Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Notre Dame Football 2005
Issue 12: Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State

OSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Ohio State's running attack is led by running back 25 Antonio Pittman. On average, Pittman will run 20 times for 109 yards. He also has 6 touchdowns in 11 games this season. Dual-threat quarterback 10 Troy Smith is credited with 123 rushing attempts in 10 games this year. Smith has run 640 yards in the positive direction and 95 in the negative direction, for a net of 545 yards. That's just under 55 yards per game. Smith also has 11 touchdowns on the ground. OSU's third leading rusher is Pittman's backup - freshman 34 Maurice Wells. Wells is a small back, "Kanka on Creatine"-sized (5'10", 190 lbs.). If form holds true, he will run 7 or 8 times for 25 yards. Fullback 43 Brandon Schnittker averages 2 carries for 7 yards per game. Multi-purpose threat 7 Ted Ginn, Jr. has been held to 10 yards on 10 carries this season. Overall, the Buckeyes average 189.5 yards per game on the ground.
Notre Dame is giving up 119.4 yards per game on the ground. Senior linebackers 39 Brandon Hoyte and 46 Corey Mays lead the team in tackles with 82 and 68 respectively. Hoyte has 15.5 tackles in the backfield and Mays has 10.5. The players to watch here, however, may be the defensive ends. Will they be able to keep contain on Smith? A contain assignment requires patience and a great deal of discipline. The one end, 95 Victor Abiamiri, who leads ND linemen with 46 tackles and 15 TFL, is playing in his third collegiate season. The other end, however, will be relatively green. 99 Ronald Talley, who is said to be mostly healed from a mid-season injury, is playing in his first collegiate season. His backup, 90 first Brian Beidatsch, is a 5th year senior. The other backup, Justin Brown, is also playing his first year of college ball. Notre Dame has faced several "mobile" quarterbacks this season. The best running performance by an opposing quarterback was 48 yards by Drew Stanton
Now, let me introduce a new mini-segment: comparison of statistical rankings. Make of these numbers what you will. Ohio State is ranked 30th nationally in rushing offense. Purdue is ranked 31st, and they ran for 164 yards against Notre Dame. MSU, ranked 21st, ran for 161 yards against ND. Michigan, ranked 39th, ran for 114.
Notre Dame is ranked 26th in run defense. Iowa, ranked 27th, gave up 314 rushing yards to OSU. Texas, ranked 30th, gave up 111 yards.

ND Rush Offense vs. OSU Rush Defense

On average, 3 Darius Walker, now back to 100% after a mysterious calf injury, runs 22 times per game for about 100 yards. He has scored six rushing touchdowns this season. Backup 26 Travis Thomas runs about 6 times for 23 yards per game. He has found the end zone 5 times. Quarterback 10 Brady Quinn, not counting sacks, has scrambled 44 times for 236 yards and one touchdown. Overall, Notre Dame averages 154.8 rushing yards per game.
Ohio State is yielding a measley 74.5 rushing yards per game. The Buckeye defense is led by a vaunted trio of linebackers. 47 AJ Hawk, 51 Anthony Schlegel, and 42 Bobby Carpenter have combined for 233 tackles on the year, including 30.5 tackles for a loss. It is now believed that Carpenter will play in this game. If he does not, freshman 33 James Laurinaitis will likely be his replacement. Laurinaitis has made 9 tackles on the year.
Notre Dame has the 48th best rushing game in the country. Illinois, ranked 45th, was held to 68 yards by the Buckeyes. 39th-ranked Michigan was held to 32 yards.
Ohio State has the #1 ranked rush defense. Tennessee, ranked #2, held Notre Dame to 48 yards on the ground.

OSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Troy Smith, now solidified as the starting quarterback, has been very accurate this season. His average game consists of completing 13 of 21 (62%) passes for 194 yards. On the season, he has 14 TDs to 4 interceptions. His primary target is 4 Santonio Holmes. Holmes averages 4-5 catches, 78 yards, and a touchdown per game. If he choses to forgo a fifth season, he is said to be one of the best wideouts in the upcoming draft. OSU's #2 receiver, Ted Ginn, averages 4 catches and 58 yards per game. He has caught 3 touchdowns. On third down, look out for slot receiver 11 Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a product of St. Ignatius in Cleveland, scares me the most in this game. Of course, what do I know? On average, Gonzalez makes 2-3 catches for 33 yards per game. Number four receiver 8 Roy Hall, HB Antonio Pittman, and TE 80 Ryan Hamby each average about one catch per game.
Notre Dame gives up 257.5 passing yards per game. Safety 9 Tom Zbikowski leads the team with 5 interceptions. He will have a interesting day, as Zbikowski has a tendency to bite on play action. Will he and fellow safety 18 Chinedum Ndukwe pay too much attention to the run, or just enough? ND's cornerbacks, 22 Ambrose Wooden and 30 Mike Richardson, are much improved this season. Wooden is third on the team with 67 tackles, while Richardson has added 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. An interesting matchup will be the one between Anthony Gonzales and nickelback 15 Leo Ferrine. Ferrine averages one bad play per game (no doubt a residual of that #15 jersey), but overall he has done well for a first year player. Notre Dame's pass rush is led by Victor Abiamiri with 8 sacks. Brandon Hoyte has 6 and Corey Mays has 4.
Ohio State ranks 68th in passing offense. Michigan, ranked 63rd, passed for 223 yards against the Irish. Pitt, ranked 62nd, threw for 220 yards against the Irish.
Notre Dame is ranked 97th in passing defense. Ohio State passed for 216 yards against Iowa's 94th ranked passing defense. Northwestern, ranked 106th, held OSU to 105 passing yards (although the 317 rushing yards may have had something to do with that).

ND Pass Offense vs. OSU Pass Defense

Notre Dame's passing offense is led by Heisman almost-finalist Brady Quinn. Quinn has thrown for 3633 yards and 32 touchdowns against 7 interceptions this season. His average day consists of completing 24 of 37 passes (65%) for 330 yards and 3 TDs. His primary targets are two 6'5 breakout stars. 83 Jeff Samardzija has caught 71 passes for 1190 yards and 15 touchdowns. 21 Maurice Stovall has caught 60 passes for 1023 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 10 TDs in the past 5 games. If you put them together, Samardzija and Stovall will catch 12 passes for 201 yards and 2-3 touchdowns on an average day. Tight end 88 Anthony Fasano has made 45 catches for 564 yards this season, with 2 touchdowns. Darius Walker is a reliable option out of the backfield, with 36 catches and 314 yards on the season. The third receiver, 82 Matt Shelton, has made 23 catches for 277 yards while not playing at 100%.
Ohio State is holding opponents to 200.8 passing yards per game. They have 6 team interceptions, led by SS 9 Donte Whitner with 2. Whitner is also third on the team with 64 tackles. 6'1 26 Ashton Youboty is the team's top cornerback. Playing opposite of him is 5'11 6 Tyler Everett. Free safety 21 Nate Salley is 6'3. If Notre Dame goes four or five wide, as is expected, look for nickelback 32 Brandon Mitchell to come in. Mitchell is listed as a safety but it said to hit like a linebacker. If I had to guess, I would expect Brady Quinn to pick on the 5'11 Everett. This may also be a big game for TE 89 John Carlson - assuming that there is only one good pass coverage guy between Mitchell, AJ Hawk, and Anthony Schlegel, and assuming that that person will be in Anthony Fasano's back pocket all game. Bobby Carpenter, who often moves to defensive end in nickel situations, leads the team with 8 sacks. Hawk has 7.5 and defensive end 57 Mike Kudla has 6.5.
Notre Dame has the fourth best passing game in the country. Northwestern, #10, was held to 153 passing yards by OSU. #12 Michigan State had 340 passing yards, while #14 Miami University threw for 250 yards.
Ohio State's passing defense is ranked 36th best in the Division IA. Brady Quinn threw for 286 yards against #22 Syracuse and 223 yards against #51 Michigan.

Special Teams

23 Josh Huston has made 20 of 23 field goal attempts this season. He has made all 16 tries from under 40 yards and 50% of his tries from 40+. His long on the year is 47. 19 DJ Fitzpatrick is said to be back to full health for the Irish. He has made 11 of 17 field goals, 11 of 14 when he wasn't injured. His long is 48 yards and he has had one kick blocked.
15 AJ Trapasso punts for the Buckeyes. He averages 40.4 yards per punt with a long of 76, 3 touchbacks, 13 fair catches, and 18 punts landing inside the 20. OSU averages 3-4 punts per game. Fitzpatrick is Notre Dame's punter. His average is 40.0 yards with a long of 60, 1 touchback, 2 punts fair caught, and 10 landing inside the 20. Notre Dame also averages 3-4 punts per game. For the Irish, 23 Chase Anastasio has blocked 3 punts.
Ohio State has shared kick return duties among its top 3 receivers, but the primary guy has been Ted Ginn. Ginn has averaged 29.6 yards on 18 returns, with a 100 yard touchdown. DJ Fitzpatrick averages 60.5 yards per kickoff, putting the ball around the 5. Notre Dame's kick coverage team gives up 21.4 yards per return, giving the opponent an average start around the 27. DJ has 8 touchbacks on 57 kicks.
11 David Grimes, who is also a running and receiving threat in five receiver sets, has handled most of ND's kick returns. He is averaging 22.5 yards per return with a long of 40. Josh Huston has put 49 of 70 kickoffs in the end zone this year. Overall, he is averaging 63.1 yards per kickoff and OSU is giving up 20.1 yards per kick return. That gives opponents an average start around the 22.
Ted Ginn is also OSU's primary punt returner. He has an average of 10 yards per return with a 62 yard touchdown. Notre Dame is giving up a stifling 6.2 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski is Notre Dame's punt returner. He has an average of 14.6 yards per return. He has two punt return touchdowns on the year, including a long of 78 yards. Ohio State is holding opponents to an impressively low 5.7 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Charlie Weis, Quinn, Fasano, Stovall, the Offensive Line, Derek Landri, Abiamiri, and Mays.

