Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Or: Yes, This Blog Is Still Active

Yes, we're still going here, if not as strongly in the past. I'm trying to get back on the blogging wagon, so in the interest of accountability, here's what's on the docket for the next few weeks:

  • Hall of Fame balloting is now open. Click here for more.

  • Reactions to the Brian Kelly hiring. (Preview: I'm a fan.)

  • Reactions to the Granderson and Halladay/Lee trades.

  • Finally, finally, finally catching up on email.

  • National Lampoon Sports Minutes (Or So)

  • Updating the countdown clock. (Yes, there will be one this year.)

  • Sharing code I wrote to convert Excel to HTML tables, and to automate the Horse Trailer.

  • The yearly Notre Dame Unified Winter Sports Schedule.

It's Ballot Time Again (Finally)

Once again, it's time to vote for the KankaNation Hall of Fame.

List up to 10 people you think should be in the KankaNation Hall of Fame, and email to by 5 pm Eastern on December 31.
Those who receive a certain percentage of the vote (depends on how many ballots are received; usually 66-75%) will join the Classes of 2004-2009. Those who received multiple votes last year will receive one carryover vote this year.

To view past inductees and voting results, click one of the links below:
Class of 2004
Class of 2005
Class of 2006
Class of 2007
Class of 2008
Class of 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 9: Navy (Express Preview)

The good news is that Clausen, Allen, Parris, and yes, Michael Floyd are back. Of course, Parris and Floyd will be limited, and Parris isn't even listed on the two-deep. (Walker, Evans, and Goodman are listed as Tate and Floyd's backups).

The bad news is that Crist and Trevor Robinson are out. But Robinson's loss will hopefully not be a big one, as he's replaced by Dan Wenger, who started for most of last season. Plus, Robinson's injury will give younger players a chance to gain experience on a line that now features five seniors.

The University of the Navy scares me to death with their triple option attack. The only way to beat it is to fight discipline with discipline, and that's something the Irish defense has lacked this year.

Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, and Brian Smith started slowly, but have improved as the season has gone on. They'll need to plug up the middle, or else Navy will keep pounding away with their fullback.

On the outside, smart assignment football is needed. The defensive ends shouldn't be an issue, as long as they can fight off the cut blocks. But senior John Ryan has been here before, and Kapron Lewis-Moore - assuming he can go despite an ankle injury last week - has quietly shined this year. (Perhaps he's another late blooming defensive lineman a la Trevor Laws?)

The outside linebackers and safeties are essential to preventing big runs. Te'o is only a freshman and facing a service academy for the first time. But he's shown the best instincts of anyone on this team not named Kyle McCarthy.

On the other side is Harrison Smith, whose mental lapses in assignments could spell trouble in this game. However, with Navy not running many three-receiver sets, we'll probably see more of Darius Fleming than Smith.

Another player to watch is strong safety Sergio Brown. He's a senior, but with little starting experience at his current position. Will he have the discipline to stay on his assignment, or will he go for the big play?

Oh, and on top of all that, Navy has a quarterback that can pass. Ricky Dobbs is averaging eight attempts and four completions a game, and nearly won it for the Midshipmen last year. Still, Notre Dame's goal will be to shut down the option on first and second down and force an obvious passing situation on third down. Navy may have their best passing quarterback in years, but even Dobbs can only do so much when the element of surprise is taken away.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Allen, Floyd, Harrison Smith, Brown


Notre Dame 34, Navy 23

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 8: Washington State

Washington State Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

#34 Logwone Mitz is listed as Washington State's new starting running back. That's a bit of a surprise, considering his 2.9 yards per carry average is a step back from the 3.3 YPC average of the guy he replaced, #31 Dwight Tardy.

But the 229-pound Mitz, 204-pound Tardy, and 197-pound #32 Carl Winston each bring something different to the table, so look for a mix of all three backs. Mitz is averaging five carries and 16 yards per game, Tardy eight for 26.6, and Winston seven for 34.7.

Washington State does not employ a fullback, and quarterback #10 Jeff Tuel does not run much unless it's backwards (the Cougars are giving up five sacks per game). However, a handful of Washington State receivers have recorded carries with varying success, so that is something to look out for.

Notre Dame's run defense is still a work in progress, giving up 127 yards per game. Safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith still lead the team in tackles, but linebackers Brian Smith and Manti Te'o are quickly gaining on them. Te'o has been especially impressive, leading the team in tackles ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup.

Also gaining on the leaders is end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who's quietly putting together a solid season with 28 tackles, five for a loss.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Washington State Run Defense

Armando Allen continues to pace the Irish run game, averaging 17 carries and 85.7 yards per game. Robert Hughes has been solid in his own right, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and matching Allen's team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

If all goes well for the Irish, Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick will be fighting for carries late in the game. As a sign of the vast improvement in the offensive line this year, Gray and fullback James Aldridge are the only Irish runners averaging less than four yards per carry this year. Of course, it won't take much for Gray to reach that mark, as he's already at 3.8 YPC.

Washington State's run defense is, bluntly, awful. Per game, the team is giving up 215.4 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Per carry, they're giving up 5.8 yards. It's hard to get the ball back when an opponent can pick up first downs in just two rushing attempts.

Predictably, the leading tacklers on this team are its safeties, #21 Chima Nwachukwu (55) and #26 Xavier Hicks. Unfortunately for the Cougars, linebacker #46 Louis Bland - who is third on the team with 42 tackles and tied for first with 4.0 tackles for a loss - is not on the depth chart after suffering a knee injury.

Washington State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Freshman Jeff Tuel has been a pleasant surpise for the Cougars. In four games, he's completed 61.4 percent of his passes with an efficiency rating of 132.7. He's averaging 165.5 yards per game with four touchdowns to three interceptions. On the average day, Tuel will attempt 22 passes and complete 13 or 14 of them.

Washington State runs a base 1 RB/1 TE/3 WR set, so it's no surprise that Jeff Tuel's top four targets this year have been receivers. #84 Jared Karstetter, #1 Gino Simone, #2 Daniel Blackledge, and #12 Jeffrey Solomon are each averaging multiple catches per game. Karstetter is leading the way with 48.1 yards per game and three touchdown catches.

Like many teams trying to find an identity with their passing game, Washington State has a slew of players averaging one catch per game. Notable are running back Dwight Tardy, tight end #14 Tony Thompson, and receiver #80 Johnny Forzani, who has a 99-yard touchdown to his credit this year.

Notre Dame needed to make some changes to its secondary, and last week it did. This week, they become official on the depth chart. Kyle McCarthy, leading the team with five interceptions, moves from strong safety to free. Sergio Brown moves from nickelback to strong safety. Jamoris Slaughter, who struggled to break into the rotation at corner, will split time with Brown at safety, like the two did against Boston College.

Meanwhile, Harrison Smith is now the "OR" starter at SAM linebacker behind Darius Fleming. To me, that means he'll continue the role he played against BC as a hybrid linebacker/nickelback on passing downs.

With Washington State using at least three receivers, the Irish will have to counter with that nickel look quite a bit. Hopefully, Notre Dame will continue what it did last week and sub in a talented corner for Harrison Smith when needed.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Washington State Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen Jimmy Clausen Jimmy Clausen. Clausen continues to impress, even if his average has dipped just below 300 yards per game. On a typical Saturday, Clausen will complete 21 of 33 passes (65.2 percent) for 292.9 yards and at least two touchdowns.

Clausen's favorite target by far is Golden Tate. Tate has not only kept his quarterback in the Heisman race, he's also starting to garner some attention for himself. Golden is averaging seven catches, 121 yards and a touchdown per game.

Coming in a distant second is Kyle Rudolph, whose production has taken a hit in October for a number of reasons. Rudolph is still averaging 41 yards and at least three catches per game. Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, and Armando Allen are each averaging at least two catches per game.

Notre Dame's receiving corps has really shown its depth even with Rudolph's struggles, the injuries to Parris and Michael Floyd, and the lingering effects of Shaq Evans's injuries. John Goodman has begun to establish himself as a reliable option on the outside, and Roby Toma has played his way into the mix at slot receiver.

Washington State's pass defense looks downright respectable compared to its run defense. The Cougars are giving up 284.1 yards per game in the air and have surrendered 13 passing touchdowns in seven games.

The Cougars have struggled to get to the quarterback, recording only seven sacks in as many contests. Ends #89 Travis Long and #96 Casey Hamlett lead the way with two apiece. WSU has had some success in the interception game, recording eight picks. Backup WILL linebacker #13 Myron Beck has two interceptions, including one that he ran back for a 67-yard touchdown.

Special Teams

Washington State kicker #18 Nico Grasu has struggled this year, converting only six of his 10 field goal attempts. He did convert on a 44-yarder against Stanford, though. For the Irish, Nick Tausch has now made 12 straight after missing the first attempt of his career.

