Monday, January 30, 2006

Woke up this morning...got myself an award | by Jay

Over the weekend, Charlie won the New Jersey Sportswriter's Man of the Year award:

When Weis arrived he was greeted by flashing lights of cameras, several television reporters, and a group of print journalists who asked a wide range of subjects before he left to the banquet hall where he sat between former Governor Richard J. Codey and current Governor Jon Corzine.

Not bad for a kid from Middlesex. Weis, who coached at the high school level at Boonton, Morristown and Franklin high schools and at South Carolina University before beginning his rise through professional football with a job with Bill Parcells and the Giants in the early 1990s, made sure that everybody in attendance knew he hadn't forgotten where he started and that he was proud to be a "Jersey guy."

"I'll always be a Jersey guy," Weis told the crowd. "I'm always very quick to defend New Jersey. If you're not from Jersey you just don't understand. We have a deep devotion for our friends and family."

More than a Quick Fix | by Jay

Provocative piece in the SBT this morning by Eric Hansen about revamping the defense, including some choice commentary from former ND assistant Tom Pagna:

"I didn't like their scheme worth a damn," Pagna said of the 2005 Irish. "I thought they played way too much man, and you can't live on a steady diet of that. I'd like to see them bring more pressure on the quarterback. When I was with Ara (Parseghian), we had to make adjustments defensively every year, even when we were good, because people caught up to you. I believe they can do it. Between the players they have coming back and the new ones coming in, they have the one ingredient you need to make that leap, and that's speed. Speed counts more than experience. Speed can cover up mistakes. Speed allows you to make those dramatic leaps..."

The most catalytic variable, though, will likely be Weis. He took the Fiesta Bowl loss hard and he took it personally. The thought is it will drive him even harder to find a solution.

Through recruiting. Through scheme. Through his impressive network of friends with visionary football minds when it comes to defense -- Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, John Fox, Andy Reid.

Weis' true genius has always been that he's not as full of himself as some of the media purport him to be and that, like Parseghian, he's not afraid to admit he doesn't know everything. So he asks questions, he learns and he grows.

"I think the truly smart coaches have got to be that way," Pagna said. "It's like life. You can always learn something every day from everybody. I learn things from my grandkids. Not everybody sees it that way, but those people never seem to find greatness either."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bowl-a-rama | by Pat

In what are actually tryouts for the NFL, five ND seniors were invited to play in three different All-Star bowl games this January. This past Saturday, Brandon Hoyte and Dan Stevenson suited up for the East team in the annual East-West Shrine Game, while Corey Mays and D.J. Fitzpatrick joined former Coach Willingham out in Hawaii for the Hula Bowl. UND.com has the rundown on their performances in the games.

The other guy to play in an all-star game is Maurice Stovall, who will appear in the 2006 Senior Bowl this Saturday.

More than any other all-star bowl, the Senior Bowl is the most like a pre-draft combine. Over 700 NFL scouts and coaches will be taking notes as players are officially weighed in and undergo a week of practice before the game.

From some of the early reports, it seems like Maurice is definitely helping his draft status already. He's recieving praise from NFL Draft Countdown:

The guy who stood out to me at wide receiver was Notre Dame's Maurice Stovall, who took coaching really well, showed big hands to snatch the ball and gave great effort as a blocker.
and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper:
WR Maurice Stovall from Notre Dame lumbered a little bit, but he showed enough separation for a big guy. Stovall has very good hands and should go late in the first round or early in the second.
If Maurice continues to impress, his draft status will keep moving up. But where will he go? Since former Irish wideout David Givens might be leaving the Patriots -- and given the obvious connection Charlie has to his old team -- New England might be an early favorite:
One name to keep on the radar screen is Notre Dame’s Maurice Stovall. Stovall wasn’t used right at Notre Dame until Charlie Weis got there but he exploded on the scene this season, making a ton of big plays for the Irish. Stovall is a big receiver who has a knack for going up and outfighting defenders for the ball and because Weis and Belichick are so close, Stovall is a player the Patriots could become more intrigued with as the draft draws near.
Much of the praise this year has been about how Charlie Weis made Quinn and Samardzija into stars, but Maurice Stovall has benefitted just as much as Brady and Jeff, if not more. He was probably considered a late round draft pick (if that) after his junior year, and now, after his incredible season, there's a possibility he'll creep up into the first round. What a difference a coach makes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Consensus Reached | by Pat

This is a bit late, but certainly deserves to be mentioned. After we wondered aloud about the possibility earlier last year, Jeff Samardzija was ultimately named a 2005 Consensus All-American wide receiver.

Coming into the season with only 23 career receptions, the lanky wideout with the unpronounceable name was lightly regarded, expecting to help out merely as a third receiver behind Stovall and McKnight. (Witness Keith Jackson in the Pitt clip below, struggling with the name: "Jeff...Smart-cha"). Instead, the secret weapon kicked off the year with a fantastic diving touchdown catch against the Panthers, following that up by catching a touchdown in every single regular season match save the Navy game. When the dust settled he had not only acquired a catchy nickname, but had become Notre Dame's third-ever 1000-yard receiver, and finished second in the nation in touchdown receptions.

As noted by UND.com, Samardzija is now Notre Dame's 79th Consensus All-American, which is the highest single school total in college football. At his position, Samardzija is now one of a dozen ND receivers to be awarded with the Consensus title. (Amazingly, he's only the second in the past 10 years; cornerback Shane Walton being the other.)

With all of the awards and honors, Samardzija is sure to be a pre-season All-American next season. If he is able to match his junior year numbers, it is very likely that he will have a chance to pull off the rare feat of being named a two-time Consensus All-American. In ND's long and productive history, only 16 players have managed to acheive that distinction. Should he get it, Samardzija will join the ranks of the following illustrious Irish:

Frank Carideo - 1929-30
Marchy Schwartz - 1930-31
Bob Dove - 1941-42
George Connor - 1946-47
Johnny Lujack - 1946-47
Bill Fischer - 1947-48
Leon Hart - 1948-49
Emil Sitko - 1948-49
Johnny Lattner - 1952-53
Ross Browner - 1976-77
Ken MacAfee - 1976-77
Bob Crable - 1980-81
Michael Stonebreaker - 1988, 1990
Chris Zorich - 1989-90
Todd Lyght - 1989-90
Aaron Taylor - 1992-93
As a side note, no Irish player has even been named a three time Consensus All-American in football, although football player Moose Krause was a three-time Consensus All-American in basketball (1931-32, '32-33 and '33-34). Unfortunately, Samardzija won't get a chance to play for that honor as next year is his final in a Notre Dame uniform. And it should be a great one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clip Show | by Jay

Top 10 Plays of the year? Roll 'em.

