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A Developing Story

Purdue, as Vannie predicted, was a turning point for the Notre Dame offense. What we saw on the field Saturday was an offense with an identity. It's now pretty clear, despite many protestations about a lack of a running game (including here,) what that identity should and shouldn't be. We're not a screen, draw team. We're not a smash mouth team. We're a spread them out down field throwing team that can make you pay if you tighten control in the box and after we open you up, we're going to run on you. The reason we couldn't run this offense last year is that we couldn't protect the quarterback and couldn't make plays to keep defenses honest.

Clausen looks at home in the shotgun and our receivers are our best weapons.... it just makes sense. Kudos to Weis who stopped listening to everyone else and went with what he knows best.

"But I know one thing we weren't going to do is play on our heels the whole day. We were going to be aggressive in our play calling. I think that was a very critical factor that we wanted to make sure whether it was run, whether it was shots, regardless of what we were doing, we weren't going to sit back and let them dictate the tempo. I think that last week, okay, when we came out deciding we were going to smash mouth it early, I think that Michigan State dictated the tempo, and we weren't going to let that happen again."

We're better without a fullback and spreading the field (though Schwapp is blocking much better.) It simplifies the blocking assignments and gives us many opportunities to win one on one match-ups with our talented wide receivers. It also opens the field for Allen. As Kayo noted, it seemed we were able to use the snap count to our advantage. Weis thinks he's found what works.

"Well, it opened up running lanes. But still at the end of the day the line still has to go that way. Because whether you've got a tight end, three wide receivers, a tight end and five linemen in there, you still have those six guys helping to block at least six, and if the line of scrimmage doesn't move that way, then you're still not in for a good day. I think that it spreads out. It opens up -- once you get a crease and you get the line of scrimmage moving that way, it opens up some bigger creases. And that's what led to those multiple 13-plus runs."

"Offensive production comes down to making big plays. When you're just nickel and diming it all the time, you're getting three yards, four yards. I'll give you an example. Probably the biggest play of the second half was the first pass from Jimmy to Grimes on that corner route, because it changed field position. They kicked off. I think we got the ball on the 18-yard line. So that now the momentum could be in their way. We come out on first play. He had stayed on the corner route, and now we're past the 40-yard line, and now field position had changed in one play. So I think that's just the way that goes."
I'm not going overboard, because it's Purdue. But after reviewing the San Diego State game, I knew this was a much better offensive team (and stated by biggest worry was the defense going forward.) What's changed, besides the redirected scheme is that individual players are developing fast (we're still absurdly young) and Weis is now gearing the offense to take advantage of their abilities.

Cases in point:

Armando Allen: Allen finally ran with his eyes instead of his feet. It looks like Allen figured out that speed is only an asset if you use it wisely. What made Rocket great was his body control and vision. Same with Bush. Body control and vision are what make fast running backs, great running backs. Unlike the first three games, Allen read the hole before exploding through it on Saturday.

Jimmy Clausen: I've said all along he'll be better in this offense by mid-season this year than Quinn was and I'm sticking to it. Clausen has incredible accuracy and rarely throws a terrible pass. His confidence could get him in trouble, but he's making the right reads and as noted on Rock's House, it appears he's calling plays at the line of scrimmage. The really promising thing for the Irish is that Crist can learn behind Clausen before taking over, without having to go through the painful learning curve. A great QB is essential for Weis because he puts so much on the QB's shoulders. We've got two for the future.

Kyle Rudolph: It took just four games for Rudolph to correct his blocking weaknesses. Rudolph's blocking was integral in springing Allen. He's a freak of a of a talent.

It's heartening to see our young players developing rapidly because... well... we have no choice. They've scored all but two of our touchdowns this year. Think about that and what it's meant to this point (bad) and what it means for our future (very good.)

But it's not just the young players. Older players like McCarthy, Lambert, Bruton and Grimes were all three star recruits, but are now playing at a very high level. Imagine if we had double the amount of 4th and 5th year players like these players as most big-time schools do?

That's where we'll be in two years, except now they'll be four star players who'll have a full four years to develop and they'll be surrounded by five star players like Clausen, Rudolph, Floyd and Wood.

We've been watching this team grow up like an awkward adolescent, getting the crap beaten out of him and made fun of. It looks like we're finally turning the corner... it won't happen without a few more beatings, but we're going to be dishing it out very soon.

31 Comments:

Anonymous ndman111 said...