#8 Reid Forrest punts for the Cougars. Forrest is a dark horse for team MVP, as he's averaging 43.8 yards per punt with a long of 65. Eight of his 49 punts have gone for 50 yards or more. Washington State's punt coverage team is giving up 12.2 yards per return. Ben Turk has struggled as Notre Dame's punter, and he's now listed as the "OR" option with Eric Maust on the depth chart. Turk is averaging just 35.7 yards per kick, compared to 39.8 for Maust. On top of that, it doesn't help that the Irish punt coverage team is giving up 17.7 yards per return.

Dwight Tardy and Carl Winston are the WSU kick returners. Tardy is averaging 18.6 yards per return with a long of 38. Winston is averaging 14.8 yards per return with a long of 24. David Ruffer has been impressive as the Irish kickoff specialist. He's averaging 62.2 yards per kick. But Notre Dame's kickoff team is surrendering 20.5 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 28.

Theo Riddick has become the primary kick returner for Notre Dame. He's averaging 23.8 yards per return with a long of 38. Nico Grasu also kicks off for the Cougars. He's averaging 59.6 yards per kick with three touchbacks in 12 tries. But Grasu's effort is somewhat wasted by a WSU kick coverage team giving up 26.9 yards per return. From that, Washington State opponents are getting an average start on the 35 yard line.

Jeffrey Solomon returns punts for Washington State. He's averaging a mere 6.4 yards per return with a long of 21. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's now averaging 7.8 yards per return, with a long of 23.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick, Sergio Brown, Harrison Smith, Ben Turk, Golden Tate


Notre Dame 40, Washington State 15

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 6: Boston College

Boston College Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

The Boston College offense is heavily run-oriented this year, averaging nearly 37 carries per game to 25 pass attempts. The workhorse of the Eagles run game is #2 Montel Harris. Harris is averaging 21 carries and 108 yards per game. He's also averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns on the season.

Harris is spelled by #29 Rolandan Finch and the diminuitive #1 Josh Haden. Haden is averaging eight carries and 30 yards per game, while Finch is averaging five carries and 22 yards per.

BC's starting quarterback, #15 Dave Schinskie, is not a threat with his legs. However, his backups #7 Justin Tuggle and #16 Mike Marscovetra are, so look for them to be sprinkled into the game against the Irish. Outside of Tuggle, Marscovetra, and the running backs, no Eagle has recorded a carry. But that doesn't mean BC won't pull out all the stops for this game.

Notre Dame's run defense plays right into Boston College's strengths. An inexperienced front seven for the Irish has given up 136.5 yards per game on the ground this year. All five of Notre Dame's starting defensive backs (counting nickel Sergio Brown) are among the top nine in tackles for the Irish. Kyle McCarthy leads the team with 54 tackles, 18 more than his nearest competition (fellow safety Harrison Smith), and 20 more than any member of the front seven (linebacker Brian Smith).

The Irish have been getting into the backfield, registering 40 tackles for loss in six games, but at this point most Irish fans would settle for more tackles within three yards of the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Boston College Run Defense

The Irish ground game has vastly improve this year, thanks largely to the hard, downhill running of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. Allen is averaging 16 carries and 83 yards per game, while Hughes is adding six carries for 29 yards. Both are right around 5.0 yards per carry.

Not to be outdone, Golden Tate is averaging two carries and 16 yards per game, for 7.0 yards per carry. Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick, Dayne Crist, James Aldridge, and LepreCat-QB-of-the-week John Goodman have also made positive contributions to the Irish running game.

Boston College is giving up 117 yards per game on the ground. That's not a good number, but certainly not a bad one either. Freshman linebacker #40 Luke Kuechly leads BC with 69 tackles, more than double anyone else on the team. So look for the Irish to run their base counter plays quite a bit to keep this freshman off balance (and to simply keep him away from the play). Kuechly is also second on the team with six tackles for loss. The Eagles are averaging seven TFL per game, so they like to spend time in opponents' backfields.

Boston College Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

BC's primary quarterback is Dave Schinskie. As a freshman, he's lucky to be able to rely on a solid running game to relieve pressure. As a passer, Schinskie is completing 53.9 percent of his attempts. In an average game, Schinskie will connect on nine of 16 passes for 116 yards. In seven games, Schinskie has nine touchdowns against four interceptions.

Justin Tuggle has struggled as a passer, completing only 13 of his 37 pass attempts with three interceptions to counter four touchdowns. Mike Marscovetra has been slightly more successful in limited action, completing 13 of 20 attempts for two touchdowns and no interceptions.

BC's primary target in the passing game is senior wideout #18 Rich Gunnell. Gunnell is averaging three catches and 37 yards per game. If stats are any indicator, #10 Colin Lamond is the deep threat to Gunnell's possesion receiver. Lamond is averaging just over two catches per game, but for 53 yards per contest. Lamond also leads the team with four touchdowns. Tight end #81 Chris Pantale is averaging close to two catches per game, and he's joined by a slew of players averaging around one catch per game.

It will be interesting to see how the Irish pass defense - surrendering 283 yards per game - will play Boston College and their young quarterbacks. BC runs a base two WR/one RB/one TE offense with either a fullback or a second tight end. They have a variety of players who have caught passes this year, but in essence only two or three primary receivers. With the extra blockers the Eagles keeps in for the run game, it may be most beneficial for the Irish to blanket BC's top two receivers, try their best to get a pass rush with the front four, and accept whatever short checkdowns Schinskie et al. choose to take.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Boston College Pass Defense

Heisman talk aside, Jimmy Clausen has been virtually unstoppable this year. Clausen is a far cry from the nervous mess who threw four picks in last year's BC contest. The Irish QB is now completing close to 65 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions in six games. On an average day, Clausen will complete 20 of 32 passes for 301 yards.

Golden Tate has willingly and capably stepped into the role of primary receiver following Michael Floyd's injury. Tate is averaging close to six catches, 120 yards, and one touchdown per game. Kyle Rudolph, handcuffed in the USC game due to a need for extra blockers, is still averaging four catches and 46 yards per game.

Robby Parris was the surprise hero of the USC game, with 9 catches for 92 yards. But an awkward landing ended his afternoon. The good news is that Parris's status has gradually been improving from out to doubtful to questionable over the course of this week. Even if he doesn't see action in this game, don't be surprised if Parris is playing in San Antonio next week.

In Parris's absence, look for Duval Kamara or Shaq Evans to step up. Both are averaging one catch and 12 yards per game, but have the ability to do more. The running backs may also become more involved in the passing game. In six contests, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray have combined for 21 catches.

Like Boston College's run defense, their pass defense has been decent but not great. The Eagles are giving up 212.1 passing yards per game. Despite the team's abililty to get into the backfield against the run, they only have 10 sacks on the year. Lineman #96 Kaleb Ramsey has two sacks, and eight other Eagles have single talleys in that category. BC has pulled in seven interceptions, led by free safety #45 Wes Davis and linebacker #26 Dominick LeGrande with two apiece.

Special Teams

Senior #83 Steve Aponavicius is back as BC's kicker, and he's converted all six of his field goal tries thus far. His longest has been for only 37 yards, but something still needs to be said for consistency. For the Irish, Nick Tausch has now made 10 straight after missing the first attempt of his career.

#46 Ryan Quigley is BC's punter. He's averaging "just" 40.9 yards per kick, but he does have a long of 58 and six total kicks of 50 yards or more. Quigley has also had plently of practice - his 45 punts work out to an average of more than six per game. Boston College's punt coverage team is giving up a very respectable 9.5 yards per return. Ben Turk is still Notre Dame's punter. After seven tries, his numbers are remarkably similar to Eric Maust's - an average of 38.3 yards per with a long of 48.

Running back #6 Jeff Smith is BC's primary kick returner. He's averaging 21.6 yards per return with a long of 42. David Ruffer has taken over as the Irish kickoff specialist. He averaged 62.2 yards per kick in his four tries last week. Notre Dame's kickoff team is giving up a mediocre 20.1 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 27.

Theo Riddick has become the primary kick returner for Notre Dame. He's averaging 23.7 yards per return with a long of 38. Ryan Quigley also kicks off for the Eagles, and with good reason. He's averaging 61.2 yards per kick with three touchbacks in 37 tries. UW's kickoff coverage team is giving up 20.5 yards per return, for an average start on the 26 yard line.

Rich Gunnell returns punts for Boston College. In 10 tries, he's averaging a very good 14.6 yards per return, including a 56-yard touchdown. Maybe the "posession reciever" label was premature. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's now averaging 7.8 yards per return, with a long of 23.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Duval Kamara, Harrison Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, David Ruffer, Ben Turk


Notre Dame 32, Boston College 24

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 5: Washington

Washington Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

Washington's leading rusher this year is running back #1 Chris Polk, averaging 21 carries and 79 yards per game. Quarterback #10 Jake Locker is also a threat with his legs, but perhaps not as much as opposing fans might expect. This year, Locker is averaging only eight carries and 18.5 yards per game. He does have two of the team's four rushing touchdowns on the year, though.

