Posts Tagged ‘Boston College’

It’s the execution, stupid.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Amidst all the armchair analysis of Saturday’s loss to Boston College, many excellent points have been raised about what the Irish are and - especially - aren’t doing right: offensive line and quarterback play on the bad end; the all-around liveliness of the defense and the play of individual standouts like Trevor Laws, Brian Smith, and Darrin Walls on the good. But one point that many people, both on the IrishEnvy boards and elsewhere, have kept coming back to as an area that has hurt the Irish is Charlie Weis’s play-calling. I’ve said in many little discussions already that I think this argument is silly, but I thought it was worth writing a longer post detailing exactly why I think this.

Let me preface my argument by saying that I’m well aware that I know absolutely nothing about play-calling. Heck, I don’t even play Madden. But given the specific sort of argument I’m going to make here, I think that’s a good thing: I’m not going to sit here and tell a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator how to do his job; instead, I’m going to show you exactly how the plays that Weis called against BC regularly put the Irish in a position to convert simple first-downs and so move the ball down the field. My focus, in other words, will be (once again) on specific boneheaded mistakes rather than abstract generalities.

To start, let’s look at OCDomer’s breakdown of Saturday’s offensive drives:

  1. 6 Plays, 3 yards, punt.
  2. 5 plays, 16 yards, punt.
  3. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt.
  4. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt.
  5. 10 plays, 22 yards, ball turned over on downs when punter’s knee touches ground while fielding low snap.
  6. 5 plays, 9 yards, Clausen pass intercepted.
  7. 1 play, 0 yards, Clausen pass intercepted.
  8. 7 plays, 79 yards, TD pass from Sharpley to Parris.
  9. 3 plays, 7 yards, punt.
  10. 6 plays, 16 yards, punt.
  11. 6 plays, 15 yards, missed 41 yd FG attempt.
  12. 11 plays, 53 yards, ball turned over on downs.
  13. 4 plays, 0 yards, ball turned over on downs.
  14. 1 play -1 yard, game over.

It’s certainly easy to look at that drive chart, together with a box score that shows that the Irish had only 222 total yards to BC’s 459 (not to mention the fact that ND is still ranked 111th or worse in every major (andminor“) offensive category) and conclude that coaching is at fault, and - as I’ll argue shortly - I think you’d be quite right to do that. But that doesn’t mean the fault is with PLAY-CALLING. Here’s a breakdown of what brought those drives to a halt (some of which is noted by OCDomer):

  1. 6 Plays, 3 yards, punt. [Holding by Young forces 2nd-and-20.]
  2. 5 plays, 16 yards, punt. [Clausen fails to hit open Parris in near field on two consecutive throws.]
  3. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt. [Allen fails to convert on third and three.]
  4. 3 plays, 9 yards, punt. [Hughes fails to convert on third and one.]
  5. 10 plays, 22 yards, ball turned over on downs when punter’s knee touches ground while fielding low snap. [Olsen false starts on 2nd-and-10; Clausen under huge pressure next two plays.]
  6. 5 plays, 9 yards, Clausen pass intercepted. [Drive starts with 1:19 on clock. Young called for holding on 1st-and-10.]
  7. 1 play, 0 yards, Clausen pass intercepted. [Dangerous pass by Clausen bounces off Carlson's hands and is picked off.]
  8. 7 plays, 79 yards, TD pass from Sharpley to Parris.
  9. 3 plays, 7 yards, punt. [Kamara drops a first-down throw on 3rd-and-3.]
  10. 6 plays, 16 yards, punt. [Sharpley misses on two consecutive downfield passes to Parris.]
  11. 6 plays, 15 yards, missed 41 yd FG attempt. [Turkovich whistled for holding on 1st-and-10; Duncan burned badly to give up a sack; Walker misses FG attempt.]
  12. 11 plays, 53 yards, ball turned over on downs. [Turkovich called for holding on 4th-and-1 TD throw.]
  13. 4 plays, 0 yards, ball turned over on downs. [Parris drops a downfield throw by Sharpley; Sharpley throws the ball to nobody on 4th-and-10.]
  14. 1 play -1 yard, game over. [Kneel-down to run out clock.]

So there you go. Out of twelve failed offensive drives (obviously the last one doesn’t count), the Irish had five that were handicapped by penalties along the offensive line, two that ended on failures to convert short yardage on third down, two that each involved a pair of poor throws to open receivers, and two others that ended when third-down throws were dropped by wide receivers. Put that together and you get six of twelve drives that would have been sustained if not for straightforward offensive incompetence (dropped or mis-thrown passes and an inability to convert short yardage) and five more where the offense had to face extra-long yardage situations because of penalties. That’s eleven of twelve failed drives (the one that is left out here is the one that started and ended with Clausen’s second interception) grinding to a halt because of nothing but old-fashioned on-field ineptitude.

