October 25, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 7 (Boston College)

What a strange game. Once again the Irish needed the entire 60 minutes to determine the outcome. Although ND outgained BC, and won the turnover battle 5-0, the Eagles still had a chance to win the game late in the 4th quarter. In any event, the Irish were able to snap another embarrassing streak and tilt the series record against BC in ND’s favor. I can’t say I’m sorry that Saturday will be the last time that team will be coming to ND Stadium for a while.


The Good

It wasn’t his best day, but Clausen remained patient, taking the short out routes that the BC defenders were giving him for most of the day. Much like last year, Spaziani appeared to dare Jimmy to take risks and force the ball into small windows. For the most part, Clausen didn’t take the bait. He was clearly frustrated with the inability to hit anything big, either down the middle or the sidelines, but took care of the ball, again leading a 4th quarter, come-from-behind, game-clinching TD drive.

Allen ran well when he was available – 98 yards on 21 rushes, 4.7 yards a carry. He was forced to leave on several occasions and its clear ND won’t probably have him at full strength again until the bowl game. The other backs were unremarkable.

The Legend of Golden Tate continues to grow by the week. Another strong game from the TN junior who had numerous big catches, none bigger than the 36 yard TD in the 4th quarter that proved to be the game-winner. He appeared to be suffering from a stinger or some other injury to his neck/shoulder. He wasn’t the only Irish WR banged up during this game. After making a near miraculous recovery from the vicious hit he received against the Trojans last week, Robby Parris went down early against BC. Duval Kamara also appeared to be hobbling a bit towards the end of a very productive game – 7 catches for 60 yards. The various injuries led to the debut of freshman Roby Toma from Hawaii, who had a few catches and the only drop of the day by an Irish WR.

The OL had its moments, generally keeping Clausen clean and opening some holes for the running game. Not their best day, but certainly not their worst. Look for them to take a big step forward and gain some more confidence in the next two weeks against Wazzu and Navy.

The Bad

Jimmy Clausen may very well be the best QB in the nation, but he’s definitely not perfect, and once or twice every game we Irish fans are reminded that he’s still a college kid that has quite a bit to learn. The most glaring example of this came in the Washington game with the ill-fated swing pass to Allen that led to a Husky TD. Yesterday, Clausen committed the grounding penalty in the end zone, giving the Eagles 2 points and the momentum that they would keep for much of the 1st half. Perhaps he’s lost a bit of confidence in his OL, but he doesn’t seem too comfortable stepping up in the pocket right now.

I wish I had the patience to go back and watch a replay of the last two games to focus primarily upon #9. I’m sure he’s being used to help the OL block at times, and I’m sure that defenses are focusing on slowing him down, but the Irish need to find a way to get him more involved in the passing game.

The Ugly

Not a whole lot jumps out at me here, but 3 quick notes: 1) ND’s inability to move the ball out of the shadow of their end zone in the 1st half and at least change field position had the Irish playing behind the 8-ball; 2) The Irish have been struggling in the red zone this year and their inability to punch the ball into the end zone yesterday made the game more exciting than it probably had to be; 3) Once again, ND had several opportunities to close out the game on offense but went three and out, giving BC chances to win the game late in the 4th quarter. Is the ND offense still lacking the killer instinct and the ability to put their collective foot on the throat of the opposition’s defense?


The Good

Randy Hart and Bryant Young sure have been working some magic lately because the defensive line has become a real strength of this team. Montel Harris averaged only 1.7 yards per carry and was a relative non-factor in the game. Definitely some encouraging signs, especially considering so many of ND’s remaining opponents feature run-heavy offenses.

The LBs played well again today – everyone seems to feed off Manti Te’o, who just might be the best player on the defense already. He also seems to be rubbing off on Brian Smith, who’s been playing much better lately. Darius Fleming played sparingly and was often moved around from OLB and DE, but again was the most effective in putting pressure on the QB.

For the most part, the secondary played well on 1st and 2nd down. The CBs appeared to be playing more bump-and-run coverage and the safeties created 3 turnovers.

The Bad

As well as the defense played on 1st and 2nd down, they were very poor on 3rd down. BC was 6-13 on 3rd down, many of those conversions coming on 3rd and long. The Eagles also converted a 4th and 17 on the last drive of the game – a 30 yard pass to Gunnell, the ageless wonder. I’m glad that’s the last we’ll be seeing of him – seems like he’s been terrorizing the Irish for 8 years now. The Irish defense simply needs to be better when it comes to getting off the field in those 3rd and 4th down situations.

The Ugly

Hopefully this was the end of the Harrison Smith Experiment at safety. I don’t know what has come over that guy, but he’s clueless and helpless when it comes to pass coverage. He apparently started the game at OLB, which was a bit surprising given Darius Fleming’s availability. If Tenuta wants to keep him closer to the line of scrimmage, fine. But he no longer has any business roaming around in the secondary.

