Wednesday, November 30, 2005

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

1TexasUSC(1a) USCUSC
2USCTexas(1b) TexasTexas
3Penn StNotre DamePenn StPenn St
4Va TechLSULSUVa Tech
5Ohio St (+1)Penn StVa TechOhio St (+1)
6Notre Dame (-1)Va TechNotre DameNotre Dame (-1)
7OregonOhio StOhio StLSU (+1)
8LSUAuburnAuburnOregon (+1)
9AuburnOregonOregonGeorgia (+3)
10UCLAMiamiUCLAMiami (-3)
11MiamiGeorgiaMiamiAuburn (-1)
12GeorgiaUCLAWVUUCLA (-1)
13WVU (+2)WVUGeorgiaAlabama (+1)
14TCUAlabamaAlabamaTCU (+1)
15Louisville (NR)TCU (NR)TCUWVU (NR)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Animated BCS Race

It's the craze that's sweeping the college football blogosphere. New blog friend Joel from View from Rocky Top has updated the Animated BCS Race. Now you can see how everyone got where they are today. Good stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Transaction Wire

  • Nationals trade Vinny Castilla to San Diego for Brian Lawrence. Wait, what? Lawrence is a decent pitcher. Phil Nevin is gone, and patience with Sean Burroughs has worn thin, but is it really worth it to give up Lawrence for Castilla? Especially when you've just signed Geoff Blum?

  • Mariners sign Kenji Johjima, who will become the first Japanese catcher to play in the majors. Seattle's recent moves at catcher haven't worked out, so why not go overseas? Johjima is expected to hit .275 with 21 homers this year, great numbers for a catcher on a bad team.

  • Pirates sign Jason Bay to a four year contract. Now they're only about 23 moves away from a good team. (Sorry, but I'm a huge fan of Jack Wilson's defense.)

  • Indians pick up Ronnie Belliard's club option for 2006... and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. The Indians also resigned Scott Sauerbeck.

  • Blue Jays receive cash for trading John McDonald to the Tigers during the season. A week later, the Tigers trade McDonald back to the Blue Jays for cash. I kid you not.

  • Padres trade 1B/OF Xavier Nady to the Mets for Mike Cameron. Cameron will presumably take over for Brian Giles, likely gone due to to free agency. Nady, a player who may or may not still be a prospect, will likely platoon with Victor Diaz in right. And by "platoon," I mean "actually play competent defense."

  • Mets trade 1B/C Mike Jacobs and two other prospects to Florida for Carlos Delgado. Delgado is good, but wasn't Jacobs the Mets' catcher of the future? What are they going to do there now? Or do I have the wrong guy? Oh wait, there are always free agents Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina. Both can survive in the middle of a National League lineup (especially Molina, who managed to bat fourth on an American League playoff team last year).

  • Marlins trade Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox for Ss Hanley Ramirez and pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia. When I first read this, when Mota wasn't involved, I didn't think much of it. I thought I had read AJ Burnett instead of Josh Beckett. Burnett is a free agent, so that's not big news, and Lowell is basically a salary dump for the Marlins. But Beckett is a top tier pitcher, and Mota is solid in his own right. Do you think the Marlins front office was sitting around when someone realized, "Holy crap, we forgot to have another fire sale after that second World Series win in 2003! We'd better start now!" Ramirez and at least two of those pitchers are top prospects, but the Sox need to win right now. The Lowell move makes much more sense for Boston now that I realize Bill Mueller is gone. Mota will help bolster a weak 2005 bullpen. (Can you bolster anything besides a bullpen?) Meanwhile, with the loss of Lowell, the Marlins can move the slightly discontent Miguel Cabrera back to his original position - third base. The Rangers also contended for Beckett and Lowell, offering Hank Blalock in return. I'm assuming that in that situation, Lowell would have taken Blalock's spot at 3rd in Texas, while Blalock would have taken over at 1st for Carlos Delgado.

  • Pirates name Jeff Manto hitting coach. When you look up "Quadruple A (AAAA) Player" in the stathead dictionary, you see a picture of Manto. A Quadruple A Player is one who excels at the AAA level, but can't seem to handle the Major Leagues. Therefore, he's somewhere between the two levels. Manto hit .275 with 270 HR and 921 RBI while playing 9 positions in his 16 years in the minors. However, he could only muster a .231 average in 269 Major League games. An Indians mainstay (or at least a Colorado Springs/Buffalo mainstay) in the mid 90s, I wish the best for Manto.

  • White Sox trade Aaron Rowand and a pitching prospect the Phillies for Jim Thome. Whosajiggawhat? This move becomes especially perplexing when coupled with the news that the Sox expect to re-sign Paul Konerko at first. But, the move supposedly adds needed power to the Chicago lineup, while clearing up room in the outfield. It looks like Carl Everett is a free agent, so that room was created for Brian Anderson, Joe Borchard, or Timo Perez. Amusing is the point I read somewhere about the Sox' affinity for mid-90s Indians stars: Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar, and Thome now have all joined the South Siders after time with the Tribe. Meanwhile, the Phillies have been looking for a while to complement Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu with a solid center fielder. Rowand is that center fielder.

  • Cubs sign Scott Eyre and Bob Howry. Well, there goes Plan A for the Indians. Cleveland was expected to not re-sign Bob Wickman and instead use Howry, who had a great 2005, as a closer. Now, it looks like Howry may move into that role for the Cubs. At least there's a Plan B...

  • Blue Jays sign BJ Ryan. Crap, there goes Cleveland's Plan B. Five years, $47 million was to rich for the Tribe, and it's probably too rich for the Jays as well. Time will tell.

  • A's sign Esteban Loaiza. Oh, c'mon, there has to be a great prospect somewhere that the A's can fleece a bad GM out of. Somewhere?

  • Mets give cash to Pirates for Tike Redman. The Mets need outfield depth, especially when it comes from legitimate outfielders. Plus, his speed gives New York another good baserunning threat besides Jose Reyes.

  • Mets sign Billy Wagner. Well, the Mets sorely needed a closer. The Notre Dame fans among us would love to see Aaron Heilman given a shot at that role, but unfortunately there's no room for experiments like that in the Northeast. So, the Mets instead will risk paying the 34 year old Wagner just over $10 million a year for the next four seasons.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Notre Dame 38, Stanford 31

Quarterback: On October 17, 1994, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs faced off on Monday Night Football. With 1:29 left in the game, John Elway led his Broncos to a touchdown and a 28-24 lead. Not to be outdone, Joe Montana took the Chiefs on a 75 yard drive to score the winning touchdown with 8 seconds left in the game. On Saturday, Elway was in attendance to see his Alma Mater Stanford, while Montana was there to see his Notre Dame. With just under two minutes to play in the game, Stanford scored to go ahead 31-30. However, in under a minute, Brady Quinn led Notre Dame to a touchdown and an eventual 38-31 win. I don't think I was ever more confident that a two-minute drill would go my team's way - including all those times where my team's defense had the lead. I wanted Stanford to score quickly, and for the first time I believed myself.
Quinn had 432 yards passing on the day. As my dad pointed out, it's normally not a good thing when Quinn has to throw for that many yards. He completed only 9 of his first 19 passes, with 2 interceptions - his first multi-interception game of the season. However, he finished by completing 16 of his next 19 passes, including his final 9. Even with his early struggles, and with all the throwing downfield, Quinn completed close to two-thirds of his passes.

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

In three games against the PAC-10's 2nd (USC), 5th (Washington), and 6th (Stanford) ranked rushing defenses, Darius Walker has run 75 times for 386 yards. Let's project that over a full 11 game PAC-10 schedule. Walker's 1415 yards and 128.7 yards per game would be second in the league, far behind Washington State's Jerome Harrison, but just ahead of Reggie Bush. Of course, Bush's numbers are on 163 carries, whereas Walker would have approximately 275 carries in this simulation. Walker's 5.1 yards per carry would be only seventh best in the league, but he would be ahead of UCLA's Maurice Drew. My point? Well, I don't have much of one, since this is a very small sample set. But, before you a) call for Walker's benching, or b) hype Drew or LenDale White's performance in a conference historically weak against the run, think how things would be with the roles reversed.
Walker, by the way, had 186 yards on 35 carries in this game. Pure workhorse. His touchdown and two-point conversion run were the clutch plays of this game. Walker also tied his season-long with a 38 yard run and added 5 catches for 55 yards. He now has 1106 rushing yards on the year. Contrary to what Keith Jackson said several times, Walker's receiving yards do not also count towards his rushing yards. In addition to becoming Notre Dame's 9th 1000-yard rusher, he also brought his rushing average to just over 100 yards per game. Oh, and did I mention how well he does in blitz pickup?
Travis Thomas added 3 carries for 13 yards, including a touchdown.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp ran twice, each time for 5 yards.

Receiver: Notre Dame's receivers piled up the yards at will in this game. Jeff Samardzija started with an 80-yard touchdown run on a simple crossing pattern, and he ended up with 216 yards. Pulling my media guide out of the trash (since I'd thrown out the record book! get it? ha!), I see that Samardzija's 1215 receiving yards this season surpasses Tom Gatewood's record of 1123. The Shark's 72 receptions are just five shy of Gatewood's season record, and the 216 yards were the third best single-game total by an Irish receiver. In fact, Samardzija was just one yard shy of Jack Snow's second place performance.
For most of his career, it was assumed that a long pass to Maurice Stovall would end with nothing more than a spectacular drop. Not any more. On Notre Dame's winning drive, Stovall had a Cardinal defensive back pulling on his collar and he still made the catch. Stovall's 136 yards makes him the fourth receiver in Irish history to pass the 1000 yard mark in a season; he now has 1023 yards. His touchdown reception gave him 11 on the season - tying him with Derrick Mayes for what is now second best all-time.
Matt Shelton had one catch for 6 yards, but that wasn't his best play of the game. On Jeff Samardzija's 80-yard touchdown, Shelton put a block on a Cardinal linebacker to seal the corner for Samardzija. Now, the 172 pound Shelton didn't exactly "win the battle" against the much bigger linebacker, but he did do just enough to disrupt the defender's pursuit.