10. This Isn’t Last Year’s Offense
Darius Walker rambles for a fifty-plus yard touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Perhaps this makes the top of the list because it was first, but this play seems, in retrospect, to have set the tone for the 2005 season. After a drive that ended in a way that felt too eerily similar to the meeting at Notre Dame versus Pitt just ten months before, with F-word spewing Tyler Palko beating the Irish secondary with a long pass to Greg Lee, Fighting Irish fans were quickly assured that the first game of the Charlie Weis era would not end with the same fate as the 2004 game. Sophomore running back Darius Walker brought in a screen pass from quarterback Brady Quinn, followed a convoy of blockers, and found the end zone -- with that convoy still leading the way -- 51 yards later. And just like that…the game was tied. Walker’s 51-yd touchdown reception in the first quarter was the longest reception of his young career and the first touchdown reception of his career. The underdog Irish continued the offensive onslaught, won 42-21, and garnered Weis his first win as Notre Dame head football coach.
Play #10

9. Zero Flood Fact 58 D Slant

Mooney to O'Hara against Syracuse
In mop-up time against Syracuse, Charlie Weis cleared the bench for Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. On third and seven late in the fourth quarter, in order to simply maintain possession and run out the clock, Weis called a pass play: "Zero Flood Fact 58 D Slant." Marty Mooney, a senior walk-on quarterback from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, dropped back and threw a perfect strike to Michael O’Hara, a senior walk-on wide receiver from Bellevue, Washington, for sixteen yards and a first down. Given the way the Senior Day game ended last year -- a 41-38 loss to Pitt -- it was a pleasure to watch as lots of players entered the game action, some for the very first time. Weis, in his post-game comments, stated, “"My favorite play of the game was Marty Mooney to [Michael] O'Hara, I'll tell you that right now." The Irish faithful were witness to numerous examples of alum/coach Charlie Weis fitting the Notre Dame paradigm of “getting it.” Mooney-to-O’Hara was a prime case in point.
Play #9

8. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
Quinn to Stovall against BYU
Against BYU, the Fighting Irish offense came out and picked on the Cougars’ 3-3-5 defense and their small defensive backs. By means of short slants and quick outs, the Irish ignored their ground game, scored two early touchdowns, and moved the ball with relative ease through the air. With Notre Dame leading 14-10 late in the second quarter, Brady Quinn and Maurice Stovall toyed with the undersized BYU secondary. Quinn faked the quick out to Stovall, Maurice stood up as if the ball was coming, the cornerback bit on the fake and came up to make a play, Stovall ran by him, and Quinn and his receiver had an easy pitch-and-catch for a 15 yard touchdown. In his press conference, Coach Weis called that play “a thing of beauty...that's exactly what it is, you pump fake because they know you've been doing it all game...the first time you do it, you can count on it being a touchdown. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if we had called it again.”
Play #8

7. Oh, the Shark Bites
Samardzija makes a leaping grab against Pittsburgh
In a catch that was a harbinger of the great, acrobatic catches the receiver would make all year long, future-consensus-All-America Jeff Samardzija made a spectacular grab in the back of the end zone against Pitt. The catch was so amazing that it forced the Big 10 replay official to stop play to watch it several times. ABC-TV analyst Dan Fouts remarked that Samardzija’s catch was of the kind made on Sundays: “You won’t see a better catch than that.” The 19 yard diving reception for a touchdown -- giving the Fighting Irish a 28-10 second quarter lead -- followed a forced fumble by Casey Cullen on a kickoff and helped blow the Pitt game wide open.
Play #7

6. Quinn for the (Almost) Win
Brady scores the go-ahead against Southern Cal
This touchdown would most definitely sit amid the pantheon of legendary Notre Dame scores had the next drive by the University of Southern California ended differently. The touchdown, with 2:04 to go, capped a dramatic eight play, 87 yard drive against the #1 team. Bedecked in a green jersey and under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, the Fighting Irish player from Dublin (Ohio), former boyhood model, Brady Quinn, found the end zone on a 5 yard quarterback draw to give Notre Dame a 31-28 lead. Unfortunately, the run was later overshadowed by a fourth and nine pass, a crazy fumble play, and a push. Yet, in retrospect, will we look back at this the play as the one that jumpstarted Quinn’s run for the 2006 Heisman Trophy?
Play #6

5. The Hustler
Wooden saves the game against Michigan
Unfortunately, with the big plays by the Buckeyes most recently in our mind, some of the good play by the defense in 2005 has been overshadowed. However, a couple of times this year, Ambrose Wooden, arguably the most-improved player on the Irish defense, ran down opposing players from behind and saved touchdowns on otherwise big plays. None was more important than his hustling play in the game at Ann Arbor. With Notre Dame nursing a 17-3 lead early in the fourth quarter against Michigan, Chad Henne (on fourth and 4 from the Michigan 45) hit Jason Avant for a 54-yard catch-and-run. Moving and hurrying the entire time, Wooden forced Avant out-of-bounds at the Irish 1 yard line. Following an Irish penalty, then-#3 Michigan turned the ball over -- Henne fumbled on a quarterback sneak, Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe alertly recovered the ball in the end zone, and the Wolverine scoring chance evaporated…helping the then-#20 Irish win 17-10.
Play #5

4. In the Clearing Stands a Boxer
Zibby returns one against Tennessee
With a 14-3 lead in the middle of the second quarter, the Notre Dame defense forced two negative plays by the Volunteers. One of those plays was a Tom Zbikowski sack of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge. On fourth and 21 from the Volunteers 35, punter Britton Colquitt sent a 43 yard kick right down the middle of the field. Zbikowski fielded the punt, quickly dodged tacklers, and burst up the middle for 78 yards, a touchdown, and a 21-3 Irish lead. For his overall performance against the Volunteers, the junior from Arlington Heights, Illinois became the first-ever defensive player to win the Cingular Wireless/ABC Sports All-American Player of the Week honor. Charlie Weis, commenting after the game about Zbikowski’s show, stated, “The more he's out there, the more you want him out there because chances are something good is going to happen."
Play #4

3. The $14 Million Dollar Man
Walker scores the game-winner against Stanford
Underdog Stanford, benefiting from gaffes by the Notre Dame special teams unit and two uncharacteristic interceptions by Brady Quinn, took a 31-30 lead with 1:46 remaining in the game. With eligibility for a BCS bowl game on the line for Notre Dame, Darius Walker’s hard-nosed, 6 yard touchdown run was the final element of a 51 second, 80 yard drive in waning seconds of the game against Stanford. Walker would finish the game against the Cardinal with a career-best 186 yards rushing and a 1,106 yard regular season total for rushing. "We went back and forth the whole game," Coach Weis said. "But I think the great thing about this football team is, earlier this year, before I got here, I didn't know if they understood how to win games like this." The Irish earned a Fiesta Bowl berth and the full paycheck that accompanied the trip to Tempe.
Play #3