ND 34, OSU 27: Thomas and Quinn on the ground, Stovall and Samardzija in the air, and two by DJ.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Interview with Matt Barker of Buckeye Sports Blitz

I used one of my blog connections (one of a whopping two, that is) to set up an interview session with Matthew Barker of Ohio State blog Buckeye Sports Blitz. The conversation ranged far and wide, from the Illinois basketball media guide to Cleveland Indians pitching prospects. But, we also discussed the upcoming Notre Dame-Ohio State matchup in the Fiesta Bowl. To view his take on the meeting, click here. For my version, read on.

Matt: Who was your top choice to succeed Tyrone Willingham as head coach of Notre Dame?
Kanka: When the news first broke, most people assumed that Urban Meyer was a forgone conclusion, And, if you look around hard enough on my site, you'll see that I was definitely on the bandwagon.
Matt: I think he was everyone's choice at several places.
Kanka: Right, he was a popular choice. But, again, as a former assistant... and with being named after a line of popes, ND was very hopeful.
He loved Notre Dame (or so it seemed). Plus he was a former assistant there. And it seemed hard to question the success he was having.
Matt: Plus knowing the area from being head coach at Bowling Green.
Kanka: Good call. Ohio has traditionally provided Notre Dame with its fair share of recruits, and it seemed like Meyer could only help in that area.

Matt: So where was Weis in your grand sceme of things?
Kanka: His name really didn't start popping up until after Meyer went to Florida.
Matt: Would you say he was second?
Kanka: In the very beginning, no. In fact, if you check out Blue Gray Sky from that time, they graded him a "C" for his lack of head coaching experience.
Shanahan, Stoops, and Mariucci were the other names being thrown out there.
A few fans "in the know" (not me, by the way) starting saying, "Hey, you know how the Pats are doing really well? Well, their Offensive Coordinator is an ND guy, and he's supposed to be a genius."
[Note to the BGS guys: I only call you out on that "C" grade because I'm very happy that you were wrong. I'm sure you'll agree with me.]
Matt: Yes, I think I noted earlier that his only head coaching expericence came at the high school level, and that was for just one year
Kanka: True, true
Matt: Though it's a far cry from Chris Spielman lobbying for the OSU job when he had ZERO coaching experience, head or assistant.
Kanka: Good point. In the end, it actually came down to Weis and another alum who had moved up to Offensive Coordinator in the NFL. (Tom Clements)

Matt: Would you think the biggest selling point about Weis was that he was a Notre Dame guy?
Kanka: That definitely weighed in heavily, at least in the eyes of the alumni. But you can also extend the label "Notre Dame guy" to include his overall attitude about winning at Notre Dame. Meyer, Willingham, and Davie all had variations of the same philosophy - if you want to win, lower the academic standards, or learn to be happy with 6-5. Weis said, "Heck with it, we're going to be a highly competitive team anyways."

Matt: What were you expectations heading into this season?
Kanka: My expectations? Looking at the schedule, I almost immediately ruled out the "big 3" - Michigan, USC, and Tennessee. Then, considering recent results, I planned for an unexpected/"letdown" loss to someone like a Pitt, MSU, or Purdue. So, I was hoping for 8-3, but would have settled for 7-4.

Matt: At the beginning of the season, Notre Dame went to Heinz Field and beat Pittsburgh, who was ranked 23rd rather handily, then went up to Ann Arbor and beat Michigan who was ranked 3rd at that time. What were you thinking then?
Kanka: Well, I'm sure you'll agree that preseason rankings don't mean much. But, the Michigan win was a great emotional high. That may have been the point where I knew we could at least hang in every game, if not have a good chance to win all of them. That may not sound like much, but it was a big step up from recent years.

Matt: What was going through your head when you heard that in Bobcats...beat Pittsburgh in overtime?
Kanka: I couldn't believe how badly Coach Wannstedt was misusing his talent. I saw it during the ND/Pitt game, but that was definitely a low point for them. They had a great passing team, and all he wanted to do was run.
I was also happy that we had a head coach smart enough to use what he had, instead of forcing square pegs into round holes
Matt: Well I saw that Pitt/OU game and his kids looked lost.
Kanka: I don't know what the discipline is like on that team, and I don't want to speculate too much. But, HB Blades (Pitt LB) was a loose cannon in the ND game, and I think Tyler Palko was already frustrated with the new offense by the Ohio game.
Matt: No fire, no emotion. I don't know if it was because of their opponent.
Kanka: That's another side of a good coach - he's got to be able to get his players up for the cupcake games as well, instead of letting them play down to the lower level.

Matt: Ok, the next week was Michigan State.
Kanka: I was there, don't remind me.
Matt: What happened there? 21 points ahead at one time, correct?
Kanka: MSU was, right. There was an interception returned for a TD somewhere in there.
Matt: SirDarean Adams. Quinn threw 60 times.
Kanka: Which is normally a sign that things aren't going so well - when Quinn throws that much.
Matt: Yeah, behind by a good margin. So would you say that since that game the defense has played better?
Kanka: For the most part, yes. The corners are the most improved players on the defense. But, the team can still be exploited by throwing deep early and often. The Stanford game is an example of that.
Specifically, we basically have two strong safeties playing out there (Zbikowski and Ndukwe), both love to stop the run, so they're very vulnerable to play action.
Matt: Would you say that speed is a concern on the outside?
Kanka: Again, yes and no. CB Ambrose Wooden is probably the fastest guy on the team. But, he normally employs a "let the guy catch it, then make the sure takle" approach. S Tom Zbikowski is also up there speed wise.

Matt: If you were the defensive coordinator, what would you make sure you team improved upon - the D's biggest weakness?
Kanka: I'd find a free safety. As I said above, we're basically playing two run-stopping strong safeties, with Zbikowski disguised as a strong safety. If we could get a safety that's a sure bet over the top, the corners could take a few more risks as far as batting down balls. And, of course, we wouldn't have to worry as much about being beat deep. But, I have a positive feeling about the future of the defense. There's a good amount of young talent on the team.

Matt: What aspect did Weis bring to Notre Dame, tangible or not, that turned around 6-6 team from year ago?
Kanka: Well, the first thing is the attitude. Not settling for 6-5 just because of whatever admissions restrictions. Second is his ability as a teacher. Ron Powlus is a special assistant to the team, and he made a comment to the effect that he would have been great if someone had explained things to him as easily as Weis explained things to Brady Quinn. Finally, he hired good assistants. Goes back to that old saying, "If you're smart, hire smart people who disagree with you" in a way. If he had a weakness, he hired an assistant to cover for that
Matt: He seems, from at least where I am at, that he is very personable, and probably easy to to, etc. Would that be right on track?
Kanka: I would say so. He's still got an element of being the hard football coach, but I think you can tell that that's just an exterior.
In his initial interview after being hired, he was asked questions about his student days, and he gave answers that made him sound like "one of the guys."
Matt: The reason why I asked is that Willingham seemed to be the opposite.
Kanka: That was yet another knock on Willingham.
Ty seemed like a nice person for the 3 seconds that I met him, but he definitely didn't appear that way on the sidelines. And one could assume he was the same way at practices.

Matt: Who do you think will be the biggest key in the Fiesta Bowl for Notre Dame?
Kanka: I think, simply, it will come down to a comfortable Brady Quinn, which ties together a few of your questions.
Matt: I stated in my email earlier that I thought Darius Walker was, just from the simple fact that if he can gain some yardage on the ground to keep OSU off balance.
Kanka: The two times this year ND faced great run defenses - Tenn and BYU (go figure), the offense went 4 or 5 wide and used short passes that Coach Weis equates to runs. If the line can give Quinn time, and if Quinn can remain accurate, ND will be fine on offense
Matt: That would benefit Notre Dame.
Kanka: But yes, it will come to a point where ND will have to do something on the ground, and that will fall on Walker's shoulders.
Of course, OSU knows what Weis did against Tenn and BYU, so Weis may come out with something completely different

Matt: Walker had 62 yards on 15 carries against Tennessee.
Kanka: Most of those came after ND had the lead. Unless I'm confusing myself with the BYU game, Notre Dame attempted at most 1 or 2 runs during their first few offensive series.
Matt: He had 17 yards in the BYU game on 7 carries.
Kanka: Right. That was the game where Weis was asked at halftime if he was going to start running the ball, and Weis looked at the reporter (NBC's Lewis Johnson) like he had two heads. If it's not working, why keep trying it?

