Thursday, January 04, 2007

LSU 41, Notre Dame 14

Quarterback: How do you complete only 15 of 35 passes? Dropped balls. High throws. Forcing the ball downfield on 2nd-and- or 3rd-and- long. Wild, off-balance chucks that lead to interceptions. Feeling the need to go deep to make up for the defense's inability to make a stop. You name it.

Running Back:

Darius Walker averaged 5.8 yards per carry and picked up 128 yards - mostly in the first half - against a decent run defense. He looked downright fast on the Superdome turf. Unfortunately, most of those yards came in the first half because the Irish were again forced to go to the air in the second half to mount a comeback.

Receiver: Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight spent more time looking for flags than they did looking for footballs. When you do that, you start paying more attention to the defender and less to the football - and that's when you drop passes. If you learn to shake off the Keyshawn Johnson-inspired sense of entitlement, you go back to focusing on the ball - and start making spectacular catches, even when the defender is legitimately interfering with you. The Big 12 refs were "letting them play" - which meant that McKnight could get away with a few holds on screen passes to Samardzija, but which also meant that interference calls weren't going to come easily.
On a positive note, David Grimes has shown that the receiving corps will be left in quite capable hands. Grimes made a spectacular catch for a touchdown while leaping between two defenders that made his 6'0, 168 pound frame look downright tiny. Grimes also had more than his share of outstanding blocks on outside runs by Walker.

Tight End: Charlie Weis learned his lesson from the last drive of the UCLA game. A max-protect scheme that kept John Carlson, Marcus Freeman, and/or Darius Walker in to block for most of the game did keep Brady Quinn off of his backside. Unfortunately, though, the scheme did limit Carlson to just one catch in his lauded return.

O-Line: The team rushed for 143 yards, and Brady Quinn was only sacked once. On most days, that would be enough against a top-flight defense.

D-Line: Notre Dame rotated seven linemen in this game. Yet, I can only remember two times when a lineman's name was called: when Travis Leitko fell on a fumble, and when Victor Abiamiri stunted to stop a JaMarcus Russell draw up the middle. For the most part, it didn't look like Abiamiri was being double-teamed - he just wasn't getting to Russell in time. Derek Landri, praised for a motor that made up for his size, was finally out-physicalled; Landri was held to zero tackles.


Maurice Crum may have been the only returning starter at linebacker, but that's no excuse for him needing to tell the other linebackers (and defensive backs) where to line up right before the ball is snapped. Once may be understandable, but it seemed like this happened on every other play, especially when LSU went 3-, 4-, or 5-wide. Did it help that Notre Dame kept their base 4-3 set or nickel package in against 4- and 5-wide sets, leaving linebackers in man coverage against wide receivers? No. It also didn't help that Notre Dame's lack of size finally caught up to them against the larger LSU running backs. As a team, the Tigers averaged 6.6 yards per carry; I'm a little surprised that the number is that low.

Safety: LSU made Chinedum Ndukwe look like a former wide receiver in this game. I would imagine that Pop Warner coaches teach kids how to play safety by saying, "It's easy: don't ever let anyone run past you." Well, Pop Warner coaches and 7-year-old footballers alike were shaking their heads during this one. Tom Zbikowski spent most of the game trying to stop the run or blitz the quarterback. When it came to stopping the run, he did so-so. Zbikowski's 10 tackles were second only to Ndukwe's 12. His blitzes were picked up easily each time. I doubt Zbikowski could pick Russell out of a lineup, since he never got close enough to see what he looks like.

Cornerback: Like Zbikowski, Mike Richardson spent most of the game running right into blitz pickup. Here's a question for people who actually know about football: Coaches can send a quarterback to the line with multiple plays, and tell the quarterback which play to choose depending on which situation. Can the same thing be done on defense? Can the defensive captain or middle linebacker go to the line and say, "Hey, our blitz won't work against this formation, let's drop into coverage?" or "Hey, it looks like the blitz would work in this situation?"
When Richardson did drop into coverage, he once again looked like the player who was posterized by Pitt in 2004. I don't think the other cornerbacks can say that they have much to be proud of. Ambrose Wooden saw good playing time for the first time in months, and he almost had a momentum-changing strip. Of course, "almost" isn't good enough in big games.

Kicker: Carl Gioia missed his only try from 33 yards. Of course, Colt David missed one from 31, so it's not as easy as it looks.

Punter: Even with some unlucky bounces on the field turf, Geoff Price managed to average 47.4 yards per punt on 5 kicks, with a long of 55.

Kick Returner: As the game wore on, the Irish needed a spark of momentum from wherever they could get it. Unfortunately, David Grimes and George West were unable to provide that spark; in fact, they often struggled just to make it to the 20.

Punt Returner: Also unable to provide a spark was Tom Zbikowski, punter returner. Zbikowski was held without a punt return.

Special Teams: Positive note #2: Ndukwe had a bad game, but his backup didn't. On a day when the Irish defense demonstrated new ways to miss tackles, David Bruton made stop after stop in punt coverage. Bruton snuffed three punt returns with solid tackles, and added another good stop on a run play from scrimmage.