Saturday, October 10, 2009


A weekend in the fall without a Notre Dame football game? What is the world coming to?

This is one of my least favorite weeks of the season. And one of the most important.

Bye week.

To shake off some of the blues, I'm going to do what I always do on the weekends: write about football.

To start off, let's do a little review.


(How much attention have YOU been paying this season?)


1. Jimmy Clausen has now thrown for the most yards in a single game by a Notre Dame quarterback.

2. Both times a Notre Dame player has been nominated as an AT&T All-America Player of the week this season (an award decided entirely by fan voting), the Notre Dame player has won.

3. Notre Dame has an equal number of wins over teams with winning records and teams with losing records.

4. Both Boston College and USC have six straight wins over the Irish.

5. The Irish are ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense.

6. Brady Quinn is still sexy.

1. When was the last time Notre Dame was 4-1 and did not appear in the Top 25 rankings?
b) last season
c) 2001
d) 1967

2. Which of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents does NOT have a winning record?
a) Pittsburgh
b) Navy
c) Washington State
d) UConn

3. In which game did Notre Dame fail to rack up more yards of total offense than its opponent?
a) MSU
b) Washington
c) Michigan
d) Purdue

4. During which quarter has Notre Dame scored the most points throughout the season?
a) First
b) Second
c) Third
d) Fourth

5. Who has the second-most tackles on the team behind Kyle McCarthy (who has 49)?
a) Robert Blanton
b) Harrison Smith
c) Manti Te'o
d) Brian Smith



1. Jimmy Clausen has now thrown for the most yards in a single game by a Notre Dame quarterback.
FALSE. Jimmy is one of only three Irish quarterbacks to have thrown for over 400 yards in a single game, and one of only two to have thrown for over 400 yards more than once in his career (the other being absolutely the most beautiful Notre Dame passer in the history of the universe, aka Brady Quinn). His 422 yards last Saturday against Washington put him in 7th place in the Notre Dame record books. Joe Theismann still holds the all-time single-game passing record. He racked up 526 yards through the air on November 28, 1970 playing against the Trojans in the Coliseum. (The day a Notre Dame quarterback does THAT again, I'll be able to die happy.)

2. Both times a Notre Dame player has been nominated as an AT&T All-America Player of the week this season (an award decided entirely by fan voting), the Notre Dame player has won.
TRUE. Jimmy Clausen won the award after his ridiculous performance and 303.7 passer efficiency rating in the Nevada game, and Golden Tate won it this week after racking up 244 receiving yards (the most by an ND receiver since Jim Seymour's school-record 276 yards against Purdue in 1966) and making a really spectacular head-over-heels catch that landed him a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated.

I like how anytime anything's decided by fan voting, Notre Dame players pretty much dominate every other player on every team ever.

3. Notre Dame has an equal number of wins over teams with winning records and teams with losing records.
FALSE. Notre Dame hasn't had a victory over an opponent with a winning record all season. However, all but one of our upcoming opponents have winning records, so starting next week with USC, we have a chance to change that--and, by the grace of God and a defense that learns how to tackle, possibly even claw our way back into the rankings.

4. Both Boston College and USC have six straight wins over the Irish.
FALSE. Well, and also TRUE. Both Backup College and the University of Spoiled Children have won six straight against the Irish--it's just that USC's also won seven.

We're a long way from the decade of dominance, aren't we? But one day we'll fumble our way out of the Dark Ages, I'm sure of just sit tight and wait for the Return to Relevance. It'll be like our own personal Renaissance.

And it could start this very next weekend, if the Irish nation comes together and MAKES it happen.

5. The Irish are ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense.
TRUE. Last year, we were 65th. I have nothing else to say to this but HOLLA!

6. Brady Quinn is still sexy.
TRUE -- ALWAYS TRUE. If you didn't know the answer to this one, you are not my friend. Or my vague acquaintance. Or anyone who has ever been within earshot of me whenever Brady Quinn's name has been remotely mentioned.


