Thursday, November 30, 2006

Go Bobcats

Beat Chippewas!

Be sure to catch the Marathon (as in the oil company, not as in "really long") MAC Championship game tonight at 7:30 on ESPN. My Ohio University will face Central Michigan - the alma mater of Dick Enberg, Kevin White, and Dan Majerle. Check out the game notes.

As a current student, I was offered a free ticket to this game at Ford Field, albeit on late notice. I decided to decline in the hopes that Ohio would win, earning them a trip to the Motor City Bowl - also at Ford Field. I would definitely take a free ticket to that one, I thought. Alas, the Motor City Bowl eschewed the tradition of taking the MAC champion and instead invited local team Central Michigan, regardless of the outcome of tonight's game. Ohio will head down to the GMAC Bowl in Alabama. Here's the MAC bowl schedule - note that somehow the MAC managed to sneak two bowls into the week between the BCS games and the BCS National Championship game. Huh.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Devil's Advocate

I posted some discussion questions on the message board. Feel free to throw in your two cents.

USC 44, Notre Dame 24

Quarterback: It was shades of the Ty Willingham days, as Brady Quinn was forced to throw 45 times, completing only 22 of them. To his credit, he once again didn't make any stupid mistakes - intead of forcing the ball, he threw it where no one could get it. Quinn finished with 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also finished with 74 rushing yards, thanks to the soft pass defefense USC could afford to play with a huge lead.

Running Back: Like Quinn, Darius Walker moved the ball fairly well on the ground, going 56 yards on 14 carries. Of course, it would have been nice to see how Walker would have done without the Irish spotting USC a 21 point lead. USC did step up on obvious running downs: Travis Thomas rushed once for -3 yards, and James Aldridge ran twice for a combined 0 yards. Aldridge should get credit for keeping his knees off the ground on a then-important fourth-down conversion. In what was perhaps a very telling stat, Walker was held to 0 yards receiving on 1 catch.

Receiver: Rhema McKnight ended up with a rather nice day - 6 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. However, it was his key drops in the first half that swung momentum USC's way. Jeff Samardzija added 6 catches of his own for 79 yards and a touchdown. David Grimes showed that the receiving corps will be in decent hands next year by adding two acrobatic catches of his own for 34 yards. Grimes also russed for 2 yards out of the backfield on a busted trick play. In a move that went largely unnoticed, George West came in on a five-receiver set on the last drive and recorded 2 receptions for 14 yards.

Tight End: Marcus Freeman may not be able to stretch defenses like John Carlson can, but Freeman still did a commendable job as a pass catcher. Freeman had 5 receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown.

O-Line: The line did fairly well to a point. Then things got ugly and the concentration collapsed, leading to many false start penalties. I did like the use of backup tackles Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich as short-yardage/max protect tight ends, and they played well in that role. In an ideal situation, perhaps one of them could have had the chance to slip downfield to make a catch.

D-Line: Those who have criticized Notre Dame's lack of a pass rush since the end of last season will no doubt be back after this game. The line combined for just 7 tackles; Victor Abiamiri had none. Trevor Laws made a very heads-up and athletic play to get an interception off a screen attempt. However, as was the story of the game, the Irish were unable to cash in when it mattered most.

Linebacker: Here's where waiting for the ball to come to you, instead of moving to the ball, hurts. Maurice Crum tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, but often found himself out of position both on runs and passes. Joe Brockington added 6 tackles and the team's lone sack. Travis Thomas, Mitchell Thomas, and Torrian Smith all rotated into the game at one point, but none recorded a single tackle.

Safety: In case you didn't notice, Chinedum Ndukwe had to leave the game at the end of the third quarter. Actually, he had been out since the beginning of the third quarter - and perhaps the end of the third. How many people were in the ESPN/ABC booth, and how many people didn't notice that? David Bruton came in for Ndukwe and promptly got burned on a hitch-and-go. Bruton did finish with 2 tackles. Tom Zbikowski finished with 5 tackles, although that number seems high. Zbikowski spent most of the night standing next to the downed ballcarrier with his hands on his hips, instead of actually trying to make a play on said ballcarrier while the ball was still in play. Come to think of it, I'm not sure Zbikowski's hands ever left his hips on defense.

Cornerback: Now is as good a time as any to mention this: Notre Dame and USC both finished with exactly 404 yards of total offense. Both offenses made five trips to the end zone. That shows you how football is a game of opportunity. SC converted 5 of 11 third downs, 2 of 2 fourth downs, and had 4 TDs and a field goal in the red zone (in addition to a 43-yard touchdown pass and a kick return touchdown). The Irish were 7 of 18 on third down, 2 of 6 on fourth down, and scored 3 touchdowns and a field goal in the red zone. Now, that doesn't all rest on the Irish corners' shoulders, but I had to mention it somewhere. That being said, I haven't seen the defense look that lost pre-snap since a certain color commentator was patrolling the Irish sidelines. Mike Richardson was everywhere for the Irish, tying for the team lead with 9 tackles and 1 interception. Terrail Lambert had 3 tackles.

