Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween! | by Pat

A Happy Halloween to all Irish fans! We here at BGS hope you have a suitably scary day and hope that your costume is well thought out. We hear that extra candy is given out to those who dress as Irish football players, be you child or adult. On the other hand, beware of tricks and dirty looks if you dress up like fans of Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, or Southern Cal.

If you are still looking for a costume, we hear the Tommy Z costume is popular. So much so that Coach Tiller is using it. Of course, some costumes don't take much in the way of equipment, while some require a few props. In a pinch, classic Disney creations like Mickey and Goofy are always popular, while some opt for newer characters like The Mighty Ducks. Personally, I'm putting the finishing touches on my costume, as I plan on going as the luckiest man in college football.

Whatever you do, have a great night and be on the look out for cranky old men and things that go bump in the night. Enjoy!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Navy Game Photo Galleries | by Pat

Check out this week's game photo galleries at the following links: the South Bend Tribune, Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold Illustrated, Getty Images, and the AP photo wire.

This week's photo highlights the 2nd half Irish defense. After playing like a sieve in the 1st half and allowing 210 rushing yards the Irish D buckled down and held the nation's #2 rushing attack to 61 2nd half yards on the ground.

There's also a nice shot of Justin Brown, in his first action of the season, sacking the Navy QB and forcing a fumble. Kudos to Brown.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Game Time! | by Pat

Rush'n Attack | by Pat

With the game only a few hours away, we still had a few questions about this Navy squad so we shot over some questions to Mr. A, writer of the Navy blog Pitch Right and the Navy section of the AOL FanHouse Blogs. Mr. A does a great job covering a program that doesn't always get major media attention.

On to the questions...

1. First things first. With starting quarterback Brian Hampton out, Kaipo Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant are both expected to see some time under center. Which one do you expect to play more and what can you tell us about these two sophomores? Do you have a preference?

I expect we will see Kaipo to begin the game. Coach Johnson has said several times that he feels like Kaipo has a slight edge in ability and experience, although hasn't ruled out playing both quarterbacks for that matter. Obviously I'm not as well informed as the coaching staff, but from what I've seen Jarod actually looks more composed then Kaipo is at this point. A lot has been made about Kaipo's athletic ability ( 4.4 speed, Vick-like quickness), but it really hasn't translated into on-the-field success. Granted he didn't get much help against an extremely good Rutgers defense, but he almost looks tentative running the option. Conversely, Jarod's statistics against Rutgers don't do justice to the way he played. He has a good sense of presence in the pocket, and does an excellent job coming off reads and making checks. He's not lightning fast, but he can read defenses on the option and isn't afraid to cut up-field or pitch it. Despite his size (5'10, 187) he has a tremendous leg drive and is able to grind out the tough yards you need to run this option attack. Remember, he was Mr. Football in the state Alabama in 2004, and helped lead Hoover High to a state championship while John Parker Wilson was injured. Obviously I'm a fan of Jarod, but I think if Kaipo can play within himself and stay calm he can do some good things.
2. Brian Hampton has scored 10 of Navy's 19 rushing touchdowns. Which player do you expect will most pick up the slack? Which one do you think will have the biggest day against Notre Dame?
Conventional wisdom would tell us fullback Adam Ballard or slotback Reggie Campbell, although one needs to understand that there really aren't "go-to" guys on this Navy team. That's not to say there aren't guys with clutch ability, but rather that this is a team designed around a system that doesn't put the emphasis on individuals so much as it does team execution. I actually expect the Navy defense to have a decent day, in particular the linebacking corps. Tyler Tidwell has been quiet so far this year, and I expect to see him at least try to get to Quinn a few times during the game. I'd also look out for MLB Rob Caldwell (Lombardi Award Watch List, Indiana native) and OLD David Mahoney. Both of these linebacker splay with a tremendous grit and energy and don't often miss tackles. On offense, Ballard or one of the other fullbacks needs to get the ball a good 20-25 times during the game in order to back Notre Dame's defenders off of the edges. Likewise, Reggie Campbell and the slotbacks are going to have to get north/south at every opportunity they get. I expect Ballard to have a decent day and for Campbell, who was virtually shut-out of the game two weeks ago, to get some quality touches.
3. The shutout loss to Rutgers was the first time Navy has failed to reach double digits in points since the 2004 Notre Dame game. Did Rutgers do anything different defensively to slow down the Navy rushing attack or was the injury to Hampton really that devastating for the Navy offense?
Well, for starters the Scarlet Knights had two weeks to prepare for the game. Anytime you're playing a particularly unique offense that certainly helps. I think people need to step back and look at this Rutgers team though, I mean there is a reason they're ranked first nationally in total defense. After watching them dominate Pitt last week, I think we've got to assume they have a very real shot of finishing with 10 or 11 wins. The injury to Hampton was significant in terms that it took the rhythm away from the offense and probably led to a loss of focus from the team, but I think Rutgers would have won anyway. Just saying they're fast doesn't do justice to the way Rutgers played defensively two weeks ago. They reacted with such precision and quickness that Navy's blocking scheme could never get under it's feet, and did a very good job covering both the quarterback and pitch man on option plays. They say discipline and assignment football wins against the option, but with the way Navy is passing right now significant penetration is really all you need. As an aside, I've noticed some fairly sloppy tackling by Notre Dame's defenders over the year, and I think this is something Navy can take advantage of. It's very difficult to tackle 5'6 Reggie Campbell and 5'8 Zerb Singleton because of their low center of gravity, while nobody under God's green earth is going to take Adam Ballard down on their own.
4. Coach Johnson has had a bye week to get ready for this game. Coach Weis said that last year Navy did different things on offense and defense from what they had shown on tape. Do you think Johnson might try to mix things up a bit more this year, especially considering the QB situation, or do you think he will just try to get the new guys used to running the normal offense.
That's tough to say. I thought Johnson would have mixed it up several times this year, including last week, but that really wasn't the case. I'm a big fan of trickeration myself, but so far this year we've only had one reverse and one fake punt. I have long thought of Johnson as one of the ballsiest (pardon my language) Head Coach's in college football, but his play-calling has been somewhat reserved this year. Part of that is just poor execution, but one has to wonder if Navy just doesn't go all out in a game nobody expects them to win anyway. Considering the way Navy's O-line has played in pass protection, I think he may throw some wrinkles into the passing game, but I don't think the offense will get too funky. Maybe some draws and freeze option stuff, but that's not really exotic and he's been doing those all year anyway. Remember, it's an offense based on execution, not talent. If he has confidence in the players, there is no reason to play the game any differently.
5. Finally, we know they are annoying, but we have to ask about the coaching rumors. Paul Johnson is a very good coach and as with most good coaches, his name is going to continue to pop up when jobs, such as the North Carolina gig, open up. What are your thoughts on Coach Johnson's future with the Naval Academy?
Ideally a guy like Coach Johnson would stay around forever, but as you said his name will be coming up for a variety of jobs. He refused to address the job at Carolina the other day, but I don't think he'd take the job even if UNC's AD offered it to him. Johnson gets a ton of support from the media and the alumni and hasn't been criticized once in his current tenure at the Academy. He has a substantial salary (which hasn't actually been made public) and gets to coach one of the nation's most storied teams. I don't know enough about who he is as a person to make the kind of judgment call about when or even if he goes, but I expect to hear his name thrown around more and more as vacancies start opening up.
Thanks for some excellent answers Mr. A. In what appears to be a lopsided game, there are still some interesting questions to be answered. He makes some great points about the Navy offensive option system being one that relies on execution and not individual talent. For that reason I expect Navy to be fairly successful on offense, despite the new QB. On the other hand, most of the execution part of the option attack starts with the QB's read of the defense. Will the inexperience at that position hurt the Midshipmen? Will Notre Dame defenders -- especially the revamped linebacker lineup -- wrap up Navy runners and avoid the shoulder tackles that too often this year have resulted in missed tackles? Will the ND offensive line be able to keep the excellent Navy linebackers away from Quinn for most of the game? Will Navy be able to execute their game plan of tackling Rudy whenever he gets the ball?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Statistically Speaking - UCLA | by Pat