Tight End: Anthony Fasano had another relatively quiet day, hauling in 3 passes for 18 yards. Despite what may seem like an off year to casual observers, Fasano's 45 receptions on the season match his combined numbers for 2003 and 2004. He's now a reasonable 9 catches away from Ken MacAfee's record for season receptions by an Irish tight end. Fasano's 90 career receptions put him alone in third place behind MacAfee and Tony Hunter.

O-Line: 663 total yards, one sack. You be the judge.


Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

It was the most dominating performance by a Notre Dame defensive lineman this season, and it went largely unnoticed. C'mon, Keith, "Abiamiri" isn't that hard to pronounce, especially when you have ten chances to say it. That's right, Victor Abiamiri had 10 tackles, including four sacks (four!) to lead the Irish. It was arguably the highly touted recruit's best game in a Notre Dame uniform. Justin Brown, filling in for the injured Ronald Talley (himself filling in for Chris Frome) had four tackles. Trevor Laws added 2 tackles and Brian Beidatsch a stop in the backfield. Derek Landri was a disruptive force at times, but it didn't show on the stat sheet as he wasn't credited with a single tackle.

Linebacker: It was a solid game by the entire linebacking corps. Maurice Crum, Jr. had one of his biggest games to date with 7 tackles. Brandon Hoyte, who by the way is leading the team in tackles, had 7 stops and two sacks. Corey Mays, who has moved past the surprise/breakout/"most improved" labels into "he's just good" territory, had 6 tackles, including one in the backfield.

Safety: Not a good day for Tom Zbikowski. He had only one tackle, and was beat deep on Stanford's second touchdown. Chinedum Ndukwe. fared slightly better with 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups.

Cornerback: "Know thy enemy, and know thyself." This is a key tennet of The Art of War, a favorite of Lou Holtz. Notre Dame's secondary is the weak link on this team, but perhaps only Michigan State and Stanford went out of their way to exploit that fact. If Notre Dame's offense had to face its defense, things would be brutal. Ambrose Wooden looked lost on Stanford's first touchdown. Mike Richardson was beat deep on Stanford's second TD, but he presumably was hoping for some safety help. All in all, Richardson did have another decent day with 7 tackles, including 2 TFL and 1 sack. Richardson is the only corner that I've seen blitz; I'm not sure what to make of that, though. Leo Ferrine gave everyone flashbacks to Clifford Jefferson and Preston Jackson as the current #15 got beat by his man on a play that set up the late go-ahead score. However, thanks to talent and proper coaching, this number 15 will likely follow in Pat Terrell's footsteps rather than Clifford Jefferson's. (Pat from BGS gets credit for this last thought.)
In their defense, Richardson, Wooden, and Ferrine are all much improved over last year, but there's still room to get better.

Kicker: It was a rough day for DJ Fitzpatrick, as he missed an extra point and two field goals - all key points in this game. However, in his defense, he was playing with a brace on his kicking knee. Carl Gioia stepped in admirably to convert a field goal and an extra point. Had Gioia gone in for the final field goal attempt instead of Fitzpatrick, he would have been a big contender for the Horse Trailer.
Oh, and this one month break is just what the doctor ordered for DJ's knee, Stovall's ankle, and all the bumps and bruises on the defensive line.

Punter: Despite the bad knee, DJ punted twice for a combined 70 yards. Brady Quinn pooched a 48 yard kick that just barely rolled into the end zone. He's just a weapon now.

Kick Returner: David Grimes handled 4 kick returns for 97 yards, which is an average of just under 25 yards per return. His long was 28 yards.

Punt Returner: Stanford did a good job of bottling up Tom Zbikowski on his punt returns. He averaged 5.7 yards per return with a long of 13.

Special Teams: Notre Dame surrendered its first kick return touchdown of the season, an 87 yarder by TJ Rushing. At the time, I joked that he was able to score because Carl Gioia (who had that kickoff) isn't a good tackler like DJ Fitzpatrick or Nick Setta. The truth is, though, Fitzpatrick simply kicks it deeper and does a better job of pinning the returner in a corner. Stanford averaged 30 yards per kick return. Neither of ND's punts were returnable by the Cardinal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

KankaNation-Related Things I'm Thankful For

Editor's Note: See below for the ND-Stanford preview
  • Everyone who takes the time to read what I have to say. Everyone who takes the time to tell me what they have to say. Everyone who takes the time to point out when I'm grossly wrong.

  • Old friends. New friends. Friends I've met from this blog. Friends who go to The Backer with me. Friends who get me home from The Backer. Friends who tolerate me no matter what.

  • People who LOOOOOVE me.

  • Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Eli Manning, and Jeff Samardzija, for their help in driving traffic to this site.

  • The fact that it's (somewhat) socially acceptable for a grown man to play softball and video games, and ramble on about sports he's never played.

  • Authority figures who realize that character and winning are equally important.

  • My family, the roof over my head, the food on my table, my job, the country I'm in, the troops who have come home, the troops that will be coming home, and the troops that won't be coming home.

  • The soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch... the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.
    Oh, whoops. Got a little sidetracked there. Sorry.

  • Four years at Our Lady's University. I've only begun to uncover all that it means to my life.

Notre Dame Football 2005
Issue 11: Stanford

Stanford Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Stanford is a team that likes to be fair. Counting sacks as failed pass attempts, the Cardinal have run the ball 327 times and passed 336 times. Stanford even likes to be fair when it comes to playing tailback. Three players average approximately 6-7 carries and 25-30 yards per game. Jason Evans, who has yet to earn a start this season, does lead the team in carries (72) and yards (248). He also has 2 touchdowns. Anthony Kimble has rushed 65 times for 243 yards, and senior JR Lemon has run 64 times for 182 yards. Fullback Nick Frank averages 4 carries and 13.4 yards per game. With 3 of the team's 8 rushing touchdowns, look for Frank in goal line situations. Quarterback Trent Edwards can scramble when necessary; he has 167 net rushing yards and averages 8 carries per game. However, Edwards was hurt in last week's game against Cal and may not play in this one. Backup TC Ostrander is far from a scrambling QB - he has -10 net rushing yards. As a team, the Cardinal combine for 102.6 rushing yards per game.
Notre Dame is giving up 132.4 rushing yards per game. Run-stopping linebacker Brandon Hoyte still leads the team with 75 tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss. But, it has been fellow linebacker Corey Mays who has shined these past few weeks. With 24 tackles in the last two games, Mays is now third on the team with 62. He also has 9.5 tackles for loss.

ND Rush Offense vs. Stanford Rush Defense

Against Syracuse, Darius Walker notched his sixth 100 yard game of the season. He's now 80 yards away from the 1000 mark. Walker averages 20 carries and 92 yards per game, so he should reach his goal this weekend. Fullback Rashon Powers-Neal is rumored to be a candidate for "reinstatement" with the team prior to this weekend's game. Even if he does play, don't expect his typical 6 carry/20 yard/1 touchdown day. Never fear, though, as Travis Thomas has done an admirable job stepping up in his absence. He's averaging 23.5 yards on 6 carries per game. Walker and Thomas have combined for 9 rushing touchdowns on the season, or about 1 per game. Not counting sacks, quarterback Brady Quinn has run 39 times for 204 yards and one touchdown. His per-game averages break down to approximately 4 carries for 20 yards. As a team, Notre Dame averages 147.2 yards per game on the ground.
Stanford gives up 148.5 rushing yards per game. Sure, that seems like a large number for a team that plays against PAC-10 offenses, but they have played the likes of Navy, USC, and UCLA this season. The Cardinal run a base 3-4 defense, led by inside linebacker Kevin Schimmelmann. Schimmelmann has a team-leading 78 tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Mike Silva has 51. At 6'2, 320 pounds, nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo will be a handful for the taller, lighter Bob Morton. He'll need some guard help if Notre Dame wants to run successfully between the tackles.

Stanford Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

As mentioned above, Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards was injured in last week's game. He's listed as questionable for this game. Edwards completes 62.9 percent of his passes and has 15 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. But, the rest of his numbers aren't entirely impressive. His average day is 16 for 25 passing for 178 yards. Backup TC Ostrander has completed 28 of 52 passes (53.8%) for 332 yards, with one interception. Stanford's top three pass catchers are all wide receivers. Mark Bradford leads the team with 32 catches and 5 touchdowns; he averages 53.9 yards per game. The other starting receiver, Gerrn Crochet, has 29 catches for 387 yards (38.7 per game), but has yet to see the end zone. The number 3 receiver, Justin McCullum, has actually had a better year that Crochet: 30 catches, 438 yards, and 4 touchdowns. If it means anything, McCullum is 6'4, while Crochet is 6'0. Playing the averages game, these receivers will each catch 3 passes on Saturday. Running back Jason Evans and fullback Nick Frank each average 2 catches and about 13 yards per game. Starting tight end Matt Traverso and back Anthony Kimble average a catch and 15-17 yards per game. JR Lemon and backup tight end average a catch and 7 yards per game. At 250 pounds a piece, and without a definitive big play guy, I'm having a flashback to the BYU game with these two tight ends, especially Traverso.
Notre Dame surrenders 248.6 passing yards per game. An improved secondary features Ambrose Wooden (63 tackles, 2 interceptions), Tom Zbikowski (61, 5), Mike Richardson (55, 3), and Chinedum Ndukwe (47, 2). The corners tend to play soft to avoid the big play, and that has proved more or less effective. They have improved their skills at breaking up passes as the season has gone along. The formation where Ndukwe comes up to play a slot receiver, Zbikowski moves up to strong safety, and Richardson moves back to free safety has proven suprisingly effective. Richardson was hurt last week, but assumedly will be back. If not, nickel back Leo Ferrine has proven his worth this season, even before last week's "pick 6." In the front 7, Bradon Hoyte, Corey Mays, and defensive end Victor Abiamiri are tied for the team lead with 4 sacks, while tackle Derek Landri is right behind with 3.

