Sunday, September 28, 2008

Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21

Quarterback:In several ways, the sophomore outplayed the fifth year senior. Curtis Painter may have finished with more yards than Jimmy Clausen, but Clausen had the edge in completion percetage and touchdown passes. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that Clausen did not throw a single interception. Notre Dame as a team did not turn the ball over once against the Boilers. Clausen is also developing very nice touch on the deep balls.

Running Back: Curtis Painter had more passing yards than Jimmy Clausen because Painter attempted 20 more passes. That's largely because Notre Dame didn't need to pass as much; for once, the ground game was effective. Armando Allen had the type of game Irish fans had been waiting for - 136 yards on 17 carries, a 7.9 average.

Notre Dame was lucky to have depth at running back in this one. Robert Hughes, the leading man in several contests this year and last, was held to a 2.9 yards per carry average. But Allen and James Aldridge - 9 carries, 34 yards, 4.2 YPC average - were there to pick up the slack. Allen also picked up a 16 yard touchdown run.

Fullback: Mostly forgotten this year, Asaph Schwapp had some nice blocks in this game, and also made some cameo appearances at H-back.

Receiver: Golden Tate burst onto the scene in the first two games of the season, and now Michael Floyd is already trying to make fans say, "Golden who?" Floyd had his first career 100-yard game on a team-leading 6 catches. Tate added 5 catches for 64 yards and another touchdown. David Grimes came back from missing the Michigan State game to pick up 4 catches, 64 yards, and a touchdown.

Tight End: Seemingly the only tight end left, Kyle Rudolph is starting to get comfortable in the passing game. Rudolph had 3 catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Line: The line is starting to show some fight. The skill players are talented, but the grunts also deserve credit for 476 yards of offense and a 5.0 yards per carry average.

Defensive Line: Shotgun-friendly offenses have largely kept the defensive line quiet this year, but Pat Kuntz stepped up in this one, tying for the team lead with 6 tackles. No one recorded a sack on Curtis Painter, but Ethan Johnson and John Ryan recorded quarterback hits.

Linebacker: Maurice Crum tied Kuntz with 6 tackles, and Brian Smith added 5 of his own. Kerry Neal had the team's lone tackle for a loss, a -2 yard stop.

Safety: David Bruton also had 6 tackles. Bruton, Harrison Smith, and Sergio Brown each broke up a pass. Kyle McCarthy added 5 tackles.

Cornerback: Robert Blanton had the highlight of his young career, returning an interception 47 yards for a touchdown. It seems like opponents have largely avoided Raeshon McNeil, but he had 3 tackles in this one. Gary Gray and Terrail Lambert each added 4 stops.

Kicker: Brandon Walker missed from 31 yards, but made his first of the year from 41 yards. After Walker was congratulated by his line, Jimmy Clausen came off the bench to hug the kicker. That's just the type of leadership and togetherness you'd like to see from your quarterback and your team.

Punter: Eric Maust averaged 46.5 yards on two punts, thanks to a long of 54.

Kick Returner: Armando Allen was truly the star of the game, as he also picked up 105 yards on 4 kick returns, including a long of 36.

Punt Returner: About the only thing that didn't go well for Allen was his lone punt return - it went for a loss of 1.

Special Teams: Notre Dame's coverage teams continue to be phenomenal. Purdue's lone punt return went for 9 yards. On kickoffs, the Boilermakers managed a scant 13.9 yards per return. Mike Anello had 3 special teams tackles.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dick Lynch Remembered

by Ellen Fitzgerald, special to KankaNation

Yesterday one of my favorite KankaNation Hall of Famers, Dick Lynch, passed away. I originally had an affinity for him since he was associated with my two favorite football programs, Notre Dame and the Giants, and was also a Jersey guy. While all three of these things are true, the thing that I remember about him most was how nice of a man he was.

I was first introduced to Dick Lynch thought my father who got to know him at Giants Stadium where he worked as a broadcaster for Giants games. As all you loyal KankaNation readers know, my father works security at the Meadowlands. Because of where he is posted he gets to chat with players, coaches, the media etc on a weekly basis. My dad always goes out of his way to make extra special friends with anyone associated with ND. Obviously since, as we all know, ND alumni always feel a close bond to each other and in general seem to be a cut above the rest (especially in politeness) they all have been more than happy to talk with my father about Notre Dame, football, and even his former manager daughter who now still works in collegiate athletics!

Dick Lynch, however, was different. He always took extra time out to talk with my dad (and even myself when I was able to make games) and get to know him and ask about me. He was a real class act. My favorite memory of Dick Lynch dates back to 2002. I was in the Hesburgh Library and noticed on a table of books that they were discarding the book "There Were Giants in those Days". Being a Giants fan I picked it up and then immediate noticed that one of the photos on the cover was of Dick Lynch! I immediately sent the book home to my dad so he could show it to Lynch! When he did see it he wrote me a cute note inside of it thanking me for saving the book even though his alma mater didn't! That is something I treasure!

