My blog has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit http://www.irishenvy.com/irishroundup and update your bookmarks.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Whoa.


Thanks, Pat. And welcome, Blue-Gray Sky readers. Man, I feel like an internet movie star.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Talk of the Town

A bit more than a month ago, just before Notre Dame's season opener against Georgia Tech, NBC's John Walters posed the following question:

Will freshman wide receiver Golden Tate emerge as a cult favorite, inspiring a freshman cheering section who dub themselves "Golden Taters" and toss Ore-Ida crispers after each score?
From what I've heard this hasn't happened quite yet, though a recent opinion piece in the Observer - written last week, while Tate was merely "our best young kick returner," and not yet college football's hottest young commodity - does include in its byline the suggestion that "Golden Taters" should become a staple at ND's dining halls. (No word on that one either.)

In any case, there's no doubt that Golden's been on our minds: based on a quick glance over the transcripts from Charlie Weis's Sunday and Tuesday press conferences, I see at least six questions dealing specifically with Tate, and a quick spin on Google reveals 99 news articles and 20 blog posts that talk about the superstar frosh - all of these since Monday.

That Tate has become a hit should hardly come as a surprise to any of the nearly 20,000 people who have watched his high school highlight video:


Put all of this together and there's reason to think that Golden Tate, and not George West, is the diminutive Irish receiver soon to be a household name.

While we're on the subject of names, though, let me just go on the record as saying that while "Golden Boy" is definitely okay, it's been done - more than once, in fact - and so I'd prefer something more along the lines of "Jumpman23" or even "His Airness," though if it turns out that Adidas won't allow those, I could definitely live with busting out a classic once again.

But all of this hype pales in comparison to what the kids at Keough Hall are up to:

I mean, you can't be an Irish legend until you've been immortalized on a bestselling t-shirt, right? At present they're available for 15 bucks via Facebook, though I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the parking lot a week from Saturday. Nearly 80 have been ordered already, and it's hard to imagine that there's a ceiling on how many of these could be sold when all is said and done.

In any case, freshmen of Notre Dame, I think it's time to make Walters's prediction come true.

Available at a Meyer near you, while supplies last.
Just make sure to defrost them first - we don't want anyone to lose an eye.

Some News and Notes

Based on the reports of yesterday's practice from Michael Rothstein and Ben Ford, as well as the transcripts of Charlie Weis's press conferences from Tuesday and Sunday, here's an update on some of the major news swirling around the Irish universe.



First up, the quarterback situation. Weis said on Tuesday that he still wasn't sure whether freshman QB Jimmy Clausen was completely recovered from the injury he suffered against Purdue, though it was expected that he would be:
I'm not 100% sure what Jimmy (Clausen) is going to look like. He's supposed to be set and ready to go. I have to see that, you know? Some guys are set and ready to go, and they don't play for another two weeks. Other guys that are set and ready to go, they're ready to go that day. I'm going to have to see visually on the field how it goes right there, because (quarterbacks coach) Ron (Powlus) and I met today, and we didn't even script who was in for what plays because we figured we will go by what we see when they're out there.
He made it clear, though, that only an unexpectedly slow healing process would keep Clausen from starting against UCLA:

Q. If Jimmy (Clausen) is healthy enough, he's the starter?

COACH WEIS: That's what it would be. If he's healthy enough, he'll start.

Ford says, though, that during the stretch of practice he witnessed, Clausen "ran laterally, seemingly pain-free, which you'd think would be tough to do if he had an injured hip." So at this point there's clearly no reason to expect to see Evan Sharpley starting in his place on Saturday.

One point that Weis made in his press conference which seems to have been overlooked by many of those who've called for Sharpley to start on the basis of his performance against Purdue is that the basis for these decisions also involves what happens on the practice field:

I don't think there's ever such a thing where there are two guys that are equal. They might play like that in a game, but I think when it's all said and done, you have to evaluate just not -- not just solely by game day. Sometimes game day -- like in last week's case, both quarterbacks did a lot of good things, neither one of them were perfect, but I think the evaluation is based on a whole bunch of things, not just one game.

When asked how Sharpley has handled being Clausen's backup, Weis said that it hasn't been a problem, though he emphasized once again that nothing is set in stone for next Saturday's game:

Evan is probably one of the most prepared people on the team, so he knows whether or not he starts or not that he's going to be ready as if he is starting. Right now I can't tell you for sure exactly how this is going to go down. I don't know what Jimmy's health is for sure, I don't know how it's going to happen in a game, but I do know that Evan will be ready to play when his number is called.