I don't want to push Pete's excellent post too much further down the page, so this will be brief.

Blitzkrieg. The Irish turned up the pressure against the Bruins with the most number of blitzes run all year long. I imagine the combination of ND staying in the 4-3 and not the nickel most of the game as well as the presence of the inexperienced Pat Cowan under center contributed to the increase. The frequency of 2nd down blitzes blows away anything seen thus far this season.

# of blitzes# of chancesPercentage

Season Long Running Totals

Click here for up-to-date numbers goodness.

Notre Dame vs. Navy, 1967: A Respectful Legacy | by Pete

As a senior at Notre Dame last year, I wrote a column about the ending of the 2005 ND-Navy matchup, and the mutual respect that rightfully exists between the two programs, which you can read here.

The response was overwhelming; I received over 1200 e-mails about that column, mostly from Naval Academy graduates, current Midshipmen, and their loved ones. Messages from Mids came from as far as the Middle East and Tokyo, all reiterating the wonderful respect that exists between these two programs and reminiscing with stories of ND-Navy matchups from years past. One e-mail, from Lieutenant Gerry Motl, told his story of playing in South Bend against a Rocky Bleier led Notre Dame squad in 1967. With his blessing, here is that story:

(Click on any picture to get a larger version)

1967 Navy - Notre Dame Football Game

As background, I played defensive halfback for Marquette High School where we won the 1963 Milwaukee Catholic Conference Championship with an 8-0-1 record. I led the team with 44 1/2 tackles and tied for most interceptions.

Although not recruited by the Naval Academy specifically to play football, I did receive a football recruiting letter from Rip Miller, the Naval Academy Director of Athletics. Rip was one of the “seven mules;” the line that blocked for the famous 1924 Notre Dame “Four Horsemen.”

Marquette was rated the number 3 Catholic team in the state after tying Number 2 Prairie du Chien Campion.

Appleton Xavier was rated number 1 based primarily on the performance of Rocky Bleier, an All-Stater and, I believe, high school All-American. He was famous in high school circles and well known to me even then.

Shortly after arriving in Annapolis, I become friends with a classmate, Jim Rather, since we were both from Wisconsin. I learned even as a plebe that Jim had been Rocky Bleier’s Quarterback at Appleton Xavier during the 1963 season!

Four years later, I was a solid second-stringer on the Navy football team as we prepared for our game against Notre Dame.

The November 4th, 1967 game was the seventh game of the season for both teams. Navy’s record was 4 and 2 with victories over Penn State, Michigan, Syracuse and Pitt but losses to William & Mary and Rice.