2. Volunteering for Duty
Stovall springs Fasano (and more) against Tennessee
Although featured on this list of the Top 10 plays, this entry is really three separate plays during the Tennessee game. And none of the plays shows up in the official statistics for Fighting Irish wide receiver Maurice Stovall. Tight end Anthony Fasano’s 43-yard catch-and-run touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter featured a great downfield block by Stovall. Late in the third quarter, on third and 10 from the Notre Dame 25, with the score tied at 21, Quinn hit Samardzija on a short crossing route. Thanks to a block by Stovall, who provided an obstacle for three Tennessee defenders, the Shark ran down the sidelines before being tackled at the Volunteer 2 yard line. The catch set up Samardzija’s four yard touchdown reception, with Stovall again clearing the way, just a few plays later on third and goal. The Irish led the Volunteers for good at 28-21. Those blocks, combined with his great leaping touchdown grab in the first quarter, allowed Coach Weis to single out Stovall in the press conference: “…a lot of times we look at stats and sit there and say, Jeff [Samardzija] had a big day statistically, which he did…But the guy I was pleased with the most was actually Maurice Stovall. He only had a couple catches on the game and one for a touchdown, but he made several critical blocks in this game and ended up leading us to having production.”
Play #2

1. ...With His Teeth, Babe
Samardzija with an impossible catch against Purdue
On Notre Dame’s second offensive possession of the Purdue game, with the score tied at 0-0, and second and 3 at the Boilermaker 42, Brady Quinn heaved a pass deep down the middle of the field. Jeff Samardzija somehow made a diving, one-handed catch and fell at the Purdue 1. On the next play, Rashon Powers-Neal ran in the ball for the 7-0 Irish lead and the beating of the Boilermakers was on.
Play #1

And a play that transcends any ranking...

Pass Right
Unless you pulled a Rip van Winkle for 2005, you certainly heard about this play. I re-reference Tom Coyne’s Associated Press article via our post back in September.
Watch "Pass Right"

Honorable Mentions: Safety Tom Zbikowski’s goal-line interception of a Chad Henne pass on Michigan’s opening drive of the second half; safety Chinedum Ndukwe’s hit on Washington’s Craig Chambers on the Huskies’ opening drive, and Ndukwe’s subsequent fumble recovery, setting up “Pass Right”; wide receiver Jeff Samardzija’s 55 yard catch-and-run, breaking tackles and “pinballing” his way through the Purdue secondary to give the Fighting Irish a 35-7 third-quarter lead over the Boilermakers; running back Travis Thomas’s 16 yard run to cap a 5:47, thirteen play, 80 yard drive in answer to a Reggie Bush hurdling run, tying the score in the Southern California game at 7; Zbikowski’s 60 yard, tackle-breaking punt return for a touchdown to give the Irish a 21-14 second quarter lead on Southern California; [and so many other plays against USC that might have figured differently had the game just finished with an Irish victory;] Zbikowski’s 89 yard interception return for a touchdown to blow open the BYU game at 49-23; Zbikowski (again) returns an Erik Ainge pass 33 yards for a touchdown to seal the win over Tennessee, 41-21; wide receiver Maurice Stovall’s ridiculous, one-handed leaping catch for a 31 yard touchdown to open the scoring against Navy (the catch even earned “Top Play” for the weekend from notorious Notre Dame-hater and ESPN “commentator” Mark May); cornerback Leo Ferrine’s opportunistic interception, returned for a 16 yard touchdown, to jumpstart a 20-0 second half stretch against Syracuse; Darius Walker’s touchdown runs in the Fiesta Bowl; and Zbikoswki’s “incompletion” return for a heartbreaking touchdown-that-wasn’t against Ohio State.

(Special thanks to contributor Paul for writing and compiling our list and video guru Nevin for pulling the clips.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Landmark | by Pat

Notre Dame recruiting took a step in a new direction this past week when for the first time in at least the last 50 years, a football recruit enrolled in the University a semester early. Actually, three of them did. Indiana running back James Aldridge, Texas offensive lineman Chris Stewart, and Oklahoma wide receiver George West all officially moved into their new dorm rooms and signed their scholarship papers, making them Notre Dame's first early enrollees.

"I guess that makes us pioneers in a way," Aldridge said. "But you know people have been doing this at other schools for 10 years now. I just think of it as I'm bringing something new to Notre Dame. Hopefully, George, Chris and I can be a successful story with early enrollment, and we can keep it going for others."
The football benefits of early enrollment are obvious. The three will get to start winter workouts with the team and fully participate in spring practice. The jumpstart will give all three a tremenous head start heading into fall practice. It will give Aldridge a chance to find some carries in the backfield, West an opportunity to show his stuff as a return man, and Stewart a shot to work his way into the offensive line 2-deep. The benefits also extend to the academic side as the three will get a chance to take a few introductory level courses without the time crunch of in-season football that normally greets freshman in the fall.

Of course, just to be considered for early enrollment, a proven strong academic track record was a necessity. Notre Dame never officially had a rule forbidding early enrollment, a trend that started around 10 years ago, but it was never sought out by previous coaches. Some of the credit for this shift in thinking should go to James Aldridge as well as Coach Weis. In the past Notre Dame has recruited kids who sought out early enrollment (Dan Connor, Myron Rolle, etc...) but all changed their mind about Notre Dame, among other reasons, after hearing that the Irish did not accept early enrollment for football players. When Aldridge committed to Weis and the Irish it was still not a given that he would be allowed to enroll early, but he stuck with the Irish and his willingness to work with the admissions department no doubt made the decision to enroll him easier. The same can be said for both West and Stewart. West's coursework at Northeast Academy in Oklahoma yielded him college credit and Stewart took courses at a local college to earn college credits and supplement his high school curriculum, so both demonstrated a commitment to academics as well as athletics.

Personally, I think that in very limited numbers early enrollment can work for Notre Dame. But care must be taken by both the football coach and the admissions department to make it successful. (To be clear, I'm sure both parties did as much this year.) Let's be honest, the spring semester at Notre Dame should more accurately be named "the winter semester with two great weeks of spring weather when you really should be studying for finals". Obviously Indiana native James Aldridge is used to the weather he'll see in South Bend but Texas native Chris Stewart might not be a big fan of those 6 am walks to the Gug in the middle of February. The fact that three recruits were brought in gives them all a built-in support network. I really wouldn't want to see more than, say, four early entry recruits in a year, but I think that two or three is better than just bringing in a lone recruit.

To clear up some speculation, the three do not have to sign the Letter of Intent that the rest of the recruits will sign on February 6th. However, signing their scholarship papers will have the exact same effect. They now are subject to the same transfer rules as everyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mighty Sam Young | by Pat

In recent years, we Irish fans haven't had good experiences watching high-profile recruits pick a school on a live, national broadcast. Usually, it was a Lorenzo Booker or a Reggie Bush coming in as a strong Irish lean, ultimately reaching into our chests like Mola Ram and ripping our hearts out, and right on cue, Irish remote controls everywhere metaphorically shattering against walls into thousands of tiny pieces.

