Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Purdue Photo and Video Galleries | by Pat

Click the links for photos from the AP, the Journal Courier Online, the Indy Star. I finally figured out that the South Bend Tribune puts their game photo galleries over on the Irish Sports Report sister site. Here's the link to the Purdue game, as well as ones from the MSU, UM and Nevada games.

The pic of the game is a pretty easy one. Clausen fired a bullet into the chest of Kyle Rudolph and he held on for the 4th down go-ahead touchdown. Jim Rider of the SBT/ISR got the shot and that's the one I'm going with this week. It may not be ideal to have to rely on that kind of play to beat Purdue, but it was a great clutch play nonetheless.

For videos, highlights are popping up all over the youtubes. Here's the final ND touchdown pass to Rudolph. And if football and rawk is your thing, here's a long highlight reel. If you like a shorter and sweeter highlight clip with plenty of grand piano, here's the video for you. If you see any other photos or videos out there, feel free to add them in the comments.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kickoff! | by Jay

Go Irish! Beat Boilers!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Statistically Speaking: Michigan State | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• Michael Floyd didn't even play 2.5 games this season. But he finished the year with 358 yards receiving. That is only 3 yards behind what the most productive receiver in 2007, Robby Parris, did over the entire season.

• Junior RB Armando Allen is a perfect six-for-six on third down and short (two yards or less) this year, converting all six attempts into first downs.

• The Irish have never lost under head coach Charlie Weis when outrushing its opponent. Notre Dame outgained Michigan State, 133-105, on the ground to improve to 17-0 since 2005.

• Under Charlie Weis, ND's defense has allowed the opponent to score at least 30 points 20 times out of 53 games (38%). ND is 3-17 in such games with 2 of the 3 wins coming against Michigan State. Stanford is the other. Here's how frequent other ND coaches allowed 30+ points in a game. Willingham - 22%, Davie - 20%, Holtz - 13%, Faust - 14%, Devine - 9%, Ara - 6%.

Battle For First Down

It's always nice when the stats agree with what you saw with your own eyes.

Open up this week's spreadsheet and you'll find the second worst 1st down run win rate since Tenuta came to ND. The 20% win rate against the run is second only to the 11% put up against Syracuse and Hawaii last year.

Things aren't better in the passing game. Only the Michigan game in '08 had a worse 1st down win rate against the pass. Even worse, that 29% win rate against UM last season was based on only 7 passes. This past Saturday, ND only won 33% of 1st down passes with the Spartans chucking the ball 18 different times on 1st down.

Put it all together and you get an overall 1st down win rate of 24%, which is the lowest win rate since I started tracking this metric at the beginning of the 2008 season when Tentua came on board.


Get your fancy google spreadsheet here.

Only three times last year did ND manage to pick up at least 60% of the available yards in a single game (Purdue, Washington, Hawaii). So far this season, ND has done it twice as the offense hit the 60% mark against the Spartans on Saturday. It was a bit curious how the injury to Floyd impacted the offense and if it would foreshadow anything for the upcoming Purdue game.

Floyd was healthy for four drives with a total available 260 yards to be gained. ND picked up 186 of those yards for an outstanding 71.5%. Three of the drives ended in two touchdowns and a chip shot field goal (after Floyd's injury on what should have been a touchdown catch). The only blemish was losing 3 yards on the third series and going three and out.

After Floyd was out, ND had 6 non-garbage time drives with 430 available yards. The offense gained 228 of those possible 430 yards for a lower, but still decent 53%. Considering the loss of the #1 receiver, Jimmy's foot injury, and Armando Allen fighting through some nagging bumps and bruises, that's not a bad figure. It should be expected that the offense will regress a bit without the nearly unstoppable Floyd, but it might not be quite as big a dropoff if the team can replicate the success of the post-Floyd MSU game drives.

Over on defense, the stats once again back up the obviously poor defense ND played. The Spartans picked up 60.8% of their available yards, which is the highest number since Tenuta showed up. MSU joins last year's Southern Cal team as the only two teams to hit 60% against the Irish defense, with MSU actually slightly edging out the Trojans for the top spot overall.

Gimme MOE

All of our metrics this week are signing the same tune. The offense did a solid job while the defense just couldn't do their part. Witness this week's MOE chart.

The offensive MOE isn't quite as good as the drive charts though. ND for the second week in a row was over the 12% mark with a 14% MOE score. Again the big culprits are offensive penalties and dropped passes. Crist's interception to end the first half was largely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but did knock up the MOE score a whole percentage point. With Floyd out and Jimmy working on a bum toe, the rest of the offense will have to shore up the penalties and not put as many passes on the turf.

It would be nice though if the defense picked up their end of the bargain and started to force more mistakes by the opposing offense. Despite the fact that MSU featured a solid collection of receivers and tight ends (#1 overall in our pre-season position preview if you recall), they still came to ND with a QB making his third career start, freshmen running backs, and a patchwork offensive line. With all of that inexperience and ND's designed-to-create-pressure-and-force-mistakes defense, the Spartans still managed to hit 12% on the MOE scale. Following on the heels of Nevada's 14% and Michigan's 8%, it's clear that ND's defense is not doing too much to push teams out of their offensive comfort zone.

Season Long Running Stats

The season's already a quarter over if you can believe it. Over the next game or two, the stats will slowly start to settle down and there won't be quite as much swing from week to week. In the meantime, check out the trend column for each of the four major categories to see how ND is doing against last year's numbers. Not really a surprise that the offensive is still much improved and the defensive has fallen behind last year's pace in many categories. (It is kind of funny that the only defensive category doing statistically better than last year is total yards run defense).

What might surprise some is the near across the board improvement in special teams. There isn't overwhelming improvement, and the dropoff in kickoff return coverage is sizable and alarming, but all of the other stats we track show upticks so far. Perhaps the most impressive is the kickoff return average of 27.6 yards per return. That's good for 18th in the nation so far.

In another special teams oddity, three games into the season, no team has attempted to return a punt against ND. Every kick has either gone out of bounds, been downed by ND, or was a fair catch by the opponent. That is helping to keep ND's net punting average over 40 yards and good for 32nd best in the nation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Tackles | by Pat

One play that jumped out to me against Michigan State was Ian Williams's tackle for loss where he met the runner in the hole and drove him backwards. Where had that been to this point? What did ND do differently on that play?

As you can see, the difference is really only that Ian was able to keep his feet on his stunt and help fill the hole that had opened up and allowed for a cutback. Compare the first play in this video, which is the very first play that MSU ran on Saturday with the second one, that happened a bit later in the quarter.

If ND can get more production like the latter out of Williams, the run defense will likely improve noticeably. However, perhaps an even bigger issue is the play of the middle linebacker. Re-watch the video and this time keep an eye on Toryan Smith (#49). On both plays there is a pretty big hole for the back to cut back into, and on both plays, Toryan overruns the hole slightly and just isn't in position to make the tackle. It will be interesting to watch him against Purdue and see if he is able to feel out these holes a bit better and not wind up diving against his momentum trying to make an arm tackle on the passing back. If he isn't, how long until Te'o starts to get more snaps on non-passing downs?

