September 20, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 2 (Michigan St.)

Another week, another heart-stopping, terrifying experience. Just another day in the life of a Notre Dame fan during the Charlie Weis regime.

After last week’s disaster, it was great to see the boys get a win in a close game. Whether he’s poor in end-game situations, or just damn unlucky, Weis never seems to win the games where a close break or a bounce can decide the outcome. He deserved a break and finally got one.


The Good

Clausen was outstanding – 22-31 for 300 yds and 2 TDs. He was 10-10 before being sacked in the 2nd quarter and suffering some sort of toe or foot injury. Visibly limping for the rest of the game, Clausen was the victim of several drops and made approximately 3 bad throws the entire game. Just a fantastic effort. Much like last week, Clausen led the Irish back on several huge scoring drives in the 2nd half to seize back the momentum.

Armando Allen is a warrior. Plain and simple. He’s far and away the best RB on the roster and his improvement over the course of his career thus far has been incredible. Between his tough running and his TD pass out of the Wildcat, Allen had a huge impact on this game. 23 rushes for 115 yds, 5.0 yards a carry, including numerous big runs for 1st downs. Jonas Gray also ran well, but its clear he’s going to need some work, especially in pass protection.

Golden Tate stepped up big time after Floyd’s injury, although he did have a key drop in the 3rd quarter that could have ended the game. ND had opened the 3rd quarter with a TD drive to take back the lead and the momentum. Then the defense forced a punt and Tate had a nice return. Had Golden made the catch on the 3-yard line and the Irish punched it in for a TD, I think ND runs away and hides. In any event, Tate made the big play that ended up sealing the win. Clausen spread it around a bit after losing Floyd, but we’re going to have to see more from guys like Kamara, Parris, Evans and/or Walker in the coming weeks.

The OL continues to impress. Solid blocking in the running game and Clausen was given quite a bit of time to throw for most of the day. One of the 2 sacks was definitely on Jonas Gray. Whether this improvement is thanks to Verducci’s influence or the natural maturation of the linemen themselves is difficult to say, but at this point, its comforting to know that Clausen won’t be running for his life for the rest of the year. And its also comforting to know that the Irish might be able to grind out some games on the ground.

The Bad

For much of yesterday, it seemed like the Irish should have been winning by multiple TDs. ND marched up and down the field almost at will but could never seem to deliver the killshot. Between the sloppy penalties, questionable officiating (particularly on the Floyd non-TD) and drops, the offense wasted many opportunities to stretch the lead.

I suppose its not really realistic to expect this offense to score a TD on every possession, but I’m legitimately surprised and disappointed when they don’t move the ball into a position to put points on the board.

The Ugly

For the second year in a row, the Irish will be without the services of Michael Floyd for an extended period. After apparently suffering a broken collarbone, Charlie Weis announced this morning that Floyd will miss the remainder of the regular season. Devastating blow for both Floyd and the Irish. Although I have no doubt that the Irish will be able to continue moving the ball well on offense, it won’t be as easy, or as fun, without #3 on the field.

Floyd’s injury certainly opens the door for one of the other WRs to step up and show what they’ve got. Duval Kamara will most likely get the first opportunity, but expect to see Robby Parris, Shaq Evans, John Goodman and even Deion Walker to get a chance as well.


The Good

Kyle McCarthy, where would this defense be without you? Once again leading the team in tackles, McCarthy also notched his 3 INT in as many games, sealing the Irish victory in the final minute.

Not much else unfortunately. The run defense was better, but MSU chose to do much of their damage through the air. Tenuta and Randy Hart rotated more bodies along the D-line, getting some solid play from Ian Williams, and getting guys like KLM, Hafis Williams, Cwynar and even Paddy Mullen some good minutes and experience.

The Bad

The secondary, once thought to be the strength of the defense, was awful. Whether it’s the scheme or timidity, the CBs are giving way too much cushion, seemingly content to allow the opposition to bite off 8 yd chunks at will. Darrin Walls was particularly poor, dropping two potential INTs and giving up numerous big passing plays. Harrison Smith has been very quiet this year, but did pick up another silly personal foul on a late hit.

