October 04, 2009
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 5 (Washington)
Another week, another near heart attack for Irish fans. I can't remember any college football team having a stretch of games like the Irish have had the last 4 weeks. But once again, when ND needed some big plays in the 4th quarter (and in OT), both the offense and the defense stepped up to provide the W. Huge victory going into the bye week.
ND fans should feel very fortunate that they get to see Jimmy Clausen operate on a weekly basis. The improvement from 2008 Clausen to 2009 Clausen is staggering. Even with a nagging turf toe, Clausen has learned pocket presence, stepping up in the face of a rush and moving through his progressions in very disciplined fashion. Now rated as the nation’s #1 most efficient passer, Jimmy has acquired quite a flair for the dramatic as well, engineering 4th quarter comebacks in 4 of the 5 games the Irish have played this year.
Considering that Washington was gashed by Stanford’s run game last week, the Irish rushing effort could be considered something of a disappointment. The ground game did lose more than 30 yards to “sacks” or slips from Clausen. Robert Hughes had his 2nd good game in a row, running for 70 yards (over 8 per carry), including a huge effort on the 2-point conversion, and the eventual game clincher in OT. It appeared that Armando Allen tweaked his ankle again, but according to Weis, he could have returned if needed. The emergence of Hughes could be big for the Irish rushing attack down the stretch.
Another huge game for Golden Tate. He’s definitely still rough around the edges, but is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands. I've been rough on him for his downfield blocking and route running, but he's really a joy to watch. Good to see Clausen look Shaq Evans’ way a few more times this week. Is he going to be the go-to #2 WR for the rest of the year? Rudolph was big once again, and it appears Weis is going to start lining him up out wide in the red zone to take advantage of his height and hands.
The OL did another great job protecting Clausen. The majority of the “sacks” were actually slips by Clausen on the wet, slick grass. The running game was a mixed bag – some good long runs, and some stuffs in short yardage. Overall though, pretty solid effort.
Lots of little nits:
- Parris had some good catches, but had a sure TD bounce off his facemask.
- Armando had a ball go through his hands that ended up resulting in Clausen’s 2nd INT of the season.
- Did Duval Kamara play? If so, he was ominously quiet.
- Too many wasted opportunities in the red zone, including some stuffs on short yardage running plays.
- Clausen got a bit greedy on the 3rd drive of the game – he passed up an open Golden Tate for a 1st down to try and squeeze a pass into double coverage to Rudolph in the end zone.
- Several damaging penalties, including a hold on Duncan that negated a TD pass to Rudolph. A false start by Burger on the 1-yard line hurt too.
- 2-10 on 3rd down.
Just one, and probably the worst play/decision made by Clausen this year. In the 2nd quarter, up 9-7, the Irish looked to be setting up a swing pass to Allen. Clausen pass went over Allen’s head, was scooped up by Desmond Trufant and run back for a Washington TD. I’m not going to give Jimmy too much grief, but what the heck was that? I had a brief flashback to the horrid 2007 season that was very unappreciated.
The goal line stands were nothing short of magnificent. I was actually upset when the officials ruled Polk down at the 1 because I fully expected Washington to run off some clock and leave ND with about 4 mins. and a 2-score deficit. Instead, the front 7 came up huge, especially after a horrendous roughing the snapper penalty. Its funny – I don’t watch a ton of college football, but I’ve only ever seen that penalty called twice, and both times it went against the Irish.
Few good performances from yesterday:
- Kerry Neal, welcome to the 2009 season. Huge sack in OT, and a bunch of other good plays throughout the course of the game.
- Kapron Lewis-Moore is getting better every week. It seems like the coaches are getting more confident playing him in passing situations as he made a big few plays against Locker on 3rd down.
- Manti Te’o is everywhere. 10 tackles and a near forced fumble on the 2nd play of the game. The guy he replaced, Toryan Smith, made a few big plays as part of the goal line stands.
- Ethan Johnson is quietly becoming much more involved, both in run and pass defense.
- Kyle McCarthy was Mr. Dependable once again, including a huge stop as part of one of the goal line stands. I don’t know where this defense would be without him, but its pretty scary to think about.