So here’s my question: how is ANY of this the result of the plays that were called? It seems to me - and perhaps someone who knows more about football can show me where this is wrong - that all a coach can do in the play-calling department is put his team in a position to convert one first down at a time so that they can move on down the field. This is going to be immensely hard to do when the offensive line moves your team backwards rather than forwards with dumb penalties, and it is also going to be hard to do when you call plays that should be good for first downs and your team FAILS TO EXECUTE THOSE PLAYS. So far as I can tell, not even ONE of ND’s failed drives on Saturday is attributable to Weis having called the wrong plays (whether it was not running enough, not passing enough, not passing the ball downfield enough, and so on and so forth): instead, in every case where there weren’t penalties along the o-line to move the team backwards (and indeed in some of those cases, too), the offense had a chance to convert a third down and extend their drives, a play was called on which they could clearly have done just that, and they failed to do their job. It is simply beyond me how this loss could be ascribed to the plays that were called rather than what was done with them once the huddle was broken.

None of this is to say that Weis’s play-calling has been beyond reproach in PREVIOUS weeks; I no longer have my notes on them, but I sincerely doubt you could make this same sort of argument (at least with this same force) in those cases. (The Georgia Tech and Michigan games are especially striking examples of goofy scheming.) Nor - as I’ve already mentioned - is it to say that he’s beyond criticism for Saturday’s loss. In fact, I can think offhand of at least ten other things for which Weis deserves a lot of flack:

  1. An offensive line that can’t block.
  2. The fact that the (in many case most veteran) members of said line continually commit dumb penalties.
  3. A team that is unable to convert in short yardage situations.
  4. A pair of quarterbacks who were barely above 30% passing on the day.
  5. A veritable smörgåsbord of dropped passes by the wide receivers.
  6. The fact that his team seems regularly to come out flat in big games.
  7. The fact that his practice routines didn’t get his players ready for “game speed.”
  8. The way the wheels have tended to fall off for this year’s team as soon as they’ve faced the tiniest bit of adversity.
  9. The fact that many of the members of his coaching staff don’t seem to be able to get their jobs done.
  10. The fact that the Irish are 1-6 this year (and 1-8 in their last nine games).

All of these things are, in part at least, the fault of the head coach, and many of them bring out the sorts of problems that doomed the Irish against BC. Weis DESERVES to be blamed, in other words, for the way his team has failed to execute: but last Saturday at least, the plays he called would have enabled his team to move down the field if they’d managed to do just that (i.e., execute).

(While we’re at it, let me point out a few things that handicapped the Irish against BC but were NOT Weis’s fault:

  1. The fact that his #1 tailback (Aldridge) left the game with an injury after getting only five carries.
  2. The fact that his #1 wide receiver (Grimes), his top middle linebacker (Crum), and a starting offensive lineman (Wenger) as well as a backup (Romine) all weren’t able to play because of injury.
  3. The fact that that was one of the worst-officiated football games I’ve ever seen.
  4. The fact that BC has sold its soul to the devil in exchange for theological liberalism and a win-streak against the Irish.
  5. Ty Willingham’s recruiting (yes, that old hat).

Again, I’m certainly not saying Weis is blameless - on that, see the above. I’m just saying we’ve got to keep the whole picture in mind.)

Whew. That was a long post for such a silly argument. But in many ways I think the complaints about the plays that were called on Saturday illustrate people’s inability to look realistically at a game and diagnose what actually went wrong as opposed to trotting out the same old gripes week-in, week-out. There is a LOT that is wrong with this team, and a LOT of that is arguably the fault of Charlie Weis. Foremost among these problems is a failure to move the ball on offense - but so far as I can tell, the chief problem against BC wasn’t on the sidelines. It was on the field.

Stop beating yourself.

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Ugh. Now that I’m done throwing up, here’s an initial take on the game.

The reason this loss hurts so effing much is that the Irish have no one but themselves to blame for it. BC racked up 131 yards on 15 penalties, the defense played great and harassed Matt Ryan into a subpar passing performance and returned an interception for a touchdown, and Evan Sharpley had a strong performance in relief of the disappointing Jimmy Clausen. But throughout the game, the Irish were hamstrung by penalties, turnovers, dropped or mis-thrown passes, and many other stupid mistakes. These are the sorts of things that I termed “Inexcusables” after the Michigan State loss, and I argued after the Purdue game that they were the chief reason why the Irish were unable to pull out a win in West Lafayette. The same goes for today’s game, I think, and Charlie Weis’s post-game remarks suggest that he felt the same way:

“I think we had a chance in this game, but the bottom line is they won 27-14,” he said. “If I sit there and say, ‘God if we were just better on that snap, or if we would have hit this one pass or if we didn’t get a penalty. …’ But the thing is, we did.”

