Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! | by Pat

Happy Halloween!

While for some today brings up images of horrors, one can quickly see, thanks to Macor's Database, that ND is undefeated (14-0) on Halloween. Notre Dame was also undefeated with 13 straight wins on November 1st, All Saints Day, until the truly scary happened when Florida State shut out the Fighting Irish 37-0 in 2003. Hopefully Charlie will lead the team past unlucky #13 and give ND it's 14th win on All Saints Day tomorrow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Statistically Speaking: Washington | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• After only 31 10+ yard runs in all of 2007, the Notre Dame ground game churned out 11 10+ runs alone against Washington.

• Only eight FBS schools are averaging fewer three-and-outs per game than Notre Dame’s offense, according to a survey conducted by football SIDs. The Irish have 11 three-and-outs this year which averages out to 1.57 per game.

• The Irish limited Washington to just 124 total yards on 48 offensive plays (only 2.6 yards per play) -- all Notre Dame bests since head coach Charlie Weis arrived in South Bend in 2005. In fact, the 124 total yards are the fewest for an Irish opponent since Rutgers managed only 43 in a 62-0 Notre Dame victory on Nov. 23, 1996.

Battle of First Down

ND had its second lowest 1st Down Win Rate of the season against North Carolina. The 38% Win Rate was second only to the Stanford game for worst of the season. Likewise, the 43% against the pass was just barely above the 42% against Stanford and was the third worst showing of the season. The 40% total was the second game in a row that the ND defense was under 50% against both the run and pass on 1st down.

Rebounding nicely, Notre Dame had some of their best 1st down defensive numbers against the anemic Husky defense. The 71% Win Rate against the run was the second best of the season. A 55% Win Rate against the pass gave the Fighting Irish a overall Win Rate of 61%, which is the second best mark of the season.

Over the course of the season, ND's Win Rate on 1st Down is 52%, which is a noticeable increase over last season's 40%. The biggest contributor has been the uptick in 1st down run defense. After only holding opponents to 2 or fewer yards on 34% of all 1st down runs last season, the ND defense has managed that feat on 53% of all opportunities this season.

Here is the season long chart with the 1st Down Win Rates.

Gimme M.O.E.

Against North Carolina, Notre Dame's offense was undone by turnovers. It might seem the M.O.E. would be the highest of the season, but the numbers come out to a respectable 11%. The reason is while the turnovers were a season high, the ND offense only committed one penalty and dropped one pass. Also, one of the fumbles came on special teams and doesn't factor into the M.O.E. calculation. This highlights the narrow focus of the M.O.E. metric though. Clearly an interception returned for a touchdown is more costly than a false start. But to this particular metric, for better or worse, all mistakes are equal and the only thing that matters is how many your offense commits. This is why it's always important to consider context and what exactly your metric is measuring when slicing and dicing stats.

Switching sides of the ball, the Tarheel offense had one of the better days against the ND defense with a 9% M.O.E. result, aided by no turnovers.

The Washington offense had far less success. Their M.O.E. score of 18% is the second highest of the season and was largely due to both drops by the wide receivers and sacks allowed. Like UNC, they didn't commit a turnover, but also didn't have many offensive plays, so each mistake had a bigger impact on the final M.O.E. tally.

ND matched their M.O.E. from the UNC game with another 11% output. There wasn't any major area where the offense made mistakes, but the penalties, sacks, interception, and drop added up given the somewhat lower number of total plays.

Here are the season long M.O.E. numbers. So far the ND offense is barely into double digits with a 10% M.O.E., which compares very favorably to last season's 18%.

Season Long Running Statistics

Here you go

The rankings for the UNC game are the rankings for that weekend's set of games. The bye week was skipped, which combined with the high offensive/low defensive stats against Washington help to explain some of the more noticable jumps in certain statistical rankings.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Photo Galleries: Washington | by Pat

There were plenty of Irish fans at the UW game, so if you have pictures you want to share, add a link in the comment section. Here are pictures of a more professional variety., Washington's official site, the South Bend Tribune, the Seattle Times, and all have good shots from the game.

While Floyd, Tate, and the offense were fun to watch, the play of the defense was the real star. So for this game's photo of the week, my choice is UW's Ronnie Fouch getting knocked off his feet by Pat Kuntz. The relentless blitzing from ND left Fouch off-balance and battered all night long and went a long way to ND keeping the Huskies from scoring until the ND bench was cleared late in the 4th quarter.

There are highlights of the game up on and youtube. Keep an eye on Sam Young on the first three touchdowns.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Odds & Sods: Un-Vicious Animals Edition | by Mike

Keep the car running. Jimmy Clausen had a decent line (14-26 for 201 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT), but it was probably Clausen's worst outing of the season. Clausen did not display the pinpoint accuracy Irish fans have come to expect this season, and it was disappointing to see him take two sacks against an anemic Washington defense. However, the Irish ground game, led by James Aldridge, picked up the slack. The running backs ran for 226 yards on 41 carries, or 5.5 yards per carry (Aldridge - 6.5; Allen - 4.1; Gray - 6.8(!); Hughes - 4.8). The Irish running backs only lost yardage on one rush, a 1-yard loss on a Jonas Gray carry when Washington knew Notre Dame would run the ball. The final scoring drive, which began in the third quarter and ended in the fourth, was beautiful. Ten plays, 60 yards, 5:23 of possession - all on the ground. Washington knew what was coming and couldn't stop it. Other highlights were Golden Tate's touchdown and the fact that ND never punted.

Clampdown. The defense provided the most dominating defensive performance of the Weis era. The Irish outgained the Huskies 452-124, forced nine punts, held the Huskies to an average of 1.1 yards per rush and 3.9 yards per attempt. While these stats are impressive, they actually understate the defensive dominance. Before the Irish defense cleared the bench halfway through the fourth quarter (playing two walk-on cornerbacks for the remainder of the game), the Huskies had the following offensive numbers: 0 points, 55 total yards, 26 yards rushing on 23 attempts (1.1 ypc), 29 yards passing on 15 attempts (1.9 ypa) and had failed to cross their own 44-yardline.

Gouge away. One of the few things that was disappointing in Saturday's game was the lack of a killer instinct. Halfway through the first quarter Notre Dame was already up 14-0, but would only score another three points during the first half. After the game, Golden Tate was quoted as follows:

"I feel like we could have scored more, but we never want to embarrass a team," said Irish wide receiver Golden Tate, who ran 21 yards for his first career touchdown on an end around in the opening quarter. "I think we let up once we had them 14-0."
Admittedly, the outcome of the game was never in doubt. However, it's surprising that a team one year removed from a 3-9 season would take their foot off the gas so early. Unless it's late in the fourth quarter, there's no need to worry about not embarrassing the other team until you're up four scores. This may seem like a misplaced concern given Washington's ineptitude, but it's not the attitude I wanted to see one game after letting a 17-6 lead against UNC evaporate almost immediately.

Metronomic underground. If it weren't for the sense of finality imparted by Saturday's game and Monday's events, the twelve-men-on-the-field penalty on Washington's first offensive play of the second half would have brought back some painful memories. There's not much need for Willingham-Weis comparisons at this point, so the only one I'll offer up is their Pac-10 records: Weis - 8-3; Willingham - 6-24.