So we'll see how this plays out, but at this point there's obviously no reason to expect that Weis is going to make any changes unless he's forced to.


Up next, other news on the injury front. As both Ford and Rothstein note, junior wideout David Grimes, who injured his ankle against Purdue, was absent from practice yesterday. Weis said in his press conference, though, that Grimes is healing surprisingly well, but that he's "questionable" for Saturday's game:

He was in much better condition than we were anticipating. He probably won't go today, I would say -- I can give you my day to day answer, but I would say he's probably 50/50 for the game. So if I went to my background -- I would call him questionable, not doubtful, but not probable, either. I would say he's questionable.

Meanwhile, sophomore offensive lineman Dan Wenger, who's been out the past two weeks with a leg injury suffered against Michigan but was expected to possibly be able to return for the UCLA game, was practicing with the team. Ford, though, says that Wenger looked to be "moving slowly," while Weis said in his press conference that Wenger, like Grimes, was "questionable" for Saturday's game - obviously we'll have to keep an eye on this one.

Ford also notes that defensive end Justin Brown, who also sat out against Michigan State and Purdue, looked to be moving a bit better in Tuesday's practice than he had the previous couple of weeks:

Justin Brown was still running gingerly, but at least this week he was running laterally with the rest of the team, which is an improvement.

Weis, meanwhile, called Brown "probable" for UCLA. Brown was supposed to be a "game-time decision" against Purdue, but he didn't end up making the trip to West Lafayette. Obviously getting him back and healthy is very important for the Irish, who are very thin along the defensive line.

No word on the health of freshman offensive lineman Matt Romine, who missed the Purdue game with an arm injury, or sophomore cornerback Raeshon McNeil, who has been rumored to have been seen on crutches this week.


Up next, a bit of news on special teams. Both Ford and Rothstein note that senior punter Geoff Price, viewed a preseason All-America candidate in the eyes of many after a very strong 2006 season, has apparently lost his starting position to sophomore Eric Maust, who replaced Price in the Michigan State game and handled all the punts against Purdue. Weis had this to say about the situation in his Tuesday press conference:

Q. With your punting situation, is Geoff Price healthy?

COACH WEIS: He is.

Q. So it's performance-based?

COACH WEIS: Eric (Maust) punted last week, and Eric will be punting again this week.

Weis also emphasized that he thought Maust did a "nice job" punting the ball against Purdue. Ford, meanwhile, notes that Price was holding the ball as Brandon Walker practiced kicking field goals - Evan Sharpley, meanwhile, was the holder for Nate Whitaker, who Ford notes didn't do as well - at least on Tuesday - as Walker did:

Walker, with Geoff Price holding, missed wide left from 32 yards and Whitaker, out of Evan Sharpley's hold, was good from that distance. But from there it was all Walker. He hit from 35, 40 and 43 yards, while Whitaker missed from those distances. So edge to Walker in the kicking game, at least Tuesday.

Once again, we'll just have to wait and see how all of this shakes out.


Finally, a few words on the talk of the town, freshman wide receiver Golden Tate. Weis was probably asked as many if not more questions about Tate than about the quarterbacks, and here's some of what he had to say:

I used Golden Tate this morning as an example to the entire team as what you can do by running full speed on the show team. We had this conversation on Sunday with the team. Sometimes when people are running the "look squad" to simulate the opponent's offense or defense, they look at that like it's a penalty. Other guys use it as a way to get themselves down the other end of the field, and that's what he's done. He's just gone down -- for the last two or three weeks he's easily been the best player on the field going against our defense. And when you watch the tape, and you see him make these plays, then you want to get him on the field on offense.
...
We have a guy who can run fast down the field and catch the ball, can go up and get the ball. We see that in practice every day, and if you go back to -- what game was it, the Penn State game where we threw it up the left sideline and it got called back for holding. He was in the game for one play -- no, for a couple plays, but one that we threw to, he goes up there and gets it, but it's not his fault it was called back. He's in a jump ball situation and he comes down with it. He has an uncanny ability to do that.

While Weis made it clear that Tate isn't going to be relegated to show team this week, he did emphasize that the Golden Boy still has a ways to go:

... we all found out the other day that he can run go routes and catch the ball in traffic. That's what he's done in practice every single day. Now we have to make sure he can run a handful of other routes and run them with some type of precision, so you're not guessing where he's going to be on different routes. That's what we're going to work on this week.