Washington's run game, averaging 108.2 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, has been a pretty straightforward dose of Locker and Chris Polk. Outside of those two, wide receiver #82 Jordan Polk has one carry, and three backup tailbacks have split 13 carries.

Notre Dame's run defense - and its defense as a whole - has been a concern for the Irish faithful this year. ND is giving up 130.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.4 yards per carry. The problem isn't getting into the backfield, as the team is averaging close to seven tackles for loss per game. The problem is one of consistency - those TFL are often offset by significant runs.

The key for the Irish front seven is discipline. Locker may not be running much this year, but he still has the ability to. That means ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Kerry Neal have to keep contain on the outside and tackles Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson have to clog holes on the inside. Then, once they do, the linebackers have to finish the job.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Washington Run Defense

How much has Notre Dame's run blocking improves this year? Even Dayne Crist is averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Not only that, but of all Notre Dame Running backs (yes, Golden Tate included), only Jonas Gray has a YPC average that can't match Crist. Armando Allen started running with a purpose in week one, Robert Hughes picked up his slack against Purdue, and strong, purposeful running has become the motto of the Irish backfield.

Allen is expected to return this week, but James Aldridge isn't. Allen is averaging 20 carries and 109 yards per game. Gray and Hughes are both averaging five to six carries and 20-plus yards per game. Sprinkle in some Theo Riddick and Tate out of the Wild Leprechaun, and you have the makings of a team averaging 158 yards per game on the ground.

If Armando Allen has any consolation for missing the Purdue game, it's that he gets to return against a Washington run defense giving up 195.8 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry. Suprisingly, the three starting linebackers still lead Washington in tackles. Notably, #9 Donald Butler leads the team with 38 tackles, 4.5 for a loss.

Washington Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Jake Locker has improved commendably this year, raising his completion percentage to 58.1 with six touchdowns to three interceptions. In an average game, Locker will complete 20 of 34 passes for 250 yards.

Locker's top target is freshman wideout #3 James Johnson, who's averaging five catches and 55 yards per game. Locker has also done a very good job of distributing the ball, as after Johnson come six players averaging at least two catches per game. They include tailbacks Chris Polk and #23 Johri Fogerson; receivers #15 Jermaine Kearse, #11 D'Andre Goodwin, and #9 Devin Aguilar; and tight end #80 Kavario Middleton.

Notre Dame's pass defense has been disappointing this season. Perhaps it's the schemes - blitzes mean no safety help, so the corners have to play loose, opting for the sure tackle instead of the pass breakup. That's a discussion for those who know more about football than I do. Coach Weis mentioned that the team mixed in more Cover 2 against Purdue, but the Boilers still had a very effective day in the air.

The Irish have managed just six sacks on 138 opponents' pass attempts, led by Darius Fleming with two. Notre Dame has also picked off five passes, led by Kyle McCarthy with three.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Washington Pass Defense

Whispers of "Jimmy Heisman" have begun as Jimmy Clausen has gutted his way through the last six quarters of football and still managed to look good doing it. When healthy, Clausen's average game consists of 19 completions on 29 attempts for 280 yards and at least two touchdowns.

Dayne Crist has also been reasonably effective, completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 61 yards.

Golden Tate is the new leading receiver for the Irish, averaging six catches and 89.5 yards per game. Next comes Kyle Rudolph with 4 catches and 53.5 yards per game. After the big guns, Armando Allen, Duval Kamara, Robby Parris, Jonas Gray, and Robert Hughes are all averaging at least one catch per game.

Washington's pass defense is giving up 183.5 yards per game. That number looks respectable at first, until you realize that opponents are attempting less than 25 passes per game thanks to UW's porous run defense. Multiply the Washington D's 7.7 yards given up per pass attempt by Notre Dame's 32 attempts per game, and the number jumps to 250 yards. Multiply Washington's 12.9 yards per completion by ND's 21.5 completions per game, and the number jumps to 277.

To make matters worse for Huskies fans, Washington has only recorded four sacks and two interceptions so far this year. No UW player has more than a single tally in either category.

Special Teams

#17 Erik Folk is in his first season kicking field goals for the Huskies. Folk's lone miss on the year is from 42 yards, but he did make a 46-yard kick against USC. For the Irish, Nick Tausch is now five of six on the year, with a long of 46.

Notre Dame faces another strong-legged punter this week in Washington's #46 Will Mahan. Mahan is averaging 42.7 yards per punt, with five of his 15 boots sailing 50 yards or more. His long is 61. In addition, Washington's punt coverage is giving up a modest 10.2 yards per return. After inconsistent play from Eric Maust, Ben Turk will get a try as the Irish punter this week. Notre Dame has only allowed two punt returns this year, but they've gone for a combined 49 yards.

Washington's primary kick returner is #28 Quinton Richardson, who's averaging 21.8 yards per return with a long of 35. Nick Tausch getting stronger by the week, now averaging 62.7 yards per kickoff. But the Irish kickoff team hasn't lived up to its past performance, giving up an average of 22.1 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start on the 28 yard line.

Theo Riddick has become the primary kick returner for Notre Dame. He's averaging 24.9 yards per return with a long of 38. Erik Folk also kicks off for the Huskies. He's averaging 56.5 yards per kick with one touchback in 19 tries. UW's kickoff coverage team is giving up 19.8 yards per return, for an average start on the 33 yard line.

Johri Fogerson returns punts for Washington. He's only had two chances so far this season, one going for 14 yards and the other for 23. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's now averaging 9.2 yards per return, with a long of 23.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Kerry Neal, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ben Turk, Golden Tate


Notre Dame 34, Washington 21

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009

An abbreviated preview for a hectic week.

The Boilers have a very effective run game, averaging 210 yards per on the ground, led by 140 per game from tailback #23 Ralph Bolden. However, after big days against Toledo and Oregon, the run game was held mostly in check by Northern Illinois.

Quarterback #14 Joey Elliot is one of those guys whose passes never hit the ground. He's completed 61% of his passes, but also has five picks already. Elliot also isn't afraid to run with the ball, averaging about five carries a game.

Purdue's base set is 3 WR, 1 RB, and 1 TE. Their pass game involves five passes a game to wideouts #17 Aaron Valentin and #8 Kevin Smith, with decent amounts of passes to running backs, tight ends, and other receivers mixed in.

The defense features SAM #24 Jason Werner and not much else. The defensive line does have two tackles over 300 pounds, but the rest of the front seven isn't very big. They also aren't very effective, giving up 181 rushing yards and over 250 passing yards per game.

Both kicker Carson Wiggs and punter Chris Summers have strong legs. Wiggs converted a 59-yarder in the opener, and his only miss this year is from 60.

This game will be a shootout if ND can't stop the run and can't get to the quarterback. But even without Michael Floyd, the Irish should still have enough guns to win it.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Purdue 25

Now, enjoy some Beat Purdue Memories.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 3: Michigan State

Michigan State Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

In the 90s, Michigan State was Wide Receiver U. This decade, their offense has become known for its steady stable of running backs. Even with the departure of Javon Ringer, MSU is still deep at the position.

The starter is small redshirt freshman #24 Caulton Ray, who is averaging 14 carries and 61 yards per game. Ray also has the team's lone rushing touchdown on the year. He is complemented by several backups, notably #22 Larry Caper, who is averaging six to seven carries and 33.5 yards per game.

The Spartans are employing a dual quarterback system this year, and of the two, #7 Keith Nichol is the runner. Nichol has had moderate success on the ground, averaging three to four carries and 17.5 yards per game.

Ray is averaging 4.4 yards per carry for the Spartans, and Caper and Nichol are both above five yards per carry. Michigan State uses a fullback, but no Spartan fullback has carried the ball yet. #82 Keshawn Martin has the team's lone carry made by a receiver, but don't rule out more by Martin and the other wideouts against Notre Dame.

After two weeks of seeing variations on the veer option, Notre Dame will finally face a traditional pro-style offense. That may be a blessing or a curse for a run defense that has been gashed to the tune of 171.5 yards per game so far.

Leading tacklers for the team continue to be safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith, followed by linebackers Brian Smith and Toryan Smith. Injuries limited Toryan's playing time in the Michigan game, but he should be back to full strength now. He'll need another performance like the one he had against Nevada to keep these MSU rushers at bay. Toryan is leading the team in tackles for a loss with 3.5, followed by Brian Smith and Darius Fleming with 2.0 apiece.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan State Run Defense

Last week, the Irish faithful saw a running performance perhaps unprecedented in the Weis era. It wasn't just Armando Allen's final numbers on the day, it was the way he ran - fighting and pushing for every yard he could get, refusing to go down until gang-tackled.