Notre Dame, the defending National NCAA champion, was 4 and 2, boasting stars such as Terry Hanratty, Jim Seymour, Bob Gladieux and Rocky Bleier. Rocky Bleier from Appleton Xavier was now team captain and a star at Notre Dame!

As the Navy team left the Pep Rally in Tecumseh Court to head for South Bend, I bumped in to Jim Rather. He said to me, “Gerry, say hello to Rocky for me if you see him.” I told Jim that I would.

We flew to Indiana from Baltimore and ended up staying in Elkhart, Indiana. I remember that Elkhart was in a different time zone from South Bend. To be honest, I can’t even remember if we worked out in Notre Dame Stadium before the game. I do know that my entire family and all my Dad’s friends from Felty and Joe’s Bar would be attending after driving down from Milwaukee….a total of 12 fifty yard line tickets in Section 10.

On game day, we took a bus to the stadium to get ready for the game, missing all of the Notre Dame hoopla that I have since become familiar and learned to love. The game day program, as I was to learn later, featured Jim Crowley, one of the Four Horsemen, and Rip Miller on the cover! An interesting coincidence!

We went through our normal pre-game routine and I recall that we had called our first offensive play in the locker room…basically a pump-fake pass to Rob Taylor on a curl pattern, Rob’s favorite play. We were sure Notre Dame would commit on the fake and that Rob would turn up-field for the touchdown.

We entered the field to start the game before a sold-out crowd of 59,075. We lost the toss and Notre Dame elected to receive the kick. Since I was on the kickoff team, I would be on the field for the start of the game. As we huddled before the kickoff, I could see the top of Touchdown Jesus and thought how neat it was to be a Catholic boy from Milwaukee playing against Notre Dame!!

As we lined up for the kickoff, I counted up Notre Dame formation to identify the Notre Dame blocker assigned to block me…a jersey starting with a 6…a guard. As a defensive halfback, I didn’t worry too much about a guard!

A crescendo rose as we kicked off. I recited my normal Memorare prayer on the kickoff as had been my custom ever since high school. I raced down the field closely watching my assigned blocker. He was fast, much faster than I expected. He got into my body space despite my efforts to avoid him and he knocked me down. I got up quickly and saw the ball carrier approaching. I tackled the ball carrier who fell down on his back with me on top of him. We were covered with other players. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the face of Rocky Bleier. As players un-piled, I said, “Rocky, Jim Rather wanted me to say hello for him.” He immediately replied, “Really, say hello to Jim for me.”

The game proceeded. When Navy finally got the ball, we executed the Rob Taylor pass play that we had pre-planned. Notre Dame was looking for this play, one of our favorite patterns. It was executed perfectly. The Notre Dame defensive back committed and then Rob turned up field…but the pass was overthrown by John Cartwright!

Navy got off to a good start with the score only 7-0 Notre Dame after the first quarter. In the second quarter, Notre Dame scored 28 points…which set the stage for us bench warmers to play in the second half!

I remember at least three plays. The first was a play where the Notre Dame back took a handoff and blew through the Navy defensive line. I came up to make a picture perfect tackle…until the ball carrier literally bowled me over backwards. He went down…primarily tripping over my body!

In the fourth quarter, it started to snow like hell. As my sister later told me, the crowd began to chant “Ara, stop the snow!” A wide receiver flanked out on my side. It was snowing so hard that I could hardly see the quarterback. There was no way he was going to throw my way…and he didn’t. As Notre Dame moved toward our goal line, I made a tackle and caused a fumble. We (Wade Roberts, I believe) recovered and avoided another Notre Dame score. As it was, in my first and only Notre Dame game, Notre Dame scored the most points against Navy since the series began under Knute Rockne in 1927!

After the game, I met my family outside the locker room. This was a short visit since we were flying back to Annapolis right after the game. We flew back to Baltimore, took a bus to Annapolis and even had a chance to go into town before returning to the comforts of Bancroft Hall late that evening.

In his book, Fighting Back, Rocky wrote, "Against Navy, I played the finest game of my college career - fifty-nine yards and two touchdowns rushing, a thirty yard kick-off return and a twenty-seven yard punt return."

In 2002, Rocky inscribed the following in a copy of Fighting Back:
Gerry - Here's to old times and some great memories - especially against Navy - just kidding.

There's a few things I remember in my life and the '67 Navy game is one of them - especially when you don't expect to hear Jim Rather's name in the middle of a pile up.
I hope life is treating you well.

Best Wishes Always,

Rocky Bleier

Poll Position - Week 9 | by Jeff

I really don't know why I'm bothering with this week's edition of "Poll Position." With every Top 10 team going into the weekend as a double-digit favorite, don't expect too much movement in the BCS. Of course as we saw last weekend, sometimes movement occurs in the BCS for no real reason at all, but Clarlie already covered that in his press conference.

Despite the recent drop in the BCS, the Irish are still well positioned for a BCS bowl as either an automatic qualifier or an at-large selection. However, the hopes of playing in the National Championship game are growing dimmer by the week. November has quite a few top matchups and rivalry games, but ND gained no ground at all in the BCS throughout all of October and may be running out of outs.

#1 Ohio State vs Minnesota (Buckeyes by 27)
#2 Michigan vs Northwestern (UM by 34)
The Buckeyes and Wolverines appear to be on a collision couse for a spot in the National Championship game.