Those are some of my personal memories of this Hall of Famer. Below is an article that my parents just sent me from our local NJ paper, the Star Ledger that tells a bit more about Dick Lynch.

Editor's note: Lynch was a 2006 KankaSports Hall of Fame inductee.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008

Purdue Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Maybe it's a product of their opposition to date, but pass-happy Purdue has run the ball almost as many times as they've thrown it this year. 24 Kory Sheets, now in his third year as a starter, has been the workhorse for the boilers. He's accounted for 62 of the team's 100 rushes. Sheets' average game consists of 20 carries for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. Again, that's two touchdowns per game - he has 6 total on the year. Sheets is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, a sign of his experience as a senior as well as Purdue's ability to call runs in the right situations.

Backup tailback 5 Justin Siller is averaging 3-4 carries and 11 yards per game. Fullback 44 Frank Halliburton has also seen a decent share of touches, averaging two carries and 4 yards per game. Quarterback 12 Curtis Painter has not been a threat to run, netting -5 yards on 16 attempts.

Notre Dame is surrendering 144.3 yards per game on the ground this year. If Purdue is still the Purdue of old, they mainly play out of the shotgun, similar to what the Irish saw from San Diego State and Michigan this year. Maurice Crum leads Notre Dame with 2.5 tackles for a loss. He is closely followed by Brian Smith, Harrison Smith, and Justin Brown with two each.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Purdue Rush Defense

Notre Dame struggled on the ground against Michigan State. They are averaging 2.6 yards per carry - mediocre numbers against mediocre defenses. All three of Notre Dame's top horses have yards per carry averages between 3.0 and 3.5. Robert Hughes leads the way with an average of 13-14 carries and 47 yards per game. Armando Allen is averaging 8 carries and 24 yards per game; James Aldridge, 6-7 carries for 21.

As porous as Notre Dame's run defense has been, Purdue's has been worse, giving up 192.3 rushing yards per game. Of course, those numbers are tainted by a game against a run-happy Oregon team that went into two overtimes, and an All-World performance by Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour. Still, the Boilers did give up over 120 yards to Northern Colorado. Defensive ends 71 Alex Magee and Gerald Gooden lead the team in tackles for a loss, with 3.5 and 3.0 respectively.

Purdue Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

In terms of talent and experience, fifth-year senior Curtis Painter may be the best quarterback the Irish see this year. Painter's average day consists of completing 22-23 of 38 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Painter is completing an impressive 59.6% of his passes, but I'm not sure what to make of the fact that he only has three touchdown passes - and as many interceptions - through three games.

Painter has distributed the ball very well between four main targets - wide receivers 21 Greg Orton, 8 Keith Smith, and 6 Desmond Tardy, plus Kory Sheets. The three receivers are averaging 5 catches and 50+ yards per game (Orton and Tardy are over 60 YPG). Each has a touchdown catch on the season. Sheets is averaging 4 catches and 19 yards per game. Purdue tight end 80 Jerry Wasikowski hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game thus far with only two catches on the season. So the Irish will need to focus on the receivers but not forget about Sheets.

Purdue is another team that plays predominantly out of the shotgun. Couple that with a senior quarterback, and don't expect many sacks from the Irish defense. That puts pressure on the secondary, especially Harrison Smith, who has struggled at times in coverage this year. Only one defensive back has an interception so far - Gary Gray - but Raeshon McNeil does have 4 pass breakups.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass Defense

For a sophomore, Jimmy Clausen's numbers aren't that far behind Painter's. Clausen's average day is completing 18 of 32 passes (57.3%) for 209 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Clausen's efficiency rating is actually one and a half points higher than Painter's (120.19 to 118.6), for what that's worth.

Golden Tate is becoming the star of the Notre Dame offense, averaging 5 catches and 101 yards per game. But starting to emerge behind Tate is freshman Michael Floyd. Floyd is averaging 3 catches and 39 yards per game. The pair are tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with 2.

David Grimes, who missed the MSU game with back problems, says he is 100% healthy again. Grimes is fourth on the team with 6 catches. Will Yeatman (2 catches) will likely miss this contest - and perhaps a few more - because of legal issues.

Purdue is giving up 234.7 passing yards per game, and has recorded 6 sacks. Leading the team in sacks is end Alex Magee with two. Fullback-turned-stud linebacker 42 Anthony Heygood leads the Boilers with 29 tackles and has one of the team's four interceptions. Cornerback 7 Brandon King and safeties Frank Duong and Dwight Mclean, Jr. have the other three.