ND Pass Offense vs. Stanford Pass Defense

If you're a fan of round numbers, this game is for you. Brady Quinn is 299 yards away from 3500 yards passing on the season. Receiver Jeff Samardzija is 1 yard away from 1000 receiving, while Mo Stovall is a realistic 113 yards away. Quinn is one touchdown away from 30, while Samardzija is 2 away from 15. Quinn's average day consists of completing 24 of 37 passes (64.9%) for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns. On the average day, Samardzija will catch 6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Stovall will catch 5 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Anthony Fasano, whose season seems quiet compared to Samardzija and Stovall's, has 42 catches for 545 yards and 2 TDs on the year. Darius walker averages 3 catches and 26 yards per game, while #3 receiver Matt Shelton averages 2 and 25.
On average, the Cardinal give up 271.3 yards in the air. The team has 8 interceptions; no player has more than 2. The front 7 does like to get into the backfield. End Julian Jenkins has 7 sacks, while outside linebacker Jon Alston has 6 and NT Oshinowo has 4.

Special Teams

Stanford kicker Michael Sgroi has made only 14 of 22 field goal attempts, an number which includes 4 blocks. His long is from 48 yards. For the Irish, DJ Fitzpatrick has converted 11 of 15 field goals, with a long of 48. Fitzpatrick was injured in the last game, but is expected to be back. As an odd stat, Stanford opponents have made only 5 of 14 field goal attempts.
The Cardinal punter is Jay Ottovegio. He averages 40.7 yards per punt and 6 punts per game. His long is 56 and has 7 touchbacks, 15 fair catches, and 21 kicks inside the 20. DJ averages 40.3 yards per punt and 3-4 punts per game for Notre Dame. His long is 60 yards. Of DJ's 37 punts, 1 was a touchback, 2 were fair caught, and 9 went inside the 20. Both teams have blocked 3 opponents' punts. For Stanford, linebacker Jon Alston is credited with a 10 yard punt return touchdown, meaning he's likely returned a block punt for a score. Chase Anastasio, this week's special teams captain, has all three for the Irish.
Cornerback TJ Rushing is Stanford's main kick returner. He's averaging 24 yards per return, with a 93 yard touchdown. For the Irish, Fitzpatrick averages 60.5 yards per kick, and the coverage team gives up 20.5 yards per return. Not counting DJ's 8 touchbacks, ND gives opponents an average start at the 26 yard line.
David Grimes has handled most of the kick returns for Notre Dame. He's averaging 21.9 yards per with a long of 40. For all of his accuracy problems (and protection problems), Stanford's Michael Sgroi has a powerful leg. Twenty-four of his 50 kickoffs have been touchbacks. With a 62 yard kick average, and a 19.2 average return against, Cardinal opponents get an average start on the 22 yard line.
TJ Rushing also returns punts for the Cardinal. He averages 9.1 yards per return with a long of 20. Notre Dame gives up 6.2 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski has a 17.2 yard average on punt returns. He's averaging a touchdown once every 10 punt returns. (In the "small sample set" category, Zbikowski is also averaging a touchdown once every 2.5 interceptions, and Leo Ferrine is averaging a touchdown once per interception. Where was I?) Stanford's coverage team has held opponents to a spectacular 3.8 yard punt return average.

Look for a big game from Quinn, Walker, Stovall, the offensive line (I don't give them nearly enough credit here), Landri, Mays, and Ferrine.

ND 38, Stanford 17: Samardzija, Stovall, Walker, Fasano, Thomas, and one by DJ beats two legit scores and another garbage time TD.

Stanford Blogs

Fanblogs Stanford

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

3Penn StNotre DamePenn St
4Va Tech (+1)LSU (+1)Va Tech (+1)
5Notre Dame (+1)Penn St (+1)Notre Dame (+1)
6Ohio St (+1)Va Tech (+1)Ohio St (+1)
7Oregon (+2)Ohio St (+1)Miami (-4)
8LSUAuburn (+2)LSU
9Auburn (+2)Oregon (+2)Oregon (+2)
10UCLAMiami (-6)Auburn (+5)
11Miami (-7)Georgia (+1)UCLA (-1)
12Georgia (+1)UCLA (+1)Georgia
13Fresno St (+2)WVU (+1)Fresno St (NR)
14TCUAlabama (-5)Alabama (-5)
15WVU (+1)Fresno StTCU (-2)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 10

Quarterback: It was "another bad day" for Brady Quinn: 56.8% completion rate, 270 yards, 2 TDs, and a 135.89 pass efficiency rating. Yes, he was forcing things early in the game. But, are we becoming spoiled? Here's how often Quinn topped these stats last season (12 games played):

21 completionstwiceBYU, Purdue 26
56.8% completionsonceBC 60.6%
270 yardsoncePurdue 432
2 TDstwiceWash 4, Pitt 3
135.89 efficiencyfour timesPitt 164.06, Wash 157.95, Purdue 142.58, Or St 136.47

It's amazing how a subjective opinion of performance level can change from one year to another.
Plus, kudos to Marty Mooney for his 16 yard completion to fellow senior Michael O'Hara. Most coaches would have chosen to run on a 3rd and long that late in the game, and conceded the punt. But Charlie Weis wanted to keep the offense on the field, and he wanted to give Mooney a moment he'll never forget. Hey, it's great to be a walk on running back, because you know you'll get a carry or two on senior day. But, the receivers often go into senior day knowing they'll get to do little more than run decoy routes and block. So, it was nice for O'Hara and the other senior receivers to get some "real action."

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Darron Cummings

Sure, Syracuse has a terrible run defense. But, that shouldn't take anything away from Darius Walker's day. He ended up with 123 rushing yards, 1 TD, and 3 catches for 14 yards. I don't care what the guy sitting behind me in section 5 said - this offense was not "boring." Charlie was simply trying to kill clock and not run up the score. Memo to That Guy: Kevin Rogers and Bill Diedrick are gone.
Jeff Jenkins added 4 carries for 5 yards.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp did not touch the ball in this game.

Receiver: Jeff Samardzija had another big day - 7 catches for 80 yards and a TD. But, it could have been even bigger. Samardzija joined in Quinn's early struggles - Quinn's throws were a little off, and Samardzija didn't have his normal spectacular hands to bail the QB out. Still, again, it's all relative.
For the seniors, Mo Stovall had 3 catches for 91 yards and a TD, Matt Shelton had 3 catches for 62 yards, and Michael O'Hara of course added one catch for 16 yards.

Tight End: John Carlson had two catches for 8 yards, and Anthony Fasano added 2 for 7. Oh yeah, Carlson also had three special teams tackle. That's a pretty good day for a guy who backs up Anthony Fasano.

O-Line: The offense put up 420 yards, including 134 on the ground, and Quinn was sacked only once. The seniors who saw playing time on the line were David Fitzgerald, James Bent, Scott Raridon, James Bonelli, Bob Morton, and Brian Mattes.

D-Line: Senior Derek Landri had the biggest day of any lineman - 5 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws each added half a sack.
Seniors: Brian Beidatsch had two tackles. Casey Cullen had one, and the special teamer got to scrimmage from the defensive line as well. Nate Schiccatano, whose ND career surely didn't go as planned, had one tackle for a loss. Dan Chervanik had a hit on the quarterback.


Courtesy AP/Fort Wayne J-G

Corey Mays' 10 tackles were twice as many as any other Irish defender. He had 3.5 TFL, including 2 sacks. Half of Brandon Hoyte's 5 tackles came in the backfield.
Senior Anthony Salvador had a great day with 3 tackles. Joe Boland added a quarterback hit.

Safety: Chinedum Ndukwe had four tackles. The interesting thing was that, in a three receiver set, he would often play up on the slot receiver while Mike Richardson dropped back to safety. Tom Zbikowski added two tackles. Senior Jake Carney saw significant playing time on the punt coverage team, often helping cover a gunner. Carney had two tackles.

Cornerback: Leo Ferrine just had the highlight of his young collegiate career. Coming in for a "banged up" Mike Richardson, he swooped in when Syracuse passed to their fullback out in the right flat. The ball bounced off of the diving back's body and right into Ferrine's hand. Sixteen yards of green later, and Ferrine helped to start the Irish to pull away from the Orange.
Ambrose Wooden had 5 tackles, while Richardson added 4 tackles and two pass breakups before leaving the game.
For the seniors, Brandon Harris had a tackle, and Rich Whitney III had a nice pass breakup.

Kicker: It was a rough day for DJ Fitzpatrick the field goal kicker. His first field goal attempt, a 39 yarder, caught the wind and sliced wide left. His second attempt was blocked by an impressive Syracuse rush. DJ was able to recover to convert from 44 and 29 yards.