Weis emphasized that the "draw it up in the dirt" strategy he was able to employ with Tate on Saturday against Purdue can only get the team so far:

Q. When you see these guys making big catches in games and another one and another one, are there situations where maybe you will put them in on plays that they haven't practiced and say the play before, "Hey, this is what you're going to do, now go do it"?

COACH WEIS: Well, we sort of did that the other day, grabbed them and said, "Come in here and run a go," and they said, "What?" I said, "Run right by that guy," and the (defensive) guy is sitting there listening to you, and he's looking at you like you're a liar, and he runs right by him. You can't do that with all the routes, now, because sooner or later they figure that out.

Weis also went back to the comparisons he'd made before between Tate, who played primarily at running back until his senior year in high school, and fellow frosh Duval Kamara:

As we talked about the other day, Duval has been up the whole time because Duval was a more polished receiver. Golden just might be one of the best athletes on the team, and he's certainly one of, if not the fastest one on the team. So it's one of the things that we felt we needed. We need more straight-line speed to stretch this field right here, and he certainly does that. I think Duval is ahead in route running, but you can't coach speed. Either you have it or you don't.
Anyone who doubts that, of course, needs to take another look at this:

You keep climbing that ladder, big guy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Youth Movement

Against Purdue last Saturday, true freshmen and sophomores accounted for 48 of Notre Dame's 71 rushing yards (67.6% - sacks not included) and 268 of their 377 receiving yards (71.1%). This continued what has clearly been one of the stories of the season for the Irish: they start a true freshman at quarterback in Jimmy Clausen, and each of their three leading rushers (James Aldridge, Armando Allen, and Robert Hughes) and four of their six leading receivers (Robby Parris, George West, Duval Kamara, and Golden Tate) are just one or two years removed from high school. On the season, 362 of Notre Dame's 391 rushing yards have come via true freshmen or sophomores, as have 582 of their 822 total receiving yards - numbers good for 91.2% and 70.8% of the team's offensive output in those categories.

How do these numbers stack up to other Division I programs, whether national championship contenders or teams in "rebuilding" mode? [NOTE: While I've done my best not to include redshirt sophomores in these statistics, I've probably made some mistakes somewhere. Where possible, I've also tried not to include sacks in the rushing totals, though that doesn't really work for teams with dual-threat quarterbacks.]

Let's start with top-ranked LSU and USC. The Tigers start an upperclassman at quarterback in Matt Flynn, and while their #1 rusher is an upperclassmen, each of the five players who follow him in total rushing yardage are true freshmen or sophomores. Still, though, only 750 of LSU's 1117 total rushing yards, or 67.14%, have come from underclassmen - much less than Notre Dame's 91.2%. Meanwhile, among their receiving corps, LSU has only two underclassmen with more than 100 receiving yards on the season, and true freshmen and sophomores account for a total of 416 of their 1084 total receiving yards, or 38.4%.

USC, meanwhile, also starts an upperclassman at quarterback, but four of their five leading rushers are true underclassmen. On the whole, true freshmen or sophomores account for 71.2% of USC's rushing yards, still far less than the percentage for Notre Dame. Only two Trojan underclassmen have 99 or more receiving yards, though, and underclassmen account for only 330 of 898, or 36.8%, of their total receiving yards.

It also seems worth looking at a few other programs with third-year coaches. One such team is the Florida Gators, who start a true sophomore at quarterback in Tim Tebow. Tebow is also the team's leading rusher, and fellow sophomore Percy Harvin leads the team in receiving yards and is also their third-leading rusher. But on the whole, the Gators' offense is still much less dependent on underclassmen than Notre Dame's: 71.4% of their rushing yards come from true freshmen or sophomores, to go with 53.6% of their receiving yards.

The Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois are also in their third year under head coach Ron Zook. They start a true sophomore at quarterback in Juice Williams, but three of their four leading rushers - Williams is #2 - are upperclassmen, and underclassmen have accounted for only 267 of their 1278 rushing yards (20.9%) so far this season. Meanwhile, the leading receiver for the Illini is freshman Arrelious Benn, with 286 yards on the season, but overall their underclassmen have accounted for only 55.6% (438 of 787) of Illinois's receiving yards.

