Saturday, November 29, 2008

Game Time! | by Pat

Go Irish! Beat Trojans!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Signal to Noise | by Jay

I'm sure, like us, your inbox is swirling with all kinds of speculation about the fate of Charlie and the future of N.D. football. At this point we've got no evidence to add to the mix (other than hearsay and conjecture...which are kinds of evidence). But here's a lesson for you in how much salt to shovel when you're weighing the veracity of various reports:

CNBC: "’s believed that it would cost north of $15 million buy out Weis."

ESPN: "A person with knowledge of Weis' contract told ESPN's Joe Schad on Wednesday that the amount Notre Dame would have to pay Weis is greater than $4 million to $5 million...The source told Schad that the buyout, which is specified in the contract, is "stupefying."

Chicago Tribune: "The common perception of Weis' buyout is not accurate. Multiple sources have told the Tribune the buyout, far smaller than believed, will not affect whether Notre Dame decides to fire Weis after Saturday's game at USC. One prominent alumnus called the amount 'loose change.'"

$4 million? $15? "Loose change"? Who the hell knows. These guys certainly don't.

Have a good turkey day, and Go Irish.

Odds & Sods: J'accuse Edition | by Mike

Something's gone wrong again. In a certain way, the Syracuse game was similar to the Navy game - play a middling first half, build a lead in the third quarter and try not to let the game slip away in the fourth quarter. However, against Navy, the Irish didn't simply build a lead in the third quarter - they dominated. While the defense and punt units were dominant to start the third quarter, the offense repeatedly squandered the opportunities it was given to build an insurmountable lead. On the first drive of the third quarter, the defense held Syracuse to three-and-out and the Irish punt rush got a hand on the punt. After a tripping penalty against Syracuse, the Irish offense started its first drive of the second half on the Syracuse 23. A short series of tragicomic events later, and the Irish were looking at 2nd and 47 from their own 40 yardline. Forced to punt, the Irish pinned Syracuse at the Orange 14 yard line. Two incomplete passes and a sack later, Syracuse was forced to punt from their own 10 yard line. Another blocked punt gave the Irish offense the ball at the Syracuse 21. The offense moved the ball 13 yards and had to settle for a field goal attempt. A fumbled snap gave Brandon Walker no chance at converting the kick, and once again Notre Dame had no points to show for outstanding field position. On their next drive, with their worst field position so far that quarter, the offense was able to drive 68 yards for a touchdown and a ten-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing Syracuse possession Scott Smith forced a fumble, Toryan Smith picked it up, and after a nifty lateral to Gary Gray the offense started its next drive at the Syracuse 5. A touchdown here would have made it a three-score game with little more than a quarter to play. The drive resulted in a field goal. In the four games Notre Dame has lost since the Stanford game, devastating miscues early in the third quarter have shaped the second half.

  • Against UNC, the Irish led 17-6 at the half. On the first play of the second half, Clausen threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown that energized the North Carolina team and crowd.
  • Against Pitt, Notre Dame led 17-3 at the half. The Irish had out-gained the Panthers 227-61 at that point. Pitt got the ball first to start the half, and the Irish defense appeared to have held them to a three-and-out. Pitt would have had no reason to believe things would be any different in the second half. But a personal foul kept the drive alive, and with the new lease on life, the Panthers found the endzone and regained their confidence.
  • Against Boston College, the Irish trailed Boston College 10-0 at the half. BC got the ball to start the half and the Irish defense forced a three-and-out. However, the ensuing BC punt was fumbled, BC went on to score a touchdown, and Irish hopes were extinguished.
  • Against Syracuse, the Irish offense took its great field position after the punt block and committed two holding penalties and took a 17-yard sack. The drive was as bad as a drive that doesn't result in a turnover could be.
I certainly don't mean to blame Clausen for the UNC loss, Harrison Smith for the Pitt loss, etc. In both of those games, for example, the Irish still led after each those incidents and the offense simply had to hold serve for the remainder of the game to win. Instead, I cite these examples to raise a question: why did these mistakes - many the result of a lack of focus - occur shortly after halftime, after the coaching staff had an extended period to "coach up" their charges? Coincidence? Data mining? Or something more significant?

Time trap. In his first two years, I gave Weis high marks in his game management. For example, the Irish were able to win the 2006 UCLA game because they still had all three time outs left when they turned the ball over on downs to UCLA late in the fourth quarter. However, in the past two years, there have been a number of game and clock management decisions that have left me scratching my head. Pat covered the decision to go for it on 4th down with 2:30 left against Navy last week. This week, the Irish used their last timeout of the second half with 13:46 left in the fourth quarter. Given that one of the timeouts was lost on a challenge that presented the same issue that was decided in the receiver's favor against Navy, I can't argue with the challenge of the fade to Tate in the end zone. However, Notre Dame certainly could have used the other two timeouts late in the game.

This is a low. Last week, someone asked me which I thought was worse - Notre Dame's 3-9 season of 2007 or Michigan's 3-8 season of 2008. After my attempts to deflect such an unpleasant thought exercise were unsuccessful, I was forced to give the issue some consideration. Ultimately, the way I evaluate teams at the end of a season is by looking at whom they beat and to whom they lost. When you look at those two seasons, there aren't wins that really stand out, though Michigan's win over Minnesota is probably the best. When you look at the losses, every one of Notre Dame's losses in 2007 was to a team with a winning record. There's really nothing in Notre Dame's 2007 season that compares to Michigan's loss to Toledo in 2008. Toledo is a 3-8 MAC team whose coach was forced out. As bad as 2007 was for Notre Dame, it never got that bad. Of course, Notre Dame just lost to a 3-8 Big East team whose coach was forced out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

to the Lions | by Jay

Southern Cal opened as a 29-point favorite over us. As of right now, I am still planning on going to the Coliseum. Call me crazy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Snowballs | by Jay

Let me take a second to clarify something: I can't imagine students were trying to hit the players intentionally with snowballs yesterday. It seems like it was probably some kids with an ample supply of ammunition at their feet horsing around. As such, I hate the way this is being spun by the national press as a case of students viciously turning on their own classmates. I've been to games where snowballs were thrown, and I was at a MLB game that was forfeited because people were throwing souvenir baseballs onto the field. In neither case did I think fans were trying to hit their own team.

Now, trying to hit TV timeout guys is plausible. Or state troopers. But I can't buy that students were intentionally taking shots at their own classmates. My brother-in-law, a current senior, sends this report.

It was absolutely embarrassing. I've never been more embarrassed to represent Notre Dame as I was yesterday. Really, most of the throwers (a minority of the students overall) were aiming at the TV guy, but any way you draw it up, it was really lame. It was also pissing off 90 percent of the students who weren't throwing. Numerous times, students yelled at other students to knock it off, and a lot of people, including us, were really pissed off. Embarrassing.
Unfortunately, several national stories this morning (including the front page of Yahoo) are making it look like it was a mass student reaction to the loss, instead of just limited jackassery by a few lunkheads. Most of the eyewitness reports say the snowballs were hurled in the first quarter and soon ceased, which would seem to indicate it wasn't a backlash to the loss. Embarrassing as this is, I think it's wrong for reporters to push it as something more nefarious than simply some boneheaded students goofing around. Notre Dame is not Philadelphia.

Postgame Quotes | by Jay

I couldn't help be genuinely moved by what the Syracuse players said after the game: expressing their excitement coming into the game, how special it was to play at Notre Dame, how much pride they had in their fired head coach, Greg Robinson, and how incredible this win really was.

#97 Arthur Jones – Jr. -- DT
On playing at Notre Dame…“I had a great time … I was just laughing, I told them [Notre Dame] to block me, you know what I mean? I made it in my personal interest to go out there and give it my all. It [the end of the game] felt great, I remember being here in 2005 with coach Robinson and he promised us then we were going to get after them [Notre Dame] and it was really emotional, and I remember him saying that as a freshman, its amazing.”

#75 Ryan Durand – Sr. – OG
On playing after Coach Robinson was fired… “It never really crossed our minds when we were preparing for Notre Dame. We looked at this game as our bowl game for our seniors, and for our younger guys this is just a really special place to play, and we accomplished our goal.”

On the impact of the win against Notre Dame… “It puts a good taste in your mouth for the entire season. We had a lot of disappointments over the season. We had a lot of ups and we had a lot of downs. It really makes us feel good about the entire season. It’s a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”

On wanting to win for Coach Robinson…“We did it for the whole team, coaches included. That includes Coach Robinson, he is our head coach until next week. We always go out and play for ourselves, we play for the coaches, we play for the team, and it doesn’t change at all.”

On the game winning touchdown drive…“We were going to win the game. That’s what we kept saying to each other [in the huddle]. We put that ball in the end zone and we won.”

