sake … James Aldridge is on the depth chart and has been practicing in full pads, but reports indicate his having been “hobbled” this past week (though see here as well).

Win big.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Sorry, but anything else is a loss in my book. I mean, come on people - this is DUKE. 1-9 Duke. 108th in the nation in total offense and 98th in total defense. Four wins in the last four seasons. A team so insignificant in the eyes of the local community that their home crowds look like this:

(Via goduke.com. Ten bucks to anyone who can tell me what the guy on the far right is carrying.)

And yes, I’m well aware that they’ve played well some times this year: beating Northwestern, staying within a couple scores of Virginia, Navy, Miami, and Wake Forest, putting up 24 against Georgia Tech. But it’s Duke, and it’s Senior Day, and it’s DUKE, for heaven’s sake, so anything less than a comfortable margin of victory will leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I almost fear to do this after the Irish failed abjectly in meeting pretty ANY of the “benchmarks” I set for them last week, but here are a few more specific things that I for one would like to see. Let’s start with the offense:

  • 160 yards rushing. The Dukies give up an average of 176.9. There’s no excuse for not coming at least close to that.
  • 4.5 yards per carry. Again, the Blue Devils’ average yield this season has been over 5.0.
  • 250 yards passing. Same story get again: Duke yields 266.0 yards a game through the air. No excuse for not ending up in the vicinity.
  • No more than two sacks. Duke has 21 sacks through ten games. The Irish have given up 17 in their last three. Time to close the turnstiles along the offensive line.

And on defense:

  • Under 70 rushing yards. Duke averages 52.9, last in the NCAA.
  • Under 200 passing yards. Throwing the ball is actually one of the Blue Devils’ stronger points, as they rank 71st with 213.2 yards per game. It would be great to see the Irish defense can come up big in third-and-long situations and keep sophomore quarterback Thaddeus Lewis under that number.
  • Plus-1 in turnovers. If Jimmy Clausen ends up throwing an interception, I can deal with that, though another fumble and I might jump out the nearest window. But Duke has turned the ball over 18 times through their first ten games - there’s no excuse not to force a couple.
  • Get to the quarterback. Obviously this is in part a product of playing option offenses in the last two weeks, but the Irish have a total of ONE sack in their last four games. Obviously the absence of Pat Kuntz will hurt, but ND should be able at least to triple that number with a few well-timed blitzes by defensive backs or edge rushes from the outside linebackers - Duke has given up four sacks a game so far this year.

Put all that together and you’re in a good position to win by at least a couple of touchdowns, which strikes me as the minimum margin of victory against a team like this one.

The fact is that as badly as the Irish played in their last couple of games, Navy and Air Force are both CONSIDERABLY better than Duke. The Blue Devils have been competitive in a lot of their games this year, but that’s probably in part because teams were taking them lightly. Tomorrow’s Senior Day, though, and the 1-9 Irish shouldn’t be looking past ANYONE at this point. Last year’s team would have beaten Duke by a score of 41-10 or something of the like; this year, something along the lines of 28-13 seems big enough.

Benchmarks

Friday, November 9th, 2007

At 1-8 after a crushing loss to Navy last Saturday, Notre Dame needs a win this week if they’re going to avoid having lost to TWO service academies in the same season. Perhaps even more than the win itself, though, the Irish need to build on the few successes they’ve had so far this season, to prove to themselves and their fans that at least they’re developing, as individuals and as a team. Here are some benchmarks to look for in tomorrow’s game (statistics via und.com, ncaa.org, and cfbstats.com).