And did they ever. While there are many statistical measures of this sort of sloppiness - seven penalties, two turnovers, an average starting position of the ND 42.5-yard line on BC’s four scoring drives, under 21 minutes of possession time, and so on and so forth - it seems to me that a bit of “color commentary” on some of the major blunders is in order. So sit back and relax; this is going to take a while.

[UPDATE: If you want the quick version, read this great post by Ben Ford, where Weis describes six plays from the game which he thought showed "the difference between winning and losing." I've gone back and marked five of those plays in red below; the sixth was Andre Callender's 52-yard run from scrimmage to set up BC's first touchdown, but I decided not to count that as a "bonehead" play so much as a matter of getting flat-out beat.]

The first half:

  • Notre Dame’s first offensive series was highlighted by a pair of pass-blocking blunders. After two rushes and a nice reception by James Aldridge picked up a first down, Sam Young was called for holding on 2nd-and-10. The player Young was blocking, defensive end Allan Smith, got to Jimmy Clausen anyway on the play, and gave him a nice hit as he thew away the ball. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-17, Aldridge whiffed badly on blitz pickup but Clausen got rid of the ball in time to avoid a sack.
  • The second offensive series for the Irish was similarly error-filled. After another solid run by Aldridge and a completion to George West led to ND’s second first down of the day, Clausen hit John Carlson for six yards but then made two awful throws in the direction of Robby Parris, and the Irish were forced to punt. Geoff Price’s kick was good for only 32 yards, and the Irish failed to pin the Eagles back.
  • The Irish didn’t manage to pick up a first down on either of their next two offensive series, both of which ended in failed conversion attempts on third-and-short. After a six-yard completion to Carlson, Aldridge picked up one yard on 2nd-and-4 but had to leave the game with an injury. Armando Allen replaced him but was given no hole to run through on 3rd-and-3; he picked up only two yards and the Irish had to punt again. The next series started off well once again with a six-yard completion to Duval Kamara and a three-yard run by Robert Hughes, which got ND to the 46-yard line. But on a toss play to the right side, Hughes was stopped for a loss of a yard on 3rd-and-1, and the Irish lined up to punt once again.
  • Notre Dame’s next drive, which came right after Trevor Laws’s block of a BC field goal attempt kept the score at 6-0, perhaps summarized the team’s woes. The drive opened with an incomplete pass, but Clausen followed that up with an 8-yard completion to Carlson, and then Asaph Schwapp had a nice run for a first down. Clausen then threw incomplete to Carlson, a nicely-thrown ball on what I think was his first deep pass of the night, followed by a run by Hughes that was stuffed for a gain of one yard and then a beautiful 26-yard completion to Parris to convert another third down and bring the Irish to the BC 41-yard line. But after Hughes was stopped for no gain on first down, Eric Olsen (together with what seemed to me to be the rest of the offensive line) false-started on 2nd-and-10, and Clausen came under huge pressure on both of the next two plays, and the Irish were forced to punt from the BC 36. But here’s the kicker (as it were): J.J. Jansen’s snap was low, and Price let his knee touch the ground as he bent down to pick it up: twelve yards were officially lost on the play, but BC was able to start from the Irish 42-yard line instead of their own 20. Less than five minutes later, after a drive that included a dreadful pass interference penalty on Ambrose Wooden on a mis-thrown ball that could not have been caught, the Eagles were in the end zone, with a 13-0 lead.
  • The ensuing drive ND started with 1:19 on the clock, and the Irish scrambling to get some points on the board before the half. John Sullivan snapped the ball over Clausen’s head on first down, but the freshman managed to get rid of the ball without being sacked. A poorly-thrown pass to Kamara on second down was redeemed when DeJuan Tribble was called for a personal foul, and the Irish had 1st-and-10 at their own 43-yard line. On the next play, though, Sam Young was called for holding once again, and then Clausen threw an incompletion on second down, scrambled for four yards on third, and then was intercepted by Tribble on a pass thrown downfield to Kamara that looked to be at least five yards short. The Irish went into the locker room lucky to be down only by two scores, and with the sputtering offense constantly throwing away the momentum the defense was able to generate.

What’s so frustrating about looking back at the first half is that these plays show how many of the team’s woes - especially those of the offense, though a defense that gave up a 52-yard run from scrimmage on their opponent’s fourth offensive play is hardly beyond reproach - are the fault of an inability to get the “little” things right. Receivers were getting open, quarterbacks were being protected, yards were being gained … and yet the Irish ended up with only 60 yards passing and 16 rushing at halftime, because of missed throws, penalties along the offensive line, and - especially - an ongoing inability to pick up yards on third down and short. Put all that together and you get a two-touchdown hole going into the locker room.