#29 Antwon Bailey – Fr. – RB
On his attitude coming into this game…“I felt different about this game, honestly. All the players will tell you, we were talking at the beginning and I told them, ‘I feel something.’ I don’t know, maybe it was the atmosphere.”

On the final drive…“For me it felt like a dream. I was looking up at that clock at the beginning of that drive, and there was five minutes left. It was crazy. Everyone in that huddle was just confident. Honestly, I didn’t even see him catch the touchdown because I was blocking, so I see all my teammates running to the touchdown and I started jumping up and down because I knew we scored.”

#60 Jim McKenzie- So. - C
On the emotions at the end of the game…“It was really one of the best wins that I’ve ever experienced. And this is a great thing because our record does not show the way we play and I’m glad we could show on a national stage the way we play. This is a great Notre Dame team, too, and at their house, it’s a real tough challenge so I just take pride in my teammates and the way we did.”

On Coach Robinson…“Greg Robinson has been through a lot with Syracuse, but we know that he’s been working hard and things haven’t gone the way we needed them to for him and we just wanted to play for him and show the nation that we can play. And I wish the best for him wherever he goes and we have one more game with him and we’re going to try to go out on top.”

On what Coach said to them during and after the game… “He said that we have to dare to be special, that we had to be special in order to win this game. And we played that way and it was something that really came through for us.”

#4 Cameron Dantley – Sr. - QB
On what it was is like to play at his dad’s alma mater… “It was definitely great. I’m sure I’m going to get calls from him. We’re playing in Notre Dame stadium first of all, just with all the legacy and history that’s going on here, and on top of that to play somewhere my dad had such a great career and everyone likes him a lot here, so to be out on this type of stage on national television was just a dream come true for me. And it just so happened that he played for Notre Dame, too, so that makes it all the better.”

On Coach Robinson…“We were rallying around him all the time. We always had confidence in coach and he always had confidence in us so we just felt like we should do this for not only our football team but for him as well. To send him off on a positive note would be great for him and great for our football team. So just to see him keep on working like he always works us here, and we were able to come out with a victory in the end, which is great for us.”

On what he was thinking when he threw the winning pass… “It was about me putting it on the money, and we just did everything to perfection here, and we had great time back there, and it was just about me putting it on him. It was a great play, and it was just a matter that we had enough time and time did stand still just to make sure that he did catch the ball but he caught it in the endzone and made that drive which was great for us.”
This was a team that was 2-8. They've played some pitiful football this year, and ranked towards the bottom of nearly every statistical category you could imagine. It was almost the end of the season. And their coach was already a dead man walking. There was absolutely no reason for these guys to care anymore. It was over.

And yet, somehow, they rallied. They strapped it on, they got excited, they took their lame duck coach and put him on their shoulders and they went out there and played with more passion and intensity than they had all year long. And they won the goddam ball game.

There's a lesson here for the Irish. For Charlie and his team to pull themselves out of the fire, they're going to have to take a cue from Syracuse. They're going to have to go into a daunting arena, and find a way to beat a much more talented team. Everyone had chalked up the Southern Cal game as an "acceptable loss" back in August; now, it's a must-win.

Reading those quotes again from the Syracuse players, it's pretty clear: it only comes by passion. With nothing on the line other than personal pride (and perhaps a coach's job), will we care enough to compete?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Karl Marx, Wrong Again | by Dylan

- History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

Karl had it backwards. If he had been able to watch Notre Dame football for the past seven years, he would know that the latter precedes the former.

Before I start, I have some numbers for you to consider:

A. 2/107/33.9 D. 4/0/14

B. 41/108/209 E. 1

C. 24/110/18.3 F. 11
I'll get back to those numbers, but first I'd like to say that I like Charlie Weis. I think he's a good guy and I think he loves Notre Dame. I don't think he is incompetent, like Ty Willingham. I do not think he is an arsonist, like Bob Davie. I think it's awful that he has failed, and he has. I think it is tragic. Tragic that he could not save his alma mater from the farce that was the Willingham era. Tragic that a good man, with some real ability, was forced to discover the things that make him a poor choice for head coach in such a public forum. Tragic that he will be seen as just one more link in the chain of fools that has guided the program for the past dozen years.

Before the year started, I gave Charlie the benefit of the doubt, despite last year's inexcusable loss to Navy. Willingham left a huge hole in the roster, and the best Weis could have hoped for would have been a 6-6 record. I don't think it's arguable that he was blown up by the land mines planted by Willingham (much as the next coach at Washington will be over the next few years), and the year was basically a mulligan. But he made some truly awful decisions, and I viewed the 2007 season as an equal counterweight to the 2005 and 2006 seasons. I said at the time that Weis was starting from zero, that there was no evidence that he was a good coach, and that the 2008 season would tell us everything we would need to know. Now, it has.

I'll let the smart guys on this blog get into the nuts and the bolts of it, but this train has sailed. I think we all know it. All that remains is a fake punt, with SC up by 30 in the 4th quarter, next Saturday. That it is possible that, after four years, we are unable to line up against Syracuse or BC or Pittsburgh or San Diego State and get 2 yards is really all the confirmation you need. There is some basic football ability lacking in this (and every other) Weis team, and it is all because of poor coaching. The enduring image of the Weis era, in my opinion, will be that of an offensive lineman, standing, looking back at a running back or quarterback tackled three yards behind him. Looking like he's waiting for a bus.

It is 2004 again, and I want to stab myself in the eye. To Weis' credit, he is one hell of a recruiter, and the next coach will not have to worry about bare cupboards or waiting until "his guys" are in place. There should not be such a painful, prolonged struggle to reach basic and lasting competence. So what do we do? The uncomfortable answer to the question is that there really is no answer. Who's available? Who knows. There simply are no sure things, and Notre Dame, a pimply teenager right now, is going to have to lean in and try to make out with Miss America. The embarrassment potential is off the charts. But the checkbook has to be opened. If we've learned anything, it is that bad hires are every bit as expensive as good ones. Has any school paid more money to coaches over the past four years?

So all eyes will now drift to Jack Swarbrick who, having barely opened his office door, has found the whole place to be on fire. We will learn pretty quickly how much authority he's been given, I think. If I were him (assuming that Weis will not be fired until after the USC game, if at all), I would start taking some positions to rally the base and begin to set a new anchor for the program. The natives are extremely restless. Here are a couple of things he could do to forestall the uprising:
  • Immediately renegotiate all game contracts to designate that only neutral conference officials be used in any game in which Notre Dame plays. It's bleeding obvious, and today's game was just one more log on that fire. Taking it one step further, he should lead the charge in taking officiating away from the conferences altogether.
  • Send a letter to the NCAA demanding clarification of the "heel is not a part of the foot" rule, a rule which seems to favor the team that is not Notre Dame, as evidenced by the freakish occurrence of the scenario in consecutive weeks.
  • Demand that Notre Dame have some say (assuming it does not currently) in the selection of the announcers for NBC broadcasts. We don't need homers, but we could live without the glee provoked by Notre Dame's miscues evinced by the former Southern Cal quarterback and his figure-skating-devotee partner. We'd be better off with the actual Mitch Daniels and Bea Arthur. We should can their look-alikes.
This is low-hanging fruit, obviously, but I think Swarbrick needs to demonstrate that there is a hand on the rudder. One would assume he could get these things done in between calls to Denver, Tuscaloosa, Norman, Gainesville, Baton Rouge, wherever.

Back to those numbers. They referred to:

A. 2/107/33.9 - Touchdowns scored by Notre Dame today / Syracuse's national rank in scoring defense / Syracuse defense's points per game allowed.

B. 41/108/209 - Notre Dame's total rushing yards today / Syracuse's national rank in rushing defense / Syracuse's per game average for rushing yards allowed.

C. 24/110/18.3 - Points scored by Syracuse today / Syracuse's national rank in scoring offense / Syracuse's scoring average this year.

D. 4/0/14 - The number of ranked (at game time) opponents played by Notre Dame over the past two seasons / Wins over those opponents / The number of losses over the past two seasons.

E. 1 - Wins by Notre Dame over higher ranked opponents in the past four seasons.

F. 11 - Losses to unranked opponents in the past four seasons

There's really nothing more to talk about, is there?

Go Irish! | by Pat

Go Fighting Irish! Beat Syracuse!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Senior Moment | by Pat

Tomorrow is Senior Day and the final game in Notre Dame Stadium for a number of players on the Fighting Irish team. Senior Day is always a bit of a bittersweet time as we get to both celebrate and say goodbye to the players who have spent the last four to five years representing Notre Dame football on the field.