Over the hills and Fauria. Michael Floyd continues to rewrite the records for freshmen receivers and his early 51-yard touchdown reception set the tone for the game. Other prominent freshmen included Darius Fleming, who made his first start and became the fourth member of his class to start (along with Floyd, Ethan Johnson and Kyle Rudolph), and Jonas Gray, who averaged 6.8 ypc on downs where everyone knew Notre Dame was running. I was surprised to see Joseph Fauria make his first appearance this late in the season. My first reaction was that his appearance was a waste of a redshirt year. Upon further reflection, I realized there were arguments in favor of playing Fauria. With the loss of Ragone, Yeatman and Schmidt, Fauria is the only tight end other than Rudolph. Rudolph could suffer an injury as well, and we know that Weis likes two tight-end sets. If the decision to play Fauria had been made during the game, I would have had serious concerns. However, Weis stated in his recent press conference that during the bye week the staff decided that they didn't want to go through the remainder of the season with just one available tight end.

Not half right. This doesn't relate to the Washington game, but the replay decision awarding Brandon Minor a touchdown in the Michigan State-Michigan game was simply outrageous. Last year, I was appalled at the replay decision taking away a touchdown from David Grimes in the Stanford game. As egregious as that call was, that was a case of a replay official claiming to see something that the tape did not show. That was an error in judgment. The mistake made by the replay official in the Michigan State game was an error in knowledge of the rules. In fact, the official made up a rule that is diametrically opposed to the actual rule. I was further troubled by the fact that head official Dave Witvoet's comments suggest that he knew the replay official was misapplying the rules when the call was made. I understand that the replay official is entrusted with the final decision, but when that replay official offered his explanation to Witvoet, I would think he would be well within his responsibilities to point out such a glaringly wrong application of the rules. I certainly hope that no members of this crew officiate any games involving Notre Dame. Additionally, I have to tip my cap to Mark Dantonio. Under John L. and other Sparty coaches, witnessing the officials literally give points to their opponent - particularly following a blowout loss the previous weekend - would have led to an implosion that lasted the remainder of the season. Dantonio's team kept their composure and won the game. Is this a new Sparty? (Now watch them lose to a terrible Wisconsin team this week and prove me wrong.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Checkpoint Charlie | by Jeff

Driving. Probably my favorite statistic between games 1-3 and games 4-6 is the number of long drives the offense has put together. Ignoring drives that intentionally ran out the clock and short scoring drives, the Irish put together four drives of 60+ yards in their first three games, or around 10% of the total drives. However, over their next three games, ND put together thirteen 60+ yard drives, which was over 40%. On average, the drives are still relatively short in timespan, with only three drives of greater than 5:00 minutes all season, but drives during the second quarter of the season have avearaged 50% longer than the first quarter (3:06 vs 2:03).

This translated into something meaningful, as almost half of the drives in games 4-6 ended in a scoring opportunity (TD or FG attempt), while just over a quarter of the drives in games 1-3 did so. Turnovers were down about the same amount that scoring chances were up, showing that this team is making fewer mistakes and is turning those sustained drives into points.

Relative Improvement. Going simply by impressions, I think the vast majority of Irish fans would agree that the offense has steadily improved this season, while the defense has, at best, "maintained." In fact, the numbers bear this out.

Let's broaden our terms from simple 'offense' and 'defense,' and instead describe Points For (PF) and Points Against (PA), which will take into account defensive scoring as well. During the first three games of the season, Notre Dame allowed 53 points against teams that scored an average of 62, or about +15% better than average. However, during the last three games, we allowed 71 points against teams averaging 75, only about +5% above average. While our scoring has steadily improved against our competition's average, going from -24% over the first three games to +27% over the next three, the points given up are nothing to write home about, and are pretty much baseline with what the competition usually gives up. In other words, just average.

OpponentSeason Avg
vs Irish
Irish Perf
Irish Perf
San Diego State 17-3513-21
at Michigan State27-2023-7
at North Carolina28-1729-24
at Washington18-41TBD

With Washington averaging only 18 points per game, a significant performance would be holding them to under two touchdowns.

Up Next. Along those lines, there is something about this weekend's game that worries me. I think Willingham can be a good coach during those rare opportunities that he decides to make the effort. Even in his last season at ND (a 6-5 campaign), Ty beat 9-3 Michigan at home and 10-3 Tennessee on the road, teams that finished the season ranked 14th and 13th, respectively. Granted, this year's Washington squad has problems in every facet of the game, but if ND takes the Huskies lightly, things could get ugly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Win One For the Locker | by Brian

The scene opens in the Washington locker room, moments before the Notre Dame game. The players are forlorn. From the doorway, COACH TYRONE WILLINGHAM is driven in on a golf cart. The players, now even more dejected, look away so as to avoid his eyes. In hushed, stoic tones, Willingham begins to speak.

Tyrone Willingham is going to give you a pep talk now. A pep talk is 'a rallying speech of exhortation meant to instill confidence in a team or individual,' according to Webster's Dictionary. In this case, the pep talk is meant to inspire this team to score more points than the Notre Dame team, as that will greatly improve the team's opportunity for victory. The team has had its share of losses, or, as I like to call them, 'failures to execute wins', and all too often this has coincided with the team scoring fewer points than its opponents.

Coach Willingham is now going to tell you something that he has kept to himself for weeks. All of you know Jake Locker. Jake is a fine young man. As fine a young man as he is on the football field, he is just as fine a young man in the classroom. And as fine a young man as he is in the classroom, he is just as fine a young man in the community. And as fine a young man as he is in the community, he is just as fine a young man as a citizen of planet Earth.

You know what a tradition he is here at the University of Washington.

Jake got a tough break a few weeks ago. And the last thing he said to me---'Coach,' he said---'if there's one thing I want you to do for me, it is to take a 48-degree lofted wedge out of your bag, aim for the flag stick, give it your best swing, and hole out from 109 yards.'

'Failing that,' he said, 'there's one other thing I want you to do for me. Sometime, when the team is up against it, and everything is not microwave popcorn, and the breaks are beating the boys---tell them to go out there with all they've got, and execute well enough that, had they executed just four or five plays better, they might have won just one for the Locker.'"

(Willingham's eyes do not become misty, and his voice betrays no emotion, maintaining its usual stoicism, best described as either "cool under fire" or "dead from the chest cavity up" depending on one's point of view.)

'I don't know where I'll be then, Coach,' he said, 'but I'll know that you'll be out of a job soon, and I'll be happy.'

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halfway, So Far | by Jay

The last half of the season is shaping up: three expected wins, and three legitimate challenges. Wherever you stand on progress to date with this Irish squad -- whether you're more frustrated, or more pleased -- your assumptions will be tested down the stretch.

• 7. The Veterans of Irish Wars on each sideline, and one in the booth. Frankly, this weekend's game should be the easiest of the season. The Huskies rank 90th or worse in 19 different statistical categories, and the miasma extends to offense, defense, special teams, and everywhere in between. This is a bad team.

• 8. I know a lot of nervous chatter cropped up following Boston College's defeat of Virginia Tech last weekend, but I think it would be foolish to not identify Pittsburgh as the greater and more immediate challenge. Back in the preseason we tagged Pitt as having the second-best collection of talent on our schedule, and now they've rattled off five wins in a row, including an upset of South Florida. That opening day loss to Bowling Green is now looking like a startup cough rather than a blown engine. The #17 Panthers will be tough.