Unless something drastic changes in the coming weeks, we can expect some serious shootouts in the near future with the likes of Purdue and Washington next up on the schedule.

The Ugly

The LBs are simply non-existent this year. I know Weis likes to say that Brian Smith is the best player on this defense, but he sure isn’t showing it. Once again, the constant blitzing failed to hit home, although the game-ending INT was partially caused by a good pass rush.

Its time to take some serious looks at this Tenuta scheme – does he have the players to run his blitz-happy defense? Most would probably say he’s got more talent at ND than he ever had at Ga. Tech. So what’s the problem? Its becoming painfully obvious that Toryan Smith is just too slow to play major college football. And its not just lateral speed. His feet look like they’re stuck in cement when he’s trying to blitz the QB.


The Good

Nick Tausch is looking more and more confident every week. The 47-yarder was beautiful and good from 55 at least. He’s also looked a bit better on the kickoffs, regularly putting the ball down inside the 5 yesterday.

Zeke Motta is showing why Brian Polian can’t keep him off the field. Some really solid kick coverage yesterday out of the freshman from Florida. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the defense next year.

As Dantonio noted in his post-game press conference, Ethan Johnson’s block on MSU’s XP completely changed MSU’s mentality on their last drive. If ND only has a 2-point lead, perhaps Cousins is handing off and running the clock down to attempt a potentially game-winning FG rather than throwing a floater into Kyle McCarthy’s arms.

The Bad

Another big return on the opening kickoff. Fortunately, MSU was forced to punt, but the graduation of David Bruton certainly seems to have left ND with some concerns on kick coverage.

The missed XP in the 1st quarter nearly had a huge impact on the game. Not sure whether this was a timing issue with Tausch or some miscommunication between the snapper and the holder.

The Ugly

The onsides kick recovered by MSU in the 1st half was a great call by Dantonio. Tough to put too much blame on anyone – the kick was perfectly executed and no one on the field was expecting it. Still, big loss of momentum, and the Irish have to be on the lookout for this in the future.


The Good

Weis often gets some grief for his “take what the defense gives you” attitude, but this was one day when Charlie completely dictated the pace and style of the game. He came out 5-wide and picked MSU apart in the 1st quarter. I assume by now most of us have realized that Weis offenses are never going to run the ball down your throat (regardless of Weis’ famous “pound it” quote). The Spartans were back on their heels immediately and never really stopped the Irish all day long.

The Bad

The Wildcat formation has been a source of some debate amongst ND fans this year. Allen was much more successful in the Wildcat yesterday, but I was very surprised to see Weis attempt to utilize the Wildcat when trying to run out the clock late in the game. In that situation, I’d prefer to see Weis stick with what he’s familiar.

For the second week in a row, the defining pass on a game-icing drive went to a WR with very little experience. Last week, Shaq Evans failed to cut off his route when he got past the sticks, and wasn’t ready when Clausen’s 3rd down delivery was on him. This week, the 3rd down throw went in the direction of John Goodman. Not sure whether that was by design, but I’d really prefer to see that throw go to Tate, Rudolph or Kamara.

The Ugly

Already discussed the various defensive problems. It will be very interesting to see whether Tenuta will be able to make any adjustments in the coming weeks. ND is going to be facing two teams that like to throw it. But it is incredibly concerning that the Irish have been unable to place any significant pressure on the opposition, either via pass rush or blitzing.


Offense – ARMANDO ALLEN. Lots of great, hard running and some huge runs for 1st downs. The TD pass was nice as well. Honorable Mention to Clausen who is, quite simply, a badass.

Defense – KYLE MCCARTHY. We might as well just call this the Honorary Kyle McCarthy Buckeye at this point. Who is going to make all these tackles next year when he’s gone?

Special Teams – NICK TAUSCH. My favorite thing about watching him kick is how high the ball jumps up off his foot. I’ll be shocked if he ever has one of his kicks blocked. Honorable mention to Zeke Motta for his kickoff coverage.

Couple of big games coming up – Purdue is certainly going to be able to move the ball on the ND defense, and Washington is coming off the biggest upset of the year. With the Floyd injury and Clausen now hobbled as well, I would be thrilled if the Irish were 4-1 going into the SC game in mid-October. Hopefully in the meantime, the young receivers and defensive linemen will have the opportunity to get some meaningful minutes that could make the difference between a win and a loss at the end of the year.


