Sunday, September 17, 2006

Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21

Quarterback: "It's Brady Quinn's Heisman to lose." Surely there were some football pundits (and unfortunately Heisman voters as well) who were waiting for a Saturday like this - Quinn has a terrible day against a big-time opponent, while Adrian Peterson racks up 216 yards against another big time opponent. Well, the good news is that it's still early, and Oregon's run defense doesn't have a stellar reputation, and Quinn did still manage to throw for 234 yards and 3 TDs.
Now the bad news. Quinn looked like the Quinn of old: 50% completion rate, an equal number of TDs and interceptions, and 48 pass attempts in a loss. Things that were excusable over the past two weeks - overthrows and forced passes - are suddenly glaring errors. (And hey, I probably excused that behavior more than anyone.) Often on third and medium-to-long, Quinn would ignore his shorter options in favor of a low-percentage deep ball. I'm not sure if that was a result of playcalling, the Michigan defense, or Quinn trying to force the issue. (Give Michigan credit - for most of the game it looked like the Wolverines were using the 15 defenders PSU wishes they had last week.)
On a positive note, Evan Sharpley completed the first pass of his Notre Dame career late in the game.

Running Back: Darius Walker was shut down in this game. This could be due to the large lead Michigan built or, as mentioned above, Quinn's wanting to force the issue - if that was the case. Walker did actually lead the team with 7 receptions, but only gained 35 yards. On the ground, he was held to a dismal 25 yards on 10 carries. Meanwhile, we're continuing to learn that Munir Prince is not a between-the-tackles runner. (Not yet, at least.)

Fullback: On a brilliantly designed play, Jeff Samardzija dragged right from his position as left wideout, and fullback Ashley McConnell slipped into the space vacated by Samardzija for an easy touchdown catch. Other than that catch, we didn't hear from McConnell much, partly because of the multi-receiver sets used in the attempted comeback. Asaph Schwapp did not practice all week, and did not make it into the game. He was on the sidelines in uniform, however.

Receiver: If there was one bright spot in this game, it was the emergence of David Grimes as another option in the passing game. Michigan did a great job of blanketing ND's other options, and Grimes responded with his first 4 catches and 48 yards of the season. Rhema McKnight wasn't completely "shut down," as he did finish with 5 catches, 76 yards, and a touchdown. Unfortunately, it would have taken a Stovallian effort (like Mo's against MSU last year) to keep this one close. McKnight appears to be evolving into Quinn's favorite receiver as all the attention continues to be paid to Samardzija. Samardzija did finish with 4 catches for 30 yards and a TD. Undoubtedly there are those who were waiting for an excuse to send Samardzija's stock plunging as well, and they may have found it.
Speaking of McKnight and Stovall, McKnight was once again called for holding on a receiver screen. Going into the NFL draft, Stovall was graded low on blocking skills, with the explanation that he held far too often. What's the truth? Are the receivers being taught to hold? Are they so good that everyone assumes it's holding just because they maintain the block so long? It may be a little of both. Or, it may be neither.

Tight End: One could say that the pass that deflected off of John Carlson's hands and went back for a Wolverines touchdown set the tone for the game. It was clear that Carlson didn't get his hands up quick enough. I'm assuming he wasn't prepared, but please correct me if it was Quinn's fault for throwing too soon. That being said, Carlson's tip would have been forgotten if the Irish had taken the lead soon afterwards, or if they would have won in the end. Carlson did finish with 3 catches for 42 yards.


Courtesy Bill Frakes/SI

Again, mistakes forgiven in the first two games are now glaringly apparent. The Irish were held to all of 4 rushing yards. Brady Quinn was sacked only 3 times, but he was hit all day. One of those hits to Quinn's throwing arm resulted in an interception. Bob Morton still looks like he's worried more about helping Sam Young than paying attention to his own assignment. I'll say this as well: Offensive linemen should only attract attention from fans and announcers when they're putting defenders on their backsides. John Sullivan drew my attention many times, and it wasn't because of his pancake blocks.

D-Line: The line finally put up a decent performance. But that's partially due to the number of times Mike Hart was able to run the ball (31), which is in turn due to Michigan's lead. Trevor Laws was second on the team with 10 tackles and recorded a sack. Victor Abiamiri was supposed to have a field day against Michigan's right tackle. Abiamiri did have 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 2 quarterback hits. But quarterback hits aren't quarterback sacks; Abiamiri had 0 of those. (That may just be sour grapes from me.) Looking at the numbers, Ronald Talley was more useful in this game than Chris Frome. Talley had 7 tackles to Frome's 0. For as many passes of Chad Henne's that Notre Dame knocked down last year, they only had one this year. That came from Derek Landri, who added 6 tackles.

Linebacker: The linebacking corps is sill a work in progress. Do they need abstract ideas like "tenacity," "leadership," and a "dominating presence"? Or do they just need to start making plays? Maurice Crum had 6 tackles, which is great in a supporting role, but not so much as the leader of this unit. Travis Thomas' work in progress turned in another decent performance with 3 tackles, including a sack. Mitchell Thomas continued to struggle. He had 3 tackles, but all were assists.

Safety: Chinedum Ndukwe did a bit of everything in this game. He led the team with 11 tackles, had a key interception on a great read, and aided on a stop in the backfield. But his day wasn't perfect. Mario Manningham's first touchdown, the one where Ambrose Wooden bit on the out and up, Ndukwe also blew coverage. Ndukwe was back deep on that side of the field, but completely ignored Manningham as the receiver ran by. Unfortunately, on the one TV replay that I noticed this, I didn't see if Ndukwe was reacting to another receiver on a short route or simply had a mental lapse. Tom Zbikowski turned in another day at the office with 8 tackles.


Courtesy John Biever/SI

Wooden did bite on the out of Manningham's out-and-up touchdown. Was he inspired by Ndukwe's interception to make his own big play? Wooden's failure to make both the big play and the disciplined play is reminiscent of Mike Goolsby's attempted strip in the 2004 Pitt game. Again, discipline was the key, and Wooden didn't show it. In nickel packages, Manningham was Terrail Lambert's responsibility. Lambert ended up turning in more Michigan poster shots as tackles (2). Was that the fault of Lamber, or Michigan's playcalling, or ND's? Or was it Chad Henne? Last year, Notre Dame beat Michigan largely because Henne couldn't connect on wide open deep balls. This year he did, and it was the difference. Wooden had 2 tackles, while Mike Richardson added 3 tackles, one for a loss, and a pass breakup.

Kicker: Carl Gioia did not get a field goal attempt in this game. Bobby Renkes wasn't kicking as deep as he has been. It would have helped to know how the wind was blowing. But, like most current announcers, Tom Hammond and Pat Haden neglected to give their viewers pertinent information.

Punter: Geoff Price had another great day at the office. Unfortunately, he reported for duty 7 times on Saturday. Price averaged 51.9 yards per kick, with a long of 59.

Kick Returner: David Grimes and George West looked lost on kick returns. As the sophomore, Grimes should have taken leadership. The 175-pound West, meanwhile, learned that he can't stiffarm D1 fullbacks.

Punt Returner: Michigan did a great job of kicking away from Tom Zbikowski. In his lone return attempt, Zbikowski was held to 4 yards.

Special Teams: I've berated Notre Dame's punt return formation all year. Specifically, ND was single-teaming the opposing gunners. This week they chose to double-team one of the two gunners. Well, guess what? Each time, the single-teamed gunner was right there when the ball got downfield. On a positive note, Casey Cullen was once again a special teams monster. This week his effort showed in the stat sheet, as he recorded 4 tackles.