Michigan State Photo and Video Galleries | by Pat

A few days delayed, but here you go. You can find plenty of great pictures of the game from the AP, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the Lansing State Journal, and Getty Images. Notre Dame has also started to add photos from gameday by the always excellent Matt Cashore. Check them out here and look for the photo of former Irish QB Jamie O'Hara. Then play Where's Waldo and try and find yourself in the 360 degree pep rally photo.

The South Bend Tribune for some reason doesn't have a photo gallery of the game. I can't really understand why, considering they took pictures at the game and interspersed them into the articles. Anyway, a close second for picture of the week is the one by Marcus Marter of Floyd putting his second foot inbounds after catching a touchdown pass from Clausen. This is the play where he broke his collarbone and the TD catch was deemed not a catch.

As for video, NBCSports once again has the game replay up. Click here for the 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, and 4th quarter. You can also find the halftime performance of the band and overall game highlights. Irish Illustrated also has some video on the field of the postgame celebration.

For the picture of the week, I was going to go with this one from the Lansing State Journal, but need to highlight the masterful work at MSPaint Like a Champion Today, which provided the same image from the perspective of the Spartan Band. Some may quibble if Tate's leap was a wise move, but there is no doubt this is a great image.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

May I have your attention please | by Jeff

"Traffic may seem like a swarm of ants, but don't let it bug you."

- Officer Tim McCarthy
MSU @ ND, 9/19/09

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Go Irish! | by Pat

Beat Spartans!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A spartan Preview | by Pat

Both the Spartans and Irish are reeling a bit after surprising losses to schools from Michigan. How is MSU recovering from last Saturday's loss to Central Michigan?

First up, a players only meeting the day after the game.

"It wasn't a panic thing. Obviously, we were shocked after the game. It was dead silent in the locker room and we just wanted to bring everybody in and get everybody on the same page and keep everybody together so we can get ready for Notre Dame."
Next up, circle the wagons and keep the media out.
Dantonio also is taking on a bunker mentality typical of Notre Dame week. The first part of practice, normally open to the media, is closed and only selected players will be available for interviews
At the same time, work on the confidence of your top corner.
If there's one thing the Spartans really need, it's a loss of memory and return of confidence for junior cornerback Chris L. Rucker. Rucker was supposed to be this team's best cover man, but he has been victimized often in two games.

Rucker gave up a pair of deep completions to CMU star Bryan Anderson, then a pair of key third-down catches in the fourth quarter.

Rucker was not made available for interviews this week, but his coaches know the 6-foot-2 corner's play will be pivotal Saturday. Clausen loves throwing jump balls downfield for his guys to snatch.
Then, review the depth chart, which is still in flux at...

Cousins and fellow quarterback Keith Nichol have had their patience tested this fall because of the unresolved competition for the job. This is the third straight week the depth chart read "Kirk Cousins OR Keith Nichol" as the starter, a move that fuels only more ambiguity.

Nichol didn't play in the second half against the Chippewas and can prepare only like he's not out of the running to at least share some snaps.

"If you're not sure what is going to happen, you normally just go with whoever is in there at the moment,' said Nichol, who thought he would return in the second half.
Running Back:
Redshirt freshman Caulton Ray carried the bulk Saturday for the second straight week, with 51 yards on 16 rushes and a 1-yard touchdown on the MSU's opening drive. True freshman Larry Caper had 33 yards on six carries, 16 of them coming on the Spartans' longest run of the day.

True freshman Edwin Baker appears to have big-play speed at running back, but he did not play Saturday. Dantonio said Baker was nursing a sore knee and did not say whether he can play at Notre Dame. For now, it appears that Ray will continue to be the premier back, with Caper and Baker as his support staff.
Offensive Line:
Junior right guard J'Michael Deane has gone from backup, to starter, to injured in just two weeks. He'll likely not play Saturday, offensive line coach Dan Roushar said Thursday. If that is the case, sophomore Jared McGaha could be back in the lineup at right guard - unless of course there's more shuffling.

Junior Bowling Green transfer D.J. Young has seen time at tackle, but was limited against Central Michigan due to MSU having just three offensive possessions in the second half.

The biggest uncertainty has come at center where senior Joel Nitchman has been out with a knee injury, replaced by junior John Stipek, a former defensive end. Though Roushar and head coach Mark Dantonio complimented Stipek's performance Saturday, Nitchman's 22 career starts are impossible to replace.
Defensive Line:
The Michigan State defense has a new look on third down this season, with senior linebacker Adam Decker lining up at defensive end, alongside walk-on Johnathan Strayhorn at nose tackle.

That may not last long however, if MSU can't get more pressure on the quarterback in third-and-long situations."Strayhorn's done a nice job in there," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said.

"Decker was an average pass rusher last week and he's gotta get better or he'll be replaced. We don't anticipate anybody that hasn't played playing this weekend, but you never know, things happen."
Free safety Trenton Robinson, a sophomore from Bay City, is expected to get his first career start Saturday at Notre Dame.

"I think he deserves that opportunity," Dantonio said during his weekly press conference.

Robinson is listed at first-string free safety on the team's depth chart over (previous starter) Danny Fortener and Kendell Davis-Clark.
Due to injuries and production on the field, it sure seems like the Spartan coaching staff have a lot of questions marks across the depth chart. But they have the luxury of perhaps the best linebacker corp that ND will face this season, a solid group of receivers, and the knowledge they have won six straight at Notre Dame Stadium. It's pretty obvious that Dantonio will challenge his team to come out swinging at ND and use this game to springboard to a strong rest of the season. ND's response will go a long way to predicting how the rest of the Irish season will unfold.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Statistically Speaking: Michigan | by Pat

It Came From the Game Notes

• Notre Dame has now lost 16 games in school history in either overtime or the final 12 seconds of regulation. The Irish own an impressive 6-2-1 record the week following those last second defeats (Notre Dame did not play the following week in seven of those games). However, the Irish have dropped their last two such games. Notre Dame lost to Boston College last season the week following its four overtime defeat to Pittsburgh and lost to Air Force the week after the three overtime defeat to Navy in 2007.

• Notre Dame racked up 27 first downs and 490 yards against Michigan, the most ever by an Irish squad in the all-time series with the Wolverines.

• No Notre Dame quarterback has ever reached 5,000 career passing yards faster than junior Jimmy Clausen. Clausen accomplished the feat in 25 games, besting Brady Quinn who arrived at 5,000 yards in his 27th game.

• With 11 career touchdown receptions, Michael Floyd is already 11th on ND's all-time touchdown receptions list, one behind Bobby Brown and Tim Brown.

Battle for First Down

The numbers on first down were not quite as bad as I would have guessed. Overall, ND held Michigan to 2 or fewer yards on 1st down 50% of the time, winning 9 of the 18 1st down UM rushing attempts. However, there was clear regression as the game went on. Against the first 9 1st down rushing attempts, ND won 7 of the 9, which sounds extremely impressive against a spread option team. On the flip side, against the last 9 1st down rushing attempts, ND only won 2 of the 9. Did something change schematically? Did Michigan's success through the air cause ND to be a bit more conservative? Did the young and inexperienced ND front seven just wear down?