Kicker: Carl Gioia converted a 27 yarder, and made all three PAT attempts. Early in the game, Charlie Weis decided to eschew a 47-yard field goal attempt. However, again, is it really walk-on Carl Gioia's fault that Ty Willingham didn't leave the team with any scholarship placekickers?

Punter: Perhaps the pressure got to Geoff Price. Price averaged 39 yards on 3 punts, with a long of 41. That's actually decent for a college punter, but it wasn't Price's best day out there.

Kick Returner: In a wise move, Coach Weis replaced fumble-prone freshman George West with veteran Tom Zbikowski on kickoffs. Zbikowski returned 5 kicks 107 yards, with a long of 28. David Grimes returned one kick 17 yards, and a second 18 yards.

Punt Returner: Not applicable. USC did punt 3 times. One was blocked, and the other two managed to stay away from Zbikowski.

Special Teams: On the plus side, reserve linebacker Steve Quinn blocked a punt that was recovered by Chase Anastasio. On the minus side, the Irish coverage teams allowed a 43-yard punt return, and their onside kick attempt was returned for a crushing touchdown.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 12: USC

USC Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

23 Chauncey Washington bears the load for the USC ground game, but he shouldn't be considered a workhorse. He is strong at 6'1, 220, but he averages only 14 carries and 70 yards per game. Backing up Washington is 25 CJ Gable, who has averaged 6 carries and 25 yards per game. Washington and Gable will have to work together to make up for 26 Emmanuel Moody's producted. The injured Moody had averaged 9 carries and 50 yards per game. Washington leads the team with 8 rushing touchdowns, so look for him in the end zone. USC has a stable of running backs, and Pete Carroll has tried his best to keep all happy. 21 Allen Bradford and 13 Stafon Johnson average two carries per game. Fullback 37 Ryan Powdrell, receiver Vidal Hazelton, and return man/tailback Desmon Reed average one carry per game. Looking at Hazelton and Reed's numbers, I'd say that the Irish defense needs to be ready for some razzle dazzle. The defense probably doesn't have to worry about QB 10 John David Booty's legs, as he's netted -41 yards on the year.
Notre Dame's run defense has been less than spectacular, giving up 126.8 yards per game on the ground. Maurice Crum leads the team with 83 tackles, including 9.5 stops for a loss.

ND Rush Offense vs. USC Rush Defense

Darius Walker is averaging 20 carries and 99 yards per game. However, those numbers are skewed by great games against weak teams and so-so games against good teams. However, those performances against good teams are the result of many factors, not just Walker's running ability. James Aldridge has established himself as Walker's backup. Aldridge is averaging 6-7 carries and 27 yards per game. However, against the Trojans, Charlie Weis may choose to go to the veteran Travis Thomas, who had a TD against USC last year.
The Trojans are giving up 92 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers 55 Keith Rivers and 58 Rey Maualuga lead the team with 67 and 66 tackles respectively. Rivers, Maualuga, and 10 Brian Cushing - a familiar name, I'm sure - have combined for 16.5 tackles for a loss on a squad that has made 60 total stops in the backfield.

USC Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

A new year, a new quarterback for USC, and the numbers are still impressive. On average, 10 John David Booty completes 20 of 32 passes for 242 yards and 2 TDs. He's thrown 6 interceptions over the course of the season. 2 Steve Smith is the team's leading receiver with 55 catches and 8 touchdowns. 8 Dwayne Jarrett missed a game, but he's not far behind Smith with 48 catches and 7 TDs. Smith is averaging 87 yards per game and Jarrett 68. The number 3 receiver is wideout 1 Patrick Turner, who is averaging 3 catches and 25 yards per game. Tight end 83 Fred Davis averages 2-3 catches and 21 yards per game. Receiver 82 Chris McFoy will return from an injury. In 4 games, McFoy had 10 catches for 99 yards. Tailback Chauncey Washington is averaging 1 catch and 9 yards per game.
Notre Dame is holding opponents to 186 passing yards per game. Terrail Lambert leads the team with 3 interceptions, but Chinedum Ndukwe and Mike Richardson are right behind with 2. The Irish have gotten decent production out of their safeties, as Ndukwe (82) and Zbikowski (64) are second and third on the team in tackles. The defensive linemen aren't too far behind. Derek Landri has 62 tackles, 15 for a loss, including 7 sacks. Trevor Laws has 57, 8.5, and 3.5, while Victor Abiamiri has 42, 14.5, and 10.

ND Pass Offense vs. USC Pass Defense

Booty's numbers look very good, until you put them next to Brady Quinn's. Quinn's average day consists of completing 23 of 35 passes for 273 yards and 3 TDs. Once again, Quinn's primary target is Jeff Samardzija, who has 64 catches, 879 yards, and 10 TDs on the year. He's averaging 80 yards per game. Rhema McKnight has 58 catches for 776 yards and leads the team with 14 touchdowns. Darius Walker has 53 catches for 361 yards. Without John Carlson's 46 catches and 621 yards, another receiver will have to step up. David Grimes has made a living on out routes over the past few weeks, to the tune of 23 catches and 278 yards. But Carlson's speciality was owning the seams. Were Grimes' out routes for show, meaning he'll be the option over the middle this Saturday? Or will that middle option be Marcus Freeman or one of the freshman tight ends?
Playing in the Pac-10, USC is holding opposing passers to 196 yards per game. Linebacker 42 Dallas Sartz and defensive end 96 Lawrence Jackson are tied for the team lead with 4 sacks, so look for both Irish tackles to be busy. 29 Taylor Mays, a safety, leads the team with 3 picks, while corner 28 Terrell Thomas has 2.