On defense

The Irish held Navy to 278 yards of total offense through four quarters of regulation last week, and also stopped the Midshipmen on one of their three overtime drives: not a dominant performance by any means, but more than good enough to keep the Irish in the game (recall that seven of Navy’s points came off a fumble recovery). This week, their opponent is once again dangerous on offense (the Falcons’ 272.8 rushing yards per game rank fourth nationally), but at the same time much less consistent overall: Air Force has been held under 350 yards of total offense four times this year, and under 250 once. Their running game has also been contained on occasion - 146 net yards against BYU and 133 against TCU, as well as 212 against New Mexico - and while the Falcons have had a few good days passing the ball - 176 yards against South Carolina State, 193 against Utah, and 237 against Navy - they rank only 118th nationally in this department. But against the wishbone attack, it’s hard to say exactly what would count as success: if, like last week, the Irish defense can force a turnover or two and hold the Falcons to 24 points on the day, it will be hard for me to complain.

On special teams

The Irish averaged 26.2 yards per kickoff return against Navy, and their two punt returns went for 37 yards. It would be good to see them continue to build on that success, though it won’t be easy against an Air Force team that has yielded an average of just 18.1 return yards on kickoffs and 8.7 on punts. Special teams coverage will be important as well (the Falcons average 12.3 yards per punt return), and it goes without saying that the kicking game is a huge question mark. But at the end of the day, what Notre Dame really needs is one or two “big” plays from their special teams: think a punt return for more than 20 yards, a kickoff return past the 40, a punt downed inside the 10, a blocked punt or field goal attempt, and so on.

On offense

This is obviously where the big question marks are, since it’s the place where ND has been by far the suckiest this year. So here’s my laundry list of Things They’d Better Do:

  • Average at least 5.0 4.5 4.0 yards per carry on offense: Air Force opponents have averaged only 3.48 so far this season, so this is by no means a guarantee. I’ve already noted that last week, against a Navy team that was yielding an average of over 4.5 yards per run coming in, the Irish picked up just 3.7 yards on their average carry. But given the once again substantial size differential between the Irish offense and the Falcon defense - there’s a 40-lb. gap in the trenches, and Asaph Schwapp has 30 pounds on the average Air Force linebacker - Notre Dame has no excuse not to some improvement here.
  • Pass for at least 180 170 160 yards: Maybe this is the day Jimmy Clausen finally busts out, but maybe not. So we should keep our expectations reasonable: the Air Force pass defense is actually one of their stronger points, yielding just over 200 yards per game on the season, good for 33rd in the nation. If Clausen - who has averaged only 7.6 yards per completion, 4.4 yards per attempt, and 88.3 passing yards per game so far - completes, say, 17 of 26 pass attempts for 157 yards, Irish fans should be pretty happy.
  • Stay out of second- and third-down and long: Those of you looking for Clausen to start off his first series with a bomb to a streaking Golden Tate have (or had better have - you listening to me, Charlie?) another thing coming. I’ve noted that last week the Irish passed the ball nine times on first and ten - hopefully we’ll see them go to the run early and often tomorrow. (The other side of the coin here is offensive penalties, which killed the Irish through the first half of the season but dropped off sharply in their last two games. Hopefully this is a trend that will last through the rest of the year; this offense just isn’t good enough to be constantly digging out of 1st-and-15 or 2nd-and-20.)
  • Give up no more than two sacks: Obviously this will also play a key role in keeping the offense out of long-yardage situations. Yielding four against Navy last week was worse than bad: it was inexcusable. And Air Force comes in as the much more dangerous pass-rushing team of the two, averaging over two sacks per game (Navy had a total of five through their first nine contests). Keeping the undersized Falcons below that average would be a real positive for this offense.
  • Don’t turn the ball over more than once: Interceptions and - especially - fumbles have been an Achilles heel for this team all season long, and it’s time for that to stop now. Air Force opponents have turned the ball over a total of 25 times this year (14 interceptions, 11 fumbles lost): it’s one thing if Clausen throws a pick, but this team needs in particular to stop putting the ball on the carpet.
  • Make turnovers into points: Obviously this is especially important for drives that start on the opponents’ side of midfield, and this is an area where the Irish offense has been especially shaky this year. Here’s a guideline: if you start the post-turnover drive inside the opposing 40, three points is the minimum; if you start inside the 20, it darn well better be seven.
  • No more than one empty trip to the red zone: Somehow Air Force opponents have managed to convert fewer than two-thirds of their red zone chances so far this year, though that’s due in part to their 65% success rate on field goal attempts. (Irish opponents have averaged over 88% scoring from inside the 20.) But the Notre Dame kicking game has been - how shall we put it? - less than dynamic as well, so a big part of the burden here falls on the rest of the offense. In any case, this team just doesn’t move the ball well enough to blow the few scoring chances it does manage to get.
  • 400 375 350 yards of total offense: The fact of the matter is that this is asking an awful lot, especially after ND put up only 375 against the woeful Midshipmen defense. But at the end of the day, against an Air Force offense that comes in averaging just under 400 total yards a game, that’s probably what will be required if the Irish are going to have a real chance to win.