Punter: DJ punted 3 times for 124 yards. That's a 41.3 yard average, with a long of 28 yards. Two of the three punts landed inside the 20.

Kick Returner: DJ Hord and David Grimes each had a kick return in this game. Hord's went for 16 yards and Grimes' for 23.

Punt Returner: Tom Zbikowski had three punt returns for a combined 22 yards. His long was 14 yards.

Special Teams: Chase Anastasio was credited with two blocked punts in this game, although he thinks the first was simply a shank that he got close to. Notre Dame gave up 5 yards per punt return with a long of 7, and 18.5 yards per kick return with a long of 29. Finally, since this is the "special" category, it was special to see all 34 seniors get playing time in this one, either on offense, defense, or sprinkled in on special teams over the course of the game. Coach Weis knew he could have held Syracuse without a touchdown in this one, bue he also knew that playing the seniors was more important than anything.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

An Open Letter to the Leprechaun Legion

Basketball season is right around the corner for the Notre Dame men. They start the season Sunday against Lafayette in the south dome of the Joyce Center. With men's basketball season comes the return of the Leprechaun Legion, Notre Dame's now-"official" student cheering section. I've been critical of the Legion in the past - if not here, then everywhere else. But, I wanted to clear things up - for lack of a better phrase. I'm not against the idea of an organized student section. I simply don't feel that you're living up to your potential. Here are a few thoughts from one of those staples of college basketball, a crazy old man in a sweater:

Be loud. I don't know how many times I've heard a TV announcer point out the sudden silence in the JACC after an opponent sinks a big shot. It seems like it happens at least once a game, and it pains me every time I hear it. Sure, it's easy to be loud when the Irish are doing well. But it's when they're down, or when the momentum is turning away from them that the team needs you the most. Show your team that after a missed shot, or after a big dunk by the opposition, that you're still behind them. Keep your spirits up, and maybe they'll keep their spirit and determination up as well. Plus, if you stay loud, you stay in the other team's head. If you get quiet after a big shot, the other team knows they have the edge. But, if you get louder after a big shot by their team, they'll start to notice. You'll get in their head, and you may even be able to take some of their attention away from the task at hand.

Second, be smart. You want to be like the Cameron Crazies? You want to be better than the Cameron Crazies? You'd better bring your A-game. When a Duke opponent travels, or even comes close to travelling, the whole student section rolls arm over arm. When a Notre Dame opponent travels, a spattering of 20-30 Legionnaires mimmic the ref's signal. You say there's more to being a great student section than immitating Duke? Well, how's this: Several years ago, there was a situation late in a tight game against Syracuse where the Orange were taking the ball out on the sideline. After getting the ball, the Syracuse inbounder started to step along the sideline with it! I didn't recognize it at first, but my friend immediately did and called it out. After a second I yelled, "Wait a minute, you're exactly right?" Did we have two thousand green-clad undergrands screaming and booing this no call? No. Instead we had a quiet student section watch Syracuse dump the ball down to Carmelo Anthony, so he could push off for an easy bucket, and the two rows in front of me turned around and started as if my friend and I were trying to argue Clifford Jefferson's Heisman candidacy. Now, what will it take to educate the "troops?" An impromptu pep rally before each game? Handouts? How about a website or a blog - those seem to be popular these days. Use it to post the chants and player nicknames for the upcoming game, keep people update on the Irish players' progress, and throw in a few rules and terms while you're at it.

Any band kid with a fair amount of sense knows that 10,000 people don't pack the Joyce Center to hear the band play Smashmouth's "All Star." They come to watch the team play. Likewise, CBS and ESPN don't bring their cameras to the JACC because they enjoy filming green clown rings and blue body paint. The cameras are there for the team, and you should be too. Get on TV because you're loud, spirited, and know what's going on with the game, not because you fit into your dad's polyester jumpsuit.

With all that said, what's the point of this letter? When the Leprechaun Legion was first form, one of their platforms was a Joyce Center seating realignment that put them in sideline seats behind the team benches. Now, did the original Legion want to be as close to the action as possible to make the most impact, or did they just want to be on TV? I hate to blatantly guess, but I'd have to say it was a bit of both. Unfortunately, the seating change has yet to come. Here's my challenge to you: Don't give them a choice. Sure, its easy to simply ask to be moved, but that hasn't worked yet. You need to be so loud, so boisterous in your current baseline seats that the administration sits up and takes notice. "Wow, the Legion is such a force at games, we do need to move them behind the benches to make them even more of a force." That should be your goal.

Finally, here is a second goal for you: Go to the women's games. Trust me on this one. They're good: #15 in the country this preseason. You say their brand of basketball isn't as good? The men have four guards passing the ball around the arc until one forces up an ugly three or someone dumps the ball down to Torin Francis, who then gets molested by a triple team. The women execute a triangle offense complete with backdoor cuts that are a thing of beauty. You say there are no dunks? First, TiVo the old McDonald's All-American dunk contests the next time they're on ESPN2. Then, remind yourself that there's more to sports than home runs, go routes, and slam dunks. If you're mature enough, you can even judge the girls on the team for their ability and not their looks. Who will fill in for Jackie Batteast? Can Charel Allen ever regain her tremendous speed and quickness after a knee injury? Then there's sophomore center Melissa D'Amico. At 6'5, she's the same height as Ruth Riley, and she's supposed to be loaded with talent. And don't forget Meghan Duffy. Duffy co-captained the US under-21 team to a gold medal at this summer's World University Games, and she's an All America candidate. This is a good team, and Muffet McGraw is sure to take them far into the NCAA tournament.

I wish the Legion the best of luck this year. If nothing else, it should be an interesting year for both the men and the women. Will you be able to make a difference?

Go Irish!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Notre Dame Football 2005
Issue 10: Senior Day (Syracuse)

90 Brian Beidatsch59 James Bent53 Joseph Boland71 James Bonelli31 Jake Carney93 Dan Chervanick88 Anthony Fasano54 David Fitzgerald19 D.J. Fitzpatrick87 Marcus Freeman75 Chris Frome36 Brandon Harris39 Brandon Hoyte32 Jeff Jenkins66 Derek Landri73 Mark LeVoir79 Brian Mattes46 Corey Mays5 Rhema McKnight37 Matt Mitchell12 Marty Mooney76 Bob Morton84 Michael O'Hara16 Rashon Powers-Neal62 Scott Raridon30 Mike Richardson43 Anthony Salvador50 Dan Santucci25 Nate Schiccatano82 Matt Shelton74 Dan Stevenson21 Maurice Stovall81 Rob Woods
Above are your seniors. I first did this last year before the USC game. Then, I didn't think the team had much of a chance, so I fired up a nice "win one for these guys" speech. Well, this year things should go a little better. So, here they are: Some will be back next year; some won't. Some are well known for their play on Saturday; others get no credit for the effort they give on the practice field. There's been injuries, position changes, and coaching changes. None of this matters now - this one is for them.

Syracuse Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Syracuse's main offensive weapon is running back Damien Rhodes. Rhodes averages 86 yards on 21 carries per game. He has scored 7 of the Orange's 11 offensive touchdowns. Rhodes' backup is Kareem Rush, who has run 32 times for 101 yards this season. Starting fullback Steve McDonald on has two carries on the season, so don't look for much from him. In fact, it looks like Syracuse relies greatly on one-back sets. Starting quarterback Perry Patterson is a pocket passer, but backup Joe Fields has scrambled for a net 64 yards. Syracuse has 4 runs by wide receivers this year, but look for them to pull out all the stops in this one.
Notre Dame is giving up 131.2 yards rushing per game. Senior Brandon Hoyte leads the team with 70 tackles, including 11 tackles for a loss. Fellow senior Corey Mays is fourth on the team with 52 tackles, and third with 6 TFL.

ND Rush Offense vs. Syracuse Rush Defense

Darius Walker is still the starting tailback for Notre Dame. His average day is about 89 yards for 20 carries. In several categories, Walker's numbers are very similar to Rhodes'. The main difference is that Walker, playing with an unspecified thigh injury and without the aid of artificial turf, has a long run of only 20 yards, compared to Rhodes' 54. Travis Thomas has stepped up lately in Rashon Powers-Neal's absence. He's averaging 25.7 yards on just over 6 carries per game. In this game, look for senior Jeff Jenkins, who has gained 51 yards on 15 carries this season.
Syracuse is giving up 189.6 yards per game on the ground - yet another reason to look for a big game from Walker, Thomas, and Jenkins. Their leading tackler is linebacker Kelvin Smith with 69.

Syracuse Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Perry Patterson perhaps isn't the perfect prototypical pocket passer. PP's average day consists of completing 11 of 24 passes for 130 yards. On the season, he has 4 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Syracuse's top four receivers all average between 26 and 35 yards per game. They are wide receivers Tim Lane (24 catches, 317 yards, 1 TD) and Rice Moss (19, 234, 0), running back Rhodes (22, 271, 0), and tight end Joe Kowalewski (12, 158, 1). As you can see, they all average 1-3 catches per game. The Orange's other two receiving touchdowns belong to freshman wideout Nicholas Chestnut, who has only 6 total catches on the year.
Notre Dame's bend-don't-break pass defense is giving up 267.6 yards per game against some good competition. Safety Tom Zbikowski now has 5 interceptions on the season, while Victor Abiamiri is tied with Brandon Hoyte for the team lead in sacks with 4. Senior Mike Richardson has been the defense's most improved player this season. He has 3 interceptions and is tied for the team lead with 5 pass breakups. Syracuse has given up 31 sacks this year, so look out for senior linemen Derek Landri and Brian Beidatsch as well.