Special Teams

Junior 19 Mario Danelo has made 12 of 13 field goals on the year, after making 11 of 12 last season. His long is 44 yards. Fullback/safety 14 David Buehler was called upon for a 49 yard field goal try last week, and he converted. Carl Gioia has converted only 7 of 11 field goals, but he's 7 of 8 from 40 yards or less. And it's not Gioia's fault that Ty Willingham didn't leave the team with any scholarship place kickers.
44 Greg Woidneck is the Trojans punter. Woidneck is averaging 3.5 punts per game and 38.8 yards per punt, with a long of 59. Geoff Price has continued to boom punts. Price is averaging 45.7 yards per kick, with a long of 62.
CJ Gable is USC's primary kick returner. Gable is averaging 27.6 yards per return with a long of 55. As the kickoff specialist, Ryan Burkhart is averaging 59.2 yards per kick, with 8 of 42 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame's special teams are giving up 19.9 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start on the 25.
David Grimes and George West return kicks for the Irish. While he hasn't broken a "huge" return (his long is 50), David Grimes does have an impressive 26.6 yard average. George West is averaging 20.3 yards per return with a long of 33. 17 Troy Van Blarcom is USC's kickoff specialist. He's averaging 62.7 yards per kick, and 35 of 59 kicks have been touchbacks. USC is giving up 18.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 21.
Desmond Reed is back as USC's punt returner. He's averaging a mere 3.9 yards per return with a long of 11. The Irish are giving up a mediocre 11 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski returns punts for the Irish. There's no need to remind everyone what he did last year against USC. Zbikowski is averaging 9 yards per return, with a 52-yards touchdown being his long. USC's punt coverage team is surrendering 9.1 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, McKnight, Freeman, Ryan Harris and the offensive line, Landri and the defensive line, Richardson.

ND 31, USC 27: McKnight, Samardzija, Travis Thomas, one of the freshman tight ends, and Gioia drills one. Beat SC!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

KankaNation-Related Things I'm Thankful For

Editor's Note: ND-USC preview coming tomorrow... I hope.
  • A loving family, a good job, a challenging master's degree program, a roof over my head, and all that good stuff.

  • The chance to buy drinks - and not flowers - for a veteran of Iraq this weekend.

  • Great friends who put up with my inane ramblings. You guys are what keeps this site going. I'm just happy to do anything I can to facilitate our keeping in touch.

  • Those interwebs. Without them, this shy cellphone-less nerd probably wouldn't talk to any of his college friends any more.

  • Aw shucks, all my friends. Group hug, you guys.

  • The complete strangers - and new friends - who read this site on a regular basis. (To the person from Surrey, BC: I understand that your Thanksgiving is in October, so I apologize for this being a month late.)

  • The blogs who link to me. Their writing is a million times better, yet they still don't mind giving me a few residual readers.

  • Klondike's javascript skills. They've turned an annoying looking site into an annoying-looking site with cool "animated" thing-a-ma-bobs.

  • FireFox 2.0's built-in spellchecker. Because I can't read or write.

  • Ohio University, for choosing the quarter system. I'm on break through the end of the year, so I'll finally be able to update this site regularly. Maybe.

  • The future generation of bones, and the great parents who I know will raise them properly.

  • Coed softball. Trust me - it's awesome. Plus, if you join the fall league, you get to play through November!

  • A football coach with character, class, and a never-say-die attitude.

  • Three pro programs on the rise. Now all we need is a little patience.

  • Little rubber wristbands. The may be overused, or out-of-style, but for some there a great reminder to keep your priorities in check.

  • Advance thanks for safe travels this holiday weekend.

  • Football weekends at ND. Whether it's The Backer, or the game, or just sitting around someone's apartment telling old stories, I can never get enough Saturday trips.

  • The chance to spend four years at Our Lady's University. I don't know what it was, but I got really nostalgic last weekend, from the time I spotted the library, dome, and basilica from the turnpike. And is it starting to get dusty in here right now?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

But Don't Take My Word For It

It was an unusually busy day here in the 'Nation. Here's a recap of the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning posts, for your reading enjoyment:

Kanka's Army Weekend in Review

Aflac's Fantasy Football Minute

Notre Dame/USC: Redemption and Glory, by Dave

Redemption and Glory

by Dave Schmitt, Special to KankaNation

Unbridled joy and ecstasy are part of what makes college sports so great. Every player and student should experience a night that makes them reach for the heavens and thank God for putting them in that time and place. No matter what came after, Rutgers will always have that Thursday night in Piscataway, and Valparaiso will always have the Bryce Drew shot. October 15, 2005 was supposed to be such a night.