• 9. Speaking of the turf-defilers...the reason I'm not bowled over just yet by BC is the fact that they've feasted on 3 pansies, barely beat a lousy NC State (scored with :23 left to win it), and went 1-1 in tight games against Georgia Tech and Va Tech, the only two decent teams they've faced. Yes, it's Boston College, yes, I know they always play us like it's the finals of the Extreme Activities Competition, and yes, I know we haven't beaten them in five games. But for right now, I'll reserve judgment until after they play North Carolina and Clemson, which are between now and our date with them. I put them in the challenge bin, but behind Pitt and Southern Cal.

• 10-11. Two gimmes in Navy and Syracuse. (I know what you're can you say that, Jay, after what happened last year? Well, if the odds of Navy beating Notre Dame are usually miniscule, then the odds of them doing it two years in a row -- without Paul Johnson, to boot -- are microscopic. Yes, I know they beat Wake Forest, but they also lost to Duke.) As for Syracuse, even the mediocre reviews for "The Express" are better than the product the Orange(men) are putting on the field this year.

• 12. Southern Cal. Demolished Washington State in a game that could have been 100-0; rebounded nicely from the inQuizzisition; and will be, as expected, the toughest game of the year for the Irish.

So don't get too overwrought about the self-destruction of teams we've already played (noting full well that everybody we played lost one last weekend)...instead, look ahead. We've got six games, and three fine challenges left to prove the mettle of this Irish squad.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Happy That I'm Miserable | by Pete

I had the opportunity to watch the UNC game with my family this weekend, which is always a Rockwellian experience, but only if you replace the whimsy and nostalgia with a series of expletives. At least that's how it ended up

During the first half, it appeared to be a relatively in-hand, almost pedestrian game against UNC in which we would match their field goals for touchdowns and stroll out of Chapel Hill with a smile and a win. My older sister (ND '04) and I were able to watch the game while still maintaining some semblance of civilized decorum, engaging in casual conversation about our lives and other banalities. My father (ND '77) would poke his head in from time to time for a score update, and things were generally genial. I cavalierly considered the rankings ramifications of a 21-point vs. 14-point win on the ready-and-waiting to be seduced pollsters.

Then the second half began, and as I was standing in front of the refrigerator reaching for a drink, I heard my sister loudly proclaim that Jimmy Clausen done f*cked up and thrown a 'Pick Six.' Being a relative optimist, I thought, 'No worries. We've still got the lead, and we get the ball right back and our once-again Viking offense will pillage their defense and leave no survivors. Things are still well under control.'

Of course, as Notre Dame continued to fail to put UNC away, and as the sun dipped below the stadium's upper deck, and as the crowd began to become more and more raucous, that confidence began to slowly slip away, and I found myself sharing her frustrations by engaging in the colorful art of hurling expletives. While I was expressing my frustration, I still maintained in the back of my mind a confidence that the team would right its own ship, bail out the remaining water, and put away UNC for the 'W.' Maybe we won't blow anybody away, but we can still snag the win, and that's what really matters at the end of the day.

James Aldridge scored a touchdown, Notre Dame resumed a two-score lead, and all was well within the family unit. My father finished his errands and sat down to join us.

Then UNC scored again, bringing the margin back to 2. Ah ha, but the two-point conversion failed, perhaps providing Notre Dame with just enough breathing room to escape these pesky Tarheels! Hope, while now sweating and looking a little faint, remained alive. After all, there was more than an entire quarter left to play, plenty of time for Notre Dame to put some more points on the board.

A turnover later, UNC's backup quarterback hurled himself into the end zone and UNC assumed the lead for the first time of the evening. The household confidence was shaken, and while nervous, I thought this could provide an excellent opportunity for this young, talented ND squad to prove its mettle and muster a fourth-quarter comeback; you know, really show off their stuff. It would be exciting and fun, a real barn-burner.

Minutes ticked away, plays came and went, and Notre Dame, for some reason, failed to prove its mettle. After driving down the field and tossing another interception, it looked like UNC was going to chew up the rest of the clock and deprive Notre Dame of its UCLA-esque dramatic finish. But the Notre Dame magic woke up a few echoes in the form of a questionable review concluding an incomplete pass, and Notre Dame was going to get a real chance to make some magic. The high-octane offense was going to kick it into overdrive, and steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

It looked like it was going to happen. Come on, we all were thinking it. But one bizarre catch/pitch/fumble/oh god there's not enough time/spike/review play later, it was all over. Notre Dame had lost. To a ranked opponent. On the road. Again. It sucked. Expletives abound. Not exactly a moment custom-made for a Hummel figurine.

I was miserable, and spent the rest of the night and good bit of the next day grumbling around like Charlie Brown's slightly more abrasive cousin.

Now, a few days later, I realized it's a great thing I was/am so miserable about the UNC loss. If you had asked me at the beginning of the season, with last year's Hindenberg-crashing-into-the-Titanic debacle fresh/seared into my mind, if I would like to have a team that would be 4-2 halfway through the season, beaten Michigan, and had its two losses come in competitive games to ranked opponents on the road, I would have enthusiastically shook your hand and thanked you for the outstanding opportunity.

Now, a few games watched and a few months later, I was miserable as a result of that exact same scenario. And that's fantastic news. My misery is a great reason for optimism.

If 2007's team had earned that result against UNC in the same situation, it would have been the highlight of the season. In 2008, it's a hair-tearing case of 'What If,' as we all recount the thousands of little ways the game slipped away from the team like so many grains of sand. Simply put, we've seen enough in these first six games to believe that Notre Dame could beat a ranked opponent on the road. One year ago, we would have taken not being embarrassed, and now we want wins. That's a very important and significant transition; my grumbling is the sound of a hump being cleared.

Make no mistake about it: Notre Dame, even with its -5 turnover margin, was in a position to beat UNC. I'm not taking away from UNC's win, they played a great game and made our defense look downright foolish at times, and did it all without their top playmaker for essentially the entire game, but Notre Dame could have won this game. Last year, the closest Notre Dame would have come to winning this game would have been just before they strapped on their helmets. How's that for a transition?

Notre Dame lost last Saturday, and I'm miserable about it. Last year, I would have been some combination of numb, nauseous, and bemused by the spectacle of it all. I'll gladly take miserable. Let's just not make a habit of it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the Greatest Game | by Jay

Today's the 20th anniversary of the Greatest Game in Notre Dame History, and for my money, the greatest college football game ever played. Relive the incredible ending right here.

(Picture courtesy of our good buddy T.J., who snapped this photo from his primo seats that day.)

Update: and here's another gem from T.J. -- game highlights from Catholics versus Convicts, '88. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Photo Galleries: North Carolina | by Pat

Some may not really care to see photos from a loss, but there were a ton of them following the North Carolina game, so here they are. In a way it highlights just how big a game and win this was for the Tarheels that their official football site would post over 100 photos from the game.

Anyway, here are the links to galleries at the South Bend Tribune, galleries 1, 2, 3, and 4 at UNC's official site, a massive amount of photos at the News Observer (233 photos!),, and some from Getty Images.

For the shot of the game, I think this one of a dejected Clausen from the SBT just about sums things up. As Mike wrote in the previous post, the opportunity was there, but the Irish were unable to capitalize on it. Even with the growing confidence that the ND offense is on its way to being a force, coming up short against a motivated UNC team definitely hurts. Hopefully ND will be able to channel that disappointment into a strong second half of the season.