I don't think I'll ever forget Senior Day against Army in 2006, watching Brady Quinn run off the field for the final time, pointing to the crowd and jumping up on the wall to salute the fans. His class will always remain one of my favorites; not only for their play, but also their great personalities and way they handled the tumultuous coaching transition. I suspect I'm not alone in this regard.

The current seniors don't have the star power of that class, and they've been overshadowed by some of their underclass teammates. But this Saturday I hope all ND fans take a minute to realize the contributions this class made to Notre Dame football. No, there aren't any All-Americans, or even many starters. But this is the class that was still deciding their college futures when Notre Dame decided to part company with the coach who had recruited them. In his place arrived a largely unknown career assistant with essentially no head coaching or recruiting experience. And despite not knowing what the future would hold for them, they still signed up to come to Notre Dame, and cast their lots with a new regime. Charlie Weis summed it up nicely in his presser a few days ago.

I give the staff some credit [for landing the class], but I give those guys credit for coming on board when it was a very...volatile and jumping on board and being part of the long term solution here.
Consider that the classes sandwiching this senior class have seen 14 different players leave the team. Yet in this class of Ty-recruited/Charlie-signed players, only 2 of the original 15 aren't still with us. Most of these guys have been career backups, but that didn't dissuade them from sticking with the program, and as Charlie said, they've been instrumental in being part of the long term solution at Notre Dame. Take a guy like Kevin Washington, for example.
So end of the day, you have a guy like Kevin Washington, Kevin Washington has been here for four years. Hardly has played at all. A little bit on special teams. I can tell you this year if we wanted to, we could make him the defensive show team player of the week every single week.

And what we do is we use guys like him as examples with our young linebackers and the other guys on defense. Fellows, this is the way it's supposed to be done. This is the way you practice. This is the tempo you practice at. This is how it's supposed to be important. And when a guy realizes that, hey, his time has come and gone as far as productive playing time. But rather than complain about their role, accept their role and do what they can do to help the team win, why of a lot of respect for players like that.
This senior class started their journey at Notre Dame just about the same time we started this little blog. Which of course now gives us the opportunity to go back to what we wrote then and chuckle. Yes, I did pick Kevin Washington as the class sleeper. Scott Smith was another popular pick. No one picked David Bruton, not even the BGS writer who shares the same hometown with him. But all of us noted the importance of bring in guys like Duncan and Turkovich given the lack of OL recruits in the pipeline at the time. So at least we weren't completely useless in our predictions.

Back to the present. The Observer has a terrific spread of profiles on all of the seniors, be they 5th-year guys, outgoing seniors, or walk-ons. This makes for a great read as we await the final home for one group of players...and see prospects for the next class just arriving, with the recruiting visits of Manti Te'o, Tyler Gaffney, and Byron Moore.

Good luck in the future, Seniors, and thanks for everything. Our hats are off to you.

SkyWriting: Go Ramblers Edition | by Pat

A few quick hitters for your perusal.

• ESPN has a nice read on ND's interhall football league, explaining the history and appeal of one of ND's best tradition while following the playoff exploits of the best hall left on campus after the closing of Flanner Hall.

• Also worth a read is Eric Hansen's mini "where is he now" catch-up with Zibby. As random women pay for his dinner and ask for his autograph, Zibby talked to Hansen about Charlie being the right man for the job, his up and down times at ND, and punching players from Duke. He also showed why he was one of Charlie's favorites with this impromptu prank during the interview.

He suddenly spots Charlie Weis across the crowded hotel lobby, hobbling toward the elevator with autograph-seekers blocking his way.

"Watch this," Tom Zbikowski says as he pulls his baseball cap over his eyes and sprints over to behind where the Notre Dame head football coach is standing.

In a high-pitched mumble, Zbikowski reaches around from behind Weis, tells him that he was his all-time faaaavvvorite coach and wonders aloud if he'd sign something for him.

The former ND All-America safety hands Weis a parking ticket.

A befuddled Weis turns to face his secret admirer, breaks out laughing and wraps his arms around the player who, if he wasn't the face of Notre Dame football during Weis' first three seasons in South Bend, then surely he was the heart.
• Google has hosted some fantastic old photographs from LIFE Magazine. Here's a link using "Notre Dame football" as a keyword search, but try out your own search ideas and see what you find. Already you can find great shots of Ara at a fieldhouse pep rally, a farewell student rally for Coach Leahy, a view from the pressbox, priests smoking stogies and rooting for ND, and a visual represtation of some recent BGS gameday threads. Only about 20% of all the LIFE photos are up now, so keep checking back over the next few months as more and more photos are added.

• One last addition. I know nearly all ND fans are ready to move on from the Navy game, but Mike over at the consistently excellent Navy blog The Birddog just posted his take on the ND defense versus Navy offense battle. His knowledge of the option offense is a great read for anyone interested in the Xs and Os part of the game. There are also some diagrammed video breakdowns from the game that highlight intended blocking responsibilities versus what actually happened in the game. His conclusions that Navy shot itself in the foot more often than ND actually made a fantastic play is also food for thought as we move on to Syracuse.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Statistically Speaking: Navy | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• Senior All-America candidate David Bruton is one of just three players in the nation to rank in
the top 100 in interceptions (49th), forced fumbles (52nd), total tackles (73rd) and solo tackles (54th). Michael Hamlin of Clemson and Mark Herzlich of Boston College are the others.

• Maurice Crum, Jr. is now tied for 9th all-time in career tackles with Brandon Hoyte at 297. He is three tackles away from 8th place and Tom Zbikowski's career total of 300.

Battle for First Down

As somewhat expected, Navy's option attack led to the lowest 1st Down Win Rate of the season of 35%. Navy only had 3 1st Down passes, so the 67% 1st Down Win Rate isn't terribly relevant.

Running tally here.

Gimme M.O.E.

Despite the stereotype of the Navy offense that plugs away with effort and mistake-free football, the Midshipmen had enough penalties and dropped passes to hit a 13% M.O.E.

ND on the other hand ran enough plays that even with Clausen's interceptions and Gray's fumble, the M.O.E. stayed in single digits at 7%.

Here's the season long table.

Season Long Running Stats

Defensive numbers are creeping up. Offensive numbers are mostly staying the same.

One other thing to check out is the steady improvement in Ryan Burkhart's kickoffs. After ND averaged 58 yards a kickoff last season, Burkhart has that over 61 yards a kick this season. And in the past two games he's averaging 67 yards a kick. Anello, Bruton, and company are getting most of the credit for the stellar kickoff return allowed yardage, but Burkhart's improved kicks certainly play a big role as well. Kudos to Ryan.

All season long numbers here.

9 Minutes Over Baltimore | by Pat

The terrifying last moments of the Navy game is a sequence that's going to give cold sweats to Irish fans for a long time. A game that was all but put down suddenly sprang back to life, sparked by poor coaching, player mistakes, sloppy officiating, and a whole lot of hustle on Navy's part. (To borrow a favorite Mike Shannonism, "...this game that started as a small worm has blossomed into a cobra!") Here's a recap of the wet and wild finish.

Setting the scene: 9 minutes to go. Navy has just gone 4 and out, failing to gain a single yard on a 4th and 3 attempt. Their rushing attack that averages 308 yards per game has totaled 133 yards. Notre Dame, which has scored on its past four possessions is set to regain possession at the Navy 35 yard line. As CBS goes to commercial, we see Charlie prepping Evan Sharpley on the sideline. Bring in the subs!

As we start the drive, ND has indeed has brought in some backups. And yet, despite the many claims of Charlie "pulling the starters," Notre Dame actually kept the entire starting offensive line in for the duration of this drive. The skill position players have been replaced, with Sharpley in at QB, Jonas Gray at RB, Joseph Fauria at TE, and Gallup at WR, but all the regular linemen are still in there. (In all the postmortems around ND-land over the last few days, I think this salient fact has been largely missed.)