The second half:

  • The second half started off well for the Irish, as BC’s opening drive was stuffed, and Johnny Ayers’s punt was good for only 36 yards, allowing ND to start from their own 36, their second-best field position of the day. But on the very first offensive play, Clausen threw a dangerous pass and it bounced off of John Carlson’s hands and into those of BC’s Tryone Pruitt. The interception was returned 30 yards to the ND eleven-yard line, and three plays later the Eagles were in the end zone and the lead stood at 20-0.
  • It was at this point that Evan Sharpley came in to replace Clausen, and while he started off shakily - nearly being picked off on his first throw after Kamara tipped it up into the air, and badly overthrowing Allen on his second - he settled down and went four of five for 64 yards the rest of the way, leading the Irish to a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles were stopped at the 21-yard line, and the game clearly seemed to be swinging ND’s way. A minute and a half later, Brian Smith picked off a Matt Ryan pass over the middle and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, BC’s lead stood at 20-14, with almost 24 minutes remaining in regulation.
  • After Smith’s touchdown, though, the Irish were penalized for excessive celebration in the end zone, and were forced to kick the ball off from their own 15-yard line. Nate Whitaker’s bloop kick got only as far as the BC 38, and it was returned 18 yards by Brad Newman as the Eagles lined up to start their second in three drives on the Irish side of the field. Five plays and less than two minutes later, they were on the board again. The lead was back to two scores and the Irish seemed to have lost much of their momentum.
  • ND’s next drive went three-and-out, ending after Kamara dropped a pass on 3rd-and-3 following a seven-yard run by Armando Allen. After the defense forced BC into a three-and-out of their own on the next series, Sharpley led the Irish to a first down around midfield but then threw three straight incompletions in the direction of Robby Parris: Pruitt nearly got his second interception of the game on the first of them, and the third down throw landed in the open field as Sharpley and Parris appeared to have gotten their signals crossed. (This drive also featured the “inadvertent whistle” that seemed to suck out whatever life was remaining in the stadium.)
  • After another BC three-and-out, Tom Zbikowski had a nice punt return, and a holding penalty on the Eagles moved the Irish to the BC 39-yard line, their best starting field-position of the day. Sharpley was nearly intercepted once again on his first pass downfield, and then overthrew Carlson on second down but was bailed out when BC’s Roderick Rollins was flagged for a late hit. But on first down and ten from the BC 24, Mike Turkovich was called for a hold as Armando Allen broke of a nine-yard run. Sharpley did hit Kamara for 13 yards on 2nd-and-20, but then Paul Duncan was burned badly and Sharpley was sacked for a loss of three yards. Brandon Walker then missed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide to the right, and the Irish wasted another golden opportunity handed to them by BC’s sloppy play.
  • BC’s next drive ate up 5:34 on the clock, but they were thwarted on a fourth-down conversion attempt and the Irish started up from their own 25-yard line. Sharpley moved the ball downfield effectively, completing a pair of screen passes to Armando Allen for gains of nine and five yards, and generating some positive net yardage with his feet with a pair of runs despite being sacked on one play by BC’s Ron Brace, who bursted untouched through the middle of the line. Then a 21-yard pass to Parris then had fifteen more yards tacked on because of another personal foul on the Eagles, and suddenly the Irish were at the BC 22. After a pair of incompletions, Sharpley made a spectacular play getting the ball to John Carlson as he was going down under heavy pressure, but after a lengthy review it was determined that Carlson had been stopped just short of the first down marker. No matter, though: Sharpley hit Parris for a 13-yard touchdown on fourth down, and the Irish were back within a score … or maybe not. Mike Turkovich was called for holding once again on the play, the Irish were forced to line up again and try for 4th-and-11 from the 23, and everyone knows how that story ends. The Eagles ran the clock down to under three minutes on their next drive, Sharpley went 0-for-4 (though one of those should have been caught by Parris) on the ensuing series, and the upset bid was over.

Obviously the penalty on fourth down that had the touchdown brought back is the one that sticks in our minds, but note this: if Turkovich hadn’t been called for the first of those two holds (the one that came on 1st-and-10 from the BC 24), then a pickup of even a few yards by the Irish would have allowed Walker to attempt a field goal from within 40 yards. If he’d been able to convert that then the score would have been 27-17, and the Irish could have been happy to kick another field goal on the next drive to cut the lead to one score, instead of going for the TD on fourth down. (Walker, who showed some leg strength but was way off to the right on his kick, is obviously not without fault himself.) This game was not lost on one or two plays: it was the frequency of ND’s errors - bad penalties, dropped passes, missed blocks, misthrown balls to open receivers, and so on - that repeatedly stalled the offense just as it got going, and placed far too much of the burden on the Irish defense. Was the excessive celebration penalty understandable? Coming from a guy who was dancing around the room making obscene gestures and yelling “SUCK IT” in front of his wife and son, I’d have to say yes: but in a sense, so were the holding penalties. The point is, they were dumb moves in big spots, and the Irish have nobody but themselves to blame for having made them.