Special Teams

13 Chris Summers is in his third year as Purdue's placekicker. Summers is 5 for 7 with a long of 45, and is perfect from inside 40 yards. Freshman 37 Carson Wiggs was called upon for a 60-yarder last week and missed. For the Irish, Brandon Walker is now 0 for 3 on the season, missing from 51 and 41 against Michigan State.

Summers and Wiggs have also shared duties as Purdue's punter. Summers is averaging 42.6 yards per punt on 13 tries, with a long of 59. He's had three punts over 50 yards this season. Wiggs has punted three times, averaging 32.7 yards per kick with a long of 38. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.6 yards per punt with a long of 52.

Desmond Tardy and Kory Sheets are Purdue's kick returners, and each have 4 returns to date. Tardy is averaging 40.2 yards per return with a long of 68. Sheets is averaging 30.5 with a long of 45. All of those numbers are very good, and Tardy and Sheets will surely test a Notre Dame coverage team that has been solid to date. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 60.7 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with an 14.0 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 23.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has returned 9 kicks for a 24.1 yard average. Tate has returned 4 kicks with a 21.5 yard average. Carson Wiggs kicks off for Purdue, averaging 62.7 yards per kick. Three of his 18 kicks have been touchbacks. The Boilermakers give up 19.3 yards per kick return, starting opponents at the 25 yard line on average.

Desmond Tardy and Frank Halliburton have each returned one punt for Purdue this year. Halliburton is a fullback, so I would have to believe that his return came on one of Purdue's two blocked punts. His return was for 13 yards while Tardy's was for two yards. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 11.2 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Robert Hughes, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Raeshon McNeil


Notre Dame 27, Purdue 24


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 3: Michigan State

Michigan State Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Irish fans are very familiar with the name 23 Javon Ringer by now. The senior has been a workhorse for the Spartans so far, with 104 carries in just three games. Ringer is averaging 34-35 carries, 166 yards, and 3 touchdowns per game. That's right - Ringer is averaging three scores per game.

Few other Michigan State players have gotten carries so far this year. 27 Andre Anderson is the backup tailback, averaging 4-5 carries and 24 yards per game. Freshman wide receiver 82 Keshawn Martin has three carries in as many games. Quarterback 7 Brian Hoyer is not a scrambler; Hoyer has just 7 rushes for -11 yards this year.

Notre Dame fans are growing concerned that safties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton are far and away leading the team in tackles, with 24 and 20 respectively. Inside linebackers Maurice Crum and Brian Smith are the only other Irish players to reach double digits in tackles, with 11 and 10 respectively.

Justin Brown leads defensive linemen with 4 tackles, 2 for a loss. Those four tackles equal the production of fellow linemen Pat Kuntz, Ian Williams, and Morrice Richardson. After two games against spread offenses, the front seven will look to get back on track against Michigan State's more traditional pro-style look. How much the Irish can contain Ringer, however, remains to be seen.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Michigan State Rush Defense

Speaking of back on track, Notre Dame was at least able to start their running game in the right direction against Michigan. Many people were surprised that Robert Hughes "only" had 79 yards in that game. Hughes is now averaging 18 carries and 66 yards per game. He also has both Irish touchdowns on the ground. Armando Allen and James Aldridge are both averaging 9 carries per game. Allen is averaging 31.5 yards per game; Aldrige, 28.

Michigan State's strength on defense has been its linebacking corps. 43 Eric Gordon leads the team with 19 tackles, while 55 Adam Decker and 53 Greg Jones are right behind with 17 each. Jones leads the team with 3.5 tackles for a loss, while Gordon and Decker have 2.5 and 1.5 respectively.

Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Returning starter Brian Hoyer has been less than impressive so far for the Spartans. An average day for Hoyer in 2008 consists of completing only 11 of 25 passes for 186 yards. Hoyer has only one touchdown to two interceptions on the season.

Hoyer's favorite targets have been his wideouts, 2 Mark Dell and 3 BJ Cunningham. Dell is the star, averaging over 4 catches and 106 yards per game. He was on the receiving end of Hoyer's lone TD pass. Cunningham is averaging 2-3 catches and 46 yards per game.

Four other Spartans have multiple receptions on the year - wide receiver 25 Blair White, tight end 83 Charlie Gantt, Javon Ringer, and fullback 45 Andrew Hawken. So look for Hoyer to focus primarily on his top two receivers, but don't forget anyone else on the field.

It will be interesting to see how MSU plays the Irish defense. Notre Dame, thought to have a strong secondary, is giving up over 250 yards per game in the air this season. However, those numbers are tainted by San Diego State's pass-happy attack and Michigan's need to play catchup. Still, with Hoyer's inefficiency and Notre Dame's unproven front seven, the Spartans may choose to simply pound the ball over and over again with Ringer, as they have done all season to this point.