Well, Sam Young is one of those rare recruits who could have named his school. He's the ├╝bertackle, and he had offers from everyone. Put 117 hats in front of him, and it didn't matter -- he had his pick.

Ultimately it came down to Notre Dame versus Southern Cal, with Florida, Miami, Michigan, and Penn State in the mix. Young played the recruiting game about as well as anyone in recent memory, and he had everyone -- fans, recruiting experts, even the schools themselves -- guessing right up until the last second. And yesterday on ESPN, the 6'8", 300+ pound tackle eschewed the hat dance and calmly donned a white Notre Dame lid. (Remote controls, poised at the ready, were gently returned to their coffee tables, and wide Irish smiles broke out across the land).

How good is he? Well, Young finished up a high school career by not allowing a single sack in his junior or senior year. He was named Florida Player of the Year by both the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Gatorade. He is a USA Today 1st Team All-American, a Parade All-American, a finalist for Parade Player of the Year, and a 5-star Top 10 player on both Scout and Rivals. (Okay, he's technically top 11 on Rivals, but if the Big Ten can have 11 members, so can the Rivals Top 10.)

With such heady accolades, it's no surprise that Young is one of the highest-ranked recruits to commit to Notre Dame in many years. The last Irish recruit to garner such praise was top tight end Greg Olsen (and he didn't even last until the end of freshman orientation). In fact, Young might be the most highly touted player coming to Notre Dame since...Ron Powlus? Kory Minor? David Givens?

Truly one of the best aspects of all this is that it was as much a football decision for Young as it was an academic and social one. In recent years, the first thing you would hear from an Irish commit is about the academics of Notre Dame -- which is always a great thing to hear, of course -- but rarely about how Notre Dame would be excellent training for a future pro career. That's not to say that ND wasn't turning out pro prospects left and right (at bargain basement prices), but in the mind of a high school kid it wasn't up there with the USCs, Miamis, or Florida States as an NFL proving ground. Young, however, noted Weis' impact and NFL acumen as a compelling factor to his decision:

"They have a great program and a great history," Young said. "I felt that Coach [Charlie] Weis, he's coached at the NFL [level] and it's a real balanced offense, it gives you the best of both worlds ... my goal is to make the NFL and it's a great stepping-stone.
But the thing that seems to have cemented the deal was his interaction with his future teammates at the Army Bowl. It's interesting to note that the foundation of players that Charlie landed to date were important not only in their own right, but also in influencing a top prospect like Sam Young. Good recruiting begets good recruiting.

Young said he decided on Notre Dame while attending the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, an all-star game for some of the nation's top high school football prospects. Young roomed with Notre Dame commitment Barry Gallup of Massachusetts.

''I just felt this bonding factor,'' Young said. ``I really got a chance to meet a lot of different kids that are going to a lot of different schools, and all of them are great in there own right, but I really felt a special connection with the Notre Dame kids.''

The image “http://media.scout.com/Media/Image/28/284360.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.And of course, an obvious influence had to be high school teammate Dan Wenger already committing to the Irish:
"Being together at St. Thomas for three years, we developed a system where [Wenger] knew my moves and I knew his moves, and we were really comfortable with each other," Young said. "Being able to take that to the next level is really going to benefit the both of us."
Young's verbal gives Notre Dame six offensive lineman in this current class, and to my mind it is the best OL recruiting class we've ever had. It will be a lot of fun to watch all six in the coming years as the lack of prior OL recruiting really starts to affect ND and they all get a chance to crack the starting lineup. But Young realizes that accolades only take you so far.
"Right now, we just have potential," said Young, who leaves today for South Bend for his official visit. "I want to change that from potential into actually doing something and having it translate."
It just so happens that Notre Dame has an open right tackle spot in the fall due to the departure of stalwart Mark LeVoir. So will Young slide right in to the starting spot, as Ryan Harris did as a freshman? Personally, I think that Brian Mattes, Mike Turkovich, and Paul Duncan are going to make things hard for the freshman to earn the spot, but as this free highlight video attests, Young is a special talent.

He also seems to have that fire that you know Coach Weis is looking for in a player.
"If I get a certain number of pancakes, whatever," Young said dismissively. "I want the defensive player to say, 'Damn, this kid's good."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Statistically speaking | by Pat

Plenty of interesting numbers to crunch now that the season is over. Here are some interesting facts and figures.

Record-Breaking. The 2005 Notre Dame Fighting Irish broke 47 team and individual records this year. I'd have to imagine that is a record itself, so let's call it an unoffical 48. Here's the breakdown.

11 team records
9 individual career marks
14 individual season marks
7 individual single game marks
6 miscellanous records
For the complete listing of every broken record, und.com onces again does a superb job. Check them all out here.

As you can imagine, Quinn's name shows up on many of the new marks set this season. All told, he now holds 30 different offensive records at Notre Dame. One of the last remaining significant records that he doesn't yet own is the single game passing mark: 526 yards against Southern Cal in 1970, by Joe Theisman.

Maurice Stovall will leave Notre Dame not as a record-setter a la Brady, but his stellar senior year propelled him into some lofty company. Stovall is now 2nd all-time in career touchdowns with 19. The career leader is Derrick Mayes with 21. Stovall is now 4th all-time in career receptions (130), nudging Derrick Mayes out of 4th place by two receptions. Tom Gatewood holds the career record with 157. Finally, Stovall is 4th all-time in career receiving yards. Here are the Top 5. (The Top 5 are the only ND receivers with over 2000 career receiving yards.)
1. Derrick Mayes - 2,512 ('92-'95)
2. Tim Brown - 2,493 ('84-'87)
3. Tom Gatewood - 2,283 ('69-'71)
4. Maurice Stovall - 2,195 ('02-'05)
5. Jim Seymour - 2,113 ('66-'68)
Darius Walker finished the season with 43 receptions, good for 4th on the team. Not only did that break the Notre Dame record for pass receptions by a tailback (37, Bob Gladieux, 1968), but it was one more reception than ND's leading receiver (Rhema McKnight) had in 2004. To put that into perspective, if he repeats this performance in his junior and senior year, he will be second only to Tom Gatewood on ND's career receptions list.

While we're speaking of receptions and future performance, we might as note that if Rhema McKnight's 2006 performance can mirror Maurice Stovall's 2005 performance, Rhema will leave ND as the University's all time receptions and receiving yardage leader.

Now the bad news. The 617 yards of offense that the Notre Dame defense allowed against Ohio State was a program high, besting the 610 yards of offense accumulated by Southern Cal in 2002. 269 yards (44%) of the Buckeye offense came on four plays. All four plays were Buckeye touchdowns.