Very well thought out analysis of the first four weeks of the season. As the season progresses, I see ND doing nothing but improving. And if that holds true, then the Irish will be able to draw, screen and pound it more consistently. This is not a dominant offensive line, but as long as play-calling continues to improve, they'll be fine. And not just Haywood's playcalling, but Clausen's (maybe more important). Along with the injury, that was Clausen's biggest problem last season was checking at the line. He couldn't call slide protection and recognize the blitz packages (which left the o-line out to dry, and that is what happened against Michigan State. He should have countered Haywood's run calls with passes. It's cliche, but you must take what the D gives you, especially physical MSU front seven).

Therefore, Sharpley should have started in 2007. Would ND have made a bowl, maybe, maybe not, but it would have been better then 3-9. But more importantly, Clausen would been able to sit back, learn and get stronger. Instead, he was hit almost every other time he dropped back, was pulled out of games throughout the first half of the season, wasted a year of eligibility and placed Sharpley into come from behind situations (and don't go and blame Sharpley for the loss to Navy, I know his fumble was bad, but that loss was on an unprepared defense that sat back and allowed the Navy o-line to attack. You must have penetration to stop the option, which is something Tenuta is well aware of; we're so fortunate to have him). Plus, witnessing him nearly dictate a come back in the second half against BC last season was impressive. He outplayed Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan.

But was it worth it to play Clausen? Still to early to say. There is nothing more valuable than game experience and we all know that is exactly what Clausen got in 2007.

Bottomline, I think a berth in a BCS game may suggest that playing Clausen as a freshman worth it.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Matt '09 said...

I think Clausen really benefitted mentally from playing on that 3-9 team, after going 42-0 in high school. He got his reality check, and it's made him better.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous NDinKZ said...

Love the analysis except for one point: Lambert playing at a high level. He's running very fast, but his lack of instincts at the corner position continue to frustrate me. He does not show fluid hip movement nor the ability to judge when the ball is in the air.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing I think you forgot that is very important, and adds on to your last comment. That as this team has gotten beat up a little, and made fun of like those adolescents, they are also developing a revenge kind of attitude. I think this is the most important thing. As they mature they are going to have a MAJOR chip on their shoulder, that right there will lead to a championship somewhere down the road.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Purdue is terrible (especially against the run) and we should postpone the love fest another couple weeks.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it hilarious that Rock posts absolutely nothing after being wrong about the MSU game and then instantly pats himself on the back when the Irish finally show some spunk?

Way to hide out, Rock.

I'll say it again: this team has a ways to go. They were absolutely dominated by an average MSU team that gave up 29 to IU. They gave up 29 to the Hoosiers.

Notre Dame scored seven against a team that gave up 29 to Indiana. Yeah. Purdue is just a terrible team.

Having said that, I'll repeat what I have said before: the strength of this team is at WR and QB. The defense is avg. at best and the running game is still a question mark. It was nice to see Armando Allen finally hit a hole. The guy has been awful since coming to South Bend. It was also nice to see Sam Young starting to block some people. It only took 2 1/2 years.

Let's talk about the positives, but acknowledge the negatives. Rock is just a cheerleader, his analysis is awful and he actually hid out after being wrong about MSU.

Of course, this is the guy who predicted 8 wins last season.

Couldn't face the fire, Rock?

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to rain on anyone's parade BUT Purdue has a terrible defense. I think it was one of ND's biggest games last year on offense. AND JC should have been picked off twice - once in the endzone.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HIde out?
I did an hour long radio show the monday after. Its archived
I talked about these very issues. Listen. Learn. Stop posting like a child.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Anonymous? Who is calling the kettle black? Do you post on NDNation? IE? If so, what is your screen name? Pretty easy to talk like a chump from a dark alley.

Oh, by the way, I post under c.odie on NDNation. I like how you call out Armando and Sam Young for being awful. Armando was a Freshman last year playing in his first game in two years. Sam Young was thrust into a starting role as a freshman out of necessity when you would prefer to have your offensive lineman breaking into a starting role as a junior.

Sofa Kingdom!

10:55 AM  
Blogger jim / Redondo Beach said...

...the team looked very good on Saturday...but let's not forget that we were playing a mid to lower Big Ten team in Purdue...

12:01 PM  
Blogger jim / Redondo Beach said...

..."Lambert, Bruton and Grimes...are now playing at a very high level."

...omygod...Lambert?...your credibility just went south like a Lambert one-on-one....

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree that Purdue is a terrible team. This is the same Purdue team that took Oregon to OT just a few weeks ago. And would have won had they made a field goal as time expired in regulation.