The Irish still have only one sack to their credit, recorded by Maurice Crum against the Aztecs. Kerry Neal, David Bruton, and Gary Gray each have an interception this season.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has mixed short, accurate passes with a number of fades and go routes this year. An average day for Clausen means completing 15 of 27 passes for 192 yards. Jimmy has five touchdowns and four picks on the year.

Golden Tate is developing into Clausen's favorite receiver. Tate is averaging five catches and 110 yards per game. He also leads the team with two receiving touchdowns. David Grimes is next with three catches and 19 yards per game. Robert Hughes has been the top option out of the backfield, averaging four catches and 14.5 yards per game. Michael Floyd, Armando Allen, and Duval Kamara also have multiple catches on the season.

Tackle 97 Justin Kershaw leads the Spartans with 1.5 sacks, while ends 58 Trevor Anderson and 89 Colin Neely have 1.0 and 0.5, respectively. Talented safety 21 Otis Wiley has each of the team's two interceptions.

Special Teams

14 Brett Swenson is in his third year as Michigan State's placekicker. This season he missed from 39 yards, but made from 34 and 22. For the Irish, Brandon Walker has still only had one field goal attempt this season - a miss from 47 yards.

Sophomore 18 Aaron Bates is back for his second year as MSU's punter. Bates is averaging 39.7 yards per kick with a long of 54. He's also had a punt blocked this year. For the Irish, Eric Maust is averaging a steady 42 yards per punt with a long of 52.

Javon Ringer has been Michigan State's top kick returner. He's run back 8 kicks and has a 22.2 yard average, with a long of 33 yards. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 60.8 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with an astounding 11.9 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 21. Again, that's one more yard than a touchback, in exchange for the joy of watching Mike Anello sprint to the ballcarrier.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen is averaging 15.3 yards per return, and Tate 21.5. 15 Todd Boleski is in his fourth year as MSU's kickoff specialist, a job he's definitely earned. Boleksi is averaging 65.4 yards per kick, and 4 of his 17 kicks have been touchbacks. The Spartans give up 21.8 yards per kick return, starting opponents at the 25 yard line on average.

Otis Wiley is Michigan State's punt returner. He's averaging a very good 14.5 yards per return, with a 78 yard run that was somehow not a touchdown. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 14.7 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Golden Tate, Pat Kuntz, David Bruton, and Mike Anello


Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 24

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 2: Michigan

Michigan Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Michigan is running the spread option, but they've yet to set the world on fire with it. With the spread, you expect to see many people running the ball, and here's how Michigan's 60 rushing attempts have broken down so far:
  • 34 running back (57 percent)
  • 14 quarterback non-sacks (23 percent)
  • 5 wide receiver (8 percent)
  • 3 sacks (5 percent)
  • 3 team (5 percent)
  • 1 fullback (2 percent)
Of the running back attempts, freshman 2 Sam McGuffie has been far and away the go-to guy with 25, or 12.5 per game. He's averaging 41 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Returning upperclassmen 4 Brandon Minor and 24 Kevin Grady also have multiple carries. Minor is averaging 2.5 carries and 18 yards per game, and 7.2 yards per carry. In Grady's lone game he carried three times for six yards.

10 Steven Threet has seen slightly more playing time than 8 Nick Sheridan at quarterback, and Threet has a 13 to 6 advantage in yards per game, as well as a 2.6 to 1.7 edge in yards per carry. 20 Michael Shaw has made four of the five wide receiver rushing attempts. He's averaging two carries and 23 yards per game, or 11.5 yards per carry. I would assume that Shaws' carries come on end-arounds (including option plays) or plays where he is first motioned into the backfield. His 46 rushing yards make him second on the team to McGuffie in that category. McGuffie, Minor, and Threet each have one of the team's three rushing touchdowns on the year.

It will be interesting to see how the Notre Dame defense stacks up against the Michigan ground game. The four Irish safeties - Kyle McCarthy, David Bruton, Sergio Brown, and Harrison Smith all had good games against San Diego State. With Michigan's shaky passing game, any of the four can come up in run support. However, while they may have a size advantage on the smaller McGuffie and Shaw, they will need help against the larger Minor, Grady, Threet, and Sheridan.

That's where the defensive line comes in. The line was virtually nonexistent on the stat sheet last week, but that was largely due to San Diego State's playcalling - shotgun snaps, quick throws, and runs outside the tackles. This week will be the first true test of Notre Dame's defensive line.

The safeties and line will also need help from the outside linebackers and defensive ends. No doubt Michigan will be using outside runs and misdirection, and the outside men on the Irish front seven will need to stay disciplined and keep containment to counter.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense

Many Notre Dame fans were upset that the first attempt at a new "pound the ball" offense meant a 50/50 run/pass mix and barely over 100 yards rushing against a poor run defense. The Irish had a pretty vanilla game plan on the ground, with no runs by any position other than tailback. Armando Allen had 17 carries for 59 yards, or 3.5 yards per carry. Robert Hughes had 16 for 58, or 3.4 per. Some things to watch this weekend: Will James Aldridge work his way back into the rotation? Who gets the ball on short yardage, Hughes, Aldridge, or even Asaph Schwapp or Jimmy Clausen? Will Notre Dame pull a page from Michigan's playbook and run Golden Tate or another receiver on an end-around?