By only scoring 20 points, Notre Dame's scoring average dropped to 36.7 points per game, and just missed setting the program record, which remains 37.6 ppg (the 1968 squad).

Taking a look at linebacker production, specifically behind the opponent's line of scrimmage, shows that the 2005 linebacking corps were actually a fairly accomplished unit. The starting trio of Brandon Hoyte, Corey Mays, and Maurice Crum combined for 32.5 tackles for loss (TFL) and 11.0 sacks. Going back 10 years, both of these numbers are the second highest for a starting Notre Dame linebacking group. The high water mark for TFL since 1995 was 35.0, set in 2001 by Tyreo Harrison, Courtney Watson, and Rocky Boiman. The top mark in sacks was 15.0, set in 1996 and largely due to Bert Berry's 10 solo takedowns.

Notre Dame's 9th place ranking in the final 2005 AP Poll gives the Fighting Irish their first Top 10 finish since finishing 2nd after the 1993 season. Since the AP poll began in 1936, it is the 35th time that ND has finished the season in the Top 10.

Season Long Running Averages

First six games breakdown here. Last five games breakdown here.

For now we'll just present the stats without much explanation...we've got an entire off-season to dissect the numbers. Quickly though, it's easy to see that the offense took a huge leap forward in production while the defense stayed mainly the same and actually regressed in a number of categories. Considering that the offense returned all starters and the defense featured many new faces these results aren't exactly shocking, but they are still disappointing. As for special teams, it is interesting to note that the punt game definitely improved while the kickoff return/coverage squads performed largely the same.

Category Fiesta Bowl
2005
2004
Yards per rush
2.2
3.6
3.32
Avg yards per PA
6.4 8.7 7.2
Avg yards per PC
9.9 13.5 13.4
Pass completion %
64%
65%
54%
3rd downs conv.
9/17
(53%)
90/184
(49%)
68/183
(37%)
Rushing yd avg 62.0
147.08
(55th)
127.4
(85th)
Passing yd avg 286.0
330.25
(4th)
218.1
(54th)
Passing Eff. (Quinn)
117.8
158.40
(7th)
125.87
(55th)
Total Offense
348.0
477.33
(10th)
345.5
(81st)
Scoring Offense
20.0
36.67
(8th)
24.1
(72nd)
Time of Possession
29:16 32:51 30:50
Red Zone TDs 3/4
(75%)
38/55
(69%)
25/36
(69%)

Defense

Category Fiesta Bowl
2005
2004
Yards per rush given up
7.6
3.9
2.7
Avg yards per PA
12.2
7.7 7.9
Avg yards per PC
18.0
14.6 13.6
Pass completion %
68%
53%
58%
Quarterback sacks
1
31
30
Rushing yd against 275.0
132.33
(34th)
88.2
(4th)
Passing yd against 342.0
264.6
(103rd)
281.2
(116th)
Passing Eff. def.
194.0
121.41
(53rd)
138.34
(98th)
Total yd against 617.0
396.92
(75th)
369.4
(54th)
Scoring Defense
34.0
24.5
(53rd)
24.08
(46th)
Red Zone Defense
1/3
(33%)
31/41
(76%)
33/38
(87%)
Red Zone TD Def.
0/1
(0%)
23/41
(56%)
19/38
(50%)

Turnovers

Category Fiesta Bowl
2005
2004
Interceptions by ND
0
13
9
Fumbles Forced / Recovered
2/2
20/11
27/12
Turnovers gained
2
24 21
Had Intercepted 0
8
10
Fumbles / Lost 1/0
17/6
15/6
Turnovers lost
0
14
16
Turnover Margin +2
+10
+5

Special Teams

Category Fiesta Bowl
2005
2004
Kickoff return average
11.5
19.0
18.7
Kickoff return average allowed
17.0
21.2 19.9
Punt return average
0.0
14.1 10.8
Punt return average allowed
10.0
6.4
8.2

Fun Fact O' the Day: Notre Dame's 2005 regular season opponents went a combined 61-65 (48.4% winning percentage) this season. Notre Dame's 2006 regular season opponents finished off the 2005 season with a combined record of 83-56 (59.7%). One thing to keep in mind though about looking a year ahead. In 2004, Notre Dame's 2005 regular season opponents went 78-53 (59.5%). So what looks like a hard schedule for the coming year could very well turn into a relatively easy one.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Paycheck Stealer, Field Goal Dealer | by Pat

Some may remember him as the one football player that would consistently win the intra-team slam dunk competition.

Some may remember him as a perennial fixture at the campus Bible study meetings.

Some may remember him as the football player that was dating one of the coaches' daughters.

(Oh, and some may remember him as one of the best punters than Notre Dame ever had.)

Now it seems it seems Hunter Smith is aiming for some recognition not only for this vocal abilities, but his performance as the most accurate holder in NFL history. Hit the link and sing along.

Hunter the Punter (hat tip: deadspin)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Off He Goes | by Pat

After completing a stellar senior season, Anthony Fasano announced that he will bypass his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. On Monday he held a press conference to announce his decision.

"After a lot of thought and consideration, I have decided to make myself eligible for selection in the upcoming NFL Draft and will not return to Notre Dame for a fifth season," Fasano said. "This was not an easy decision for me to make. I was fortunate to have some of the best people in football to help me make this decision. The coaching staff at Notre Dame did a great job preparing me for the NFL. Coach Weis, the coaching staff, my professors and teammates have been a very positive influence in my personal growth on and off the field. While this ends my Notre Dame playing career, I know I will remain a member of the Fighting Irish football family for many years to come."
We wish him well and really do think it's a good decision for him. He'll have his degree, and he's already proven he's one of the best tight ends in the country. Also, he ended the season healthy which is important for someone who has a back injury on his C.V.

A couple of draftniks are contending that other early entry tight ends in the draft will push down Fasano's stock, but I'd counter that most of those tight ends can't block nearly half as well as Fasano. So while some teams obviously will go after the "jumbo athlete" tight end like Maryland's Vernon Davis (and hope they're getting the next Antonio Gates), I'm sure there are more than a few teams out there that just want a versatile player equally adept at both catching and blocking. As Weis has said repeatedly throughout the season, finding a well-rounded tight end who can do both in the NFL isn't exactly common, and I have to imagine that Weis' recommendation of Fasano won't fall on deaf ears.

He'll be missed, though. Fasano was just a great football player to watch, who never shied away from a hit and usually went out of his way to make sure his tackler left the collision with a new bruise. With sure hands and a mean streak while blocking, Fasano will leave school as one of the most productive tight ends in ND history. Statistically he's ahead of just about everyone other than Ken McAfee: #2 all-time in receptions, #2 all-time in yards.

