Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007
Issue 2: Penn State

Penn State Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

33 Austin Scott steps in as Penn State's starting tailback this year. Last week, he ran 11 times for 47 yards and two scores. He's backed up by 20 Rodney Kinlaw and 22 Evan Royster, who both had good showings against Florida International to the tune of 8 carries and 8+ yards per carry. Starting fullback 34 Matt Hahn did not have a carry in the game, but backup fullbacks 38 Dan Lawlor had 5 and 44 Larry Federoff had one. Receivers 24 Jordan Norwood and 2 Derrick Williams also had a carry apiece. Penn State isn't afraid to let anyone, except maybe QB 14 Anthony Morelli, run the ball. Like last year, I'd expect to see a Lions receiver line up at QB a few times, especially after GT's success in that package last week.
Notre Dame's new front seven showed some growing pains last week, to the tune of 265 rushing yards. Middle linebackers Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington combined for 16 tackles. But the entire front seven had only one tackle for a loss (Crum), which perhaps tells a story of their inability to penetrate into the backfield. ND did have one interesting formation where they entered Kyle McCarthy as a third safety, essentially dropping Tom Zbikowski down to linebacker. Of course, both Zbikowski and McCarthy watched the Tech back run right by them, so that particular formation wasn't too effective in that particular situation. This defense will mesh as a unit over time, but Penn State isn't going to make that meshing process any easier.

ND Rush Offense vs. Penn State Rush Defense

Notre Dame gained 92 yards on the ground last week... but lost 100. It seemed like every skill player on the team except Luke Schmidt played, and overall four backs had carries. Armando Allen had the most success, gaining 25 yards on 3 attemts, mostly out of the spread option look. James Aldridge's 3.2 yards per carry on 6 attempts isn't bad for a big back, but it isn't that great, either. Travis Thomas and Asaph Schwapp had terrible days running the ball. Thomas finished with 7 tries for -7 yards. Meanwhile, on a "here's what's coming, try and stop it" fullback dive, Georgia Tech did stop Schwapp for -1 yards.
Florida International actually had a better day than the Irish running the ball. They picked up a whopping -3 yards on the ground against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are again led by LB 40 Dan Connor, who had 5 tackles last week. 45 Sean Lee, PSU's other returning starter at LB, led the team with 7 stops, including 2 for losses. If there's any hope, it's in the fact that Notre Dame's young offensive line is facing a Penn State defensive line with only one returning starter. Of course, guys like Connor and Lee more than make up for any experience among the down linemen.

Penn State Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Anthony Morelli sure wasn't afraid to pass last week. The second year starter threw the ball 38 times, completing 28, or 60.5%. Morelli also 3 touchdowns to 0 interceptions, and 295 total passing yards. His primary receiver was Jordan Norwood, with 5 catches and 92 yards. WR Derrick Williams and TE 82 Mickey Shuler each had 4 catches. As with their running game, PSU likes to spread the wealth in the passing game. Ten players caught passes in the FIU game, including the 4 by Shuler, 1 by RB Rodney Kinlaw, and 1 by FB Matt Hahn.
Notre Dame actually did a good job defending the pass last week. One could argue that Georgia Tech simply didn't need to pass that much thanks to their success on the ground. But GT quarterbacks did attempt 24 passes, completing only 11. ND had decent pressure at times, but finished with only one sack. That sack came from FS David Bruton, who had a busy day. He tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, some coming after the front seven failed to stop the run, but others coming from well-timed blitzes. Bruton also led the team with 2 tackles for a loss (one being the sack). One one of Tech's lone big plays, safety Tom Zbikowski bit on an underneath route, leaving Terrail Lambert alone in single coverage. But it still took a spectacular catch by the Tech receiver to beat Lambert, who had a solid game. Darrin Walls left the game last week in favor of Ambrose Wooden, and there were grumblings that it was due to injury. It will be interesting to see if Walls is back out there this week. But it looks like ND may finally have the guns to let the corners play in single coverage. Hopefully.

ND Pass Offense vs. Penn State Pass Defense

I somehow doubt that this humble blog is your lone source of ND football news. So I'm sure everyone knows by now that Jimmy Clausen is starting for the Irish on Saturday. Clausen is the beneficiary of the Quinn Defense: yes, he did well against GT's backups. But he also did well with ND's backups. Those backups include Robby Parris, who tied John Carlson for the team lead with 3 catches. Watching the young quarterbacks work with Parris and Duval Kamara (2 catches) reminded me ofBrady Quinn's, when he used garbage time to build a rapport with Jeff Samardzija. That worked out pretty well, didn't it? As I mentioned about, almost all of ND's skill players saw action in this game. Nine Irish players made at least one catch, including Parris, Carlson, George West (2), Kamara, Will Yeatman, DJ Hord, David Grimes, Junior Jabbie (who appears to be ND's third down back, good for him), and Armando Allen.
Penn State sacked Florida International seven times in their contest. Lee and DT 93 Chris Baker each had 2.

Special Teams

23 Kevin Kelly returns as Penn State's field goal kicker, and he has quite a leg. He made one from 45 yards last week, and missed from 50+. Brandon Walker provided ND's only scoring against Tech with a 24-yard field goal. It appears that Neil Whitaker will be used for longer field goals.
Penn State lost a Ray Guy finalist, and replaced him with 41 Jeremy Boone, who only averaged 47 yards per punt last week, with a long of 54. Boone actually had 5 punts against FIU - 3 of 50+ yards! I'm not sure if Penn State's offense was inconsistent, or these punts occurred after the backups were already in. On a day when seemingly nothing was going right for the Irish, Geoff Price averaged a mere 38.3 yards per punt. He did have a long of 55, which means he could have just had a bad day.
Who are Penn State's kick returners? Your guess is as good as mine. That's right, PSU put up a 0 in the kick return category last week. (FOr being shutout, FIU had one kickoff, a touchback.) Meanwhile, ND walk-on Nate Whitaker surprised by booming 67.5 yards per kickoff. His first kick went a few yards deep into the end zone. ND gave up an average of 14 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 16.5 yards line.
Armando Allen and Golden Tate are ND's kick returners, although George West also lined up there late in the game. Allen returned 5 kicks for a total of 84 yards (16.8 yard average), while Tate returned one for 20. Kevin Kelly averaged 62.7 per kickoff, a number probably hampered by the fact that his leg was numb after the 8 PATs, 2 field goal attempts, and 10 kickoffs. PSU did give up 22.8 yards per return, meaning opponents start on average at the 30.1 yard line.
Derrick Williams is PSU's primary punt returner, although CB 25 Brendan Perretta also got in on the act last week. On 4 returns, Williams averaged 13.2 yards with a long of 25. Perretta's lone return was for 2 yards.
43 Tyler Evans was Tech's best punt returner in terms of yards per return last year, at 9.6. For this, Evans was rewarded primary punt return duties this year.
Tom Zbikowski had one chance to return a punt last week, and it went for -1 yard.

Look for a big game from Clausen, Aldridge, Allen, Parris, Trevor Laws, Bruton.

ND 23, Penn State 17: We'll go with this score until it actually wins me something.