Perhaps I should end by quoting what I said after the Purdue game:

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.

0-8 is no longer a possibility, but a 1-7 start that would put the Irish out of contention for a bowl game looms ominously in the horizon. We’re past the midseason mark now, and so youth and inexperience no longer carry much weight as excuses.

There is no question that this team has got the talent to beat USC next Saturday. But they won’t be able to do that if they can’t stop beating themselves.

Untested

Friday, October 12th, 2007

When the unbeaten Boston College Golden Eagles take the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, they’ll bring with them a 6-0 record and a #4 ranking that is one of the highest in the program’s less-than-illustrious history. But they’ll also be riding a winning streak compiled against the likes of Army, North Carolina State, Bowling Green, and Div. 1-AA UMass - a schedule tough enough to be ranked only 78th in the nation by Jeff Sagarin, compared to Notre Dame’s #3-ranked schedule.

Jason Kelly’s excellent column in today’s South Bend Tribune makes this point quite effectively:

The Eagles will be a case study on the subject of mirage vs. reality.

Other than a win on the road at Georgia Tech, Boston College got to 6-0 without the strain of travel or any opponent more imposing than a pop quiz (and Notre Dame makes seven, perhaps).

In other words, the “0″ rings a little hollow. Yell into it and the echo of vanquished opponents — Army-my-my, Bowling Green-een-een, UMass-mass-mass — is faint and uninspiring. Again, not that Notre Dame merits much more respect than that right now, but the circumstances reek of a set-up.

But do the 1-5 Irish really have a shot against a team that ranks eleventh in the nation in passing yardage and third against the run? Looking more closely over the numbers, here are some reasons for hope. (Note: all statistics via NCAA.org.)

Let’s start with the BC offense. While senior signal-caller Matt Ryan has led BC to 314.2 passing yards per game, good for eleventh in the nation as noted above, the Eagles’ running game is considerably less dynamic, as their 140.7 yds/game average ranks only 70th overall. Moreover, when we look at the quality of BC’s opponents at stopping the run, we see that only two of the six teams the Eagles have played have been at all stout in this respect so far this year: Georgia Tech ranks sixth in the nation with an average of 68.5 yards given up, and Wake Forest ranks 27th with an average of 111.0. (I’m discounting UMass, whose average of 90.8 looks imposing until you remember that they play in 1-AA, and have compiled that average against the likes of Holy Cross, Colgate, Towson, and Maine.) Against those two teams, the Eagles totaled only 146 yards on the ground, though to be fair they did gain 92 yards against Georgia Tech in week three, well above the Yellowjackets’ average. If we leave out the games against NC State (ranked 114th in the nation against the run) and Army (ranked 78th), in which BC totaled 433 yards, the Eagles have yet to put together a genuinely dominant game running the ball. To be sure, an Irish defense that gives up 189.8 yards a game on the ground, good only for 96th nationwide, might be a nice opponent to pick up a third such game, but the point at present is only that BC’s stats so far this season make it far from indubitable that this will happen.

The Eagles’ vaunted passing attack actually shows a similar trend: they’ve played against only two statistically solid pass defenses - NC State (192.2 yds/game, good for 25th nationally) and (again, Div. I-AA) UMass (214.4 yds/game) - and have struggled against both, totaling only 346 yards against the two of them. Meanwhile, while the Eagles did put up 371 passing yards against Army’s 40th-ranked pass defense (so ranked, of course, thanks in part to having played Akron, Rhode Island, Temple, and Tulane), their other three opponents respectively rank only 69th (Bowling Green), 71st (Georgia Tech), and 83rd (Wake Forest) nationally in pass defense. The fact that BC’s air attack has been really effective only against teams that have shown little ability to defend against the pass this season gives reason to hope that an ND squad that ranks fourth nationally in passing yardage given up and 22nd in pass efficiency defense might be able to slow the Eagles down.