INCITEmarsh/Mike Marchand '01 said...

Re: the wildcat — I have no idea why it's causing so many people grief except that, at least at the games I've been at, the same people who hate it are the ones who want Charlie Weis on the next South Shore out of town. I don't think it's a coincidence. Once you hate a coach to the degree the rabid Weis-haters do, you will hate everything he does. "Why is Charlie running this gimmicky crap?"

Personally, I love it; the way ND has it set up, with Allen running a give/keep option with Golden Tate, means that the ball will be in the hands of one of the two fastest guys on the offense every time it's called. My only complaint is that Jimmy Clausen is split out wide; unless there's a play where Allen will throw it to him, I don't see the need to have him out there as a dummy receiver. Especially in the second half against MSU; Clausen was clearly a little gimpy because of the injury, and the wildcat is a perfect excuse to get him off the field for a play or two.

Re: the secondary — while I've not intensely studied the coverage schemes in the game films, something tells me that if the front seven were doing a better job, much of the secondary's problems would cease. I don't know if they're cheating up on the run or more likely to bite on play action or whatever, but if the hogs up front were stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback the way they should, some of the secondary's deficiencies would be hidden.

Craig said...

The point of leaving Clausen on the field as a receiver is to not tip off the wildcat until the offense lines up and it's too late for the defense to make personnel changes.

I like the idea of using it when we're trying to burn the clock. At that point, there's less mystery for the defense that we want to run the ball, so the removal of the usual numerical advantage for the defense becomes more significant.

Jeremy said...

Completely agree re: the secondary. These guys didn't just forget how to cover all the sudden. For whatever reason, the Tenuta scheme has been an absolute disaster the last two games. I'd be very interested to see what happens if we tried simply playing a very vanilla defense in the front 7 allowing the corners to be agrressive in coverage.

I don't personally have a problem with the Wildcat, especially since it was so successful on Saturday. Its clear that, for many fans, the ship has sailed with Weis and they'll find any reason to trash him.

Doug said...

I think painting all folks who question the Wildcat as rabid Weis haters is a little overbroad. I'm a Weis supporter, but I'm not in love with the Wildcat for some reason. I just think our base offense is great, and I don't see any reason to get away from it. The plays that we run with the Wildcat formation would work just as well out of the I formation. Why run the Wildcat when we can pound it off tackle out of the I while the defense has to worry about the pass as well before the snap?

The Wildcat was great on Saturday though. I don't know, maybe I need to see more proof of it working, but I've seen too many negative plays out of the Wildcat to truly embrace it. I'd rather stick to what we do really well, which is I-formation and shotgun offense with Clausen in command and always a threat to throw. With the Wildcat, we take our best player (Clausen) out of the action. I don't see how that is a good thing. I'd rather always have the ball in the hands of #7. If they don't have to worry about the pass, we're not as dangerous offensively.

Plus, we fumbled a snap in the Wildcat, and have had a couple 3-4 yard losses out of the formation.

I can live with it once in a blue moon, but I'm not personally a fan of doing it all the time.

As for the secondary, I completely agree. It's a scheme problem. If we're going to blitz, our corners need to be up there taking away the underneath stuff. Our corners should be making more plays in this defense.

INCITEmarsh/Mike Marchand '01 said...

Like I said, those were the reactions from the motley group of people who have watched the games with me; I don't claim that it's universal.

Our wildcat plays won't work as well out of the I. They can't. The wildcat offers the possibility of two runners (Allen and Tate); out of the I there's almost always just one (Allen, or whoever else lines up at RB). Also, the wildcat is such a great running formation because it forces the defense to play 11-on-11. On any running play where the quarterback does not stay in the play and throw a block, the defense gets to have an 11-on-10 advantage. Plus, there still is the option to pass, and in the wildcat the defense has to wait longer to see whether or not we'll exercise it.

Of course, I'm somewhat biased in this regard; I've always been a fan of old-style offenses like the single-wing. In fact, if the Irish ever lined up in the old Notre Dame Box formation I might just die of acute awesomeness.