Sunday, September 19, 2004

ND 31, MSU 24

You say ND didn't have that killer instinct when they went up 28-7? I say Michigan State wasn't going to roll over just because Corso and Herbstreit said that the fourth Irish touchdown was the knockout blow. That's the way this rivalry has been as of late, and hopefully that's how it will continue to be.

Quarterback: scene: Brady Quinn and Rhema McKnight are in the film room. They have hooked up an XBox to the projector, and are playing NCAA Football 2005. Offensive Coordinator Bill Diedrick enters.
Diedrick [oblivious to the fact that this is a video game, as is every 50+ person who sees NCAA for the first time]: "I see you're studying some film, boys."
Quinn: "Uh, yeah coach. That's it." [Quinn calls for and connects on a long bomb in the game."
Diedrick: "Whoa, what was that?!"
McKnight: "It was a deep pass, coach."
Diedrick: "You can do that?!"
And thus a few pages are added to the ND playbook. Quinn didn't throw too much, as I had hoped he wouldn't, but when he did he was effective. 215 yards and one touchdown in the air is a perfect complement to 173 yards on the ground. If you ask me, the offense is starting to look very compitent. I know that doesn't sound like much of a compliment, but it is when you look at the BYU game and much of the 2003 season.

Running back: It was good to see Travis Thomas back in there, but the timing perhaps wasn't the best. Of course, it is possible that he was just in there because Darius Walker needed a breather and the team was being overly cautious about Ryan Grant's injuries. Unfortunately, though, Thomas is likely back in the doghouse for a few more games, and it's not entirely his fault. Walker and Grant, on the other hand, are turning into a formidable 1-2 punch. For a team that needs to establish the run game, it's great to have two backs who can spell each other so we always have a fresh back in key situations. I also enjoy seeing Grant finally learning that he can power it between the tackles instead of just dancing into the sidlines. Walker is surprisingly powerful for his size, but in the end it's a good idea to use your bigger back (Grant) on inside handoffs.

Fullback: The fullbacks have been quiet, except to block. RPN had one carry for zero yards.


Courtesy AP/Bob Brodbeck

Is it just me, or are we all of a sudden incredibly deep at the receiver position? I mean, Rhema McKnight hasn't even been heard from this season, other than his punt return misadventures against BYU, and the onside recovery at the end of this game. Matt Shelton continues to impress, with 123 yards and 1 TD of three catches, despite his unassuming appearance. Even Rocket Ismail loves the guy (although Rocket does seem to get fired up about a lot of people). Let's put it this way: imagine Steve Cronk taking on the best corners and safeties in 1-A football, consistently beating them deep, and then making an athletic catch to pull the ball down. Heck, Cronk may even be taller and fatter than Shelton. And get this, Shelton is actually learning routes now! For the firt time, he ran a skinny post, instead of just a go route (aka "run as fast as you can that way and we'll throw it to you").
In addition to Shelton, Jeff Samardzija came up big late in the game by feeding off of MSU's too loose zone. You want to talk deep? Samardzija had 4 catches for 565 yards, while Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, and Carlyle Holliday combined for 2 catches and 17 yards (and both those catches were by Stovall). Also, freshman Chris Vaughn, now wearing Omar Jenkins's #80, got in on the fun with a catch for 7 yards.

Tight End: Speaking of deep, the Irish are also deep at TE, but they were only used for blocking against the Spartans. It's nice to have them as a security blanket, but it's also nice when you don't need them to catch passes because the running game is working and the receivers are getting open.

O-Line: The Irish ground game had 194 yards in the positive direction, and 21 yards in the negative direction. That includes 2 sacks for -11 yards. Are the running backs doing well because of the line, or is the line doing well because of the running backs?

D-Line: Justin Tuck didn't have a single tackle last Saturday, but it didn't matter. It was Derek Landri's turn to step up this week, leading the linemen with 5 tackles and a pass breakup. Kyle Budinscak made noise for the first time this year with the team's only sack and a fumble recovery.

Linebacker: I should point out that the Irish front 7 didn't have a good day defending the run against MSU, giving up 165 yards. Mike Goolsby had 6 tackles and two breakups, while Derrek Curry contributed with an interception, but this unit will have to step it up the next time a big ground game comes to town.


Courtesy AP/Al Goldis

Ty wanted his best two guys out there at safety, and I think he made the right two decisions. In fact, I haven't even seen Lionel Bolen at all this year. Tom Zbikowski received Walter Camp Division 1-A Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance that included 9 tackles (leading the team), 1 interception, and two forced fumble, including that great strip and dash for a 75 yard touchdown. Following that play, Kirk Herbstreit for the first time said something that made sense: "When you teach that [being aggressive and looking for turnovers on defense], it's not being lucky." Quentin Burrell also had a good game with five tackles and a fumble recovery.

Cornerback: Dwight Ellick and Preston Jackson continued to play competent ball, amassing 4 tackles each.

Kicker: Too often, Carl Gioia is the first man to make contact of a kickoff. The only problem: he isn't nearly the tackler Nicholas Setta or DJ are. (ooh ooh ooh - Ellen loves both of them! Love overload!) DJ was 1-2 on field goals, making from 23 and missing from 37. The 37 yarder had the distance but was wide.

Punter: I won't complain about a 40 yard average and a long of 51. Two punts inside the 20 are also nice.

Kick Returner: Stovall and Chase Anastacio are getting playing time, but they still haven't shown that the have the ability to make something big happen.

Punt Returner: Despite facing a good punter, Carlyle was able to have a long return of 21 yards.

Special Teams: The blocked punt - Jared Clark has been in that position for years - he should have known better, either to block the inside man, or to adjust the coverage accordingly. As for the kickoff return for the touchdown - that's going to happen, but it did seem that returner DeAndra Cobb was in the clear a little too quickly, as if the ND coverage team got down the field too fast and let Cobb run right by them the other way. Other than that return, the kick coverage team was decent (giving up just under 20 yards per). The punt coverage team did well, giving up just under 10 yards per return.

Well, there you have it. Maybe we can make "Return to Competence" t-shirts for this season, as that appears to be the theme. Please, let the be blue, though. A note on my ND reviews: I've decided to stick with this position-by-position breakdown format mostly because everyone who reads this watches the games, and because John Vannie offers a good review on NDNation. If you would like to see me do a game recap, please let me know.

Weekend in Review Wednesday morning; ND-Washington preview Friday.