ND Pass Offense vs. Syracuse Pass Defense

Brady Quinn may have trouble keeping his seniors happy in this game. Maurice Stovall, Matt Shelton, Anthony Fasano, and Marcus Freeman are all potentially playing in their last game at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. For Stovall and Fasano, it will be business as usual, as both have played extremely well in the past few games. Stovall is up to 50 catches and 9 touchdowns, while Fasano now has 40 catches and 2 TDs. Shelton is averaging 2 catches and 20 yards per game. Freeman, who had a decent 2004 under Ty Willingham, has yet to catch a pass this season. Of course, if anyone can keep all four of these players happy, it's Quinn. He's completing 24 passes for 325.7 yards and 3 touchdowns per game.
Syracuse is giving up an impressive 163.2 passing yards per game. Of course, when you can pile up 190 rushing yards against an opponent who's only going to put up 14 points, why would you need to pass all that much? The Orange do have 12 interceptions on the season, led by free safety Anthony Smith with 6. Defensive end Ryan LaCasse has 7 of Syracuse's 19 sacks, while defensive tackle Kader Drame has 4.

Special Teams

John Barker is Syracuse's field goal kicker. He's 6 for 9 overall with a long of 45, but he's 3 for 6 from 30 yards or farther. Ricky Krautman and Patrick Shadle are a combined 1 for 3 (Krautman converted from the 20-29 yard range); I'm not sure if their opportunities were due to injury, inconsistency, or garbage time. Neither Krautman or Shadle have numbers that suggest they are long range specialists. DJ Fitzpatrick is 9 for 11 on the year with a long of 48 yards.
Brendan Carney comes in to punt for the Orange 7-8 times per game. He's got an impressive average of 43.3 yards with a long of 71 (gotta love the Astroturf rolls). He's had 8 touchbacks, 8 inside the 20, and 16 punts fair caught. DJ will punt 3-4 times for the Irish in an average game. He averages 40.2 yards per punt with a long of 60, 7 punts inside the 20, and only one touchback.
Backup running backs Kareem Jones and Curtis Brinkley share Syracuse's kick return duties. Jones is averaging 24.1 yards per return with a long of 52, while Brinkley is averaging 22.2 yards per return with a long of 35. DJ kicks off for the Irish for an average of 60.4 yards, with 7 of his 49 kicks going for touchbacks. After an average 20.7 yard return, Notre Dame opponents will start with the ball around the 26 yard line.
Freshman receiver David Grimes is ND's primary kick returner. He's averaging 21.8 yards per on 10 returns, with a long of 40. Punter Brendan Carney is Syracuse's kickoff specialist. He averages 63 yards per kick and has 12 touchbacks on 32 kicks. A 23.6 yard return average by Orange opponents gives them a start around the 26 yard line.
Corner Steve Gregory and receiver JJ Bedle share punt return responsibility for Syracuse. Gregory has an average of 11.5 yards with a long of 34. Bedle has an average of 4 yards with a long of 20. Notre Dame is yielding 6.3 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski has now returned 17 punts for the Irish. He's averaging 19 yards per return, with a long of 78 and two touchdowns. Syracuse gives up 9 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from: See the pictures above.

Notre Dame 42, Syracuse 13: Let's see here: Stovall, Shelton, Jenkins, Fasano, Mays, and Richardson. No, they don't cover, but only because the Orange get a cheap score when the senior walk-ons are in.

Syracuse Blogs

Orange Juice
Syracuse :: 44 :: Orange
Fanblogs Syracuse

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

3Penn StNotre Dame (+1)Penn StMiami
4MiamiMiami (+1)Miami (+1)Penn St
5Va Tech (+1)LSU (+1)Va Tech (+1)LSU
6Notre Dame (+1)Penn St (+1)Notre Dame (+1)Notre Dame
7Ohio St (+2)Va Tech (+2)Ohio St (+1)Va Tech
8LSU (+2)Ohio St (+3)LSU (+3)Ohio St
9Oregon (+2)Alabama (-6)Alabama (-5)Alabama
10UCLA (+2)Auburn (+3)UCLA (+2)Auburn
11Auburn (+2)Oregon (+1)Oregon (-2)UCLA
12Alabama (-7)Georgia (-2)Georgia (-2)Oregon
13Georgia (-5)UCLA (+2)TCUGeorgia
15Fresno St (NR)Fresno St (NR)Auburn (NR)WVU

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Weekend in Review
Field-Level Edition

Pep Rally: Tickets for the pep rally were being passed out starting at 4:30 on Friday. Got to the JACC at 4:45, and guess what? Too late. Unfortunately, I apparently missed a rap by Darius Walker.

Alumni Sighting, Part I: Spotted Scott and Kim at Concert on the Steps. They were able to parlay their people-in-band-actually-knowing-who-they-are status into choice seats up front. I simple chose to stand in the wings.

Alumni Sighting, Part II: Anne Stolz made an appearance at trombone circle, as did, drumroll please, Courtenay Verret. Hey, I remember her! Of course, was I smart enough to ask either of these girls what they were doing? Nope, as my family started to wander off towards the stadium.

How good were my seats?: Field level, front row, almost right behind the goal post. We almost got attacked by the field goal net several times. Oddly enough, there were at least three other members of the class of 2003 in the section.

Another game, another flyover: But they never get old. This time, two ND grads flew Navy FA-18s over the stadium as the National Anthem neared its end. Very cool.

The seats pay off: Mo Stovall's first TD was in the far corner of our end zone. From my vantage point, I couldn't see that the catch was one-handed, but I was in perfect position to see him get his left foot down in bounds.

The Band of the Fighting Irish: Some say the band dances too much these days, but they've been on a roll this November. During the Tennessee game, they played and danced to "Numa Numa," (video) and the student section loved it. I'd have to say it was the best student reaction to a dance break since the '99 USC game. In that game, Pete McCall was stationed in the corner closest to the students. His dance moves single handedly fired up the crowd, and that emotion led to the now historic comeback against the Trojans. This week, the band had the perfect encore. They played and danced to "Canned Heat," the dance number from Napoleon Dynamite.

Canned Heat: JT's annoucement was a classic. Talking about Napoleon's campaign to get Pedro elected school president: "But, it took more than [insert unnecessary JT emphasis] ligers [/emphasis], moon boots, and tater tots. It took skills. Here's 'Canned Heat.' Gosh!" JT, ever the pop culture afficionado, of course pronounced the "gosh" like Goofy's "gawrsh!" If that wasn't the highlight, though, it was the fact that I had a clear view of Paul Epstein's spot in dance block. Good ol' Paul made this former dance committee member proud with his moves.

"Darius is the man!": At one point, NBC went to TV timeout after Navy had punted the ball inside the 10. As the ND offense huddle, someone behind me shouted, "Darius is the man!" Walker turned, spotted the guy, and nodded and smiled in recognition.

The seats almost paid off again: On David Grimes' lone punt return, he was little more than a shoestring tackle away from running right into our endzone seats.

By the way: "Ooh, look at me, I had seats on the field!" Yeah, I'm done talking about them.

A fitting tribute: On Veteran's Day weekend, a short announcement asking to honor past and present veterans turned into an 80,000+ member standing ovation.

May I have your attention, please: In a postgame interview, Walker admitted that everyone on the sidelines stops to listen to Officer Tim McCarthy's safety announcement. On the set of the radio postgame show, Reggie Brooks admitted that he did the same during his playing days.

And they're smart, too: The Midshipmen in attendance were a lively bunch, standing the whole time. Well, almost the whole time. As yet another wave passed through their section, the entire group sat motionless. Stupid Pink Shirts.

Back to reality: As a pair of transport planes flew over the stadium, the Midshipmen booed in jest, however full knowing that that short weekend of frivolity would soon be over.

The Navy Blue & Gold: In a tradition normally reserved for the Army-Navy game, Charlie Weis had his players join the Navy players in the southeast corner of the stadium for the playing of Navy's alma mater following the game. You can't fake class, and you can't fake the fact that there are more impotant things than football.

Final cheers: I'd love to end this on the above note, but I did have one last anecdote. Lewis Johnson "wisely" decided to conduct his postgame interviews right in the middle of the band's formation. Drum Major Hunter Young gave Johnson a minute or two to move, and when he didn't, Young started the Victory March. Ah, NBC football coverage....

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Notre Dame 42, Navy 21


"Foreshadowing?" Courtesy AP/Joe Raymond

How good has Brady Quinn become? You could argue that he had a bad second half, as he tried to force the ball to Jeff Samardzija to continue his receiver's TD streak. He threw his first interception in 130 attempts, shortly after breaking Carlyle Holiday's record of 126 (2001-2002). He threw for less than 300 yards. And yet, he did complete almost 71% of his passes, threw for four touchdowns, and broke three passing records. Not only did Quinn break Holiday's attempts-without-completion record, but he also passed Jarius Jackson for season passing yards (2931 to2753, and Ron Powlus for career passing TDs (53 to 52). Not bad for a "career 50% passer."

Running Back: Let me start by saying that I had amazing seats for this game. I was in the first row of the south end zone field-level bleachers, just to the right of the goalposts. (Ooh, look at me!) At one point during the game, Navy punted the ball inside the five, and the Irish offense huddled not 20 yards from me during an NBC time out. Someone a few rows behind me stood up and yelled, "Darius is the man!" Walker turned to look directly at the guy, and smiled and nodded in approval. With the day he had, Walker could afford a smile. Again playing with a large wrap over his left thigh (courtesy BGS), Walker picked his way to 118 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. His long was only 15 yards, but again consistency was the key, as he finished with 6.2 yards per carry.
Travis Thomas also had a very nice day, gaining 58 yards on 11 carries with a TD. He continues to be a pleasant surprise in a bounce back season. Late in the game, Justin Hoskins finally got to see some time at tailback. He ran two times for a combined -1 yard.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp ran 3 times for 13 yards. Also, in two of the first pass plays designed to go his way, Schwapp had 2 receptions for 21 yards.


