October 29, 2008
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 7 (Washington)
Apologies for the hiatus. Franklin St. and the rigors of real life prevented the completion of the UNC post.
And while I could spend about 5 pages on the vindication following this week's news regarding Ty Willingham, I'll just briefly note that its a shame Willingham had to gut another once-proud college program. Hopefully he hasn't done irreperable harm to the Huskies, but the next coach at UW has a long, long road ahead to bring Washington back to national prominence.
As far as the game goes, it was good to see the Irish get a W on the road. I'm not sure there's a whole lot to take away from that W - Washington was absolutely pitiful and didn't cross the 50-yard line until there were 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter after Weis had pulled many of his defensive starters. But a W is a W, and the Irish continue to show flashes that they will work themselves into the national title picture in the coming years.
The running game harkened back to the glory days of Holtz - 252 yards rushing, averaging over 5 yards per carry. The last scoring drive covered 60 yards in 10 plays - all rushes. A beautiful sight for those power football afficionados. Aldridge, Allen, Hughes and even Jonas Gray all ran hard over the clearly overmatched Washington rush defense.
The offensive line opened holes as they were expected to do throughout this whole season. Sam Young had some beautiful blocks on ND's first two scoring plays, and Turkovich once again showed why he's the most effective run blocker on the team.
ND desperately needed to jump out to a lead and not let the Huskies hang around. The first two offensive drives were extremely important in pumping up ND's confidence and letting the air out of the quickly deflating Washington balloon. Floyd's 51 yard TD catch and run on the first drive was almost poetic justice. The bubble screen - so often the symbol of ND's ineffectiveness on offense during the Willingham years, and the virtual calling card of former OC Wild Bill Diedrick - put Ty and the Huskies in an almost immediate 7-0 hole from which they had no chance of recovering. The second TD drive gave Irish fans a glimpse of just what Golden Tate can do with the ball in his hands and some open field in front of him. For at least one game, the Irish weren't deficient in the "speed" category as Tate was clearly the quickest and most dangerous player on the field.
Great to see the second team guys come out and move the ball well. Jonas Gray ran for almost 7 yards a carry, allowing Irish fans to lick their chops at the potential of an ever-growing running back corps that will add Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick next year. Guys like Bemenderfer, Nuss, Romine and Dever received important PT on the offensive line, especialy if Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen may miss any time in the near future. Not sure I agree with the decision to burn a year of Fauria's eligibility, but with Rudolph being the only other current scholarship TE on the roster, I can understand the thinking.
Winning a road game was definitely Step One, so its difficult to be too critical about "style points." That being said, it was a bit disheartening to see the Irish fail to take advantage of the solid field position consistently given to them by the defense. I can't believe I'm quibbling about a 17-0 lead at the half on the road, but it really could have, and should have, been so much more.
If Step One was Conquering the Road Demon, Step Two should definitely involve finding the Killer Instinct to put away a team that's clearly on the ropes.
The Kid's been so good this year, its nice to think that 14-26, 201 yards 1 TD and 1 INT would be considered an "off day." But Clausen was definitely off for most of the night and never seemed to get comfortable. He made several lousy reads against once of the worst passing defenses in the country, including the INT that was called back due to a pass interference call against the Huskies on the 2nd drive of the game.
Due to the success of the running game, Clausen worked often from under center, where he appears much less comfortable. This seemed to be the case last year as well, when C John Sullivan's extremely strange "mental block" against the shotgun snap forced much of the offense to run from under center. Clausen spent all 4 years of his HS career working from the shotgun, and has generally performed better from the gun this year as well. Perhaps its just me, but he looks almost awkward when getting back in his drop and almost never makes it through his progressions once he gets back there. This is obviously something he's going to have to work on since Weis would likely never convert to an exclusive shotgun system. We did see at least one handoff from the shotgun snap during the Washington game, which I feel could be an extremely effective weapon going forward.
Just about everything - the run defense was stifling, the pash rush generated 4 sacks, and the Husky offense never crossed the 50 until the game was well in hand. An absolutely dominating performance. Once again, its difficult to tell whether the defense is getting better or whether the Washington offense really is that bad, but it was definitely fun to watch.
Although it was certainly great to see the 1st teamers effectively toss a shutout, this defense really needs to start creating more turnovers. The Irish simply can't and won't beat the better teams on the schedule (not only this year, but in the future) unless and until they generate some game-changing plays. Read-and-react is not going to beat the USC's of the world.
Scary to see Brian Smith leaving the field in pain. Although reports indicate he's been practicing (with limited contact) and will play against Pitt, Smith might be the one player on the Irish defense that ND simply CANNOT afford to lose. Get well soon Brian.
After 2005 and 2006 it became frustrating to see a FG kicker take the field during an ND game. Not only because it meant a potential TD drive had stalled out, but also because there was a pretty good chance that the FG attempt wouldn't be going through the uprights. Here's hoping that's not the case anymore.
Great call and execution on the Harrison Smith fake punt.
Hopefully Eric Maust got in some quality people-watching.
Lots of talk the last week about the new walk-on kicker and the fact that he might possibly challenge Walker. A bonked XP try probably means that Rudy story is over for the time being anyway.
Good, solid defensive gameplan - blitz the heck out of the inexperienced QB and force him to beat you.
Haywood stuck to the run for the majority of the game and generally took advantage of the miserable Husky defense.
Great call on the fake punt - Weis and Polian obviously do their homework on the opposition's punt coverages as that play has worked for big yardage almost every time they've dialed it up.
Also great to see some of the backups get some serious time in the 4th quarter. Garbage time is invaluable especially for guys on the offensive line.
Not much here - some of the 4th down decisions were a little questionable, but certainly defensible considering the performance of our FG kicking unit.
When Tyrone Willingham is opposing you, its hard to look ugly. The only ugliness came from the other side of the field.
Offense - OFFENSIVE LINE. I'll make Sean happy and give it up for his boys. Aldridge would also be a worthy choice, but give this one to the big uglies. They weren't stupendous and I'd like to see a little more consistency, but an effective running game will go a long way to making the Irish a better team.
Defense - HARRISON SMITH. Again, could have gone to a number of others, Pat Kuntz included. But Smith is really starting to come into his own and make some big plays. His continued development will be fun to watch the rest of the year.
Special Teams - BRANDON WALKER. Attaboy.
Short Term - The Irish sell out against the run, slowing LeSean McCoy enough to allow ND to pull away in the 4th quarter to get a big home win.
Long Term - As James Aldridge continues to get healthier, he continues to supplant Robert Hughes as the change-of-pace back in the ND offense.