In the end, though, what he'll probably be most remembered for is one play last September...

Carufel Choices | by Pat

Offensive lineman Matt Carufel made it official: he donned a blue and gold hat live on NBC on Saturday and became Notre Dame's 26th known verbal commit. The Minnesota native was one of the few high school football players to both play in the Army All-American Bowl game this past weekend and announce their college choice live on the air. The declaration wasn't much of a surprise as word of his supposed silent commitment to the Notre Dame coaches has been reported here and there since he gave Coach Weis his word on back on October 6th. Still, it's always good to hear it from the recruit himself, and in Carufel the Irish landed a good one.

The fifth offensive lineman to commit to Notre Dame, Carufel brings the strongest resume in a group that's contending for the best collection of offensive line talent (on paper) that Notre Dame has ever landed in a single class. Both a Parade All-American and 2nd Team USA Today All-American, Carufel is a Top 100 national player on both Scout and Rivals. Matt hails from Cretin-Derham High in St. Paul, Minnesota, a strong high school program that also produced current Irish players Ryan Harris, Marcus Freeman, and Rashon Powers-Neal.

A tackle in high school, Carufel projects to playing guard in college, but seems to be capable of playing just about any position on the line. Along with his size, speed, and strength, his position flexibility is one of the reasons he is so highly rated. And while sometimes ratings can be misleading, Matt has the scholarship offers to back up his lofty recruiting ranking status. Miami, Florida, home state Minnesota, and recent O-Line mecca Iowa were some of the many programs that wanted the 6'5", 288 lb. lineman.

The Carufel commit helps to fill a critical lack of depth on the offensive line. Other than quarterback, I can't think of a position where seniority and experience benefit the player as much as it does while playing the OL, and you'd think a football team would maintain a steady of supply of mules. And yet, Notre Dame finds itself woefully lacking in offensive linemen. For whatever reason, Willingham only managed to recruit six total offensive lineman during his three years as head coach: Harris and Sullivan in 2003, Incarnato and Kadous in 2004, and Duncan and Turkovich in 2005. To make matters worse, both Incarnato and Kadous (more on him later) left the team earlier this year, giving the Irish only four total scholarship offensive lineman in the junior, sophomore, and freshman classes combined. Luckily, the lack of depth was not much of an issue this past season as the line played relatively injury-free. But we'll be exposed to a lack of experience in 2006 and 2007, and as the OL goes, so go the Irish.

The good news is that Weis and his assistants have put together a top-notch OL class. Webb, Olsen, Wenger, Stewart, and Carufel all have the flexibility to play multiple positions and all are highly recruited players with offers from major schools across the country. Also, Top 10 national recruit Sam Young is still considering the Irish, and a committment from him would put this group of linemen over the top. Young is the type of player that might be able to compete right away for an open starting right tackle spot next year. And I expect, well, big things out of 360-pound Chris Stewart. Enrolling early will give him a jump on weight training and re-shaping his body for college ball, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him hold down a second-team spot at guard by the end of spring practice.

There will be a lot expected out of this group in the near future as the chance to contribute early and make an impact is theirs for the taking. It will be fun to watch and see which ones make the push to break the starting lineup first.



Speaking of Kadous and his departure from the team, the Arizona Daily Star had a nice follow-up story on him and how he is doing. When he left the team back in the spring, he considered transferring back to Arizona, but in the end decided to stay at Notre Dame as a regular student. In the article he talks about his decision to leave the team, why he stayed at Notre Dame, and if he is considering a return to the football program. It's a good read.



With James Alridge, Chris Stewart, and George West enrolling early, that allows Notre Dame to sign a total of 28 players in February. If my math is correct, Notre Dame has two slots left.

Hat Trick | by Pat

This past Saturday was the reddest of recruitnik red letter days: the annual Army All-American Bowl. As you may or may not recall, I commented on this game last year and the in-game events that ranged from the merely silly to outright assualts on hyperbole. Of course, despite my disdain, I was again front-and-center for kickoff this year.

In my defense, Notre Dame fans certainly did have plenty of reason to be interested in the game this year. Last year, D.J. Hord was the only Irish representative, whereas this year eight players suited up as ND verbals. And that doesn't include invited-but-injured ND commits Demetrius Jones and Darrin Walls, and notable one-time and current ND recruits Sam Young, Terrance Austin, Gerald McCoy, Butch Lewis, and Mitch Mustain.

Surprisingly, the game itself wasn't nearly the cheese-fest it was last year. There were no embarrassing commercials for Rivals.com, no up-to-the-second recruiting team rankings updates, and the announcers managed to rein in the comparisons to various NFL pro-bowlers. However, in their place were penalties, punts, fumbles, and more penalties. After reading recruiting reports all year long detailing the recruits' amazing physical abilities and football prowess, it does take a few minutes to register that they are still high school kids trying to pull off a game only one week after meeting their teammates. And that's one of the reasons I'm not going to put too much faith into the performance of each recruit. Sure, I'm encouraged by the fact that Raeshon McNeil looked like the cover corner ND fans write Santa for every year; I just won't expect him to waltz into camp in the fall and win a starting job. Likewise, I won't afix the "project" label on Bartley Webb even though he nearly got his high school buddy Mitch Mustain killed a few times after whiffing on blocks from his left tackle spot. (Nope, extolling that legendary Irish fan patience, I'll be content to wait until they've had at least 5 practices in an Irish uniform before I write them off for good.)

As for the other Irish recruits, I don't think a full scouting report from me would be terribly helpful. Some looked better than others, but as I said earlier, it's an all-star game between high schoolers. If you're still curious, here are some good free game reviews from the folks at Scout and Rivals.

One thing I do know: the primary downside of all-star games reared its ugly head when Dan Wenger went to the turf grabbing his ankle after hearing it go "pop". I'm assuming he'll be fine by fall camp (knocking on wood), but that sure took the shine off the rest of the game. (It's also one of the reasons I didn't mind East Coach Ted Ginn, Sr. playing favorites and putting Chris Wells in for repeated carries at the expense of James Aldridge and the other running backs during the game.)

Of course, the game is really just window dressing for the Main Event of the broadcast: the official college declarations. Spread throughout the game, various players got to stand in front of their family and friends, mumble something about their future, and pick up a hat meant to signify their collegiate choice. Thankfully, they did away with the goofy duffel bag from last year and used a more classy "table", where the hats representing the college choices were laid out like cuts of meat in a butcher's window. And while I've rolled my eyes at the whole "picking a hat press conference" phenomenon in the past, after repeatedly being subjected to the spectacle I've come to understand that picking hats is truly an awesome way to let people know your direction in life.