Courtesy (South Bend) Tribune Photos/Marcus Marter

From my seats, I didn't see that Mo Stovall's catch above was one-handed, but I was in perfect position to see Stovall stomp his left foot into the ground before falling out of bounds. What a catch! Before the game, Stovall and Anthony Fasano played catch, and practiced over-the-shoulder catches. Frank Leahy always preached preparedness for any situation, and this little drill by Stovall and Fasano paid off later in the game. Quinn lofted a ball to the corner of the very same end zone, and effortlessly Stovall looked over his shoulder and waited for the ball to land in his arms. With 8 catches, 130 yards, and 3 TD's to follow up his 14/200/4 day against BYU, Stovall's stock hasn't been this high since his infamous SI cover. My favorite Stovall moment, however, came in a post-game interview. This will show you how much the team believes in what Charlie Weis tells them. Stovall was asked if the gameplan was to exploit the size advantage the Irish receivers had over the Navy corners. No, Stovall replied, as if he was channeling Weis. "The gameplan was to execute our plays, both passing and running." Simple yet brilliant.
Being overmatched on talent, Navy's defense chose to shut down ND's biggest weapon, Jeff Samardzija, and hope for the best. The Midshipmen were able to keep The Shark out of the end zone, but in the end Notre Dame had too many other weapons. As it was, Samardzija still had 5 catches for 42 yards. Matt Shelton added a catch for 6 yards.

Tight End: If you thought Anthony Fasano was having an off season, you should now be able to rest easy. Fasano had 4 catches for 70 yards and a TD. The touchdown again showed the discipline and awareness of this Irish offense. Samardzija was coming across the field on a slant as Quinn threw the ball. The receiver started to reach his arms out for the pass, and then, realizing that the ball was a little too high and two hard, he pulled his hands back. The pass then hit Fasano right between the 8's for the score.

O-Line: 505 yards of offense, 221 rushing yards, and no sacks. The undersized Midshipmen did make five stops in the backfield, but for the most part the experienced Irish line gave its backfield time to run their plays.

D-Line: Derek Landri, the only returning starter on the line from last year's Navy game, showed his experience by leading the Irish down linemen with 7 tackles and 1 TFL. Despite being a nose tackle, he moved well from side to side to follow the ball. Trevor Laws and Victor Abiamiri weren't too far behind Landri, with 6 and 5 tackles respectively. Brian Beidatsch, Dan Chervanick, Ronald Talley, Justin Brown, and Pat Kuntz also contributed on the line, while Casey Cullen had yet another special teams tackle. Kuntz, however, is now on crutches after a right knee injury.

Linebacker: Defensive coordinator Rick Minter decided to play it safe on defense, telling the Irish to keep everything in front of them to avoid the big play (Navy's long run was 12 yards). Predictably, then, the team's leading tacklers were its three linebackers. Corey Mays had a huge day with 14 stops, while Brandon Hoyte added 9 and Maurice Crum, Jr. 7. Nick Borsetti, Anthony Vernaglia, Joe Brockington, Steve Quinn, and Anthony Salvador also contributed at linebacker.

Safety: Against the Navy "flexbone," Chinedum Ndukwe spent most of the game dropping down into a fourth linebacker position. He had a relatively quiet day from that position with only 4 tackles. Tom Zbikowski added 5 tackles and an interception from his free safety spot. David Bruton also contributed on special teams, as did Jake Carney at free safety and Ray Herring at strong safety.

Cornerback: With only 10 passes attempted by Navy, the Irish corners spent most of their days trying to fight off blocks to contain end runs. Mike Richardson had another solid day with 6 tackles, while Ambrose Wooden had 3. In their relief, Leo Ferrine and Terrail Lambert also contributed on defense.

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick didn't have to attempt a field goal, but he was perfect on 6 extra points.

Punter: The official scorebook shows Notre Dame with zero punts, but I could have sworn DJ had at least one.

Kick Returner: Tight end John Carlson took a short opening kick 14 yards. David Grimes added returns of 11 and 16 yards. In his first return since the beginning of the season, Justin Hoskins gained 13 yards late in the game.

Punt Returner: Tom Zbikowski had one return for eight yards. In his relief, David Grimes found some daylight, but was tripped up after 17 yards.

Special Teams: Slot back Karl Whittaker had a pretty good day as Navy's kick returner. His 6 returns average 26.5 yards, and he had a long of 39 yards.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Notre Dame Football 2005
Issue 9: Navy

Navy Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

The military academies are not blessed with size or the best pure football talent. But they do have athleticism and discipline. So, they have all adopted a "flexbone" option attack. Navy has been able to run the option to success over the past two seasons. Fullback Kyle Eckel and quarterback Aaron Polanco are out. Matt Hall and Lamar Owens are in. Hall and Owens aren't putting up the numbers that Eckel and Polanco did (133 yards per game to 177), but they are winning. With the 240 pound Eckel gone, Owens is the team's leading rusher at quarterback. Owens rushes 17 times per game for 73.1 yards. Hall runs 12 times per game for 60.4 yards. A trio of slot backs rotate between the two spots on the field. Reggie Campbell, Marco Nelson, and Karl Whittaker each run about 4 times per game for 30-40 yards. When necessary, Adam Ballard spells Hall at fullback to the tune of 5 rushes and 17 yards per game, while Brian Hampton comes in for Owens and runs 3 times for 10 yards.
As when facing any option attack, the key is discipline. The undersized Navy offensive line will try to cut block the Irish defensive line all day line. Derek Landri and Trevor Laws will have to find a way to maintain their balance so they can stop the fullback runs. Notre Dame will likely rotate linemen, so Brian Beidatsch will have to be on guard as well. Under Ty Willingham, Notre Dame defended the run by assigning an outside linebacker to the quarterback and the strong safety to the pitch man. Brandon Hoyte, excellent against the run, should be up to the task. He did have a great game against Navy last year. Maurice Crum, Jr. has the athletecism, but he will have to stay disciplined. They key against the option under Ty, though, was the play of the safety. Gerome Sapp was able to completely shut down the option, and that game no doubt helped attract NFL scouts. The next year, Glenn Earl was move to strong safety, and both he and the team struggled. This year, Chinedum Ndukwe is listed as strong safety, but I would imagine the more disciplined Tom Zbikowski would take the pitch assignment. Both safeties are good against the run, so once again the key is simply sticking to your assignment. Of course, this may all be moot if Rick Minter has a different scheme against the option. (Joe Yonto mirror defense anyone?)

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Navy Rush Defense

Darius Walker started the season like gangbusters, picking up four straight 100-yard games. But, he has garnered criticism for not putting up good numbers in the last two games. Of course, BYU flooded the box to stop the run, and Tennessee is the #5 run defense in the country, so coach Charlie Weis simply chose to run. Or, at least that's my opinion. Walker, whose average day is 85 yards on 20 carries, should be able to get back on track against an undersized 3-4, thanks in no small part to his offensive line. This game should also be a good opportunity for Travis Thomas to get some carries. Thomas is averaging close to 6 carries and 22 yards per game.
Navy is giving up 159.4 rushing yards per game. Put very simply, every who has wanted to run against the Midshipmen have put up at least 190 yards against them. As stated above, Navy runs a 3-4. Their top three tacklers are all linebackers - Rob Caldwell (96), Jake Biles (71), and David Mahoney (58).

Navy Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Owens' average day passing is 6 for 11 for 117 yards and an interception. (He has 4 TD passes in 8 games.) Owens' favorite receiver by far is wideout Jason Tomlinson. Tomlinson has 22 catches for 413 yards in 8 games. After Tomlinson, starting backs Marco Nelson and Reggie Campbell have combinedo for 18 catches and 269 yards. Navy does not employ a tight end in any formation, primarily because their base set uses three backs.
Both Owens and backup QB Brian Hampton are under 6 feet tall, so the Irish defensive line can make things easy just by keeping their hands up all day long. Of course, extending your arms exposes you to the cut block more, so there is the tradeoff. With one safety occupied on the run at all times, the corners will have to cover well, and the other safety will have to keep everything in front of him. Here's where I wish I was a defensive coordinator: With the athletic advantage, do you tell your Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden to play aggressively, going for the tip or the pick so they can become more comfortable doing that? Or, do you tell them to continue to play soft, knowing there's only one safety to cover the whole field?

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Navy Pass Defense

Yeah, the Notre Dame passing offense is pretty good. Brady Quinn's average day consists of completing 24 of 37 passes for 331 yards and 3 TDs. (Yes, that's three touchdowns per game!) Jeff Samardzija continues to tear through opposing defenses and the record books. His average day is 6 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown or two. Mo Stovall averages 5 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Fasano will get 4-5 catches and about 59 yards. Matt Shelton will pitch in with a few catches and 22 yards or so. And Darius Walker will turn three screen and string passes into 29 yards.
The Naval Academy is holding opponents to 182.2 passing yards per game. Then again, when you can run for close to 200 yards against Navy, why pass? No team has reached 300 yards passing against Navy this year, but Kent State did throw for 292 yards in a 34-31 loss to the Midshipmen. Navy has 22 sacks on the year, led by linebacker David Mahoney with 7. Tyler Tidwell, the fourth linebacker, had 5 sacks and leads the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss (Mahoney has 12.5 TFL). End John Chan has 4 sacks. As a team, Navy has 9 interceptions. Cornerbacks Keenan Little and Greg Thrasher and safety Greg Sudderth have 2 a piece.