Finally, let's take a look at the University of Washington, in their third year under former Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham. The Huskies start a true sophomore at quarterback in Jake Locker, and he is also the team's leading rusher. But Locker is the only UW underclassman with substantial rushing yardage, and true freshman and sophomores have accounted for 503 of the Huskies' 804 yards on the ground so far, or 62.6%. Moreover, all of Washington's top receivers are upperclassmen: true freshmen and sophomores have only 17 receiving yards so far this year for UW, a mere 1.97% of their 861 total.

Here's a chart detailing those statistics:


What these numbers make clear is that Notre Dame's offense is MUCH more reliant on true freshmen and sophomores than other programs. Moreover, the fact that the Irish have fallen behind in each of their games so far this year means that very few of these numbers are based on performance in "mop-up duty": ND's depth chart lists a true freshman or sophomore at either first- or second-string for every offensive position except center. Thus far this year, a huge portion of the offensive burden has been placed on players only one or two years removed from high school - and judging by how things have gone, there is no reason to think this state of affairs won't become even more pronounced as the year goes on.

None of this is meant to excuse an 0-5 start that is the worst in Notre Dame's history. This team has underperformed, and they have no-one but themselves to blame for that. But comparisons like this certainly help to put things in perspective.

Monday, October 1, 2007

This weekend's Friday Night Lights roundup (10/1/07)

Here's a rundown of how Notre Dame's current group of 19 committed high school seniors, as well as their primary recruiting targets, fared in their football games this past weekend. (Note that I'm no longer tracing the stats for Frostproof (Fl.) tailback Carlton Thomas, who committed to Georgia this past weekend.)

Commits:

Recruits:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Giveaway

Once we get past a 23-0 halftime deficit, a yet-again woeful running game, and the ongoing struggles of the ND secondary (in the first half, anyway), there are lots of different "glass is half-full" kinds of ways for Irish fans to conceptualize yesterday's loss.

One possibility, taken up for instance over at Classic Ground, would be to think of the game as a coming-out party for ND's underclassman wide receivers: seven catches for 93 yards by sophomore Robby Parris, six for 68 yards and a touchdown for freshman Duval Kamara, three for 104 yards and a touchdown - plus another where he could have taken it to the house but was underthrown - by freshman Golden Tate, and four catches for 37 yards by sophomore George West. (Junior David Grimes (three catches for 34 yards in the first half before going out with an injury) and fifth-year senior tight end John Carlson (five catches for 30 yards and a great leaping grab to give Jimmy Clausen his first career TD pass - the video is here) also had strong games.)

We could also talk about the play of the defensive line: Trevor Laws (six tackles, three for a loss and one sack) and the much-maligned John Ryan (also six tackles, two for a loss and one sack, starting in the place of the injured Justin Brown) both played tremendously, as did linebacker Joe Brockington, who led the team with nine total tackles. (As I noted yesterday, for some reason Derrell Hand, last week's replacement for Brown, didn't see the field at all. No word yet on any possible reasons for this.)

Another possibility, which is pretty ridiculous by my lights, focuses on the strong play of Evan Sharpley, and even argues that Clausen, despite having almost the same numbers, should be benched.

Meanwhile, a somewhat different way to think about Saturday's storyline, exemplified by OCDomer's post on the game, turns to the stat sheet to highlight the ways the Irish have improved, but also to bring out the extent to which having lost that game should be regarded as a disappointment rather than a sort of moral victory.

I think this last approach is pretty much the right one, though I want to take it in a somewhat different direction. Last week one of the ways I broke down the game was in terms of what I called Inexcusables: "a tendency for stupid mistakes, bad penalties, and other sorts of errors that are frankly inexcusable for a top-flight team (think Justin Brown getting tossed out of the GT game, Travis Thomas getting into a fistfight against PSU, and so on)." When I look back at the Purdue game and the sorts of mistakes that the Irish made, what I see is a case where what clearly could have been a win against a top-25 team turned into yet another disappointing loss, thanks in this case to many instances of the sorts of mental and physical mistakes that have no place on a top-flight team.

