Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gruden Rumors! | by Jay

Weis out! Gruden to Notre Dame in hush-hush deal!

And in other news, this is for sale:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adding Alford | by Pat

News broke yesterday that the newest addition to the Notre Dame coaching staff is former Louisville running backs coach Tony Alford. Alford will replace Mike Haywood, now the head coach at Miami University.

"I'm very happy to add Tony Alford to our staff," Weis said. "In talking with several sources at the college and NFL levels for suggestions the first name that came up was Tony's. He came highly recommended because of his tremendous reputation as both a running backs coach and as a recruiter and is a great addition to our program.
Before digging into Alford's resume for hints about what he will bring to the Fighting Irish, the fact that he was hired explicitly as a running backs coach seems to heavily point to the fact that Charlie Weis will resume/keep full-time play calling duties as the de facto offensive coordinator next fall.

As for Alford, rather than go over a litany of running back rushing stats from his former coaching stops -- stats that were impacted by numerous other variables -- I'll lead with the Cardinal reaction to Alford leaving Louisville. Here is Mike from Card Chronicle on Alford's job change.
In losing Alford, the Cardinal football program is not only losing one of the hardest working and highest energy guys it had, but perhaps its best recruiter.
Sounds good to me. Frankie V. goes a bit more in-depth on Alford's recruiting impact over on his UHND blog and it's definitely worth a read.

Another thing that I thought was a bit unique about Alford is that unlike many other assistant coaches who bounce around positions while working their way up the ladder, Alford, a former honorable mention All-America running back at Colorado State, has always and only been a running backs coach since he started wearing a whistle in 1995.

He started his career in Ohio at Mount Union and Kent State. His first boss, Mount Union's Larry Kehres, still has high praise for him.
"Tony Alford brought enthusiasm and discipline to our running backs when he coached them in 1995," Kehres said. "We have stayed in touch over the years and he is still coaching with the love of his players and the game in his heart. He will do a great job for coach (Charlie) Weis."
From the Buckeye State, Alford landed at Iowa State for four seasons. Rick Neuheisel then hired him away to be the running backs coach at Washington. But after only one year away, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney hired Alford back as his running backs coach by giving him a raise and also naming him assistant head coach. Alford also helped out on special teams, working with the kickoff return units.

After McCarney was fired, Alford found work in Louisville, where he has worked for the past two seasons. This past year he helped redshirt freshman Victor Anderson crack the 1,000 yard mark and earn Freshman All-America honors.

There usually isn't too much written about running backs coaches in general, so there aren't a whole lot of articles about Alford at his former coaching stops. His gives a little insight into his practice philosophy on this Coaching clinic DVD. (Scroll down to see the sample video)

There is also an article from 2001 about Alford's impact on the Washington running back corp and his focus as a coach.
Hurst starts his final season as a Husky learning a new set of drills and demands from his new coach. Alford's system centers around ball security with a lot of game-oriented drills.

Whenever there is a fumble in practice, the whole running backs unit pays the price in drills. When the ball popped out of sophomore Matthias Wilson's hands during Tuesday's practice, Alford was all over it. All seven healthy backs stayed behind to get down on the ground and perform rigorous balancing techniques while moving up and down the field. The "punishment" drills force the players to hold the ball with both hands all the time. Hurst approves.

"Anytime the ball comes out, the whole group has to do one of those, no matter who did it," Hurst said. "Honestly, I am wondering why [the coaches] haven't done it before. It's very tiring, so you'll get it in your head that you will not commit a fumble because you don't want to do that drill."

Under Alford last year, the Iowa State running backs had zero fumbles all season while ranking 17th in the nation in rushing. It was all part of an amazing Iowa State turnaround that saw the Cyclones go from a 4-7 team in 1999 to 9-3 and an Bowl victory in 2000.

"I think that you get what you're stressing and I've always been a guy who has stressed ball security," Alford said. "I'm proud to say that I'm not the one taking any hits. I'm not going to get tackled one time, and it's really the guys out there who are the ones taking it to heart. Those guys have to understand that they're carrying the entire program under their arms at any given time."
That's one heck of a quote there at the end on the importance of not fumbling. The players must have bought in because ISU running backs lost a total of 13 fumbles in the 8 years Alford coached there. As a point of comparison, ND backs lost 12 fumbles the past two seasons.