1-10 N35 NOTRE DAME drive start at 09:07.
1-10 N35 GRAY, J. rush for 1 yard to the NAVY34 (Vela, Ram).
2-9 N34 GRAY, J. rush for loss of 1 yard to the NAVY35 (Pospisil, Ross).
3-10 N35 GRAY, J. rush for 7 yards to the NAVY28 (Merchant, Emmet;Sovie, Clint),
PENALTY NAVY personal foul (Sovie, Clint) 14 yards to the NAVY14, 1ST
1-10 N14 GRAY, J. rush for 7 yards to the NAVY7 (Buffin, Ketric).
2-3 N07 GRAY, J. rush for 5 yards to the NAVY2, 1ST DOWN ND (Buffin, Ketric).
1-G N02 Timeout Notre Dame, clock 06:08.
1-G N02 GRAY, J. rush for loss of 2 yards to the NAVY4 (Tuani, Jabaree).
2-G N04 GRAY, J. rush for loss of 1 yard to the NAVY5, fumble forced by King,
Rashawn, fumble by GRAY, J. recovered by NAVY Frazier, Nate at NAVY5.
The heavens opened just as the drive started, with rain coming down sideways and the wind shaking the CBS cameras on the upper deck. Every play on the drive was a handoff to Gray, and on just about every play he tried to bounce the run to the outside. (As Michael mentioned, that's the sure sign of a newbie running back: used to out-running everyone.) But it was a good plan, and the only time that rushing Gray really hurt on this drive is when he ran out of bounds on 3rd down. Luckily for the Irish, Navy is hit with a horsecollar tackle penalty that moved the ball forward. On 1st and goal, ND moved to a goaline formation featuring Bemenderfer and Taylor Dever as extra tight ends. Another handoff to Gray, but Dever whiffed on a block-down that prevented Gray from running into the endzone.

Then, he fumbled. And everything changed. Instead of going up 34-7 with a four-score safety net and nobody complaining about the scrubs, the Irish left the door cracked and threw everything into doubt. I still think the decision to play Gray & Sharpley on this drive is defensible given the (again, overlooked) fact the first team OL remained in the game and had been shoving around the Navy defense for the past quarter. And right up until the fumble, things were fine. Until the 1st and goal, Navy only kept 7 men in the box, so they were expecting the run, but not completely selling out to stop it, and the handoffs to Gray were chewing up clock and gaining yards. But one turnover changes everything, doesn't it?

Navy got the ball on the 5, with just over 5:00 to go.
N 1-10 N05 NAVY drive start at 05:19.
N 1-10 N05 Dobbs, Ricky rush for 5 yards to the NAVY10 (FLEMING).
N 2-5 N10 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to Schupp, Mike.
N 3-5 N10 Timeout Navy, clock 04:47.
N 3-5 N10 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to Barnes, Tyree.
N 4-5 N10 Delahooke, Kyle punt 41 yards to the ND49, downed.
The rain appeared to have stopped for this drive, and Ricky Dobbs re-entered the game at QB for Navy (to apparently throw the ball a bit more). ND made a few substitutions, coming out with a mix of first-stringers and a sprinkling of backups: Mo Richardson, Paddy Mullen, Ethan Johnson, Darius Fleming, Steve Quinn, Scott Smith, Toryan Smith, Ray Herring, Sergio Brown, Robert Blanton, and Gary Gray. The quick Navy three-and-out was a another strong showing for the defense, which had been playing well all day (as Jay mentioned below).

(One side note about this sequence: walk-on Kevin Smith got into the game at middle linebacker on the 3rd and 5. There was a note on Irish Eyes earlier in the week from a friend of the family that Charlie personally told Smith, a four year walk-on linebacker, that he was going to be added to the travel roster for the Navy game and play on special teams. With a brother at the Naval Academy, it was a very nice move by Charlie and his staff to not only bring Smith along, but get him in the game as well.)

ND got the ball back with only four and a half minutes left to go in the game and still up 20. With ND taking over on the 49 yard line, the second team OL finally took the field (left to right: Romine, Nuss, Bemenderfer, Robinson, Dever). Robert Hughes replaced Jonas Gray at running back.
1-10 D49 NOTRE DAME drive start at 04:33.
1-10 D49 SHARPLEY rush for no gain to the ND49, fumble by SHARPLEY recovered
by ND TEAM at ND49.
2-10 D49 HUGHES rush for 1 yard to the 50 yardline (Deliz, Jeff).
3-9 D50 HUGHES rush for 6 yards to the NAVY44 (Merchant, Emmet;Nechak, Matt).
4-3 N44 HUGHES rush for 1 yard to the NAVY43 (Sovie, Clint;Vela, Ram).
A fumbled snap on 1st down put ND in a bit of a hole, and the second stringers miss a few blocks here and there on the next two downs. On 4th and 3, Charlie elects to go for it rather than punt. A slow-developing run play is called, Trevor Robinson is pushed backwards by the Navy defensive tackle, and Hughes is brought down only a yard past the line of scrimmage. The Irish turn the ball over on downs.

The Nightmare Begins. For all the coaching choices that Charlie made on Saturday, this decision to go for it on 4th down was by far the worst. To this point in the game, Navy's offense had been largely ineffective. Pinning them deep with a punt with only 2:30 left in the game would have been a smart, conservative play call. Yes, ND was technically only one missed block away from Hughes picking up the first down and effectively ending the game, but the decision to go for it was still a far more risky gamble than the situation warranted. Now, instead of starting with the ball somewhere inside their own 20, Navy set up 1st and 10 on their 43 yard line, giving them an extra 20-30 yards.
1-10 N43 NAVY drive start at 02:30.
1-10 N43 Dobbs, Ricky rush for 4 yards to the NAVY47 (QUINN).
2-6 N47 Dobbs, Ricky pass complete to Barnes, Tyree for 14 yards to the ND39,
1ST DOWN NAVY, PENALTY ND personal foul (WASHINGTON) 15 yards to
1-10 D24 1st and 10.
1-10 D24 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to Washington, Mar.
2-10 D24 White, Shun rush for 24 yards to the ND0, 1ST DOWN NAVY,
TOUCHDOWN, clock 01:39. Harmon, Matt kick attempt good.
Despite the relatively decent Navy field position, ND stuck with the backups, and even brought in a few 3rd stringers. Steven Filer replaced Steve Quinn at one LB spot and Kevin Washington replaced Toryan Smith at another. And it was Kevin Washington that gave Navy a big boost with a personal foul that tacked 15 yards onto a 14-yard pass. CBS was too busy recapping Michigan's loss to Northwestern to talk about the penalty, but it appeared to be illegal hands to the face: Washington drilled Navy QB Dobbs in the helmet as he released the pass.

Suddenly, just 32 seconds after ND turned the ball over on downs, Navy was already on the Irish 24-yard line. After an overthrown pass into the endzone, Navy attacked ND's 3rd string linebackers. Steve Filer got caught in no man's land between the QB and the pitch man Shun White, and Washington got blocked out of the play by the Navy OL. Navy's fastest back, White, sped through past the blocked ND players and into the endzone. Touchdown Navy.

After mulling this a bit -- and removing the lens of 20/20 hindsight -- it's still hard to fault ND too much for sticking with the backups. Getting guys like Filer playing time at linebacker will certainly pay off next season. And even if Navy scores there, it's still a two touchdown lead with barely over a minute to go against an opponent with a negligible passing game. They'd have to recover an onsides kick, score quickly, recover another onsides, and score again, all in about a minute -- and that could never happen, right?

Now to the interesting/terrifying/scream-inducing part of the game:
Harmon, Matt kickoff 8 yards to the NAVY38, on-side kick, recovered by ND
PARRIS return to the NAVY38, PENALTY ND illegal touching(PARRIS)
15 yards to the NAVY45

Harmon, Matt kickoff 14 yards to the ND41, on-side kick (touch by receiving team),
recovered by NAVY on ND41.
CBS couldn't get back from commercial before Navy attempted the first onside kick, but it was a beauty. The kick took a picture-perfect bounce, and the Navy players crashed into the Irish "hands" team, who were waiting tentatively for the ball. Robbie Parris out-jumped a Navy player reaching for the ball and slapped it out of bounds. The ref immediately threw a flag and charged Parris with "illegal batting." Say what?

The offical description for illegal batting can be found in the NCAA rulebook in Section 4, Article 1-c:
"No player shall bat other loose balls forward in the field of play or in any direction if the ball is in the end zone."
Since the ball that Parris batted was ruled to have moved forward, ND was penalized 15 yards and the ball kicked again. It appears that a Navy player had blocked Sergio Brown before the ball traveled the required 10 yards, but if the ref had called the correct penalty on this (Section 6-2, Article 2-g) the outcome would have still been a re-kick. It's hard to say if Parris was unaware of the forward batting rule, or if he just wasn't able to knock the ball sideways enough. He probably could have made the catch, but we know he was coached to act like a DB on a 4th down pass (Charlie said so in the postgame presser: "We told him to bat the ball out of bounds; unfortunately when he hit it, it went forward...")

On the re-kick, Navy pulled off another excellent chipper. This one did not have a high bounce, and it went directly towards Hughes who patiently waited for the ball to make a higher bounce than it did. Meanwhile, the Navy players crashed into the hands team again. Hughes missed the ball, and the Navy players pounced on it after it ricocheted off a few players.