Michigan returns a majority of their defense from last year, and once again they are stout against the run. It's a small sample size, but the Wolverines are giving up only 41 yards per game on the ground this year. Defensive end 55 Brandon Graham leads the team with 5.5 tackles for a loss, and fellow linemen 90 Tim Jamison (end), 97 Will Johnson, and 67 Terrance Taylor have combined for five more.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Despite running what most consider a run-oriented offense, Michigan has passed (56 times) almost as much as it has run (60 times) this year. Plus, those rushing numbers include three sacks and three "team" rushes, which I assume were fumbled snaps. However, despite the balanced attack, Michigan hasn't had much success with the pass. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan have shared time at quarterback so far. Sheridan has been the more accurate passer, completing 62.5 percent of his attempts. Threet has completed only 43.8 percent of his passes, but all indications say that he will begin to get the edge in playing time.

To this point, Threet's average day consisted of completing 7 of 16 passes for 66 yards. Sheridan's average is 7-8 completions on 12 attempts for 69 yards. Both have a touchdown pass on the season, and Sheridan has one interception while Threet has none.

Notre Dame's vaunted new blitz attack only netted one sack last week, but there are a variety of possible reasons for that. Maybe it was San Diego State's gameplan to get the pass of quickly. Maybe it was the Irish not wanting to show their hand to Michigan. Or maybe they just haven't gotten the hang of things yet. Despite playing a soft zone to begin the game, however, Notre Dame did end up with eight pass breakups, two along the line (both by John Ryan) six in the secondary.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen played like a sophomore last week - he still made plenty of freshman mistakes, but he also showed the confidence of someone with a few starts already under his belt. One thing's for sure, though - scrambling 20 yards back, video game-style sure won't work against Michigan's defense.

When all was said and done, Clausen completed 21 of 34 passes (62 percent) to eight different receivers. Golden Tate and David Grimes were the top targets. Tate had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, while Grimes had five for 35 and a score. Robert Hughes and Armando Allen were each used three times out of the backfield, and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Will Yeatman each had a catch. Michael Floyd made a splashing debut with a 22-yard touchdown catch.

Duval Kamara had a day to forget. Balls thrown to him resulted in one catch for the Irish and two for the opposition. To add injury to insult, Kamara also left for part of the game with what appeared to be leg cramps. That allowed Tate to step up and make his mark on the game.

Michigan likes to get pressure from their front four. The four linemen mentioned above - Graham, Jamison, Johnson, and Taylor - lead the team with two sacks each. Linebacker 45 Obi Ezeh has the team's loan interception, while safety 27 Brandon Harrison leads the club with three pass breakups.

Special Teams

84 KC Lopata returns as Michigan's place kicker this year. So far he's made 2 of 3 field goal attempts. All his attempts have been from 40+ yards, and his longest make is from 50. Brandon Walker was only able to get one field goal attempt off last week. It was wide right from 47 yards, but at least it had enough leg on it.

Strong-legged punter 41 Zoltan Mesko is back for the Wolverines. So far he is averaging 41.6 yards per kick with a long if 56. Three of his 14 punts have been fair caught. Eric Maust averaged 39.5 yards per punt last week, with a long of 50.

Michigan's kick return duties have been shared by Brandon Harrison, Michael Shaw, cornerback 33 Boubacar Cissoko, and wide receiver 22 Darryl Stonum. Cissoko and Harrison are the only two with multiple returns, and each are averaging 27 yards per runback. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 60.5 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a spectacular 12.5 return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 22. That's basically the same as a touchback, plus we get the joy of watching Mike Anello sprint down the field and drag a guy to the ground like his life depended on it.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate again will be back deep for the Irish on kickoffs. Allen is averaging 29 yards per return. Tate had one return last week for 28 yards. 43 Bryan Wright is Michigan's kickoff specialist. He is averaging 66.5 yards per kick, but surprisingly has yet to get a touchback. Michigan's kick coverage team is surrendering 20.1 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 23 or 24 yard line.

Starting cornerback 6 Donovan Warren is Michigan's punt returner. He's averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per return with a long of 17. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 17.5 yards per return with a long of 22. Allen does seem to let balls drop that he possibly should fair catch, but I'm sure most Irish fans would prefer that to an attempted fair catch that turned into a fumble.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Duval Kamara, Kyle McCarthy, and Mike Anello


Notre Dame 18, Michigan 16

Sunday, September 07, 2008

That's... Oddly Appropriate

Editor's Note: To see my wrapup of the San Diego State game, click here.