There are also a few videos to link. For those that weren't able to see any of the game thanks to ABC/ESPN, here are some of the ND highlights. Here's a sideline video of Mike Anello's tackle that knocked star returner/receiver Brandon Tate out for the year. The ACC Football Photos site linked above has a photo of the hit.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Odds & Sods: Doh Edition | by Mike

Don't let go. The story of the game was North Carolina's ability to force turnovers and Notre Dame's inability to return the favor. UNC's 5-0 lead in the turnover column proved decisive. I've never subscribed to the theory that turnovers are largely random, the downward turn of Fortuna's Wheel. Turnovers generally result from bad plays by the offense, good plays by the defense, or offensive miscues that create a window of opportunity for a defensive player to force a turnover. It's no coincidence that Southern Cal is tops in the nation in turnover margin during Pete Carroll's tenure. His quarterbacks have been a succession of upperclassmen, his skill position talent is so deep that any running back or receiver knows a fumble can be a ticket to an extended stay on the bench, his defense's pass rush forces quarterbacks into rushed decisions, and his defense is physical and hard-hitting. The nonrandom explanations leap out at you. It's also probably not a coincidence that all five Irish turnovers were committed by freshmen or sophomores. Accordingly, I don't think you can say, "Take away the turnovers and Notre Dame would've won." This is still an inexperienced offense and turnovers come with an inexperienced offense. More disappointing was the inability of the more experienced defense to force the Tarheels into turnovers.

Something to look forward to. Aside from the (critically important) issues with protecting the ball, it's hard to find fault with the offense's performance. Clausen completed 65% of his passes for 383 yards and 8.0 yards per attempt. The running backs rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries. The 5.0 yards per carry pace was well ahead of every game save Purdue. Although he only had four carries, James Aldridge made the most of them, picking up first downs on two of them and a touchdown on another. The offense converted 10 of 16 third downs. The turnovers show that the offense's improvement is not linear, but the offense's progress is clearly discernable.

Kamera. Duval Kamara came in for his share of criticism early in the season, but he had a great game against the Tarheels. His 58 yards receiving trailed Golden Tate's 121 yards and Michael Floyd's 93 yards, but the statistics don't tell the whole story. On the play where Clausen must have scrambled thirty yards left and right, Kamara stuck with the play and provided an outlet for his harried quarterback. Perhaps his best play, however, was breaking up a would-be interception. If Kamara continues to play this hard, the Irish receiving corps will really test opposing defenses.

Turnaround. The most disappointing part of the game was the minute of game time that followed the Floyd touchdown reception late in the second quarter that gave Notre Dame a 17-6 lead. While the 2008 Irish team has a number of weaknesses, many of these weaknesses (e.g., run defense) are difficult for an opponent to exploit when the Irish have a meaningful lead. With only 52 seconds left in the first half at that point, it looked like Notre Dame would get the ball first in the second half with an opportunity to make it a three-score game. Instead, North Carolina was able to march down the field and get a field goal before the end of the first half. When Quan Sturdivant picked off Clausen on the first play of the second half and returned it for a touchdown, the lead was down to one and all the momentum was on North Carolina's side. The opportunity was there, but the Irish were unable to capitalize on it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Game time! | by Jay

Goooo Irish! Beeaat Tarheels!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wisdom for the Brandon Walker in All of Us | by Jay

In light of yesterday's news that the Irish placekicker is still hanging in there, despite a horrendous season thus far...

"Be the ball, Brandon."

Kind of Light Blue | by Jay

A couple of North Carolina nuggets as we travel the miles to a showdown in Chapel Thrill.

• The Tarheels' record is the same as ours: 4-1.

W McNeese St. (D1AA) 35-27
W Rutgers (1-4) 44-12
L Va. Tech (5-1) 17-20
W Miami (Fla.) (2-3) 28-24
W Connecticut (5-1) 38-12
• UNC was attracting some measured respect from pundits coming into the season (and from Irish fans who, according to our preseason poll, picked the Tar Heels as the 4th-toughest game on the sked). The game versus Miami was an exciting, come-from-behind victory, but it was that big win over Connecticut just last week (on national TV) that finally vaulted UNC into the national consciousness. Today they're ranked #22 in the AP, #25 in the Harris, and the leader among "others receiving votes" in the Coaches'. It's been a running joke in the BGS breakroom that every week so far for the Irish this year has been, This is the biggest game of the season! But looking at tomorrow, I think it's finally, actually true. Facing a ranked, 4-1 team at their house is a terrific challenge, and beating them, I think, would finally unhitch the mental anchor of last year's implosion from this rapidly improving Irish team. And think of the psychic healing it would afford one Charlie Weis (and all of us, too).

If we win, that is.

Can we win? To do so, we'll have contain this guy. Brandon Tate is a wonderful receiver (although our Tate has better receiving stats to date). But he's really a demon on returns, averaging 28 yards on kickoffs (20th nationally) and 25 yards on punt returns (3rd!). N.D. is only giving up ~15 yards per kickoff and ~6 yards per punt return, so those stingy averages will be put to the test tomorrow.

Cam Sexton, backup quarterback. He's taken over for T.J. Yates who's out six weeks with a broken ankle (story link there includes a photo of the break; not for the squeamish), and is 2-0 as a starter. The Irish have actually seen Sexton before: he played against us in 2006, and he threw just one incomplete pass all game! (He also threw one pass, total). Sexton was 9-16 against Connecticut the other night with a touchdown and a pick, and over his career he's a 45% passer with more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7).

• One thing that strikes you when you look at that Connecticut box score: North Carolina scored five touchdowns in the game, but only one of them on a drive longer than 50 yards: (1) One came by an interception that set them up on the Huskies' 15; (2) a blocked punt set them up at the 39; (3) another interception was returned for a score; and (4) another blocked punt was returned for a score. On their other drives, UNC was held to four punts, one missed field goal, and one made field goal.

This led me to look at the Tarheels' other drives on the season, and to see if they've been the beneficiaries of such fortuitous largesse (whether self-engineered or not) in other games. After all, statistically they're anemic on offense, ranking 88th-best in football (just 326 yards per game, even including the 380+ yard output against McNeese). Yet here they sit at 4-1.

Here's the scoop: North Carolina has scored 16 touchdowns on 48 drives this year (not including the McNeese game). Three were on defensive or blocked returns; the rest started on average at the Tarheels 40 yard line. They're winning on good field position, timely turnovers (12 interceptions leads the country), a couple of long touchdown passes (a 69-yarder to Tate versus Rutgers; a 74-yarder to Hakeem Nicks against Miami), and some big plays on special teams (returns, blocks, etc). (HLS has some more on the big-play action of the Light Blue this year.)

All of this is intriguing as we head into tomorrow, as the Irish are pretty stout in the areas that UNC has been exploiting: we've limited both the big return yardage by our opponents, and haven't burned ourselves with costly turnovers. Something's gotta give, right?

• Finally, a couple of minutes of video review from Butch Davis on the Irish Passing Attack.

Pat sez: "The clip he shows features something I noted when rewatching the game. When Jimmy is barking out the pre-snap talk, he steals a quick glance at Tate on the left right before hiking the ball. It was fast, but completely noticeable as he turned his head to do it. I'm positive he did it on purpose to fake out the safety. And it worked because as soon as the ball is hiked, the safety turned and started to run towards Tate. Jimmy added the pump fake for good measure before looking back to Floyd in single coverage.

"From Butch's talk, I wonder if he's going to try and keep everything in front of his defense and force ND to march down the field 5-10 yards at a time. ND definitely has the talent and weapons to do it. It will just require patience on the behalf of Haywood and Charlie.