Based on my back-of-the-envelope notes, here's a narration of some of the key "Inexcusables" from the first half:

  • On the first series of Purdue's opening drive, the Boilermakers faced third down and two yards to go from the Irish 44 yard line. Curtis Painter was sacked on the play, but freshman linebacker Kerry Neal, who didn't factor in on the sack, was caught offsides, giving Purdue a free first down. This drive ultimately led to a field goal, and a 3-0 lead for the Boilermakers.
  • On Notre Dame's second offensive series, with the Boilermakers leading 10-0, the Irish faced fourth and one from the Purdue 35 yard line. Charlie Weis elected to go for it, but freshman tailback Robert Hughes was stopped for no gain.
  • After the Irish - led by Laws, who had two straight tackles for losses of eight and eleven yards respectively, though Painter did follow these up with a 40-yard completion to Greg Orton, on which Darrin Walls was burned badly - forced a Boilermaker punt on the ensuing drive, Tom Zbikowski - who did have seven tackles and a pick, but also missed pretty badly on some plays - let the ball bounce by him at the ten yard line, thinking it would carry into the end zone. It didn't, and was downed by Purdue just outside the goal line.
  • On the next drive, Clausen got out of his end zone right away, with a 17-yard completion to Grimes. But after two failed rushing plays - both by James Aldridge, who fumbled on the second one - Jimmy Clausen rolled to his left under pressure and then tried to throw across the middle to John Carlson, who was blanketed by the Purdue defense. Clausen's pass was picked off and returned to the Notre Dame 25, and six plays later - the last of them a John Ryan sack on third and five - the Boilermaker lead stood at 13-0.
  • A few drives later, with the score now at 20-0 Purdue, Sam Young was called for holding on first and ten. The very next play saw Armando Allen fumble the ball after catching a screen pass from Clausen. The Boilermakers recovered, and just over a minute later extended their lead to 23-0.
  • Next up, on Notre Dame's last drive of the second half, after two nice catches by Kamara and West brought the Irish near midfield, John Sullivan - who made this same mistake either two or three times against Michigan - snapped the ball over Clausen's head on second and five, for a seven-yard loss. Clausen got out of this jam, though, finding Golden Tate for a 36-yard completion on third and twelve. At this point, though, the Irish offense stalled, with three straight incompletions, and the team lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt, to try and get on the board before halftime. The kick was blocked by Alex Magee and returned to the Purdue 46 yard line.
  • Finally, the ensuing Boilermaker drive saw David Bruton flagged for a late hit after a catch by Selwyn Lymon. He was bailed out, though, when Kyle McCarthy intercepted Painter on the very next play.
In sum, then: we have an offsides penalty that led to three points, a failure to convert on fourth and short from just outside field goal range, a foolish decision resulting in an interception that led to a field goal, a fumble that led to a touchdown, and a blocked kick that effectively took three points off the board - and those are only the cases in which ND's mistakes actually came back to haunt them.

While the Irish looked much better in the second half, though, it too was far from mistake-free:
  • On Notre Dame's first drive of the half, Michael Turkovich was called for holding on third and two from the Purdue 46 yard line, and two plays later the Irish had to punt the ball away.
  • After a Zbikowski interception and a solid drive resulting in Clausen's TD pass to Carlson, the Irish failed to convert on their ensuing extra point attempt.
  • After another solid defensive series and a solid drive that got the Irish to the Purdue 31 yard line, Junior Jabbie was held to no gain on fourth and one - the second time in the game that this had happened.
  • On the ensuing drive, Purdue faced third and 21 from their own 33 yard line. Painter came under pressure and tried to scramble for the first down, but freshman linebacker Brian Smith ran him out of bounds ten yards short of the marker. But Smith (at least I think it was him - the box score, though, says it was Dwight Stephenson) shoved Painter after he was clearly off the field - a ticky-tack call, but a foolish mistake in any case. On the very next play, after Dan Dierking was held to two yards on first and ten, Stephenson was whistled for a personal foul facemask call, giving Purdue yet another free first down, at the Irish 25. Then, once again on the very next play, Smith was caught offsides, moving the Boilermakers to the 20. The Irish defense held Purdue to a field goal, though, and the score stood at 26-6.
  • The next Irish drive, highlighted by a 43-yard bomb down the sidelines to a speeding Golden Tate on fourth and five from the ND 37, led to another touchdown: but this was followed up once again by a missed extra point, this time with Nate Whitaker kicking in place of Brandon Walker. What could have been a 26-14 game stood at 26-12.
  • A bit later, after the Irish had scored again (and hit the PAT this time) to narrow the margin to 26-19, Walls was flagged for holding on the very first play of Purdue's ensuing drive. This moved the Boilermakers past midfield, and they were in the end zone five plays later.
  • Notre Dame moved down the field quickly on their next drive, though, with a long completion to Parris and a personal foul against Purdue bringing them to the Boilermaker 18 yard line within a minute. But on second and ten from the 18, Evan Sharpley was intercepted - it is unclear whether he simply misthrew the ball, or whether Carlson or Duval Kamara might have run the wrong route - and Purdue had the ball back, with a two-touchdown lead and 4:33 on the clock.
  • Finally, after the Irish forced third down and four and called timeout with 2:16 on the clock, Walls was called for holding once again, ending any hope of a last-dash comeback as the Boilermakers were able simply to run out the clock on their next four plays.
Once again, then, and even if we overlook the holding penalties against Walls: we have two points taken off the board on missed kicks, a solid drive into opposing territory ending with a failure on fourth and short, an interception from well within scoring range, and a back-to-back-to-back trio of inexcusable penalties extending a drive that had been effectively stopped, leading to a field goal.