The passisivity with which ND approached both onsides kicks was infuriating. Even if you think batting the ball out of bounds is better than trying to catch it, ND reacted rather than aggressively going after it. Fans will complain when a team muffs an onside kick, but if the players are hustling and being the aggressor, it's tough to criticize, especially with the pigskin bouncing around like a pinball. But when the team is allowing the Navy players to knock them off their feet, that points to coaching as a problem.

Navy recovered with pretty good field position and about a minute and a half left on the clock. Still down two scores. ND wisely put the first string defense back out on the field.
1-10 D41 NAVY drive start at 01:36.
1-10 D41 Timeout Notre Dame, clock 01:36.
1-10 D41 Dobbs, Ricky pass complete to Barnes, Tyree for 40 yards to the ND1,
1-G D01 Dobbs, Ricky rush for no gain to the ND1 (SMITH, T.).
2-G D01 Timeout Navy, clock 01:22.
2-G D01 Dobbs, Ricky rush for 1 yard to the ND0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 01:21.
Harmon, Matt kick attempt good.
The Irish had to know that Navy would take a shot down the field, and yet, Navy's Tyree Barnes still got behind Raeshon McNeil on the first play. The replay doesn't show if Barnes put a move on McNeil, or just beat him in a sprint. Either way he was wide open to haul in Dobbs's pass.

The sideline official right next to the play inexplicably signaled "touchdown," even though Barnes was a full yard short. The play was reviewed, and the touchdown was reversed, but the real controversy was just beginning. Barnes's toe was in bounds as he caught the ball but his heel came down out of bounds. Everyone knew it wasn't a touchdown, but was it even a catch?

The NCAA rule uses a vague "foot in bounds" definition which allows for some referee and replay offical interpretation. (Section 2, Article 7-c-1)
If one foot first lands inbounds and the receiver has possession and control of the ball, it is a catch or interception even though a subsequent step or fall takes the receiver out of bounds.
That said, it seemed like a fairly straightforward "out of bounds" call to me: the whole foot came down, and part of it was over the line. Instead, the refs gave him the catch. Puzzling call. Some might even say, "awful." (Of course, the more worrisome aspect was that a Navy player was that wide open in a situation where a pass was expected.)

Two plays later, Navy's QB managed to sneak into the endzone. And to make matters worse, David Bruton dove to block the extra point and in doing so slid into the kicker. Whistle, flag, and Navy yet again was kicking off 15 yards past the usual 30 yard line kickoff spot.

Harmon, Matt kickoff 14 yards to the ND41, on-side kick, recovered by
NAVY on ND41.
Unbelievable. Like a deja vu nightmare. The first thing that struck me was that ND's hands team was more aggressive this time around. Immediately after the kick, Robert Hughes took steps forward before it went 10 yards -- maybe there was some coaching going on after all. However, unlike the relatively flat bounce of the last kick, this one popped up high in the air and right over Hughes and Sergio Brown. Parris was getting set to haul in the ball, but got leveled by one Navy player, leaving another an easy jump and catch to secure Navy's second straight onside kick recovery. The refs did throw a flag on the play with the intent to charge Navy with hitting an ND player before the ball had left the 10 yard neutral zone, but the flag was waived off. While it was pretty clear that they committed this penalty on the first onside kick, it wasn't all that clear on this one. In fact, I'm inclined to agree with the officials that the ball had travled the needed 10 yards before Parris got smacked. If you want to see for yourself, check the 1:10 mark on this video.

The special teams were now officially terrible. The painful lack of execution on onside kicks seemed to indicate that our guys simply did not know what they were doing. It was a clinic on how not to cover an onsides kick.

With a minute left, Navy had the ball yet again and only was a touchdown away from one of the most stunning comebacks in college football.
1-10 D41 NAVY drive start at 01:21.
1-10 D41 Timeout Notre Dame, clock 01:21.
1-10 D41 Dobbs, Ricky rush for 7 yards to the ND34 (SMITH, T.).
2-3 D34 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to White, Shun.
3-3 D34 Dobbs, Ricky rush for 3 yards to the ND31, 1ST DOWN NAVY (SMITH)
1-10 D31 TEAM pass incomplete.
2-10 D31 Dobbs, Ricky sacked for loss of 3 yards to the ND34 (KUNTZ;SMITH, H.).
3-13 D34 Timeout Navy, clock 00:33.
There was a last bit of controversy with Navy's final timeout. CBS and the scoreboard operators (and by extension, most everyone watching the game) thought Navy was already out of timeouts. This led to a bit of exasperation on the part of Steve Beuerlein in the announcer's booth, and ND coaches on the sideline, as everyone tried to figure out what the hell was going on. In this case, the refs had it correct: Navy hadn't been charged a timeout earlier in the game on Gray's fumble review, and so they did have one left.

Last seconds:
3-13 D34 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to Barnes, Tyree (BLANTON).
4-13 D34 Dobbs, Ricky pass incomplete to Finnerty, Cory.
Whew. Blanton iced the win by breaking up a pass to Barnes, Dobbs overthrew a covered Finnerty on the next play, and the game was over. The Irish defense stood tall on this final drive, but frankly, they also got lucky when Shun White couldn't hold on to a 2nd and 3 pass. Had White held on to the reception, Navy would have been at about the 12 yard line. Again a Navy receiver slipped past ND's secondary and was pretty wide open.

Postmortem. A common refrain in the aftermath was that Charlie "took his foot off the gas" in this game. I'm not sure the substitution patterns and clock situations support that conclusion, however. Again, we kept the first string OL in the game, and if Jonas Gray scores instead of fumbles on the 2, it's 34-7, and we're all fat and happy. No, the problem wasn't letting up: the intent was to keep scoring, and we were two yards away from doing so. That doesn't explain away the problems in the game, but it does cross off one of the proffered theories of why we nearly lost.

No, the issues were more obvious than that, but no less damning: 1) Charlie deserves a heap of criticism for the decision to go for it on 4th and 3 instead of punting; 2) our defense should not have let Barnes get behind them for a 40-yard reception in an obvious passing situation; and 3), the special teams work was exceptionally shoddy, and betrayed a serious lack of preparation and hustle on onsides kick recovery.

Despite all that, it could have been worse. I'll take the win, tuck it under my jacket, and high-tail it out of town under the cover of night. Mark it a 'W'.

Husky Haywood? | by Pat

One of the first things Charlie addressed at his weekly Tuesday presser was who would be calling the plays the rest of the season.

As far as play calling goes. This week, Mike Haywood is going to be missing some practice for personal reasons. I support these personal reasons. But he'll be missing some practice again. And with that being said, followed up by a short week next week for the rest of the regular season I will be handling the play calling on offense.
There was plenty of speculation as to why Haywood would be missing more practice, but now we have a reason.
Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood, who was excused from practice by Charlie Weis earlier this week for "personal reasons," is expected to meet with University of Washington athletic department officials to discuss the job opening left vacate by the firing of head coach Tyrone Willingham, according to sources.


Haywood has connections to the University of Washington. Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward, who took over the job in mid-September of this year, is the former director of external affairs in the Office of the Chancellor at Louisiana State University, where Haywood served on the Tigers' coaching staff from 1995-2002.

Washington president Mark A. Emmert served as chancellor at Louisiana State and hired Woodward to his post in Seattle.

Haywood called Woodward "a very good friend" when discussing Notre Dame's trip to Seattle four weeks ago to take on the Huskies.
Washington just announced the formation of an advisory committee to assist the President and Athletic Director in the new coaching search, so they are still a ways away from naming a new head coach, as this somewhat awkward analogy from AD Woodward states.
But Woodward said that while work has been done on the search, it is nowhere near the completion stage.

"This is kind of like courting your wife or girlfriend,'' he said. "We are at the hand-holding and kissing stage. We are not at the alter yet.''
While it may be unlikely that the Huskies go for their second straight Notre Dame coach with limited (or no in the case of Ty) coordinator experience, it's still a great opportunity for Haywood. Coupled with the timing of Charlie taking back play calling duties, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that this might be the first in a number of interviews for Haywood. Still, it's a bit premature to say he definitely won't be back with ND next season. After all, he interviewed for the Houston head coaching gig last year and came back to ND. Then again, maybe Charlie's recruiting mantra does apply this year: if you're looking, we're looking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dry Docked | by Jay

Try, for a moment, to block out the last three minutes of the Navy game. (We'll get to it, I promise.) What you're left with is an outstanding effort by the defense against a tough Navy option attack: 178 yards rushing given up, total.

