Saturday, December 30, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 13: Sugar Bowl vs. LSU

LSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

LSU has taken running back-by-committee to a new level, with 5 backs recording 45 or more carries this season. 18 Jacob Hester is the starter and the closest thing the Tigers have to a feature back. Hester averages 7-8 carries and 35 yards a game. He also leads the team with 6 rushing TDs. Keiland Williams similarly averages 7-8 carries and 41 yards per game, with 3 total touchdowns. 22 Alley Broussard is the power back. He averages 7 carries per game, but for only 28 yards per contest. Broussard has scored 4 times on the ground. 32 Charles Scott averages 6-7 carries and 40 yards per game, with 5 total touchdowns. 25 Justin Vincent, who has recorded 5 starts alongside Hester, is averaging 4 carries and 12 yards per game. Freshman wide receiver 8 Trindon Holliday, all 5'5" of him, has carried the ball 13 times this season - more than once a game. Holliday has been used effectively, averaging 12.4 yards per carry. Finally, quarterback 2 JaMarcus Russell is averaging 44 carries and 10 yards per game on the ground. All in all, the Tigers average 159 yards per game on the ground, so their system works.
The Irish linebackers will have their hands full with the LSU backs. Marcus Crum and Joe Brockington are listed at 220 pounds and Travis Thomas at 215 pounds. Hester (228 lbs), Williams (223), Broussard (250), Scott (221), and Vincent (223) - and Russell (260) - all outweigh the Irish staring backers. (Russell is only 12 pounds lighter than Chris Frome.) Notre Dame's susceptibility to trick plays could also lead to several big gains for Holliday. The Irish will need to play with discipline and fundamentals, and flock to the ball without over-pursuing.

ND Rush Offense vs. LSU Rush Defense

Darius Walker averages 19 carries and 95 yards per game. However, Walker and the run game seem to disappear in big games. This can partially be attributed to Coach Weis' tendency to pass more when behind, and the tendency to save the run for late in the game to hold a lead. But Walker has averaged just 2 yards per carry in most of those big games, a number that can partially be attributed to inconsistent offensive line play. It will be interesting to see who backs up Walker in this game: James Aldridge, who is now third on the team in carries (behind Walker and Brady Quinn), or the veteran Travis Thomas, who is rumored to move back to running back full time next year. Aldridge now averages 6 carries and 23 yards per game. Thomas has only carred the ball 11 times this season, but is averaging 6.9 yards per carry (3.3 YPC if you discount his 43-yard fake punt run). Discounting sacks, Brady Quinn has carried 49 times for 288 yards this season, with a long of 60. Munir Prince is the only other Irish player to carry the ball more than 4 times. Prince has 15 carries, most coming in garbage time.
At 93.2 yards per game, LSU's run defense is very good, but not impenetrable. Like their running game, though, their offense is very balanced. Linebackers 48 Darry Beckwith and 7 Ali Highsmith have 61 and 58 tackles, respectively. DT 72 Glenn Dorsey has 59 tackles, 8.5 for a loss.

LSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Apparently, this JaMarcus Russell guy is pretty good. The "Young Daunte Culpepper" is only completing 68.5% of his passes this season. Russell's average day consists of completing 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards. Russell has 26 TDs and 7 interceptions on the year. To paraphase a certain parody of a certain FOX baseball playoff announcer: As balanced as LSU is with their running backs, that's how as not balanced they are with their receivers. Russell focuses primarily on his top three wide receivers, who each have between 50 and 60 catches. 80 Dwayne Bowe averages 5 caches and 76 yards per game. He leads the team with 11 receiving touchdowns, almost one per game. 3 Craig Davis averages 4-5 catches and 72 yards per game. 9 Early Doucet is the number 3 receiver. He rarely starts, but he hasn't failed to put up impressive numbers. Doucet also averages 4-5 catches per game for 55 yards per. Doucet does know how to find the end zone, as he has 8 touchdowns on the year. After these three top receivers, halfback Jacob Hester has 34 catches, and no one else has more than 6. Hester averages 3 catches and 21 yards per game.
Notre Dame's pass defense has been known to struggle in big games. However, knowing they only have to focus on 3 or 4 guys may help, as it allows for bracket coverages and other teams. Of course, coaches love to save the best for last, so don't be surprised if Les Miles decides to get his tight ends involved for the first time this season. Chinedum Ndukwe was injured in the USC game, but he is expected to be healthy for the Sugar Bowl. Victor Abiamiri started slow, but he ended with 10 sacks and 14.5 total TFL (and 14 quarterback hits). I was going to praise LSU's Duncan for having great numbers for a tackle, until I saw Derek Landri's: 65 tackles, 15.5 TFL, and 7 sacks.