When you sit down, look at the numbers, and consider (1) what the Irish offense managed to do last week against a defense markedly worse than the one they’ll face this Saturday, and (2) the fact that the Air Force offense is almost certainly going to be good for a few scores, the specter of a possible 1-9 record heading into the Duke game becomes a real one. Here’s hoping the Irish can put their demons to rest.

Sorry for being such a Negative Nellie.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Marco has set me straight. The Irish will DOMINATE Air Force on Saturday, kicking [sic] off a winning streak that will carry them through the end of the 2007 season and well into 2008.

(I’m not kidding - well, except about the explanation of my newfound Positive Polly-tude. I really do think ND will win, that the offense will gain some serious yardage and put a bunch of points on the board, and that the sun will rise again on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Now how’s THAT for overcoming despondency?)

A size-able advantage

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Among the many reasoifns why there is no excuse for the Irish offense to have anything short of an absolute break-out day against Navy tomorrow is the huge size differential that is on their side this week. Here’s a quick comparison chart to get things going (only starters and co-starters are listed):

In other words, Notre Dame’s starting offensive line outweighs Navy’s defensive line by an average of over 44 pounds, their starting offensive backfield of James Aldridge and Asaph Schwapp outweighs the average Navy linebacker by an average of just under 22 pounds, and the average Navy defensive back gives up almost six inches and thirty pounds to Notre Dame’s starting wideouts.

Need more evidence that the Middies are undersized? Here’s a position-by-position comparison of Navy’s defense with those of Notre Dame’s other 2007 opponents (note that I’ve generally had to use the most recent depth charts for these schools, rather than their starting lineups against ND - once again, only starters and co-starters are listed):

With the exception of UCLA, then, Navy will have far and away the smallest defense that Notre Dame has played so far in 2007 - a trend that continues, though not to quite the same degree, over the next three weeks.

It’s not all about size, of course: it’s also about strength, skill, speed, execution, avoiding stupid mistakes, and having the drive to physically dominate your opponent. But once again, there’s no reason to think that the first three of these factors are heavily on the side of the Irish as well: it’s really the others that have been holding them back all year, and it’s those things that one would hope the coaching staff was able to use the bye week to work on. This team isn’t going to become physically different overnight - nor need they do that, when opponents like Navy, Air Force, and Duke are the ones rolling in to town. The big challenge is getting the players to keep their heads in the game after a 1-7 start, and that’s just what Charlie Weis and his assistants are going to have to show that they’re able to do.

There are no more excuses. In the month of November, pretty much every conceivable advantage - the home field, the bye week, the experience of the first two-thirds of the season, the level of talent on the roster - will be on the side of the Irish. Anything short of dominance will be a huge disappointment.

Pitch right … and left, and right, and left, and right, and …

Monday, October 29th, 2007

I’ve already noted that Navy’s defense has been nothing short of horrendous this year. The Middies do their best to make up for that, though, with a rushing game that ranks first in the nation - and by a huge margin - at 342.88 yards per game, which puts their total offense at #16 nationally and their scoring offense at #19.