If the Irish are going to avoid going 0-8 to start the season, their so-far steady diet of these sorts of mental and physical mistakes is going to have to change. Some of them can be attributed to underclassman jitters, others to players trying to do too much to help a team dig itself out of a hole, and others perhaps to frustration. But they've got to stop, and it's hard to believe that the coaching staff doesn't know that.

(But hey - at least we're not the Bears.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Missing in action

According to Michael Rothstein, Dan Wenger, Matt Romine, Justin Brown, and Harrison Smith all didn't make the trip to West Lafayette for the game today. John Ryan started in Brown's place and played very well, with six solo tackles (two for a loss, including one sack), but at least according to the box score it doesn't look like Derrell Hand, last week's starter in place of Ryan, played at all.

We all knew that Wenger was going to be out at least until the UCLA game. Meanwhile, Brown was supposed to be a "game-time decision," and Romine was reportedly wearing a big cast and brace in practice this week.

But it's unclear why Smith - who had been playing on special teams, from what I recall [see update below] - didn't make the trip, and especially puzzling that Hand seems to have sat the game out. Anybody have any idea what happened?

[UPDATE: I was wrong about Smith playing on special teams. I just now managed to track down the season-long game participation statistics, and he hadn't seen the field in the first four games either. It still seems funny, though, that he didn't dress - Rothstein thought so as well.

One more note, though: according to that same game log, it doesn't look like Ray Herring, who had played in each of the first four games, saw the field today either. Not nearly as puzzling as the Hand situation, to be sure, but still worth remarking on.]

News and notes: Gameday edition

I promised on Thursday that I'd run down anything interesting to do with ND's depth chart, so here goes:

  • At the right guard position, Chris Stewart and Dan Wenger are listed as the two backups to Matt Carufel. This is no change from last week, but what's notable is that both Stewart and Wenger are going to be missing this weekend.
  • As I noted on Thursday, with the departure of Konrad Reuland, freshman Mike Ragone is now the official third-string tight end. There were some reports from the MSU game that Ragone was seeing the field ahead of Reuland anyway, though, so this isn't a huge deal.
  • Derrell Hand, who started last week when Justin Brown was out with an injury, is still listed as the #3 LDE, behind co-#1's Brown and Dwight Stephenson, Jr.
Other than that, there's not much doing there.

A quick update on the injury front, though: as I mentioned earlier this week, Charlie Weis has said that Dan Wenger, who has a left leg injury, will definitely miss today's game, and will be back by next Saturday at the earliest. Meanwhile, Justin Brown, who sat out against MSU and reportedly still looked a bit hobbled in practice this week, is going to be a game-time decision today.

Also worth noting: the South Bend Tribune managed to get in touch with Chris Stewart on Friday, and here's what he had to say:
I’m trying to be careful not to say too much right now, because everything’s up in the air. I’m just trying to figure everything out first and then move forward.
Clearly a good sign for fans who'd like to see the young man return to the team. The official ND position is that Stewart has left the team for "personal reasons," with Weis's blessing.



Meanwhile, I know it doesn't quite count as Notre Dame news, but I thought it was worth sharing this snippet from a USA Today profile of Cal-Berkeley superstar running back Justin Forsett:
For Justin Forsett, February 2004 arrived with no place to sign on the dotted line.

The 5-8 running back assumed he was headed to Notre Dame, but the Irish offered scholarships to two bigger running backs. Which was news to him.

