The Big Bounce: A Dozen Reasons the Irish will be Better in '08
The Irish are probably still too young across the board to expect much better than that, but the potential is there for dramatic improvements at many positions. And, as covered before, improvements in one position usually create improvements in others. If your line’s blocking better, your running backs and quarterbacks will look much better. If they’re playing better, the receivers don’t have to be perfect to get open. If the whole offense is playing better, the defense gets to rest. Given how many things went wrong last season, it only takes a few of these moving in the right direction to create some forward momentum and that momentum began with Coach Weis and some big changes.
1. Weis Wiser
Weis looked in the mirror last year and saw much of the blame for last season’s debacle. He knew he could have and should have coached better. But the changes needed were about more than just coaching, Weis needed to adjust his leadership style. That's something most leaders find very hard to do. Give him credit, Weis sought the counsel of those close to the program who point blank told him his Patton routine wasn't working (with the team or alumni) and in response, he reportedly received leadership coaching (an area I work in.) The result, a 180 in the way Weis works with players. If you read his quotes, it's like the light bulb went off. Somewhere in that self reflection he decided he had to treat college kids differently than pro players and change his coaching style. Some might wonder why a coach who makes $_,_ _,__.__ (does anyone really know what he makes?) has to learn on the job. Well, simple. We hired a coach with no head coaching experience and no recent college experience, so Weis HAS to learn on the job.
Weis has changed his attitude this year, but he’s also changed his role. Weis admitted to spending far too much time with quarterbacks last year and his preoccupation with play calling and quarterbacks hindered his ability to make decisions for the wider team good. He’s removed himself from that role and I think he'll have a better grasp of the overall needs of the team. And now that White is gone (who was reportedly afraid of Weis) Charlie has to know that he’s not going to be able to run rough shod over Swarbrick, so he'll be receiving leadership from above. And this starts immediately once someone has respect for his superior. Weis also looks like he's dropped 40.
This is a direct result in the change of Weis's leadership style with the players and coaches. Weis admitted that players were often scared to make mistakes which made the team uptight and drained all the emotion from their play. The payoff of Weis’s decision to step back and encourage his team to show emotion was evident in the Blue Gold Game, where it actually looked like the kids were having fun and playing harder because of it. Notre Dame now looks like a team that wants to kick your ass and is going to talk it up and have fun doing it. You've got to think that it's going to make recruiting easier for Weis as well.
Closely related still, the Irish are having more intense and hard hitting practices, which, as El Kabong advised last year, was one of the reasons Pete Carroll cited for success in college. The pro model just doesn't work in college where you have so little time to prepare. In the pros, you want to preserve your player's health. In college you want kids to play with emotion and stick it to each other. Turns out, kids like to hit, who’d a thunk it?
Nothing makes a man player harder than someone younger right behind him ready to take his job. One insidious downside of the lack of depth at Notre Dame is that there was no one to push the first stringers. That’s not the case anymore, as there’s competition at almost every position on the team. Also, it’s tough to have full on hitting practices when you had the paper thin depth we had last year. Notice how all of these are interrelated?
5. Change in Play-calling
My frustration with Weis’s propensity to abandon the run (especially acute against Michigan State and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago) is apparently a thing of the past. Not only has Weis given the play-calling reigns to OC and running back’s coach Mike Haywood, but he’s also talking a big game about running the ball down the opponents throat. Given our 58 sacks last year, maybe, possibly, Charlie’s starting to believe that a running game is vital to a good offense?
6. Bigger, Big Uglies
That of course isn’t possible unless you have offensive linemen opening holes and the Irish have put on bulk across the offensive line, except for Chris Stewart who’s down to 329. He’s the kind of the home grown road grader that Notre Dame hasn’t had in recent memory. You can’t coach what I call farm boy big and Stewart, Young and Robinson all have it. I expect dramatic improvement in the run game this year because of an emphasis on the run, offensive linemen who aren’t all sophomores, finally some depth and offensive linemen who's first step isn't backward on every play.
7. Latina and Weis Makeup
Not that they were fighting, but the two acknowledged philosophical differences last year which probably contributed to the nuclear meltdown across the offensive line. Latina has said the two are absolutely on the same page this year. Hopefully, that means more simplified blocking schemes that allow kids to just play.
8. Say Hello to The Real Jim Clausen
Last year an underweight Clausen came off surgery with a sore arm, wasn't allowed to lift weights and proceeded to get hurt again while playing behind the worst line in the NCAA and the worst line in Notre Dame history. Some actually labeled Clausen a bust (read Group Stupid Mindthink.) This year, Clausen us up 20 pounds in weight, has another year of experience and will likely have a running game so that he’s not running for his life on every play. All reports have Clausen playing at an exceptional level for a sophomore.
9. Wide Receivers
Our Wide Receiver situation is shifting from dire to young, but very talented. Kamara and Tate showed flashes of great ability last year and this year’s freshmen, Walker, Floyd and Goodman will press for playing time. Floyd’s been consistently good early in practice (7 on 7 included) and has an NFL body. Walker is flashing speed that Notre Dame just hasn’t had (except in spurts with Tate) and Goodman has been described as a faster Parris. Clausen figures to have a very good wide receiver corps by mid year.
10. Running Backs
In my opinion (surprise) Weis could have ridden Hughes to a couple of more wins last year, but he obviously wasn’t listening to my voice mails. This year, Hughes and Allen are no longer freshmen and Allen is starting to fill out nicely. Our running back situation looks, at the very least, solid this year with the possibility of being very good.
On defense the upgrade in linebacker coaching will be dramatic. The Irish trade out Polian, a great recruiter who doesn’t have any real coaching experience there, for Tenuta who brings a wealth of knowledge and foul language to a fairly talented group of linebackers. I love Brian Smith. He's a kid who grew up before his time and is already a leader. Crum has all of the experience in the world and Harrison Smith has all of the athletic ability in the world. You have to figure we’re going to get exponentially better play out of our linebackers with Tenuta coaching back there (anyone remember Phillip Wheeler?)
12. Defensive Backs and Brown
Everyone loves Bill Lewis, but Brown coaching the defensive backs (the position he plays) just seems like a natural fit. Brown is the consummate motivator and the Irish seem to have their strongest combination of defensive backs in years. Everyone expecting big things out of the secondary. Combine a good secondary with a blitzing front seven and ND could create the same type of havoc it received last year.
With those those dozen improvements and the fact that we’ll simply have an older team along with an influx of very talented freshmen, it’s hard not to see the Irish make dramatic improvements in 2008. I want to mention the schedule as well, but history has taught us that easy "looking" schedules often look hard by the end of the year. If everything breaks right, a BCS berth may be a remote possibility, but Irish fans can realistically expect a good bowl in 2009. This is after all a team dominated by youth.
BTW, Vannie and I discussed both the positives and the negatives, but talking about them together became so muddled that we thought it was clearer to write two different articles. That said, Vannie and Cash should be banned from games, those two are the grim reapers of ND football. If you see them at a game, bet the other team... quickly.
Tea Leaves, Depth Charts and Comments
Chris Stewart is a key to this season, that Stewart's dropped to 329 shows great dedication on his part. If he and Young can start blocking downhill, Notre Dame will have a completely different look in 2008 (one can only hope.) Weis is clearly trying to set a tone with comments about ramming the ball down opponent's throats. Imagine what a DE will be thinking by the third quarter after 660lbs of beef have been hammering him for 20 minutes.
I'm starting to like our Wide Receiver situation. Grimes, despite his size challenges, is a very good receiver. Kamara has already proven he's ready to start. Weis's comments about Floyd certainly point to some early playing time as so many have predicted for the kid. Floyd, Gray and Cave (315) are arriving with at least the physical maturity to make a difference.