But it will take more that ball security to turn around the ND ground game. Alford certainly has his work cut out for him, despite a lot of natural talent on the roster and a deep depth chart. After hearing of "four horses running downhill" and "pounding it", ND fans are eagerly awaiting that long promised dependable rushing attack. Along with big contributions from new OL coach Frank Verducci and the head guy himself, hopefully Alford will help make Notre Dame more than a one dimensional offense.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

America's Got Talent | by Pat

Continuing with my recent trend of covering all the weeks old news that's fit to print...

Slowly gaining more momentum and even more attention, the bifurcated high school all-star bowl season took place three weekends ago. According to the TV ratings, the NBC hosted US Army bowl on Saturday afternoon still edged out the ESPN hosted Under Armor All-American Bowl 1.7 to 1.0. But in only its second year, the UA Bowl certainly is making the move to be the more prominent end-of-the-recruiting-year all-star extravaganza. (I hope NBC doesn't turn the US Army Bowl into even more of a shameless ND commercial in a bid to keep Irish viewers if ESPN starts to get the upper-hand ratings-wise. On the other hand, I hope ESPN stops shamelessly moving players who commit to their game way up in their rankings.)

ESPN moved the game to prime time and the organizers were smart enough to sign up some of the better passing QBs. The US Army game didn't have as strong a QB crop and, combined with the attempt at running a spread offense on only a few days practice, the result was a pretty boring game aside from the predictable goofball declarations. Chris Watt, Tyler Stockton, and Zeke Motta all started in the US Army bowl, with Jake Golic, Cierre Wood, and Shaq Evans seeing time. Here's a quick video of the 6 together at the game. There isn't too much to report on their play either good or bad. If any of the readers watched either game and want to offer up their comments, go for it. The good news is that all made it through the game unscathed. Over in Florida, Zach Martin represented ND as the lone Irish commit and did a fine job blocking at the right tackle position.

The biggest recruiting news of the weekend for ND fans however wasn't even with one of the players in the games, or even with a current senior. Junior offensive tackle Christian Lombard became of the earlier commits I can remember by announcing his early decision to accept Notre Dame's early scholarship offer. Actually, he didn't even get to really announce it. While showcasing the 10 junior recruits who were already invited to next year's US Army game, Tom Lemming causally mentioned that Lombard, one of the invited 10, would be heading to ND. That Lombard was wearing an ND hat was a pretty big hint too I suppose. A few hours later, Lombard confirmed his intentions.

"I felt overall (Notre Dame) had the perfect blend of what I wanted," said Lombard, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and is considering studying business. "I got along with the players and I got to know the coaches really well.

"Most importantly if something was to go wrong in football, I can fall back on a great education from Notre Dame."

The first member of the Class of 2010, Lombard plays a need position for that class as an offensive tackle. Lombard had been to ND recently to watch the team practice before heading out to the Hawaii Bowl. That last trip more or less sealed the deal and Lombard decided there was no point in delaying the inevitable.

It's a bit silly that the recruiting sites already have Top 100 type lists out for the junior recruits, but since they do, here's where Lombard falls. He's a member of Rivals's unordered Top 250 list and is one of only 10 juniors in the nation to be given a 5-star on's Top 100. Now, while it's very impressive that ND already has a commitment from a recruit ranked nationally in the Top 10, keep in mind that of the intial members of Rivals's Top 100 list for the current senior recruits, only 47 are still on that list now. Things will change plenty over the next 12 months. Lombard also had a solid collection of early offers in addition to Notre Dame. He picked the Irish over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Stanford, Iowa, and others.

The ND OL will be in a bit of a state of flux when Lombard shows up his freshman year. Obviously a lot can change in the 19 (!) months between now and when Lombard actually suits up for an ND practice, but here's a rough guesstimate of what the OL depth chart will look like minus Lombard and whatever freshman linemen join him.
LT - M. Romine (Sr), L. Clelland (Jr)
LG - T. Robinson (Jr), Nuss (Jr), Bullard (So)
C - Wenger (5th), Cave (Jr), Golic (Jr)
RG - C. Stewart (5th), C. Watt (So)
RT - Dever (Sr), Martin (So)
With Lombard now in the fold, it's time to archive those 2009 recruiting spreadsheets and prep the ones for the Class of 2010. What linemen will be suiting up alongside Lombard as 2010 freshmen? Only 381 recruiting days left to find out!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It was Verducci All Along | by Michael

After four years of an inconsistent ground game, and one year after his offensive line contributed to the dubious record of 58 sacks allowed, John Latina has been replaced by former Cleveland Browns assistant OL coach Frank Verducci.