It would be easy to say Forsett, now a senior at California, had the last laugh. Notre Dame is 0-4. The school where he landed is 4-0. But holding grudges isn't Forsett's nature.

"It was a tremendous blessing for me to end up where I am," he says. "At the time I couldn't see it. I didn't know where I'd be after Notre Dame turned me down, and it definitely hurt. But God works in mysterious ways, and there couldn't be a better place than here."

So how did Forsett get from nowhere to here? From castoff to Cal's most valuable player so far as the No. 6 Golden Bears head into Saturday's critical game at No. 12 Oregon?

Before signing day in 2004, Notre Dame's running backs coach at the time, Buzz Preston, visited Forsett and his father, Rodney, and mother, Abby, at his high school, Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas. According to the Forsetts, Preston said Notre Dame would have a scholarship for him.

"We left the meeting feeling wonderful because we were on our way to Notre Dame," says Rodney, a minister.

About a week before signing day, Justin called Notre Dame, then coached by Tyrone Willingham. "I hadn't heard from them in a while," he says. "They told me they didn't need me anymore."

Preston, now at New Mexico, says the Irish never offered Forsett a scholarship. It wasn't for lack of ability; the Irish simply were looking for taller backs.

This much was certain: Forsett was blindsided by the news. "Forsett loses lone offer," read the headline on the Rivals.com recruiting site on Jan. 28, 2004.

After signing day passed, Forsett's high school coach, Mike Barber, a former NFL player, feverishly sent more highlight tapes to coaches around the country. None of the schools in Texas or Florida, where Forsett played his first two years of high school football, were interested. "Nothing. Nobody. Even Baylor didn't want him," Rodney says. South Carolina State was an option, but Forsett's goal was to play Division I-A.

Forsett's highlight tape landed at Cal.

"We watched his tape and thought this is too good to be true," coach Jeff Tedford says. "There's got to be something wrong with this kid. There's a skeleton in the closet somewhere. So we thoroughly investigated everything about him and brought him here with his father, and he's the greatest kid you ever want to meet."

(snip)

When needed the most, Forsett has shined. In Cal's opening win against Tennessee, Forsett ran for 156 yards on 26 carries. Last week against Arizona, Cal's offense stalled when Forsett was nursing ankle and quadriceps soreness. After the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points, Forsett lobbied to go back in and led the Bears on their final touchdown drive.

Forsett is the Pacific-10's second-leading rusher (121.0 yards a game), behind only Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (125.8). He's also tied for the conference lead with seven touchdowns. "He's been a guy who's carried the load for us so far," Tedford says.
Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but if what Forsett says is true, then it's appalling: not just because an offer was pulled from a kid who's turned out to be this talented, but because of the incredibly shady way in which it was done. Next time somebody starts telling you about Willingham's classiness, make sure to bust this one out.

Oh, and next time you see Junior Jabbie or Travis Thomas get dragged down for a loss, remind yourself that at least they're tall.

(HT: GoshenGipper.)



Finally, a quick thought on today's game.

Earlier this week I argued that the key to beating Purdue is running the ball effectively. I think this was only half right: the other crucial component if the Irish have any hope of winning is stopping the pass. This BGS post talks about the improvement of Purdue QB Curtis Painter from last year - when he led the nation in interceptions - to this. When I first read it, I thought that his improved numbers - 68.7% completions, 16 TDs, and only one interception through four games this year - might be due to Purdue's weak schedule, but a bit more research proved that wrong: at this point last year, with an equally woeful foursome of opponents to start the year, Painter had thrown only 8 TD's and had been picked off five times. Make no mistake about it: the Irish are going up against a good QB tomorrow, and a downright scary offense.

Notre Dame fans are fond of pointing out that the team ranks eleventh in the nation in pass defense so far this year, but that statistic is a bit misleading, especially given both (1) the ease with which teams have run the ball against the Irish and (2) the degree to which these first four games have been blowouts. And as the South Bend Tribune pointed out today, when we consider pass efficiency defense, the Irish rank only 52nd nationally. The opening drive of the second half against Michigan State, which saw the Spartans convert through the air on 3rd-and-9 and 3rd-and-17 and then for a sixteen-yard touchdown, was a case in point of ND's struggles against the pass this year.