"I think we're going to see a lot of check downs and swing passes. Also, if UNC plays back to keep everything in front, I hope that we counter by getting the ball to Tate in space...swing passes, reverses, etc. A wide receiver screen would be even more delightful."

Zenyatta Zeke Motta | by Pat

Despite a last minute offer from Florida that not surprisingly was extended right before he left for an official visit to South Bend this past weekend, Florida safety Zeke Motta made the call to ND yesterday and publicly committed to the Fighting Irish.

“I just got the right feeling from Notre Dame,” Motta said. “I just felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t get that at Florida. Not to take anything away from Florida — that’s a great team, and I would have loved to play there — but I felt more comfortable at Notre Dame.

“I just had to do what’s best for me.”
The 6'2" 210 pound Motta is the 16th member of the recruiting Class of 2009 and the 6th defensive player. Nearly a 4.0 student, Motta also plans to enroll early along with Tyler Stockton and E.J. Banks.

In addition to Florida, Motta also had scholarship offers from a whole host of programs including Florida State, Clemson, Wisconsin, North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford, Boston College, and Auburn, where his dad played football. The recruiting sites are pretty high on Motta as well, even if they aren't completely sure if he'll wind up as a safety or linebacker. He's a 4-star recruit on both Scout and Rivals. Scout lists him as the #19 safety and #245 on their Scout 300 list. Rivals slots Motta as the 10th best outside linebacker prospect in the country. They also included him in their breakdown of the safety position where they named him the #1 most physical safety in the country. ESPN has Motta as the #28 safety in the country.

He appears set as an outside linebacker at Notre Dame though at the strongside spot currently occupied by linebacker/safety Harrison Smith.
“The defense they run is designed for a lot of blitzes,” Motta said. “As an outside linebacker, I will be lining up on the tight end a lot and lining up in space and definitely going in on blitzes. ... They liked what I showed them and felt I was the right fit for their scheme.”
From his safety spot as a junior, Motta totaled 143 tackles and also blocked an impressive 5 kicks. His production earned him 1st Team Class 6A honors in talent rich Florida. Already this year he has 42 tackles and another 2 blocked kicks.

This past summer, Motta attended the FBU Top Gun camp which featured some of the most talented recruits in the country, including players like Cierre Wood and Shaquelle Evans. Motta was named to the Top 11 for best defensive players in the camp. The writeup makes it sound like he should be able to make the transition to linebacker fairly easily.
Motta displayed good closing speed in drills with his great lateral movement and excellent ball skills. If he concentrated on playing linebacker in college, he has the frame and tools to be one of the best around. He has good height, muscular calves and is really cut. Somebody was calling him Brian Urlacher at the camp, and it's easy to see the comparison physically.
Slightly creepy calf muscle information aside, Motta's work at the camp can be seen in this video recap.

There is also some video of Motta's high school highlights, courtesy of Keep an eye out for those blocked kicks. Motta has all the makings of an instant special teams contributor.

Speaking of, they are working with Sports Illustrated to cover recruiting and released their own Top 200 list of recruits. Here are the current ND recruits who made the list:
5. Cierre Wood
19. Tyler Stockton
70. Chris Watt
110. Zach Martin
141. E.J. Banks
173. Zeke Motta
184. Marlon Pollard
With the continued rise in teams playing the spread offense, safety/linebacker hybrids are great options for a defense. Players that are big enough to defend the run, but still comfortable covering backs and slot receivers in pass coverage are becoming increasingly valuable. At the very least ND will need more speed on defense to counter the speed that Michigan is bringing in on offense for their spread attack. With Dan Fox and now Zeke Motta, ND is doing a good job of adding more speed to the linebacker corp.

Finally -- and most importantly -- Motta would be the first Zeke to play football at Notre Dame since Bill "Zeke" O'Connor, a left end on Leahy's team in 1944.

The Comeback at Kenan | by Pat

It's been 33 years since Notre Dame last traveled to North Carolina to play the Tarheels. And on that hot, muggy day in October of 1975, a lackluster Irish offensive showing through the first three quarters saw the three touchdown favorites down 14-6 to the home team. What happened next is a great piece of ND football lore.

"It was an impressive atmosphere,'' said Merv Johnson, Notre Dame's offensive coordinator at the time and now the director of football operations at Oklahoma. "I remember a lot of women in the more expensive seats were wearing hats -- kind of like the Kentucky Derby. ... And UNC had the game under control; it seemed like we couldn't get anything going.
After quaterback Rick Slager threw another series of incompletions, Coach Devine decided to make a switch and put in his untested backup.
Said Bill Paschall, UNC's starting quarterback that season: "I wish the other guy, their starting quarterback, had done a little better -- just enough so they didn't have to put a new guy in. If they hadn't put Montana in, I believe we would have won that game."
History likely wouldn't have changed much for Joe if he hadn't gone in against North Carolina. But he did get in against the Tarheels. And he led the Fighting Irish to his first comeback win in a career filled with come from behind victories.
"No, I'd never heard of Joe Montana before the game," said then-UNC coach Bill Dooley, who had two Catholic priests on the sideline that day for extra luck. "But I've gotten to know him since. And I remember him telling me how his coaches didn't start him the next game, either."

The following weekend, Montana came off the bench in the fourth quarter again, that time leading the Irish to a three-touchdown, come-from behind victory against Air Force. And three years later, in the Cotton Bowl against Houston, he led the Irish to another fourth-quarter comeback despite becoming so ill the he was fed chicken soup during the game to keep his body warm.

The "Joe Cool" born in Chapel Hill was not a fluke. And The Comeback at Kenan became one for the football biography books.

ND video historian tjnd88 once again comes through and provides the visuals of the birth of an Irish and NFL legend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Statistically Speaking: Stanford | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• Notre Dame entered last Saturday’s contest with 13 passing plays of over 20 yards. The Irish totaled five in the opening 30 minutes alone against the Cardinal. In fact, Notre Dame has recorded 11 over its last two games (had five last week against Purdue). The Irish now have 19 for the season after recording just 28 all of 2007.

• Notre Dame surrendered 132 rushing yards on 23 carries in the first half against Stanford (5.7
average per rush), but limited the Cardinal to minus-three yards rushing on seven carries in the
third quarter. The Cardinal totaled 208 yards in the opening half and averaged 5.5 yards per play, but managed just -3 total yards in the third quarter.

• Here is a look at how Michael Floyd’s freshman season could rate against the rookie campaigns of Notre Dame’s top five all-time leaders in career receptions (does not include Tom Gatewood [1968] or Jim Seymour [1965], who were not eligible to play as freshman).

Player (Year) Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
^Michael Floyd (2008) 50 799 16.0 7
Jeff Samardzija (2003) 7 53 7.6 0
Rhema McKnight (2002) 9 91 10.1 0
Tim Brown (1984) 28 340 12.1 1
Maurice Stovall (2002) 18 312 17.3 3
Derrick Mayes (1992) 10 272 27.2 3

^projected numbers over 12-game regular season
Battle for First Down

The Stanford run game gave ND fits, especially in the first half and the Win Rates against the Cardinal reflect that. After starting at 50% and rising every game, hitting 75% against Purdue, the Win Rate against the run fell sharply to 35% against Stanford.