There isn't a lot of info out there on Verducci, but here's an attempt to reconstruct his past.

Like many entry level assistant coaches, Verducci bounced around for a while. Finally he found a home at Iowa, where he coached from 1989 to 1998. Although the stats would seem to suggest otherwise, Iowa fans remember him more as a strong recruiter, particularly in the state of New Jersey, where his father was a head coach at Seton Hall Prep, than for his offensive lines.

In 1999, Verducci left Iowa for the greener pastures of the NFL. He joined Bruce Coslet's Bengals as the TE coach and kept his job even as Coslet was fired and replaced by Dick Lebeau.

Coslet resurfaced in 2002 as the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys, who were floundering under Dave Campo. He lured Verducci to Dallas by offering him the opportunity to be the OL coach. However, the stint was short-lived as the Dallas offense struggled behind rookie quarterbacks Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson. In fact, midway through the season, Dallas switched from zone blocking schemes to man blocking schemes presumably because their offensive line personnel were better suited as man blockers.

Verducci was unemployed in 2003, but Mike Mularkey offered him the opportunity to coach TEs for the Bills in 2004. A year later, Verducci was reassigned as the offensive line assistant coach, and he worked with veteran OL coach Jim McNally. However, after the 2005 season, Verducci was fired (while McNally was kept). One week later, Mularkey resigned himself.

Verducci sat out 2006, and Romeo Crennel hired him as the assistant offensive line coach in 2007. Cleveland's offense surged to 10th in the NFL as the offensive line coached by Steve Marshall and Verducci paved the way for a successful ground and air attack behind Jamaal Lewis and Derek Anderson, respectively. More detailed information about Verducci's responsibilities in Cleveland from today's press release:

His job responsibilities included assisting the offensive coordinator in framing the run game, presenting the weekly opponent scouting report to the offense and installing Friday's game plan to the offensive unit. Verducci assisted the play caller on game day's with situational offense and was responsible for clock management.
And now Verducci will travel to South Bend, the one college job he said he would leave the NFL to take. At the same time, it's a homecoming for his wife, who attended Saint Mary's.

Verducci will inherit an offensive line that returns four starters, an experienced "sixth man" in Trevor Robinson, and the lofty expectations that Latina, whose resume seemed much stronger than Verducci's at the time of his hire, never achieved in his four years as OL coach. Verducci seems to be an assistant coach whose entire background is in zone blocking, so in that regard, continuity of schemes should not be an issue. Additionally, he would appear to be a more fiery personality than Latina. And while Latina enjoyed some successes as a recruiter -- despite the tag as a supposed poor recruiter -- Verducci would seem to own the edge. How quickly he can reestablish the pipelines he had in New Jersey remains to be seen, and then again-- what top Jersey prospects with grades have the Irish failed to land recently?

Questions abound, and one of the bigger ones will be addressed by Verducci in the spring: Who will win the vacated left tackle position?

As far as the long term ramifications of the hire, it's hard to imagine that such a journeyman assistant OL coach was a top tier candidate for what is arguably the most important coaching hire in Weis's tenure. Can he really be the key to unlocking the potential in the Irish offensive line?

Current Irish verbals may believe that, but after the offensive struggles the last two years, many in the Irish fanbase probably won't believe it until they see it. Who knows, maybe this will work out. I'd have rather had someone who's a current college success, and someone whose most recent track record was more definitively positive, but maybe Charlie knows what he's doing with this hire.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Roster Roulette | by Pat

Round and round the wheel spins. We've got a number of personnel matters to follow up on over the past few weeks. Let's jump right in looking at the guys that are on their way in or on their way out.

First, it's bad news for ND that Will Yeatman will be transferring to Maryland to play both football and lacrosse. From a purely football perspective, this move hurts the team, but it probably isn't a killer. Yeatman is the best blocker of the tight ends right now, and taking him out of the lineup will make it harder for ND to run the two- and three-tight end sets that are so instrumental to this offense. However, ND does have a number of younger tight ends with plenty of potential. If Ragone can stay healthy and Fauria can add some strength to his frame in the off-season, they will form a strong complement to the Freshman All-America Rudolph.