What makes the Midshipmen offense so dynamic, you ask? The answer, of course, is their crazy option offense. This year, though, they seem to have kicked it up a notch from years past, as this footage makes clear:

That’s right, it’s the quindecuple-option, coming soon to a Michiana stadium near you. Fear the Kaheaku-Enhada Explosion, Irish fans … fear it.

(HT: IrishDodger.)

Ripe for the lickin’

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

From the AP wire report on Navy’s 59-52 loss to Div. I-AA Championship Subdivision Who Cares What You Call It Just Know that It’s Really Bad to Lose to a Team from It Delaware on Saturday:

Navy has now allowed 40 points or more to three straight opponents and has surrendered 305 points through eight games.

Delaware scored on nine of its 11 possessions.

The Middies rank 82nd in rushing defense, 109th in pass defense, 105th in total defense, and 114th in scoring defense. Thanks to yesterday’s loss, they ALREADY have TFH. If the Irish offense can’t get things going against this pitiful squad, count me in with this bunch for the time being.

[UPDATE: Via Pitch Right, a thoughtful analysis of why the Navy "D" has been so dreadful. HT: HLS.]

Trojans inspect playing field, continue to whine

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I know I promised an injury update for today’s game, but this article in the LA Times was just too funny to let pass. So instead of the usual detailed breakdown (quick version: Aldridge won’t play, Grimes has reportedly looked a bit hobbled in practice, Wenger is back, no word that I’ve seen on Crum; and see here for the veritable litany of busted Trojans), I submit to you: The Victors, Two Years Later.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Most of USC’s players strolled casually onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Friday for the Trojans’ walk-through before today’s game against the Fighting Irish.

But Desmond Reed never broke stride as he sprinted to the far end zone on grass significantly shorter and more manicured than it was in 2005, when Reed suffered torn right knee ligaments and nerve damage while turning to field a ball on a kickoff return. [Ed: TURNING to field it, mind you - on which see more below.]

Reed said last year he thought the grass was grown long intentionally to slow down the Trojans and that it caused his injury.

“They actually cut it,” defensive line coach Dave Watson said.

Said Dennis Slutak, USC’s director of football operations: “You could actually hit a golf ball out of this.” [Ed: Apparently Slutak isn't much of a golfer. Somebody want to get Ty Willingham on the phone to help him out?]

That’s right, folks. Two years after winning - WINNING!! - at Notre Dame stadium in a game that ended with a series of questionable calls and non-calls which Charlie Weis and (so far as I can recall) the rest of the Irish chose not to question, and after which Weis took his son into the SC locker room to congratulate the players and coaches on their victory, following which the Trojans won out the rest of the season on their way to the BCS national title game, their players and staff are STILL complaining about the length of the grass back on October 15, 2005.

Nor are their gripes limited to Irish fields of lore. Pete Carroll, for one, is already gearing up to make excuses for this year’s game:

… on Friday, after walking the field, Carroll said he was surprised it did not have a uniform feel.

“I don’t understand why it’s like that, I mean who plays here?” he said. “They sharing it with a local JC or something?”

It’s hard not to take this as evidence that either (1) Carroll can’t read or understand English, or (2) he’s a whiny scumbag who’s unwilling to respect what an opposing coach has to say about the state of his own playing field. Otherwise, the Poodle’s remarks might have taken account of this, from Weis’s Tuesday press conference:

this is the Midwest, and we’re going to play five games in a row at home. That’s where we are right now. Now, fortunately this is only game two. But it isn’t like our grass grows like we’re living in the south. It is what it is. It’s patchy and it’s not the same as playing on Bermuda grass in the south. It isn’t like we were playing on field turf; I don’t think that would go over too well in Notre Dame tradition. It’s grass, it’s mid October, it’s not as perfect as it would be earlier in the year. That’s just the way it is.