It was all set up so perfectly. After Weis, Quinn, & Co. unleashed unexpected devastation against lesser foes, in came the great Trojan squad, loaded with future NFL stars in their collegiate primes. The game was at home, the echoes were awakened by the presence of Irish royalty, and the thunder shook down with the sight of the dark green jerseys. The Irish went punch-for-punch with USC all the way, capped by an explosive punt return TD and Quinn’s brilliant 87-yard TD drive. Then, Leinart made an impossible throw, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and in the confusion Bush pushed Leinart into the end zone for the incredible final note. Until my dying day, I will believe that Notre Dame came as close to winning that game as a team can possibly come without actually being credited with the win. It was supposed to be ours. Only a miraculously stunning turn of events kept it from being the last night of the Trojan dynasty.

13 Months later, USC has reloaded, but although some familiar faces like Stovall, Fasano, and Hoyte have graduated, the Irish are back almost entirely intact. Redemption and glory are still attainable. Revenge, nearly inevitable. Imagine what it must have been like for these players, to deal with the impact of that loss, a game they wanted more than any other after the humiliation of three previous 31-point defeats. They have sat on this for 13 months now. It is time for this special group of guys to win this game. Just look at the personalities and talents on this squad. Quinn, the rocket-armed golden boy. Samardzija, the two-sport clutch baller who is the envy of every young boy playing in a backyard. Harris, the four-year starter on the offensive line who expected much better than he got in the first half of his career. Abiamiri, the superhyped recruit who is finally learning to dominate. Zbikowski, the boxer and hard-hitting safety. McKnight, the wise old sage who didn’t get to play in this game last year. Landri, the man from Southern California who took a flyer on the Irish and would like to stick it to his hometown team. A Hollywood casting director couldn’t come up with a better group of stories. They are among the most beloved group of players in ND history. It’s time for their moment of glory.

The leader of this bunch, Charlie Weis, likes to downplay emotion and stick to the business of playing sound assignment football. This works well in the pros, where the guys are all getting paid and their main motivation is to improve for their next paycheck. But in college, they are playing for their school and their pride. Especially in this game – ND almost certainly is out of the running for the title, Quinn probably can’t overtake Troy Smith for the Heisman, and one last game likely won’t change the draft stock of too many of these guys. They are playing for one thing this week: to avenge last year’s game and the beatings that came before it. Hopefully Charlie will see it this way. This is one week where emotion is important.

This team has serious flaws, defensively and in the running game. USC will not be an easy task by any stretch. But Notre Dame squads have beaten the odds many times before. This one must be won for the glory of Notre Dame, Our Mother. Beat SC.

Fantasy Football

by Aflac. That's what she said.

So one of my coworkers set up a fantasy football league, and I got talked into joining. I didn't expect to win the whole thing, but I thought I'd be able to put together an average team -- this is not the case. I routinely get clobbered. I've been trying to figure out why, and I've gotten it down to two things: ignorance and indifference.

Ignorance: While I enjoy a good football game regardless of who's playing, I don't pay much attention to the names of the individual players. I might remember them during the game, but five minutes later I'll just remember that "some guy" had a ton of rushing yards. This has caused me to draft a team full of Steelers and former Irish players since those are the names that I remember. It doesn't help that the Steelers are having a rough year. Now you're probably saying: "But Aflac, even if you didn't get a good team in the draft, you can still build one through trades and picking up free agents." I'm glad you brought that up. That's where indifference comes into play.

Indifference: I have a lot of trouble caring about a pretend football game that involves no action and all statistics. I have no desire to spend time and energy on something so intangible. The other guys spend hours poring over their teams and proposing potential trades. I, on the other hand, have barely touched my team since the draft. The reason, I think, is that I just don't waste my fantasies on football. At the top of my list is the one involving the big house, the speedboat, and the Ferrari - followed closely by the one involving Jessica Simpson, a can of Cool Whip, and a 9-iron. The one involving Payton Manning throwing passes to T.O. is all the way at the bottom of the list.

So that's my explanation for doing so poorly. The whole thing turned out to be more involved and more boring than I initially anticipated. So, if I get roped into playing again next year, I'll likely be tapping the KankaManiacs for advice, because I'm clearly incapable of doing it myself.

The Weekend in Review

"Wow, I still do WIRs?" Edition

Pep Rally

Friday night, I snuck into the pep rally. (I won't say how, to avoid copycat crimes, but let's just say that Sarah isn't the only tall person in her family.) I like the new leprechaun - he's very fired up about football. So much so, in fact, that he replaced Chuck Lennon as pep rally MC. Don't worry though - Chuck Lennon was still able to make a cameo appearance to raise the roof and shake down the thunder.
One of the highlights came during Dan Santucci's speech. Santucci was talking about the highs and the lows the seniors had been through. Then he mentioned the "tragic loss" that they faced - and the crowd went dead silent. The tragic loss, of course, was the closing of Boat Club.

Women's Soccer 3, Colorado 0

The women played Colorado in the third round of the NCAA tournament Friday night. I only caught the first half, but the Irish were on the attacke most of the time, with the ball rarely crossing the midfield stripe. I also had a great view of a corner kick that was headed in for the second goal.