What's most disappointing about the Yeatman transfer is the way Notre Dame handled his circumstances and punishment. This topic probably deserves a longer rant from me, but suffice it to say that I don't blame Yeatman one bit for deciding to transfer away from a school that touts in loco parentis and a supportive, family atmosphere, and then turn around and hammers its students with draconian punishments that don't fit the transgressions. While I'm aware that it was Yeatman's second alcohol-related offense, he was suspended for an entire semester for being busted at a party with a BAC of 0.02, which amounts to one or two beers. Once again, ResLife showed an inability to exhibit common sense and instead of Will getting benched for a few games and a strongly worded "three strikes and you're out" warning, ND went with the nuclear option. What's also disappointing is the reaction to this news of Will's transfer from many ND fans, who naively and unfairly assumed that Notre Dame applied fair judgment. From the overzealous bust by the Excise cops, to the mug shots posted all over the web, to ND's cowardly response, the whole thing stinks. Good luck, Will; I don't blame you for leaving.

Yeatman won't be the only player missing from the roster for spring ball. Cornerback Gary Gray missed the Hawaii Bowl and now is not enrolled at Notre Dame for the spring semester. He is, however, expected back on campus next year.

That doesn't mean he is necessarily done with Notre Dame...the expectation is for a return to school and the team in the summer of 2009 for the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Columbia, S.C. product.
After going through a similar separation period, cornerback Darrin Walls is all set to resume his studies at Notre Dame this semester after missing the fall.
“This year I want to get back and be able to compete for a position. There are a lot of good athletes on the team that play my position, so I’m going to have to work hard to get it,” he said. “I want to get back on track and graduate on time also.

“Everyone wants to go to Notre Dame to win a National Championship. After being away, I want to spend as much time as I can with my teammates and work towards reaching that goal.”

“What happened in the past has shaped me. I’m going to use that to focus on my future,” he concluded.
Walls will have two years of eligibility left and will battle Raeshon McNeil and Robert Blanton for a starting corner spot.

Finally, incoming freshman Marlon Pollard switched his commitment (back) to UCLA. Initially committed to the Bruins, Pollard switched to ND back in July. After a recruiting trip to UCLA this weekend, the SoCal native switched back. This leaves the cornerback depth a bit more shallow, especially with incoming freshman E.J. Banks arriving with a torn ACL. Still, there are a number of talented corners with a few years of eligibility left on the roster. ND will just need to add that much more emphasis to cornerback recruiting for the next cycle.

update: Another ND player isn't enrolled at ND for this current spring semester.

Notre Dame safety Jashaad Gaines is not enrolled at Notre Dame this semester, Notre Dame football sports information director Brian Hardin said Tuesday.

Gaines, a Las Vegas native, missed most of the fall semester dealing with a personal issue back in Nevada.

No word yet if Gaines will be back in the summer or fall.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Year-End Clearance | by Jay

Like a pig roasting in an imu pit, this post-Hawaii Bowl post has been smoldering underground for a while now. Let's unearth it and dish it up.

A few years ago we did an excruciatingly detailed series of posts about the four long touchdown plays by Ohio State that broke the back of the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl ("Four Plays"). You can link to them in the Best of BGS sidebar, down there to the right. I think it's only fitting that with our first bowl win in a century we return to the same format. This time, thankfully, the tables are turned: here are the Four Plays (or maybe five) that swept the Irish to a big win in Honolulu. E'ai kakou!

Play-action to Grimes

This was a play-action pass off of a Wham-style run (where the motioning tight end trap blocks). We had run an actual Wham earlier in the game (on the first drive), which set up this nice out to Grimes.

Bomb to Tate

For this 69-yard TD to Tate, here's a tidbit. When we used that package and formation (Regular/0 Near, no motion) we didn't pass too much. This is probably why Hawaii switched up its defense and went to cover 0 (something Clausen pointed out in the post-game presser). They were expecting run. Rudolph crosses underneath, but Clausen reads the Go all the way and drops the biscuit in the basket.

Play-action to Tate

Similar package and formation as above, but with a little motion mixed in. Immediately prior to this play we'd been stuffed on a stretch with Hughes and what looked like a trick play (Allen to pass), and so here we were on third down with just a few seconds left before the half. Had to throw for a score here. We used this set and formation a lot earlier in the year, but shelved it for a while because it wasn't really working for us. We resurrected it for Southern Cal, and used it 7 times against Hawaii. All in all, we never got much production out of it all year, except for this amazing throw and catch.