Here are those numbers in a bit more detail (my apologies for not being as much of a tech-wiz as the show-offs at HLS):

When we look in some depth at the numbers put up by BC’s defense, we find a similar trend. As noted above, the Eagles’ run defense ranks third in the nation, giving up a scant 49.7 yards per game: but while they have clearly been able to hold teams below their season-long averages, they’ve faced only one opponent with a rushing game ranked higher than 71st nationally in Div. I-A. Moreover, the fact that BC has been able to get out to some nice leads against these inferior opponents has meant that they’ve simply faced fewer situations in which teams can run the ball against them: the Eagles have rushed the ball 208 times to their opponents’ 158, and have given up a less than dominant average of 2.9 yards per carry. This isn’t to say that BC’s run defense is weak: it clearly isn’t, and it will be a big challenge for an ND rushing attack that ranks last in the nation with only 33.0 yards per game. But it is to say that the Eagles’ schedule so far hasn’t faced them with much of a threat in this department: against Georgia Tech, which is the one team they’ve faced with a top-flight running game, BC was up 14-0 at the half and 21-0 going into the fourth quarter, and the Yellowjackets threw 39 passes and were able to run the ball only 28 times.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ passing defense has looked downright bad so far this year, giving up 290.8 yards per game, good for only 110th in the nation. To some extent this might also be a product of teams’ having to throw the ball more once they fall behind, but every BC opponent except UMass (none of whose other opponents were I-A teams) has exceeded their season-long passing average against the Eagles, in many cases by large margins. On the season, BC’s opponents have completed 59.4% of their passes for an average of 6.3 yards per attempt, making for numbers that aren’t far behind Heisman candidate Ryan’s 62.7% completion rate and 7.3 yard average. Defending the pass is by far the Eagles’ biggest weakness: they gave up 368 passing yards to Wake Forest and 351 to NC State, and while they settled down a bit by giving up an average of only 209 passing yards per game against Georgia Tech, Army, and UMass in weeks 3-5, they followed that up by reverting to early-season form and allowing Bowling Green to throw for 401 yards against them last week. If the Irish offense can recapture the form that led to a 65.4% completion rate and 377 passing yards against a similarly mediocre Purdue pass defense, there’s no reason to think that ND won’t be able to move the ball downfield against BC.

Once again, here are those numbers in a bit more detail for the stat junkies:

Like I said when I offered a similar breakdown before the game against Purdue: I have plenty of doubts as to whether the Irish can win this one. But there’s clearly hope for an upset that would, as Kelly wonderfully puts it once again, “tear down one of the new McMansions dotting the college football landscape.”

Ohh, you mean THAT rivalry …

Shut up, Fredo.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

While doing some research into the infamous 2002 “Neon Jersey Game,” in which Tyrone Willingham inexplicably had his 8-0 Fighting Irish team dress up like limes to face 4-3 Boston College, I came across these charming quotes from post-game interviews with BC personnel:

BC head coach Tom O’Brien: “The kids were excited when we saw the green jerseys. They took the green jerseys as a sign of great respect, as if we were something to be reckoned with.”

Sophomore tight end Sean Ryan: “I felt ‘Wow’, we really are playing Notre Dame. They really respected us. They really thought that we were a challenge for them and that meant a lot to me and a lot to our teammates, too.”

The Irish lost that game, of course, as they fumbled the ball away three times, threw two interceptions, and gained only 184 total yards against a banged-up BC defense. Afterwards, Golden Eagles players tore apart the visiting locker room at Notre Dame stadium celebrating their victory.

This was the beginning of the end for Willingham, as his Irish finished the ‘02 season with a squeaker at Navy, an easy win over Rutgers, and consecutive blowouts on the road at USC and in the Gator Bowl against NC State. The next two seasons featured two more awful losses to BC: a 27-25 loss on the road in Chestnut Hill in 2003, and a 24-23 loss back at Notre Dame Stadium in 2004 that infamously featured a Notre Dame punt on 4th-and-5 from the BC 30-yard line with three-and-a-half minutes to go in regulation, and a comically inept field goal attempt as time expired.

(I was there for the ‘04 game, and it was probably my lowest-ever moment as an ND fan: I’d driven 700 miles back to South Bend after spending fall break on the East coast, tailgated in the pouring rain for hours until I was drunk enough to think that Willingham might not blow it, screamed, shouted, sang, danced, cursed, and shook my keys just like I was supposed to, and then (in an admittedly Fredo-esque move) nearly came down with pneumonia after the game thanks to one of the worst colds of my life. Thanks, Ty.)

Anyway, though, let me set the record straight: Notre Dame DOES NOT CARE about Boston College. Nor do we “respect” them in any significant sense. This is why BC’s nickname - which they share, by the way, with a certain illustrious former U.S. Attorney General - recalls the stupidly inept brother who was sickly as a child, failed to avenge his father’s death when given the opportunity, betrayed his family to a Cuban gangster, and then was unceremoniously shot in the back of the head and dropped at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. The fact that BC fans get as geared up for Notre Dame as teenage girls do for a Justin Timberlake concert does not entail that this attitude is reciprocated.

Perhaps these bits from Eric Hansen’s latest column in the South Bend Tribune will help to put the ND-BC “rivalry” in a bit more perspective:

  • BC has only been ranked higher than its current No. 4 slot three times in its history, all during the 1942 season. It spent three weeks at No. 3 that year and one week at No. 1, losing to Holy Cross 55-12 as the nation’s top-ranked team.
  • This is only the third time in the 17 meetings between the two schools in which BC has been the higher-ranked team.