Matt: Do you think that Notre Dame has enough defensively to stop the Buckeyes?
Kanka: The teams that have been most effective against Notre Dame have been the ones who can throw the deep ball at will. I'm not sure if Troy Smith can do that. I imagine that ND will try to focus on the run and force Smith to pass. If ND can keep outside contain, they'll be respectable. Of course, they have young defensive ends, so I'm not sure. Drew Stanton was the only other mobile QB Notre Dame faced this year (not counting Navy), and he had a decent day overall. I'm fairly confident, but Notre Dame will have to score some points as well.

Kanka: What were your expectations for Ohio State coming into this season, record-wise and otherwise?
Matt: Well, I think that every year, especially after the 2002 season, that you expect to be Big Ten and National Champions.
I would of never thought that before the 2002 season but once that has been accomplished then that's your expectation every year following
And how realistic was it for this year? Very, considering that OSU was just maybe a few plays away from playing in the Rose Bowl

Kanka: It's been established that Charlie Weis is an offensive guy. For those not familiar with him, what is Jim Tressel's speciality?
Matt: Well, it's called Tresselball. It's all about field position, defense and special teams. Letting his opponent make the mistake deep inside their own territory and capitalizing on that.
Kanka: And time management - I've seen him start working the play clock with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Matt: Yeah, that too. Did a real good job with that in the final seven minutes of the Michigan game.

Kanka: Along those lines, what's the offensive philosophy this year? balanced, run until you have to throw, option, screens...
Matt: Well, what I think is happening is that Tressel and his offensive coaches have gradually opened the playbook.
With Smith suspended the first game, then split timee with Zwick against Texas, then taking over for good the third game against San Diego State, it had to be gradual. But the confidence seems to build each week. And he's getting better and smarter as each game passes.
Kanka: You can certainly see that from the game scores - 40+ points in games 7-10, after an average of about 27 beforehand... say what you want about the opposing defense.

Kanka: Who would you say is the key offensive weapon in this game? I'm guessing Smith?
Matt: No, I think it's Pittman. I guess I am old-school. Big Ten football, and the running game. He's another player that has gotten better as the season went along. Last year, I thought his size and durability were a big question mark, and I had my doubts. But he is turning into a very good running back.
Kanka: A good choice. Although Notre Dame's run defense isn't as impressive as OSU's statistically, it is still ND's strong point. So, like Walker, Pittman will likely have to have a good game for his team to succeed
Matt: Exactly, so you are not one-dimensional. But playcalling helps too - passing on first down, draw plays, misdirection, keep everyone guessing.

Kanka: If you were Charlie Weis, how would you gameplan against the Ohio State Defense?
Matt: I think with OSU's team speed, you have to be quick. Short slants, screens - you want to get the ball outside, into your playmakers. But you are probably not going to have a lot of time. Spread the field. Make them go sideline to sideline.
Kanka: That is very similar to what ND did against Tennessee and BYU, so I guess we may end up seeing that again.
Matt: I think utilizing the running back in the passing game is important: wheel routes, those short dump off five yeard down field.

Kanka: Weis likes to run one-on-one WR screens, where the WR is expected to run past or over the CB for a few yards (he calls these "run substitutes"). But I'm not sure if those will be as effective against larger DBs.
Matt: Yeah, and you have Whitner and Salley manning the middle too. Guys who can hit and cover.

Kanka: How do Ohio State's linebackers do in pass coverage?
Matt: I think they do extremely well. The one question is: will Bobby Carpenter play? I havent heard, but I doubt it. And if he does who effective would he be?

Kanka: How does Carpenter's absence change things? I've heard high praise for a freshman safety/linebacker that could take his place.
Matt: Yeah, this kid is going to be a good one someday too. James Laurinaitis. 6-3, 231.
Kanka: There's another guy. More of a safety that "hits like a linebacker." I think he plays in nickel coverage?
Matt: Brandon Mitchell plays in nickel. 6-3, 205.

Kanka: Well Matt, I'm afraid I have to cut this short. But first, how about a prediction for the game?
Matt: I am guessing right now 31-21 OSU.

There you have it. If you have even less of a life than Matt or me, feel free to ask me about the "director's cut" edition of this interview. As for my prediction? As of right now, I'm thinking something in the 34-27 range in favor of ND.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Flannery/Stams for Governor

A few weeks back, I received an email inviting me to a fundraising party for one Bryan Flannery, who will be running for governor of the state of Ohio. Flannery, a Lakewood resident and St. Ed's grad, was a reserve defensive lineman for Notre Dame from 1986-89.

On Wednesday, Bryan Flannery issued a press release official announcing his candidacy, and naming his running mate: Frank Stams. Stams, an All-American defensive end for the Irish, went on to play for the Cleveland Browns (among other teams). He is a resident of Akron.

Flannery is a State Senator who emphasizes the importance of education. Stams does not appear to have any previous political experience.

Now, as Dave pointed out on the message board, how much of a chance does this Notre Dame ticket have in Ohio with the upcoming Fiesta Bowl?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Questions, Questions

First of all, some miscellany:

Now, down to business. A few weeks ago, I posted a list of 25 questions to the readers of this site. Six people responded:

F-Bomb, the newest Cleveland-area KankaManiac
Emily, in her message board debut
Andy, KankaNation Assistant Legal Analyst
Hatton, father-to-be of the next generation of KankaManiacs
Dave, regular KankaNation contributor
and, of course, me.

Here's what we had to say:

1. Coming into this season, what did you expect Notre Dame's record to be?
F-Bomb: 7-4
Emily: 8-3
Andy: 8-3
Hatton: 8-3
Dave: 8-3 (losses to Michigan, USC, and one unexpected). However, this would've been disappointing, as I wanted 9-2 and a bowl win as a sign we're truly back, right away. I'd say we've done it.
Kanka: I was hoping for 8-3 with losses to Michigan, USC, and Tennessee (the big 3). But, I also would have accepted 7-4, meaning an off day against one of the likes of Pitt, MSU, or Purdue.

2. On offense, who has been Notre Dame's
a) best
F-Bomb: Brady Quinn
Emily: Mo Sto
Andy: Quinn
Hatton: Quinn
Dave: Quinn (Heisman finalist is the obvious choice)
Kanka: The O-Line. If I knew anything about football, I'd be able to give them the credit they deserve.
b) most valuable
F-Bomb: Mo Sto - Played Up and was big player in things that stats don't show
Emily: Mo Sto
Andy: Quinn, Samardzija
Hatton: O-Line, always gave Quinn time and a pocket to step up into.
Dave: Quinn (Weis wouldn't be able to do a lot of great stuff offensively without a smart QB would could absorb it all and then execute.)
Kanka: Brady Quinn and the line. Thanks to the emergence of Thomas, everyone other position can be compensated for.
c) most improved
F-Bomb: Offensive Line!
Emily: Mo Sto
Andy: Stovall
Hatton: Stovall, like night and day.
Dave: Stovall (Went from looking like he didn't belong on the field to looking like he belongs in the 1st round of the draft.)
Kanka: Mo Stovall. I remember back to the MSU game, when we were all wondering what Mo's numbers would have been like if he had reliable hands, and the USC game, where Quinn threw deep to Stovall but no one expected him to catch it. To that point, he never caught a deep pass, and no one ever expected him to. Then, as everyone started to double Jeff Samardzija, Stovall stepped up big time. Starting with his breakout in the BYU game, Stovall has been just as money as Samardzija. Very honorable mention to Travis Thomas.
d) most surprising
F-Bomb: Jeff Samardzija
Emily: NOT Mo Sto - he didn't surprise me! Gonna go with Samardijza for this one.
Andy: Samardzija
Hatton: Schwapp, didn't know what to expect from him at the start, and he played very well. Not Samardzija because I saw flashes of what he could do during last years Insight Bowl.
Dave: Samardzija (Honestly, who saw this coming?)
Kanka: most surprising - Stovall, for the reasons above.
e) most disappointing
Andy: Shelton (not his fault though; his injury held him back)
Hatton: RPN and Matt Shelton, neither do to the effort they put forth. I'm proud of RPN for owning up to his mistake and taking the consequences like a man. However, it would have been great to have him the entire year. Shelton because you could tell he isn't back to full speed and that had to be frustrating for him. I missed having him streak past DB's this year.
Dave: Powers-Neal (Just the fact that he missed a lot of the season for his own stupidity and couldn't fulfill the promise of the Pitt game.)
player or players?

3. On defense, who has been the
a) best
F-Bomb: Zibby
Emily: Tommy Z.
Andy: Landri
Hatton: Mays
Dave: Landri (dominated a few games this year)
Kanka: Brandon Hoyte is leading the team in tackles, and yet he isn't getting the press he's gotten in past years. Mays is a close second.
b) most valuable
F-Bomb: Brandon Hoyte
Emily: Mays
Andy: Ndukwe
Hatton: Zbikowski, always provided a spark
Dave: Hoyte (the voice of reason in a defense wounded from last year)
Kanka: Hoyte, Mays, and Landri.
c) most improved
F-Bomb: Mike Richardson/Ambrose Wooden
Emily: Wooden or Ndukwe
Andy: Wooden
Hatton: Corners, they couldn't have gotten much worse, but I saw more pass break-ups this year than I think I saw in all of the Davieham years combined.
Dave: Mays (too bad he's out of eligibility)
Kanka: I'm going to assume that Mays has always been this good, so I'll say Mike Richardson. Last year, Richardson's name was only called when he was being posterized. This year, he's not perfect, but he's made more than his share of big plays. Honorable mention to Wooden - he does play soft coverage, but he never misses the tackle.
d) most surprising
F-Bomb: Corey Mays
Andy: Ndukwe
Hatton: Nduwke, not bad for a converted WR.
Dave: Richardson (suddenly he doesn't suck)
Kanka: Corey Mays - he may have always been this good, but I didn't know that. Leo Ferrine. He's got room to improve, but he's played well in his first season. Ronald Talley. Stepped in for Chris Frome and passed Frome's season total for tackles in one game.
e) most disappointing
F-Bomb: Terrail Lambert (fastest on team)
Andy: None. They all played better than I expected.
Hatton: Abiamiri, not bad, just didn't hear as much from him as I had hoped, probably the result of him being doubled all year.
Dave: Zbikowski (play-action defense only)
player or players?