#3 Southern Cal at Oregon State (Trojans by 13)
Southern Cal looks beatable, but not in this game.

#5 Auburn at Ole Miss (Tigers by 17)
Auburn has a decent shot at the BCS title game without winning their division of their conference. I think the last time this happened, Nebraska got spanked by Miami in the Rose Bowl.

#6 Florida vs Georgia (Gators by 14)
Georgia is staring a 2-5 finish squarely in the face.

#7 Texas at Texas Tech (UT by 11.5)
After winning a squeaker at Nebraska, the Longhorns and their banged-up defense face another tricky test on the road.

Although below ND in the BCS standings, Tennessee and Rutgers both lead the Irish in at least one of the BCS components, so a loss by any of two probably helps out the Irish a bit.

#11 Tennessee at South Carolina (Vols by 5)
Can Spurrier get a signature win?

#14 Rutgers vs UConn (Rutgers by 18.5)
Yes, the Scarlet Knights lead ND in the computer rankings, but their schedule is about to get much tougher.

And most importantly...
#9 Notre Dame at Navy
The service academies always play tough against the Irish, and even though Navy lost their starting QB, I don't expect this game to be any different.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'd Like to Thank the Academies | by Pat

As Notre Dame gears up to face all three service academies in the next four weeks, the predictable catcalls about the Irish schedule from opposing fanbases and certain sections of the media are growing louder.

Putting aside the silliness of some of these debates, I did get a bit curious as to just how often ND has played all three academies in the same year. Dialing up the trusty Macor Notre Dame Football database, I did some digging. Before you read the answer, take a guess. How many times in the past 25 years would you say the Irish have played all three service academies in the same year?

The answer, as it turns out, is three. The years in question are 1983, 1985, and 1995. That's right, ND has not faced all three service academies in the same year in eleven years and only once since Lou Holtz took over head coaching duties 20 years ago. I would have guessed a higher number. Over the entire 119 year history of Notre Dame football, the Irish have played all three service academies in the same year eight times. In addition to the three years mentioned earlier, the Irish hit the military trifecta in '69, '73, '74, '77, and '80.

The main reason for the low number is the fact that ND only started to play the Air Force Academy in 1964, eight years after the Falcons started a football program. All time ND is 21-5 against Air Force and has won two straight. Against the Army Black Knights, Notre Dame is 36-8-4 and on a 12 game win streak. And the current Navy win streak of 42 is pretty well-known while the Irish are 69-9-1.

What the Brock is Cookin' | by Jay

Looks like Joe Brockington has finally, officially nailed down the other starting linebacker spot. Brock again started at strong side linebacker (his third straight game). Said Charlie:

"When Joe stepped in so admirably, the logical thing to do was to leave him in there and try to work it out with both guys being on the field at the same time," coach Charlie Weis said. "It's Joe taking advantage of his opportunity and the staff finding a way to have them both on the field."
And he had a great game, posting 7 tackles (his career high). Although he's a senior, Joe's got another year of eligibility, too. Wonder if he'd stick around for next year.

Here's a nice piece on JB from the Elkhart Truth.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

UCLA Game Photo Galleries | by Pat

This week we have some truly excellent photo galleries. Check them all out at the following links: the South Bend Tribune, Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold Illustrated, Michael Kim, Getty Images, and the AP photo wire.

I think the easy choice for picture of the week is the above shot taken by the always excellent Matt Cashore. The photo is included in the Irish Illustrated gallery if you want to see a bigger version. There are plenty of other great shots this week though, including Terrail Lambert's interception, Derek Landri's game ending sack, and this week's sentimental pic of the week of Weis and Quinn together after the game.

Also, I updated the most recent BGS Fan Photo Galleries. The link can be found on the right sidebar. Thanks to all those who sent in pictures. Only a handful trickled in for the MSU and Stanford game, but there's a pretty good shot of Chris Zorich on his chopper in there. The UCLA gallery turned out great I think. I took my trusty camera around with me to capture some of the pre-game festivities around campus and took a few game shots from my spot right behind the south goalpost. We also received some fantastic sideline pictures of Samardzija's race to the endzone. Check them all out. And if you have some great pictures, especially of the Purdue game since we don't have any for that game, send them in.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Point of Order | by Pat

I've seen this mistake in enough articles that I think it warrants a brief public service announcement.

Despite what some sports journalists might claim, Notre Dame will not be paid $14 million dollars for an appearance in a BCS bowl this year, should they be invited. Sure the $14 million dollar reception! or $14 million dollar interception! proclamations make for good copy, but they are also factually incorrect.

Under the new BCS rules, enacted in April of 2005, Notre Dame will receive the same $4.5 million dollar conference share as any other BCS team. If the Irish fail to notch a BCS bowl bid, the team will receive approximately $1.3 million from the BCS -- a figure similar to what all non-BCS teams from BCS conferences receive-- as well as the bowl payout of the game that selects the Irish. The Gator Bowl is a likely destination if the Irish fail to land a BCS game and has a $2.5 million payout, which combines with the $1.3 million to give ND a grand total of $3.8 million.

That means that Jeff Samardzija's fantastic 45 yard yard catch and run on Saturday was not a $14 million dollar play, but rather a $700K play. Not quite as attention-grabbing is it.