Hockey 4, MSU 1

Tried to go to this one, but it had been sold out since noon Friday. I hear it was a great game, though.

Drummer's Circle

At the circle, a random Class of '74 alum spotted my band jacket and struck up a conversation that lasted the entire 45-minute "set" played by the drummers. He wasn't in the band, and neither were many of the people in the impressively huge crowd that showed up that night.

Saturday Pregame

Our pregame tailgate was brought to you by Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I kid you not.

Last Hurrah

As the Irish came out of the tunnel before the game, Rhema McKnight trailed the pack. He was snapping pictures of anything and everything as he jogged in. Bob Morton did a little haka-like dance for the student section. Before ND's final possession, as the offense loitered on the field, the band began to shout "Brady! Brady!" Quinn gave a sheepish smile and wave. McKnight ran over to Quinn, looked at the band, and pointed as if to say, "Is this the one you want?" McKnight then pushed Quinn forward and raised his arm like a referee does for a victorious boxer. The band then changed their chant to "Rhema! Rhema!"

Saturday Postgame

Coach Yonto was in good mood following the game. He joked that you could have taken any 11 midgets off the quad and won that game... or any 11 trombones, even.

Women's Basketball 87, Western Michigan 67

Each section of the stands was assigned a player, and given an appropriate homemade sign. Our section was given Charel Allen, so we were given signs that said "A+". I used this as an opportunity to heckle the band and grade their performance, even though they were half an arena away and had no chance of hearing me.
The team had its good moments and its bad moments. Freshman Ashley Barlow is a tough player. She dove after loose balls and forced several jump balls and turnovers. In the end, she was credited with 6 steals. At one point, I joked to Sarah that there may be a few times this season when Barlow finishes with more steals than points scored. And then Barlow started shooting. She finished with a team-high 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three-point range.
Like I said, the team had its ups and downs. Melissa D'Amico could teach the men's team a thing or two about boxing out. The continued to shoot free throws well. They also displayed great ball movement and great cuts to the basket at times - but those things don't do any good when you miss 10 easy layups.
It's an exciting young team, but still a work in progress.

Celebrity Sightings

I always seem to see one or two famous faces. This time, Yonto, Jess and I were almost run over by a golf cart carrying Don Criqui as we walked by the stadium on the way to Concert on the Steps.
If he counts as a celebrity, I was sitting down the aisle from irishoutsider and introduced myself. Unfortunately, it didn't look like Trev was able to make the trip.


I also always seem to meet a new reader or two every time I visit ND. This time, I learned what a great recruiter Yonto has been. He has obviously inherited the Coach's recruiting skills; the Coach was Ara's east coast recruiter, landing players such as Joe Theismann and Ken MacAfee. Yonto has made readers out of roommate Wally and girlfriend Jess. Also, his cousin (uncle?) Bob stumbled across this site, and is now a fan.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 11: Army

Look for a big game from:
95 Abiamiri, Victor Defensive Line23 Anastasio, Chase Wide Receiver49 Augustyn, Matt  Running back56 Borseti, Nick  Linebacker52 Brockington, Joe Linebacker7 Cardillo, Craig  Wide Receiver89 Carlson, John  Tight End64 Chervanick, Dan  Offensive Line60 Cullen, Casey  Defensive Line87 Freeman, Marcus  Tight End75 Frome, Chris  Defensive Line45 Gioia, Carl  Kicker68 Harris, Ryan  Offensive Line35 Kenney, Tim  Defensive Back66 Landri, Derek  Defensive Line98 Laws, Trevor  Defensive Line91 Leitko, Travis  Defensive Line27 Lyons, John  Running Back79 Mattes, Brian  Offensive Line35 McConnell, Ashley Running Back5 McKnight, Rhema  Wide Receiver76 Morton, Bob  Offensive Line18 Ndukwe, Chinedum Defensive Back17 Price, Geoffrey  Punter10 Quinn, Brady  Quarterback96 Renkes, Bobby  Kicker30 Richardson, Mike Defensive Back83 Samardzija, Jeff Wide Receiver50 Santucci, Dan  Offensive Line57 Stephenson, Jr., Dwight Defensive Line78 Sullivan, John  Offensive Line47 Thomas, Mitchell Linebacker26 Thomas, Travis  Linebacker/Running Back22 Wooden, Ambrose  Defensive Back9 Zbikowski, Tom  Defensive Back

ND 38, Army 14: Scores from Anastasio, Freeman, Travis Thomas, Wooden, Zbikowski, and Gioia.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Notre Dame 39, Air Force 17

If you'll excuse me for mailing another one in...

Quarterback: Brady Quinn completed 74% of his passes and had 4 TDs against 0 interceptions. Not a bad day at the office.

Running Back: If it's possible to have a quiet 153 yard rushing day, Darius Walker had one - on only 15 carries. James Aldridge added 27 yards on 5 carries.

Receiver: Jeff Samardzija's back. Samardzija had 6 catches for 106 yards and a TD. Rhema McKnight added 3 for 53 and a score, and David Grimes had 2 for 16.