And as nice as that sounds, I don't think I appreciated just how good this performance was until I placed it in some kind of historical context. Remember, this is a Navy team that ranked thusly in national rushing in the Paul Johnson Era (counting this year as part of that era, as coach Niumatalolo, a longtime protege of Johnson's, is still running the Johnson offense): 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 1st, and 3rd, and averaging well north of 300 yards rushing per game over that period. While it might have been tempting to blame Navy's lack of punch on the absence of the injured Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, the truth is he's only played 4 games this year, and has had only 34 carries. He hasn't been an integral part of Navy's offense, which despite his absence was still second in the country in rushing.

One hundred seventy-eight yards given up is downright miserly, and almost without precedent. For starters, It's easily the lowest output notched by Navy against a Notre Dame team since Johnson's been there.

ND vs Navy in the Paul Johnson Era
            USNA rushes yds     avg    3rd Conv-%
2008 W, 27-21 45 178 3.96 1 of 13 8%
2007 L, 46-44 66 257 3.89 9 of 16 56%
2006 W, 38-14 56 271 4.84 5 of 12 42%
2005 W, 42-21 58 239 4.12 9 of 14 64%
2004 W, 27-9 61 216 3.54 8 of 15 53%
2003 W, 27-24 53 238 4.49 3 of 12 25%
2002 W, 30-23 56 216 3.86 3 of 16 19%
(And if you take out the one scoring drive against the Irish second-stringers, it's even better: 43-150).

Yet beyond being a Notre Dame record, this was also the fourth-lowest rushing output Navy has ever put up since 2002 against any team. The last time they had such a low total was in a game against Rutgers in 2006, when Navy's leading rusher, quarterback Brian Hampton, got hurt early in the game. The other two happened way back in Johnson's first year.

So, why was Navy stymied?

Well, for one thing, you'll notice the Middies were held to just 45 rushing attempts, an ND series-low. This also happens to be the 4th-lowest rushing attempts by Navy in the Paul Johnson era.

Okay, but why so few carries?

Navy converted just 1 of 13 on third downs. Over the past three years, the Middies have converted close to 50% on third down, so the Irish did a great job of bottling them up and getting off the field.

And why was that?

Pat usually covers this in Statistically Speaking, but it's worth highlighting here: simply put, we absolutely stuffed them on first down, and forced much longer second- and third-downs than what they're used to. Navy usually slashes for an eye-popping 6.35 yards per rush on first down. Against Notre Dame? Just over 3 and a half yards. Fantastic.

So...why? Or

Discipline. We had a solid scheme, it was coached well, and it was adhered to by the players. There was no over-pursuit; our guys kept their eyes on the ball, and didn't get sucked in by the misdirection. Most importantly, everybody played his responsibility: middle men plugged the middle, corners covered the pitch, and linebackers and safeties smacked the quarterback when he turned it upfield.

Robert Blanton's shed and tackle-for-loss to open the game set the tone for the rest of the day. See for yourself.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Odds & Sods: Down to The Wire Edition | by Mike

Too much ain't enough. Once again, the Irish failed to play a complete game. Fortunately, the team's dominance of the third quarter was so thorough as to make up for three lackluster quarters. In an upcoming post, we'll break down the fourth quarter breakdown, but the Irish also disappointed in the first half.

Ground on down. Navy's furious fourth quarter comeback attempt obscures the extent to which the Midshipmen offense had been shut down prior to that point. Navy entered the game second in the nation in rushing, averaging 308 rushing yards per game. The Irish defense held Navy to 172 rushing yards, their lowest total since a 2006 game against Rutgers where the Midshipmen had no answer for the in-game loss of their starting quarterback. The Irish defense also held Navy to 1 of 13 on third-down conversions. While he's had a relatively quiet season to date, Ian Williams had a great game and his play was a key in disrupting Navy's running game.

Take five. Irish running backs rushed for 220 yards on 44 carries, or a 5.0 yards per carry average (Aldridge - 5.0; Hughes - 4.9; Allen - 7.5; Gray - 2.3). While I'm certainly happy with 5 yards a carry, I would also expect an offense that is averaging 5 yards a clip to generate more than 20 points. Until the Irish offense can cut down on the turnovers, scoring will continue to lag behind yardage.

Walken. Brandon Walker made both of his field goal attempts against Navy - field goals that ended up providing the winning margin. After his rough start to the season, Walker has converted 9 of his last 10 attempts.

Hurt. The injuries are starting to mount for the Irish. Starters Chris Stewart and Terrail Lambert missed the game with injury. Brian Smith and Michael Floyd left the game with early injuries and did not return. Kerry Neal and Dan Wenger left the game with an injury but returned later, and Jimmy Clausen missed a play after getting speared by Clint Sovie. The most significant injuries appear to be to Floyd and Smith, both of whom may miss the remainder of the regular season.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Go Irish! | by Pat

Go Irish. Beat Navy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Critical Mass | by Jay

The best movie rating aggregator on the web for my money is Metacritic. Each week they comb through movie reviews, size up the sanguinity of each critic, and assign 0-100 ratings to reach an average score for each movie. It's a hell of a lot more precise (and fun) than a simple yea-or-nay system (like Rotten Tomatoes), and when it's all tallied up it gives you a pretty good sense of whether or not the movie is worth the nine bucks.

With seemingly everyone in the universe opining on the stability or fragility of Charlie Weis after the blanking at Boston College, we thought we'd pull together a little Metacritic-style rundown of the various opinions floating around this week, and take the temperature of the football media. Here's how a slew of pundits are currently regarding the big man and the relative security of his continued employment.

77 Chris Fowler, ESPN
It would be idiotic for Notre Dame to fire Charlie Weis this year. Idiotic. Wouldn't make a bit of sense...Now, if we are sitting here a year from now, and the Irish are again out of the BCS bowl hunt, that is a different conversation. But Notre Dame is getting players. Weis has been afforded some recruiting advantages his immediate predecessors did not have. Give Weis more time, but 2009 shapes up as a pretty crucial year for him.

42 Mike Downey, Chicago Tribune
Nevada is next season's first foe...Imagine the ignominy of a Nevada team coming to South Bend and being favored to win. "The one thing you have to be willing to do is you have to be willing to change and listen and go in a different direction," Weis recently said. "If there's a better way of doing it, that's the way you've got to do it." To change the coach in 2009 could be a good place to start.

28 Tom Pagna, Blue and Gold
As it now appears, the Irish squad seems anything but unified...When you slide by Navy and maul Syracuse, don’t wear your medals of honor in the public view trying to make all believe the ship is righted, the mutiny avoided.

78 Jeff, the Blue-Gray Sky
Barring a collapse at the end of the season (translated: losses to Navy and Syracuse), I think anyone that has passed judgment on Weis now is jumping the gun. If Weis is as smart as I think he is, he will realize the errors he's made, make adjustments, and the team will be better next season.

54 John Walters, NBC
The Irish will be better next season because these players will be more experienced. And because the schedule is 300-thread count soft (Washington and Washington State? Really?). But will they be better because of the coaching? Weis said yesterday, in effect, that he is the right man for the job because the arrow is pointing up, and that the arrow is pointing up because he has pretty good players. That should alarm you. That’s like a car salesman convincing me that I should buy the car because he’s an excellent salesman. It’s not about the salesman; it’s about the car.

19 Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune
Notre Dame is a special place, with a mix of football tradition and academic excellence matched perhaps only by Michigan and USC. But Weis is not a special coach and certainly hasn't seemed worthy of walking in the footsteps of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz. The sooner Notre Dame admits its colossal mistake and sends Weis back to New Jersey, the better.

88 mhb, Rakes of Mallow
Talent and time build good football teams. We've got the talent on the field. We keep bringing in more talent. It's not like our coaches are talentless, they did have other jobs before they were chosen to come to ND. We need time. They'll get it. And here's a newsflash: We might not compete for a national championship next year. But I believe that we'll be a darn fine looking football team. And the year after that. And the year after that.

62 Jason Kelly, South Bend Tribune
...he has positioned the program at an uncomfortable, but increasingly familiar crossroads. With more time than Willingham, but less than Davie, he has taken the Irish on a long and winding trip right back to where he found them. Two BCS appearances and a strong recruiting track record might even mean that, on balance, he has nudged Notre Dame forward a step or two. That and the lack of an "Urban Meyer" on the landscape probably should grant Weis the reprieve Willingham did not receive. Continuity could be the prudent course this time. As just the latest in a list of coaches who have puffed up optimism only to see it deflate on his watch, though, his margin of error narrows with every misstep.

81 Bill Brink, The Observer
Give the man time. He's shown what he can do when the pieces were in place. Now, graduation and youth have upset the playing board and scattered the pieces every which way. Weis has spent the last two seasons picking them up, slowly but surely. Once he finds a home not only for the pieces of the team, but for himself, he'll control a potent football team with a great deal of talent.