While we're on the topic, here are the new revised rules for ND and the BCS. Notre Dame has to win nine games and be ranked 12th or higher in the BCS poll in order to be eligible to be selected. If the Irish win nine games and end the season ranked 8th or higher in said BCS poll, they are an automatic selection, akin to the conference champ from the six BCS conferences.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One to Enjoy | by Pat

There's plenty of time to dissect the finer points of the UCLA game, from the new linebacker starting trio, to the subpar offensive line play, to the fact that the Bruins might just be the first team I've seen that brings two mascots to a game (Joe and Josie Bruin). But for now, let's focus on that final, stunning drive and give ourselves just a few more hours to indulge in the euphoria surrounding the incredible win.

Continuing his excellent play breakdowns, House Rock Built has the final sequence mapped out. Follow along and get the who, why, when, where, and how as Brian spells out the latest surgically precise drive by the Irish.

Then check out this superb game tape breakdown by the fine folks at UND.com. Footage from NBC cameras and the ND sideline cameras used by the coaches is spliced together with excerpts from Weis himself describing the final plays and the brilliant Don Criqui radio call of the final score.

As I said earlier, plenty to talk about from this game. Close wins over average opponents are never fun, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the thrilling ones. For now, we're going to sit back and enjoy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Odds & Sods - Dwight Clay Edition | by Mike

One chance. The final drive in yesterday's game was only the latest in a series of masterful 4th quarter drives produced by the Weis-Quinn combination. Since Weis arrived, Quinn has engineered a late touchdown drive in every game in which the Irish have been within a score in the final minutes - MSU '05 (down 38-31), USC '05 (down 28-24), Stanford '05 (down 31-30), and UCLA '06 (down 17-13). Quinn's numbers on these drives are staggering - 13/14 for 236 yards, with 2 passing TDs and 1 rushing TD.

Made you look. A frustrated UCLA fan took the time to take some screencaps of the final touchdown. These caps reveal Quinn's moxie, demonstrating his recognition of UCLA's defense and what it would take to clear UCLA defender Eric McNeal out of Samardzija's path. As you can see, the pump fake draws McNeal (#2) to the center of the field and Samardzija streaks right by him.


Time out. The final 2:20 of the game bore the unmistakeable stamp of Charlie Weis. That 2:20 saw the game management and confidence whose absence was so galling during the eight years in the desert. Even with the new clock rules calling for the clock to start on changes of possession, the Irish were able to force UCLA to give up the ball with over a minute left because they still had all their timeouts at that point in the game. Throughout the Weis era, the offensive play calls have gotten in very quickly. Consequently, Quinn does not have to waste timeouts because the offense can't get the play off in time. It wasn't simply luck that the Irish had all their timeouts at that point in the game. And although all the timeouts had been used by the time the Irish offense retook the field, the Irish offense came out with a confidence that belied the urgency of the situation. Opposing fanbases whine endlessly about Weis's arrogance, but it's that very attitude that instills confidence in his players in such situations.

Trying to find a balance. Though pigmentation inevitable leads to Samardzija being saddled with the "possession receiver" label, Samardzija's 45-yard game-winning touchdown was the fifth touchdown reception of 40-plus yards in his career. One of the reasons for that impressive number is that Samardzija is simply faster than many believe. Another reason is Samardzija's exceptional balance, balance that is truly incredible for someone with his lanky frame. Samardzija has repeatedly left smaller, supposedly more nimble, defenders stumbling to the ground while cutting upfield following a reception. The touchdown that left a confused heap of Purdue defenders on the sideline last year is another classic example.

The way we get bye. Heading into Saturday's game, I was eager to see if any personnel shakeups would emerge from the player evaluations that reportedly took place during the bye week. In particular, I was interested to see if any changes would be made to the offensive line. Against UCLA, the Irish employed the same lineup as in the first half of the season. This suggests that (barring injury) the same line will be used for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, the line continued to have many of the problems that have plagued it all season long. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame used a new trio of starting linebackers. After his promising performances filling in for the injured Travis Thomas, Joe Brockington retained a starting spot upon Thomas's return. The result was Notre Dame's most impressive performance against the run all season, holding UCLA to 26 yards on 28 attempts.

Prove yourself. While much of the game was frustrating to watch, a few Irish players impressed in their increased roles. Joe Brockington recorded a career-high 7 tackles. David Grimes quietly recorded a career-best 8 catches for 79 yards, including a 14-yard reception on the final drive. Terrail Lambert continued his improvement, grabbing his third interception of the season during the first half.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gameday! | by Jay

No picture today, as we're all at the game. In fact, it's 6:30 AM, and we're just waking up in South Bend, about to head over to the lot to start tailgating.

Goooo Irish! Beeaat Bruins!

Friday, October 20, 2006

the Bruins of My Expertise | by Jay

...to borrow a line from John Hodgman. Herewith, an Index of Complete World Knowledge, Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order, by Us, the Blue-Gray Sky, Professional Writers, in the area of matters pertaining to Notre Dame, UCLA, and Most Other Subjects, inspired by NBC.com, and to be continued and expanded upon by our Gentle Readers in the Section of Commentary.