That’s right, Petey. It’s SOUTH BEND FRICKING INDIANA. It’s either too hot or too cold or too sunny or too rainy or too damn snowy about, oh, 257 days a year, and so the grass don’t grow quite like it does in sunny LA. And no, the only junior college with which the Irish are sharing their field is the one whose football team you coach. (Zing!)

Now, you might think that Reed’s gripe is a bit more legitimate, given the seriousness of the injury he suffered against the Irish two years ago. But if you did think that, then you’d be failing to take into account the excellent detective work that the guys at the IRT did before last year’s SC game:

How many of these pundits have actually gone back to watch the play which ended Reed’s season? Not many. If they did, they would clearly see that this was a player way out of position in the first place. It is our assertion that the grass was not the culprit here, but a player out of position.

Now, with the help of photographic evidence obtained through NBC we can reconstruct the play and prove that Reed is to blame for the injury. Not the grass.

Reed1.jpeg

This is the first screenshot from the kickoff where Reed was injured. This is the first moment the Reed enters the screen. He is the cut off figure on the right hand side of the photo near Notre Dame’s 14 yard line.

Reed2.jpeg

Here is Reed running back to field the kickoff between the 8 and 9 yard lines.

Reed3.jpeg

At the five yard line Reed makes a weird turn to try and field the ball flying over his head. This is where he goes down.

Reed4.jpeg

Here is Reed laying on the 2 yard line as the ball sails over his head. Clearly, if Reed was positioned to field the kick-off on the goal line, there would be no discussion of tall grass and Weis’ desire to injure and maim opposing players.

You make the call. Here at the Roundup, though, the company position is that the Trojans are a bunch of whiny bitches, and they’re going to get their asses handed to them this afternoon, no matter what the field may look like.

Go Irish, dammit.

Get Dirty!

Friday, October 19th, 2007

You probably already know this, but the LA Times is reporting that Mark “Dirty” Sanchez is going to be the starting quarterback on Saturday for the Trojans of Southern Cal, in place of the injured John David Booty. Sanchez, a redshirt sophomore, was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school but has seen little game action since coming to SC, his most newsworthy accomplishments having come - ahem - off the playing field. Starting in place of Booty last week, Sanchez had a tough first half against a less than dynamic Arizona defense, but completed 11 of 15 passes for a very Clausen-esque 74 yards in the second half as the Trojans narrowly avoided their second straight upset loss.

It’s hard to think that this is anything but good news for the Irish, as we all remember what happened last time Corwin Brown’s defense faced an inexperienced backup:

Put that together with a beat-up SC offensive line (All-American tackle Sam Baker will be out, as well as guard Alatini Malu), and one can only expect that by the time the game draws to an end, Evan Sharpley won’t be the only quarterback wearing a green jersey.

Sweet dreams tonight, Mark. The nightmare begins Saturday, 3:30pm EST.

I got your Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse right here …

Get your hate on

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Hollywood is a breeding ground for a–holes
Wallets get as big as Reggie Bush’s
Skinny girl, eat some more food
Muscle man, you look like a f–king freak

Hollywood is a nice place for the weekend
Not a place for a nice person to live
Football star, no one likes you
How’d ya learn to be so f–king mean?

Take me home to sweet South Bend
Big women at the ‘Backer
This Saturday (YEAH)
Come and see the Irish win

LET’S GO!

- NoFX, “San Francisco Fat” (censored and otherwise tweaked)

Perhaps it’s a bit of Post-BC Fatigue Syndrome or maybe some general exhaustion after a 1-6 start, but the Irish netroots have been surprisingly quiet about tomorrow’s showdown against SC. But while I can’t speak to the mood on the team or around campus, I can tell you that there’s no shortage of excitement on tap around my own home:


(Gear courtesy of bamfshirts.com)

That’s right folks, it’s FREAKING SC week! And all we can hope for is that Saturday’s game goes as badly for the Trojans as their plane flight into the ‘Bend:

USC’s football team, coaches and staff endured several terrifying minutes as their chartered flight to South Bend plummeted amid a severe thunderstorm, forcing the pilot to abort his first landing attempt.