Against the pass, ND held Michigan to 2 or fewer yards 46% of the time, winning 6 of the 13 attempts. Doing the same kind of split as with the runs, ND won 2 of the first 6 yet won 4 of the last 7 plus one draw (a play that goes for 3 yards is a draw). It may be easy to try and reach a conclusion on that indeed ND did worse against the run later in the game because they focused on slowing down the pass, but be careful not to fall into the correlation/causation trap.


The drive chart has been updated with ND and Michigan being largely tied for offensive drive efficiency. ND gained 51.8% of available yards against the UM defense while UM gained 50.8% of available yards against the ND defense. Note that the UM drives do not include the kickoff return for a touchdown, so that return isn't skewing any of the numbers. Note that UM still started at an average of the 32 yard line, which is a better average starting spot than any opponent last year save Southern Cal. ND's average starting spot, effectively the 30 yard line, was better than any game last year save Washington, Navy, and Hawaii.

Since there still isn't a lot of data to compare with this stat, it's probably still best to wait a bit until more numbers come in and provide some more context.

Gimme M.O.E.

It looked like ND's M.O.E. for the Michigan game was going to be through the roof with all the penalties, but the lack of sacks and interceptions kept the number somewhat low. At 13% however, ND did trip over the 12% mendoza line, something it only did 3 times last season (Stanford, BC, USC). The killer was the 6 offensive penalties, although the 3 dropped passes, one by Kamara and two by Tate did not help either.

On defense, kudos to Michigan for playing a largely mistake free football game. Their 8% M.O.E. is the second best score an offense put up against ND since the start of the 2008 season (MSU had 6% last September).

Here is the overall spreadsheet. I added another sheet that shows the M.O.E. scores over the entire Weis era, highlighting those games where ND went 12% or over. Losses are in italics, so it's easy to see that under Charlie Weis, ND is 19-4 when the M.O.E is under 12% and 11-18 when the M.O.E. is 12% or higher.

Season Long Running Stats

It's too early in the year to get too worried or excited about the season averages, but it's still interesting to note that every single offensive category is improved from last year while, despite the shutout in Week One, nearly all of the defensive categories are down from last year. Will the numbers change drastically as ND finally faces a tougher defense and a more traditional offense?

Here is the spreadsheet
. What catches your eye?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stuck Between Stations | by Dylan

Or more appropriately, between stages, 4 and 5 to be precise. A metaphysical oddity.

I may have, in the heat of the moment, lost my everloving shit after the game on Saturday. Immediately following the final whistle, I wrote "Weis is a profoundly stupid man" to some friends. I said that Notre Dame will never win while he is the head coach. I gave in to that urge that compels all internet know-it-all dweebs and gave voice to my outrage, which was pure. But, much like a California Roll, my anger tickled my tongue but left me, ultimately, empty. There's no place for such damning absolutes, especially considering the target of my scornful rant; a fellow alum, a man who loves Notre Dame, someone who deserves my respect and, unfortunately, my sympathy. This man is no saboteur, nor is he a fraud. However, he is also deserving of criticism and, frankly, a vote of no confidence.

Weis is not“profoundly stupid.” He has designed a spectacular offense that he, on occasion, voluntarily derails while admiring his own reflection. I still think it’s very unlikely that he can ever make it through a full season without hamstringing his team’s chances of winning (can you imagine him getting through 13 games without one of those all-too-predictable boneheaded maneuvers?), and so I still think it’s unlikely we’ll win a championship with him at the helm. He’s too unconventional and has too much faith in his own sense of panache. His “take what the defense gives you” approach has the college game exactly backwards, I think, at least if you’re the more talented team. Why react? Execute a plan and take advantage of the defense’s (over)reactions. Not to dwell on the glory days, but I remember Lou Holtz sending guys into eight-man fronts, getting their heads bashed in for seemingly no good reason. But I remember loving those plays, because I knew that we’d burn the other guys in the third quarter. We’d exert our physical superiority.

Which segues, in a way, into my point, such as it is. I don’t see this game as the typical Weissian failure (and there have been many), and I guess that eases my mind a bit. It actually reminds me of post-1993 set-in-his-ways Holtz, when it always seemed that we had a 35 points-per-game offense and a 36 points-per-game defense. I remember stewing over various “prevent defense” calamities, watching huge chunks of yards yielded in the minutes before the ends of halves. Weis is the head coach, and I think he made an error at the end of the game, but he hired a great defensive coordinator who happens to have no idea how to defend the spread. We lost because we gave up 38 points to those freaking nitwits. 34 points and 500 yards (and the 100+ yards that were stolen) should have been enough.

So what now? Well, we need to win 10, 11 games. We need to get radical improvement from our defensive line. We need to see some offensive coherence whereby we avoid catastrophic quarters where we run nine plays to our opponents twenty-six (or whatever). If we don’t do those things, we pray. We pray that there is a great coach out there looking to coach at Notre Dame. If there isn’t, rinse, repeat.


Trip Report | by Jay

As usual, I made it to the Big House for the game, and I have some thoughts to post. In the meantime, enjoy this picture I took on another trip, this summer to Kenya.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let's Go! | by Pat

Go Irish! Beat Wolverines!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wolverines! | by Kevin

In late March, I posted this preview of the 2009 Michigan football team. At the time, I could conceive of no way, absent injuries to key players like Clausen and Floyd, that Michigan would beat Notre Dame in this early season matchup. However, Michigan looked better in Week 1 than I expected.

What follows is first Michael's overview of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and his schemes, then my refresher on the Michigan starting units and a brief closing.

Greg Robinson. The former head coach at Syracuse is now in charge of the Wolverine defense, making this the fourth time in four head coaching stints that Rich Rodriguez replaced defensive coordinators. Despite a rough time in upstate New York, Robinson will be firmly in charge of the Michigan defense, and they had a nice start last weekend.

When Robinson took over the Orangemen in 2005, he was known for running a 4-3 under defense, which we talked about at the time. Since then, it appears his defense has evolved into a more multiple front defense that incorporates both even and odd fronts through the use of a hybrid defensive end. And this is exactly what head man Rich Rodriguez wanted, a "pro 3-4" that utilizes odd man fronts."We're going to be less experienced," Rodriguez said. "Even though it's a different system defensively (under Greg Robinson), a lot of the same methods and fundamentals the position coaches were teaching and now have the second year to take hold."We're probably more to a pro 3-4 than a 4-3 ... There's some 4-3 stuff in there. Then you have your nickel and dime and third-down packages that are three-man fronts. We're all over the place, but just about every defense in the country does that."

One of Robinson's first moves was to slide Stevie Brown from safety to the Sam backer spot. There was initially some confusion in the media about this being a special hybrid position, but that was recently cleared up. However, the one hybrid position that Robinson will bring to the Wolverines is a Quick (end), a hybrid linebacker/defensive end who can line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage in an attempt to confuse and disrupt protection schemes. This is nothing new to those who have coached against Robinson, as his Syracuse defenses used the same hybrid player, also called the Spinner, at least as far back as 2006. One also has to wonder if, given the coaching connection between Robinson and Pete Carroll, the Spinner or whatever it's called is similar to the Trojans' Elephant position that was manned by Brian Cushing in 2006.