Allen is the definite starter on this team, averaging 18 carries and 105.5 yards per game. Jonas Gray has established himself as the top backup, but it remains to be seen how a fumble in the Michigan game will affect the sophomore's psyche. Gray is averaging six carries and 25 yards per game. Allen is averaging 5.9 yards per carry to Gray's 4.2.

James Aldridge is doubtful for Saturday's game, which likely means more of Robert Hughes and Bobby Burger at fullback. Hughes is averaging 3-4 carries and 10 yards per game, while Burger is used exclusively as a blocker - where he has excelled.

MSU's run defense has been stout this year, holding opponents to 64.0 yards per game. One may chalk that up to the quality of opponents the Spartans have faced thus far, but Michigan State has two things working in their favor. One, they held all-everything quarterback Dan LeFevour to just 0.8 yards per carry last week. And two, MSU's early success against the run has always been a sign of things to come, especially against the Irish.

The star of Michigan State's defense is middle linebacker #53 Greg Jones. Jones is the only MSU player with multiple tackles for a loss (he has 4.0 on the year), and he has almost twice as many overall tackles as any other member of the team.

Michigan State has undersized defensive ends, mostly weighing in under 250 pounds. So if the Irish call for more outside runs this week, it not only keeps the ball carrier away from Greg Jones (at least momentarily), it also lets Paul Duncan and Sam Young impose their decided weight advantage on those MSU ends.

Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Michigan State balances its effective running game with an efficient passing game. "Running quarterback" Keith Nichol has only completed 46.2 percent of his passes, but he does have three touchdowns. Starter #8 Kirk COusins, meanwhile, has completed a Clausen-esque 65.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns.

On the average day, Cousins will complete 12 of 18 passes for 173.5 yards, while Nichol will complete six of 13 for 93 yards. Neither quarterback has thrown an interception on the season.

If Michigan State is to win back the title of Wide Receiver U, it will be on the shoulders of senior wideout #25 Blair White. White is averaging eight catches, two touchdowns, and 133.5 yards per game.

Not to be forgotten is White's opposite number, #3 BJ Cunningham. Cunningham has two touchdown receptions of his own, and is averaging at least three catches and 58.5 yards per game.

A trio of tight ends - #83 Charlie Gantt, #88 Brian Linthicum, and #80 Dion Sims - each have three catches and one touchdown on the year, so Notre Dame will have to look out for these tall threats in the red zone.

Michigan State have seven passing touchdowns to only one on the ground, so it's time for Notre Dame's hyped secondary to put up or shut up. The Irish are holding opponents to 197 passing yards per game, a respectable number. But it's the way that Notre Dame has done it that has caused some gnashing of teeth, as defensive backs seem to play soft in coverage to go for the sure tackle instead of trying to defend the pass itself.

Four Irish have registered sacks, including Brian and Toryan Smith, Darius Fleming, and John Ryan. Ryan has played well in 2009, hoping to erase his forgettable 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen is still an improved quarterback, even if he isn't going to hit on 90 percent of his passes every game. On an average day, the junior will connect on 20 of 30 passes for 325.5 yards and 3-4 touchdowns. Most importantly, Clausen has yet to throw a pass to the opposite jerseys this year.

Notre Dame's top receivers are Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, each of whom are averaging six catches per game. Tate is averaging 87 yards per game and has two touchdowns on the year. Floyd is averaging 160 yards per game and has four touchdowns on the year. The sophomore Floyd should be good to go this weekend after a gash from the Big House warning track required 15 stitches.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph is averaging 3-4 catches and 33.5 yards per game. Meanwhile, Armando Allen hasn't been as much of a factor in the passing game this year as he has in the past. But that's probably due to the increase in passes to Tate and Floyd more than anything else. Allen is averaging 2-3 catches and 24.5 yards per game.

Michigan State's pass defense is giving up 225 yards per game. But that number is a bit misleading, as the Spartans gave up only 98 passing yards to Montana State, but 352 to Central Michigan.

A number of Spartans have recorded a sack this year, including Greg Jones, defensive tackle #99 Jerel Worthy, and ends #58 Trevor Anderson, #89 Colin Neely, and #54 David Rolf. MSU's lone interception was scored by cornerback #9 Jeremy Ware.

Special Teams

#14 Brett Swenson is Michigan State's placekicker for the fourth straight year, and for good reason. Swenson is perfect on the season, converting three field goals in the 30-39 yard range, plus one from 45 yards. Freshman Nick Tausch missed from 28 yards in his first collegiate attempt last week, but went on to convert 34- and 42-yarders.

MSU can be proud of its kickers, as Lou Groza candidate Brett Swenson is joined by Ray Guy candidate #18 Aaron Bates at punter. Bates is certainly making his case for the award, as he's averaging 48.9 yards per punt on the season. Four of Bates's seven punts have gone for 50 or more yards, including his long of 57. Michigan State is giving up 8.8 yards per punt return, a very respectable number. Notre Dame's Eric Maust is averaging 40.3 yards per punt with a long of 46, but has been inconsistent at times this year. Still, opponents have yet to be able to make a return on a Maust punt.

Michigan State's primary kick returner is #41 Glenn Winston, another member of their stable of running backs. Winston is averaging 23 yards per return with a long of 38. Nick Tausch is averaging 60.5 yards per kickoff. But the Irish kickoff team hasn't lived up to its past performance, giving up an average of 24.2 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start on the 34 yard line.

Theo Riddick and Barry Gallup have shared kick return duties for the Irish. Riddick has two returns, each for 23 yards. Gallup has one return for 52 yards and another for 25. Kickoff duties for Michigan State have been split between Brett Swenson and #4 Dan Conroy. Both are averaging about 64 yards per kick, and Conroy has the lone touchback between them. MSU is giving up 22.4 yards per kick return, leaving opponents with an average starting field position around the 28 yard line.

Keshawn Martin returns punts for the Spartans. He's averaging 12.2 yards per return with a long of 26. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's only had one chance so far this year, though, and it went for -2 yards.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, Eric Maust, Barry Gallup


Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 23

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 2: Michigan

Michigan Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

In the opener against Western Michigan, Wolverines quarterbacks kept the ball on 23 run attempts and handed off on 27. That's a pretty even mix, especially considering that 22 of those 23 keepers were made by freshmen quarterbacks #5 Tate Forcier and #16 Denard Robinson. Forcier, the starter, ran 11 times for 37 yards and Robinson 11 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Only one carry came from a receiver, as #19 Kelvin Grady went for 11 yards. This is a contrast from the Florida and Missouri spreads, which liberally hand off to their slot receivers. However, it's possible that Michigan was simply saving those plays for bigger games - like this week's.

Running back #23 Carlos Brown had 10 carries for 54 yards, while fellow backs #20 Michael Shaw and #2 Vincent Smith had 7 for 34 and 6 for 23 respectively. So the Wolverines like to mix in all their capable backs.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan mainstay #24 Kevin Grady has essentially fallen to fourth string, seeing only two carries for seven yards. On one hand, it's not surprising to see the 230 lb Grady passed over in favor of smaller, quicker backs in the spread offense. But on the other hand, Rich Rodriguez did have success with bruising fullbacks like Owen Schmitt at West Virginia.

Notre Dame's went the bend-don't-break route against Nevada's run game in week 1, giving up 153 rushing yards and letting safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith lead the team in tackles. Middle linebacker Toryan Smith was right behind them, and he'll have another chance to play the role of run-stuffer against the Wolverines.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

Armando Allen and Jonas Gray both had efficient games against Nevada, averaging 4.8 and 5.6 yards respectively. Allen ran 15 times for 72 yards, while Gray got his fair share of touches with 9 carries for 50 yards.

It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame handles the fullback situation with James Aldridge out. Aldridge ran rather effectively before leaving the Nevada game with a shoulder injury. Will Notre Dame turn the fullback role over to the untested Steve Paskorz? Will they give Robert Hughes a crash course at the position? Or will they scrap the fullback entirely in favor of one-back sets and formations using H-back Bobby Burger?

The Wolverines were in Western Michigan's backfield all day, holding the Broncos to just 38 rushing yards. Michigan returns four starters to its front seven, which runs a hybrid 3-4 defense with a linebacker that can also be used as a 4-3 defensive end.