ND Pass Offense vs. LSU Pass Defense

Don't forget - that Brady Quinn guy is pretty good, too. On the average day, Quinn completes 23 of 36 passes for 273 yards. Quinn has 35 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. Once again, Quinn's leading receiver is Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija is averaging 6 catches and 80 yards per game. Right behind Samardzija is Rhema McKnight, who averages 5 catches and 74 yards per game. Samardzija has 11 touchdown catches to McKnight's team-leading 15. Darius Walker averages 4-5 catches and 30 yards per game. John Carlson, expected to return from a knee injury, averages 4-5 catches and 62 yards per game. Carlson has four touchdowns on the season. While Carlson was out, David Grimes matured into a reliable third option - and perhaps a reliable 1 or 2 option for next year. Grimes now has 25 catches on the season, and is averaging 28 yards per game.
This is the matchup of the game, as LSU is giving up only 145.5 passing yards per game. If you look at just sacks and interceptions, LSU's pass defense doesn't look that impressive; the Tigers have only 8 more sacks and 4 more interceptions than Notre Dame's defense. But then you look at the other numbers. Pass breakups are arguable as an official stat, but you have to be impressed when starting DBs 21 Chevis Jackson and 19 Jonathan Zenon each have hit double digits in that category. End 93 Tyson Jackson has 8.5 sacks and 10 TFL. 94 Chase Pittman, the other defensive end, has 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Strong safety 16 Craig Steltz leads the team with 4 interceptions; Jonathan Zenon is second with 3. 30 LaRon Landry, the free safety, leads the team with 68 tackles.

Special Teams

LSU's placekicker is 6 Colt David. David has converted only 6 of 10 field goals, but all 4 misses have come from 40+ yards. His long is 45. For the Irish, Carl Gioia has converted 8 of 12 field goals, including 7 of 8 from inside 40 yards. His long is 40.
41 Chris Jackson handles LSU's punting duties. On 35 kicks, he is averaging 41.8 yards with a long of 58. Notre Dame's Geoff Price is averaging 45.2 yards per punt. The long out of his 45 kicks is a 62-yarder.
Early Doucet and Trindon Holliday are LSU's kick returners. On 9 returns, Doucet averages 17 yards with a long of 36 yards. Holliday is averaging 32 yards on 5 returns, with a 92-yard touchdown. Ryan Burkhart has been kicking off for the Irish. He is averaging 59.2 yards per kick, with 8 of 42 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 20 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 25.
David Grimes and George West return kicks for the Irish. Grimes is averaging 25.5 yards on 17 returns, with a long of 50. West is averaging 20.3 yards on 10 returns, with a long of 33. Against USC, Tom Zbikowski returned 5 kicks for an average of 21.4 yards. His long was 28. Chris Jackson is also in charge of kickoffs for the Tigers. Jackson is averaging 61.6 yards per kick, with 22 of 67 kickoffs going for touchbacks. LSU is giving up 19.7 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 23.
DB 21 Chevis Jackson and Craig Davis have shared punt return duties for LSU. Jackson is averaging 6.7 yards on 15 returns, with a long of 22. Davis is averaging 14.2 yards on 10 returns, with a 77-yard touchdown. Notre Dame is giving up a mediocre 12.1 yards per punt return.
When healthy, Tom Zbikowski has returned punts for ND. He has averaged 9 yards on 16 returns. His long was a 52-yard TD. LSU is giving up 11.4 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, Walker, Samardzija, the secondary, and Carl Gioia.

ND 26, LSU 24: LSU has outscored opponents by an average of 33-13 this year. Against teams with winning records, that margin is a slightly-more-human 24-16. Notre Dame has outscored similar opponents 27-24. Look for touchdowns from McKnight, Walker, and a DB not named Terrail Lambert. (Lambert already has 2 TDs - let's give someone else a chance. Gioia will miss an extra point, but make up for it with two field goals.

Friday, December 29, 2006


For those of you who don't visit the site on the weekend:

Hall of Fame Ballots (sent to and Bowl Picks (Posted here, assuming the board wants to work today) are due Sunday.

Contingency plan for bowl picks: Post your picks for the winners of each of the January bowls, plus the score of the NC game, to the regular message board. Here's a list of bowls.

And a reminder for myself: You might want to write a Sugar Bowl preview before the game is played on next Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nobody goes there anymore

It's too crowded.

Judging by these recent posts, there aren't too many Notre Dame fans headed down to the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe it's too small a sample set. Maybe it's just unfair to compare this year to last year, with the excitement over the Fiesta Bowl.

But here's the question: Why aren't you going to the Sugar Bowl? Sound off using the poll to the right, or on the message board.