4. On special teams, who has been the
a) best
F-Bomb: Zibby
Emily: Tommy Z.
Andy: Zbikowski
Hatton: Fitzpatrick
Dave: Zbikowski (punt return vs USC was epic)
Kanka: Tom Zbikowski. Wow. A lot of guys on the coverage teams deserve credit here, too, notably John Carlson (led the team in special teams tackles), Casey Cullen, and David Bruton. Chase Anastasio's 3 punt blocks are the underrated stat of the year.
b) most valuable
Emily: Tommy Z.
Andy: Zbikowski, DJ
Hatton: Fitzpatrick
Dave: Anastasio (Weis always credits him in his pressers)
Kanka: DJ Fitzpatrick. With no offense to Carl Gioia, this was proven in the Stanford game. John Carlson comes in a close second.
c) most improved
Andy: I dunno, does Zbikowski count...was he on special teams before? (DJ kicked some nice punts) (editor's note: this was Zbikowski's first year as a returner)
Hatton: Carlson, filling the role of fired up white guy on punt and kick-off coverage.
Dave: Zbikowski
d) most surprising
Andy: Zbikowski
Hatton: Zbikowski, who knew he would run that well in the open field?
Dave: Anastasio
Kanka: Zbikowski. Wow-y wow wow wow.
e) most disappointing
Hatton: Kick-off return team, not bad, not spectacular.
Dave: Geoff Price (punter recruited a few years ago; can't win the job to take heat off DJ)
Kanka: Price. I would have completely forgotten he was on the team, if he didn't keep showing up in random TV shots of the bench.
player or players?

5. Who is your favorite current Irish player and why? Any reason is a good one here.
F-Bomb: Maurice Stovall - He played hard and when things looked like the NFL was so far away he showed up and helped lead the team this year finally showing off what was there all along. He is one of the best blocking receivers and without him Smaradijza isn't in the matchups he is in.
Emily: Leo Ferrine. Hands down. This kid just rocks.
Others I really like, though, include: Mo Sto, D-Walk, Marcus Freeman, Corey Mays, Anthony Vernaglia, Chinedum Ndukwe, Tommy Z., Nick Borseti, David Wolke.
Andy: Casey Cullen. He's a hardworking walk-on who earned himself a scholarship and was even Special Teams captain one game. He's kind of like an uber-Rudy. I point him out every time he's on the field. I also lived down the hall from him.
Hatton: Fasano, I've always liked the tight end position, he blocks well and catches almost anything close to him.
Dave: Anthony (Ant'ny) Fasano. He's a bad-ass, and he wears the state of NJ on his face. Second-coming of Mark Bavaro. The Giants MUST draft him.
Kanka: I really enjoy living vicariously through my friends who know people on the team. For that reason, I've pulled big time for DJ Fitzpatrick, Casey Cullen, Mo Stovall, and Leo Ferrine this year.
I also have to show love for the Eastern European brethren. Jeff Samardzija, when he was on, looked flat-out nonchalant making catch after catch. I thoroughly enjoy watching Tom Zbikowski when he has the ball - he simply won't go down. There were several times on his interception in the Tennessee game when a normal defender would have just dove for an extra yard or two and let the offense do the rest. But, he kept going until he was in the end zone. And did you see his last few punt returns against Stanford? A swarm of Stanford players would converge on him, the ref would call Zibby's forward progress dead, and Zbikowski would just jog out of the mob, still on his feet.
I also like telling people that Trevor Laws is very good. Fortunately, he normally proves me right.

6. Who has been Notre Dame's "Assistant Coach of the Year?"
F-Bomb: Rick Minter - He got the defense to play up at times. Other times our personnel showed through but he is definitely bringing our D to fruition.
Andy: Charlie, Jr.
Hatton: Ianello, for teaching the receivers to run routes that get them open, and to block downfield.
Dave: co: Bill Lewis (for actually coaching up the secondary - remarkable improvement) and John Latina (for taking the underachieving OL and turning them into a pass-blocking machine. Run blocking still needs work, but baby steps....)
Kanka: Well, Michael Haywood won the award on the national level. He's got a bright future ahead of him. But I've got to give it to Rob Ianello, receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. I think his titles speak well enough for his work this year.

7. Should Charlie Weis be the national Coach of the Year? Why or why not?
F-Bomb: No, because they played well but he didn't pull the best turn around. When you bring a team from underachieving to where they should be it is different. I think coach of the year goes to former ND head coach George O'Leary who is working with sub par kids and he got them bowl eligible I believe or close.
Andy: Tough call. He's definitely done a lot to improve ND and has tapped his players' potential. Other coaches have put forth good cases like Joe Paterno and Steve Spurrier. Still, I think Weis is more impressive because he had no college head coaching experience before ND. Think of how awesome he will be with more knowledge and experience. He gets my vote.
Hatton: Yes, he has done a fantastic job changing the culture and attitude of the team to one of a consistent winner, and he has done it much faster than anyone expected. I would not be upset if he is passed over for JoePa or Paul Johnson.
Dave: Very close, but I have to go with (don't laugh) JoePa. He's one second away from an undefeated season, after having several pathetic years in a row. I realize that his assistants do all the actual coaching, but someone had to get his guys to believe, and he's the one.
Kanka: Coach of the Year will go to Joe Paterno, and I really don't have a problem with that. But Charlie's definitely top 3.

a) Was Coach Weis' contract extension warranted? Why or why not?
F-Bomb: Warranted because without it then recruits would get uneasy.
Andy: Tough question. I might have waited to see what next year brings or the post-Quinn era. Still, he loves ND and ND loves him. Why not keep him locked up for as long as possible?
Hatton: Yes, although it was strictly a PR move, as Weis has said he has no intention of going anywhere else, the extension told recruits the the same thing, counter-acting negative recruiting tactics.
Dave: Sure, it was warranted - he's done a phenomenal job, on all fronts, and has the program positioned well for years to come. It probably was unnecessary and we probably gave more money than we needed to (he wasn't going anywere, no matter what the media said), but it's nice to have the luxury to be able to lock him up. I'm glad we did it.
Kanka: I could go on and on here, but I won't. Charlie understands Notre Dame and has the right attitude on and off the field. Plus, the move was largely made to quell the NFL rumors.
b) Now play your own devil's advocate. Are there any arguments from the other side of the debate that you believe are reasonable? (For example, if you are in favor of the extension, are there any arguments against the extension that you agree with?)
F-Bomb: I am not sure the amount of time was needed. I think a restructuring of the deal with a higher buyout or perhaps just a clause for a particular NFL team or two. 10 years and 40 mil are too much.
Andy: Yeah, not enough time to see how he'll really do. Still, recruiting looks to be going well. Dunno, time will tell.
Hatton: Not really as none of them consider the entire situation.
Dave: The Willingham comparison is idiotic. I can see some people being upset that the money throws college athletics out of whack - that's reasonable. But it was already out of whack to being with!
Kanka: There's a huge difference between Bob Davie and Charlie Weis, but this did seem somewhat like another knee-jerk reaction by Kevin White. I think the big thing here is that everyone has been calling it a 10-year extension, which makes it seems huge. It's really only 4 years. Of course, today that doesn't sound so bad, compared to the recent baseball free agent signings.

9. Ty Willingham runs a passing offense but inherited an option running offense at ND. Charlie Weis runs a passing offense and inherited a passing offense at ND. Is it fair to say that this was an advantage for Weis over Willingham in their first seasons? Or do you disagree completely with the statements above? (Take into account the fact that, at a press conference, Weis said that his scheme is entirely different from his predecessor's.)
F-Bomb: Well Willingham had the time to develop the team. However the head coaches didn't get it done under Ty. Weis came in and turned some things around a little the difference is how the assistants got their positions ready.
Andy: Um, pass.
Hatton: It was not a significant advantage. When you first come in, you always have to adapt to the talent you have on hand. Had Weis came in after Davie, Holiday would have been immediatly moved to WR and Lovecchio or Clark would have been his QB.
Dave: No advantage - if Weis inherited Holiday, Grant, Battle, 5 senior O-Linemen, etc., he would've had similar success to this year. Not in yardage and points, but in W-L results. He's a freakin offensive genius who knows how exploit pro, let alone college, defenses as well as anyone.
Kanka: I was going to originally say that Charlie had a bit of an advantage, but Mike raised an interesting point. Notre Dame has had quite a few good passing QBs (LoVecchio, Clark) and receivers (Givens, McKnight), so Charlie should have been able to figure something out.