The Michigan D is led by end #55 Brandon Graham and middle linebacker #45 Obi Ezeh. Graham was held in check by the Broncos, but Ezeh had a forced fumble and six tackles, one and a half for a loss. Outside linebacker #3 Stevie Brown and "Quick" linebacker #58 Brandon Herron combined for 9 tackles in the game.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For the most part, the spread is a fairly balanced offense. So, despite the fact that Tate Forcier was making his college debut, he still had 20 pass attempts. Forcier completed 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, a pretty efficient day. Denard Robinson completed two of the four passes he attempted, for 18 yards. For the most part, it looks at this point like Forcier is the better overall quarterback, and track champion Robinson is just out for his running ability. But Robinson will try the ocassional short pass to keep defenses in check.

Wideout #21 Junior Hemingway was Forcier's top target in week 1, hauling in five catches, two of them touchdowns, for 103 yards. Tight end #86 Kevin Koger, veteran receiver #13 Greg Mathews, and Kelvin Grady also had multiple catches. If one game is any indication, Hemingway will be the deep threat, with Koger, Matthews, and Grady playing safety valves for their young quarterback.

Notre Dame used a talented secondary and efficient blitzing to hold Nevada to an 18 percent success rate on third down and 153 passing yards overall. The Irish corners continue to play soft in man coverage, seemingly preferring a catch and a sure tackle to a big gain on an attempted (and failed) pass breakup. Like last week, Notre Dame's safeties and blitzers can't get too greedy and leave the corners out on islands too often.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has been near perfect in his last two starts against the WAC, and now he'll get to try his luck against the Big 10. In the season opener, Clausen was an efficient 15 for 18 for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Clausen will work to four primary targets this year, wideouts Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and back Armando Allen. Going against a tougher defense this week, Clausen's goal should be avoiding bad habits from last year, notably not forcing the ball to Kyle Rudolph in coverage.

Michigan's secondary is a cause for concern. Despite two interceptions, the Wolverines did allow Western Michigan to complete almost 60 percent of its passes for 263 yards. Corner #6 Donovan Warren had one of those interceptions, and also led Michigan with 6.5 tackles in the opener.

But don't assume that Michigan's thin secondary means that Notre Dame will come out in four- and five-wide sets. Against Nevada, the Irish mostly utilized traditional two- and three-wide sets to help protect Jimmy Clausen, and they still had success through the air.

Special Teams

After three years on the practice squad, #92 Jason Olesnavage has earned a spot as Michigan's starting placekicker. In the opener, Olesnavage hit from 44 yards in his only field goal attempt. Freshman Nick Tausch of Notre Dame did not attempt a field goal last week, but he did chip in all five extra point attempts.

To recap, Michigan's quarterback is 6'1", 188; its placekicker is 6'5", 213; and punter #41 Zoltan Mesko is 6'5", 231. Mesko punted five times in the Western Michigan game, a number that tarnishes Michigan's offensive numbers a bit. Of course, maybe the Wolverines just wanted to show off his powerful leg, one that averaged 47.2 yards per punt in the game with a long of 66. In the "it's only one game" category, Michigan gave up only 3 yards per punt return. Notre Dame's Eric Maust punted three times last week with a long of 43 yards and an average of 40.7. Nevada was not able to make a return.

Michigan's kick returners are backup receivers #22 Darryl Stonum and #9 Martavious Odoms. Each had one return for 20 yards last week. Nick Tausch averaged 58.5 yards per kick last week, even including a kick where he lost his footing. The Irish gave up 17.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start around the 30.

Notre Dame's Theo Riddick had the team's lone kick return last week, for 23 yards. It remains to be seen who will replace James Aldridge next to Riddick this week.. Michigan returns kickoff specialist #43 Bryan Wright. Wright averaged 66.5 yards per kick with one touchback in week 1. Michigan gave up 22.2 yards per kick return. That's an average start on the 26 yard line.

Greg Mathews returns punts for the Wolverines. He's had two returns in 2009, one for zero yards and one for 16. Returning punts for the Irish will be either Golden Tate or Armando Allen. In Tate's lone chance last week, he had a -2 yard return.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, Nick Tausch, Theo Riddick


Notre Dame 21, Michigan 16

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 1: Nevada

Nevada Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

Much has been made of quarterback 10 Colin Kaepernick's running ability, and the 1298 rushing yards he accumulated in 2008. But while Kaepernick led the team in rushing touchdowns, he was only second on the team in yards to running back 34 Vai Taua.

Kaepernick and Taua run a two-man option rushing attack out of Nevada's pistol formation. Last year, Taua averaged 18 carries and 117 yards per game, while Kaepernick added 11 carries and 98 yards per game (sacks excluded).

The pistol is a one-back formation, and in fact Nevada does not list any fullbacks on its roster. Also, don't confuse the pistol with the spread attacks run at places like Florida or Missouri. While the Wolf Pack will ocassionally hand the ball off to one of its three wideouts, receiver runs are not a primary part of its game. Last year, no Nevada wide receiver had more than seven rushes on the season.

Notre Dame's front seven returns only three starters this season. However, maybe that's a good thing, as the Irish run defense gave up 134 yards per game in 2008. The line and linebackers are an exciting group of players, each with an interesting story to tell. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal are now the steady leaders of the group. Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming return after breakout freshman campaigns. Ian Williams and Toryan Smith are out for redemption. And Kapron Lewis-Moore, Steve Filer, and Manti Te'o are itching to make an impact in their college debuts.

Defending the option calls for discipline on the outside and a good push on the inside. That will take patience from Lewis-Moore and converted defensive end Fleming. It will also be an excellent chance for Johnson to prove the move from end to defensive tackle was wise, and for Williams and Toryan Smith that they belong with the first team.

The option will also require run support from the safeties, and neither Kyle McCarthy nor Harrison Smith are afraid to mix it up in the box. How else would McCarthy lead the team in tackles in 2008 and Smith volunteer to play outside linebacker?

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Nevada Run Defense

Armando Allen is the number one back outright this year, and now it's his job to prove he earned that right. Allen averaged 10 carries per game and 4.4 yards per carry in 2008 - numbers that Irish fans both hope will improve in 2009. Backing up Allen will be sophomore Jonas Gray, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited playing time last year, but who also had fumble trouble in his introduction to college ball. Behind Allen and Gray is Robert Hughes, who has fallen out of his coach's good graces for playing like a small back despite weighing in at 234 lbs.

James Aldridge has been moved to fullback, and it will be interesting to see how he is used this season. The fullback has not seen many touches in Notre Dame's offense these past few years, but that may simply be due to the fact that the Irish haven't had an offensive threat at that position. Also, if Gray and Hughes falter early this year, don't be surprised to see Aldridge back in a tailback when Allen comes out of the game.

Now is the time for the Irish to improve their mediocre run game. Depth and experience are no longer issues at running back or along the offensive line. So if the talent is there, it's time for it to shine.

Nevada's front seven features three seniors and two juniors, and their defense as a whole held opponents to 3.1 yards per carry and 88 yards per game. Those are fairly impressive numbers, no matter who you're facing.

The Wolf Pack return three players who had double-digit tackles for a loss in 2008. Most notable is sophomore SAM linebacker 52 James-Michael Johnson, who registered 12.5 TFL in his freshman campaign. Johnson will look to lead Nevada's linebacking corps, as he is the lone returning starter in that unit.

Nevada Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For all that is made of Colin Kaepernick's running ability, his passing also deserves some recognition. A 54.3 percent completion rate and 219 yards per game by themselves won't win a Heisman Trophy, but a 22 to 7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is certainly impressive. On average in 2008, Kaepernick completed 16 of 29 passes per game.

Nevada primarily utilizes three wideouts, but of their top three receivers in 2008 only one returns in 2009. 14 Chris Wellington averaged three catches and 48.6 yards per game while also grabbing six touchdowns on the year. 82 Tray Session only caught one pass in 2008, while 18 Brandon Wimberly will make his collegiate debut after redshirting last year.

Running back Vai Taua averaged two catches and 18.7 yards per game in 2008, while tight end 85 Virgil Green - a returning starter - averaged one catch and 12.6 yards. In otherwords, Nevada will go to checkdown options on ocassion, but the three wide receivers are Colin Kaepernick's main targets.

This season, Notre Dame will march out its most talented secondary in years. Robert Blanton gets the nod at one starting cornerback position, while the other will be a gametime decision between Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. The indecision there comes from limited practice time for Walls due to a mild hamstring injury. But either player can fill the role admirably, as can any of their backups.

As mentioned above, both safeties are more than willing to help in run support. But they can't get greedy, or else Nevada will burn them over the top.

It remains to be seen how effective Notre Dame's pass rush will be, or how much pressure they'll try to get on Kaepernick. With an inexperienced front, the Irish may instead try to contain the run and let the defensive backs worry about the passing game.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Nevada Pass Defense

When Jimmy Clausen let go of the ball in 2008, it didn't hit the ground much. Clausen completed 60.9 percent of his passes last year, 64.8 if you count his 17 interceptions. So which quarterback will the Irish get this year? The mid-November Clausen who forced passes into triple coverage? Or the December version who threw a "perfect game" in the Hawaii Bowl? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Clausen's 2008 receivers can be divided into three tiers: those who caught four or more passes per game (Golden Tate, Armando Allen, Michael Floyd), those who caught three per game (David Grimes), and those who caught one to two passes per game (Kyle Rudolph, Duval Kamara, Robert Hughes, Robby Parris).

