September 28, 2008

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 4 (Purdue)

While many people were disillusioned following last week's performance in East Lansing, the generally accepted opinion among Irish fans and pundits was that the Purdue game would say much about the development of the team and the direction in which the program is heading. There are certainly many questions still to be answered - which team will show up on a weekly basis, will they be able to carry it over to road games, will the run game ever become a staple of the Irish offense. But its certainly clear that rebounding from a tough loss with a resounding win at home should have an extremely positive effect on the psyche of this team.


The Good

Clausen had arguably his best game at ND. 20-35 275 yds, 3 TDs. A couple ill-advised throws, one of which was almost a pick 6, but he managed the game very well and even appeared to make some solid reads and checks at the line.

The running game finally got on track, to the tune of 205 yards. Armando Allen looks like the best option in the backfield and finally showed the potential that Weis has been talking about the past two years.

Difficult to say much more about the WRs. Floyd and Tate were exceptional again, and the return of Grimes had an extremely positive effect on the passing game. His absence last week may have been more important than originally thought.

Rudolph gets better every week. Not only in pass catching, but run blocking as well. Another freshman gets his first TD.

The offensive line opened some big holes and really wore down the Purdue front in the 2nd half. An extremely promising sign for the rest of the year. Only one sack and gave Clausen ample time to throw. Clearly their best performance to date.

Perhaps most importantly, the Irish didn't turn the ball over.

The Bad

Michael Floyd is on pace to break every freshman WR record in the books. Most of those records were set by Duval Kamara last year. Its downright frightening to think how good the Irish offense would be with any production at all from the big guy from New Jersey. He's been passed by Tate and Floyd and is having a tough time getting on the field. He's got to make the most of his opportunities, but another big drop across the middle yesterday doesn't bode well for future PT. He arguably had a TD taken away from him in the corner of the end zone, and the talent is obviously there. Step it up big fella. We're gonna need you.

The Ugly

After the game, Weis commented that he was pleased to see the offense open the 3rd quarter with a great TD drive to seize the momentum in the 2nd half. Now he has to focus on getting the offense to start quicker to open the game. A quick 3-and-out, followed by a stuff on 4th down almost resulted in a 10-0 or even 14-0 lead for the Boilers. The Irish must focus on at least changing field position in the first few drives of the game to keep from digging themselves into too large a hole.


The Good

Kyle McCarthy made a TD-saving tackle on Purdue's 3rd drive, and the defense held, leading to a missed FG and keeping the score 7-0. HUGE sequence. There's no telling what happens if Purdue takes a 14-0 lead there.

Robert Blanton made the play of the game - jumping a slant route and taking the pick back for ND's first TD, tying the game at 7-7. Coming off a few failed drives and an ND missed FG, the play was huge for momentum and got the crowd back into the game.

Purdue didn't run much, but ND held Sheets under 100 yards and forced Purdue to beat them through the air.

Haden mentioned this several times throughout the telecast - while ND's blitzes didn't result in any sacks of Painter, they definitely threw a monkey wrench into the Boiler passing game.

The Bad

While the Irish did manage to get some pressure on Painter, once again they were unable to get to him to cause a big loss or even a turnover. I'd like to think this has had more to do with the offenses we've faced thus far - SDSU and Purdue both ran primarily out of the shotgun and focused on short, quick-hitting passes. MSU used mostly 3-step drops to throw slants. I imagine we'll be seeing quite a bit of this strategy in order to counter the blitzing for the rest of the year.

Terrail Lambert has provided some great moments during the Weis era - none larger than the pick-6 to take the lead at MSU in '06 followed by the INT to ice the game. But with guys like McNeil, Gray and Blanton showing their worth, I have a difficult time justifying continued PT for Lambert. Teams are clearly picking on him, usually with quite a bit of success. Play the young'uns.

I understand Weis' desire to get the 22 best guys on the field. But this thinking led to the disastrous "Travis Thomas as LB" experiment in 2006, and appears to be the justification for Harrison Smith playing OLB this year. Smith is an incredible athlete, and I love to see him coming off the corner on a blitz, but he's not a LB.

The Ugly

462 yards. Too many big plays (6 plays of 20+ yards). A bunch of killer 3rd down conversions. Still, not a bad day against that basketball on grass offense.


The Good

Several great returns by Allen gave ND some much-needed good field position.