Why so much negativity. The lads played a great game and are 3-1. They are showing significant improvement. This same Purdue squad whipped on us pretty good last year and have a senior laden team.

So much for objectivity.

Go Irish !!!

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TBoneND:
The thought that you can even compare what ND did against MSU and what IU did against MSU is puzzeling.
First off emotion is one of the most important factors in cfb.
MSU tradionally lets down after the ND game when their emotion is sky high. The fact that they won against IU is a testimony to their team.
Lou Holtz mentioned that you can count on maybe three highly charged emotional games a year and the rest you just have to take care of business.
This team is learninng how to win and they are building confidence.
I still expect an 8-4 season with a manageable bowl game.

1:17 PM  
Blogger DMW said...

Great Post Rock. I bet we'd all like a running game that can get 4 yds per carry whenever we want. But the O line is clearly incapable of that, and I think it takes at least two years to recruit and develop some powerful ones.

For now it's spread'em and read'em??

1:58 PM  
Anonymous southbendblarney.com said...

I'm curious to see if this team has really found an identity. I need to see a few more games with offense similar to this to be convinced that it wasn't just because ND was playing Purdue.

I think North Carolina week will be telling, both teams have some young talent and play makers. Their Tate is pretty sweet too. I also want to see how the interior of the ND offensive line can handle Marvin Austin.

I'm not gonna bang on Lambert, but I hope there is a lot of Gary Gray and Robert Blanton on the field against the Carolina offense.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous tednict said...

Rock, great post!

There are some people who post who hide behind Anon. You freaks need to come out, and use your name or other identifier.

If ND plays in a BCS Bowl, or any bowl for that matter, you Anons will still be bitching about this team.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SouthBendBlarney:

I think you're exactly right--UNC will be very telling. With all due respect though, I think Notre Dame loses handily to UNC, because Butch has them boys playing TOUGH.

However, losing to UNC and MSU, will have no bearing on the most important goal for Notre Dame this season (IMO): recapturing NDS. With Stanford, Pitt and Syracuse left, is should be a slam dunk to run the table and go undefeated at home.

That's 6-2, with roadies @ Washington, BC, Navy, and USC left to be factored in. They should win all those games, except for USC (yes, even BC; they're half the team they've been in recent years, and ND appears to be improved). That would be a very respectable 9-3.

So if Notre Dame loses to UNC, I wouldn't read to much into it; it's par for the course (like the MSU loss). However, if Notre Dame beats UNC--a tough, physical team, away--there's every reason to believe that this team has arrived, and is for real.

Seems this Weis fellow knows a thing or two about football, afterall.



'92 Gator

2:27 PM  
Anonymous southbendblarney.com said...

'92 Gator,

Can't disagree with anything you said. North Carolina has certainly looked good at times, though I don't know that Rutgers and Miami are anything special. I think it will be a good game, don't think the 'Heels beat ND handidly though.

I like what you said about Weis to wrap up. He has certainly made his share of mistakes, but I hate when people try to say he can't coach or develop talent. He has proven he can develop talent (his first 2 years). He did not inherit a "ready-made team". Those kids still had a lot to learn.
People who say that those guys were experienced players-what makes you think that juniors in college are fully-developed players. They aren't! So, thanks for throwing in a positive about Weis.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous weisguy said...

The Irish better not lose to the Tar Heels. Living in the Triangle, we are STILL bleeding from Ty's drubbing in the Gator Bowl to Phillip Rivers and the Wolfpack.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous ACS7 said...

Hopefully, I am not "out on this limb" alone. But I just can't bring myself to concede a loss to UNC. Beating McNeese State by 8, a Rutgers team that is just not very good and a Miami team that the jury is still out on... doesn't allow me to put the possible outcome in the loss column.

I know it's early and we have to show consistency...but I truly believe we have turned a corner and expectations should be higher. Of course I am not yet ready to take the same position vs USC...

Do I think we might stub our toe somewhere along the line? Yes..

Those are my thoughts anyway.

ACS7

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Southbendblarney:

"...I hate when people try to say he can't coach or develop talent..."

I'm afraid I am one of those skeptics who seriously questioned CW's ability to develop talent. Hence that was more of a consession--an acknowlegement that maybe I could be wrong about him. (...though there is a significant contigency laced in that consession--how he has the team performing remainder of season).

Re. UNC: yeah, what they've done in terms of their record is not spectacular; I'm going by what I've seen (trusting my eyes, as it were--to illustrate: I was involved in a similar discussion last week re. the 'bama-UGA game. I was far more impressed with what I'd seen out of 'bama than UGA--their DL looked dominant going in, while UGA's OL looked week. I trust my eyes, more than what I read---that said, I did NOT see our loss to Ole Miss coming!).