10. Charlie Weis is said to be a person who uses the talents of the personnel he has. However, when asked what he would do if he inherited an option quarterback, he said, "If I'm thinking about an option quarterback, I'm thinking about him playing another position." Does this statement surprise you in any way?
F-Bomb: No, Weis pulls no punches and he obviously has an issue with people that try to run and throw as a package.
Andy: No.
Hatton: No, "Option Quarterback" is code for a quarterback who can't throw the ball effectively but runs fairly well. A coach like Weis would not consider playing a player with those ablities at QB an efficient use of the talent.
Dave: Nope.
Kanka: At first, it did. I had assumed Charlie's "use what you have" philosophy meant that he could do anything, including switching to an option offense. But he's going to run a pro-style offense no matter what, and that's not really a bad thing.

11. Argue why Notre Dame does or does not deserve a BCS bid. Or, argue why other schools do or do not deserve a BCS bid over Notre Dame.
F-Bomb: ND does deserve to go. Half the reason why our opponents suck this year is because we punched them in the mouth. Oregon played some crappy teams, we played the big ten. Ohio St. is good and deserves to go. They are as close to be undefeated as we are in terms of games played. Anybody else is out of the question with the national prowess that ND and Ohio St. brings.
Andy: Notre Dame deserved the BCS bid they received. They were the Independents Champion.
Hatton: Because We Are N.D. and you're not
Dave: ND absolutely deserves a BCS bid. Aside from meeting the requirements that locked us into it, and being a certain top-8 team, I think we'd beat the hell out of Oregon. They whine too much. They need to stop - Charlie's liable to challenge them to a game in the parking lot of the Fiesta Bowl, and they'd get served. Oregon's schedule is a joke - even looking at common opponenets, they led at the half vs USC, we led at the :08 mark in the game. Come on now, be serious.
Kanka: Here was the big argument over the past few weeks: "Notre Dame hasn't beaten anyone. Oregon has only lost to USC, and OSU has only lost to Texas and Penn State." Don't change the argument, stupid. Oregon's biggest win was Fresno State, so they had no argument. I'd accept to some point the argument of ranking Ohio State over ND. Like ND, their biggest win was Michigan, but they also beat Michigan State.

12. Which underclassman (or underclassmen) are you most looking forward to watching in the coming seasons?
F-Bomb: Terrail Lambert, DJ Hord, David Wolke, David Grimes
Emily: Leo Ferrine, Darius Walker
Andy: Quinn, Walker, Hord, Schwapp
Hatton: Schwapp (with Schmidt) in the "heavy" package.
Dave: Ray Herring, to see if his football exploits can live up to his amazing recruiting journal. Michael Turkovich - he's a major key to next season. If he can step in and play right tackle, we're set.
Kanka: The defense as a whole. Abiamiri and Laws still have eligibility left. Ronald Talley and Justin Brown filled in better than anyone could imagine. David Bruton's supposed to be a good safety. Leo Ferrine already played well this year, and they have Terrail Lambert.
Nine times out of ten, David Grimes looks like he's only a move or two away from a huge return. I can't wait to see what he can do.

13. Which position/unit/side of the ball are you most worried about in the near future? (Example: Quarteback after Quinn leaves, Offensive Line, Defense....)
F-Bomb: Offensive Line. We are so upper classmen heavy that it scares me next year.
Andy: I was worried about O-Line till I read about Weis' recruits. Safety worries me because Zibby and Ndukwe still cheat up too much. DB's looked better this year.
Hatton: Linebacker, we're very green after the starting 3.
Dave: 06: LB. Hoyte and Mays cleaned up a lot of messes this year. 07: WR (Samardzija and Rhema gone, young guys will have to step up on their own with limited game experience), OL (depth is atrocious - thanks Ty). After that: none. Weis will fill in the blanks through brilliant recruiting plans. I'm not even worried about QB. Even if they're not as good as Quinn, I'm sure they'll be effective enough with an improved defense to get us to the promised land.
Kanka: Experience on the offensive line is cyclical. Hopefully Charlie has a gameplan that can compensate for a young line. Brady Quinn's shoes will be big to fill, no doubt.

14. If you follow recruiting, which committments are you most looking forward to seeing play for Notre Dame?
F-Bomb: James Aldrige (RB), Demetrius Jones (move to WR?), Bartley Webb (OL), Darrin Walls (DB), Chris Stewart (OL) - side note 6'5" 340 lbs.
Emily: Robby Parris, Johnny Ryan (both from St. Ignatius in Cleveland)
Hatton: Aldridge
Dave: Aldrige - he's supposed to be a bad man. Stewart - just to see if someone that large can really play OL effectively. QBs - to see if Frazier of Jones can set themselves apart right away.

15. Other than Kanka's Sports Page, what is your favorite Notre Dame football blog?
F-Bomb: Blue-Gray Sky
Emily: I find Kelly Green pretty amusing at times. Don't really know about anything else out there, which is for the best since I end up doing most of my web surfing during class!
Andy: I don't read others one all that often. This one is the most fun.
Hatton: Blue-Gray Sky
Dave: Blue-Gray Sky
Kanka: See the right sidebar. Not trying to leave anyone out, I'll name a few: Blue Gray Sky is the best. Bare Down is "Brian Giles in his prime" underrated. House Rock Built is about to hit the big time - if it hasn't already. ND CHOO CHOO is Marco's perfect forum. And "Nice driveway!" to CPF for submitting a KankaNation Hall of Fame Ballot.

16. What is your favorite non-Notre Dame blog?
F-Bomb: I don't read any other kind.
Emily: <-- Does that count?
Andy: NONE
Hatton: You mean there are non-Notre Dame blogs?
Dave: Every Day Should be Saturday
Kanka: Again, check out the sidebar. I check EDSBS several times a day. I also like to show love since they always show me love.

17. Who would win in a fight, Tom Zbikowski or Bill Brasky?
F-Bomb: That's tough one and I hope everyone gets the reference. Brasky would try to break Zibby's back but Zibby would play dead and then get up and kick the crap out of Bill Brasky. It would be made into a major motion picture called "The Day Bill Brasky Died" or "Zibby, hero for the common man".
Andy: Zbikowski
Hatton: Trick question, Tom Zbikowski is Bill Brasky.
Dave: Zbikowski: he doesn't need to brag, he'll just go out there and knock him the f@&# out.
Kanka: Brasky would get frustrated at Zbikowski's refusal to go down after several hours of punches. So, Brasky would next eat Zbikowski whole. No fear, because Zibby would punch his way out of Brasky's stomach. Then, Tommy would use his 4.4 speed to run circles around Brasky until Brasky got dizzy and fell down. Then, Zbikowski would buy Brasky a scotch and they'd take turns making out with Cronk's Sister.

18. Predict the final score of the following games:
a) Irish vs. OSU
F-Bomb: ND 35, Oregon 21
Andy: ND 24, OSU 14
Hatton: 35-24 Irish
Dave: ND 24, OSU 20 (I'll revise this as we get closer)
Kanka: Irish 30-something, OSU 20-something (haven't given it much thought yet)
b) mini-Irish vs. OSU (Coach Weis is still full size)
F-Bomb: ND 28 - Oregon 22
Andy: mini-Irish 14, OSU 2
Hatton: 14-7 Irish Weis would use a ball control offense and intentionally take penalties to create 29+ minute drives in each half, negating tOSU's size advantage on offense.
Dave: ND 23, OSU 21 (a little closer)
Kanka: Irish 17, OSU 10
c) Plane is delayed; only Coach Weis shows up. Coach Weis vs. OSU
F-Bomb: Weis 35 - Oregon 6
Andy: Addition: Open call goes out for ND fans with remaining eligibility. Kanka is QB, Sigmund at FB, F-Bomb at LB, Dave at WR, Klondike in a lawn chair at S, Ellen at TE, Hatton at...the nacho stand (Meg wouldn't let him play), Pete as Athletic Trainer (to treat any deadly viruses), Yonto at K, Byrer at DE.) ND Fans 23, OSU 21
Hatton: 2-0 Irish, tOSU forfeits in fear.
Dave: Coach Weis vs. OSU Weis 77, OSU 0 (Weis doesn't have to worry about players messing up his plans; he can just do it all himself.)
Kanka: Coach Weis 49, OSU 0
d) Coach Weis decides to let Charlie, Jr. do the playcalling. Irish vs. OSU
F-Bomb: ND 46 - Oregon 18
Andy: ND 24, OSU 14 (no difference)
Hatton: 49-17 Irish. Charlie Jr. likes to go deep a little more.
Dave: ND 30, OSU 13 (Charlie Jr. very well could be the brains behind the whole operation.)
Kanka: Irish 42, OSU 14. OSU only scores when Charlie, Jr. twice tries to convert 4th and 8's from his own 20.
e) Irish vs. the Assembled Choir of Heavenly Angels
F-Bomb: ND 6 - Angels 21
Andy: ND 7, the Assembled Choir of Heavenly Angels 7 x 7
Hatton: Again, trick question, the Irish are composed of members of the Assembled Choir of Heavenly Angels.
Dave: push
Kanka: Now, if the question was "Notre Dame vs. the Assembled Choir of Heavenly Angels," then obviously Our Lady wins.
*Note: This question was originally posed before the bowl selections were made. Some people answered the questions for the Irish vs. Oregon.