Against the pass, the Win Rate was also lower at 42%. ND started and ended the game with two straight "wins" on first down. But the middle 8 passes saw only 1 "win". I'm beginning to think that win rates against the pass aren't nearly as important as win rates against the run. After all, when ND is winning, they appear content to let the opposition complete short passes which forces them to dink and dunk down the field in a time-consuming manner. It doesn't do much for the passing win rate, but it does make victory a much more likely outcome.

I added a game total to the season long 2008 Win Rate numbers, and the overall 38% Win Rate against Stanford is noticeably lower than any other game.

Gimme M.O.E.

(M.O.E. primer here)

The Fighting Irish offense had their most mistake filled afternoon of the season, which resulted in a M.O.E. of 13%. It was the first time all season that ND was above the 12% goal. The major factor was penalties. Of the 9 mistakes the ND offense make, 6 were penalties. After 7 total penalties in the first 4 games, the 6 penalties called against ND this past Saturday nearly doubled the season total in that category.

ND wasn't alone in the mistake category as Stanford had a M.O.E. of 21%, the second highest opponent M.O.E. in the past two seasons. Only the UCLA Bruins in 2007 were higher. Interceptions, sacks, and offensive penalties are what did in the Cardinal on Saturday.

Through the first five games
, the ND offense has a M.O.E. score of 10% compared to the opponents 13%. At this point last season, ND's M.O.E. was 20%, so it's fair to say that the Fighting Irish offense has cut its mistakes in half from a year ago.

Season Long Running Game Notes

I tinkered again with the season long running game notes by adding a trend arrow to compare the 2008 numbers with the 2006 numbers as well as the 2007 numbers. Most of the 2007 numbers are so terrible that just saying a certain category is better doesn't say much. The 2006 team was an extremely strong offensive team and a lackluster defensive one. Hopefully the extra comparison adds a bit more context to the 2008 numbers and a better sense of just where this growing team is.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Odds & Sods: Slap Happy Edition | by Mike

Thoughts on a victory that sent Jim Harbaugh further down the path to becoming the next John L. Smith...

Fame throwa. One week after turning in a career-best performance against Purdue, Jimmy Clausen played even better against Stanford. Clausen notched career highs in completions (29), attempts (40) and yards (347). The statistics reflected Clausen's visibly improved command of the offense, as he completed passes to seven different receivers and produced some of the game's biggest plays when he changed the call at the line of scrimmage. Weis's offense requires the quarterback to shoulder a heavy load. While Clausen will undoubtedly struggle with this burden at times this year, he's really doing all you can ask a sophomore quarterback to do.

Power doesn't run on nothing. Notre Dame needed every bit of Clausen's performance, as the running game struggled once again. If we look at the carries by the running backs alone (which takes out Harrison Smith's fake punt run, Clausen's sacks and rushes, etc.), the numbers are disappointing. Against Stanford, the Irish running backs rushed 22 times for just 56 yards, or 2.5 yards per carry (Allen - 3.7; Hughes - 1.8; Aldridge 1.8). The Purdue game is the only game this season where the Irish RBs have averaged over 4 yards per carry (SDSU - 3.4; Michigan - 3.7; MSU - 2.0; Purdue - 5.7). Even when the passing game is clicking - as it obviously was against Stanford - the lack of a running game hurts. When the Irish offense tried to switch to a power-running game in the second half to run out the clock, they were largely ineffectual. In future games where ND has a substantial lead, the Irish offense would probably be best served by remaining aggressive and attacking until very late in the game.

Everything hits at once. Heading into the Stanford game, the Irish defense had generated a number of deflections and bad throws with their blitzes. However, we weren't seeing the sacks that we'd all hoped Jon Tenuta's influence would produce. Stanford offensive tackle Chris Marinelli provided the missing ingredient to the Irish defense after he hit upon the brilliant idea of publicly ripping the Irish D. The defense responded to his challenge with five sacks. Sergio Brown, Brian Smith and Darius Fleming each had one. Pat Kuntz, the man who spent much of the day battling Marinelli, had two, to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. In the team's previous wins, the opponents' weaker rushing games meant that the tipped passes and rushed throws resulting from Irish blitzes were enough to derail drives. But against Stanford, whose power-running game gave the Irish defense fits, simply holding serve against the Cardinal passing game would not have been enough. Fortunately, the defense was able to produce numerous drive-killing plays when Stanford attempted to pass. Thanks, Chris.

Comment. During the second quarter, a Stanford player interfered with Armando Allen's attempt to field a punt. Allen was unable to corral the ball, and a Stanford player picked it up and ran it into the endzone. The officials flagged Stanford for interference and Notre Dame took over at midfield. After a Jim Harbaugh temper tantrum, Clausen connected with Michael Floyd on a beautiful 48-yard touchdown. After the game, Harbaugh still had not regained his composure:

"We got a couple of bad calls," Harbaugh said after the game. "It's hard to imagine people don't know football any better than that. Maybe I'll be swayed differently after I see the replay, but from what I saw on the field, I still can't get over it. It was a really bad call. It should have been our ball and a touchdown for us."
Of course, the person who actually should "know football better than that" was Jim Harbaugh. Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen made the following statement tonight:
"Pac-10 officials have reviewed video of the play and it is apparent the Stanford player covering the punt impeded the Notre Dame player attempting to catch it. The call was correct. NCAA playing rule 6-4-1 states in part 'A player of the receiving team within the boundary lines must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick.' Even though the player attempting to catch the kick was bumped by his teammate, he still attempted to catch the kick and was impeded by the Stanford player. The rule places the onus on the kicking team member to avoid impeding the opportunity to catch the ball."
No word yet on whether Harbaugh threw his hat on the ground after reading the release.

Shot in the arm. The freshmen class continues to come up with big plays. Floyd and Kyle Rudolph combined for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 receptions. Darius Fleming sacked Tavita Pritchard. The sophomore and freshmen classes complement each other well, and it will certainly be fun to see these guys play together for another two-and-a-half years.

Sleep on the left side. When he left the game with an injury, I realized how much I have overlooked Mike Turkovich's play this year. Heading into the season, left tackle was one of my biggest concerns. Yet after moving from left guard, Turkovich has been solid at the toughest position on the line. Credit to Turkovich for developing himself into such an important contributor.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stanford Snapshots | by Pat

Pictures for this past weekend's Stanford game can be found at the South Bend Tribune,, the Stanford football website, Palo Alto Online, and this post by ND fan RocketShark.

There really aren't a lot of pictures from this week's game. The SBT does a good job of getting a handful of quality shots up, but there are only 9 AP photos from this week and those are the photos that the closest major papers (Chicago Trib, Indy Star) and use. If you have any pictures from the weekend, feel free to drop a link in the comments.

This week's pic of the game is Brian Smith sacking Cardinal QB Tavita Pritchard. With only one sack coming into the game, the defense finally was able to get to the QB and sack him five times on Saturday.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Game Day! | by Pat

Go Irish! Beat Cardinal!

Looking through the trees | by Pat

I suppose no Stanford preview this year can start without referencing Stanford's starting right tackle, Chris Marinelli and his comments about Notre Dame.

"I hate it, playing up there," Marinelli told The Cardinal Report. "The field, excuse my language, the field sucks. The stadium sucks. I think the area sucks."...

"I grew up with a bunch of Irish and Italian Catholic people back home," Marinelli, from Boston, told The Cardinal Report. "And all the Irish Catholic people, all they talk about is Notre Dame this, Notre Dame that. And they've never even been there, ya know. So I hate those guys, I hate that school.