Two questions arise from this list. One, who will move up to Grimes's tier? Rudolph, Kamara, and Parris are obvious choices, but don't count out any of the freshman, either. Two, who besides Armando Allen will catch passes out of the backfield? James Aldridge has only 11 career receptions, and Jonas Gray was not thrown to last year. Will one of them see more screens come their way in 2009, or will Hughes get to see the field just for this purpose?

The stars of Nevada's defense are its ends. 99 Kevin Basped had 18.5 TFL, 10 sacks, and three forced fumbles last year, while 55 Dontay Moch had 17.5, 11.5, and 4. Both are back to lead a veteran defensive line this year.

It's a good thing Nevada has such great pass rushers, because when the opposing quarterback did get the ball off, the results weren't pretty. The Wolf Pack gave up 311 passing yards per game in 2008. Its top two tacklers were both defensive backs, and only one of those two - free safety 49 Jonathon Amaya - returns this year. Amaya also led the Wolf Pack with four interceptions in 2008, followed by 2009's strong safety 25 Mo Harvey with three.

To prey on Nevada's defensive weaknesses, the Irish should employ a steady diet of screens (and draws) and deep passes. Fortunately, these are things the Irish excelled at in 2008. Notre Dame can also choose to spread Nevada's secondary thin with its bevy of talented receivers, or aid Jimmy Clausen and the line by keeping tight ends in to protect against the pass rush.

Special Teams

Nevada's placekicker is junior college transfer 46 Ricky Drake. Notre Dame's placekicker is freshman Nick Tausch, who won the job impressively in fall practice. Stats are not available for either player.

48 Brad Langley returns as Nevada's punter. In 2008, he averaged 44.0 yards per punt with a long of 77. How do mid-majors continue to land strong legs like this? Or is it just the thin mountain air and turf fields? Last season, the Wolf Pack punt coverage team gave up 9.2 yards per return, a very respectable number. Notre Dame returns punter Eric Maust as a scholarship player after averaging 41.1 yards per punt in 2008 with a long of 54. Last year, the Irish punt coverage team was outstanding, holding opponents to just 6.0 yards per punt return.

Nevada's kick returners are slated to be a combination of 24 Brandon Fragger, 5 Mike Ball, and Brandon Wimberley Of the trio, only Fragger returned kicks in 2008, averaging 18.2 yards with a long of 26. Nick Tausch will also kickoff for the Irish. He has been praised not for his ability to boot the ball out of the endzone, but for his hang time, which allows Notre Dame's fantastic kick coverage team a chance to get down the field. Last year, that kick coverage team gave up just 16.5 yards per return.

Notre Dame's choices for kick returner may be a bit of a surprise. James Aldridge and freshman halfback Theo Riddick start the year at that position. Last year, Aldridge returned one kick for 15 yards. Behind Aldridge and Riddick on the depth chart are freshman Shaquelle Evans and senior Barry Gallup. Nevada's kickoff specialist will be either Ricky Drake or sophomore 39 Nick Rhodes. Like Drake, Rhodes has yet to see field action for the Wolf Pack. In 2008, Nevada's kickoff coverage was pedestrian, giving up 26.1 yards per return.

The Wolf Pack have three players vying for punt return duty: 5 Thaddeus Brown, Vai Taua, and 24 Khalid Wooten. None of the three returned punts in 2008. Returning punts for the Irish will be either Golden Tate or Armando Allen. Tate averaged 8.3 yards per return in 2008, with a long of 42. Allen had an average of 9.4 with a long of just 22, but he did add a 96-yard kickoff return in the Hawaii Bowl.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Toryan Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Nick Tausch, and Theo Riddick


Notre Dame 38, Nevada 24

Monday, August 31, 2009

St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Book Reviews

St. Martin's Press and Thomas Dunne Books were kind enough to send me advance copies of two books and a DVD, due out September 1. Read all about 'em:

DVD Review: Echoes Awakened

Echoes Awakened is the companion DVD to Jim Dent's new title Resurrection, about Ara Parsegian's first season at Notre Dame. The DVD is a great concept: Dent had already interviewed many key figures for his book, so why not put them in front of a camera and let them tell the story of 1964 themselves?

The DVD starts with an introduction by Lou Holtz. If you could only say two truths about Coach Holtz, they're these: he loves Our Lady's University and he can sell anything to anyone. Holtz's excitement is tangible as he explains why the 1964 season was one of the greatest moments in Notre Dame football history.

Player, coach, and media interviews are intertwined with narration by Brent Musberger. Say what you will about Musberger, but his voice has become one of the iconic sounds of college football, and that voice helps make this DVD.

Together, the likes of Nick Rassas, Tony Carey, Ara Parseghian, and others guide the viewer through the 1964 season, from the reorganization process that began with Parseghian's hiring to the heartbreaking loss to USC at the end of the year.

For those who have read Resurrection, it was nice to put current faces and voices to the names featured in the book, like Rassas, Carey, John Huarte, and Ken Maglicic. Huarte's forehead may be a little longer than it was 45 years ago, but the quarterback is still as handsome as his college days, with a golden voice to match. It's a wonder why he isn't a broadcaster these days.

Echoes also gives viewers a chance to hear from a few people who were perhaps overlooked in Resurrection, like center Norm Nicola and offensive coordinator Tom Pagna.

The DVD ends, like the 1964 season, on a bit of a sour note. Several players are still bitter over the shoddy refereeing in the USC game that they feel cost the Irish a National Championship. It's hard not to get caught up in their emotions, even all of these years later.

Echoes Awakened is the perfect companion DVD to Resurrection, and a great look at the 1964 for any fan of the Era of Ara.

Echoes Awakened is due out on DVD September 1 and is available in the Notre Dame Bookstore. Thank you to Thomas Dunne Books and St. Martin's Press for sending a review copy.

Book Review: Resurrection by Jim Dent

Inept coaching. An administration deemphasizing football. Highly-touted recruits who didn't produce on the field. The team's best talent rotting on the bench. Dwindling fan support.

What has been true of the past decade of Irish football was true in the 1950s and early 60s, as Notre Dame followed Frank Leahy's tenure with a series of underqualified coaches and dismal records.

That is, until 1964, when the administration broke its tradition of hiring alumni of Irish descent and signed an Armenian Presbyterian to be there new head coach. If he could succeed and run a clean program at Northwestern, there's no reason why Ara Parseghian couldn't do it at Notre Dame.

Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame follows Parseghian and some of that rotting talent as they put together one of the most memorable years in Notre Dame's long history. Resurrection follows the miracle theme by highlighting, among others, Tony Carey, All-American Nick Rassas, NFL legend Jack Snow, and Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte, all of whom rarely saw the field before Parseghian took over. Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys, does a fantastic job of intertwining the players' and coaches' stories with the events of the day, like the mourning of JFK and the advent of the British Invasion.

If you're a fan of the Era of Ara like we are, there's no reason not to love this book (especially thanks to a cameo appearance by Coach Yonto that's sure to elicit a smile from those who knew him). In building a chronological library of Notre Dame football history, Resurrection picks up where Shake Down the Thunder and Leahy's Lads left off.

Resurrection is due out September 1 from St. Martin's Press and Thomas Dunne Books. Thanks to both for the advance copy.

Book Review: Rough & Tumble by Mark Bavaro

A true football novel can only be written by someone who played the game. Mark Bavaro makes that clear from the first chapter of his debut novel, Rough & Tumble. It's one thing to say a tight end ran a five-yard hitch to make a catch, it's quite another to spend two pages describing every little juke, maneuver, and evasion technique it took to slip past the defense to get in place to make the catch.

But Rough & Tumble isn't a dry, drawn-out story about play on the field. It's a fast, enthralling look at the full life of a football player - from the morning routine on the trainer's table, to the boredom of team meetings, to the cheap shots suffered on even the most basic of plays.

Bavaro's alter-ego Dom Fucillo must deal with a cast of characters that surely are already familiar to Giants fans - a hard-nosed head coach, a star linebacker who parties too hard, and an injured quarterback whose main concern is a future in broadcasting. But those aren't Fucillo's only demons, as he also must deal with an estranged girlfriend, a faith that has become more superstition than religion, and injuries that could end his career at any moment.

If Bavaro deserves any criticism for Rough & Tumble, it's from his fine literary skills outshining the supposed lack of intelligence of his first-person narrator, Fucillo. Still, all of that is quickly lost in an entertaining and exciting story.