70 Mike Hutton, Gary Post-Tribune
If you're in charge of safe-keeping ND football, are you ready to undertake the massive job of finding the right guy? Have they reached the tipping point yet? I don't think so. It's definitely gotten hotter in that kitchen for Weis, but he still has enough support in the administration and with alumni and people that matter to coach another year to try to get it right.

51 Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Athletic Director (and here)
There have been times where the rate of progress looked great...There are times where we take a step back. That's not unusual for sports, and especially not unusual for a young team like ours. It's never linear. It's never smooth. We're clearly a lot better than we were last year. That's what you're looking for. You're looking for progress. [Anyone who suggests a coaching change could occur should know that it is] not under consideration at this time...It's really dangerous to evaluate midyear.

79 Mike Nadel, Register-Mail
Weis has seven years left on his contract and reportedly would have to be paid at least $20 million if he’s fired. It almost surely won’t happen - nor should it. Just as predecessor Tyrone Willingham shouldn’t have been fired after only three years, four isn’t enough time to judge Weis. Anybody with common sense - and without a pitchfork and torch - knows it. This is as much about patience, perspective and continuity as it is about Weis.

61 Mike Lopresti, USA Today
The athletic director was quoted Wednesday as issuing a show of support. It is too early to call for the axe, and the idea of buying out a coach with seven years left on his contract would make any accountant gag. Charlie Weis is not JPMorgan Chase bank. But it is starting to get late.

08 Jason Whitlock, Fox Sports
Weis is a bully and a coward, and his well-timed announcement that he would abandon this "head coach stuff" so he could bail out his offense proves my contentions. He's planning on the Irish averaging 35 points the next two weeks and selling his impatient fan base on the myth that he's making real progress. He's hoping the media will assist him in selling this lie...Weis is in over his head coaching the college game.

54 Ivan Maisel, ESPN
As for this season, it's hard to imagine that Weis will be in trouble, even if the Irish lose to the Midshipmen and go 6-6. New athletic director Jack Swarbrick isn't likely to pull that trigger only a few weeks into the job. But just the fact that the speculation about Weis has begun again gives you pause.

55 HTownND,
Unlike Willingham, Weis has worked his ass off. The results may not be perfect, but it's not from a lack of effort. Weis isn't playing golf when he should be working. Weis isn't on vacation when recruits are showing up to campus. He's organized, meticulous, and he's busted his ass for our University. No matter what happens, I'll support Weis simply because unlike his predecessors, he hasn't actively sought to diminish or change ND. He may fall short of our expectations, but it won't be because he doesn't embrace those expectations, and it won't be because he didn't work his ass off. Things aren't good right now, and I really hope that Weis can fix them. If he can't, a change will be made, but until the day that change takes place, I'll support my fellow alum.

That all averages out to a cool 56. As for me? Ask me in a couple of games. For now, this about sums up my state of mind.

Statistically Speaking: Boston College | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes (and message boards)

• Trevor Robinson became just the fifth freshman to start a game on the Irish offensive line at any point, joining an elite club that includes teammate junior OT Sam Young (the entire 2006 season), Ryan Harris (final eight games of 2003), Brad Williams (vs. Navy and Boston College in 1996) and Mike Rosenthal (vs. Ohio State, USC and Air Force in 1995).

• Since Ara took over for Joe Kuharich, Notre Dame has been shut out in a game 10 times. Charlie Weis-led teams account for three of them. The only other coach since Kuharich with more than one shutout loss is Ty Willingham (2).

• Senior SS Kyle McCarthy leads the Irish with 84 tackles and ranks fourth nationally among all defensive backs in tackles. He has registered double-digit tackles in four games this year and sits one tackle behind fourth place on Notre Dame’s single-season tackles by a defensive back list.

Battle of First Down

For the 6th time in 9 games, Notre Dame stopped at least half of the opponent's first down runs for 2 or fewer yards. Against BC the 1st down Win Rate was 50%. Against the pass, the Win Rate was 40%, the second lowest of the season. However, the Eagles only passed the ball 5 times on first down so the sample size is rather low.

Here are the season long numbers.

The true test for this metric will be against Navy tomorrow. Holding Navy to short gains on 1st down will put a serious crimp in the Midshipmen offense as 2nd and longs and especially 3rd and longs are not the kind of down and distance were option football is particularly effective. Last season, ND had a 1st down Win Rate against the run of 33%. That doesn't sound that great for the Irish defense, but the actual breakdown included 13 "draws" (read as a gain of 3 yards) out of the 27 attempts. In other words, Navy only gained more than 3 yards on 1st down 19% of the time. Over the course of the season, ND's run Win Rate was only 34%. So far this season it is noticeably higher at 52%. Is the improved win rate due to better defensive design and play, or weaker running games by the opposition? The performance against Navy will be a good insight into if ND really is improving as a rush defense.

Gimme M.O.E.

Not surprisingly, the M.O.E. against BC was the worst of the season, 16%. In fact, only 8 games in the Charlie Weis era had a worse M.O.E. percentage. The killers this game were Jimmy's four interceptions and the five offensive penalties. After 7 offensive penalties through the first four games, Notre Dame has been flagged for 20 offensive penalties in the past five games.

On the defensive side, BC pulled off an 11% M.O.E. If not for their 5 offensive penalties, the number would have been a lot lower as they committed no turnovers and only had one sack.

Season long numbers here.

Season Long Running Stats

The kickoff return coverage unit is back up to #1 in the nation, but the net punting has fallen off the map. In the Top 20 as recently as the North Carolina game, now ND is 85th in the nation in net punting. And that doesn't even include the blocked punts the past two games.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Take | by Jeff

"You're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose."

- Lou Holtz

After an ugly BC loss, ND fans are leaping off the Weis bandwagon in droves. Everyone still remembers the debacle last season, and while this season has shown some improvement, it is not what most Irish fans expected. Barring an upset of Southern Cal in the final game, even the most generous of fans would probably grade out this season as a C-. Personally, I don't believe that Weis is doomed to fail as a coach, but I'm not convinced that he is a National Championship caliber coach either, at least not yet. I believe he is a smart man who is willing to make adjustments to his approach and learn from his mistakes. I also know that he is an excellent recruiter, and I believe that he has been humbled a bit in the last couple of years.

The albatross of six straight losses to BC (even though Weis accounted for only two of them) joined its cousins (nine straight bowl losses and six straight home losses to Michigan State, again Weis accounted for two each of those) around Weis's neck, and media outlets and ND "fans" are claiming the buzzards are circling overhead. So much so that the AD felt it necessary to come out in support of Coach Weis yesterday. Looking at Weis only over his last four games is certainly not a fair evaluation of his performance or potential, but fans are flocking to whatever trends they can find.

The struggle I have with the Weis hire is that we violated a cardinal rule of hiring a football coach at Notre Dame. The head coach at ND needs to have prior head coaching experience in order to know how to build a program, not just install an offense or defense. The last two head coaches at ND without prior head coaching experience were Davie and Faust, and coincidentally, Weis's winning percentage after 46 games is nearly identical to theirs (Weis 27-19, Davie 28-18, Faust 25-21). But, four years ago, Urban Meyer went to Florida, and Weis was the best guy available that was also willing to take over a team with a dearth of talent* and the odds stacked against them. As the Patriots marched further into the playoffs, Weis lost more and more of his headstart on the season, and ended up putting together a patchwork staff and recruiting class. Fortunately for ND fans, Weis came into a decent situation in '05. He inherited a experienced team with strong leadership and players who were hungry to win. Weis used his offensive prowess to guide that team toward the upper echelon of college football over his first two seasons.

In '07, Weis started over -- in a big way. Holes in his approach that had been masked in '05 and '06 began to burst out all over the team. Many of the problems (poor fundamentals, inexperience, lack of talent, etc.) were not problems that could be fixed in the middle of a season, and Weis attempts to manage around them (for example, the spread offense run by Demetrius Jones) were futile. And so the team started to build for the future. With youth at every position, a brief flicker of hope emerged at the end of the season and there was reason for optimism heading into this season.

So, here we are in 2008, trapped in another sub-par season by every historical ND standard. So, we all want to know where we go from here. For those fans that want to fire Weis, who would you get to replace him? Dust off that dream list we all put together four years ago and tell me why those coaches will come to ND now. There is better talent, to be sure, but coaches like Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden, etc, etc, are not going to drop their current jobs and come scrambling to ND. So, does that mean we are "stuck" with Weis? Maybe, but I'm not sure that is a bad thing.

The key questions I want to resolve in my mind are: "Is Weis improving" and "How long is his runway?" In other words, is the team getting better over the course of the season, and does Weis have the aptitude to take ND to the next level (or can he develop it in the next year or two)? Let's look at each of these questions.