On the defensive side of the ball the tea leaves point to Notre Dame using a 4-3 look much of the season. Neal practiced with his hand down much of spring, but the real tip off is that John Ryan was supposed to move to DE, but is instead backing up Neal. I think we'll see ND in a 4-3 much this season. Positives on the defense include the reshaping of Emeka Nwankwo into an NFL looking player, Paddy Mullen squatting 600 lbs and no injuries on the rest of the line (I was hoping to see a few more lbs from Richardson.) Justin Brown's topping 270 to add some depth here. I was very encouraged to see Brandon "Coke Machine" Newman show up in such incredible shape. Newman blew away Scouts at the Army All-American game and may yet prove the equal of defector Omar Hunter. Williams showed up at over 300 lbs, with a little extra and Ethan Johnson is in great shape at 275. We only need a couple of these players to exceed early expectations in order to field a decent defensive line or better. Imagine these guys two years from now (in fact, imagine this whole team two years from now.)
I really like the move of Brian Smith inside (then again I like the move of Travis Thomas to LB,) but the move of Harrison Smith to SAM shows you that ND wants a LB with the ability to cover and rush and Smith II is an off the charts athlete (4.3 40) with instincts. You have to get a guy like that on the field. Freshmen Steven Filer and Darius Fleming are coming in with bodies that are ready to play.
Not much to tell about the defensive backs other than Blanton just looks like a play maker, McNeil has a linebacker's body and Slaughter is already showing why Florida made a push for him late in the recruiting season.
While every team has players that "could be" surprising early on, ND at least has those players at the need positions.
Hold your optimism, Vannie's about to tell you why you shouldn't get too excited about 2008.
Bank It: E.J. Banks is Irish
Here's ESPN on Banks:
Banks is a dual-threat quarterback with outstanding speed, acceleration and quickness as a runner and will end up likely at wide receiver, but many coaches are going to want to see how he'd turn out at corner first.Plays with confidence and is highly productive. He competes. Overall, Banks is an instinctive guy with very good overall tools and exceptional quickness and suddenness with the ball in his hands. Should make for a fine wide out or corner once he sees fulltime duty there.I love this from Buckeye Planet (except for that last part)
I am EJ Banks' cousin, his father Edgar Banks is my first cousin...and yes, Joey Galloway is our cous from Bellaire Ohio...Aunt Carol and Uncle Deenie(his parents)...anyway, I think I can have info that may be useful for your site...from time to time...EJ is a excellent student-athlete who has accelerated his football and bball game to the almost elite Pittsburgh status...kinda bias I know...but, being really really real...E will be a steal to whomever signs him next year...and personally all of us here(his family) are telling him tOSU all the way...so when I get a scoop I will pass it along...hope to be back soon... Sonny RoxStar WhiteHere's what Banks told the Pittsburgh Gazette:
“It means a lot to me to be going to Notre Dame,” Banks said. “I know that, when I graduate from there, a lot of doors will be opened for me that wouldn’t have been opened if I had chosen to go somewhere else. For football, it is a great place, but it is a lot more than that and all of that weighed into my decision.”
Even The Big Lead acknowledged the absurdity of the story, citing none other than Jeff Carroll (screenshot on the right) and wrapping it up nicely with,
"Tough spot for the kid - he’s a virtual celebrity on campus, as is any QB at ND. Of course people are going to break out the cameras when he shows up at parties, and of course Clausen is going to attend parties, which college kids should do. Again, we find nothing wrong this photo - and we feel the same way about the Matt Leinart pictures that emerged earlier this year. Athletes unwind in the offseason, and often, this will - and should - include partying. Assuming the Clausen photos were not taken from August-December … where’s the beef?"Notice how a little thoughtfulness and perspective change the entire story? That's why writers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, especially ones who "break" a story, because their viewpoint will be parroted in papers and on television around that country. That's a lot of responsibility that directly affects a 20 year old's reputation. I have great affection for the Chicago Tribune, which is why it's so disturbing to see what looks like unbalanced reporting.
As Bob Chmiel writes (more eloquently than I) to Hamilton in Blue and Gold Illustrated's Troubled by the Trib about his reporting in the Tribune:
"And since you write for the paper I delivered, I had your back. But this week, I am just an old football coach who happens to write. There appears that there is some type of agenda, and today I am just a bit less proud of having thrown your paper on so many snowy porches a long, long time ago."
Where do we go from here? Not far. What we've learned from our posters is that Res Life doesn't get involved in off-campus issues unless the police were called. Of course, more to the point, there's no direct evidence of anything wrong. Sources inside Notre Dame say nothing needs to be done other than a verbal warning, which has been communicated to Clausen. In fact, if Notre Dame were to take action it would be treating Clausen different than it treats other students and that is highly unlikely.
In other words, it's a non-story except as a cautionary tale.
Let the season begin.
"Notre Dame is going to be really good, but with this schedule, they just have to be pretty good. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they have an undefeated showdown with USC over Thanksgiving weekend."
To the cynical:
"... what I know is how dreadful that 2007 team was. It shocked the senses with its awfulness. Any assessment of our chances in 2008, regardless of schedule, needs the sobering kick in the gut that was 2007 to be mitigation on our expectations. I expect no more than 7 wins."
I find myself in a schizophrenic state, vacillating between both points of view. Last year was truly the perfect storm with a green offensive line, a freshmen quarterback, a new defensive coordinator and a severe lack of leadership in the upper classes. That's what my rational mind looks at for hope. It also sees the incredible talent bubbling up from underneath (see Michael Floyd on the left) and that there's finally competition at most positions, but I can't stop replaying the misery that was last year in my head. Play this if you dare (turn the sound down.)
I just can't make the mental leap from last year's disaster to a great season this year.
Stepping outside of my warped mind, the USA Today coaches poll ranks Notre Dame behind five opponents this year (ND came in at #43)
Yet Notre Dame fans think we're going to have a 3-4 loss year based on the probability poll of more than 6,500 ND fans. Drum roll please... here are the results (with some eyeball interpolation.)
Notre Dame fans think that three games are absolute slam dunks:
San Diego State 97%
Two other games are high probability games:
Four more games fell into the likely win column:
North Carolina 65%
The Michigans are relative coin flips:
Michigan state 52%
USC is in the high probability loss group.
Looking across those probabilities, they equate to about a 3.5 loss season even though ND Fans believe the probability is in ND's favor in 11 of the 12 games. So the expectation is to win every game but one, but the reality is that given these probabilities, the season expectation is at a Gator Bowl level or worse.
******************* Insert from VA Domer *******************
I couldn't stop myself from doing some further statistical analysis. Based on the individual game probabilities SEE estimated from the polls, here are the total season probabilities:
X, WINS=X, WINS>=X
0 0.0% 100.0%
1 0.0% 100.0%
2 0.0% 100.0%
3 0.0% 100.0%
4 0.2% 100.0%
5 1.5% 99.8%
6 6.1% 98.3%
7 15.9% 92.2%
8 26.4% 76.3%
9 27.4% 49.9%
10 16.7% 22.4%
11 5.2% 5.7%
12 0.5% 0.5%
So, we're collectively expecting more like 3 losses.
******************* Insert from VA Domer *******************
What about talent? Chronicle on Cartier field took a look at the talent level of ND compared to its 2008 opponents using the following weightings:
2004 - 75% - 5th year seniors
2005 - 100%
2006 - 75%
2007 - 50%
2008 - 25% - Freshman
This yields a talent ranking of
ND------------18.23 - (scout)
ND------------22.92 - (rivals)
Bottom line is Michigan still has great talent (better than ours) and UNC is very close with Pitt slightly behind. BC looks bleak, almost tied with Syracuse. Based on talent alone, there would seem to be more than a couple close games.
So talent is definitely moving in Notre Dame's favor, but this also doesn't count defections in the upper classes which are very high for the Irish.
After looking at rankings, fan probability and talent, what about Vegas?