Weekly Cleveland Indians Lineup Analysis

Once again, this is the weekly series where I plan take the top 9 Indians in terms of OPS and feed them into Dave Pinto's Lineup Analysis Tool to determine the theoretical ideal batting lineup.

This Week's Results
Click Here

This Week's Ideal Lineup

Changes From Last Week
Victor Martinez replaces Ryan Garko. Shin-Soo Choo has passed Grady Sizemore in both on base and slugging percentage and moves into the second spot in the lineup (normally reserved for the best overall hitter in this formula).

Theoretical Runs Per Game
5.358, down 0.009 from last week. That's basically a push, but continues a slight downward trend over the past few weeks.

Theoretical Improvement
The Indians are currently scoring 4.851 runs per game. That's an improvement of 0.507 runs per game, which in turn leads to 82 runs over the course of the season, or 8.2 more wins. That's theoretically enough to be tied with the Twins right now, looking up at Chicago in the division and Boston in the wild card.

Defensive Plausibility
Once again Sal Fasano mans the hot corner, and Martinez comes in to play first.

Fan Believability
Nope, none at all.

My Take
The lineup makes good sense in terms of Dave Pinto's formula. Fasano and Jamey Carroll have a good OBP but little else. Choo is the best overall hitter right now, followed by Sizemore. That's what the two and five spots are for. Kelly Shoppach is a masher who doesn't hit for high average, and therefore is hitting leadoff. Six and seven are you best remaining hitters, Jhonny Peralta and Ben Francisco. Three and eight are your weakest hitters (to space out your outs), Martinez and David Dellucci. Of course, Martinez' numbers are obviously tainted by his early-season performance.

Random Indians Thought of the Week
College football has started, and I'm starting to put most of my blogging time and attention into that. Let me know if you'd like me to continue doing the Indians lineup analysis for the rest of the season.

Notre Dame 21, San Diego State 13

Quarterback: Jimmy Clausen is still only a sophomore, and one whose development was stunted last year by injury and lack of protection. Early in the game, Clausen looked more like a backyard quarterback than a college quarterback, locking in on one receiver and directing him into space while himself scrambling farther and farther back. But when it counted, Clausen stepped up and figured things out. The quarterback had completed only 50 percent of his passes at halftime. But due to a solid second half performance, Clausen finished with a completion rate just under 62 percent (21 of 34). Clausen did have two interceptions. But the first bounced off of Duval Kamara's shoulder pads and the second off of his fingertips. Clausen deserves most of the blame for the latter, but not the former.

Running Back: Armando Allen and Robert Hughes each had over 50 yards rushing and about a 3.5 yards per carry average. That's nice against a tough defense, but not against a poor rushing defense with three linemen out. Maybe the Aztecs were just flooding the box and forcing Clausen to beat them. Hughes and Allen each had three catches, Hughes for 32 yards and Allen for 18. James Aldridge did not see the field in this one. According to Coach Weis, the offense wasn't on the field enough in the first half for Aldridge to get his reps, and in the second half the Irish went into their hurry-up offense, which does not include Aldridge. That could be an indicator of things to come for the running back rotation.

Receiver: Golden Tate has added at least three new patterns to his repertoire - the comeback, the slant, and the "scramble around while Jimmy Clausen does the same." While Tate didn't have much success with that last route, he did do well with the first two. Filling in for a cramped and struggling Duval Kamara, Tate became the offensive star for the Irish, picking up 93 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Tate caught the ball in space, in traffic, you name it. Kamara didn't fare nearly as well, dropping more passes than he caught (one). David Grimes added five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. Interestingly enough, it was the 5'10" Grimes, not the 6'5" Kamara, 6'3" Michael Floyd, or even the 6'2" Robby Parris who was called on to catch a fade pass in the end zone late in the game. Floyd did start his Irish career off with a bang, catching a 22-yard touchdown for the first score of the season. Parris, meanwhile, didn't see the field in this game.

Tight End: Kyle Rudolph caught a pass for five yards in his Notre Dame debut. Will Yeatman, primarily used as the blocking tight end, added a catch for four yards. With the lack of depth at tight end, the passing game is turning its attention to the backs and receivers.

Offensive Line: Jimmy Clausen was never sacked, but it took a few ill-advised Houdini acts for that to happen. And against a poor rushing defense, the Irish were only able to gain 122 yards, 3.1 per carry.

Defensive Line: The defensive line combined for three tackles in this one, and that's only if you count John Ryan as a defensive end instead of an outside linebacker, as he's listed on the depth chart. Ryan, Ethan Johnson, and Morrice Richardson had one tackle each, and Ryan had a mitt on two passes - one that went to Kerry Neal as an interception. Johnson was making his Notre Dame debut. Hopefully the poor output by this unit was due to the fact that San Diego State didn't run the ball much.