Ryan Mallett threw for three touchdowns against ND two weeks ago, and MSU scored four through the air last week. Tomorrow's game will be a huge indicator of whether first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown is making progress with this team. Expect to see plenty of frosh LB's Brian Smith and Kerry Neal (profiled in today's SBT, by the way), who played well in passing situations against the Spartans, but - according to Charlie Weis in his Sunday press conference - aren't quite ready to play consistently against the run.

No matter how effectively ND runs the ball today, unless the Irish can hold Painter to no more than three TD's passing and perhaps pick off a pass, Purdue will almost certainly win going away.



With that happy thought in mind, though, let's take a look back into the history of the Notre Dame-Purdue series, courtesy of YouTube ...

We begin in 1964, Ara Parseghian's first year as head coach of the Irish, as John Huarte leads the Fighting Irish past Bob Griese's Boilermakers. (You can see a copy of the program here.) Notre Dame would go on to go 9-1-0 that year, their only loss coming at the hands of the USC Trojans. Lindsey Nelson has the call ...



Next up is 1966, the year the Irish won their first national title under Parseghian. This game - a picture of the program is here - started off well for the Boilermakers, as Leroy Keyes returned an interception for a touchdown. But on the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame's Nick Eddy took one of his own to the house:



This game also saw the famous duo of QB Terry Hanratty and wideout Jim Seymour, whom Time magazine would call "the hottest young passing combination in the US," hook up for three long passes, all shown here:



Up next is 1973, with highlights from West Lafayette. Notre Dame would go on to win the national title that year as well, under head coach Dan Devine:



And then we have 1977, another national championship season, as a young Joe Montana comes off the bench to lead the Irish past the Boilermakers (program pictured here):



Next up, let's fast-forward to 1996, as Allen Rossum - who looks SICKENINGLY fast in this clip - returns the opening kick for an Irish touchdown:



The next three clips - from 1999, 2003, and 2004 respectively - remind anyone who may have forgotten why Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were fired:







Ugh. I was there for that last one, and I think it is burned into my retinas for eternity. Ugh.

We can end on a positive note, though, with highlights from the last couple of years:





Anyway, enough messing around on the web. Time to start some proper pre-gaming.

Go Irish!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Attrition

In 2006, after Charlie Weis's first season as Notre Dame's head coach and a 9-3 record, the Irish pulled in Rivals's eighth-ranked recruiting class: 28 players, with an average rating of 3.46 stars. Now three of those players - QBs Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, and TE Konrad Reuland - have all left the team, and another - OL Chris Stewart - is thinking of doing the same. In each case, these have been players low on the depth chart - Frazer was the #4 quarterback and Jones was a backup at best, Reuland was reportedly in a battle with freshman Mike Ragone for the #3 spot, and Stewart hadn't seen the field at all this year - apparently looking for a place where they'll have a better chance to play. Following up on a suggestion from domer.mq at Her Loyal Sons, though, it seems worth comparing this rate of attrition with those at other top programs.

Let's start with Southern Cal, which had the #1-ranked 2006 class according to Rivals, with 25 total players. That class has seen the following players depart (USC's current roster is here):

Florida's second-ranked class is considerably more intact (official roster here), as their only transfer so far out of 27 total players was that of 3* ATH Derrick Robinson, who quit the team to pursue a career in professional baseball. But Florida State's third-ranked class has lost four players out of their original 31 (official roster here):
Similarly, Georgia's fourth-ranked class has lost three players of its original 28 (official roster here):
And the University of Texas (official roster here) has lost five players from their original 25, which ranked fifth:
In sum, ND's transfer rate so far is not much to worry about. As I said, all of the players who have left, or are thinking about leaving in Stewart's case, seem to have done so primarily because of depth chart issues, and when four-star highschoolers don't manage to get on the playing field, that suggests that the talent level - in ND's case, among the underclassmen - is very high.

Moreover, note that with an NCAA-imposed limit of 85 total scholarships, having a class of 28 can be a bit problematic. The Irish can get away with it - and indeed, can use all the bodies they can get - right now because of their incredibly small junior, senior, and fifth-year classes, but the size of the '06 class could have posed a problem down the line. That said, other schools make up for players who transfer away from their program with others who transfer TO it - whether from junior colleges or other D-I programs - and ND has a policy of not doing this.

Don't jump, though. At this point there's every reason to think these transfers have been a product of what's happened on the practice field and the players' inabilities to rise to the top, rather than ND's lack of success this season on Saturday afternoons.