457 yards of total offense allowed. Not so good. Perhaps the most unforgiveable were the two drives at the end of the two halves, both with little time on the clock, and both resulting in momentum-deflating FGs. Both drives included long passes completed over the “vaunted” ND corners, the first over Walls, the second over Blanton. The guys on the corners don’t seem to be playing with much confidence right now, which is shocking considering Blanton, McNeil and Brown (Sergio) have some of the loudest mouths on the team. It is incredibly disconcerting that, although the front 7 appears to be improving every week, the secondary seems to be getting worse.
Tenuta did seem to dial back the blitzing a bit, but the defense is still not creating enough turnovers. Its time for some of the guys, particularly those in the secondary, to step up and make some plays to get the defense off the field.
Missed tackles. I’m sure there’s someone who can figure out how many yards Washington had after contact yesterday, and I’m sure that’s going to be an awful ugly stat. The two Smith boys were the biggest culprits yesterday – Brian Smith has been a chronic offender and now Harrison Smith appears to be joining the poor tackling party. Very disappointing.
Nick Tausch had a great day – 5 for 5 on FGs and 2 for 2 on XPs. Its great to have that weapon again. Its also interesting to watch Weis make decisions now that he’s confident his kicker is going to put points on the board. I’m not sure that he kicks in some of those situations in the past.
Ben Turk had his first two punts in an Irish uniform, putting one of them into the end zone. I’d be surprised if we see Eric Maust again this year.
After the first kickoff return, the coverage units were generally good, particularly Zeke Motta.
Whether it had to do with the quality of the turf, or perhaps just exhaustion, Tausch was shortening his KO’s again, particularly in the 2nd half. Really wish the Irish could find someone that could handle the kickoff duties exclusively to save Tausch’s leg, and to put the ball at least close to the end zone.
Its really deflating to open the game with a big return, and after a penalty on the kickoff, the Huskies took over on their own 44-yard line. The coverage units were very good for the remainder of the game, so its tough to be too hard on them. But they simply cannot give the opposition a short field to open the game.
It was frustrating to watch the Irish leave 20 points on the field, but I was glad that Weis was willing to put points on the board rather than gamble in the red zone. Weis also again did a good job moving Golden Tate around on the field, including having him motion from an H-back position out wide, leaving the middle of the field open for a long completion to Rudolph.
Quite a bit was made of Randy Hart’s history with the Huskies and the fact that he probably had some very valuable insight into Washington’s offensive and defensive lines. His front 4 played better at times yesterday, and hopefully he and Bryant Young are helping the D-line turn the corner for the rest of the year.
The Irish defense continues to allow teams to move down the field, usually with short passes to counter Tenuta blitz schemes. Tenuta seemed to dial the blitzes back a bit, but Washington still had success with the passing game underneath. Washington converted over 40% of the time on 3rd down, sustained some Husky drives and keeping the explosive Irish offense off the field.
This could be a bit harsh, but Weis got real cute a few times yesterday. Perhaps the first and best example occurred early in the game when ND attempted to run some sort of pitch and pass with Clausen out of the Wildcat. Would really rather not see a play like that, especially with a gimpy Clausen out there.
It was also pretty infuriating to watch Weis continue to try to run the stretch/play action pass inside the 10. Everyone knows its coming Charlie. Try something else. Like giving the ball to Robert Hughes 3 times in a row.
Offense: JIMMY CLAUSEN. What a drama queen. Honorable Mention to Golden Tate.
Defense: THE FRONT SEVEN. Aka, anyone involved in the goal line stands.
Special Teams: NICK TAUSCH. Great to have a reliable kicker again.
Big bye week coming up to get Allen and Clausen healthy for SC. I'll let Doug handle the "big picture" analysis, but will say that its great to be 4-1 right now. I know the Irish should have beaten teams like Purdue and Washington by multiple TDs, but they won games that they've lost too often in the past. This is Weis' 4th team to reach 4-1. Last year's 4-1 team couldn't finish out the season while the 2006 squad played a bunch of sloppy games, culminating in butt-whippings handed out by USC and LSU. It will be very interesting to see how the 2009 Irish finish out the season.