1. When was the last time Notre Dame was 4-1 and did not appear in the Top 25 rankings?
Answer: b) last season

Hopefully you remember this, seeing as it was, you know, last season. Charlie's made some remarks recently that he thinks Notre Dame should be getting more respect in the polls. I understand where he's coming from, in the sense that USC, for example, is still number 7 and they recently choked one up to Washington. However, I also agree with the pollsters in the sense that, you know, we haven't beaten a single team with a winning record all season and our defense still doesn't know how to tackle and pretty much all of the squeaker games we won would not have been squeaker games if we didn't draw so many penalties / consistently fail in the red zone / let perfectly decent leads slip away / etc.

So, yeah, we're 4-1, but I don't think we should be ranked yet. We're only 11 seconds from being undefeated, but that's the point, isn't it? We're NOT undefeated. Our play has been slipshod, and we've got something to prove.

So let's go out there and prove it.

*EDIT* Oh hey--apparently we're RANKED NOW! Apparently some of the pollsters were listening to Charlie....?

2. Which of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents does NOT have a winning record?
Answer: c) Washington State.

Okay, so this one was pretty easy, but the point is that, at this point in the season, the opponents we've played have a combined record of 11-14. The opponents we've yet to play have a combined record of 24 - 11. USC, BC, Pitt, and Stanford (who saw that one coming?) are all going to be tough games. With the way this season is going, I wouldn't be surprised if all of those games (plus Navy) go right down to the wire.

Of course, I'm kind of hoping for a huge turnaround next week--for a clean game and a stunning, dominating, season-defining victory over USC, followed by hard-hitting, bladder-blasting, thunder-shaking, echo-waking blowout wins over the remainder of our weak-kneed, bug-eyed, fumble-footed, chicken-liver opponents.

But that could be just the side effects of the bye week talking.

3. In which game did Notre Dame fail to rack up more yards of total offense than its opponent?
Answer: a) MSU

The Spartans outgained us in total offense, 459-437, making them the only team this season to do so. Purdue was only twenty yards behind (383-363), and Michigan trailed by sixty (490-430). Washington's spread was only slightly wider at 73 (457-530). This alarming little statistic shows you just how much of the field our defense has been choking up to our opponents this season. We've been forced to try to outgain and outshoot our opponents in nearly every game this season just to eke out the win--and it's great that we've been able to, but it would be even greater if we didn't have to.

The only game in which the Irish truly dominated in total yardage was Nevada, where we slammed down 510 total yards of offense to the Wolfpack's 307. Even there, though, our opponent's total yardage is frustratingly high--Nevada averaged 5.5 yards per play, and if it weren't for their sheer ineptitude in the red zone (a la ND vs Washington), they could have made it a much closer game.

4. During which quarter has Notre Dame scored the most points throughout the season?
Answer: b) Second

GAME......... 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Nevada....... 7 21 7 0
Michigan...... 3 17 0 14
MSU........... 13 3 10 7
Purdue........ 3 14 0 7
Washington.. 3 13 3 11
TOTAL........ 29 68 20 39

Okay, so, this chart did not come out the way I intended, because apparently Blogger hates it when you attempt to format things, but whatever.

You can (sort of) see from the scoring trends that the Irish have dominated in the second quarter, and been weakest in the third quarter. This is a little alarming, is it not? Every week, it seems, our opponents come out after halftime with better, quicker adjustments. We fall behind in the third quarter and are forced to engage in an Epic Fourth Quarter Showdown, during which we score a lot to catch up, but also allow our opponents to score a lot to stay in the game. Notre Dame has been outscored in the fourth quarter by its opponents this season, by a combined 41 points to our 39.

Once again, it is encouraging to know that we can come from behind in the fourth quarter, and I would rather have this as a strength than a weakness--but I would also prefer that we not negate all of the points we score in the second quarter by playing a sloppy second half. There's really no need to allow our opponents to score so late in the game.

It's also interesting to note that the first quarter has been a bit of a low-scoring quarter for us--but not so much for our opponents. Purdue, Washington, and Michigan all scored touchdowns in the first quarter (Michigan scored two), held the Irish to only field goals to open the game. When the Irish managed to reach the end zone first, however, we held our opponents to 0 and 3 points in the first quarter. This isn't necessarily surprising; the first and third quarters are hardest on a defense, because those are the quarters they have to do the most adjusting to pick up whatever scheme the opposing offense is trying to throw at them.