Walker was 5 out of 5 on XPs and looked great on the 41-yard FG late in the game.

Burkhardt's kickoffs were generally better, and the coverage teams were great once again.

The Bad

The 31-yard FG miss was disappointing and almost devastating, but fortunately the McCarthy tackle and Purdue's miss kept the game close early. Hopefully the make in the 4th quarter gave Walker some much-needed confidence going forward.

The Ugly

Nothing here. Walker redeemed himself, which is all you can ask for from a young kicker. Something tells me he's going to play a big role in at least one more game this year.


The Good

Although it seemed like Weis and Co. made good adjustments at the half, they didn't change much in the gameplan. Other than the opening drive, ND moved the ball well the entire game, both in the passing and running games. Weis' decision to let Walker redeem himself in the 4th quarter should hopefully pay dividends down the road.

Weis really needed this game to prove to his critics that the program is headed in the right direction. He's still got quite a bit of work to do, but its clear the talent is there to get ND back near the top. The Irish continue to get huge contributions from the sophomore and freshman classes with a seemingly different young'un stepping up every week.

The Bad

So much is made of the 130 or so plays in the Weis offense, but its often difficult to pick out more than 3 or 4 during the course of a game. There just doesn't seem to be much creativity or innovation. Chalk this up to youth? Tough to say. We'll have to keep an eye on this the rest of the way.

The Ugly

They'll get a pass today.


Offense - ARMANDO ALLEN. 240+ all purpose yards. 134 hard-fought rushing yards. He looks like he might be wrestling away the "starting" job - hitting the hole hard, doing a great job in blitz pickups, providing the safety valve in the passing offense.

Defense - ROBERT BLANTON. The play that changed the game. Made a few other pass-breakups and displayed pretty solid tackling ability. Another freshman that looks like he's going to be a star.

Special Teams - BRANDON WALKER. Bad miss early, hit the 41-yarder in the 4th to make it a 3-score game. The Irish are sure to play in some close games the rest of the way and he's going to be an important part of any of those contests.


SHORT TERM: The blitzes finally hit home, leading to 3 big Irish sacks, one of which results in a fumble that ices away the game against the Cardinal in the 4th quarter.

LONG TERM: Armando Allen becomes the "feature" back in the Irish offense and no longer leaves Irish fans yearning for the days of Darius Walker.


Sean said...

I agree with most of what you said Fazz. I am personally not sold on Armando Allen. I think the Buckeye should have been given to the O-Line and Kyle Rudolph for his efforts in the run game. They stepped up int he second half and dictated the pace of the game. I still dont think Armando has the vision. The O-line was just opening holes any mediocre running back could have run through. Like the backs we had at ND during the Willingham Era when Julius was suspended. I think we remember the BC game.

I think we need to temper our enthusiasm about this weeks game and turning the corner. I will wait and reserve judgement on this team until I see them come out of the gate and look the a Notre Dame team should play. The talent is there, the desire and coaching are there. I would like to see a complete game.

Run the Rock!!!

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the thoughts Nine. I considered giving the Buckeye to the line, but wanted to save it for a completely dominating performance. I do think they're getting better, and Rudolph especially is making great strides in run blocking.

I am by no means sold on the team turning the corner. I think we still have a ways to go to beat the better teams in the NCAA. You're probably right about Allen - had Hughes been in the game during those drives, he probably would have been just as effective.

I was glad to see improvement and a good bounce-back effort on the loss. The boys need to keep getting better every week, especially in the run game.

Doug said...

Jeremy, great stuff. I'll be the first to admit that I'm inclined to go overboard about the win, so it's always good to get a healthy dose of reality after the game. Some good, some bad, some ugly.

I was not sold on Armando Allen, but I think he may have made the leap yesterday. He was letting holes open up and exploding through arm tackles. Last year (or even earlier this year), Allen was running with his head down and going down after 3-4 yards every time. There were multiple times yesterday when Allen kept churning his legs or kept looking for the hole and broke off a nice run. I thought he did a great job.

I actually buy into this idea a little that the running backs have been partially to blame for the problems in the running game. Our line still has work to do, but there have been some well-blocked plays where the running back didn't pick up the yardage that he should have.

I am coming around on Allen. He seems like a good fit in this one back offense. I think he should absolutely start next week.