Special Teams

Joey Bullen kicks field goals for the Midshipmen. He is 7 for 10, but 4 for 4 inside 30 yards. His long on the year is 46 yards.
Notre Dame kicker DJ Fitzpatrick is 9 for 11 on the year, missing from 48 and 35. His long is 48. How's this for a stat: when Fitzpatrick misses a field goal, Notre Dame loses by 3. That's an incredible coincidence, and I in no way place the blame on DJ for the MSU and USC losses.
Navy's Eric Shuey is averaging 38.7 yards per punt, with a long of 58 yards, 2 touchbacks, 6 fair catches, and 9 kicks inside the 20. He's averaging just under 4 punts per game. One of these days, I'm going to sit down and figure out of kicks inside the 20 and average punts per game can tell you anything about an offense's success. Or maybe I'll just get lazy and forget.
DJ averages 40.2 yards per punt, with a long of 60. He has 1 touchback, 2 fair catches, 7 kicks inside the 20, and 1 kick blocked. He also averages around 4 punts per game.
Navy has had used a variety of kick returners, but the main man has been running back Karl Whittaker. Whittaker is averaging 25.2 yards per kick with a long of 52. Fitzpatrick handles the kickoffs for the Irish. His 59.7 yard average puts the ball at about the 5. Notre Dame's kick return average against is exactly 20 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start of the 25. Fitzpatrick has 6 touchbacks.
David Grimes and DJ Hord are the deep men on kickoffs for the Irish. Grimes is averaging 23.9 yards on 8 returns, with a long of 40. Hord is averaging 18.8 on 5 returns, with a long of 36 yards. Joey Bullen kicks off for Navy. His 54.9 yard average puts the ball around the 10. Navy's 18.9 yard return average against puts opponents around the 29 on average. Bullen has 6 touchbacks, but also has put 5 kicks out of bounds.
Receiver Jason Tomlinson has been the only man to return punts for Navy this season. He's averaging 7 yards per return, with a long of 20.
In case you've been doing yardwork these past few Saturdays, I'll point out that Tom Zbikowski is Notre Dame's punt returners. He's averaging a whopping 35.8 yards per punt return, with a long of 83 yards. He's one of three players to have multiple punt return touchdowns this season.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Stovall, Landri, Hoyte, Zbikowski

Notre Dame 38, Navy 17: Walker, Thomas, Samardzija, Stovall, Fasano, and DJ gets a field goal following a turnover or punt return.

Navy Blogs

Fanblogs Navy

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

3Penn St (+2)Alabama (+1)Miami (+4)Penn St (+1)
4Miami (+2)Notre Dame (+2)Penn St (+5)Alabama
5Alabama (-1)Miami (+3)AlabamaMiami (+2)
6Va Tech (-3)LSU (+1)Va Tech (-3)Va Tech (-3)
7Notre Dame (+2)Penn St (+2)Notre Dame (+3)Notre Dame (+1)
8Georgia (+3)Georgia (+2)LSUOhio St (+1)
9Ohio St (+4)Va Tech (-6)Ohio St (+3)Oregon (+2)
10LSU (-3)FSU (+1)Georgia (+1)Georgia (-3)
11Oregon (+3)Ohio St (+1)Florida (+2)LSU (-5)
12UCLA (-4)Oregon (+1)Oregon (+3)UCLA (-2)
13Auburn (NR)Auburn (NR)UCLA (-9)TCU (+2)
14Florida (NR)Texas Tech (NR)WVU (NR)Wisconsin (-1)
15Wisconsin (-3)UCLA (-10)FSU (-9)WVU (NR)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Notre Dame Record Watch

Now that I have a little more free time during the week, I decided to attempt a weekly look at the team records Notre Dame has/will break this weeek. I had a great thought during the game on Saturday: 50 to 100 years from now, whenever a Notre Dame player has a great game/season/career, people will be saying that that player's numbers were the best by any Irish player since the Charlie Weis era. Then again, 50-100 ago, no one would have predicted 400-yard passing days, so maybe Charlie Weis V will be coaching an 800-yards-per-game quarterback in 2105.

Broken/Extended vs. Tennessee

Consec Games, TD PassBrady Quinn, 13Quinn, 12, '04-'05
Consec Games, TD ReceptionJeff Samardzija, 8Samardzija, 7, 2005
Consec Games, TD Reception to Start SeasonSamardzija, 8Samardzija, 7, 2005
TD Passes, SeasonQuinn, 23Quin, 20, 2005
TD Receptions, SeasonSamardzija, 12Derrick Mayes, 11, 1994
Career 250-yd Passing GamesQuinn, 12 

Broken Earlier This Season

TD Passes, GameQuinn, 6, BYUseveral, 4
TD Receptions, GameMaurice Stovall, 4, BYUseveral, 3
Receptions, GameStovall, 14, BYUJim Seymore, 13, 1966
Two Players, 10+ Receptions, GameStovall (14) and Samardzija (10), BYUnever
Pass Completions, GameQuinn, 33, MSUJoe Theismann, 33, 1970
Passing Yards, First HalfQuinn, 287, BYU 
Consec 100-yd Rushing Games to Start SeasonDarius
, 4, Pitt, Mich, MSU, Wash
Consecutive 300-yd Passing GamesQuinn, 3, MSU, Wash, Purdue 
300-yd Passing Games, SeasonQuinn, 4, MSU, Wash, Purdue, BYU 
400-yd Passing Games, SeasonQuinn, 3, MSU, Purdue, BYUTheismann '70, Quinn '04, 1
400-yd Passing Games, CareerQuinn, 4, Purdue '04, MSU, Purdue, BYUTheismann, 1

Records Likely to Fall This Season

Passing Yards, SeasonJarius Jackson, 2753, 1999Quinn, 6473971
Passing Yards, CareerRon Powlus, 7602, '94-'97Quinn, 70648388
Completion Percentage, SeasonKevin McDougal, 61.6%, 1993Quinn, 65.2%65.2%
Passing YPG, SeasonThiesmann, 242.9, 1970Quinn, 330.9330.9
Receptions, SeasonTom Gatewood, 77, 1970Samardzija, 5177
Receptions by TE, SeasonKen MacAfee, 54, 1977Anthony Fasano, 3654
Receptions by Back, SeasonBob Gladieux, 37, 1968Walker, 2639
Plays, CareerPowlus, 1201, '94-'97Quinn, 1088 
Total Yards, SeasonJackson, 3127, 1999Quinn, 27194079
Total Yards, CareerPowlus, 7479,
Quinn, 71578517

*With the Irish bowl eligible, Pace assumes a 12 game season.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Weekend in Review

Why I've suddenly become a Miller Lite fan: Friday night at Corby's, Pete and I were hanging out on the patio. Two Miller Lite girls came out, decked out in the appropriate company gear and referee shirts. Each had a case, and they began handing out free beer. One got to the last beer in her case and decided "this one's mine." After settling down, she spotted me standing there in my "I Love My Notre Dame Women's Basketball" shirt. "Hey," she said, "that's a great shirt!" She then attempted to read it: "I love... women's basketball!" After a pause, she reached for her ref's whistle, gave it a tweet, and gave me a thumbs up. Now, had I been smart, I would have asked for a picture. Had I been drunk, I probably would have awkwardly hit on her. Since I was neither, I simply smiled and returned the thumbs up.

Happy birthday, Pete and Sarah: At Corby's we held a birthday get-together for Pete and Sarah Paulson. After a while, Pete and Sarah decided to start a camera phone war against each other. (Pete, I'm still waiting for those pictures so I can post them....) Not to be left out, I pulled out my "cell phone," aka my hand, and "dialed": beep boop boop boop boop beep beep! Yes, this did become a vastly overused joke for me over the rest of the week.

"We love you Sam Sanchez!": After leaving Corby's (and after I attempted to buy Sarah as much booze as possible), Pete and I decided to head to The Backer. When we got there, we were in line behind Sam Sanchez and Dave Cieslak. As soon as Sam, Dave, Pete, and I got to the front of the line, they stopped letting people in. As we waited, a group of about five college girls spotted Sam as they left. "Hey, it's Sam Sanchez! We love you Sam Sanchez!" Sam turned to me and asked, "Were those girls talking to you?" "No man," I replied, "they were calling your name."

Quote of the Week: Pete and I never actually made it inside The Backer on Friday, unless you consider the foyer "inside The Backer." But, other members of the ND Club of Philly did. I was at the ND Club of Philly's BND tailgate the next morning when one of the guys admitted that Friday night was his first trip to The Backer. To that, another tailgater replied, "I can count on one hand the number of times I haven't been to The Backer."

A Gameday Tradition: At the tailgate, I was able to participate in one of the club's gameday traditions. At the top of every hour, everyone must take a new beer, and someone must say a toast. Even if you're just one sip into a new beer, you have to take a new one. If you open your beer before the end of the toast, you have to take a new one. Pete had explained this to me beforehand, but unfortunately I'm very absentminded. I had opened a new beer and taken one sip out of it when the announcement was made that it was 10 minutes to the top of the hour. Excellent timing on my part.

Jeers to the Leprechaun Legion wannabes: In the front row of the student section sat a group of guys in pink t-shirts. (Hmm, I wonder if they showed up early to get on TV?) This group of geniuses decided to start the wave while ND held a commanding 28-21 lead. Seated above the freshmen section, I loudly booed the wave as it passed.

