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