The over-under on Notre Dame's season is seven wins. So Vegas thinks we fans are a tad optimistic and has the Irish as underdogs to USC, Michigan State and North Carolina. We were underdogs to Michigan, but betting on the Irish has made Notre Dame a favorite.
What does it all mean?
We're likely going to be still too green and too inconsistent for a good season by Notre Dame standards, but this team will show flashes of the talent that's building underneath and set the table for a title run in 2009. Anything less than 7 wins has to be a disappointment. Anything more than 8 wins and the Irish are going to be on a magazine cover to start next season.
The Tribune's Last Breath
The thing that struck me most about the recent "revelation" that underage athletes drink beer, which is what I learned from Brian Hamilton's recent "non-investigative" story around a picture he found on another website of Jimmy Clausen holding a cup of "maybe beer?" at a party, wasn't that it was exploitative, it was that there's no judgment at all left at the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune has become a Lampoon of itself.
There isn't just a lack of balance, there's a lack of anything tethering writers like Hamilton to their calling. Or maybe the calling just changed.
Regardless, I actually felt a little sad that it's come to this.
It was never this bad, trained writers clawing for hits, imitating TMZ.com for college sports by trolling for "possible stories" on the web. But Hamilton is the symptom.
With the slow, but steady demise of revenue for newspapers and television, Brian Hamilton represents what's left: bitter, angry, confused journalists doing whatever it takes to get hits. This is just embarrassing for the Tribune. It's like the journalistic compass went out the window. "Beergate" could actually make Jeff Carroll feel like a journalist. "I Googled Clausen and beer and 11,000 entries showed up."
The story is this: Hamilton found pictures from a 'gotcha' website showing Clausen having a good time drinking beer... wait a minute... holding a beer... wait a minute, how does Hamilton know it's beer at all? His journalistic instincts stoked... he called Notre Dame to alert the University of a possible "beer holding incident" and, I guess seriously, asked about university policy for underage beer drinking and announced an investigation. The University didn't say it was investigating (I've yet to hear about beer holding investigations,) but said "The office of Residence Life will investigate possible violations of university policies when it is made aware of them, such as in this case." Nice work Brian, an 11 year old with a computer and a cell phone could have done the same thing. If this is what he's getting paid for as a journalist, the Tribune should just create a fictitious byline and outsource Hamilton's job to the Philippines.
So, to be clear (unlike Hamilton,) the University doesn't necessarily think there's a case worth investigating here. Read the statement again, they don't mention the specifics of this "case" at all. That's a general quote for the masses. They are saying, that if you're alerting them to a possible incident that's in violation of university policy and you're not considered a crackpot (at least this last time) they'll investigate your claim... but not necessarily Clausen. In short, they're going to investigate whether your claim is worth investigating. But not only did the Tribune run the story on day one, but they ran a follow-up the next day.
Here's the headline the Tribune lead with today:
Irish QB Jimmy Clausen and at least two teammates face alcohol-use investigation
Web photo puts Irish QB, teammates in crosshairs"Face alcohol-use investigation" is jumblespeak for "we don't know." Facing is a convenient, ambiguous word far too many media outlets throw around when there's a possibility of something happening, but they don't know if it's probable or unlikely, so they use facing to cover their bases and make it seem ominous. "Teammates in the crosshairs" is just sensationalist crap. This is the equivalent of a major market newspaper journalist trying to drum up hits like street hooker.
Hamilton has become the joke of the Internet. EDSBS is having a field day with this.
We believe we have found photos far more incirminating than those that led to your justified investigation of the shameful behavior of Jimmy HUSEIN Clausen. Please forward this to all your friends and family. Let them judge for themselves if this is what you want representing our country at quarterback. All of them can be found with the google and are REAL.
It's ironic that bloggers are the ones having to bring perspective to the traditional journalist world.
Even sillier, Hamilton didn't bother to investigate WHEN the photos were taken. And article number two (of this deep investigative series ) carried this disclaimer "No matter the date of the photos, at least two of the players would not be of legal drinking age." In other words, Hamilton didn't do any work at all. He found pictures on an Internet site, posted them and then called Notre Dame to create a story. He didn't ask himself basic questions such as, "Hey, why are they wearing jackets in August?" or "Jeepers, they aren't actually drinking a beer, is that a problem?" or "How can anyone actually prove there's beer in the cup?" Important questions, because I'm told that while this clearly looks like a game of flip-cup, the University can't take any punitive actions (even it wanted to) in a case like this because there are no pictures showing the players drinking. Something Hamilton should research, no?
Some funny headlines came out of it. Props to BallHype for this one: Even Jimmy Clausen's Beer Pong Balls Are Intercepted. The bottom line is that if Clausen wasn't out drinking, being a normal college kid, it would be odd to say the least. As one of our readers said, "I hope he's drinking Jack, Notre Dame needs more whisky drinkers."
I thought I'd give Hamilton a pass a few weeks ago when he noticed an Ad on NDNation featuring Clausen (completely against NCAA rules and unbeknownst to anyone but Hamilton) and alerted Notre Dame to create the story and then he immediately wrote a story about it, but this also came after he actually had to "make a phone call" (i.e. do some work) after having read an obvious April fools post on NDNation about Brey moving to Indiana and then write about that unprofessional NDNation making April Fool's jokes.
What I believe now is that he's just lazy, waiting on Internet controversy so that he can make a phone call, create a story where none existed and get hits on a blog, which may keep him around for a little longer, but have likely cemented his career ceiling. This is it, this is the big time, but his credibility is gone if it was ever there. There was an opportunity here to write a real article about the internet and judgment, but Hamilton takes the lazy way out.
Even if you're going to run a story like this, where's the balance or acknowledgement of the absurd? Is a college quarterback at a party where there's beer worthy of the Tribune's space? If they are going to run the story, doesn't the Tribune have an obligation to note that the picture appears dated? Of course it does. Leaving those obvious points out creates a better headline and more consumable story.
It's sad and it makes you angry that an adult who should know better is actually is willing to hurt a college kid for hits. But then, reading Hamilton's bio of himself that he wrote in third person, you have to wonder:
"In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity."
Hamilton made Clausen, he now must destroy him (there's humor there.)
Yes, he'll get short term hits, Clausen will receive no punishment because it ain't against policy to seemingly hold a seeming beer, but the Tribune is tarred again by more poor, sensationalist journalism.
As for Notre Dame, there was a time where even a non-story like this might have cowed the administration into feeling it needed to act, but most around the University seem to feel that the time of running for cover when a paper runs an intimidating headline is over. I'm going to make a prediction that no one will be talking about this story a week from now.
The adults are finally in charge in South Bend, I don't know who's running the Tribune anymore.
ND Takes Recruiting Title
Everyone knew the Tide was going to have attrition from that class and now it's happened. Two players, four and three star recruits Melvin Ray and Destin Hood, chose professional baseball.
Three other players, four star recruit Devonta Bolton, four star recruit Kerry Murphy and three star recruit Brandon Lewis are ineligible.
That attrition easily knocks the Tide down below or even with the Irish, who've had zero losses because Notre Dame vets recruits thoroughly before signing them, making Notre Dame number one in both average recruit ranking and overall point rankings assuming the math holds. The 2008 recruiting class is Notre Dame's first number one class since Lou picked grass nervously off the sidelines.
On the field performance has to follow, but there's no doubt that the young talent base is quickly building in South Bend.
Notre Dame Recruiting on a Roll: The Fox and the Bull
"It's a good fit for me," Bullard told the Tennessean. "I liked the smaller campus, smaller classrooms and just how prestigious a school they are. Especially with Tennessee, it was a tough decision. I felt like me and Coach (Phillip) Fulmer had a relationship. But at the end of the day, Notre Dame was the best place for me."