In fact, I hope this trend spreads to all aspects of college football. Hear me out here. Just a few days ago when Anthony Fasano held a press conference to announce his decision to enter the NFL draft, I couldn't help thinking it would have made for much better suspense if he had a table with both an ND hat and an NFL hat on it. That way while he's being introduced and the usual pre-announcement platitudes are being voiced, everyone will be just focused on those hats. Which one will he choose? Will he do the hat pump-fake move? And where did they get that ugly Notre Dame hat?

And just think of the possibilities in your everyday life. Your kids come into the kitchen in the evening to see you standing in front of a table with three hats that read "Red Lobster", "Pizza", and "Reheated Casserole". You'll have their instant attention. You walk into a performance review and see a "Promotion!" cap sitting next to a "Polish up Your Resume..." visor. At the next wedding you attend, instead of uttering the vows, the bride and groom will don "I Do" lids (hers with a stapled-on veil, of course). The possibilities are endless.

In the end, the hat karma went both ways for the Irish at the All-American game. It smiled on ND when offensive lineman Matt Carufel picked one up, and frowned when defensive tackle Butch Lewis decided to put on a Southern Cal cap. (Not landing Butch Lewis certainly was a blow, as we're very much in need of defensive tackles and things aren't looking so great for the nation's best defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy. Of course there are still a few weeks left of recruiting, but it's getting down to crunch time. Hopefully before the start of February, Coach Weis will find some top notch defensive tackle who wants to pick up the ND hat and put it on.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pick Six, Season's End | by Jay

The final AP poll came out on Friday (ND ranked 9th), and with it, the BGS Pick Six contest draws to a close. Who'd a thunk that:

• Iowa, Michigan, and Tennessee would be out of the top 25?

• Louisville, even with their mediocre year, would still be ranked higher than Oklahoma?

• The best five unranked teams at preseason (Penn State, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oregon, Wisconsin) would end up with a better collective ranking than the actual preseason top 5 (USC, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan)?

• The top two teams would remain the top two throughout the entire season, only switching places after the final game?

In the Pick Six, we ended up with three winners, all tied with 96 points: DouglasHyde, Millertime, and stanbriscoe. Alabama (8) seems to be the gold star selection among the winners, and many of the entrants that finished well latched onto the Tide out of a very weak field in Group D that included Boston College (18), Texas Tech (20), Pitt (NR), and Virginia (NR). Congrats to all three of our peerless prognosticators, and thanks to everyone who played the Pick Six.

As promised, we have a very nice vintage 1976 Coca-Cola Drink Tray featuring Joe Paterno (gently used, only minor scratches) for the winner. Each of you winners email us your contact info, and we'll send you either the tray or something other appropriately kitschy college football souvenir.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Balancing Act | by Michael

Ugh. Watching the Buckeyes' defense fly all over the field on Monday was frustrating, yet impressive. Bobby who? Ohio State certainly didn't miss Carpenter, but what would have happened had the Irish lost arguably one of their best back-seven defensive players, like Brandon Hoyte or Tom Zbikowski?

Imagining this scenario of horror, I started thinking about our recent defensive struggles at linebacker and safety. What was the biggest difference between Ohio State's defense and ours? Was it purely talent? Maybe, but as I explored the two depth charts, I found it's more about numbers...and specifically, balanced recruiting classes.

Ohio State Linebackers
Bobby Carpenter – 2002
Mike D’Andrea – 2002
AJ Hawk – 2002
Reggie Smith – 2003 (grades)
Anthony Schlegel - 2003
(transfer from Air Force)
John Kerr - 2003
(transfer from Indiana)
Marcus Freeman – 2004
Chad Hoobler – 2004
Curtis Terry – 2004
James Laurinitis – 2005
Austin Spitler – 2005
Ohio State started Carpenter at SAM, Hawk at WILL, and Schlegel at MIKE. Kerr backed up Hawk, Laurinitis backed up Carpenter, and Hoobler backed up Schelgel.

But look at the balance between the classes. In 2002, the Buckeyes landed three solid LBs. In 2003, they landed another promising LB, and they added two more via transfers. Then in 2004 they brought in three more LBs. Last January, they signed another two. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Buckeyes could easily withstand injuries to two of their most talented and experienced LBs (D'Andrea and Carpenter) as well as the academic casualty of Smith.

By contrast, let's look at how Notre Dame has hauled in LBs over the same time period.
Notre Dame Linebackers
Brandon Hoyte - 2001
Corey Mays - 2001
Corey Jones - 2001 (transfer)
Nick Borseti - 2003
Joe Brockington - 2003
Mitchell Thomas - 2003
Abdel Banda - 2004
Maurice Crum - 2004
Anthony Vernaglia - 2004
Steve Quinn - 2005
Scott Smith - 2005
Kevin Washington - 2005
Notice that the Irish didn't land a single LB in 2002, and soon after that year's National Signing Day, Jones announced he would be transferring to Washington. Now ask yourself, where would Ohio State be without transfers Schlegel and Kerr? Those two are two of their top six LBs. Then remove D'Andrea, then remove Carpenter...you get the picture? Obviously, quality depth is essential at most positions. Balanced recruiting, you might even say, is more important.

Now let's take a look at another much-maligned Irish position, safety.
Ohio State Safeties
Nate Salley – 2002
Brandon Mitchell – 2002
Tyler Everett – 2002
Curt Lukens – 2003
Darius Hiley – 2003 (grades)
Donte Whitner – 2003
Sirjo Welch – 2004
Nick Patterson – 2004
Donald Washington – 2005
Anderson Russell – 2005
Jamario O’Neal – 2005
The Buckeyes' two-deep consists of Salley and Whitner, with Mitchell and O'Neal backing them up, respectively. Notice how easily they withstood the loss of Hiley, not to mention Ira Guilford (who had been recruited as a SS/RB and was playing RB prior to being kicked out for criminal activity). Again, let's look at the Irish side of the ball.
Notre Dame Safeties
Jake Carney - 2002
Freddie Parish - 2003
(transfer)
Tom Zbikowski - 2003
Chinedum Ndukwe - 2003
Tregg Duerson - 2004
(transfer)
Kyle McCarthy - 2005
Ray Herring - 2005
David Bruton - 2005
Ohio State had five safeties from their 2002-2003 classes, while Notre Dame had just three in their 2002-2003-2004 combined (considering the departure of Duerson). That number also includes one player playing his third position in three years (Ndukwe).



Conclusions? While coaching can obviously influence the outcomes and win games outright, it can't always overcome weaknesses at certain positions that may result from deficient recruiting classes. It's a basic point, but teams need players; they need quality depth and internal competition for starting spots. I can't help but think that some of the imbalances at key positions have contributed to some of our on-field woes. What if we had landed two LBs in the 2002 class, one being Mizzou star Dedrick Harrington? Had all the eggs not been placed in one basket, could the LB depth and on-field play been better because there were more bodies? Ditto safety...how could one more recruited safety in 2002 have changed the depth chart, how could it have pushed the starters? Could it have done the same when Quentin Burrell appeared to be playing hurt in 2004?