Screen to Allen

The screen pass TD to Allen is interesting because the Irish did something different in this game that I can't recall us ever doing on a screen, and I think it helped out dramatically: we motioned a receiver down to the line of scrimmage. While his contribution probably doesn't seem like much, it may have afforded Clausen and the blockers an extra second or two to release and set things up. On the previous screen (for 41 yards), the motion man actually came down and blocked a LB, which helped open up the outside. I don't recall us ever doing that with screens -- normally we just send our WRs downfield and let them stalk block DBs or try to run off the coverage.

The bonus highlight in that play is the spectre of Chris Stewart pulling out and bearing down on a poor, defenseless back like a thundering, one-man herd. That is quite a sight.

Golden Go II

Another snap, another long bomb on the Golden Go. Clausen just throws it up there.

And that concludes our Hawaii game review.

Bonus Footage! I lied.

First kickoff return for a touchdown in literally years. Check out Tate with the pancake block, and then the effortless strides to catch up to Allen. The man is fast.

Finally, at this link you'll find a hodgepodge of Hawaii notes that were batted around the BGS lounge following the game. I just dumped out the inbox, and y'all can pick through the pile. There might be some interesting tidbits in there...happy hunting.

Confucius Say | by Jay

Like I said, it's not Chinese New Year yet, but here's a fortune cookie message for you. Who uttered it?

On Southern Cal: "We have to get where they are as a football program. We understand that. That's our goal, and they're a measuring stick for us. They're a constant measuring stick. We're going to play them this year, and we're going to play them 20 years from now, and we have to get to where we're consistently winning this game."
Answer: Jack Swarbrick, on his radio show podcast, about six weeks ago. In all the years Kevin White ran the department, I don't recall him ever articulating such a specific and decisive goal for our football team. Sure, I heard we needed to be "better on Saturday" and how we'd like to get more competitive, in a general sort of way. But I never heard him put it so bluntly as, "Beat SC."

I like the bluntness. I'm tired of being fortune's fool. Here's to a happy, healthy, and competitive 2009. Beat SC.

Auld Lang Syne | by Jay

Somewhere between New Year's Day and Chinese New Year falls Football New Year. Last night was it. Happy Football New Year. (My only question after watching the Gators win last night is: is this when Tim Tebow goes to Disneyland, or does Disneyland come to Tim Tebow?)

Even after a long night of revelry, the AP is up early. Final standings here. I thought for sure Southern Cal would get more than one first-place vote, but there you have it. With the standings final, this gives us a chance to update the Pick Six and crown our winner. Congratulations to Beekfather, who didn't have Florida, and didn't have Utah, but who nevertheless strode past voidoid into first place on the backs of Virginia Tech (up to #15) and TCU (#7) and their strong bowl appearances. Nice work.

Finally, I'm not usually given to chit-chatty blandishments, it me, or did this season just fly by?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Oliver Out | by Pat

We're still working up to covering the events of the past two weeks. But while we do that, how about some more current events. Eric Hansen is reporting that defensive line coach Jappy Oliver is out.

SOUTH BEND — The changes Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis promised in vague terms after a 7-6 season have begun to take shape.

Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver was fired Thursday after four seasons under Weis, two sources close to the team have confirmed.
Along with the Mike Haywood to Miami news we haven't really covered yet, this will give ND two assistant coach openings. Much more to come on this soon.


It seems ND put out an official statement and the SBT followed their lead, changing "fired" to "resigned".
Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver is out after four seasons under Weis, Notre Dame football spokesman Brian Hardin confirmed Thursday. Hardin said Oliver “resigned to pursue other career opportunities.”
The end result is the same, but it puts a softer spin on the separation. No word yet on possible replacements.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Holiday Hangover | by Jay

Pardon our sluggishness; we're still shaking out the cobwebs from end-of-the-year festivities. There's plenty to get to: Hawaii bowl tidbits, some BCS musings, an assistant out the door, one player gone, and a new one committed. And maybe a season review (or two).

In the meantime, something to tide you over: there was a bit in the NYT about our new recruits at the Army Bowl, including this choice quote from OL commit Chris Watt:

Weis has promised changes, but he did not elaborate on them, Watt said. "He’s trying to get the program back on two feet again..."