Anyway, I'm looking to the UNC game as a good benchmark for reading what these guys are really made of. We have an idea what they're capable of, but what they're really made of, remains to be seen (my 9-3 scenario, contemplates what they are capable of).

As for "stubbing their toes"--I'd say the most likely game for that to happen, is BC. None of the other games makes sense (of course OSU beating USC and Ol Miss beating UF didn't either...that's why they play the games, right?).

...but no matter what happens with UNC, I maintain there's no excuse for losing any of those home games. NDS should be effectively reclaimed by season's end, and if nothing else, that's solid foundation for next season.


'92 Gator

5:14 PM  
Anonymous San Diego Irish said...

Nice job Rock. Don't sweat these anonymous clowns. I'm less concerned with ND's competition than I am with player development. Clausen is growing by leaps and bounds in the mental aspects of the game which is most important in a quarterback. Charlie's offense is like a fighter jet--it's complicated with a million moving parts and useless without a talented pilot. But when used properly it's devastating. The other skill players are turning out to be game breakers which ND has needed badly since Holtz left.

These fools also need to lay off Lambert. How many td's has he given up this year? One? And that is with ND blitzing on every down and leaving him in single coverage. True ND fans no a bad corner when we see one--we've had plenty over the years. Cornerback is the most physically difficult position of the field bar none.

The Irish are on the rise.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snap count to our advantage? Next game watch what JC does. He does a prelim count, points to the mike, settles back in and then you can count to three and the ball is snapped... on the count of three every time.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any one who says Jimmy Clausen was over-hyped is ridiculous. trying playing quaterback as a freshman, with one of the toughest schedule in the country, a ridiculously bad offensive line and absolutely no run game to use and no recievers to throw too. That corner route to grimes was a laser. he put it right in between two defenders and that is the best throw ive seen from a ND QB in a long time. and it must make defensive coordinators sick to think that cluasen, floyd, tate , allen, kamara (who still creates terrible matchups in the redzone despite some of his poor play) and rudolph are all sophmores and freshman. ND is starting to become like USC. everyone asks "why are they so good EVERY year?" its because they recruit these four and five star players but they dont have to get thrust into starting roles right away. they sit back and play special teams while learning from a junior or senior who is also ridiculously talent for two years and then by the time they are juniors and developed and ready to play college football they jump and and make tremendous impacts. look at their quaterbacks. leinart sat behind palmer (a heisman winner) for two years and then took over his junior year and led them to two BCS games. then booty came in and while he didnt do as well as the other two he still did solid. now its sanchez, who although was the #1 QB in high school coming out sat out for too years and learned from booty and now look what hes doing. its the same at almost every position. it really is a recruiting cycle. thats what is happening at ND. sure we got all these young guys playing but imagine deion walker, john goodman, steve filer (although hes already playing), hafis williams, newman, clelland, cave, wood, watt and even dayne crist in two years. if this recruiting keeps up ND has the potential to turn into a USC. by the way,the running backs are starting to look like USC with the boatload of talent they have in hughes,allen,even aldrige ( who should be getting more carries because he is starting to look like the 5 star recruit he was), gray (who definately should get a shot) and wood next year.

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its pretty suprising that no one has talked about how well the secondary is playing. before i get hell for it, i know they gave up big plays to purdue, but purdue has a good quarterback and they were one on one man almost every play. but they have been quietly one of the best units on the team (which they were supposed to be). bruton and mccarthy are both beasts and the corners are doing a great job considering they are left one on one every single play. imagine what they could do if we DIDNT blitz so much and they had safety help. and also, i have not heard one word of praise about brian smith. he is an absolute monster and no doubt the second best defensive player behind bruton. he keeps playing like this, he could be in for some all american honors next preseason.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notre Dame Football is a nice break for lots of fans here. The Rock sure does not need KUDO's from me. But just the same I do think he is critical ,maybe even more so because he love his Irish like most of us do here.

The team did look much better playing Purdue than Michigan State. They played with heart and emotion for the first time since I think back in 2006.

MSU is a good team who is Coached by a very solid/good Coach.

Last year ND would have folded after losing a game. This years team found a way to come back in the second half to take command of Joe Tillers Purdue Squad.

I do think we turned a corner last Saturday for the better.
If we can whomp a dangerous Stanford Team who did whip the same Oregon State team init opener that whipped number one USC last Thursday Night we will be over a bigger hump.