You could say it’s all in the genes for Bullard because his father, Louis Bullard, was an offensive lineman for Jackson State in the 1970s and he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1978 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Bullard is a very important get for the Irish. Here's ESPN's scouting report on him: "BULL"ard is exactly that as an offensive lineman that is dominating at the point of attack. Even though you would like to see him an inch or two taller, he shows the ability to play either guard or tackle at the next level. Comes off the football with power; gets into defensive lineman quickly with jolting blow delivery with the hands and outstanding leg drive."
The 6-4, 218lb Fox was recruited at linebacker and a short look at his video shows the Irish landed a very good athlete with the ability to play in space and cover. Fox is the type of linebacker that gives you a lot of flexibility. That combination of height, speed, athletic ability and ball instincts is a rare commodity.
"They see a very athletic young man who plays a major role in three sports," his coach told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When he's able to concentrate on just one sport I think he'll be 240-245 pounds in the next few years. He was being recruited east coast to west coast."
6'4", 245lbs and can cover... sign me up.
Here's Fox's ESPN evaluation: "Fox is a big safety at 6'3" and 215 pounds. He also could play outside linebacker. His biggest asset is his timing on the blitz. He gets off on the snap and makes penetration into the backfield. He does a good job of shedding blocks and rarely gets knocked off his feet. Fights to get to the football; gives good effort. Shows the ability to go up for the interception and has soft hands. Has decent speed and athleticism. Needs to work on his tackling; has a tendency to not bring his legs with him."
Fox's youtube video is below.
Fox will team with Carlo Calabrese at linebacker in a 2009 class that is rapidly gaining momentum.
Hey, Look at My Guy
That's the good, but also the bad. The hard part for those who are connected with the candidates is to separate friendship and relationships from reality; to have some dispassionate distance to evaluate candidates free of lobbying.
I just read Tim Prister's articles shilling for Rick Chryst and now find myself feeling a little dirty. Prister interviews Gene Corrigan ostensibly about all the candidates for the Notre Dame AD job, but then procedes to ask Corrigan only about Chryst knowing full well Corrigan is a Chryst backer. In fact, Corrigan is forced to give Prister "the journalist" some perspective in the article.
The basis for Prister's argument, that ND is a conference unto itself and therefore needs a conference commissioner with a seat at the table sounds good in theory, but on further review seems less applicable if applicable at all. Negotiating on behalf of the MAC does not equal representing Notre Dame. In fact, whoever is the Notre Dame AD will have a "seat at the table" and a no one's yet defined why Chryst has a good working relationship with the BCS committee, why that would translate to Notre Dame or why another candidate couldn't better establish such relationships. The fact is that the candidate with the right amount of credibility, knowledge, emotional intelligence and influencing skills will likely do well at the bargaining table. As we've seen from White, years of experience at the table don't necessarily translate into positive results.
Now, to be clear Chryst sounds like a great guy, a smart guy and like someone who has performed well and Corrigan's endorsement carries weight. He looks like a great candidate on paper, but so do others like Steve Orsini and half-cocked relationship driven endorsements masquerading as journalism don't help enlighten anyone, nor to they necessarily help Chryst.
My purpose isn't to endorse one candidate over another here (not that it would matter,) but everyone should heed such advice for the moment. Certainly more depth and understanding is necessary and Prister's already handicapping the race for AD like it's the Belmont.
Slow down, Big Brown.
After what seems like decades in purgatory, it looks like Notre Dame is in a no lose situation. Shills should holster their lobbying and instead engage in thoughtful discussion over candidate attributes. After so many years of struggle in ND athletics, we're finally at a point in time where ND can tab strong leaders who can credibly influence others in the larger community. This is no time for friend lobbying, but for doing what's best for Notre Dame and that, at a minimum, involves some careful analysis of all of the candidates before devolving into personal lobbying. If he's worth his salt, Chryst would agree.
Anyone who followed the Michigan coaching search process, where powerful alumni lined up into factional camps, should realize such power broker activity is counter-productive and leads to unhealthy criteria being weighted into the process. How many ND super-delegates do you have? It shouldn't matter. I know it does, but it shouldn't.
And as a bonus, most people would probably read such a dispassionate analysis and think better of both Chryst and Prister.
For Love and Money: Replacing Kevin White
There are many more ways to get a hire wrong than to get one right. As I wrote in Define Who You Are , an Athletic Director at Notre Dame has to understand what Notre Dame means, but also the role that plays in creating value and ultimately revenue:
"What ND has to protect, above all else, is its unique branding, uncompromised and steeped in tradition. What we keep hearing is how necessary it is to "be like everyone else" yet that thinking is exactly what will ruin the uniqueness, the marketability of the ND experience and ultimately make Notre Dame less dollars.Under White, it seemed as if Notre Dame was constantly scheming new marketing and revenue generation methods that brought in small dollars at the expense of the Golden Goose. What Notre Dame's incoming Athletic Director has to understand is that Notre Dame's market value is ultimately found in the uniqueness of Notre Dame. So, yes, we absolutely need someone who "gets it."
You usually don't get a second chance once you compromise. If you dilute the brand, you limit the corporate opportunities. If your opportunities become limited (see the BCS negotiations) you're forced to make choices that probably will dilute the brand. So diluting the brand more, limits more opportunities... and around and around the toilet bowl we go.
Here's where emphasizing tradition and experience pays off in both the revenue and branding: Once you commit to this thought process, it raises your level of thinking and creates more and unique options. If one only looks at the landscape that is revenue generation based on current methods, then you, by default, will be picking an option that dilutes the brand. If you focus on enhancing the game day experience, there are a myriad of corporate opportunities that will flow from taking this approach that will ultimately have greater value as a marketing channel for corporations and build the brand that will create still greater value. Building the brand yields greater and unique options for marketing. Having unique options allows you to enhance the brand. Enhancing the brand...
ND needs to think outside of the toilet bowl. Many companies are forced into bad choices by the market or private equity pressure. Notre Dame doesn't have that liability.
We also need someone who understands what that means in the larger, changing landscape of college football and our other sports. Whomever the new AD is, he (or she) will have to be able to navigate an increasingly factionalized world of athletics dominated by superconferences, which means the new AD will have to bring a very CEO like level of skills to the table (after all it is akin to running a small company.)
Along with that understanding of Notre Dame and its place in the landscape and competence in athletic administration, the new AD will have to quickly build credibility both within Notre Dame and in the larger NCAA community in order to wield influence. As we've seen before, the blunt hammer doesn't work and neither did the "let's all be friends" approach of White. That's why being able to bring credibility into many situations is a key component in this equation. Arrogance is not an asset, but neither is acquiescence.
In a recent seminar I worked on with executives we focused on the differentiating factors of great leaders. In the world of credibility, character and competence are of course paramount, but the key differentiating features for credibility were courage, emotional intelligence and the ability to influence others.
We need athletic administration competence, someone who gets Notre Dame, understands the strategic landscape now and where we're headed in the future, changing media and marketing and someone who will be viewed at as a leader both internally at Notre Dame and externally in the world of college athletics.
As we've found with the coaching searches, it's easy to find what you don't want or see what doesn't work, but much harder to find the perfect fit.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
I knew the Irish were over-hyped in 2006, because we were in prime over-hype position. We greatly exceeded expectations in 2005 and we were returning players at the glamor positions, which is all any preseason prognosticators have the ability to focus on. Yet we had significant losses and weaknesses. Michigan was in a similar over-hype position last season, after exceeding expectations in 2006 and returning glamor players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
Heading into 2008, the Irish are now in a prime under-hype position. Notre Dame underperformed against any expectation last year leading Athlon to rank the Irish 60th in the country in their pre-season rankings (purportedly.) But the Irish talent level is rising back to contender status and we should be in title race by 2009. This chart on the right shows four and five star players weighted to the junior, senior and 5th year classes. As you can see Notre Dame is spiking dramatically up this year (granted this was done before Rueland, Frazier, Carufel and Jones transferred,) but regardless you can see a sharp rebound for the Irish in 2008. And one reason I'm not as fazed by the defections is that everyone of those players was beaten out by a younger player.