So despite some initial confusion and smokescreen, it seems likely to be the same defensive scheme that Robinson has always run. The same scheme that Weis saw in the NFL and twice over the last four years. The same scheme he beat four out of the first five times he faced it. Then again, it's also the same scheme that held Irish running backs to 52 yards on 23 carries last year as the Orangemen came back from a 13-point deficit to stun the Irish at home.

If Michigan can recruit better defensive talent, Robinson should thrive because he is known as one of the smartest and most passionate defensive coordinators in football. He is renowned for his playcalling and firing up players in the lockerroom. Robinson stymied the Irish offense last year with what little talent he possessed on the Syracuse roster. Will he be able to do the same in Ann Arbor and with a defense seeking vindication after a poor 2008?

Next, a quick starting lineup update, without the photos and pretty colors:

QB: Tate Forcier. Tate looked very good against Western Michigan. I was surprised to see how composed he played, how effectively he operated within and outside of the pocket, and how well he threw to both sides on the run. He could be a pain for UM opponents for years to come. Still, no quarterback can entirely avoid the learning curve. Notre Dame's defense, as it proved against a respected Nevada offense, is not the same as Western Michigan's. With due respect to Forcier's potential and talent, I don't think he will be as successful this week. The other quarterback, Denard Robinson, is not as far along as an all-around quarterback as Forcier, but he did do this:

Western Michigan or not, that was fast.

RB: Carlos Brown/Brandon Minor. Minor is listed as "probable" for the game with an ankle injury, and Brown will likely start. When checking on Minor's status, I learned that college fantasy football exists. Do Rick Reilly a/or Mitch Albom know about this? Look for a "how can people play college fantasy football in the middle of a credit crisis" article at newstands near you. Brown played well against WMU, gaining 54 yards in ten carries. Kevin Grady, Michael Shaw, and both QBs will also supplement the Wolverine rushing attack.

WR/TE: Junior Hemingway had a magnificent afternoon against the Broncos, with 103 yards, two touchdowns, and a 44-yard reception. Hemingway is now listed as "doubtful" for the ND game, with a sprained ankle. Instead, Greg Mathews, TE Kevin Koger, and Martavious Odoms will likely lead the Michigan receivers.

OL: The line played well, paving the way for 4.8 net yards per rush and allowing no sacks. Ortmann, Schilling, Molk, Moosman, and Huyge return for week 2.

DL: Brandon Graham, Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Freshman Craig Roh all had nice games against WMU. Every year, Michigan seems to overachieve along the defensive lines. I realize this is a different era in Ann Arbor in nearly every respect, but good defensive line play may be one constant. When Michigan has beaten ND -- most notably, in 2006 -- the DL was the foundation. Paul Duncan and his mates must be ready for these guys. All of Notre Dame's advantages against the Michigan secondary could be undermined or negated if ND cannot run and cannot protect Jimmy Clausen. We saw a much better offensive line against Nevada than we did against Syracuse and USC. We will need to see even more improvement in Week 2.

LB: Obi Ezeh led the way for Michigan, with 8 tackles, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble. Jonas Mouton had six tackles of his own, and he will be motivated to avenge a frustrating performance against ND last season. Stevie Brown -- despite the choice of first name, he is eligible to vote and drive a car -- seems to be a better fit at linebacker than he was in the secondary. He also had six tackles against the Broncos, and he will be one of the captains for the ND game. While Ezeh must be accounted for, I am not as concerned about the linebackers as I am about the defensive line.

DB: Boubacar Cissoko was banged up in Week 1, but should be ready for the ND game. Overall, this unit held up pretty well against accomplished WMU quarterback Tim Hiller. As with the ND-Nevada matchup, the Wolverine defense outperformed expectations. Hiller was limited to 259 yards and one touchdown. Michigan picked him off twice, demonstrating considerable improvement from last season.

Overall, Michigan is still thin in key spots, especially the secondary. They have more uncertainty (but possibly better depth) at running back than in March. Their true Freshman QB is still a true Freshman QB, but he's better than I thought he would be. Both lines looked good. The linebackers looked good.

Notre Dame will need to play well to win this game. They certainly should not lack motivation. No player on the Irish roster has played a more important game. Both teams have everything to prove and everything to lose. Michigan appears more cohesive than last year and invigorated by allegations that their coach is a hillbilly cheater. Notre Dame is beginning to receive the always coveted "respect." Now they must earn it. They beat Hawaii and Nevada, and both games were a lot of fun. Not this week.

The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is not steeped in tales of a Rockne-led Irish team riding the rails to Los Angeles or shared post-game fight songs with Navy. As those rivalries have shown, football is a beautiful game. At the same time, football hurts too much to play without a reason. In the Michigan-Notre Dame series, hate is as good a reason as any. Students of the programs' histories (see also) know all about the ugly roots of this rivalry. In a letter to the readers of mgoblog way back in 2005, we wrote:
If Yost hadn't taken his ball and gone home, perhaps we would now be in the Big Ten, and our idea of football excellence would entail two or three losses per year and a trip to the Rose Bowl twice a decade. But instead, you blackballed us, and tried to choke us out of existence. You should have finished the job.
Envy Notre Dame's players on Saturday: only inches and seconds stand between them and their next opportunity to inflict pain on Michigan and earn victory against a vile opponent. Notre Dame can win this game. Notre Dame must win this game. Notre Dame will win this game.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Statistically Speaking: Nevada | by Pat

Reintroduction: This weekly post is a chance to have some fun with numbers and try out a few metrics that dig a bit deeper than your average box score. This is only an introductory course though. For deeper analysis, make sure to check out Football Outsiders, BCFToys, and College Football By The Numbers, among others.

It Came From the Game Notes

• Jimmy Clausen over the past two games has thrown more touchdown passes (9) than incompletions (7).

• In the first week, eight teams won their games by at least 35 points. ND achieved its 35-point lead in 12 game possessions -- much faster than the others: Nebraska (18 possessions), Tennessee (19), Kentucky (19), California (19), Texas (21), Texas A&M (21), SC (22). (hat tip to Brian from BCFToys for this one)

• Notre Dame was one of only two Division 1 schools last week that did not commit a turnover and had three or fewer penalties (UNLV).

• Sophomore WR Michael Floyd and junior QB Jimmy Clausen each rank first in the nation in a statistical category. Floyd’s 189 receiving yards were best last week and Clausen’s 303.7 efficiency rating was tops among FBS quarterbacks.

• Since the 1981 loss to Florida State, 12 consecutive opponents have lost in their first trip to South Bend: Colorado (1984), Mississippi (1985), Boston College (1987), BYU (1992), Vanderbilt (1995), Rutgers (1996), West Virginia (1997), Arizona State (1999), Texas A&M (2000), Washington State (2003), San Diego State (2008) and Nevada (2009).