Tight End: The good news is that Marcus Freeman recorded his first career touchdown. The bad news is that John Carlson is out for the next 2-4 weeks with a knee injury.

O-Line: As a team, the Irish averaged 6.5 yards per rush.

D-Line: Derek Landri had 11 tackles, a new career high. Trevor Laws added 8 tackles and blocked a field goal. Pat Kuntz and Justin Brown combined for a sack.

Linebacker: Joe Brockington had a career high in tackles as well; Brockington finished with 16.

Safety: On a day when Tom Zbikowski only had 2 tackles, Chinedum Ndukwe picked up the slack by recording 22.

Cornerback: Mike Richardson had 8 tackles, including 1 for a loss. Terrail Lambert ran Trevor Laws' blocked field goal 76 yards for a touchdown.

Kicker: It was a tough day for Carl Gioia, as he had 2 PATs blocked and missed a third.

Punter: Geoff Price had two punts - one for 48 yards, and 1 for 46.

Kick Returner: Nick Possley got his name in the stat sheet by falling on an onside kick in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams: In the long run, the block returned for a touchdown made up for the two blocked PATs. Not counting Possley's onside kick recovery, Air Force held the Irish to zero returns on 5 chances (three kicks, 2 punts, plus the onsides).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 10: Air Force

Air Force Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Like Navy, Air Force lives and dies with the run. Halfback 1 Chad Hall, a converted quarterback, leads the way with 13 carries and 74 yards per game. Quarterback 5 Shaun Carney averages 16-17 carries and 65 yards per game. The two fullbacks are each averaging 7-10 carries and just over 40 yards per game. 21 Ryan Williams weighs in at 215 pounds; 8 Jacobe Kendrick is the largest player in the Falcons backfield at 6', 230. In comparision, Carney is 5'9, 190, and Hall is 5'7 1/2, 170. Halfback 24 Chad Smith is averaging just over 2 carries a game, and third string fullback 40 Scott Peeples is averaging 3-4 carries a game.
It took Notre Dame some time to adjust to Navy's option, but they figured it out by the second half. That experience should carry over into this game. Against the Mids, Tom Zbikowski got the pitchman assignment and led the team with 14 tackles. Derek Landri and Maurice Crum patrolled the middle of the line and recorded 11 tackles each. With Air Force averaging 20+ fullback carries per game, look for similar numbers from Landri and Crum.

ND Rush Offense vs. Air Force Rush Defense

Despite the criticism, Darius Walker is averaging 85.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry on the season. He has also managed to average exactly 20 carries per game. James Aldridge has established himself as the team's #2 back. Aldridge is third on the team in carries (behind Walker and Brady Quinn and second in yards (99) and yards per game (33). Travis Thomas is averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 10 rushes, largely thanks to the fake punt against PSU. The telling stat for Thomas is that he's yet to be stopped for a loss. Munir Prince has, and he's averaging a mere 1.8 yards per carry on 12 tries.
The Falcons are giving up 131 yards per game on the ground, but they did hold Tennessee to 77 yards and 2.5 yards per carry in their opener. A YPC under 3 is all too familiar for Irish fans this year, so it may be tough going for Walker and the gang. Air Force runs a 4-2-5, and they have the talent at linebacker to pull it off. 33 Drew Fowler leads the team with 74 tackles; that's 30 more than the next guy. 42 Joey Keller, the other linebacker, is second on the team with 4 tackles for loss.

Air Force Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Shaun Carney is only averaging 9 attempts and 64 passing yards per game, but don't let that number fool you. Carney has completed 54% of his passes and has a 133.82 efficiency rating. Those are numbers that a mediocre quarterback would kill for. Carney has thrown 5 TDs and only 2 interceptions on the year. Wideouts 81 Vic Thompson and 83 Spencer Armstrong each stand 6'1, so there will be no height advantage for the Irish corners. Thompson is averaging 1-2 receptions a game; Armstrong one. Armstrong has 2 receiving touchdowns to Thompson's 2. No other Air Force player has caught more than 5 passes on the season.
The Air Force passing game is just effective enough to be dangerous against this Irish pass defense. Still, look for Victor Abiamiri to add to his team leading total of 10 sacks. Abiamiri lined up off of the line of scrimmage (see here and here) to avoid the cut blocking of Navy. Watch to see if that technique is repeated in this game.

ND Pass Offense vs. Air Force Pass Defense

Brady Quinn continues to crawl back into the national spotlight. Quinn's now averaging 24-of-38 passing, 287 yards, and almost 3 TDs per game. Rhema McKnight has taken over as the top receiver with 52 catches, 673 yards, and 11 TDs. After a slow start, Jeff Samardzija is right behind with 49 catches, 686 yards, and 8 TDs. Darius Walker has 47 catches for 328, and John Carlson has 45 for 620 yards and 3 TDs. Carlson is also leading all tight ends with 68.9 receiving yards per game.
Notre Dame proved it could handle the 3-3-5 against BYU last year. How will it handle Air Force's 4-2-5? Safety 4 Julian Madrid is one of the stars of this defense. He leads the team with 4 sacks and is tied for the lead with 2 interceptions. 9 John Rabold also has 2 picks. Rabold plays one of the two "Falcon" positions, Air Force's name for the 4-2-5's hybrid safety/corner/linebacker spots. Defensive end 97 Josh Clayton is second on the team with 3 sacks. Safety 11 Bobby Giannini is second on the team with 44 tackles.