19. Who would win a race: South Bend's own Ryan Newman, or Coach Weis driving the team bus?
F-Bomb: Weis in the team bus because Newman would stop to sign autographs for townies and Pur-don't fans. Then he would leave a cheer of boiler up and Weis would run him over with the bus, mainly because Weis isn't pulling the bus with gimmicks.
Emily: Neither. I'd take Dwight Ellick, on foot.
Andy: Weis. Newman will try to crash Weis like he crashed everyone else this year. Dale Jarrett shows up in a UPS truck and puts Newman into the wall while he hums the Christmas songs from his album with John Madden. Weis stops to thank Jarrett. They each drink a cup of egg nog and then Weis rolls onto victory.
Hatton: Ryan who?
Dave: I had to Google this: Ryan Newman is a Nascar driver. Weis would destroy him.
Kanka: Weis, even with Larry Dwyer on Crudwell duty and Paul Epstein as snack nazi.

20. What is your favorite Notre Dame sport? If it's football, what is your second favorite?
F-Bomb: Football #1. Baseball because we are a northern school that is competitive.
Emily: Football is my #1, so I guess men's basketball for #2, or maybe interhall football, can I say that?
Andy: FOOTBALL!!!! (Then, hockey. But only if I'm in band. And we can still say "suck." Blackburn Sucks.)
Hatton: Hockey and yes Blackburn still sucks.
Dave: Football. Second favorite, men's basketball.
Kanka: 1. Football. 2. Women's Basketball. 3. Baseball - best team in the north. 4. Men's Basketball.

21. Who is your favorite Notre Dame athlete family member? (Examples: Darius Walker's dad, Brady Quinn's mom, Jerome Bettis' parents)
F-Bomb: D. Walk's uncle, who did the funky white guy dance at Tennessee last year.
Emily: Ndukwe's brother.
Andy: Mr. Ndukwe for mentioning to Tyrone that his son happened to play with a pretty good quarterback named Quinn who was not on Tyrone's recruiting list for some reason.
Hatton: Nicky Schu
Dave: Quinn's mom, after that amazing interview where she predicted a Heisman for Brady in '06, quelling all rumors of him leaving early, and a national title. Broke every rule in the book.
Kanka: I've heard good things about Darrell Campbell's mom, Jerome Bettis' parents, and Jeff Faine's mom.

22. On a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (definitely), how likely is it that you would name a child after a Notre Dame player or coach?
F-Bomb: 9
Emily: 2
Andy: 8.5
Hatton: 7.5 (Meg 1)
Dave: 9. Might not do it if child is a girl.
Kanka: 5

23. Regardless of your answer to #22, which player(s) or coach(es), past or present, are worthy of naming a child after?
F-Bomb: Jabari Holloway (First name is a good one), Jerome Bettis (Bettis is a good middle name)
Emily: I suppose Ara, but I think I'd be much more inclined to go with Teddy, after Hesburgh, or with names of my favorite ND professors (Guillermo, Alvin, Gerry, Michael, Viv, etc. ...)
Andy: Quinn, Charlie, Knute, Lou, Ara, Dan, Frank, Montana, Jerome, Gipp, Joe, Angelo, Darrell, Layden, Stuhldreher, Joyce and Ted (they count...spiritual coaches)
Hatton: Lou, Charlie, Knute, Ted and Ned (good call Andy, Theodore Edmund Hatton has a nice ring to it), and Raghib.
Dave: Knute, Ara, Lou, Charlie. Gary (Godsey), Anthony (Fasano), Brady, Luke (Pettitgout, for Ellen), Rocket.
Kanka: Darrell, Frank, John (hey, there were 2 Heisman winners), Joe (Yonto), Bob (Golic), Zigmund (Czarobski). For a girl, Charlotte (for Weis) or Jessica (for very underrated coach Jesse Harper).

24. Any good football weekend stories from this year that we may not have heard yet?
F-Bomb: Me yelling "oh, F#&%" in front of old alums and young kids when the Irish came out in green uniforms for the USC game.
Hatton: None that I can think of.
Dave: This year has been very good for my mental health. No expectations, great play, fun games led to a very worry-free fall for the first time in years. I even went out to dinner with Ellen, her parents, and family friends immediately after the USC game. I only broke one thing in anger all year. I fear this will all end next season, however, as the drive for the title begins.
Kanka: Highlights: Dave and Ellen's engagement, Friday night Tennessee weekend, and of course Friday night Syracuse weekend. (If you haven't heard about that last one yet, allow me to forward you that email.)

25. Ramble on about any particular moment or play from this season, good or bad.
F-Bomb: We could have beat USC, but that douche bag Leinart threw the perfect pass. You can't complain about the defense on that play.
Emily: My favorite moment is definitely when Leo got an interception and then ran for a touchdown...but I *still* haven't seen a clip of it!
Hatton: I've got to say that the two point conversion play call at the end of the Stanford game was a thing of beauty. What was great was its simplicity. When teams get near the goal line, or are going for two, they often try to get too cute. I hate the fade to the back corner of the endzone, it takes a perfect throw and its not that hard to defend. Instead, I offer two sure fire options for goal line or even short yardage situations.
1) Do what Charlie did, spread the field, go shotgun, spread out the defense, and direct snap to the running back who takes it up the gut with the wide outs running fades and the slots running outs to the zone vacated by the corners defending the wide outs. Variations on this include the quarterback taking it himself, a quick hand-off, or a check-off to the out by one of the slot receivers if the D is still clogging the middle.
2) Load up the middle, an extra tackle as one of 3 tight ends, a linebacker at fullback, a fullback at tailback. Quarterback under center, takes the snap, fakes the dive weak side to the tailback, bootlegs strong side, either runs to the pylon, or throws to the tight end who has released on an out.
Properly executed, these two set-ups should be all you'll ever need in a goal line scenario. The reason Weis is a robot genius is that he knows when to make things complicated, and when to simplify.
Dave: I loved watching the Pitt game, just to see the completely innovative and effective plays Charlie would run. My favorite plays were probably the ones where he lined up RPN and Schwapp in the backfield together. Double FBs get me fired up. Watching effective screen passes is also really fun.
I'm not going to remember this season for "what might have been," because we're not quite NC-caliber (yet), and we truly played as well as could possibly be expected. I'll remember this year more for that one great epic game, as dusk fell over ND Stadium on October 15, the perfect matchup at the perfect time in the perfect place. Dynasties like USC make the plays to prolong their runs; the number of times we came so close to ending that run (4th & 9, fumble out of bounds, Bush Push) is a testament to how far we've come. Long live Charlie.
Kanka: Um, if you want my insight on ND football, scroll down.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

KankaNation Holiday Gift Guide IV

Turns out I wasn't done with my shopping just yet...

For Gabe: A new set of clothes. I trust I have the right size?

For Emily: A football jersey and a homemade oven mitt. Or, I could just give her a DVD of the USC pep rally, since I've been promising it for the past two months.

For Jon Byrer: Unfortunately, I don't think I can buy free time for our resident 2L. Judging by recent message board feuds, maybe I could buy Jon a bottle of whisky to calm his nerves... or offer to kick F-Bomb squar in the nyuts.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

KankaNation Holiday Gift Guide III

I never promised I could find a gift for everyone. But, this is the season to be happy, not sad.

For Andy: I could make him some Wookiee Cookies, get him a storybook, or a toy that surely would have been loads of fun in the quad.

For F-Bomb: For the Steeler fan now in Ohio, the jersey of an Ohio hero now playing for the Steelers. Or, maybe some music by the band named after him.

Or, I could just take these two out to dinner, and supply the bibs. (C'mon guys, gimmicks don't pull the train.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

KankaNation Holiday Gift Guide II

Because I just forgot some stuff yesterday.

In the general category, there's the popular Same Old Jesus shirt.

Or, if you're going to the Purdue game next year, there's this beauty. (Courtesy House Rock Built.)

Finally, for Aflac, his likeness in plush form.

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

3Penn StNotre DamePenn St
4Ohio St (+1)Penn St (+1)Ohio St (+1)
5Notre Dame (+1)Ohio St (+2)Notre Dame (+1)
6Auburn (+3)Auburn (+2)Oregon (+2)
7OregonOregon (+2)Georgia (+2)
8Georgia (+4)Georgia (+3)Miami (+2)
9Miami (+2)WVU (+4)LSU (-2)
10Va Tech (-6)LSU (-6)Va Tech (-6)
11WVU (+2)Miami (-1)Auburn
12TCU (+2)Va Tech (-6)WVU (+3)
13Louisville (+2)Alabama (+1)UCLA (-1)
14LSU (-6)TCU (+1)Alabama (-1)
15Alabama (NR)Louisville (NR)TCU (-1)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

KankaNation Holiday Gift Guide

The stuff I'd consider getting all of you if I wasn't so cheap.

For Pete, or anyone else going for their doctorate: Evil Genius lab coat

For nickyschu: I know he's trying to shed his "drunk money" image, but this Family Guy t-shirt was too good to pass up.

For Cronk, and/or Mack: Their own Triumph the Insult Comic Dog puppet.

For Klondike: An appropriate t-shirt, and something that will help if he ever has to room with Ray again.