So no, Fredo, you can’t come back in the family. You’re stupid and incompetent, and we know you’re doing an okay job right now running that casino out in Vegas, but we also know that your head’s getting too big and soon you’re going to start doing stupid things like beating your wife, getting hooked on coke, banging hookers, and attacking software engineers in local sports bars. We don’t love you, we don’t want you, we don’t care about you, and as soon as mom passes away we’re going to blow your brains out and tell everyone you died in a boating accident. No matter what you keep telling yourself, that’s the only reason you’re off the ND schedule after 2010: this is not a rivalry game, you’re no more relevant than Cincinnati or Rutgers, and Notre Dame needs you far less than you need them.

Enjoy the undefeated season and the #4 ranking while they last: if the past is any guide, it might not be much longer.

(Via bamfshirts.com)

Stonehenge!

Monday, October 8th, 2007

“What makes you think that the Irish defense can stop UCLA to 8 points? We will have atleast 20+ points in this game. You should think before you post.”

“Now to keep the game in perspective, UCLA will get a blowout win.”

“I hope Olsen doesn’t get a big head from this win, after all it’s only ND.”

“Zero change of an upset here imo. Trust me, the Bruins returning from last year didn’t forget about that loss to ND in South Bend. This one can get ugly by halftime.”

“If we lose this game, this will be the upset of ages.”

Ah, famous last words, ESPN message board style. A bit uncharacteristic of a University that can boast the three wise Bruins:

See no evil (even though he’s peeking):

Hear no evil (or maybe he’s depressed thinking about how this guys hat is crooked):

Speak no evil:

Immediately after the game clock (not to be mistaken with the South Carolina Gamecock) expired, I began to hear a distant chanting growing louder and louder as it approached my end of the hallway. Proudly marching, the residents of Keenan Hall were storming up and down every floor chanting “Stonehenge. Stonehenge. Stonehenge.” And to Stonehenge we marched. And by marching I mean running around like idiots screaming at the top of our lungs.

Joining what I gander to be at least 250 other students running around like idiots and screaming out the remnants of our severely battered lungs, we chanted and cheered as the cool water of Stonehenge cooled us on a hot and humid night.

But we wouldn’t let a little fun and celebration get in the way of reminding ourselves that we must prepare to welcome Fredo and the waitlisters next week and “Beat BC.”

Those who had not already passed out from (a) screaming, (b) slipping and hitting one’s head at Stonehenge, (c) cheap beer or (d) any combination of the preceding preceded our triumphant march onto the Reflection Pool in front of the Word of Life to resound the Alma Mater before erupting again into cheer and chant.

Sure, we know the offensive playcalling can be ineffective at times, we know our quarterback holds on a little long every now and then, we know our offensive line has trouble run blocking. But this is our team, and this is our victory, and nothing is going to stop us from enduring sun burns, thunderstorms and rainstorms, or unbearable wind chills to fill up the stadium, scream loudly and proudly, and support the University of Notre Dame.

I’ll take it

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Like OCDomer said (as well as Pat, I guess), a win is a win is a win. Even if it did come against a third-string walk-on freshman quarterback and a coach who did his best Karl Dorrell impersonation by running the ball only four times and asking said walk-on freshman to throw the ball constantly after falling behind by two scores despite the fact that there were over fifteen minutes left on the clock. And even if the Irish did manage only twelve first downs to UCLA’s twenty, and 140 offensive yards to UCLA’s 282. A win is a win is a win. And to be quite honest, it feels like a bit more than a win when it comes on a day that we get to see this face:

Good stuff. Oh, and by the way - Trojan fans, I got your “Booty for Booty” right here. (Word is, he prefers that kind anyway.)

Anyway, here are some thoughts on the game.


The game ball goes to …

I know the easy thing to do here is to go with Maurice Crum Jr. (seven tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and a touchdown), but doing so would indicate that he actually had a better game than, say, Trevor Laws (five tackles, one sack, two pass breakups, and an all-around great job of being a pain in the butt), which in my mind is hard to say. Plus, there were two plays in the first half - eight-yard rushes by Joe Cowan and Kahlil Green, respectively - when he whiffed pretty badly on his tackles. But no question that Crum played a great second half and largely redeemed what has been a mediocre season for him so far.

In my mind, though, credit needs to go to the defense as a whole, rather than to any one or two individuals: Pat Kuntz, for instance, led the team with eight tackles and also had two pass breakups, Joe Brockington had another solid game with six tackles, and Tom Zbikowski showed some signs of life with five tackles, a sack, and a beautiful strip to force a fumble. These guys were bouncing around the field like I haven’t seen them do in years - they actually looked to be enjoying themselves. Kudos to Corwin Brown for the job he’s done in bringing this unit around.