Special Teams

47 Zach Sasser has converted 7 of 9 field goals for the Falcons, including 6 of 6 from inside 40 yards and a long of 48. Carl Gioia is now 7 of 11 overall, and 7 of 8 from 40 yards or less.
Zach Sasser pulls a Nick Setta (or a DJ Fitzpatrick) by also taking punting duties for the Falcons. Sasser is averaging three punts per game and 42 yards per punt. For the Irish, Geoff Price is averaging 4 punts per game and 45.4 yards per punt.
Backup quarterback 15 Jim Ollis and receiver Spencer Armstrong share kick return duties for Air Force. Ollis is averaging 12.7 yards per return and Armstrong 21.8. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 58.9 yards per kick for the Irish, with 5 touchbacks. The Irish coverage team is giving up 18.7 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 25 yard line.
David Grimes has now taken a majority of Notre Dame's kick returns. He's averaging 26.6 yards per return with a long of 50. Zach Sasser does it all for Air Force, averaging 58.4 yards per kick with 8 touchbacks. Air Force is holding opponents to a very impressive 12.4 yards per kick return, giving them an average start at the 19.
Corner 6 Chris Sutton returns punts for the Falcons. He has a respectable 9.4 yards per return average, but a long of only 26 yards. The Irish punt coverage team is giving up a mediocre 10.6 yards per return.
Tom Zbikowski finally found the end zone on a punt return, and it was legal this time. Zbikowski's run was a new long for the season - 52 yards. His average is now up to 10.3 yards per return. Air Force is surrendering 11.4 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, McKnight, Samardzija, Landri, and Abiamiri.

ND 34, Air Force 21: McKnight, Samardzija, and Carlson combine for 4, and Gioia adds on two of his own.

And don't forget to check Gridiron Gurus later this week for their ND-Air Force predictions.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Notre Dame 45, North Carolina 26

Quarterback: The national media is starting to remember that this Brady Quinn guy is pretty good. They're right - 346 yards and 4 TDs isn't bad. Evan Sharpley completely ruined his quarterback rating by going 0-for-1, but I don't think he's too heartbroken.

Running Back: The Irish started by attacking through the air, then went to the ground when they had the lead. Darius Walker ended up with 86 yards and a TD. James Aldridge continued to run tough, this times for 45 yards and a 5.6 YPC average.

Fullback: No touches from the fullback spot, and it looks like Coach Weis is developing this into a H-Back spot out of necessity. John Carlson and Marcus Freeman either lined up in the backfield or motioned there at least once in this game.

Receiver: Another quiet day for Jeff Samardzija - only 6 catches. Oh yeah, he also had 177 yards and broke the Notre Dame receiving touchdown record. Rhema McKnight had 6 for 56. McKnight continues to be a scoring threat, adding 2 TDs to his total. Oh, and Chase Anastasio threw in a catch for good measure.

Tight End:

Do you think the scouts have noticed John Carlson yet? If not, do you think 8 catches, 91 yards, and this TD helped?

O-Line: Stupid mistakes throughout, but this unit has taken enough crap this year. Let's just be happy with the win.


It seemed like these guys knew the snap count. That, or North Carolina has a center and two guards who don't realize that they're actually allowed to move. Derek Landri was in the backfield all day. He finished with 3.5 TFL, half a sack, and a blocked extra point. Trevor Laws added 3 tackles and a block of his own. Victor Abiamiri had 2 sacks, while Chris Frome had the other half of Landri's sack.

Linebacker: Maurice Crum did some snap count-jumping of his own, and he led the team with 9 tackles.

Safety: Well, Tom Zbikowski had 7 tackles.

Cornerback: Notre Dame's opponents should start inviting their 12-year-old sons to play NCAA Football 2007 at gameplanning meetings. The 12-year-old Playstation offense, at least for me, consisted solely of "go" routes and trick plays - the exact Achilles heels of the Irish defense.

Kicker: Carl Gioia chipped in a 27 yarder on his lone attempt.

Punter: Geoff Price averaged 45.8 yards on 5 punts.

Kick Returner: David Grimes had a nice 50 yard return, and totaled 101 yards on 3 returns.

Punt Returner: Hey, that Tom Zbikowski kid is pretty good too. Zbikowski finally got proper - and legal - blocking, and he took a kick 52 yards to the house.