I'm gaining slow confidence that we're going to see a significant Irish resurgence for three reasons.
First, the overall talent level is finally rising from underneath. That means for the first time in years, we're going to have heated competition at most positions. If you remember last year at the Blue and Gold game we didn't have enough offensive linemen to make a two deep. This year, we're going to have six talented and fairly seasoned offensive linemen who can almost legally drink and you have to like the potential of a guy like Chris Stewart and the attitude of players like Wenger, Turk and Olsen. And even at positions where we don't have great depth, we've at least got young talent coming in. It's certainly not a perfect mix, but it's hard to improve when your starters are young and surrounded by more young.
Second, Weis has made some very positive coaching moves the last two years. He deserves a great deal of credit for dumping Minter (they didn't mesh) and hiring Brown and now Tenuta. Those are outstanding additions and I think we'll see much better player development on defense. Additionally, Weis stepping out of the signal caller role shows great self-awareness (albeit forced a bit) and hopefully will lead to a stronger run-pass mix which will in turn set Clausen up for success.
Third, Clausen himself. Our quarterbacks were sacked over 50 times!!! last season and Clausen still put up respectable numbers. I think Jimmy showed much better toughness and field awareness than he got credit for considering almost every play was a jail break and our receivers were, to be kind, not yet ready for prime time. By the second half of this year (assuming we finally get some blocking,) I think Clausen will be playing at a very high level. Weis's offense demands accuracy from the quarterback, which is why I think Clausen could be playing at a higher level than Quinn in just his sophomore season. If our freshmen and sophomore wide receivers can reach their potential early and Hughes and Allen can create some room, we might see a dramatic jump up the offensive rankings this season.
Above all, despite poor recruiting and numbers in the senior and 5th year classes, we're finally going to have three straight classes with decent talent and numbers. We're building depth, something we never had under Davieham or in Weis's first three seasons. We're finally becoming a program school again.
And as I pointed out previously, just as everything can go wrong in a perfect storm like last season, just fixing one or two parts can snowball rapidly in a positive direction.
If this team can just start believing it can win, the Irish could become the surprise story of 2008.
The "raw" yards per passing attempt is simply yards gained passing divided by passing attempts. An average figure for a college team is usually about 6.9 yards per attempt.One hopes this two year trend is a "passing" one.
These figures are always higher than average yards per rushing attempt, which might lead one to wonder why teams ever run the ball. But running is a lower-risk proposition (lost fumbles on true running plays occur with only about 1/3 the frequency of turnovers on passing plays if one includes fumbles on snaps), the risk of a zero gain is lower and yards per passing attempt overstates the net benefits of passing.
In 2007 N.D. averaged 5.2 yards per passing attempt, which was one of the worst in the nation. But really it was worse than that. In 2006 N.D. averaged 7.3 per passing attempt (which was good) and in 2005 N.D. averaged 8.7 per passing attempt, which was excellent.
However, even those big differences understate how much better the passing attack was in 2005 and 2006 than it was in 2007. Sacks are really passing attempts too, so they should be counted as passing attempts and the negative yardage subtracted from the passing total. Moreover, interceptions should be counted as about negative 50 yards. Of course, not all interceptions are created equally. Some are basically harmless (e.g., a Hail Mary at the end of the half that's intercepted instead of being knocked down), once in awhile they're actually helpful (e.g., on 4th down the defender reflexively catches the ball instead of knocking it down which would actually result in better field position) and sometimes they're positively devastating (e.g., an interception returned 100 yards for a touchdown). But on average they deprive a team of a chance to advance the ball and at least to punt and change field position. So let's use negative 50 as a rough approximation.
So let's calculate a "net" yards per passing attempt as follows: (gross passing yardage - sack yardage - (interceptions x 50 yards))/(passing attempts plus sacks).
In 2005, Quinn's true yards per passing attempt was 7.3 yards per passing attempt and in 2006 it was 5.7. I'm not quite ready to say that these figures are the equivalent of rushing the ball for 7.3 or 5.7 per attempt, but they do suggest that a team that can put up numbers like that legitimately might favor the pass.
In 2005, N.D.'s "true" yards per rush was about 4.6 because that's what N.D.'s tailbacks who saw significant action (Walker and Thomas) averaged between them. So the 2005 might have rightfully been one where the play calls should have favored the pass.
In 2006 it was a more even proposition because N.D.'s tailbacks who got more than a few carries(Walker, Aldridge and Thomas) averaged about 4.9 per carry.
Now, if we turn to 2007, it's actually hard to see why N.D. rationally tried to throw the ball at all, except perhaps to keep teams from just playing the rush. N.D. averaged a pitiful 2.5 per passing attempt (there was no meaningful difference between Clausen and Sharpley; Clausen averaged 2.5 and Sharpley 2.6). However, while N.D.'s rushing attack was not as good per carry as it was in 2005 and 2006 it didn't see nearly the collapse that the passing game did. The five N.D. tailbacks who got carries last year (Aldridge, Allen, Hughes, Thomas and Jabbie) averaged just a hair over 4.0 per carry.
It's probably not news to anyone, but N.D. really would have been much better of running the ball more last year. I, for one, however underestimated just how much better off N.D. would have been being a run heavy team. However, if sacks are counted as passing attempts, N.D. actually attempted to pass on 54% of the plays from scrimmage, which was similar to prior years under Weis (56-44 passing in 2006 and 50.3-49.7 passing in 2005).
I hope the basic message of it from last year has gotten home to Weis and Haywood. I expect that N.D. will be more proficient passing the ball than it was last year. But N.D. needs to commit to the run and probably be a run-heavy team for next year. Unless the "true" yards per passing attempt at least doubles to the low 5's, N.D. is likely to be much better off keeping the ball on the ground for a large majority of the plays.
The Fightin' Irish
Thinking back, the Fightin' Irish haven't played with emotion and true grit as a team for years. Oh sure there have been a couple of games, but in many ways the team's play typified the effete lace curtain standard set by the old regime. Ever notice that niceness and politeness often give way to complacency and losing... almost becoming an excuse unto themselves because those other guys "didn't play by the rules?"
The reality is that the rules are defined by the field of play on that day. If the refs are allowing holding, you hold. If the refs are allowing physical play, you rise to the occasion and hit them in the mouth. Those who hide behind the rules are doomed to failure.
"Go out there and hit 'em, crack 'em, crack 'em, smack 'em! Fight to live. Fight to win, win, win, win!" - Knute RockneEvery game has rules, but once you get on the field, the rules bend and sometimes break under the stress of competition. If you're going to win you have to press your man and many times the rules to the breaking point. That's life. Like Rockne said, you have to fight to live and fight to win. One of the things I give Charlie the most credit for is for not complaining about the Bush Push. USC did what they had to do and won. Those aren't the rules, but they were on that day.
And when the players do get into a fight here or there, talk a little trash or celebrate too much, Irish fans have to know, that's okay. It's part of the game. ND fans are full of micro policy police worried that every brush with the edge will tarnish ND's reputation. Like the playground mother who won't let boys be boys because they worry how it will make them look... that we'll be like everyone else. Well, if that's fighting for victory, so be it.
"It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or how the doer of deeds could have done them better, but the man who is actually in the arena, who's face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." - Teddy RooseveltWhen ND won in '88, it wasn't always pretty. But guys like Stams and Pritchett would do whatever it took on the field to fight and win.