For Yonto: Something to help in his escapes as a basketball coach, book one, and book two.

For Mike: Monty Python plush toys. I also saw a plush Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch at the local Suncoast, but couldn't find it online. Also, something for the new father.

For Baby Hatton: Baby's first propaganda video.

For Ellen: A picture of her and me in a L-O-V-E picture frame.

For Dave: Best T-Shirt Ever.

For the rest of the Schmitt family: A sign to commemorate their Pong Dynasty.

From you, to me: If you're still trying to get me to move out east, you could always get me a New York City helicopter tour. Or, to go along with "those gloves" (so I don't drop the ball), a quarterback wristband with the appropriate plays.

Finally, a few serious suggestions:

Support Hannah & Friends, a cause close to Coach Weis' heart and to mine.

I'm not a big green shirt person, except when it's for a good cause. Pass Right for Montana.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Year in Pictures I

With apologies to dialup users, I present the Year in Pictures I. It's a position-by-position look at each player's best moment this season. Or, at least the best moment captured and posted on So, if you don't see your favorite player or your favorite moment here, don't blame me - I'm not running that site (yet).

The Year in Pictures II? Pictures of you, the readers. Email them to me and I'll try to put together a nice collage.

As a final picture, here once again is Joel Hollingsworth's Animated Race to the BCS, complete with bowl selections.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

BCS Predictions

With hours to go until the big announcement (5 PM Eastern, ABC), I decided to gather what I've heard about possible BCS matchups. (In an attempt to get a few cheap Google hits today. Who said that?) So, here's what I'm predicting. As of 6 PM today, you'll be able to hit the message board and reiterate the fact that I have no clue what I'm talking about. (All times Eastern.)

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Location/Time: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ. Monday, Jan 2, 4:30 PM.
Host: Big XII Champion
Prediction: Ohio State (At-Large) vs. Notre Dame (At-Large)
With Texas in the title game, the Fiesta Bowl basically has two at-large selections. Their pool to choose from appears to consist of LSU, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Miami, and Auburn. Rumor has the selectors leaning towards Notre Dame and Ohio State, and they may not have a choice. With LSU and Virginia Tech losing, there's a good possibility that Ohio State will move up to #4 in the BCS and Notre Dame #6. Rules state that all teams in the BCS top 4 must go to a BCS bowl. Likewise, all teams not in a BCS conference but in the BCS top 6 must be selected for a BCS bowl. This would make Ohio State and Notre Dame locks. But, will LSU and Virginia Tech move below both of these teams in the standings? LSU was blown out last night, and they lost quarterback JaMarcus Russell in the process. Virginia Tech has looked good for most of the season, but they have floundered in their two biggest tests (against FSU Saturday night and earlier at home versus Miami). So, it's not a done deal, but it is a reasonable scenario.

Nokia Sugar Bowl

Location/Time:Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA. Monday, Jan 2, 8:30 PM.
Host: SEC Champion
Prediction: Georgia (SEC Champ) vs. West Virginia (Big East Champ)
Georgia pulled off an impressive win over LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Since the Sugar Bowl has last pick this year, they are expected to be "stuck with" the Big East champions.

FedEx Orange Bowl

Location/Time: Dolphin Stadium, Miami, FL. Tuesday, Jan 3, 8 PM.
Host: ACC Champion
Prediction: Florida State (ACC Champ) vs. Penn State (Big 10 Champ)
FSU beat Virginia Tech Saturday night in a game that wasn't as close as the final score. Pairing Bobby Bowden-Joe Paterno on this big of a stage seems to be too good to pass up.

Rose Bowl

Location/Time: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. Wednesday, Jan 4, 8 PM.
Host: BCS #1 vs. BCS #2.
Prediction: USC (PAC-10 Champ) vs. Texas (Big XII Champ)
Not much speculation in this one. Going into this week as the only undefeated teams left in Division I-A, both the Trojans and Longhorns posted blowout victories.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's That Time Again

KankaNation Hall of Fame

Yes, it's time to start filling out your KankaNation Hall of Fame ballot. For those of you not familiar with the process, here's all you need to do: 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 Class of 2004 and the Class of 2005. At those links you can also see some of the "also rans" who have received votes in the past.

KankaNation Championship 2005

Remember that? We're only waiting for the Notre Dame Prediction Contest and KankaMatic Football to wrap up. Here's how everyone stands as of right now, with scores from the two above contests not included:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

KankaNation Top 15
How They Voted

1TexasUSC(1a) USCUSC
2USCTexas(1b) TexasTexas
3Penn StNotre DamePenn StPenn St
4Va TechLSULSUVa Tech
5Ohio St (+1)Penn StVa TechOhio St (+1)
6Notre Dame (-1)Va TechNotre DameNotre Dame (-1)
7OregonOhio StOhio StLSU (+1)
8LSUAuburnAuburnOregon (+1)
9AuburnOregonOregonGeorgia (+3)
10UCLAMiamiUCLAMiami (-3)
11MiamiGeorgiaMiamiAuburn (-1)
12GeorgiaUCLAWVUUCLA (-1)
13WVU (+2)WVUGeorgiaAlabama (+1)
14TCUAlabamaAlabamaTCU (+1)
15Louisville (NR)TCU (NR)TCUWVU (NR)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Animated BCS Race

It's the craze that's sweeping the college football blogosphere. New blog friend Joel from View from Rocky Top has updated the Animated BCS Race. Now you can see how everyone got where they are today. Good stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Transaction Wire

  • Nationals trade Vinny Castilla to San Diego for Brian Lawrence. Wait, what? Lawrence is a decent pitcher. Phil Nevin is gone, and patience with Sean Burroughs has worn thin, but is it really worth it to give up Lawrence for Castilla? Especially when you've just signed Geoff Blum?

  • Mariners sign Kenji Johjima, who will become the first Japanese catcher to play in the majors. Seattle's recent moves at catcher haven't worked out, so why not go overseas? Johjima is expected to hit .275 with 21 homers this year, great numbers for a catcher on a bad team.

  • Pirates sign Jason Bay to a four year contract. Now they're only about 23 moves away from a good team. (Sorry, but I'm a huge fan of Jack Wilson's defense.)

  • Indians pick up Ronnie Belliard's club option for 2006... and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. The Indians also resigned Scott Sauerbeck.

  • Blue Jays receive cash for trading John McDonald to the Tigers during the season. A week later, the Tigers trade McDonald back to the Blue Jays for cash. I kid you not.

  • Padres trade 1B/OF Xavier Nady to the Mets for Mike Cameron. Cameron will presumably take over for Brian Giles, likely gone due to to free agency. Nady, a player who may or may not still be a prospect, will likely platoon with Victor Diaz in right. And by "platoon," I mean "actually play competent defense."

  • Mets trade 1B/C Mike Jacobs and two other prospects to Florida for Carlos Delgado. Delgado is good, but wasn't Jacobs the Mets' catcher of the future? What are they going to do there now? Or do I have the wrong guy? Oh wait, there are always free agents Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina. Both can survive in the middle of a National League lineup (especially Molina, who managed to bat fourth on an American League playoff team last year).

  • Marlins trade Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox for Ss Hanley Ramirez and pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia. When I first read this, when Mota wasn't involved, I didn't think much of it. I thought I had read AJ Burnett instead of Josh Beckett. Burnett is a free agent, so that's not big news, and Lowell is basically a salary dump for the Marlins. But Beckett is a top tier pitcher, and Mota is solid in his own right. Do you think the Marlins front office was sitting around when someone realized, "Holy crap, we forgot to have another fire sale after that second World Series win in 2003! We'd better start now!" Ramirez and at least two of those pitchers are top prospects, but the Sox need to win right now. The Lowell move makes much more sense for Boston now that I realize Bill Mueller is gone. Mota will help bolster a weak 2005 bullpen. (Can you bolster anything besides a bullpen?) Meanwhile, with the loss of Lowell, the Marlins can move the slightly discontent Miguel Cabrera back to his original position - third base. The Rangers also contended for Beckett and Lowell, offering Hank Blalock in return. I'm assuming that in that situation, Lowell would have taken Blalock's spot at 3rd in Texas, while Blalock would have taken over at 1st for Carlos Delgado.

  • Pirates name Jeff Manto hitting coach. When you look up "Quadruple A (AAAA) Player" in the stathead dictionary, you see a picture of Manto. A Quadruple A Player is one who excels at the AAA level, but can't seem to handle the Major Leagues. Therefore, he's somewhere between the two levels. Manto hit .275 with 270 HR and 921 RBI while playing 9 positions in his 16 years in the minors. However, he could only muster a .231 average in 269 Major League games. An Indians mainstay (or at least a Colorado Springs/Buffalo mainstay) in the mid 90s, I wish the best for Manto.

  • White Sox trade Aaron Rowand and a pitching prospect the Phillies for Jim Thome. Whosajiggawhat? This move becomes especially perplexing when coupled with the news that the Sox expect to re-sign Paul Konerko at first. But, the move supposedly adds needed power to the Chicago lineup, while clearing up room in the outfield. It looks like Carl Everett is a free agent, so that room was created for Brian Anderson, Joe Borchard, or Timo Perez. Amusing is the point I read somewhere about the Sox' affinity for mid-90s Indians stars: Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Sandy Alomar, and Thome now have all joined the South Siders after time with the Tribe. Meanwhile, the Phillies have been looking for a while to complement Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu with a solid center fielder. Rowand is that center fielder.