"We are going out there to mash them up and that's all there is to it."
Not too bad as far as unnecessary pre-game trash talk goes. If ND had any trouble getting fired up for the game, they don't now. Stanford did issue an apology for Marinelli's statements, but to some degree that makes it even worse. At least you could respect a player being honest about a team he doesn't like. This is football after all.

Moving along to the actual preview of the game, let's take a look at Stanford's results so far this season:
  • W 36-28 Oregon State (2-2)
  • L 41-17 Arizona State (2-2)
  • L 31-14 TCU (4-1)
  • W 23-10 San Jose State (3-2)
  • W 35-28 Washington (0-4)
Getting back to Marinelli for a second, he also mentioned something that does fit into a preview of today's game. He mentioned that while ND likes to blitz a lot, they only have one sack in around 200 blitzes. And, well, that's true. Currently only Washington has fewer sacks than the Fighting Irish. But Marinelli also said that as the Stanford OL sees blitzes every day in practice, they won't have trouble with the ND ones.

The problem with that statement is that after being 115th in the nation in sacks allowed last season, Stanford is still only 82nd in the nation so far this season. In other words, plenty of teams have had success getting to the Cardinal QB. ND only had 18 sacks all of last season and still managed 5 (28%) against Stanford.

So, one thing to look for is see if this is the game that the blitz-happy Irish defense can finally start bringing down the quarterback. During the Purdue game the pressure was getting to Curtis Painter and ND did knock him down or rush a pass a number of times. Ethan Johnson in particular showed why he's going to be a very, very good player at ND. But the next step is to get to the QB before he releases the ball and there is a very good opportunity today with Stanford.

But if Stanford has their way, they won't pass all that much. Jim Harbaugh has turned Stanford into a rushing team and their starter, Toby Gerhart (right), is a pretty good one. After four games against smaller, more shifty backs, ND is going to have to adapt to Gerhart, a 6'1" 235 pound bruiser who is still quick enough to get to the sideline. Gerhart did suffer a mild concussion last week against Washington and missed the second half. He's slated to start today, but might see his carries cut back some. Then again, Harbaugh didn't seem to mind putting QB Tavita Pritchard back into the game against ND last season when it was pretty clear he was suffering from a mild concussion, so who knows.

Whether it's the tough Gerhart or the straight line speed of backup Anthony Kimble, Stanford is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has topped 200 yards rushing in 3 of their first 5 games. Today will be a solid test for the slowly improving Irish run defense.

When ND has the ball, the opportunity for offensive fireworks through the air are very possible. Stanford's weakness to this point in the season is their pass defense. There should be plenty of opportunities for Floyd, Tate, Grimes, and Kamara to do some damage against the Cardinal D. However, to keep the Stanford running backs off the field, ND is going to need to replicate the rushing success from the 2nd half of the Purdue game. Stanford's linebackers are far more active and aggressive than Purdue's so it will definitely be a tougher test of the line's ability to block and the running back's ability to follow his blockers and run to daylight.

Charlie also mentioned Stanford's defense and the different looks they like to give.
"And then defensively, when they go back and forth in and out of packages from their four-man front to the three-man front. They have Odd and they have Odd Diamond. When they go back and forth between these different packages, it presents some mental pressure on our offense as well as some physical pressure to make sure you don't end up turning somebody free."
One of the ways that ND likely will try to counter this shift is by going no-huddle. The running backs were seen with the playcards on their wrists during the practice videos all week, which is a clue that ND spent a lot of time working the no huddle offense. If ND doesn't slow down to huddle when on offense, that limits Stanford's ability to substitute in and out the different players needed to go from their Odd to Odd Diamond fronts. One thing to watch for today is how effective ND's offense is in the no-huddle versus when the team takes the extra time to huddle up and allow Stanford to substitute.

Harbaugh has worked hard to remake the mentality of his Stanford team to a more physical, aggressive, and "blue collar" group of players. He is succeeding, as the Cardinal do fly all over the field to make tackles on defense. But that comes at a bit of a price: penalties. Stanford is 98th in the nation in penalty yards per game. (ND is 28th). No doubt, there will be a lot of "extracurricular activity" during the game. The ND players need to keep their cool as the guy who retaliates is usually the one who gets caught. ND is 7th in the nation in opponent penalty yards per game, which hints that the Fighting Irish so far have been successful in getting the flags to fly for the other team. I suspect a lot of that yardage has been on pass interference penalties. If Stanford is going to continue to induldge in undisciplined play, ND will need to not only not get stupid penalties of their own, but also take full advantage of the penalty yards Stanford gives up.

The reciepe for this game is a fairly simple one for ND. Work hard to establish the ground game, mixed in with some deep strikes, while limiting Stanford's defensive substitutions as much as possible. On defense, do what it takes to keep Gerhart and the Stanford rushing game in check. An early lead will force Stanford to turn more to the air and their 106th ranked passing offense.

Other random bits of info to consider: Luke Schmidt is still suffering from concussion like symptoms, so he'll likely be held out. That means more Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson when ND goes to multiple tight end sets. Perhaps freshman Joseph Fauria will make an appearance as well. ... Speaking of tight ends, Konrad Reuland is eligble to play for Stanford, but he's down on the depth chart and won't be making the trip to South Bend this season. ... Stanford is currently 10th in the nation in sacks, which is higher than Michigan. Will ND be able to keep Clausen's jersey clean? ... 5-star recruit Cierre Wood is one of the recruits visiting ND this weekend. So far this season he's averaging 13.9 yards per carry. This really has nothing to do with the outcome of today's game. I just think that's an absurd average, especially when you consider his high school moved into a tougher league this season. ... Last night at the pep rally, Jimmy Clausen encouraged everyone at the game to stand on Stanford third downs and help make noise for the Irish defense. I figure most reading this aren't at the game, but do what you can to spread the word. The more people standing, the better.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Every breath you take, every step you make... | by Pat

We'll get to the Stanford preview shortly. But before we do, there is another topic that also deserves mention today.

If you read other ND sites than just this one, you have no doubt seen issues of tailgating and alcohol consumption at Notre Dame come to a boil this week. Students, alumni, and fans have been sharing stories of overzealous enforcement in the tailgating lots prior to games or in the stands, unnecessary undercover tactics, ushers being chided for not finding enough drinkers, and the use of lifetime campus bans for those who are kicked out of the Stadium. No doubt the questions surrounding the excise police raid on the student party this past weekend play into the rising feelings of disgust and anger.

We are extremely disappointed by the stories of ill treatment of our students, alums, and fans by those patrolling the tailgating lots, especially as most of the enforcement is invited and encouraged by the University. Sadly, we do not believe these stories are isolated. Having been ND tailgating veterans for quite a while, we've seen the heavy hand of the law in action on campus, and the adversarial police presence is incongruous with what should be a relaxed and fun atmosphere leading up to kickoff. Anybody who's been a frequent tailgater knows what we're talking about, and have no doubt been privy to any number of stories similar to the ones linked above.

We encourage you to read the linked items above to understand how and why these issues are coming to the forefront at this time. For those who will be tailgating this weekend -- and for the rest of the year -- there are a few things to keep in mind.

• First off -- and this goes without saying -- don't mouth off if questioned about your drinking. Even if there are a few members of the tailgate patrol force who might relish busting ND fans, provoking law enforcement doesn't do any good at all. Enjoy yourself while tailgating, but be smart and don't give the enforcers any extra reason to accost you. We don't feel sorry for anyone that invites trouble.