By the numbers

Offense:

  • I already noted that the Irish had only 140 total offensive yards on the day. But that’s a bit of a misleading statistic, since the average starting field position for Notre Dame’s four scoring drives was the UCLA 27-yard line. If you don’t have far to go, you’re not going to get many yards. That said, five three-and-outs, a turnover on downs, and a drive that started at the opponent’s twelve and resulted in four yards and a field goal, do not a good offensive day make.
  • If we take out the yards lost on UCLA’s three sacks and the kneel-downs at the end of the game, Notre Dame ended up with a somewhat respectable 81 rushing yards on the day, which is right at UCLA’s average for the season (though that number includes sacks, of course). James Aldridge netted 52 yards on his 22 carries, and Armando Allen provided a nice change of pace with three carries for 19 yards. Not good enough, to be sure, but also not disastrous against the Bruin defense.
  • While Jimmy Clausen completed 17 of his 27 passes, they netted only 84 yards - an average of 3.1 yards per attempt. Clausen didn’t make any awful mistakes, but there were some times when he held on to the ball too long, and he didn’t look very good throwing the ball long downfield. Each of John Carlson (six catches for 38 yards), Aldridge (three for 18 yards), and Duval Kamara (two for 20 yards) had a nice day, but this passing game is going to have to do a lot more if the Irish want to beat Backup College or the Spoiled Children.
  • While time of possession was evenly divided in the first half, Notre Dame held the ball for 20:15 after halftime.

Defense:

  • As mentioned above, UCLA totaled 282 offense yards on the day, more than double the production of the Irish. 193 of those yards came through the air, on 16 completions - an average of 12.1 yards per completion, and a clear sign that the Irish pass defense has got to tighten up. The Bruins netted only 89 yards rushing, but that that number jumps up to 140 if we discount the yardage lost on Notre Dame’s five (!!) sacks. Still, though, all these numbers look really good against a UCLA offense that averaged 199.4 rushing yards and 225.2 passing yards coming into yesterday’s game.
  • After recovering three Bruin fumbles and intercepting four passes, the Irish defense now ranks ninth in the nation with 19 forced turnovers on the season. They also rank fourth in total pass defense (and 22nd in pass efficiency) and 41st overall defensively.

Mistake-free football

Well, not quite. We saw some pretty awful tackling at times in the first half, and there were a few times when our offensive linemen got toasted by the UCLA pass rush. There were some bad penalties, too: Raeshon McNeil getting called for a block in the back on a Zbikowski punt return a bit before halftime, pushing the Irish back to their own 30 instead of enabling them to start from midfield; Toryan Smith handing UCLA a first down on a bad pass interference penalty just after the half; Eric Olsen picking up an awful personal foul penalty that turned 3rd-and-9 into 3rd-and-24; and TWO holds called as Aldridge broke a nice run on 3rd-and-eleven near the start of the fourth. The Irish also failed once again to convert in short yardage, as Clausen’s fourth-down sneak attempt with ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter went nowhere.

But there’s no doubt that there was a major improvement in this department: my list of “inexcusables” was less than half as long as it was last week, and UCLA’s complete offensive incompetence more than made up for ND’s handful of errors.


Worth noting:

  • Leo Ferrine, David Grimes, and Dan Wenger all made the trip to Pasadena, but sat out the game with injuries.
  • Justin Brown returned after missing the past two games, though he didn’t impact the box score.
  • Robert Hughes didn’t see the field, nor did Matt Romine, Ray Herring, or Morrice Richardson. Chris Stewart made the trip to Pasadena, but didn’t end up playing. This was also the first game all season in which Evan Sharpley didn’t play.
  • Geoff Price replaced Eric Maust as Notre Dame’s punter, and averaged 40.3 yards on nine punts, with three downed inside the twenty yard-line.

All in all …

There’s no doubt that this team is improving, on both sides of the ball. If we take out the Michigan game, Notre Dame’s margin of defeat dropped constantly up until yesterday, from 30 points against Georgia Tech, to 21 against Penn State, to 17 against Michigan State, to 14 against Purdue. Notre Dame’s offensive line seems to have turned a corner since the debacle at the Big House, and the Irish defense has given up a total of 208 rushing yards the past two games after yielding an average of 232.8 yards in the first four weeks. Suddenly the possibility of making it to a bowl game doesn’t seem as utterly far-fetched as it once did.

Accomplishing that, though, will require pulling off a huge upset against Fredo or the Condoms. Look for the Notre Dame campus to be energized this coming week, and the stadium to be jumping when the Eagles come to town. The monkey’s off their back - now the Irish just need to keep on improving from week to week.