Stanford is coming to play. Coach Jim Harbaugh is the real Deal at Stanford. he will have them winning Bowl Games soon every year. Stanford does allow JC transfers to fill the holes unlike ND. So look out Irish.

Keep up the good work ROCK.
You are much appreciated.

GOOOOO IRISH

PS I went to the UNLV-Nevada Game ast Saturday night in Las Vegas. UNLV had just beaten both Arizonia State and Iowa State in overtime only too get whomped by next years home oppener Nevada 49-27.
Nevada's Sophomore QB ran for 240 yards and passed for 170.

I sure hope we don't take them lightly. We can thank Kevin White for having them on the schedule. One of those teams you get nothing for beating them, but often they pull huge upsets like Fresno State.

Look into them Rock and keep the Irish on their toe's next season

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

guys..this is IRISH MIKE ...I've been in hibernation for a little while....but Rock...come on man...you didnt even post after michigan state...you hid behind a rock...

you only seem to write blogs with a homerism...that would make harry carey of the cubs look like benedict arnold...

Rock you are a total homer...man up bro.

I love notre dame...but when you love someone or in this case a university...you need to be honest with yourself.

We are not a good team...we are not a bad team.

We are a YOUNG team. and we'll make mistakes.

you yahoo's who think we'll go 9 and 3...gimme a break..

come on rock...what kool aid are you drinking?

Please dont hide from us when the team gets smoked like they did against msu.

I love you rock...but please stop the homerism...just be real.

we'll be lucky if we hit 6 and 6...maybe 7 and 5...

BCS? we can't even run? and we havent had shut down corners since we had Tom Carter and Bobby Taylor...

so just be real

I'm out

IRISH MIKE

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the whole, you read too much into one win over an average team (Purdue). Notre Dame is inexperienced, so we should expect to see games where they make bad mistakes and/or do not play to their potential (inconsistent), and some of those games will be losses. Even so, I do expect ND to make a bowl game and will consider the season a success if they do, and then win that bowl game.

One point I have to make is Clausen has already proven himself to be a better QB than Quinn. Clausen has made numerous throws that Quinn was never able to make. Clausen hits guys in stride, he can throw "touch" passes or the rifle it (Quinn could only do the latter), he can hit the deep man who has one step on the DB with consistency. Basically, Clausen can make any throw he needs to make, whereas Quinn was only able to drill his throws. Quinn was never able to make defenses pay for blitzing, while Clausen is starting to figure this out. Clausen is way ahead of where Quinn was in his second year. When Quinn left he was a good QB, not a great one (witness his dismal performances of his senior year, especially LSU). Clausen is a good QB now with a very good chance of becoming a great one - I believe he will.

We had a good game against Purdue, and we saw what can happen when the offense can run the ball and Clausen spreads the ball around the field, and to different targets. While I still expect one or two losses to teams we could have beaten, Irish fans have to be excited about the fact that most of the guys we are watching will have two or three more years at ND.

One game at a time men, just win the one in front of you. GO IRISH!

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Clausen is progressing, but he almost had 3 ints against Purdue - and 2 were in the end zone.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely hilarious that Rock doesn't post after being completely wrong, again, about the MSU game and then acts like his radio show made up for it. Give it up, Rock, everyone knows you hid out so that you wouldn't have to hear about how wrong you were. Especially after you pitched a fit and insulted people for disagreeing with your erroneous assesments.

As for the poster who criticized me for criticizing Sam Young and Armando Allen, I'm glad these guys finally had one big game between them after over two years of being absolutely awful. Nice to see you going out on a limb after one good game and years of terrible play.

As always, I mixed praise in with my criticisms, commenting about Clausen and some other positives, including the absolute studs at WR, that is how you analyze a team. Burying your head in the sand and pretending everything is ok after getting plowed by MSU-a Mickey Mouse program-isn't how you analyze a team.

And, yes, it is completely appropriate to compare the performance of the Hoosiers against a terrible MSU defense with the performance of the fifth grade offense that ND put on the field against the same MSU defense (MSU was actually short some defenders against IU). Why wouldn't we compare? Comparison gives us a measure of ND's (lack Of) progress.

By the way, where were Armando and Sam Young against MSU?

It is funny how Rock posts NOTHING after the loss to MSU, a loss that I not only predicted but also predicted the exact manner in which it would happen, and now here he is pretending like it never happened.

Keep up the good work, Rock.

11:07 AM  
Blogger wsmitheGH said...

This was a great article, thanks for posting!


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2:27 PM  

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