Now, of course there are boundaries and hopefully we won't look as stupid as Boston College tearing up the turf or MSU/USC planting flags. But I write this because Charlie's expecting a more vocal, more physical and more emotion filled football team this year... the Irish HAVE to play that way if they're going to win and we saw some evidence of that at the Blue and Gold game. But I expect fans to use some perspective when things don't look quite how they would have acted. We're going to look cocky sometimes and nasty at others.
Football is a violent sport and not always fair.
If the Irish are going to win, they're going to have to do it being the Fightin' Irish.
It is our legacy.
Michigan graduates less than half of the African Americans who enroll as "students" and play football, yet this is supposedly a program that serves as a beacon for others?
USC graduates just barely over half of the "students" who go to school there and play football and Pete Carroll plays jokester while Trojans implode in the NFL due to character issues, yet this is held up as a model program?
That we continue to celebrate teams who use and discard student athletes is the real tragedy of college football.
Not only do many student athletes at "football schools" fail to graduate, but even for those that do graduate, many have been railroaded into majors that leave them with few options if their NFL ambitions fail (as happens for even for most 5-Star recruits.) So this is simple: If you're graduating less than half of your players in any segment and they're not being given a chance to pursue a meaningful major (see Michigan) then you're far, far worse than "arrogant"... you're an institution that legitimizes exploitation.
While all this plays out in the background (literally thousands of kids used by schools who dangle the possibility of college stardom and the NFL in front of them in exchange for their pledge to win one for the ripper) writers and talking heads stick their pens, computers and heads in the sand, ignore the obvious injustice and instead fruitlessly and mistakenly waste their time on perceived Notre Dame "arrogance."
The reality is this: Notre Dame graduates its players at an almost unprecedented rate for a top program. Notre Dame makes allowances for great athletes, but it also immerses those athletes in a culture that breeds success. Other schools wall off their best athletes and treat them like zoo attractions, living in special dorms, making them eat at "football only" cafeterias and unburdening them with high level classes.
While the majority of Michigan's players are forced into "football majors" that lead to nowhere, an examination of Notre Dame players shows that they're being "herded" into the 3rd best undergraduate business school in the country... and even players who were considered marginal students when they arrived in South Bend are succeeding because they're finally being taught how to succeed.
Here's what's different: At Notre Dame, these athletes are surrounded by competitive students AND great football players. At other schools they're treated so differently they never develop the skills necessary to compete in the real world. This isn't to say football players don't get special assistance, they do, but they're given it with the expectation that it will make them better... and it works.
The irony of the attacks of the masses on Notre Dame is that most of the attacks come from educated professionals who absolutely know better, but still can't help themselves. When Charlie Weis says he's not going to recruit thugs, part of that is just blunt talking Charlie prone to a touch of hyperbole, but part of that is fact. I won't name names, but there are kids playing in South Central who would be considered thugs by normal society; they have arrest records for assault that were known before they were recruited. They're what normal society considers thugs.
Is that arrogance to state you're not going to recruit thugs...
or is it sanity?
He's mirroring Bill Parcell's comments last year: "I don't want thugs and hoodlums on the team," Parcells said of the types of players he'll try to acquire. "I really don't. I don't want bad-character guys. I don't want problem children." - Bill Parcells
Notre Dame's won the CFA award more than any other major college football program. It's also won more national championships. It also graduates almost 100% of the student athletes who enroll there and stay for four years and it does that by supporting them and immersing them in a culture that's "inclusionary" rather than exclusionary. The team GPA has set records under Weis because he makes players become students. Notre Dame isn't the only school having success here, either.
How anyone with an ounce of empathy for the kids who are being used by big time programs can point at this as anything other than a positive boggles the senses. Look, Mario Manningham scored a 6 on the Wonderlic, not a 16, a 6. A 20 equals an IQ of a 100. Of 5 players scoring over 30 that were released, 3 were from Notre Dame.
The other day a New York Times writer of little note (yes that's the dork from Jersey on the left) decried the fact that Notre Dame wanted to play Rutgers' home games in a big time venue (and wrote that column with the tone and maturity of a jilted school girl) yet made no mention of the fact that other schools such as Ohio State aren't even giving any home games to some of their opposition. None. Zero. You play us and thank us for the privilege. He also failed to mention that Notre Dame's Big East affiliation helped saved the Big East from falling into oblivion and is the reason it's able to negotiate secondary bowl deals. What Notre Dame is doing is what's happening all over college football. Big schools are padding their schedules, moving to play more games at home and just aren't agreeing to home and homes. The rules are changing. That's the story and it's not hard to figure out.
Look at who the Buckeyes played out of conference last year:
|Youngstown State (Alumni Band)||Columbus, Ohio|
|Akron (Hall of Fame)||Columbus, Ohio|
|Washington||at Seattle, Wash.|
|Kent State||Columbus, Ohio|
And Youngstown State doesn't even get a home game out of the deal. It's an away and an away. They play in Columbus next year as well. Neither does Akron. Of course that's more money, but what about the spirit of the game? I can hear you snickering. The havenots have to play Ohio State on Columbus turf. The Buckeyes won't set foot in Akron, Youngstown or Troy all of whom are on the OSU schedule. They don't have to because they know the payday is worth it to the havenots. So Ohio Sate can schedule these teams pretty much as they want with no notion of a fair trade. The Gators are are doing the same thing. They play(ed) Western Kentucky, Troy and Florida Atlantic all in Gainesville. None will entertain the Gators for a home game.
Now, I'm not saying Notre Dame is right here (I don't agree with it)... but the lack of professional perspective by a New York Times writer is... uh... never mind. The reality is that it's happening all over the country, but this "balanced writer" would rather focus on ND "arrogance," ignore perspective and the serious problems underpinning college football which are these:
- Players are being paid rather blatantly across the country. Want an easy story, just show up in the parking lot of any big time school or show up at their off campus apartment. No one in the media cares.
- Players don't graduate and don't make the NFL. No one in the media cares.
- Players graduate with useless majors. No one in the media cares.
- Teams over recruit players (this is you Nick Saban) knowing they're going to have to kick some players to the curb. No one in the media cares.
- Teams win while violating almost every ethical standard surrounding student-athletes. No one in the media cares.
- Schools are scheduling cupcakes to increase their chances of making the BCS. No one in the media cares.
- The conference superpowers engineer fictitious conference games for extra revenue, while killing the idea of a playoff. No one in the media cares.
In short, show some guts you collection of vapid, attention seeking hypocrites.
Recognize what's impossible to miss and embrace the good that's going on around you, because if you don't your profession (presumably your life's work) is worth exactly what a fleeting moment of air time or day of Internet hits is worth, just a small inconsequential blip on the corporate bottom line.
Aim to be something greater than a media "hair puller" looking for a reaction.
Enough of the bullshit.
Crossing the Chasm (How ND Could Make the BCS)
1. First and foremost we can't lose our key players. These guys can't get hurt:
- Jimmy Clausen
- Dan Wenger
- Sam Young
- Ian Williams
- Brian Smith
- Kerry Neal
- Darrin Walls
2. We're going to need several players to "cross the chasm," grow from decent players or players with promise to very good to great players. Every year that teams make a substantial leap forward, we see some key players make this leap. This list is long.
- Jimmy Clausen has to age up quickly. Most players in his year would still be considered freshmen. Clausen needs to make a quantum leap to a 65% passer if we're going to be top team.
- Golden Tate needs to become a play-maker instead of a "go route" deep threat. It's obvious to everyone that he has the speed and the hands to be a special player, the kind of player that can force a defense to loosen up. I'd also like to see us get him the ball on reverses and out of the backfield. If we do that he also becomes an effective decoy.
- The offensive line on the whole needs to make a quantum leap forward, but Sam Young and Chris Stewart have a chance to be dominating on run plays. If we can get a consistent push on that side of the line, then I expect Hughes and Allen to be able to be able to put up 100 yard games. Of course they (and the running backs) have to get better at pass blocking.