Special Teams: The North Carolina return averages were pretty good, so I'll just ignore those and name names. Casey Cullen and Kyle McCarthy each recorded 2 special teams tackles.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 9: North Carolina

UNC Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Tailback 25 Ronnie McGill has arguably been North Carolina's best weapon this year. He's averaging 16 carries and 65 yards per game. McGill has found the end zone six times on the ground, and once more via pass reception, giving him six more touchdowns than anyone else on the team. McGill's backup is 5 Barrington Edwards, who is averaging 9 carries and 34 yards per game. NC's two-headed quarterbacks, 12 Joe Dailey and 11 Cam Sexton, have combined for 40 positive rushes in 8 games this year. Dailey is a little more successful with his feet, averaging 5 carries and 11 yards per game to Sexton's 3 and 6. No Tarheels fullback has recorded a carry this season.
Both McGill and Edwards are listed at 220 lbs, the same weight as starting linebackers Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington, and five pounds heavier than Travis Thomas. Of course, Crum seemed to handle 223 lb Adam Ballard fairly well last week, so maybe this won't be an issue. If the linebackers can't contain the Carolina run, Tom Zbikowski will have to ignore any soreness left in his shoulder to make key stops.

ND Rush Offense vs. UNC Rush Defense

Darius Walker is averaging 20 carries and 85 yards per game. Assuming Notre Dame keeps it on the ground like they did against Navy, look for a few token carries for Travis Thomas and the continued emergence of James Aldridge. Aldridge is now third on the team in carries with 16, behind Walker and Brady Quinn. Sacks have spoiled Quinn's running numbers, but last week he had 3 positive carries for 36 yards.
Walker, Thomas, and Aldridge have to be licking their chops seeing that North Carolina's defense is giving up 205 rushing yards per game. North Carolina's list of top tacklers is loaded with members of the secondary, but the linebackers do make an appearance. 48 Durell Mapp, Larry Edwards, and 54 Victor Worsley have combined for 126 tackles and 10.5 tackles for a loss. (Conversely, Maurice Crum and Travis Thomas have combined for 93 tackles and 12 TFL, and Thomas missed two games.)

UNC Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

North Carolina can't decide on a quarterback, so they're using two. Cam Sexton is averaging 7-for-19 passing for 120 yards; Joe Dailey 10-of-16 for 93. The two have combined for 15 interceptions and only 6 touchdowns on the year. UNC's top three receivers are 1 Brooks Foster, 9 Jesse Holley, and 88 Hakeem Nicks. Each are averaging about 3 catches and 40-50 yards per game. Tailbacks Reggie McGill and Barrington Edwards are averaging one catch per game. Tight end 86 Jon Hamlett and fullback 4 Bobby Rome each have 5 total catches after 8 games.
Notre Dame is giving up 192 passing yards per game. Victor Abiamiri is leading the way with 8 sacks, followed by Derek Landri and Trevor Laws with 3.5 a piece. Terrail Lambert has half of the team's 6 interceptions this season.

ND Pass Offense vs. UNC Pass Defense

Brady Quinn's new average numbers: 24-for-38 passing (63.7%) for 279 yards and 2-3 touchdowns per game. Per game, Rhema McKnight, Darius Walker, and Jeff Samardzija average 5-6 catches; John Carlson 4-5, and David Grimes 2. McKnight is averaging 77 yards per game, Carlson 66, Samardzija 64, Walker 39, and Grimes 29. McKnight is leading the team with 9 touchdowns, followed by Samardzija with 7 and Carlson with 2.
UNC is giving up only 171 yards per contest in the air, most likely because of that porous rushing D. If there's a star of this defense, it's Larry Edwards, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks. End 33 Hilee Taylor is next with 4. Between Edwards and Taylor, the Irish tackles will again have their hands full. Safety 27 Kareen Taylor leads the team in tackles with 48 and has the team's lone interception this season. 2 James "Cooter" Arnold, a former tailback converted to the other safety position, is second on the team with 46 tackles - tying him with Durell Mapp in that category.

Special Teams

Eric Byrnes lookalike 10 Connor Barth has been a perfect 6-for-6 on field goal attempts this year, including kicks from 47, 46, and 52. Carl Gioia has converted 6 of 10 field goal tries for the Irish. But again, he's 6-of-7 from 40 yards or less - not back for a walk-on.
Tarheels punter 45 David Wooldridge is averaging 40.9 yards per kick with a long of 61. Geoff Price is averaging 45.3 yards per punt with a long of 62.
WR 87 Brandon Tate returns kicks for the Tarheels, averaging 20.6 yards per return with a long of 42. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 59.3 yards per kickoff for the Irish, with 4 out of 21 kicks going for touchbacks. ND's kick coverage squad is surrendering 17 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 22.
David Grimes and George West split ND's kick return duty. Grimes averages 24.8 yards per return, West 19.5. Connor Barth is averaging 61.8 yards per kickoff, with 9 of 26 kicks going for touchbacks. UNC is surrendering an impressively low 14.6 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 18.
Brandon Tate handles punt return duties for the Tarheels as well (and he does have 2 carries and 3 catches on the year). Tate is averaging 7.7 yards per return with a long of 34. ND is giving up 10.2 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging a lowly 6.5 yards per return. North Carolina's punt coverage team is as good as their kick coveraging, giving up a measly 5.6 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Walker, McKnight, Landri, and Crum.

ND 38, UNC 14: McKnight, Aldrige, two by Walker, one by the defense, and one by Gioia.