Blue & Gold
"True" Blue & Gold
National Championships, Football 11 1/2
National Championships, Hoops 0 11
Campus Landmark
the Golden Dome
that one place from Revenge of the Nerds
Haunted Building
Washington Hall
Pauley Pavilion
Average Snowfall
70.9 inches/year
Record vs Southern Cal
Defensive Scheme
Bend, Don't Break
Fly to the Ball
NFL Influence
Weis (Pats, Giants, Jets), Bill Lewis (Dolphins)
Dorrell (Broncos), DeWayne Walker (Redskins, Giants, Pats)
Favorite Lou
Metrosexual QB
Brady Quinn
Troy Aikman
"the University of Navy scares the hell out of me"
Pat Cowan was "coughing up blood"
Highest Potential, unreached
Arnold Ale
Arnold Ale
Vaulted to #1 in 1988 When
UCLA lost
ND beat Miami
Jim Colletto
Horrific Offensive Coordinator
Pretty Good Line Coach
Nobel Prize Winners
Do we have any?
Cult Hero Who Died an Early Death
James Dean
NFL Placekickers
John Carney, undrafted, 403 career FGs and counting
John Lee, 2nd-round pick, 8 career FGs
Best Gameday Tradition
the marching band "step-off"
Hitting Urban Outfitters on the Promenade
Health Care
the Infirmary ("What you need is a good bleeding")
the world-famous UCLA Medical Center
Musical Alums
Umphrey's McGee, Ted Leo
Linkin Park, Jim Morrison
Average Walking Time from Dorm to Stadium
5 minutes
not yet attempted
Sci-Fi influence
a Genius Robot
George Takei
Ritzy Neighborhood bordering north side of campus
Bel Air

Poll Position - Week 8 | by Jeff

The BCS standings came out this week, and the Irish debuted at #8, slightly lower than projected. ND is still very much in the hunt for a BCS game and very far in the background of the national championship picture. There are few match-ups this week that will help the Irish other than our own game against You See LA. But there are several teams packed closely together in the BCS standings, so it is very possible that we will see minor reshuffling over the next couple of weeks based on small changes in the polls and computers.

#1 Ohio State vs Indiana (OSU by 31)
The Hoosiers beat the Hawkeyes, but the Buckeyes will be a different story.

#4 Michigan vs #15 Iowa (UM by 13.5)
Was Iowa looking ahead to Michigan?

#5 West Virginia at UConn (WVa by 22)
West Virginia feasts on one more cupcake before preparing for Louisville.

#7 Louisville at Syracuse (Cards by 17)
Brohm struggled against Cincinnati, and on paper, Syracuse should be a tougher challenge.

Although below ND in the BCS standings, Texas, Tennessee, and Cal all lead the Irish in at least one of the BCS components, so a loss by any of these three could help out a bit.

#9 Texas at #21 Nebraska (Horns by 6.5)
Probably the most compelling matchup of the weekend. The Horns proved themselves against Oklahoma, so I can't imagine Nebraska providing too much of a threat.

#10 Cal vs Washington (Cal by 22.5)
Without their starting QB, Washington's promising season may come to an end.

#11 Tennessee vs Alabama (Vols by 11.5)
One thing that seems to have proven out this season, SEC East > SEC West.

And most importantly...
#8 Notre Dame vs UCLA
With the bye week now over, the attention must again focus on the most critical task at hand: beating UCLA.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Powder Blue and Gold | by Jay

Our friend John is both a Domer and a Bruin. He sends us his thoughts on UCLA football history and the upcoming game this weekend. Enjoy.

This Saturday, many UCLA fans will be in the somewhat unusual position of rooting against Notre Dame in football. Although there's no special affection between the schools, UCLA followers always cheer for the Irish at least once every year -- when they play Southern Cal. That became clear to me near the end of the first USC-UCLA football game I attended, in November 1986 -- my first semester at UCLA Law School after graduating from Notre Dame. Terry Donahue's Bruins were putting the final touches on a 45-25 rout of Ted Tollner's Trojans, when the UCLA band taunted Southern Cal by playing the Notre Dame Victory March. The majority of the Rose Bowl crowd roared in approval, anticipating an Irish victory the following week at the Coliseum. (ND had to overcome an 18-point deficit to edge Southern Cal, 38-37.)

If UCLA has a beef with Notre Dame at all, it's probably over the issue of which team is USC's main football rival. I was ridiculed when I insisted to Bruin fans that the ND-USC rivalry was bigger than UCLA-USC. Geography supports UCLA's claim, but history is on ND's side: the Irish and Trojans began their series three years earlier and have played three more games against each other than UCLA and USC. Of course, ND-USC games usually are more meaningful to national rankings as well: UCLA has won only one national championship in football, a split title in 1954 (Ohio State won the AP poll, while UCLA took the coaches' vote), and is a distant second behind Southern Cal among Pacific-10 schools in winning percentage.

Saturday will mark only the third gridiron meeting between Notre Dame and UCLA. The first two matchups were Notre Dame wins at home in consecutive years. Irish football was at its lowest ebb in 1963 under interim coach Hugh Devore, as ND won only two games for the third time in eight years. Ironically, both wins came against teams visiting from Los Angeles in back-to-back weeks -- 17-14 over USC and 27-12 over UCLA. The Bruins also were down in 1963, finishing 2-8. Both teams appeared to be improved as they entered the 1964 game -- ND was 3-0 and UCLA was 3-1 -- but only the Irish proved to be for real. They blanked the Bruins, 24-0, en route to a 9-1 season under first-year coach Ara Parseghian. UCLA stumbled to a 4-6-1 finish and made their own coaching change at the end of the season -- from Bill Barnes to the innovative Tommy Prothro, who led the Bruins to a surprise Rose Bowl title and consecutive top 10 finishes in his first two seasons in Westwood.