- Richardson has to make the jump from potential to playmaker. Word is that despite his size issue (not that much off Vernon Gholston) that Richardson has the strength to play defensive end. If Richardson can make this jump, the odds of Irish wins will increase exponentially. Don't rule out John Ryan finally growing into the position he should have been playing all along.
- Ian Williams is another player who just has to get mature before his time. He was productive when he played last season, he has the size and a nice burst off the line. If Williams can make the jump along with Richardson then our chances for a good to great season go up dramatically.
- A middle linebacker. Will someone please rise to the occasion here?
- I'm not the least bit worried about our defensive backfield, we're as talented as we've been there in 15 years.
3. We're going to need our freshmen to come to the party ready to play. In order, I think Ethan Johnson, Michael Floyd, Brandon Newman and Darius Fleming are going to have to be battle ready to provide depth. I'm most excited about Johnson's ability to come in and make plays, this is a guy USC wanted badly. Floyd will be our best receiver (unless Tate improves) by the end of the season. Newman has to be able to spell Ian (and there's some good buzz on Hafis Williams as well.) Since we're apparently going to be brining the sink on every play, Fleming and possibly Filer are going to have to be able to step in and rush the passer. Luckily, this is usually one of the easier things for Freshmen to do. If these players can not only push the starters, but break through I think we'll see them immediately raise the level of play across the board. One thing that has to help with recruiting is Weis's propensity to play the best player regardless of seniority. At one time we had eleven freshmen starting last year. Of course the downside is that we're still painfully young. Most teams consider our sophomores to be freshmen, juniors to be sophomores, seniors to be juniors and 5th years to be seniors.
4. Commit to the running game. Give Clausen a breather and use our deep stable of backs. Play Action off the running game and allow our junior led offensive line to develop consistency and rhythm. Remember, even a one yard running gain can generate positive momentum. A sack is devastating. I really believe that Weis's sense memory killed us the last two years. While his situational playcalling instincts may have been right, in my opinion he still called plays as if the Patriots were executing them. And in theory, the plays should have worked, but in reality the moving parts, blocking schemes and inexperience made even simple plays look like goat ropes.
5. Complete the transformation. To be blunt, we've been told that there wasn't good team chemistry the past two years. Lack of senior numbers and talent greatly affected team leadership. Last year's team was rudderless. The real leaders were simply too young to lead and the older players were marginalized. This is actually fairly natural when you have such a dichotomy of talent and numbers between tenured players and newcomers. As I've written before, there's just no way a small number of less talented players can effectively lead a larger number of more talented younger players. With Weis's first real class now juniors, I think we'll start to see the benefits of that transition this year and it will be complete by '09.
6. The schedule has to give. I've read countless posts about how easy our schedule looks this year, but I'm not buying it, yet. Too many times I've seen us project an easy schedule only to have two-thirds of those teams gel and reach bowl games (the opposite is also true.) Looking at the schedule I do see some gimmes, SDSU, Syracuse and Navy. Other than those three I don't see absolute locks, though I do think it's more probable the Irish will see easier games against teams like BC, Purdue and Washington. North Carolina and Pitt are going to surprise some people this year and will not be easy games. I don't know what to think about Stanford. What's funny about fandom, is that fans on some of these other teams are predicting lock wins against ND this year. Objectivity is not a fan trait.
Is all of this probable? No.
Is it possible? Yes.
Barring Major injuries the Irish should be bowl bound this year, but if some of our key players can "cross the chasm" this season could be the prelude to a memorable '09.
Good Rock, Bad Rock, Split Rock
I really want this team to be very good, but as I look across the team landscape I can see we're going to be dealing with both inconsistencies throughout the year and playing sleight of hand to hide our weaknesses.
On offense, we're going to have some very good success in the passing game, but also be vulnerable to a couple of problems that could lead to some brutal games and unexpected losses.
Clausen and the offensive line both look much better, but we're not there. Clausen is still behind where Quinn was going into his Junior year (as you would expect) and seems to be struggling with his progressions (okay, he doesn't look like he's going through progressions.) When he makes a throw, it's a lay--zer. He's got a hell of an arm, but under duress he's probably going to have trouble and make some poor decisions. Our offensive line looks very good while run blocking, but still has problems picking up the blitz and defending against outside speed rushers. On top of those two problems, our wide receivers are just not improving as you would hope at this point. Duval, as was noted by Mike Frank's board coaches, seems to have a concentration problem. That's not good. One dropped pass kills a drive, as does a sack and we're probably going to see a fair amount of both this year. Remember last year, over 50% of Clausen's pass attempts resulted in either incompletions or sacks. Golden Tate, if he's coached well, could be a very good receiver for the Irish. But Duval's seeming regression comes on top of poor wide receiver development last year and a regression of McKnight and Samardzija the year before. Something's not working in our development of our wide receivers. I expect us to be better in the passing game because we've improved our OL play and Cluasen has notably matured, but also to show a lot of inconsistency.
Our running game looks substantially better, but is it because our Offensive Line has improved (good rock) or that our defensive line is woeful (bad rock?) It's clear that Hughes should be the starting back and workhorse. Hughes will almost always get you positive yards either with his feet, his vision or brute strength and shows good speed in the 0-20 zone. You can win a National Championship with a guy like that. Armando Allen still looks blazing fast, be he has a tendency to run toward contact. BREAK IT OUTSIDE, ARMANDO.... BREAK IT OUTSIDE. If I'm Hayward I'd make Allen run it only outside during practice. He's a tough inside runner, but he leaves big chunks of yardage on the table because he's always trying to run it inside. Ironic, given his 40 speed. Allen seems to lack the vision and the instincts of Hughes, but his raw speed makes him dangerous.
On defense, we're going to be in for a long year unless the freshmen come ready to play. The book on ND will be fairly simple, run at us and wear us down (bad rock.) On the plus side, I haven't seen as talented a secondary as this year's in 15 years and you can see the value that seniors bring in our secondary. Lambert, Bruton and McCarthy all took 3-4 years to develop and now we're seeing the payoff. None was ranked higher than a 3-star, but with time and some good basic talent, they're turning into very good players. Behind them is a slew of talent. Harrison Smith stands out among the standouts.
We need to find a kicking and punting solution, if not it will cost us games.
Overall, a lot of positives from the Blue-Gold Game, but nothing that moved the needle one way or the other (excuse the sloppiness of grammar, got to get to work.) I would say, Saturday created some reasons for hope for a better than expected season.
We're going to be better on offense and probably vulnerable on defense.
Here are some of our poster evaluations:
1) The Offensive Line: They Played with an attacking attitude and was physical when run blocking.
2) Robert Hughes: The Kid is a horse, who has great feet/quickness (for a 235 pound RB) and He plays with a passion that fires up the rest of the offense! IMO, he reminds me of a quicker, stronger, more elusive and better version of Ron Dayne!
3) Armando Allen: I like the way He hit the hole (He attacked the line Of scrimmage and ran well between the tackles), He showed great quickness, good speed and made some sharp cuts. He And Robert will make a great 1-2 tandem!
4) Jimmy: He looked, bigger, stronger, showed much better arm strength and poise. Also, He showed improved mobility and threw well on the run!
5) Mike Ragone: He showed great athleticism for a TE (He mad a great catch, when he went over B Smith for the ball) and plays with a nasty attitude. As long as he stays healthy, He has talent to be an impact player at TE!
6) Golden Tate: He showed great speed/quickness and explosiveness (in and out of his breaks and on the bomb that he blew by Gary Gray). Also, He made a tremendous leaping one handed catch. IMO, this kid can be as good as former MICH WR Mario M, (Tate is that talented)!
7) The offense play calling was committed to establishing a power running game (A must for ND, especially this year when we must control the clock to keep a suspect run defense off the field)!
8) David Grimes - Showed good quickness and looks to be a good NBR 3-4 WR type.