Battle For First Down

Coach Tenuta has said many times over his career that a chief goal of his defense is to "win" first down and force more 2nd- and 3rd-and-longs. (At that point, he gets to unleash his own special brand of blitzing hell). We finally have a season of Tenuta under our belts, so we should be able to see if ND is actually improving at one of the things Tenuta places as a high priority. For instance, there was a noted jump in 1st down rush defense from Tenuta-less 2007 to 2008. Will we see continued improvement in this area? Unfortunately, we're still lacking a larger context for this particular metric, so while we can mark internal improvement or regression, it's hard to say if the results are "good" or not.

Here is the updated spreadsheet for the Battle for First Down. Make sure to click the tabs at the top for the 2008 and 2007 numbers.

As you might expect, Nevada was pretty successful on 1st down when it came to rushing the football. Out of 15 runs, ND only held 4 runs to 2 or fewer yards. That equates to a 27% win percentage which is among the lowest in the past 3 seasons. The pass defense went 50%, winning 5 and losing 5, which is just about the average it hit for 2007 and 2008. Overall, ND won 36% of the 1st down plays, which hopefully be one of the lower numbers on the season.


We're adding a new metric to the post this year to see if anything useful or interesting comes of it. We'll be looking at drive stats for both ND and the opponents offense. The basic idea is to chart how many yards an offense gained out of the total possible number of yards. For example, if a team starts at the 20 yards line, they can gain a maximum of 80 yards. If the drive dies at the opposing 40 yard line, the team has only picked up 50% of the possible yards on that drive. Extend this idea over the whole game and you can get a grasp for just how effective a team was at achieving the ultimate goal: putting the ball into the endzone on every drive.

Check the spreadsheet here, along with 2008 numbers for some context. Of note, these numbers do not include garbage time drives. For now, that's loosely defined by us on a case by case basis. In this particular case the final drive is not counted but the other nine drives are.

Only the Washington game last year saw ND put up a higher drive percentage (80.5%) than this past Saturday (73.0%). If ND can match that number this season, expect another blowout win.

Over on defense, the 38.9% that Nevada put up is just about equal to the 40% the ND defense averaged over the entire season last year. Is that a worrisome stat given ND's less than stellar defense last year? Or is it promising given the offensive fireworks Nevada usually puts up? Time will tell.

Gimme M.O.E.

(refresher: M.O.E, or Major Offensive Errors = a measure of the number of mistakes -- fumbles, interceptions, penalties, sacks, and dropped passes -- as a percentage of total plays run by an offense. Getting 12% or lower has a sizable correlation with winning a game.)

No surprise here, but the M.O.E. number this week was very low for ND. How low? The 5% is the second lowest (read: second best) number ND has put up under Charlie Weis. The only number that beats this was a 4% M.O.E. score that ND hit three times (PU and 'Cuse in '05, Stanford in '06). That ND accomplished this 5% M.O.E. in a season opener is perhaps the most impressive part of it, given the expected mistakes common to the first game of a season.

There is one slight discrepancy in that the official game box score lists no sacks for ND, but we all saw Jimmy go down behind the line of scrimmage. I been using the box score numbers, but since I use my own judgment for assigning dropped passes, I'm doing the same here. If you want to adhere strictly to the box score, ND's M.O.E. drops to 3%, the best number under Charlie.

On offense, Nevada didn't put up a bad number, but the 14% is far higher than ND's 5% and is also equal to the number that ND opponents put up last season.

Here's the updated table.

Season Long Running Averages

We'll catch up to this next week as an average of one is kind of pointless. That and the fact I don't have the spreadsheet done yet. If you want to see where ND ranks right out of the gate, check the national rankings page on cfbstats.com.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cry, Cry Again | by Brian

Back in 2007 (Notre Dame's Annus Horribilis, or alternatively, "the autumn of our discontent"), yours truly brought the good readers of BGS an in-depth, hard-hitting weekly game preview. Now, with optimism about the 2009 Irish reaching a fever pitch, and with the team headed to the state that brought us the Detroit Lions and the American Auto Industry to face the hated Michigan Wolverines in a battle of Good vs. Evil---though I hesitate to call them an Evil Empire since one national title in six decades does not an empire make---I am back to once again get everyone up to speed on what to expect this Saturday. Think of this as being like a Very Special Episode of Blossom. (Joey is using performance-enhancing drugs! The other brother has fallen off the wagon! Blossom's dad is banging Six's mom! Blossom has a zit! Etc.)

The Tears of Unfathomable Sadness

In a recent press conference, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was overcome by emotion, and broke down in tears. It has been a tough few months for Coach Rod: what follows is just a small sampling of the issues that have contributed to his current emotional state.

---As pretty much everyone is aware, his Michigan program has been accused of exceeding the NCAA's limits on practice time.

---He has been sued for defaulting on a loan as part of a planned condo construction project in Blacksburg, VA.

---He is still upset about the transfer of former Wolverine RB Sam McGuffie and his unparallelled athleticism.

---He lost his beloved teddy bear Bobo.

---He is having trouble accepting that Ann Arbor doesn't have a Waffle House.

---He is concerned about the fates of George and Izzie on Grey's Anatomy.

---His trusty dog Rego left him to become an official pick-up truck-riding dog in the BFWJTFL (Brett Favre Wrangler Jeans Touch Football League)

With so much controversy surrounding Rodriguez and his program, the barbarians are at the gate---many feel that he is doomed for failure in Ann Arbor, and that it is time to make a change. They feel that the Michigan program needs a man who will be a role model for his players, a man who does things the right way, a man that they can be confident won't overwork the team or spend any more time on the practice field than he absolutely has to, a man who isn't afraid to turn the coaching profession on its ear with innovations such as metronomes and chocolate milk and losing; in short, Michigan needs this man:

"Though the young men of Michigan are currently navigating some turbulent waters that interfere with their ability to execute, a wolverine is still, even in this context, a vicious animal, okay?"

Quarterback Controversy No More

After toying with the idea of rotating three quarterbacks, it appears that Rodriguez has settled on freshman Tate Forcier as his primary signal caller. Forcier, known in some circles as "The Force", is a threat with both his arm and his legs, elegant weapons for a more civilized age. However, his sad devotion to that ancient Michigan program hasn't helped him conjure up the sort of signature win that he seeks on Saturday, or given him clairvoyance enough to anticipate Jon Tenuta's complicated blitz schemes.

Also expected to see action behind center is freshman Denard Robinson, a greater running threat than Forcier who could prove elusive to Irish defenders as Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick did at times during the opener. Note: if you're not familiar with Robinson's nickname and the story behind it, be prepared to hear about it ad nauseam on Saturday. He could be this year's "AAAAA Traaaaain" in that respect.

Be prepared to hear about Denard Robinson's
shoelaces once, twice, or thrice.
Rounding out the trio is junior Nick Sheridan who, though Rodriguez insists will play, is likely to make his greatest contribution through his skills with a clipboard and headset, given that he didn't get into the season-opening win over Western Michigan until the game was no longer in doubt. Let me explain this better using a hip, contemporary pop culture reference so that the kids will understand: Forcier and Robinson are like the famous teen sleuths, the Hardy Boys, while Sheridan is more like their best pal Chet Morton, who was kind of off to the side for the most part but was always willing to lend a hand, give the brothers a ride in his jalopy, and stand by while one of the Hardys hooked up with his sister.