Most of the nation, including Notre Dame, sees UCLA as a basketball school, which is understandable since UCLA has as many NCAA men's basketball titles (11) as Notre Dame has football championships (both numbers are tops in their respective sports). Indeed, ND has met UCLA in basketball 45 times, including every season from 1966-67 through 1995-96 and twice a year from 1971-72 to 1982-83. (UCLA leads that series, 27-18.) Notre Dame plays a cameo villain in the lustrous UCLA basketball tradition; in 1974, Digger Phelps' Irish team ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak on a last-second shot by Dwight Clay in South Bend.

But UCLA has a strong football tradition as well, even though they're usually in the shadow of the Trojans. UCLA got a late start -- the school opened its doors in 1919 and joined the Pacific Coast Conference (the predecessor to the Pac-10) in 1928. UCLA was humiliated in its first two games against Southern Cal, 76-0 in 1929 and 52-0 in 1930. The schools didn't meet again until 1936 (a 7-7 tie) but have played every year since, and twice annually during 1943-45. USC leads the series 41-27-7 and has won seven in a row, although UCLA won the previous eight and dominated the series in the 1950s, 80s and 90s.

UCLA's glory years were from 1949-57, under coach Red Sanders. The Bruins were 66-19-1 (.773) in that era, including the split championship in 1954. UCLA also enjoyed success and Rose Bowl wins over Prothro (1965-70), Dick Vermeil (1974-75) and Donahue (1976-95). The Bruins last contended for a national championship in 1998, when Bob Toledo led them to a 10-0 start and Pac-10 title. But a porous defense cost UCLA a chance at the first BCS title, as they lost the regular-season finale at Miami, 49-45, and the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin, 38-31. Four years later, in 2002, UCLA endured its fourth-straight subpar year, leading to Toledo's ouster. The surprise choice to replace Toledo was Karl Dorrell, who then was receivers' coach for the Denver Broncos and had no head coaching experience at any level.

Many have drawn comparisons between Dorrell and Tyrone Willingham, in part because of their race (they were the first African-American head coaches at UCLA and ND, respectively), their limited coaching experience before their first head-coaching jobs and the timing of Dorrell's hiring, on the heels of Willingham's 10-2 debut season at Notre Dame. Their three-year records were virtually identical -- Dorrell was 22-15, Willingham 21-15. But while Willingham was fired, Dorrell received a contract extension after his third season. This may be due to the differences between Dorrell's track record and Willingham's. The Bruins' record improved in each of Dorrell's first three seasons, peaking at 10-2 in 2005 -- although the two losses were blowouts that would even make Willingham blush (52-14 to Arizona and 66-19 to the hated Trojans). Unlike Willingham, Dorrell has made numerous changes to his coaching staff. Under first-year defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, UCLA's national ranking in total defense has shot up from 113th in 2005 to 9th this year (it was 2nd before last week's 30-20 loss at Oregon). And unlike Willingham at Notre Dame, nobody has ever accused Dorrell of being out of place at UCLA -- he was a star wide receiver for the Bruins from 1982-86.

Saturday's trip to Notre Dame is probably the biggest road trip in UCLA football history. That's not really saying much -- other than Rose Bowl games (played in the stadium UCLA has called home since 1982), the Bruins' only major bowl trips were to the Fiesta in 1985 and the Cotton in 1989 and 1998 (all UCLA victories). And next year's Notre Dame-UCLA game might be an even bigger deal -- it will be ND's first-ever road game versus the Bruins, and it hasn't played in Pasadena since the 1925 Rose Bowl, when Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen lead the national champion Irish to a 27-10 win over Stanford. But make no mistake, UCLA's most important game every year is against Southern Cal. And for UCLA, the most important similarity between Dorrell's tenure in Westwood and Willingham's in South Bend is that both started 0-3 against the Trojans. Dorrell's long-term job security ultimately will depend on whether he can break UCLA's seven-game losing streak in that series.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dropping in on the Conversation | by Jay

With the first BCS standings finally out, it's probably a good time to jump back into the Conversation and see where we are. Remember, the chief codicil of the Conversation is that we judge a team simply by what they have proven on the field this year. This is not a Power Ranking. This is not a discussion of "nine times out of ten, team A would beat team B." There is no speculation on the future allowed, and no lingering, hangover reputation from last year permitted. We don't rank teams by perceived strength, how they played, "style points", or how many scores they ran up against an inferior opponent. Generally speaking, we're trying emulate the other major American sports, where subjectivity, whimsy, and irritable bowels by grumpy human pollsters have no bearing on a team's fortunes. We're striving for simplicity here -- a common sense snapshot of which teams have accomplished the most so far.

This is best measured by an arcane statistical metric called Wins. (Radical, huh?)

(By the way, the fellas over at MarkMayBeWrong have been keeping tabs on the Conversation week-to-week with posts like this. Recently they posted a kickass, interactive table of all the data on wins and losses to date in the college football season; feel free to use it as a reference through the rest of this post. They've also taken the initial idea behind the Conversation and added a few wrinkles of their own, including an emphasis on which teams have done better than .500 against BCS competition and a tier system that divides teams into three groups. Great stuff.)