1) Poor WR Play: I counted 5 passes that should have been caught by our WR’s (Duval K, Especially). Beside Tate, the rest of the WR’s did not show me that they got much separation from the DB’s. Also, they need work on running their patterns better (I blame this on our WR coach, who I feel is not a very good WR coach). IMO, because of the issues I just mentioned at WR, Michael Floyd (A great WR recruit who reminds me of EX NFL WR Michael Irvin) will play from day one as a FROSH!
2) Pass protection from our OT’s (Especially Paul Duncan) needs work (They have problems with speed rushers). In fairness to our OT’s, they will not face a better group of pass rushing DE’s (Except for USC) of B Smith, M Richardson and Kerry Neal.
I feel that this team has a chance to be a very good running offensive team and in time, a good passing team (As long as our young WR’s develop). This year’s offense will put a much better product on the field then last year’s offense. IMO, with all the experience this talented(but young) collection of offensive skill players will get this season, ND’s 2009 offense, can be a great offensive unit!
Obviously, it's hard to tell much from watching scrimmages like this, but there were a few things that stood out. Our offense seemed to have a lot of trouble getting set in time to beat the play clock. They burned a lot of timeouts and racked up quite a few penalties in such a short game. Granted, this is just spring so there's time to sort this stuff out, but I thought they should have done better, considering how many returning starters we have on that side of the ball.
Our receivers made some good catches. They weren't so good at getting open (or our defensive backs are going to be great in coverage), but they still caught a lot of passes thrown to the one place where they could catch it.
Which brings us to Clausen. He's still got his amazing accuracy. He's also a lot more confident in his arm and was willing to throw some riskier passes than he was last year. I thought that last year he was much too cautious, so I was somewhat happy to see the change. I say "somewhat" happy because it looked like he went too far the other way. Some of his passes were pretty poor decisions, like the interception for touchdown, but his pure accuracy bailed him out a number of times. The good news is that he's shown the ability to change, now I hope he can find a happy medium between being too cautious and too risky.
Armando Allen needs to learn that the sideline can be your friend. He has the speed to get there and players are not allowed to tackle you from the bench. He is losing opportunities for big gains.
It is clear Robert Hughes runs with his eyes open.
Our defense seems more adept at picking up screens and guys releasing out of the backfield. It was so frustrating last year to see backs uncovered, and know BC was going to run that screen pass any time they needed 8 yards. It would be a big boost to our defense to eliminate these problems.
Clausen impressed me. Don't forget our pass defense is supposed to be our strongest suit. He looked much better in the pocket and made accurate passes while moving in the pocket ala Montana. His arm is noticeably better.
There was improvement in the OL but some of them still need to expand their peripheral vision in pass protection.
I hope our punter just had an off day.
I was glad to see Golden Tate and Harrison Smith make big plays just because I personally want to see them on the field alot.
I will not be surprised if some of our Freshmen D-linemen see some playing time.
RClausen: 1) Still has youthful habit of staring down primary receivers. 2) Paradoxically, when the designed play broke down, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to find an open receiver and hit him with a strike. 3) Showed improved pocket presence and a quicker release, which should yield fewer sacks this year. 4) Arm is noticeably stronger, but not yet Quinn-like. Hughes: 1) We have a running back that we can begin to control games with. He picks up 4-5 yards regularly, and the tough yards when needed. He has good vision, nimble feet, and doesn't subscribe to the notion that you automatically fall down when the first guy hits you. 2) Still not much of a threat coming out of the backfield on passing plays. Allen: 1) His quickness is apparent. He is a legitimate threat to get to the corner, but still seems reluctant to do so. 2) Took some very hard shots, and still got up for more. Showed a little more toughness this spring, breaking a few tackles here and there. Tate: 1) Still raw, but he has enough speed to separate from DB's, can get vertical, and has great hands. He will become a major threat as his career developes.
Kamara: 1) Does not separate well from DB's, but he has the body to make plays in the red zone and possession situations. 2) Occasionally takes plays off, and has suspect hands. Grimes: 1) Not a homerun hitter, but he will make the defense pay if they relax on him. Has good hands, runs good routes, and ad libs well when the play breaks down. 2) General comment about our receivers is that we need Floyd to be as good as advertised, in order for defenses to fear our passing game. Offensive line: 1) Certainly more physical and aggressive. 2) Young is an absolute monster of a physical specimen. Ragone looked strangely small lining up next to him. 3) Young, Stewart, and Ragone on the right side should be able to move the line of scrimmage when we need a yard or two. 4) Less evidence of confusion and missed assignments, which is a great thing. 5) Still too many procedure penalties. 6) Jury is still out on pass protection. The format Saturday did not allow a clear perspective on this. 7) We can win six games just lining up and running the football. Defense Backs: 1) This is the strength of the team. Coverage skills and speed everywhere. Not that our receivers are a great benchmark, but they rarely got any separation. Clausen's completion percentage was low for the day, not because he was terribly inaccurate, but because it was a challenge finding an open receiver. 2) Walls is an NFL corner. 3) Harrison Smith needs to find the field. He is quick, likes to hit, and has a nose for the ball. Give me 10 more like him. 4) Gary Gray was very impressive. He was a siamese twin of most of the guys he covered. Linebackers: 1) Like the OL, this group was more aggressive than last year. 2) They will make a lot of plays this year. I fear, though, that strong running teams will move our front seven off the ball. Brown/Tenuta will have be created with run blitzes. Defensive Line: 1) There's just no ignoring that this is a weakness for the team. 2) It will help when Kuntz comes back, but the lack of size, veterans, and numbers will wear heavily on the team this year. 3) If it wasn't for this weakness on the team, I would be very optimistic about our chances in 2008.
Two Years Ago...
After Lou left, Notre Dame was never able to put success together on the field and in recruiting with any consistency. Here's a look at the Davieham years:
omahadomer pointed this out awhile back. Like Charlie Brown about to finally kick the ball, Notre Dame looked like it could turn the corner three times during this stretch, but in the end fell flat faced. The lack of success on the field begot lack of success in recruiting and vice versa.
If Notre Dame had kept Willingham, I believe we might not have made a BCS bowl until after 2010.
What Weis has done is something Notre Dame hasn't seen 1993: Back-to-back major bowl seasons and back-to-back top ten recruiting classes. That's building a foundation of excellence that will finally allow Notre Dame to get off the mediocrity roller coaster.
So about that bowl game coming up. The odds are against ND winning on January 3rd. If both teams bring their "A" games and the breaks are even, LSU should win by more than a touchdown. Their domination of Miami last year demonstrated that Les Miles, maligned by some, can plan for the big game.
The bottom line is that LSU has as much talent as any team in the country and Notre Dame's weaknesses are well documented.
But Notre Dame has a senior laden team and a month to prepare and get healthy. If Notre Dame can move the ball on the ground with any success against the Tiger's 4th rated scoring defense, the Irish will be able to move it through the air -- others have.
If that happens, we'll take our Cheerios' jokes with extra Sugar.
Have a great time in N'awlins, y'all.
Harrison Smith to be Irish
Smith and huge Irish target Chris Donald both finished behind Irish recruit Golden Tate for Mr. Football in Tennessee. According to Scout's free page,
he recorded 61 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five interceptions (two returned for scores), three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries. On offense, Smith ran for 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns on 155 carries. He also caught 32 passes for 446 yards and six touchdowns; he bench presses 305, squats 385 and has a 36" vertical jump. Smith reports a 3.7 core GPA, 28 ACT and an 1850 SAT.So he's smart, too.
Rival Maryville High coach George Quarles offered up a strong compliment for Smith, "Harrison Smith is - and I love the guys we have from Maryville - but Harrison Smith is the real deal, I think," Quarles said on the News Sentinel Sport Page radio show. "He's super talented."
WBIR interviewed Smith earlier this month.