The paperback version of Rough & Tumble is available September 1 from St. Martin's Press and Thomas Dunne Books. Thank you to St. Martin's and Thomas Dunne for an advance copy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Kicker and Punter

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Nick Tausch
2008 (HS)-9-15--

Also Returning: Ryan Burkhart, Eric Maust, Brandon Walker
Lost: Joe Bizjak (graduation)
Gained: David Ruffer (walk-on), Ben Turk (freshman)

Stepping onto campus this fall, Nick Tausch had a chance to be Notre Dame's kickoff specialist, and possibly even their placekicker. Well, he's already won both jobs.

No, you won't see Tausch booming kickoffs out of the back of the end zone - yet, at least. Tausch won kickoff responsibilities based on hangtime. Charlie Weis is a big fan of hangtime on kickoffs, and it's that philosophy that helped Notre Dame's kick coverage team hold opponents to the lowest return average in the nation last year. (Of course, players like Mike Anello, David Bruton, and Sergio Brown helped those numbers too.)

Some Irish fans may think Tausch won the placekicking job by default, since his only competition was Brandon Walker. But bear in mind that after a rough start, Walker was very dependable down the stretch - at a time when the rest of the team was faltering. Plus, Walker was 39 for 39 in PAT attempts last year, an impressive feat for a college kicker. So Tausch still had to show something to beat out the incumbent for his spot.

Eric Maust returns as Notre Dame's punter, with a respectable career average of 41 yards per punt. But Maust wasn't without consistency problems in 2008, so look for Ben Turk to push him for playing time. Maust can forgo a fifth year of eligibility in 2010 to focus on a professional baseball career, so Coach Weis may want to get Turk some playing time this year in case the freshman is needed for full-time duty next season.

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Cornerback

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Darrin Walls

Also Returning: Mike Anello, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Raeshon McNeil
Lost: Terrail Lambert, John Leonis (graduation)
Gained: Michael Garcia, Nick Lezynski, Andrew Plaska, Ryan Sheehan, Joshua Stull (walk-ons), Jamoris Slaughter (DNP as freshman), Kael Anderson, EJ Banks (freshmen)

Darrin Walls wasn't enrolled at Notre Dame in 2008. He's spent most of fall practice nursing injuries. Yet he still enters the season as a starting cornerback. That's just how good this kid is.

In recent years, if someone said that a player could walk right into Notre Dame's lineup at starting cornerback after missing all that time, an Irish fan would have just rolled their eyes and complained about the mediocrity at the position going back to Bob Davie's time. (Especially the "Heisman Makers" who were continually burned by Palmer, Leinart, et al.) But that's not the case this year. Notre Dame has a slew of talented corners this year, and for Walls to beat them out is more of a testament to his own talent than a knock on anyone else's.

Robert Blanton will start opposite Walls. Blanton earned that right after inspired, emotional play in the second half of 2008. Now, the playmaker - who recorded two interceptions and three tackles for loss as a freshman - will have to prove he has the discipline to be an every-down cover guy. Obviously, the Notre Dame coaching staff has faith in him, otherwise they wouldn't be starting him in front of Raeshon McNeil or Gary Gray.

McNeil, seemingly forever in buddy Darrin Walls's shadow, quietly stepped up when Walls couldn't go last year, to the tune of 41 tackles and two interceptions of his own. Now, just as quietly, he will return to his role as a nickel or dime back.

Waiting in the wings are two more talented young players, Gary Gray and Jamoris Slaughter. Slaughter is listed as Walls's primary backup at right corner, while Gray is third left cornerback behind Blanton and McNeil.

Rounding out the depth chart are freshman EJ Banks and special teams ace Mike Anello. But with all the talent this unit provides, Anello probably won't see any defensive snaps until senior day.

Ironically, in a year when Notre Dame's secondary is the best in years, the Irish opponents have few - if any - household names at quarterback and wide receiver. The best quarterbacks Notre Dame will face - Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Washington's Jake Locker - are known more for their running ability than their passing (although Kaepernick is somewhat of an underrated passer). Michigan, Michigan State, and USC will trot out highly recruited wideouts, as usual, but each school will also be breaking in a new quarterback this season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Safety

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Sergio Brown


Also Returning: Chris Bathon, Leonard Gordon, Ray Herring, Kyle McCarthy
Lost: David Bruton, Jashaad Gaines (graduation)
Gained: Harrison Smith (position change - linebacker), Thomas Smith (walk-on), Dan McCarthy (DNP as freshman), Zeke Motta (Freshman)

Last season Sergio Brown impressed everyone with his play, enough to work his way into the starting lineup. Brown especially left a lasting impression at the end of 2008, and it will be interesting to see how he will be used in 2009. Will he remain at nickelback despite Notre Dame's abundance of talent at that position? Or will Harrison Smith slide down to linebacker during passing downs, despite the depth at that position as well? That remains to be seen, and all Brown can do is continue to practice and play well.

Speaking of Harrison Smith, the return to safety - his natural position - has been called "seamless" by Head Coach Charlie Weis. Between the inspired play of Brown and Smith, and 2008 team-leading tackler Kyle McCarthy, the safety position is at the heart of what is already considered the best Irish secondary since the Holtz years.

Behind Smith, Brown, and McCarthy are three talented players in their own right. Ray Herring (of recruiting blog fame) is back for his last hurrah, but he'll have to fight off both Dan McCarthy and Zeke Motta for playing time.

On a less serious note, putting names on the jerseys wouldn't be much help to the casual fan this year. The Irish project to have four Smiths starting on defense this year (Harrison at safety, and Scott, Toryan, and Brian at linebacker), with a fifth - walk-on safety Thomas - waiting on the sidelines.

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Linebacker

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Toryan Smith

Also Returning: Tom Burke, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Brian Smith, Scott Smith
Lost: Maurice Crum, Jr., Aaron Nagel, Steve Quinn, Kevin Smith, Kevin Washington (graduation), Kerry Neal, Martin Quintana, Kallen Wade (position change - defensive end), Harrison Smith (position change - safety)
Gained: Sean Oxley (walk-on), Anthony McDonald, David Posluszny (DNP as freshmen), Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Manti Te'o (freshmen)

It seems like every year Toryan Smith enters fall practice as the starting middle linebacker, then loses his job before the leaves turn. For Toryan, things must look especially bad this year, as the Irish come in with more talented linebackers than at any time during the senior's career.

If Toryan Smith wants to play as much as possible, he'll have to prove his worth as a run stopper. But even playing him on obvious rushing downs is no longer a given, as Brian Smith and Manti Te'o - the obvious choices to replace Toryan in the middle - already rival him in physical size.

Scott Smith enters with a similar story. The senior has finally worked his way into the starting lineup, but he too will have to prove his worth as a run stopper to stay on the field. There is already talk that Darius Fleming - who similarly does not have much of a size disadvantage compared to Scott Smith - is working his way into the starting SAM spot. And hot on Fleming's heels is Steve Filer - to the point where both may see the field as outside linebackers at the same time.

Then there's the possibility of Fleming playing defensive end on passing downs, like he did as a freshman last year. This is a talented and versatile linebacking group - a problem any defensive coordinator would love to have, especially a blitz-happy one like John Tenuta. To recap, there's Toryan Smith at the MIKE; Brian Smith and Manti Te'o at the MIKE or WILL; Scott Smith at the SAM; Darius Fleming at the SAM, WILL, or defensive end; and Steve Filer at the SAM or WILL.

That's not bad for a group that "lost" nine players from the start of 2008, including two starters. Plus it's not couting newcomers David Posluszny and Carlo Calabrese, who have impressed so far in fall practice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Defensive Line

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line

Spotlight: Kerry Neal

Also Returning: Ethan Johnson, Paddy Mullen, Andrew Nuss, Emeka Nwankwo, Martin Quintana, Morrice Richardson, John Ryan, Ian Williams
Lost: Dorian Inzunza, Pat Kuntz
Gained: Kallen Wade (position change - linebacker), Christopher Skubis (walk-on), Sean Cwynar, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams (DNP as freshmen), Tyler Stockton (freshman)

As Notre Dame transitions back into a 43 defense, each starter has a claim to the spotlight. Kapron Lewis-Moore did not play as a freshman, but a drastic bulking up (220 pounds as a freshman to 270 as a sophomore) and impressive displays in practice have made him a starting defensive end. Ian Williams is looking to rebound from a disappointing sophomore season after a breakout freshman performance. Ethan Johnson moves from a 34 defensive end as a freshman to a 43 tackle as a sophomore.