So the other night I sat down, poured myself a Jameson, pulled up the game results, and took a look. Here's my methodology. See if this makes sense.

The first thing I wanted to do was pare down the list of 117 Division 1-A teams to a reasonable number of teams that have actually "proved something". I know we got a little pushback on using BCS competition as a baseline from some commenters in the inaugural post, but you have to start somewhere. The vast majority of top college football talent flows each year from the high schools and into the 65 BCS conference teams (plus Notre Dame), so generally speaking, beating a BCS team would qualify as a "quality win" for our purposes. (A good non-BCS team can still get into the conversation, but only if it has proved something against BCS competition).

So the first thing was to look up how many wins each team in Division 1 has against BCS competition, and some interesting details immediately began to bubble up. As we know, almost every team has played six or seven games so far. And yet out of all those teams, only 42 have 2+ BCS wins so far. That seemed like a pretty good natural cutoff.

The next step was to try and get a relative measure of strength of schedule for each of these teams. Keeping with the basic precept that Wins are uniquely important, I looked at opponents wins and losses for each team and came up with this simple tally.

for Team X...
Give one point for every BCS win.
Subtract a point for every loss (BCS or otherwise).
Give one point for every BCS win by a team that team X has beaten.
Subtract one point for any loss by a team that team X has lost to.
This rewards a team for beating good opponents, while penalizing a team for losing to poorer ones. I added it up, then sorted the teams by point total. There were 21 teams that had at least a +4 in the points column; again, that seemed like a good natural cutoff.


Any Loss
Opp W
Opp L
Southern Cal 6 0 +13 0 19
Michigan 6 0 +12 0 18
Auburn 5 1 +12 -1 15
Ohio State 5 0 +10 0 15
California 5 1 +9 -1 12
Notre Dame 5 1 +8 0 12
Arkansas 3 1 +9 0 11
Florida 4 1 +9 -1 11
Clemson 3 1 +7 -1 8
Tennessee 2
Wake Forest 5 1 +5 -1 8
Louisville 4 0 +3 0 7
Oregon 4 1 +5 -1 7
Georgia Tech 3 1 +5 -1 6
Rutgers 3 0 +3 0 6
Texas 3 1 +4 0 6
West Virginia 3 0 +2 0 5
Boston College
Missouri 3 1 +3 -1 4
Nebraska 3 1 +2 0 4
Wisconsin 3 1 +2 0 4

Of course this is just the initial, rudimentary index, and doesn't take into account the best indication of relative value: head-to-head matchups. Each one of these 21 teams have proven enough to get into the Conversation, but there a bunch of games within the top 21 where teams have already played each other. These actual, battle-tested wins should always reign supreme when comparing teams -- we don't want a situation where, say Arkansas has beaten Auburn yet ends up below them in the ranking. That would be a travesty. Let's look at the win chains:
Southern Cal > Arkansas > Auburn > Florida > Tennessee > Cal > Oregon
Southern Cal > Nebraska
Michigan > Notre Dame > Georgia Tech
Michigan > Wisconsin
Ohio State > Texas
Boston College > Clemson > Wake Forest
This is where it gets fun. This is where the jigsawing starts. We need to splice those chains in amongst each other, but keep the win order intact. Luckily we don't have any circular series yet (where team A beat team B who beat team C, who in turn beat team A) so it's a little easier. (How are we going to handle those conundrums in the future? I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.) We also have four teams who have not played anyone else in the Conversation yet: Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia, and Missouri. Where to slot them?

I'm still moving around teams like so many Scrabble pieces, so I'll throw it out to y'all. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: come up with a sensible way to rank these 21 teams, holding true to the relative strengths of schedules, and keeping those head-to-head win chains intact.

Statistically Speaking - Stanford | by Pat

Freshman on Parade. 18 different freshman played against Stanford, the most all season and one of the largest number of freshman in a single game in recent memory. So which freshman are seeing the most action? Here's the breakdown on number of games played so far.

6 games: Sergio Brown, Richard Jackson, Raeshon McNeil, Darrin Walls, George West, Will Yeatman, Sam Young
5 games: Munir Prince, Morrice Richardson, John Ryan
4 games: Toryan Smith
3 games: Eric Olsen, Robby Parris,
2 games: Ryan Burkhart, Jashaad Gaines, Konrad Reuland
1 game: James Aldridge, Matt Carufel, Nate Whitaker
0 games: Zach Frazer, Barry Gallup, Leonard Gordon, Demetrius Jones, Paddy Mullen, Luke Schmidt, Chris Stewart, Kallen Wade, Bartley Webb, Dan Wenger

Blitzkrieg? I slacked off a bit on the blitz tally from the past few games, so let's catch up on the last three games.

Michigan State
# of blitzes# of chancesPercentage

# of blitzes# of chancesPercentage

# of blitzes# of chancesPercentage

Clearly it seems as if the Irish are dialing back the blitz frequency. I'm sure the injury to Travis Thomas didn't help, but there is a noticeable lack of blitzing in the past few games as compared to earlier games in the season.

Season Totals
OpponentBlitz %
Georgia Tech44%
Penn State40%
Michigan State23%

Season Long Running Totals

Since the table was getting a bit crowded, I moved it to its own webpage. You can check out all the season long stats, right here.