Linebacker: Let's hope that John Tenuta was playing his cards close to his chest in preparation for the upcoming Michigan game. The much-anticipated blitzing schemes accounted for only four quarterback hits (QBH) and one sack, recorded by an untouched Maurice Crum. Crum also had six tackles, while Brian Smith contributed four tackles and a QBH from his new inside position. Harrison Smith and Kerry Neal each had three tackles, while Neal added a QBH and an interception. Darius Fleming debuted with a single tackle. Also, mild kudos to the coaching staff for making the halftime adjustment to actually cover the Aztecs running back out of the backfield on pass plays.

Safety: If you count Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown - who played a majority of the game as the nickel back - as safeties, the unit recorded 33 of the team's 56 tackles. Kyle McCarthy flew under the radar in this game, recording 14 tackles, twice as much as the next Notre Dame defender - David Bruton with seven. Bruton also had a pass breakup and the key forced fumble and recovery. Sergio Brown may have played his way into another start with six tackles, one for a loss, two pass breakups, and a quarterback hit.

Cornerback: San Diego State passed for 274 yards, and that number would have been well over 300 if it wasn't for a number of drops. Notre Dame played a maddeningly soft zone to start the game, and while their man coverage wasn't spectacular later in the game, it was an improvement. Terrail Lambert had six tackles and two pass breakups. Raeshon McNeil, somewhat surprisingly, had one pass breakup but no tackles.

Kicker: Brandon Walker missed a 47-yard field goal wide right, but on a positive note he had more than enough distance on it. A second field goal attempt was thwarted by a botched hold. Ryan Burkhart averaged 60.5 yards per kickoff, giving the Aztecs returner an average start of the 9.5 yard line. But some of those kicks were intentionally short directional line drives meant to prevent long returns.

Punter: Eric Maust may not win any awards, but he had a decent day. Maust averaged 39.8 yards per punt with a long of 50 yards.

Kick Returner: Armando Allen had two returns for 46 yards, with a long of 29. Golden Tate had one 28-yard return.

Punt Returner: Armando Allen had two punt returns, one of 13 yards and one of 22. The second one had a few nice cutbacks, but not every team will be beat by those kinds of tricks.

Special Teams: Mike Anello was playing with a new number (37), but the same heart. Anello was almost always the first man down the field on kicks and punts, and as often as his name was called, it's amazing that he only had two tackles on the day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 1: San Diego State

San Diego State Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

SDSU lost their top passer and rusher when QB Kevin O'Connell graduated. Against Cal Poly in week one, the Aztecs passed twice as much as they ran, with only 23 recorded rushes - two of those being sacks. Running back and new starter 23 Brandon Sullivan had the bulk of the carries - 15 - and finished with 43 yards, for a 2.9 average. Small (5'9", 180 lb) freshman 30 Davon Brown added one carry for 2 yards. WR 3 Mekell Wesley had one rush for -2 yards, but without seeing the game I couldn't tell you wether that was an end-around or a backwards pass. Quarterback 14 Ryan Lindley had four non-sack rushing attempts for -2 yards.

Notre Dame will have a variety of looks along their front seven this year. Their biggest set features 94 Justin Brown, 95 Ian Williams, and 96 Pat Kuntz along the line and 41 Scott Smith and 90 John Ryan at outside linebacker, although most expect the Irish to shift to a 4-3 look with Ryan in. Notre Dame has lost their top two tacklers from last year (Trevor Laws and Joe Brockington). But the above front seven, including inside linebackers 40 Maurice Crum and 59 Brian Smith, did combine for 21 tackles for a loss last year. Safety 27 David Bruton was also a force in run support, picking up 4.5 TFL in 2007.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. San Diego State Rush Defense

Notre Dame had a very poor 2.1 yard per carry average last year. But that number was brought down by numerous sacks and poor years from players who won't be back in 2008. The three main returners - 34 James Aldridge, 5 Armando Allen, and 33 Robert Hughes, all put up solid numbers. Aldridge averaged 3.8 yards per carry, Allen 4.0, and Hughes 5.5. Notre Dame plans to run the ball more this year, and they have the horses to do it. One thing to watch this season is Aldridge's quest for his first rushing touchdown. Aldridge and Hughes are both considered power backs, but who will be the goal line back? Aldridge has the experience, which is always a plus, but Hughes had four of the team's 11 rushing scores last year. Armando Allen is also looking for his first career rushing touchdown; he did have one receiving TD last year.

Cal Poly ran all over the Aztecs in week one, netting 263 yards on 51 carries - a 5.2 average. Defensive end 90 BJ Williams led Aztec tacklers with 9 against Poly. Williams had 45 tackles, 4.0 for a loss, in 2007. 56 Jonathan Soto, who plays next to Williams on the line, had 8 tackles against Cal Poly, 2.0 for a loss. Linebacker 35 Luke Laolagi and lineman/Ohio State transfer 98 Ryan WIlliams added 7 tackles apiece.