Regardless of who is taking snaps for the Wolverines, the QB's primary target will be wide receiver Junior Hemingway. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hemingway and I asked him about the rapport he appears to have already developed with Forcier. Hemingway's response, which I found to contain an economy of words and a penchant for understatement, was as follows:

"We met in the huddle. The young passer stood before me, stoical and impassive. As the play began, I thundered down the field like a proud bull. Tate threw the ball. The pass was good. I caught it as the striped official raised his arms signaling six points. We left the field to seek cover in the locker room. Though in tight quarters, we gathered together and ate sandwiches. They were damn satisfying. We talked of the play and of the great DiMaggio."

A Potential Gaffe?

President Josiah Bartlet
, a Notre Dame alumnus, was recently caught on camera making a remark that could hurt his reelection chances in the crucial swing state of Michigan.

Though this clip could offend some voters, the sheer truthiness of Bartlet's remarks should serve to help this controversy blow over. The only thing that would have made the clip better would have been if Timothy Busfield had reached under his bus seat and pulled out the ol' electric violin.

The Tradition Continues

According to sources close to the Michigan program, for the seventh consecutive year, Steve Breaston is poised for a breakout season.

Call Him Ismail

Like so many of a certain age who made their bones as Notre Dame fans following the great Lou Holtz-led teams of the late '80's and early '90's, my favorite player of all time is one Rocket Ismail. He was that rare player whose talent and big play ability demanded that fans pay attention whenever he touched the ball. So many moments stand out: his two kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman against Rice in 1988, his 57-yard reception in the Catholics vs. Convicts game against #1 Miami in '88 (starts around the 1:35 mark), his kickoff return for a touchdown against Miami in Catholics vs. Convicts III in 1990, his amazing display of speed against Tennessee in Knoxville in '90, and in his final moments in a Notre Dame uniform, his apparent game-winning touchdown punt return against Colorado in the '91 Orange Bowl, which was called back in an incompetent display of officiating that handed Colorado a bogus national championship. (What in the world was Colorado thinking not kicking that out of bounds?)

However, Ismail's finest moment came when the defending national champion Irish, still ranked #1, traveled to Ann Arbor to take on #2 Michigan early in the 1989 season. Rocket took the second half kickoff 88 yards for a Notre Dame touchdown:

Note that on this play, Ismail outruns Michigan's Corwin Brown (wearing #20), now Notre Dame's associate head coach. (This is not the only iconic play from the ND/Michigan rivalry on which Brown was made to look bad.) Rocket's return was the first kickoff return for a touchdown allowed by the Wolverines since 1957.

It would take a bit less than 32 years for Michigan to allow another.

After the Wolverines pulled back within one score in the fourth quarter on a touchdown drive led by quarterback Elvis Grbac (who had recently been inserted after an injury to starter Michael Taylor), Michigan lined up for another kickoff and, surprisingly, gave Rocket a second chance to shine:

Ismail's two returns provided the difference in Notre Dame's 24-19 win. It marked the first time in Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler's long, ringless career that a team had beaten his Wolverine squad three years in a row. The decision to kick to Rocket the second time was inexplicable---the sort of boneheaded coaching decision that Bo typically reserved for the Rose Bowl. Irish faithful everywhere, and the thousands in attendance at Michigan Stadium, will never forget the memories provided by Rocket that day. For the countless young fans like me who were still coming into their own as Notre Dame fans, it provided a snapshot of what Notre Dame football is all about, and what it can be again.

QB Browns Alert Level Update

In 2007, we occasionally kept Irish fans up to date on the progress of Brady Quinn in his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns. We bestowed upon Quinn the prestigious moniker QB Browns as an homage to Tecmo Super Bowl. As a reminder, or for those seeing this for the first time, here are the color-coded QB Browns Alert Levels:

BROWN: Taking the Browns to the Super Bowl
ORANGE: The Toast of Cleveland
YELLOW: Bench Pressing Steely McBeam
GREEN: Starting, but Unproven
BLACK: Backup
PURPLE: Pummelled by the Ravens Defense

Steely McBeam is presumably an outdated reference by now, since I have to think that the Steelers brass has seen the error of its ways and shipped Mr. McBeam back to Scotland or wherever.

I was worried that I was going to have to set the QB Browns Alert Level at SOME SORT OF GREEN/BLACK MIX---CAMOUFLAGE, IF YOU WILL, because Browns coach Eric Mangini had wanted to keep his starting quarterback's identity a secret. Schmuck. I'm sure the Vikings defense was losing sleep over this development. Fortunately, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that QB Browns has been handed the keys to the kingdom, cracking the case like the Hardy Boys solving the mystery of The Smugglers of Pirate Cove or what have you (after Chet Morton unwittingly found the map leading to the buried trunk full of doubloons or something like that.) Therefore, the QB Browns Alert Level has been upgraded to GREEN.

Back From the Dead

As is tradition, we conclude our preview by turning things over to our resident prognosticator. He is a man who is acutely attuned to the goings-on in the sports ether, and who has a mystical connection to the football gods. This man is known as The Blind Oracle of Bristol.

Devotees may recall that, last we saw the Oracle in the '07 finale, he was gunned down by Lou Holtz. It was a real crowd-pleaser. Well, it's time to use a little artistic license and bring the Oracle back from the dead. For those readers requiring an explanation for this seemingly miraculous occurrence, feel free to choose from one of the following two choices:

---The Wile E. Coyote/Kenny McCormick Theory: As has been a common motif in cartoonish violence, the Oracle was killed, only to return unscathed in the next episode as if nothing had happened. The Oracle getting shot to death by Lou Holtz? Never happened!

---The Slasher Movie Sequel Theory: In slasher movie franchises, the killer is generally killed in seemingly more and more definitive ways in each installment, only to come back to life in increasingly unlikely and spectacular ways in the next film. With that in mind, let's say that perhaps a voodoo priestess of some sort performed a ritualistic chant that caused lightning to strike the Oracle's grave during an acid rain storm, and that this brought him back to life for some reason.

With those pesky continuity issues out of the way, it's time for the Oracle's prediction. Like I'm sure is the case with all of you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting to hear who he thinks will win this matchup. With that, I turn the stage over to the B.O.O.B.

"With the maelstrom swirling, scandal and chaos, the foe gathers in strength. An Irresistible Force leads them, unseen and unyielding, outside of science or human understanding. A hundred thousand jackasses bray their hideous song. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Wolverines. Michigan beats Notre Dame 35-10."

Let My Cameron Go | by Pat

With ND putting their best foot forward on the field this past Saturday, California running back Cameron Roberson liked what he saw and publicly committed during his visit to campus for the Nevada game.

“It just seemed like a great place to be,” Roberson said before the start of the Panthers’ practice on Tuesday. “The facilities, the players, the coaches were all great. I could tell this was where I wanted to spend the next four or five years.”
The 6'1" 215 pound Roberson, the 15th recruit in the current class, is being recruited as a running back, but has the potential to grow into a fullback sized player. Watching how ND used James Aldridge, Robert Huhges, and Jonas Gray put Roberson at ease about only serving as a blocking back if he picked ND.