USC sports information director Tim Tessalone told The Associated Press on Friday that some passengers were thrown from their seats by turbulence as lightning cracked around the storm-tossed aircraft about 9 p.m. Thursday.

“It was a little bit of a roller coaster drop there for a minute,” he said. “We had some people fly out of some seats. Everybody is fine, but it was a frightening little dip there.”

The pilot aborted the approach and circled around the storm before landing without incident about 20 minutes later to the relief of the shaken team and the spouses of some staff members also on the flight, Tessalone said.

Safety Taylor Mays said he was screaming.

At their hotel, senior defensive end Lawrence Jackson said he was going to see the team trainer because a Popsicle stick had pierced the inside of his mouth during the drop.

“That was terrifying,” fullback Stanley Havili said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Quarterback John David Booty said, “It wasn’t the worst flight I’ve ever been on, but it was definitely the biggest drop.”

Saturday’s weather report, unfortunately, calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low-70s, but not to fear: the playing field at ND stadium has once again been populated with miniaturized leprechauns with tiny little dart guns, with clear instructions to attack Trojan players and Trojan players only. (Oh, and Pete Carroll, too.) Good luck running wild in the midst of that, jagoffs.

Speaking of running: as the Irish pass defense begins to get the credit they actually deserve (that’s right, Bob Kravitz, you are an ass), and the USC quarterback situation still up in the air [EDIT: Not anymore. It's Dirty Sanchez, baby!], it’s worth taking a quick look into the question of whether the Irish have a chance to slow down a Southern Cal (yeah, I said it again) running game that currently ranks 24th in the nation at 198.2 yards per game.

For comparison’s sake, here’s what the Irish have done against the run so far this year, together with their opponents’ averages and national rankings in rushing offense:

One thing these numbers reveal is that part of the reason the Irish run defense has looked so bad, especially on paper (ranked 93rd overall, giving up 186.7 yards a game), may be due to the fact that so many of the teams ND has played so far have simply had terrific running attacks overall: by the numbers, Tailback U’s splenderrific ground game is only the fourth-best the Irish will have faced this year. Moreover, a quick comparison between the season-long rushing averages for ND’s opponents and the yards they gained on the ground against the Irish reveals that in only three of seven games have ND’s opponents gained more rushing yards than usual.

A closer look at the numbers for SC’s ground game reveals a similar situation:

The Trojans, in other words, have not exactly played a bunch of run-stoppers: and while they’ve exceeded their opponents’ averages for rushing yards allowed in all but one case (the loss to Stanford), there’s definitely reason to take a bit of hope from these numbers.

If the Irish can continue to build on their (relative) defensive successes from the past few weeks - note that if we factor out the 52-yard run on BC’s opening drive, their rushing average drops to 3.52 yards per carry on the day - and hold the Trojans under, say, 160 140 rushing yards tomorrow, I have to think they’ll have a shot. This is, of course, predicated on continuing to defend the pass well and so keeping SC’s rather mediocre 57th-ranked air attack (that’s only 232 yards per game) under wraps, perhaps forcing a turnover or two, and (here’s where it gets unlikely) also showing some signs of freaking life - and perhaps doing less stupid crap - on offense against a Trojan defense that has been nothing short of dynamic thus far, having given up more than 250 or so total yards only to Nebraska. (A few hopeful statistics, though: SC ranks only 86th in the nation with just ten forced turnovers, 55th with twelve sacks, and 86th with 33 tackles for a loss.) Whether the Irish can pull this off, especially without James Aldridge, is naturally the biggest question going into gameday, though if ND can force Saturday’s matchup into the same kind of game they played two weeks ago against UCLA - and that UCLA played against USC last year - we may get to see the Pete Carroll Face once again:

Ahh, good stuff, that.

Anyway, I’ll be back tomorrow morning with some injury updates on both teams and perhaps some more thoughts on the game.