• Second, take pictures or video of what you see and hear. We know that many people, especially those who spend most of their tailgating time in the not-surprisingly cop-free Stadium Lot and corporate tents, will read these stories and be skeptical. If you see something that strikes you as unnecessary or over-the-top, take a picture or quick video clip. Aggressive and unnecessarily antagonistic behavior needs to be exposed and broadcast widely.

• Thirdly, if you are questioned or arrested, know your rights. Take a look at this handy card on What To Do If You're Stopped by the Police, and take its suggestions to heart. Again, there is no need for an "us versus them" mentality with those tasked to protect and serve, but you should also not be ignorant of your rights in such matters. Noting names and ID/badge numbers of law enforcement will help weed out any bad apples that may be giving the rest of the patrol force a bad name.

• Lastly, if you believe you have been treated unfairly, let Notre Dame know about it. Go straight to the top (i.e., Father Jenkins' office), and relate the facts, in writing, as accurately and as dispassionately as you can. We know for a fact that his office takes these complaints seriously and will listen to your side. Sadly, we cannot say the same for the Coordinator of Stadium Personnel nor the Office of Student Affairs. So go to the top -- and feel free to copy us or NDNation on your correspondence.

Admittedly, the odds of you being harassed or banned from campus for life are low, so have fun at the game tomorrow. But the fact that this many stories are coming out, including those from people that Jay and I know and have met, is indeed troubling. So keep an eye out while at the game. As far as we're concerned, there is only one lifetime campus ban that should be enforced this weekend.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Born to Run | by Pat

Notre Dame's team speed got another shot in the arm when New Jersey wide receiver Nyshier Oliver, or more specifically his high school coach, when public with the news that he had committed to Notre Dame.

It is a pleasure for me to announce that last night I spoke with Head Coach and New Jersey native Charlie Weiss [sic] and committed Nyshier to the University of Notre Dame. I want to thank all who have supported Nyshier throughout his academic and athletic career at Prep. It is a great choice and proper fit for him. I now look forward to Nyshier finishing out his time at Prep in great fashion, performing on the field and in the classroom, fulfilling all of our expectations."
Oliver is the 15th public commit in the class of 2009 and 4th player from New Jersey. Charlie has never been shy about liking recruits from his home state and this year he's bringing in more than in any other class.

The calling card for the 5'10" 170 pound Nyshier Oliver appears to be speed and athleticism. He plays running back for his high school but is currently slated to play wide receiver for the Fighting Irish. Assuming he slides into a role as a slot receiver he will present a great change of pace from the larger receivers in the past two classes (Kamara, Floyd, Walker, Goodman) Oliver has also spent time as a defensive back so he has the versatility to help out as a safety or maybe even cornerback if the need arises. In fact, a number of schools were recruiting him as a defensive player.

Back in June, Oliver publically committed to Tennessee. But two months later he backed off the committment citing a desire to check out more schools. In the end, he decided on the Fighting Irish over an impressive offer list that includes Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Penn State, Boston College, and a number of other programs. Like with current commit E.J. Banks, it's always a good sign when SEC schools go after skill positions kids from the north.

Like current commit E.J. Banks, Oliver's recruit rankings aren't as impressive as his offer list. On he is a 4-star recruit listed as a 22nd best safety. Rivals only hands out 3 stars and a 34th best "athlete" ranking to Oliver. ESPN is the harshest, listing Oliver as the 72nd best "athlete". That low ranking is somewhat at odds with their writeup of him however.
Oliver should be nicknamed Houdini being he can slip through the smallest of places without being touched by the opposition. Even though he's not the biggest skilled athlete in the country, he is a very talented football player. Colleges might tend to recruit him as a safety, but he is very good running back and overall offensive skill player. He is equally as effective running inside or outside. He can cut the isolation play back against the grain for big yards or bounce it all the way out to the perimeter then use his great speed to take it down the sideline.
Oliver was named Hudson County Player of the Year last season and a 3rd Team All-State player while rushing for over 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns from the running back position. As part of a preview of this season, an opposing coach had this to say about Oliver.

"What a great player. You can put him up against any player in the state, and I'm talking offensively or defensively. He's one of those guys that you never want to see the ball in his hands, because you know, chances are, he's going to hurt you."
Aside from his highlights on, you can see a quick glimpse of Oliver on offense at the 1:44 mark of this video and on defense at the 1:24 mark of this video. His size and lack of a clearly defined position may have depressed his recruiting rankings somewhat, but he certainly appears to be a speedy addition to a team that can always use another quick and shifty speedster.

Statistically Speaking: Purdue | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• All but two of Notre Dame’s touchdowns this year have been scored by freshmen or sophomores (12 of 14). Senior WR David Grimes has the other two.

• Notre Dame managed just 188 total yards in the third quarter of its first three games (no points). The Irish ripped off 204 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's third quarter alone.

• Notre Dame’s kickoff coverage unit ranks first in the nation in kickoff return yardage per return, allowing only 13.9 yards per kick return.

Battle for First Down

First off, thanks to Joel L. for crunching the 2007 Win Rates. We'll now have that much more context for our numbers. But first, the Purdue game.

While the previous three opponents have been fairly biased towards either the pass or run on 1st down, Purdue was somewhat surprisingly balanced. It was still 20 to 12 in favor of the pass, but that's more even than anything we've seen so far this year.

Notre Dame did their best job of the year against Purdue's 1st down rush offense with a 75% Win Rate. Even with the elusive Kory Sheets, 3 out of every 4 PU rushes on first down went for 2 or fewer yards.

Against the pass, ND tied the second highest Win Rate with a 60% score. There were four PU passes that went for 12 or more yards out of the 20 attempts, but ND didn't "lose" on the final 6 passes when the pressure was at its highest for the Boilermakers.

On the season, ND has a run game Win Rate of 60% and a pass game Win Rate of 54%. Thanks to Joel, we now know that in 2007, ND had a run game Win Rate of 34% and a passing game win rate of 51%. I included the entire 2007 breakdown on a separate tab with the rest of the 2008 First Down numbers.

Granted the Fighting Irish haven't played some of the tougher running teams yet, but the increase from a 34% Win Rate in 2007 to 60% in 2008 is very impressive. It's likely that the 60% number will drop a bit over the course of the season, but so far it is very clear that the defense has shown dramatic improvement against the run on 1st down.

Gimme M.O.E.

(M.O.E. primer here)

Another game, another low M.O.E. percentage for Notre Dame. Against Purdue, ND checked in with a season-low 6%. Purdue also played a relatively mistake free game with a M.O.E. of 9%.

The season-long numbers show the Fighting Irish with a cumulative M.O.E. of 9%. That's half of last year's 18%. In fact, it's lower than 2005 (10%) and 2006 (13%). It's perhaps a bit unrealistic for an ND team with so many young contributors on offense to keep the number that low all season. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one game where the offensive mistakes pile up a bit and result in a high M.O.E. number.

I added a chart and list showing the M.O.E. scores for all 3.25 seasons of ND football under Charlie Weis to the M.O.E. spreadsheet.

Season Long Running Averages

I made a bit of a change to the season long stats table. There is now a column between the 2008 and 2007 final numbers with an arrow indicating if the current value is a statistical (not national rank) improvement or not from the previous season. It's basically just a quick way to get an overall glance of the numbers.