Fans coming out of the woodwork: Over the past few weeks, I've discovered that I have a few more regular readers than I originally thought. For instance, Dave's brother Michael is a somewhat-regular reader, while Dave Cieslak once came across the site in a Google search. This past weekend, I found out that Yonto's grandma is also a reader. Here's how our conversation went:
"Do you still have that site out on the, you know..."
"My website? Yes, I do."
"Oh! I go to it every once in a while, but I can never understand it."
"Yeah, that's probably my fault."
So, Mrs. Yonto, if you're reading this, hello, thanks, and hopefully I can being less confusing in the future.

Words of wisdom from Coach Yonto: After the game, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at a family friend of the Yontos. There, in addition to my above discussion with Grandma Yonto, I also got to listen to Coach Yonto's advice to Nick on coaching basketball. (In case you haven't been following, here's how Nick's first game as a middle school coach went.) Here's what Coach Yonto had to say: "How hard can it be to coach basketball? You pull five guys off the street and tell them to put the ball in the bucket!" Sage words from the man who invented a defensive package that shut down the vaunted Texas wishbone multiple times in the '70s.

Other people I saw, but haven't mentioned yet:
Jason Elbert - Saw him at Corby's and again at bone circle. He's so old school, he knew me when I was still John.
Marcus Barlow - At Corby's, of course, and again at bone circle.
Klondike - Made a surprise appearance before Concert on the Steps along with Brittany's dad. Did anyone have any idea that he was coming?
F-Bomb & Brother - Ran into these two before Friday marchout (well, F-Bomb probably ran into me first). It was interesting to finally meet the man behind the football head.
Werner & Monk - Made an appearance at bone circle.
Jess Beguin - She was at all the normal pregame band things with Nick, and also went to dinner afterwards. And, if you're reading this, Jess, thanks for the smooth ride to Jim and Carol's.
Jon Byrer - Had fun sitting next to you at the game, even if you did use your cell phone once or twice. Glad you were able to use the ticket.
Paul Epstein and Dave Couling - Thanks for once again giving up your couch.
Dick Vitale - Once again, he was hanging out in the crowd waiting for the players to leave mass. He truly is a fan like the rest of us.

I'm sure I forgot something, so be sure to check the message board for more weekend goodness.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Notre Dame 41, Tennessee 21

Quarterback: Brady Quinn had a stretch where his throws were all just offline. (For a while during the game, I was considering giving receivers coach Rob Ianello and tight end coach Bernie Parmalee the Horse Trailer after tip-drill receptions by Jeff Samardzija and Anthony Fasano.) But, if completing 61% of your passes is an off day, I'll take it. The key thing was that Quinn didn't force anything. He had no interceptions, and took three sacks instead of throwing the ball up for grabs. It's all part of the maturation process that may be turning him into the best pro prospect in Division I.

Running Back: Tennessee came into this game with the fifth best rushing defense in the country. So, Charlie Weis came out throwing. However, once Notre Dame built a lead (which soon diminished), Darius Walker was able to pound out a few yards on the ground. Once again, there was nothing too fancy, but Walker was consistently able to get about 4 yards per carry. He ended the day with 62 rushing yards. Walker also added four catches for 34 yards. KankaManiac Nick Yonto theorized that Walker is much better in open space on draws then he is on running plays. At 5'11, 200 lbs., Walker isn't the biggest guy in the world, so Nick may be on to something.
This game saw Travis Thomas officially move into Rashon Powers-Neal's "power back" role. Thomas is bigger than Walker, but he's also supposed to be the "slasher." Seeing a fullback or power back dance around in the backfield on 3rd and short reminds me a little too much of the Bob Davie era. But hey, I'm no Robot Genius. Thomas ran for a combined loss of 7 yards, and combined gains of 22. Preferrably, you'd like to see your short yardage guy have as small a number as possible in that loss column.

Fullback: There was not much action for Asaph Schwapp in the stat book or on the field. As mentioned above, Notre Dame wanted to come out passing. As a result, three receiver sets were used quite often, leaving Schwapp on the sideline. He did finish with 3 carries for 1 yard.


Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

I think I need to start a new segment called "Fun with Perspective," using the weekly Jeff Samardzija/Maurice Stovall high-high-five picture. If you check out the picture in my BYU writeup, it looks like Jeff has jumped so high that he's smacked his head into the goalpost crossbar (a mere 10 feet above the ground). This week, the pair has jumped so high, their hands have cleared the top edge of the stadium! Yes, they are just that tall.
Samardzija once again put up big numbers. He also had me saying to myself, "yes, he's just that good" several times over the course of the game. He ended up with 7 catches for 127 yards, including two that were giant momentum changers. A 73-yard sprint down the sideline on what was otherwise a short pass took the ball down to the two. Then, on third down, Samardzija caught a swing pass and powered into the end zone. "I didn't try to make any moves," he said after the game. "I just tried to get into the end zone." So simple, yet so brilliant. Samadzija's starting to sound like his head coach.
You may recall the screen pass where Jeff Samardzija got absolutely pasted in the backfield. Well, it turns out that play was going to be a pass, and it was probably going to be a successful one. As Samardzija was getting his grip on the ball along the right sideline, Darius Walker was running left out of the backfield, basically unnoticed. It would have been almost a sure score, if only Samardzija had one extra blocker to pass protect. (By the way, since Samardzija became a passer on that play, it technically should have been credited as a sack. However, it looks like the official scorer missed that one.)
Stovall had a relatively quiet game, with only two catches for 41 yards. That didn't mean he had a bad game, though. First of all, in a game against a tough defense, where your QB's a little shaky, he's going to go to his most comfortable options. In this case, his favorite receiver (Samardzija - 7), his tight end (Anthony Fasano - 4), and his dump off option (Walker - 4) combined for 15 of Quinn's 20 completetions. Secondly, in a well-designed offense, there's more to being a receiver than just catching passes. In his press conference Sunday, Coach Weis praised Stovall for "several critical blocks." Oh, and the next time you want to complain that Stovall has bad hands, check out how close his TD reception was from being an overthrow.
Matt Shelton added 1 catch for 6 yards.

Tight End: As stated above, Anthony Fasano had four catches. His biggest one, though, was a 43 yard rumble down the sideline, aided by several key blocks. That play highlights the new tenacity of this offense. Fasano, and his blockers for that matter, could have settled for a 5-10 yard gain. Instead, he kept rumbling forward, and they kept blocking, until the Irish had 6.

O-Line: Coach Weis points out Dan Stevenson and Ryan Harris for their efforts this week. But, the whole line should be applauded for only giving up only three (or four) sacks to a great pass rushing team like Tennessee.

D-Line: After a few good weeks, the defensive line became quiet again. The unit combined for 9 tackles, led by Trevor Laws with 3.

Linebacker: The linebackers didn't have a spectacular day, but they were able to get into the backfield quite a bit. Corey Mays had 6 tackles, including 2.5 TFL and a sack. Maurice Crum, Jr. had five tackles, three for a loss. However, he did at times look lost in pass coverage. Brandon Hoyte added five tackles.

Safety: It was a stat-sheet-stuffer day for Tom Zbikowski. Not only did he have two return TDs - on a punt and then an interception - but he also shared the team lead with 9 tackles, adding a sack for good measure. Borrowing a page from Fasano's book, Zbikowski didn't go down easy on his interception return. He fought and stiffarmed his way through tackles until he was in the end zone. Why run past guys when you can run over them? This return, coupled with the punt return TD, led to chants of "Zibby! Zibby!" from the student section. After the game, Zbikowski joked that he was only trying to catch up to his friend Jeff Samardzija touchdown-wise.
Chinedum Ndukwe added 7 tackles and two pass breakups.

Cornerback: Mike Richardson is far from an All-American, but he does just keep making plays. Richardson forced two fumbles in this game and added another sack. Coach Rick Minter is not afraid to send Richardson on the blitz. In fact, in this game, he was not afraid to send anyone on the blitz. Richardson, Zbikowski, and Ndukwe all had at least one TFL, including Richardson's and Zbikowski's sacks.
Ambrose Wooden had 6 tackles, to go along with Richardson's team-leading 9. Why are their numbers so high week in, week out? The corners play soft coverage, letting the receiver catch the ball to make sure the play stays in front of them. I'm no football expert, so I'll let you form your own opinions on that.
Leo Ferrine had a typical Leo Ferrine day - he gave up a touchdown, but played well other than that. Leo had two tackles, and I believe he also recovered the fumbled Tennessee kickoff (which was wrongly credited to Darius Walker in the box score).

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick had three big kicks in this game: field goals of 36 and 28 yards, and a PAT after an illegal formation penalty. That doesn't seem like much in a 41-21 win, but those points were meaningful at the time.

Punter: DJ didn't have a spectacular day. He had 5 punts, one for under 20 yards, on his way to a 34.6 yard average. He did bounce back from that shank with a good kick, and he also managed to land one inside the 10.

Kick Returner: DJ Hord returned 3 kicks for an average of 26 yards, including a long of 36.

Punt Returner:

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

Write this down: in order to succeed in college football, you need to be able to recruit the Eastern European athlete. Zbikowski. Samardzija. Need I say more? (And did I mention I still have some eligibility left?)
By the way, is that Darius Walker's dad following Zbikowski into the end zone? No, it's backup safety David Bruton, but I'd love to know why Walker's family all wore Bruton jerseys to this game.

Special Teams: The Volunteers averaged 21.4 yards per kick return and 4.7 per punt return. Comparitively, the Irish averaged 39.8 yards per punt return.