San Diego State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Ryan Lindley threw up 45 passes in his college debut, completing 27 (60%) with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Brandon Sullivan was his team's leading receiver in week one, with 9 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. WR 80 Vincent Brown added 7 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. 20 Matthew Kawulok, at 6'2", is on the shorter side for a tight end, but caught 3 passes last week. Wide receivers 18 Robert Wallace and 4 Darren Mougey are big targets for the Aztecs, at 6'4" and 6'6" respectively. TE 86 Waika Spencer is also a contributor in the passing game, as SDSU often uses dual tight end sets. Backup tailback Davon Brown had a 36-yard reception against Cal Poly last week.

Notre Dame's secondary is supposed to be the strength of this defense. That secondary will be tested early and often by this San Diego State team. San Diego State likes two tight end sets, and has a young quarterback who will be looking to dump the ball off to his running back often. That puts pressure on the linebackers and safeties. Safety 22 Harrison Smith is slated to play outside linebacker against multiple receiver sets. Will he be called on to cover the larger tight ends? Or will outside linebackers Scott Smith and 56 Kerry Neal be trusted to cover them? Or will that task fall to safeties 27 David Bruton and 28 Kyle McCarthy? The other position to watch is nickel corner. With Darrin Walls out for the year, 8 Raeshon McNeil has moved into the starting lineup. Will his nickel position go to sophomore 4 Gary Gray, or freshman 12 Robert Blanton? Both have come in highly praised, and surely will be up to the task.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. San Diego State Pass Defense

Sophomore 7 Jimmy Clausen and his receivers are all a year older and wiser. But the latest depth chart has revealed some surprises. TE Mike Ragone is out for the season, but that wasn't enough for 84 Will Yeatman to reacquire his starting job. Instead, freshman 9 Kyle Rudolph has taken that job. 18 Duval Kamara and senior 11 David Grimes are the starters, as they were coming out of spring. But 82 Robby Parris and 19 George West, who each started several games last year, were not listed on the latest two-deep. They have been passed by speedster 23 Golden Tate and freshman super-talent 3 Michael Floyd.

San Diego State gave up a respectable 220 yards passing last week. Corners 7 Vonnie Moore and 21 Aaron Moore each had three pass breakups, but no Aztec recorded an interception. Defensive tackle Jonathan Soto recorded 1.5 sacks.

Special Teams

88 Lane Yoshida, a junior college transfer, is the new place kicker for SDSU. He did not attempt a field goal last week, but was perfect on three PAT attempts. 14 Brandon Walker returns for his second year as Notre Dame's kicker. Walker was 6-12 on field goals last year, but only 1-7 from 30 yards or more.

Freshman 14 Brian Stahovich made his San Diego State debut last week with 4 punts. He averaged 39.5 yards per, with a long of 49 and two kicks inside the 20. 43 Eric Maust will be Notre Dame's full-time punter this year. Last season, Maust averaged 42.1 yards per punt with a long of 53.

Mekell Wesley and defensive back 10 Davion Mauldin return kicks for the Aztecs. Wesley averaged 21.8 yards per return with an 89-yard touchdown in 2007. Mauldin is a new returner who had 49 yards on two tries last week. 39 Ryan Burkhart is the Irish kickoff specialist this year, a position he did not play last season.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate again will be back deep for the Irish on kickoffs. Allen averaged 21.3 yards per return in 2007; Tate, 21.7. Lane Yoshida also handles kickoffs for San Diego State. Last week he averaged just over 60 yards per kick. Add to that 16.5 yards per return given up, and SDSU's opponent had an average start on the 27 yard line.

Davion Mauldin also returns punts for the Aztecs. He had a rough go in his debut, gaining only 4 yards on 2 returns. Armando Allen will be the new Notre Dame punt returner this season.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, James Aldridge, Kyle Rudolph, Brian Smith, and David Bruton


Notre Dame 27, San Diego State 13

Monday, September 01, 2008

Traveling to the BC Game?

Just received this email. (Actually, I received it weeks ago, but I only just read it now.)


As the moderator of a popular sports blog catering in part to Notre Dame fans, and with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish visiting the BC Eagles on November 8, I thought you should be made aware of a fantastic opportunity being offered to patrons of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers.

The ACC Package for overnight guests includes an overnight stay in an elegant Standard guest room at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, as well as special football-themed welcome amenities for each guest - a seat cushion, bottled water and football snacks.

The package, priced competitively at $349.00, will be available September 6 - November 29, 2008. Those interested can call to make a reservation at 800.225.2008.

With many college football fans preparing for the upcoming season, I encourage you spread the word! Please feel free to post the flyer below in your blog, or notify your readers by any means you see fit.

Thank you very much,