And then there's Kerry Neal. Neal burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2007, playing opposite Brian Smith at outside linebacker. Neal's 2008 numbers were nearly identical to those he put up the previous season, which is disappointing considering the increased playing time. Now he will attempt to play defensive end despite still playing at linebacker size (6'2", 250 pounds). Presumably, Ethan Johnson will slide over to defensive end on obvious rushing downs, but what does that mean for Neal? In other years, he may have slid back to outside linebacker. But as the Irish linebacking corps improves, Neal may find himself on the sidelines when the situation calls for a big stop on the ground.

While many eyes will be on Jimmy Clausen, or the offensive line, or the running game to make or break the season, it may be the defensive line that dictates how the season will play out. The Irish face a slew of productive and diverse rushing attacks this season. To prevail, Notre Dame will need to rely on defensive line starters that are talented but young, and backups that have failed to live up to the hype.

After the starting four, the depth chart is riddled with players who came in with rich accolodes but have yet to do much while wearing blue and gold. As their years of eligibility tick away or come to an end, names like Morrice Richardson, Emeka Nwankwo, Paddy Mullen (currently the fourth-string nose tackle as a senior), John Ryan, and Kallen Wade will need to prove their worth on the field, or give way to newcomers Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams, and Tyler Stockton - all of whom are ready to produce this year.

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Offensive Line

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End

Spotlight: Trevor Robinson

Also Returning: Braxston Cave, Taylor Dever, Paul Duncan, Andrew Nuss, Eric Olsen, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Jeff Tisak, Michael Turkovich, Dan Wenger, Sam Young
Lost: Thomas Bemenderfer, Jeff Tisak, Michael Turkovich (graduation)
Gained: Bill Flavin, Mike Hernandez (walk-ons), Lane Clelland, Mike Golic, Jr. (DNP as freshmen), Alex Bullard, Jordan Cowart, Tom Freeman, Zach Martin, Chris Watt (freshmen)

Notre Dame's troubled offensive line is out of excuses this year. They have depth, experience, and a new line coach in Frank "Don't Call Me Tom" Verducci. As for the spotlight player, Trevor Robinson: he originally earned the spotlight because his performance last year made him the first lineman off the bench in 2009, meaning he'd also be pushing to take someone's starting role. Well, it's still August and he's already done that. Robinson is currently listed as the starting right guard, pushing Chris Stewart to left guard, Eric Olsen to center, and Dan Wenger to the sidelines.

The current three-deep depth chart at offensive line should be a welcome sight to Irish fans for a number of reasons:
1. the fact that Notre Dame can actually list 15 different offensive linemen on their depth chart (16, really, since right guard is four-deep),
2. the fact that, outside of Robinson and Braxston Cave, the two-deep is comprised entirely of juniors and seniors, and
3. only two true freshmen - Alex Bullard and Chris Watt - are needed to complete the three-deep. Of course, I'm sure it helps that Bullard and Watt already weigh in at at least 290 pounds.

Yes, Notre Dame's offensive line depth has finally started to stabilize. In addition to bringing in five freshmen, the Irish will also add the services of Lane Clelland and Mike Golic, who did not see the field as freshmen, and walk-ons Bill Flavin and Mike Hernandez. That's nine players, or almost two full lines! Hernandez is especially one to watch for, as the walk-on not only made the squad this fall, but he's also listed as co-third string right guard with freshman Chris Watt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Tight End

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver

Spotlight: Mike Ragone


Also Returning: Kyle Rudolph
Lost: Kevin Brooks, Paul Kuppich, Luke Schmidt (graduation), Will Yeatman, Joseph Fauria (transfer)
Gained: Bobby Burger (walk-on), Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic (freshmen)

Nothing says "attrition" like the tight end position at Notre Dame. Just think how bad it would be if Notre Dame didn't have two starting tight ends in the NFL right now.

Fortunately, Mike Ragone's return from a knee injury will bring much-needed depth and experience to the position. Ragone is in the spotlight here, but Notre Dame fans will probably prefer it if opponents didn't pay attention to him. His main responsibility will be staying home as a pass blocker, freeing Kyle Rudolph to do damage as a receiver.

But speaking of Kyle Rudolph, don't count him out as a pass blocker. The sophomore has bulked up to 260 pounds, which should mean no more getting pushed around by linebackers on running plays. It's just one more step for Rudolph on his path to joining Anthony Fasano and John Carlson on Sundays.

Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic join the squad as freshman, and ideally they'll spend the year in the weight room (and the dining halls) to add bulk and preserve a year of eligibility. But to keep Eifert and Golic off the field, Notre Dame will have to look at other options in short yardage situations. That could mean using extra offensive linemen as the Irish did in 2008, or it could mean turning to walk-on fullback/tight end Bobby Burger.

Even if he doesn't see the field, Burger is still an interesting story. Originally a defensive end at Dayton, he transferred to Notre Dame in the summer of 2008 but didn't plan to play football for the Irish - despite the fact his father was a guard for ND during the Devine years. One year and a position change later, Burger joins the team as an H-Back. Oh, and playing football for the Irish isn't the only way Bobby plans to follow in the older Burger's footsteps - he also plans to become a medical doctor just like his dad.

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Wide Receiver

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback

Spotlight: Robby Parris


Also Returning: Brian Couglin, Michael Floyd, Dan Franco, Christopher Gurries, Duval Kamara, Kris Patterson, Golden Tate, Sam Vos, George West
Lost: David Grimes, Kris Patterson (graduation), Michael Garcia (position change - cornerback), Richard Jackson (transfer)
Gained: Barry Gallup, Jr. (position change - halfback), Derry Herlihy (walk-on), John Goodman, Deion Walker (DNP as freshmen), Shaquelle Evans, Roby Toma (freshman)

With all the talent on Notre Dame's roster, why give Robby Parris the spotlight? Quite simply, the Cleveland-area product has something to prove. Going into his final year of eligibility, Parris is hoping to prove that 2008 was a fluke, and that 2007 (when he was third on the team in catches and second in receiving yards) was a truer reflection of his talent.

After breakout seasons in 2008, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have locked up starting spots on the Irish depth chart. But the third and fourth receiver spots are still in doubt. Veterans Parris and Duval Kamara appear to be the popular choices for those spots, but they'll have to battle bumps and bruises, a history of dropped passes, and a slew of untested players chomping at the bit. John Goodman, Deion Walker, and Shaquelle Evans have yet to see a college field on gameday, but all figure to make their debuts this year - and quite possibly replace Kamara and Parris on the depth chart.

In 2007, Notre Dame's wide receivers were nicknamed "the Smurfs" by their head coach, because of the short stature of the group. Now, the roster is littered with receivers 6'2" and above, and the lone remaining Smurfs - George West and Barry Gallup - will be lucky to play anything but special teams. Meanwhile, freshman Smurf-in-training Roby Toma will likely spend the year off the field and in the weight room looking to add to his 5'9", 175 pound frame.

Last year, Notre Dame was forced to run multi-receiver sets a majority of the time because of the lack of depth at tight end. This year, they may run multi-receiver sets a majority of the time just to get their best talent on the field.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Halfback and Fullback

Previously Covered

Spotlight: James Aldridge

Also Returning: Armando Allen, Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes, Steve Paskorz
Lost: Eras Noel, Nikolas Rodriguez, Asaph Schwapp (graduation), Barry Gallup, Jr. (position change - wide receiver)
Gained: Bobby Burger, Mike Narvaez (walk-ons), Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood (freshmen)

Charlie Weis's spotlight is on James Aldridge, and so is ours. Facing a lack of depth at fullback, and a growing amount of talent at halfback, Coach Weis has asked Aldridge to become a blocker back in his senior year. Comparisons were quickly made to Rashon Powers-Neal, who had a very productive start to the 2005 season as a blocker, receiver, and short-yardage back. Since then, Notre Dame has struggled to find any of those threats out of its backfield. Is Aldridge, a player with zero touchdowns coming into last year and 11 career receptions the answer? Only time will tell.

But who, if anyone, will line up in front of Aldridge on short-yardage situations? Outside of employing a walk-on, or stealing from an already-thin tight end corps, the choice seems to be converted linebacker Steve Paskorz. Paskorz is already in his second year on the offensive side of the ball, and as Junior Jabbie proved, the move from defensive player to blocking back isn't an impossible task.

At halfback, Armando Allen has established himself as the starter. Allen's numbers may not be gaudy, but he does find a way to keep the ball moving down the field, both as a runner and as a pass catcher. Behind Allen is classmate Robert Hughes, who enters 2009 at an impasse. Hughes is a big back who dances like a small back, and his approach brought little success in 2008. Challenged by his head coach to lose weight or start running like a bigger guy, Hughes has chosen the latter, and hopefully that will return him to the flashes of success he saw in 2007. After Allen and Hughes are a trio of young, unproven backs. Jonas Gray saw a good amount of garbage time in 2008, and responded with a few good runs but a few too many fumbles. Gray will need to learn to protect the football if he wants to make a case for future playing time ahead of freshmen Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.