  • Cubs sign Scott Eyre and Bob Howry. Well, there goes Plan A for the Indians. Cleveland was expected to not re-sign Bob Wickman and instead use Howry, who had a great 2005, as a closer. Now, it looks like Howry may move into that role for the Cubs. At least there's a Plan B...

  • Blue Jays sign BJ Ryan. Crap, there goes Cleveland's Plan B. Five years, $47 million was to rich for the Tribe, and it's probably too rich for the Jays as well. Time will tell.

  • A's sign Esteban Loaiza. Oh, c'mon, there has to be a great prospect somewhere that the A's can fleece a bad GM out of. Somewhere?

  • Mets give cash to Pirates for Tike Redman. The Mets need outfield depth, especially when it comes from legitimate outfielders. Plus, his speed gives New York another good baserunning threat besides Jose Reyes.

  • Mets sign Billy Wagner. Well, the Mets sorely needed a closer. The Notre Dame fans among us would love to see Aaron Heilman given a shot at that role, but unfortunately there's no room for experiments like that in the Northeast. So, the Mets instead will risk paying the 34 year old Wagner just over $10 million a year for the next four seasons.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Notre Dame 38, Stanford 31

Quarterback: On October 17, 1994, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs faced off on Monday Night Football. With 1:29 left in the game, John Elway led his Broncos to a touchdown and a 28-24 lead. Not to be outdone, Joe Montana took the Chiefs on a 75 yard drive to score the winning touchdown with 8 seconds left in the game. On Saturday, Elway was in attendance to see his Alma Mater Stanford, while Montana was there to see his Notre Dame. With just under two minutes to play in the game, Stanford scored to go ahead 31-30. However, in under a minute, Brady Quinn led Notre Dame to a touchdown and an eventual 38-31 win. I don't think I was ever more confident that a two-minute drill would go my team's way - including all those times where my team's defense had the lead. I wanted Stanford to score quickly, and for the first time I believed myself.
Quinn had 432 yards passing on the day. As my dad pointed out, it's normally not a good thing when Quinn has to throw for that many yards. He completed only 9 of his first 19 passes, with 2 interceptions - his first multi-interception game of the season. However, he finished by completing 16 of his next 19 passes, including his final 9. Even with his early struggles, and with all the throwing downfield, Quinn completed close to two-thirds of his passes.

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

In three games against the PAC-10's 2nd (USC), 5th (Washington), and 6th (Stanford) ranked rushing defenses, Darius Walker has run 75 times for 386 yards. Let's project that over a full 11 game PAC-10 schedule. Walker's 1415 yards and 128.7 yards per game would be second in the league, far behind Washington State's Jerome Harrison, but just ahead of Reggie Bush. Of course, Bush's numbers are on 163 carries, whereas Walker would have approximately 275 carries in this simulation. Walker's 5.1 yards per carry would be only seventh best in the league, but he would be ahead of UCLA's Maurice Drew. My point? Well, I don't have much of one, since this is a very small sample set. But, before you a) call for Walker's benching, or b) hype Drew or LenDale White's performance in a conference historically weak against the run, think how things would be with the roles reversed.
Walker, by the way, had 186 yards on 35 carries in this game. Pure workhorse. His touchdown and two-point conversion run were the clutch plays of this game. Walker also tied his season-long with a 38 yard run and added 5 catches for 55 yards. He now has 1106 rushing yards on the year. Contrary to what Keith Jackson said several times, Walker's receiving yards do not also count towards his rushing yards. In addition to becoming Notre Dame's 9th 1000-yard rusher, he also brought his rushing average to just over 100 yards per game. Oh, and did I mention how well he does in blitz pickup?
Travis Thomas added 3 carries for 13 yards, including a touchdown.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp ran twice, each time for 5 yards.

Receiver: Notre Dame's receivers piled up the yards at will in this game. Jeff Samardzija started with an 80-yard touchdown run on a simple crossing pattern, and he ended up with 216 yards. Pulling my media guide out of the trash (since I'd thrown out the record book! get it? ha!), I see that Samardzija's 1215 receiving yards this season surpasses Tom Gatewood's record of 1123. The Shark's 72 receptions are just five shy of Gatewood's season record, and the 216 yards were the third best single-game total by an Irish receiver. In fact, Samardzija was just one yard shy of Jack Snow's second place performance.
For most of his career, it was assumed that a long pass to Maurice Stovall would end with nothing more than a spectacular drop. Not any more. On Notre Dame's winning drive, Stovall had a Cardinal defensive back pulling on his collar and he still made the catch. Stovall's 136 yards makes him the fourth receiver in Irish history to pass the 1000 yard mark in a season; he now has 1023 yards. His touchdown reception gave him 11 on the season - tying him with Derrick Mayes for what is now second best all-time.
Matt Shelton had one catch for 6 yards, but that wasn't his best play of the game. On Jeff Samardzija's 80-yard touchdown, Shelton put a block on a Cardinal linebacker to seal the corner for Samardzija. Now, the 172 pound Shelton didn't exactly "win the battle" against the much bigger linebacker, but he did do just enough to disrupt the defender's pursuit.

Tight End: Anthony Fasano had another relatively quiet day, hauling in 3 passes for 18 yards. Despite what may seem like an off year to casual observers, Fasano's 45 receptions on the season match his combined numbers for 2003 and 2004. He's now a reasonable 9 catches away from Ken MacAfee's record for season receptions by an Irish tight end. Fasano's 90 career receptions put him alone in third place behind MacAfee and Tony Hunter.

O-Line: 663 total yards, one sack. You be the judge.


Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

It was the most dominating performance by a Notre Dame defensive lineman this season, and it went largely unnoticed. C'mon, Keith, "Abiamiri" isn't that hard to pronounce, especially when you have ten chances to say it. That's right, Victor Abiamiri had 10 tackles, including four sacks (four!) to lead the Irish. It was arguably the highly touted recruit's best game in a Notre Dame uniform. Justin Brown, filling in for the injured Ronald Talley (himself filling in for Chris Frome) had four tackles. Trevor Laws added 2 tackles and Brian Beidatsch a stop in the backfield. Derek Landri was a disruptive force at times, but it didn't show on the stat sheet as he wasn't credited with a single tackle.

Linebacker: It was a solid game by the entire linebacking corps. Maurice Crum, Jr. had one of his biggest games to date with 7 tackles. Brandon Hoyte, who by the way is leading the team in tackles, had 7 stops and two sacks. Corey Mays, who has moved past the surprise/breakout/"most improved" labels into "he's just good" territory, had 6 tackles, including one in the backfield.

Safety: Not a good day for Tom Zbikowski. He had only one tackle, and was beat deep on Stanford's second touchdown. Chinedum Ndukwe. fared slightly better with 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups.

Cornerback: "Know thy enemy, and know thyself." This is a key tennet of The Art of War, a favorite of Lou Holtz. Notre Dame's secondary is the weak link on this team, but perhaps only Michigan State and Stanford went out of their way to exploit that fact. If Notre Dame's offense had to face its defense, things would be brutal. Ambrose Wooden looked lost on Stanford's first touchdown. Mike Richardson was beat deep on Stanford's second TD, but he presumably was hoping for some safety help. All in all, Richardson did have another decent day with 7 tackles, including 2 TFL and 1 sack. Richardson is the only corner that I've seen blitz; I'm not sure what to make of that, though. Leo Ferrine gave everyone flashbacks to Clifford Jefferson and Preston Jackson as the current #15 got beat by his man on a play that set up the late go-ahead score. However, thanks to talent and proper coaching, this number 15 will likely follow in Pat Terrell's footsteps rather than Clifford Jefferson's. (Pat from BGS gets credit for this last thought.)
In their defense, Richardson, Wooden, and Ferrine are all much improved over last year, but there's still room to get better.

Kicker: It was a rough day for DJ Fitzpatrick, as he missed an extra point and two field goals - all key points in this game. However, in his defense, he was playing with a brace on his kicking knee. Carl Gioia stepped in admirably to convert a field goal and an extra point. Had Gioia gone in for the final field goal attempt instead of Fitzpatrick, he would have been a big contender for the Horse Trailer.
Oh, and this one month break is just what the doctor ordered for DJ's knee, Stovall's ankle, and all the bumps and bruises on the defensive line.

Punter: Despite the bad knee, DJ punted twice for a combined 70 yards. Brady Quinn pooched a 48 yard kick that just barely rolled into the end zone. He's just a weapon now.

Kick Returner: David Grimes handled 4 kick returns for 97 yards, which is an average of just under 25 yards per return. His long was 28 yards.

Punt Returner: Stanford did a good job of bottling up Tom Zbikowski on his punt returns. He averaged 5.7 yards per return with a long of 13.

Special Teams: Notre Dame surrendered its first kick return touchdown of the season, an 87 yarder by TJ Rushing. At the time, I joked that he was able to score because Carl Gioia (who had that kickoff) isn't a good tackler like DJ Fitzpatrick or Nick Setta. The truth is, though, Fitzpatrick simply kicks it deeper and does a better job of pinning the returner in a corner. Stanford averaged 30 yards per kick return. Neither of ND's punts were returnable by the Cardinal.