Rivals has Roberson listed as a 4-star recruit and the #29 RB in his class. Scout is a bit lower, giving him 3 stars and the #45 RB ranking. ESPN gave Roberson a familiar grade to ND recruits this year, 3- stars and a 77 ranking; it's the same ranking they gave Kendall Moore, Bennett Jackson, and Justin Utupo. Roberson's offer list tend to match his 3/4 star status with offers from finalist Northwestern, Washington, BYU, Arizona, Utah, Minnesota, and others.

Roberson does have a prior connection to ND in that his grandfather graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. A pre-med grad, Thomas Murry Turner came to ND on academic scholarship and was one of the earlier African-American graduates of the University. Now he's a retired doctor living in Beverly Hills.

Here are some recent highlights of Roberson. It's easy to see him playing as a multi-purpose threat out of either the halfback or fullback position as a blocker, runner, and receiver.

With 15 recruits already on the bandwagon, it will be interesting to see how ND handles the final handful of spots. Already the Southern Cal weekend is looming large as a weekend full of desired recruits on official visits. An impressive weekend then could go a long way to helping ND wrap up the 2010 recruiting class.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mix 'n Match | by Pat

After listing a few OL co-starters on the depth chart, Charlie said in his pre-Nevada presser that he planned on rotating through a few different linemen during the game

Q. Looking over the depth chart, I think what jumped out at me was the left side of the offensive line, there's a couple of "or"s there. Where are you at those?

COACH WEIS: Paul Duncan will start at left tackle. Matt Romine will play in the game. Chris Stewart will start at left guard but Dan Wenger will definitely play in the game. Usually when you put offensive linemen in they're going to stay in for the whole time but those two guys are two guys that we want to make sure we get involved in the game in the first half. We're not going to wait to the second half to get Romine and Wenger in the game.

So Duncan and Stewart will both start but both Romine and Wenger will show up respectively at the left tackle, left guard position.
Given how little ND has rotated offensive linemen the past four years, I wanted to double-check and see when guys like Romine, Wenger, and Nuss got into the game. Sure enough, they played pretty early and likely would have played more snaps if not for that Michael Floyd guy scoring touchdowns nearly every time he touched the ball. Perhaps we are seeing some of the Verducci influence in the rotation of the linemen. Or maybe it's just that ND finally has a depth chart filled with juniors and seniors as opposed to sophomores and freshmen.

The table below lists the OL for each series in the game and the number of plays they were out there. Non-starters are in bold.

First Half

Series 1-2
(21 plays)
LT - Duncan
LG - Stewart
C - Olsen
RG - Robinson
RT - Young

Series 3 (2 plays)
LT - Romine
LG - Wenger
C - Olsen
RG - Robinson
RT - Young

Series 4 (3 plays)
LT - Duncan
LG - Wenger
C - Olsen
RG - Robinson
RT - Romine

Series 5 (9 plays)
LT - Duncan
LG - Stewart
C - Olsen
RG - Nuss
RT - Young
Second Half

Series 6-7
(8 plays)
LT - Duncan
LG - Stewart
C -Olsen
RG - Robinson
RT - Young

Series 8 (8 plays)
LT - Romine
LG - Wenger
C - Olsen
RG - Robinson
RT - Young

Series 9 (6 plays)
LT - Duncan
LG - Stewart
C - Olsen
RG - Nuss
RT - Young

Series 10 ( 6 plays)
LT - Clelland
LG - Cave
C - Golic, Jr.
RG - Nuss
RT - Dever

Personally, all three of the first guys off the bench -- Romine, Wenger, and Nuss -- looked pretty good. The fact that Romine saw time at both left and right tackle means the staff either wants to really work him into the game as much as possible or there is a gap between Romine and the rest of the backup tackles (probably a combination of the two). Either way, look for ND to use an 8-man line more frequently this season, which should only help keep everyone fresh later in games and the season. And when the inevitable injuries pop up, ND will finally be able to sub in a backup who isn't completely inexperienced.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Mark it Eight, Dude | by Michael

While it was encouraging to see the Irish rush for 150+ yards against 2008's sixth best run defense (88.6 yards per game), it still felt like a few bowling pins were left standing. It was an eight-- good enough for one frame, and certainly better than last year, but the overall score will be disappointing unless more spares and strikes are thrown.

So with that analogy in mind, and in
reference to the Impound It series from the summer here are some quick thoughts on Saturday's game. Afterwards, let us know in the comments how you would score the running game.

Run Game Rundown. Fans were hopeful when Charlie Weis fired John Latina, but the hiring of relative unknown Frank Verducci brought some question marks about his ability to transform the offensive line and develop a potent running attack. Back on Media Day, Weis elaborated some on Verducci's role as the run game coordinator.
Q. Can you talk about the implementation of the run game?

COACH WEIS: I think the first thing we'll do, I'm going to try to be more specific than general on this question. When we come in on a game plan day, which is Monday, the first couple things we're going to address are, A, what problems does this defense present to us, after having studied all day Sunday, what problems does the defense that we're going to go against present.

Then after we've gone ahead and split and studied what we can do about it schematically in the pass game, in the run game, I'll come in and say, Okay, (running game coordinator/offensive line coach) Frank (Verducci), along with (running backs coach) Tony (Alford) and (tight ends coach) Bernie (Parmalee), how are we going to attack these guys in the run game? How are we going to attack Nevada? How are we going to run the ball against Nevada? Give me the four or five runs in our core system that give us the best opportunity to run the ball well against Nevada. Whatever he says, I'll be able to combine those with play action pass that marry with them. Like I said, you always have a core. You go ahead from that core, then you take it from there.
So how exactly did that work out against the Wolfpack? What runs were selected by the "run game coordinator"? Although it's hard to determine what "core" means to Weis and Verducci, it appears that the most popular runs on Saturday were the inside zone, the toss play, the draw play with a lead blocker, and one of the Jab counters. All four were productive, and two of the four runs met the 4.6 ypc benchmark established by Weis as a goal in the off-season.

Run Play
Ride 34/35 Zone (Inside Zone)
Toss 38
H 42 Ace (Draw)
Jab 32/33 Bend (Counter)

The inside zone play is notable because it was the workhorse in the last three series, as 12 of the last 17 plays in the game were Ride 34/35 Zone. Noticeably absent-- with the exception of the 1-yard TD scamper by Armando Allen-- were the outside zone runs (Sprint) that produced more fan frustration than yardage in 2008.

A "new" play showed up, although it could disappear just as quickly depending upon the health of James Aldridge. In the clip below, the quarterback has the option to pitch the ball to the tailback or hand it off to the fullback on a dive. It's the type of play for which fans have been clamoring: a quick hitter that forces the defense to account for the fullback. At the same time, it employs misdirection, which many also feel is a missing piece in the run game. Although it seems new, it was used back in 2005, most infamously against Michigan State when Asaph Schwapp failed to pick up the first down at the end of the game. It seems better suited as a change-up type of running play that can catch the defense off-guard, which is how the Irish used it on Saturday. Here, Allen picks up eight yards; when Charlie called for it in the second half, Clausen gave it to the fullback for two yards; unfortunately, it was also the play where Aldridge got hurt and had to leave the game.