I was somewhat encouraged by Slaughter’s play at safety, given that he’s only practiced there for a week. But the safety play in general has been very poor this year, and with the impending graduation of Kyle McCarthy, it could continue to be a problem in the near future. Given ND’s depth at corner, I’m glad to see that Jamoris is being given a shot to play.


The Good

Another solid day for Nick Tausch. Both his FG attempts were right down the pipe. And he’s definitely starting to speed up his tempo on the PATs after learning a lesson against SC last weekend.

Not too many complaints about Ruffer’s kickoffs. He had some very good ones mixed with some mediocre ones. But I do think it’s a good idea to keep Tausch’s focus on the FGs. Hopefully Ruffer can continue to improve as the year progresses.

Another ballsy call on the fake FG. Unfortunately a questionable holding call on Lane Clelland wiped out a TD, but the play was definitely there. Personally (I know I’m biased) that looked like a decent block, but since the snap was a little off, Clelland had to hold his block a few seconds later than he probably would have liked. Tough call.

The Bad

I must admit that I’m getting a bit antsy for the return units to start making an impact. I don’t expect a return for a TD every week, but I don’t think its too much to ask for something explosive once a game.

In what was probably Golden Tate’s worst moment of the game, he allowed a BC punt to roll all the way down to the ND 12. The next possession resulted in the safety, and effectively changed field position in BC’s favor for the next several possessions.

The Ugly

I know he’s only a freshman, but Turk has been pretty disappointing thus far. His performance yesterday was very poor, both in distance and height of his punts. He wasn’t able to get ND out of trouble in the 1st half, and couldn’t pin the Eagles down in their own territory in the 2nd half. I have confidence he’ll get better as the season goes on, but Notre Dame should not have as many difficulties in the freaking punting game as they have this year.


The Good

Decent gameplan from Weis yesterday – he probably knew that Spaziani would be dropping a bunch of guys into coverage and giving Clausen a bunch of funky looks. Charlie got guys open on the edge and Clausen was able to move down the field taking advantage of the large cushions given by the BC defense.

As noted above, Hart and Young are working wonders with the defensive line, which seems to be improving every week. The LBs are also getting better, perhaps simply by playing Te’o more and more.

Give the defensive coaches some credit for identifying some of the problems, particularly in the secondary, and attempting to correct them through personnel changes. It remains to be seen whether moves like Jamoris Slaughter to S will pay off in the long run. But they’re trying something different at least.

The Bad

Weis has been taking some flak on the internet about the decision to go for the TD on 4th and goal rather than taking the 3 points to tie the game. It was certainly a tough decision, but I don’t think I disagree with him. The defense was playing well at that point, and Weis assumed he’d get the ball back with some great field position (and he did). I don’t think I agree with the playcall – if you want to hand the ball to Hughes, fine. But running out of the Wildcat at that point just seemed a little too cute.

Spaziani really seems to have Weis’ number. It was amazing to watch BC drop 8 or even 9 guys into coverage in passing situations and force ND to dink and dunk down the field. Such a strategy would lead one to believe that the Irish should have been able to murder BC on the ground. Not so – ND ran the ball in predictable situations and BC always seemed to be ready for it. I was surprised that NC ran so many plays from the shotgun yesterday. I know that Clausen is having trouble with the toe coming out from center, but it really seems like some play action could have done some serious damage to that defense.

The Ugly

The pass defense. All of it.


Offense – GOLDEN TATE. On the receiving end of both of Clausen’s TD passes, Tate continues to make his mark on the Irish record book and cement his status as an All-American caliber WR.

Defense – MANTI TE’O. The former 5-star recruit has led the Irish in tackles since his ascension to a starting role. He had a hand in many of the big plays on defense, including forcing a fumble and blowing up a screen play. Manti’s performance this year really shows the difference between the 5-star, can’t-miss recruits and the large assortment of 4-star recruits littered throughout ND’s roster. If the Irish really want to make it to the top of the mountain, they have to get more Manti’s on a much more consistent basis.

Special Teams – NICK TAUSCH. 2 more FGs for the freshman who continues to impress. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if this kid breaks many of the scoring records at ND.

The Washington St. and Navy games are coming at a good time for the Irish. ND should be able to “fatten up” the next two weeks on some subpar opponents, giving the boys a big confidence boost going into what should be an epic battle in Heinz Field against the surging Pitt Panthers. Now that Jimmy Clausen’s Heisman campaign is effectively over, I hope Irish fans will get a nice dose of Dayne Crist and some of the other youngsters next week, especially some of the reserves on the OL.

Of course, if the Irish are down 17-13 going into the 4th quarter next week, I probably won’t be surprised. Its just been one of those seasons…

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