What's surprising is that Charlie's offense has been so lackluster in its opening drives. All of those plays are scripted before the game even starts. What is it about our execution that's keeping us out of the end zone? Has Charlie's play-calling in the opening minutes become too predictable, or are we simply being too conservative because it's the first quarter? Perhaps the most logical explanation is that we have a field goal kicker Charlie finally trusts, so it seems like his general lust for the end zone and willingness to go for it on fourth down in the red zone has ebbed somewhat. Which is good for our kicker, but considering the close-game situations we've been getting ourselves into, not necessarily good for the overall scheme of the game.

Then, of course, there's the MSU game. Aganst MSU, our scoring trend was entirely reversed. We were strongest in the 1st and 3rd quarters, and allowed the Spartans to score 14 and 7 points in the 2nd and 4th quarters, respectively. I wonder if this has anything to do with Charlie's more aggressive approach toward the Spartans overall? You may recall that in his pressers during MSU week, Charlie talked about how he felt his team always got off to a slow start against the Spartans, so he was going to make sure they didn't do that this year--and they didn't. This strategy is likely what flipped our typical scoring pattern on its head.

It's difficult to say whether this is preferable to our typical game time pattern--either way, it seems, we're only really effective on the scoreboard in two quarters out of the four. And I don't have a problem with this, really, so long as we make sure that if we aren't scoring points, our opponents aren't, either.

But that's not the case. So...we've got issues. And despite the badass goal-line smackdown last week, they're mostly defensive issues.

5. Who has the second-most tackles on the team behind Kyle McCarthy (who has 49)?
Answer: b) Harrison Smith, 32 tackles

Next is Brian Smith, with 26 tackles, followed by Robert Blanton with 22. What's really distressing here is that, besides these players, no one else has recorded more than 20 tackles, and Manti Te'o, who has only been a starter for one game, already has 17 tackles--10 of which were recorded in last week's start. Against Washington, he and Kyle McCarthy had as many tackles combined as Robert Blanton's made all season.

This is great and all, but we're not going to have Kyle McCarthy forever. We're not even going to have Manti Te'o forever, because in the very near future he's going to peace out for a couple seasons to go on a mission trip (and then miraculously return, in the tradition of Julius Jones / the prodigal son / the Terminator).

Soooo I would advise the rest of the team to start wrapping up and tackling. STAT.

The pop quiz has now concluded. Moving on....

Why the Irish Should Beat the Trojans

So, I've been doing a little scouting on the Trojans. It's been painful trying to think of them in any context but SUCK IT TROJANS -- GO IRISH GO, but if I'm going to try to work out all the ways in which we're going to beat them, I have to know where their weak points are. So here are a few things to keep in mind as the game approaches:

1. The '09 Trojans are a far cry from the '05 Trojans.
The same is true for the Irish, of course, but with USC's slight downslide and ND's gradual rise, these teams are far more evenly matched than the polls seem to think. Or potentially, anyway. Everything this weekend hinges on the Irish playing to their potential--or at least somewhere far closer to it than they have been playing.

The '09 Trojans are a sloppy squad -- of late, they're struggling with penalties, throwing deep balls, third down conversions, and turnovers. They're a tough team and they'll play harder against the Irish than most of their Pac-10 opponents, but that doesn't mean the weaknesses won't still be there. The Irish should have plenty of opportunities to flummox the Trojans--and they, likewise, will have plenty of chances to stuff it to us.

2. USC went 3-for-9 and ZERO-FOR-TEN on third down conversions against Washington State and Washington, respectively
So, cue to the Irish defense: treat every third down like it's the most important play of your entire life. We have a propensity to give it up on third down (and, apparently, USC's defense has been struggling a bit with this too, so that's interesting), and against the Trojans, this SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. I think this is one of the keys to beating them, and if we can win the battle on third down (*ahem* including in the stands--I hope you all remember to bring your keys to this game), we'll be in good shape to take control of the rest of the game.