Also worth highlighting is a simple 9-yard draw play by Aldridge.

Did you catch who the slot receiver was, or were you too busy watching the back hit the hole? Watch it again if you missed it the first time. I'm actually surprised Clausen didn't throw it to Allen; there was no one around him. This is just another wrinkle, like the play above, that will force defenses to account for both backs and not simply assume the fullback is a blocker. However, with Aldridge's health a question mark, it seems as though this new toy in the Irish offense may be temporarily shelved, although Weis talked about a "Plan B" in Sunday's presser. Could that possibly be Robert Hughes?

And last, but certainly not least, there were two Wildcat runs. Many fans don't seem to like the Wildcat, but Weis didn't back off it during the presser. It would seem as though its use may grow every week, at least in terms of the different runs that are available from the formation.

The Aldridge Experiment. Until he went out with a bruised shoulder, it was working fairly well. While his blocking was inconsistent, the coaching staff didn't ask him to do too much, and his mere presence on the field opened up the offense to an extent. Aldridge played fullback on 12 plays, of which eight runs and four passes were called in the huddle. On one of those runs, Clausen decided not to hand off and instead threw a swing pass to Mike Floyd. In total, here were the 12 plays with Aldridge and Allen or Jonas Gray in the game together:
  • 4 passes, all completed, for 218 yards, including three touchdowns to Mike Floyd;
  • 1 sack, as Clausen held the ball too long (waiting for crossing routes) before finally deciding to scramble;
  • 3 draw plays with Aldridge leading Allen or Gray went for 10, -1, and 6 yards, with the one negative play resulting from a poor Kyle Rudolph block;
  • 2 running plays on the dive/pitch combo shown above;
  • 1 goal line outside zone play where Allen ran untouched into the endzone; and,
  • 1 draw play with Aldridge as the lone back and Allen lined up in the slot.
Overall, it's hard to argue with those results; the experiment was successful. Let's just hope that Aldridge isn't too banged up, or that "Plan B" can be equally effective.

Wolfpackages. Many pundits and fans alike believed the Irish would open up in 4- and 5-wide and abuse Nevada's weak secondary, and while the Irish racked up over 300 yards of passing offense, most of the damage actually occurred with those extra receivers watching from the sidelines. Of Notre Dame's 62 offensive plays, only 12 involved 3+ WRs. Shockingly, that was the lowest total since 2005, when the Irish played Washington and sent out Stovall, Samardzija, and Shelton just eight times. Last year's lowest total was 17, in the rain-soaked contest against Michigan, and the Irish employed 3+ WRs on 22 plays or more in every other game. The diversity in personnel groupings is essential to the Weis offense. One of the reasons why the Irish were so successful in 2005 was because they did not have to rely on pass-heavy personnel groupings and formations; in that respect, 2009 is off to a great start.

Throughout the entire game, the Irish were able to send out five different personnel groupings, due in large part to the tight ends on the roster. Dayton transfer Bobby Burger, who is listed as a fullback on the Irish depth chart, was more of an H-back, lining up all over the place, and made gamecharting as interesting as it's been in the last few years.

Another tight end who found his way onto the field was freshman Tyler Eifert, who entered the game on the last drive and played six snaps. Weis explained his appearance on Sunday.
Q. I think some of us might have been a little bit surprised to see Tyler Eifert in there. When did you as a staff decide this is a kid that needs to play now?

COACH WEIS: We had that conversation about a week ago, and we talked about can we make it through the season, can we make it through the season without using him. And with what we're going to do on offense this year, we felt the answer to that would be no. If we could make it through the season without him, we'd try to sit him for the year, but we said we're doing some things different schematically now, and there's guys that are playing different roles that we need to use guys in, and he looked to us like a guy that could get better and better as the year went on.
Whatever Weis and the staff are working on sounds very intriguing. The Irish used a lot of three TE formations in 2005, with Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and Marcus Freeman, but the dearth of tight ends on the roster made it harder in subsequent years. Are these offensive plans related schematically to what the Irish attempted in 2005? Or entirely different? Stay tuned.

Tight ends aside, the personnel grouping du jour on Saturday was Regular, which trots out a halfback, fullback, tight end, and two receivers. Regular was used 44% of the time, a single-game record for itself over the years I've tracked the offense (2005-2006, 2008). It was followed by Detroit, which replaces the fullback with another tight end, used 26% of the game. Both groupings ran the ball fairly well. With the starters in the game, Regular personnel averaged a robust 5.2 yards per carry; fourth quarter production with the back-ups, however, was inconsistent and resulted in an overall average below the acceptable 4 yards per carry barometer. The run game was even better using two tight ends (Detroit), as the Irish ran the ball 12 times at 6.8 yards per carry, including three carries of 14+ yards.

"F" is for Fake. A problem for the Irish passing game in recent years has been play action, especially with Regular personnel on the field. After a strong showing in 2005, when Brady Quinn completed 60% of these grouping-specific play action passes at 9.0 yards per attempt, the Irish hit rock bottom last year. With Regular personnel, Jimmy Clausen completed only six of 22 play action passes for 53 yards in the regular season. Whether it was that teams didn't respect Asaph Schwapp as a receiver, or that they blitzed and confused the Irish protection, it's hard to say. Production turned around in the Hawaii Bowl, though, as Clausen went four for four for 122 yards. He didn't slow down against Nevada, either. Against the Wolfpack he connected on all three play action passes for 53 yards. The ability of the Irish to effectively use play action from Regular formations is a key ingredient for this offense's success.

In other groupings, Clausen completed one of his two play action passes for eight yards. The one incompletion he had was on a draw play fake; he overthrew an open Rudolph down the seam.

Looking Ahead. Despite the positives from Saturday's game, there are plenty of areas for the Irish to work on this week in preparation for the Michigan game. Kyle Rudolph struggled with some key blocks; the Irish faltered on two short yardage situations late in the game; and, the flexibility and diversity that Aldridge brings to the offense as a fullback may need to be replaced next Saturday. Most importantly, the last time the Irish offense went up against a Greg Robinson-coached defense, the run game didn't fare too well. On 25 carries, the Irish managed just 62 yards.

Up in Ann Arbor, this running game better roll on Shabbos.

Nevada Photo and Video Galleries | by Pat

Let's take a look at some of the photo and video galleries from this week's fun 35-0 shutout of the Wolf Pack. Nevada fan site Silver and Blue Sports has a great pre-game gallery. As for the game itself, there are galleries at und.com, NBC Sports, ndnation poster RocketShark and Getty Images. I think the pic of the game is the AP photo of Brian Smith getting the sack on Colin Kaepernick as ND held one of the more explosive offenses in the country scoreless on Saturday.

For video, NBC has the replay of the game up. Click and watch the 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, and 4th quarter. You can also see the band's halftime show. YouTube is rapidly filling up with highlights as well. Here's a 10 minute version that is about as comprehensive as it gets. If you have posted any online photos or video of the game weekend, feel free to link to it in the comment section.