Is Weis Improving?

I think Weis is a head coach in training. Without having prior head coaching experience, Weis is capable of fixing problems as he sees them, but has not yet demonstrated the ability to design a program and develop his team and coaching staff through that program. Coincidentally, this is very similar to Weis's offensive philosophy of "taking what the defense gives you," so I am curious to see if Weis can develop this aspect of his program or if he simply is wired as an "improver" rather than a "builder." Arm-chair psychology aside, I think it is far too early to label Weis as lost and confused, randomly trying ideas to see what works. Here's what we know.

As Pat mentioned below, the coaching staff (including Weis) is very young and inexperienced. Weis took a bit of a gamble in replacing the experienced Rick Minter with unproven Corwin Brown, but he had recognized that the team was not going to get to the next level with Minter. In hindsight, he probably would have been better off keeping Minter for at least another season, but I think he recognized this mistake and tried to correct it by bringing in the experienced Jon Tenuta. (As another aside, I don't know how long you can keep two guys on as defensive coordinators, but we'll see how this plays out.)

The team has struggled in several areas this season, but at least some of the problems are getting fixed. As Jay mentioned below, the defense is playing much better with some attention from Weis and the kicking game is showing indications that the ship has been righted. However, the offense has struggled over the past few weeks which may be the result of play calling, or may be the result of Weis's attention to the defense. The running game has yet to show any real improvement in scheme or execution, and while this season's execution is certainly better than last season's Keystone Kops performance, fundamentals are still sub-par. And finally, the team has looked flat all to frequently this season. Over the next four (hopefully) games, we will see whether Weis is simply playing Whak-A-Mole, adressing the problem of the moment, and in the process letting everything else slip. Personally, I think Weis has a long list of problems, and he is scratching them off more quickly than they get added. But to be a truly successful coach, Weis needs to focus on establishing a program, not just addressing issues as they come up.

How long is his runway?

A big step in personal development is knowing what you don't know. In other words, knowing where you are deficient and taking steps to counter those deficiencies. I don't think Weis knew what it took to build a program, and I don't know whether he does now or not. I do know that Lou Holtz knew how to build a program, so let's look at him as a comparison.

A report card for Holtz might look something like this:
Offensive mind B
Defensive mind C
Recruiting A
Fundamentals A
Motivation A++
Holtz is a motivational genius and very good at recruiting and coaching fundamentals. His offenses were fairly vanilla and his defenses were good when he had a good defensive coordinator (Alvarez, Davie, etc). Overall, he had enough for his teams to consistently compete at a high level. As much as I hate "argument by anecdote", Pete Carroll is an excellent defensive coach and recruiter whose teams excelled when he had a great offensive coordinator (Norm Chow). He is also a good motivator and coaches fundamentals well. I suspect you would see similar profiles among other successful coaches: Bob Stoops is similar to Carroll, Urban Meyer is an offensive innovator and strong motivator, etc.

A four-year report card for Weis might look something like this:
Offensive mind B
Defensive mind C+
Recruiting A
Fundamentals D
Motivation C
Weis can develop the passing game but has yet to show he can run the ball. Like Holtz, his defenses are best left to better coaches, and he is an excellent recruiter. But, unlike Holtz he has not show an ability to coach fundamentals (blocking and tackling, which were probably not as much of an issue in the pros) nor does his business-like approach seem to inspire his team.

So, is his runway long enough to get us to a national championship? I think so, but only with a very good (and experienced) defensive coordinator and improvement in coaching fundamentals and motivating the team. The good news is that fundamentals can be taught, but I'm not sure about motivation. Certainly, Weis has the ability to inspire high school kids and their parents in their living rooms, so perhaps he can translate that into the locker room. A team doesn't need to be "up" to win every game, but it is a necessary requirement to win big games against strong competition. The team has come out inspired in some situations ('05 Southern Cal comes to mind), and I doubt you need to be Holtz-esque for every game to succeed (very few people are), so this is certainly something that can be overcome. I suppose the big questions for Irish fans are "If" these will be overcome, followed closely by "If so, when?" Let's hope we don't have to practice patience for too much longer.

Barring a collapse at the end of the season (translated: losses to Navy and Syracuse), I think anyone that has passed judgment on Weis now is jumping the gun. If Weis is as smart as I think he is, he will realize the errors he's made, make adjustments, and the team will be better next season.

* One note on the "lack of talent" excuse". Yes, it has been played over and over. But, guess what, sophomores do not become juniors after a couple of games. Just because we have heard the excuse over-and-over doesn't mean it no longer applies. If you believed that the team was inexperienced at the beginning of this season, it is a bit hypocritical to ignore that simply because you read it 30 times per day.

Pick your six | by Pat

Let's take a quick break from parsing pressers and update the Pick Six contest. It certainly has been a wild college year so far with teams like Texas Tech, Utah, Boise State, Ball State, TCU, and Tulsa all making their moves up the Top 25. How are your pre-season predictions progressing?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Puzzle Pieces | by Jay

A couple of interesting items this morning, both well worth a read.

* Haywood comes clean on the offense in his presser.

* Swarbrick comments on Charlie's status.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blue Chip | by Pat

Before the gloom and doom of the weekend, Notre Dame received some fantastic news in the form of new public commit Shaquelle Evans. The 6'1" 205 pound receiver from California announced his college choice during his U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection ceremony. The LA Times has video from the event.

Hailing from Los Angeles, Evans is considered the best WR in the west and was a top target of Southern Cal. He even was reported to commit while visiting the Trojan locker room following their September victory over Ohio State. (That Carroll brought Evans in as a visitor for that big game shows SC's level of interest). But a visit to ND for the Purdue game helped to sway Evans to the Fighting Irish.

"Yeah, on my official visit there, I could tell right away that I belonged at Notre Dame," Evans said. "It just felt like home for me and I always told myself that I wasn't going to commit to a school just because of how good the program was or how close to home it was, it was always going to be where I felt the most comfortable.

"I really bonded well with everyone at Notre Dame, players and coaches. I loved the campus and I like the area as well. Some people were saying there's not much to do there socially but I'm not a big party person anyway so it was just a perfect fit for me."
In addition to Southern Cal, Evans had offers from Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU, UCLA, Colorado, Washington, and many others. The recruiting sites all have Evans as a 4-star Top 100 recruit. On, he is the #54 overall recruit, the #7 WR, and in their position breakdowns, the 5th best deep threat and 3rd best "after the catch" receiver. has Evans as the #84 overall player and the 8th best WR. ESPN is the most impressed and has Evans listed as their 21st overall player and #3 wide receiver. ESPN elaborated on the Evans to ND decision.
"Evans was a huge pickup out of California over USC, and Weis is well on his way to building one of the top young receiver corps in the country. Fighting Irish fans have to be excited about the explosive weapon they just landed to align opposite of current standout freshman Michael Floyd; we still expect Deion Walker to emerge as a top-flight receiver in the near future as well."

"Evans is a big-catch and big-play receiver all wrapped up in one explosive package. He can hurt you as a vertical receiver with his great downfield speed, soft hands and exceptional body control coming down with the difficult grab. Or just as easily turn a short slant pass into a big gain with his great initial burst, quickness and acceleration in space. ND is landing a true difference-maker in Evans and a kid who should shine on special teams."
The last bit about special teams is good news as ND has auditioned multiple players lately trying to find an effective and explosive returner. Evans, Cierre Wood, and Theo Riddick all have been tabbed as standout return men meaning the odds are good one of them might be back to receive a kick starting as early as next fall.

As for his receiving skills, here's one of many youtube highlight clips featuring Evans. Impressive to say the least. Over the summer Evans attended the same Top Gun camp as Cierre Wood, Zeke Motta, and a number of 5-star wide receiver recruits. Rivals put Evans in their final camp Hot 11 along with this writeup.
Evans has the body of a player who's ready for college. Lean, trim and muscular, he had little problem battling corners who attempted to be physical with him. He also has long-enough arms to go up and get the football. While he's not a burner, he's plenty fast enough to get open, and his routes were some of the best in the camp. He probably was the most complete receiver in camp.
And it should be pointed out that Brian Polian once again was heavily involved in landing another California stud to Notre Dame. Charlie certainly has been the closer, but Polian has been doing a very good job recruiting the past few years and is frequently mentioned by recruits or their parents in a positive light.

No one can say what the next few years will bring for Notre Dame football, but what we can reasonably say is that ND will have one of its most talented collection of receivers in a very long time. Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, Duval Kamara, Deion Walker, John Goodman, and now Nyshier Oliver and Shaq Evans will spend time at ND together with all the listed receivers having two or more years of eligibility left. The mix and match possibilities with this group certainly are a welcome problem.