3. Go after the ball, go after the ball, go after the ball
The Trojans have been coughing up key turnovers in their past few games (particularly in the red zone vs. Washington). In addition to actually wrapping up and tackling, I'd like to see some more aggressive play from the defense in terms of going after the ball as well, instead of just lunging lustily at the ball carrier hoping a jar to the side or a nice dive to the waist is going to bring them down.

4. Disrupt the passing game
According to the "Trojan Football Analysis" blog (from which I've been stealing most of these SC-related tidbits), USC hasn't had much production from their deep passing game, largely due (I gather) to the "sore shoulder" injury of Matt Barkley. (Between Barkley's shoulder and Clausen's foot, I'll take Jimmy's turf toe any day.) If we can put some real pressure on the freshman, I think we can make him slip up and cause more grief for their deep balls. Also, I'd like to see some more proactive defense from our corners -- USC's thrown an interception in every game except their season opener against San Jose State. Let's see if we can't bump that number up a notch, shall we?

5. Run defense, beware
With the relatively lackluster performance of their passing game (they're averaging around 220 yards passing this season), it seems like the Trojans have been relying a bit more on their run game, which has been a bit of a weakness for Notre Dame these last several seasons or so. Last weekend we made Chris Polk look like a Heisman candidate. Let's NOT do the same against Running Back U. The Trojans are averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season--a bit lower than their ridiculous 6.4 mark from the 2005 Reggie Bush era, but still enough to give the Irish defense fits. Against teams with weak run defenses (like San Jose State and Washington State), the Trojans averaged 7.6 ypc. If we're going to win the battle on third down, we have to make sure they have third downs.

6. Buckle down, O-line, you're in for a bumpy night
For as wart-filled as their offense is, the Trojan D is looking pretty damn solid. The Trojans are #2 in the nation in sacks--they already have 21 on the season and they had eight against Washington State. Our O-line is much improved and Jimmy's gotten so much better in the pocket that I doubt they'll come anywhere close to this number against the Irish--but even so. With as close as these last few games have been, we have to avoid sacks at all costs.

Additionally, the Trojan defense has held their opponents to an average of only 64 yards rushing per game. Even with a recovered Allen, a returned Aldridge, and a good-form Robert Hughes, the O-line's really going to have to win the battles on the line of scrimmage for the Irish to have any kind of day at all on the ground.

Last but not least, USC has 3 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles this season, and their defense is averaging 8.6 points scoring per game (which is about 8 more points than Notre Dame's defense has scored all season). So for the love of Charlie's job, whatever we do, we've got to hold onto that football. No low snaps or sloppy handoffs or baubled catches please. And for the love of all that is emu-faced, NO BACKWARD PASSES.

This is one game that can't be won entirely in the locker room, on the field, in the playbook, or in the hands of Jimmy Clausen. This one's got to be won by the fans, too.

I can sense the hype building in South Bend already. I saw the Facebook group. I'm getting the vibes. The Irish nation is hungry for a win. The Trojans are thoroughly beatable. We've got a bye week to rest up and prepare. The agony of 2005 still cuts across our collective memory like a surgical scar. We've got the bloodlust--

And we're not going to take this one sitting down.

So, whatever you do next Saturday, DON'T--LET--UP. Don't stop yelling until you've got no voice left in you. If you walk away from this game still able to speak, you didn't scream loud enough. This team is working on a PhD in Close Wins, and everybody knows it. There's no reason not to scream until your head falls off.

I can't be in South Bend next weekend. My heart bleeds. I can't lend my voice to the cheering thousands.

But if you can--yell louder than you've ever yelled before. On every play, on every down, on every second the Irish are on defense. Don't stop yelling just because the play is over. Don't stop yelling just because the clock stopped. Keep going. They say Notre Dame stadium's not a tough place to play? Bullshit. I've heard the Notre Dame student section enunciate SUCK IT TROJANS with better diction than an elocution instructor. I've heard the Irish Band scream through the rain in MSU stadium to make the noise of several thousand raving Irish fans. I've been there to seen the crowd win the game.

Make it happen. Make it hell. Make the Trojans forget they have ears. Force false starts. Make them miss field goals. Get the adrenaline pumping so hard in our defense that they forget to feel pain.

Shake down the thunder.

Go out there and win just one more for the Gipper.


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