Charlie might agree that a key factor is personnel. Prior to taking the ND head coaching job, he said the following in September of '04:
Really, the NFL only comes down to only a couple of things. Personnel is number one, and what they do and what you do. That is what it comes down to. Who are their players? Who are your players? Where are their strengths? Where are their weaknesses? Where are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses, because you have to try to hide your weaknesses now and play to your strengths, and at the same you want to attack their weaknesses and stay away from their strengths. I am talking generically, but this is really the way football goes.
Ohio State planned ahead and took two transfers when they didn't meet their quota for LBs in 2003. The plan worked brilliantly, as the Buckeyes were able to withstand the loss of talented LBs, whereas any hit to the Irish LB, FS or SS depth chart would have been absolutely crippling.

Now, the argument could also be made that the lack of balanced recruiting classes at LB and safety failed to relieve some personnel weaknesses in the first string, but we'll leave that discussion for a rainy day. After all, it's only January 6th. Nevertheless, the argument for using the 2-year method (that is, looking at two consecutive classes together) in evaluating recruiting classes is flawed. Imbalances always bite a team in the ass down the road, and the every-other-year for a position is incredibly shortsighted. Three quarterbacks in two classes looks balanced, but did it really work out?

The remedy? Bringing in a balanced class necessary to fill in all the gaps, every single year. That's precisely what Weis has done in 2005, with one glaring exception so far. There is a chance that the Irish will whiff on both primary DT targets, Butch Lewis and Gerald McCoy. That simply cannot happen for the sake of future Irish defenses, even if Weis goes out and lands two stud DTs next year. What if one gets hurt? What if one transfers? What if one is a bust? The necessity for balance cannot be overstated.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Quinntessential | by Mike

If you watched the Rose Bowl in its entirety last night, you missed one of the finest individual performances by an Irish basketball player in recent years. Unfortunately, Chris Quinn's heroics came in a losing effort, as No. 20 Pittsburgh defeated the Irish 100-97 in double overtime. During the 49 minutes in which Quinn fought against Pitt's tenacious clutch-and-grab defense, he poured in 37 points while dishing out 9 assists, pulling in 6 rebounds, and stealing the ball twice. Quinn was 13-23 from the field (including 6-9 from behind the arc) and 5-5 from the line.

While Quinn may not have had any single play as jaw-dropping as his double-clutch 3 against Syracuse two years ago (which gave Notre Dame its first win in the Carrier Dome in seven years), he was relentless in attacking Pitt's defense after the half, scoring 16 straight at one point.

The final eleven minutes of gametime were rife with drama. Following two Antonio Graves free throws, Pitt led by 9 (73-64) with a mere 47 seconds left. In the next 33 seconds, Quinn would hit two threes and set up Colin Falls for two more as the Irish tied the game 77-77 with 14 seconds left. When Levance Fields missed a 3 as time expired, the game headed to overtime.

Pitt rattled off the first six points of overtime and led by 7 with 1:08 left in the first OT. However, a Russell Carter layup, another Quinn 3, and a Quinn layup forced a second overtime period. Early in the second period, Quinn drove for a layup and hit Luke Zeller for a thunderous dunk to give Notre Dame a 3-point lead. This lead would prove to be the Irish's undoing. On the ensuing two possessions, the Irish went into clock-killing mode. The results were an awkward Zeller miss and a Quinn turnover when the Irish attempted to restart their offense in the waning seconds of the shot clock. Pitt scored the final six points to win 100-97, and Quinn fouled out with six seconds left.

When it became apparent that the Irish were going to run clock in the second overtime, I threw the remote across the room in disgust. The Irish had only had success against Pitt's physical defense when they were playing with a sense of urgency and had no choice but to take things to the Panthers. By waiting until the shot clock reached single digits to initiate the offense, I felt the Irish were conceding possessions to the Panthers. Given that we have always been a better offensive than defensive team under Mike Brey, the strategy infuriated me at the time.

A day later, I have been able to reconcile myself to the decision. There were sound reasons for slowing the game. After going well beyond regulation, tired legs were becoming an issue. Furthermore, the fouling necessary to bring the Irish back at the end of regulation and the first overtime had put Notre Dame in serious foul trouble. Falls, Kyle MacAlarney, and Rick Cornett had all fouled out. Quinn and Carter were playing with four fouls each.

Even though the slow-down offense may have been appropriate given the situation last night, I think the reason I had such a visceral reaction to it was because of all the other times the Irish have employed that strategy without the mitigating factors of foul trouble or exhaustion. The Michigan game this year was typical. With 2:03 left in the game, ND had the ball and a 2-point lead. The Irish then went into the slow-down offense, with Quinn holding the ball until the shot clock approached single digits. As usual, the offense was off-kilter when ND tried to restart it, and Quinn ended up missing a 3 with 1:34 left in the game. Notre Dame would not score again, and Michigan would win by 4.

The slow-down offense seems to be a poor fit for the personality and personnel of the Irish teams under Brey. Under Brey, Notre Dame has always had an easier time scoring than preventing other teams from scoring. Yet the Irish offense works best when they go inside-out with the ball or run screens for outside shooters. Notre Dame has not had the slashing perimeter players necessary to let the point guard hold the ball for the first 25 seconds of the shot clock, with no movement and no screens. The Irish offense cannot instantly come back to life in these situations. Thus the team ends up conceding possessions and relying on its defense to win games. Given the relative athleticism of ND and its Big East competitors, this has not proven to be a winning strategy.


If you did your job this poorly
you'd have been fired long ago
After the Notre Dame-Pitt game ended, I flipped over to the Rose Bowl. Keith Jackson immediately vindicated my decision to watch the basketball game. On the first play I saw, Vince Young pitched the ball to Selvin Young, who ran it in for a Longhorn touchdown. Not only did Jackson (last seen claiming D.J. Fitzpatrick was using a tee in the Stanford game) miss the fact that Vince Young's knee was down at the time of the lateral, he didn't even realize Vince Young had intended to lateral the ball to Selvin Young. Jackson claimed Vince Young had fumbled. When Texas missed the ensuing PAT, Jackson declared it was good. Even I, an avowed Jackson hater, was stunned at this display of mind-boggling incompetence. After departing to get something to eat, I returned just before the end of the third quarter. As the clock ran out on the third quarter and the two teams walked to their respective sidelines, Jackson claimed that one of the teams had called a timeout. How could anyone even remotely familiar with the game of football possibly make such a mistake? I'm sure Jackson made numerous other unpardonable blunders during the game, but I wouldn't know as I was forced to watch the rest of the game on mute. We've reached the point where any defense of Jackson is tantamount to declaring, "I don't know a damn thing about football."