Oh, and my Sugar Bowl preview is coming soon... I hope.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

KankaNation Gift Guide 2006

It's that time of year again. If I left you out, please yell at me. Repeatedly.

For Aflac, hourse of "that's what she said" enjoyment.

Assuming Dave doesn't want an autographed photo of a future Hall of Famer, I could give him something that shows off his devotion to Snoop Dogg.

For F-Bomb, a shirt that espouses two of his greatest passions.

For Mike and Patrick, matching attire.

Unfortunately, Jon and Andy may have to share this gift.

For Klondike, a gift to make him feel at home, and a second gift to keep the first one cold.

For nickyschu, there's no outliving his underclassman reputation.

Pete's gift allows him to showcase his two favorite emotions, pride for winning everything, and bitterness.

Finally, for Yonto, something to make him feel more at home.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Buck O'Neil: A True Class Act

When I received my Sportsman of the Year edition of Sports Illustrated and saw Dwayne Wade on the cover, I was forlorn. Sure, Wade did have a decent year. But a few weeks prior, one of SI's writers suggested that Buck O'Neil be named SOTY. Seeing that O'Neil wasn't SOTY, months after he wasn't included among the 17 Negro League figures inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, I thought to myself, "Gee, this guy can't win anything."

Did Buck, who died on August 5, deserve to be a Baseball Hall of Famer? He won a few Negro League batting championships, but carried just a .288 career average. He won two Negro League championships as a manager. He had a long career as a Major League scout; his most notable signing was Lou Brock. In 1962, the Cubs made him the first African American coach in the majors. After he retired as a player, coach, and scout, he became an ambassador for the Negro Leagues, and for baseball in general. O'Neil helped open the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City in 1990. These accomplishments, though, apparently weren't good enough for the folks in Cooperstown.

Fortunately, in the time between I received my Dwayne Wade SI and the time I sat down to write this, a baseball owner found it proper to honor O'Neil when the baseball writers couldn't. On December 7, President George W. Bush honored Buck O'Neil posthumously with a Presidential Medal of Freedom - one of our country's highest civilian honors.

I could go on, but my words can't come close to the eloquence of Buck's. Imagine in your head the most pleasant 94-year-old man you've ever met addressing the Baseball Hall of Fame crowd and try to keep your eyes dry:

Earlier this year, when Buck found out that he missed the Baseball Hall of Fame by one vote, he had the following to say:

God's been good to me. You can see that, can't you? It didn't happen. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck.

Don't shed any tears 'cause I'm not going to the Hall of Fame.

You think about this. Here I am, the grandson of a slave. And here the whole world was excited about whether I was going into the Hall of Fame or not. We've come a long ways. Before, we never even thought about anything like that. America, you've really grown and you're still growing.

I don't know about you, but Buck O'Neil is a Hall of Famer to me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


If you are currently in a place where online videos can be watched and listed to,
first watch this,
then watch this,
then read this.

If you are not in such a place, check out the Notre Dame postseason awards post, now including AP All-America selections.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bring Back Coach Yonto

There's growing resentment towards Coach Rick Minter, despite national attention in his favor. But if Minter does go, who should replace him?

Number Crunching

I looked at points per game for both Coaches Yonto and Minter. For Coach Minter, his Notre Dame days aren't a large enough sample set, so I included some data from his time at Ball State - the job that essentially got him hired by Lou Holtz. Coach Yonto's teams gave up an average of 8 points per game below the national mean. For Coach Minter, that number is closer to 4.5. I'll avoid comparing other numbers across eras, but the number-versus-mean figures should speak for themselves.
Also, if you want my raw data to do some real statistical analysis - as opposed to my "Look at me, I just finished Stats 101 this quarter!" analysis, please let me know.

Mr. Notre Dame

The title "Mr. Notre Dame" belongs to Moose Krause, and rightfully so. Notre Dame's record of football national championships eerily matches Moose's timeline with ND. Notre Dame's second and third championships came in 1929 and 1930. Moose started school in 1930, but wasn't eligible to play with the varsity until 1931. Moose returned to ND as a coach in 1942. In 1943, ND won another championship. In 1944 and 1945, Moose and Frank Leahy went away to war. The Irish didn't win any titles that year, but in the following two years. Notre Dame celebrated Moose Krause's first year as Athletic Director, 1949, with another championship. Moose's reign as Athletic Director also brought four more consensus championships. Moose Krause passed away in 1992, and the Irish haven't been serious National Championship contenders since 1993. That's almost too much of a coincidence.
Coach Yonto, who fortunately is still with us, can make a claim for success that's nearly as impressive. Joe Yonto started school in 1944 and played with the varsity in 1945. A gruesome leg injury ended his playing career, but the school still won two national titles while he was there in 1946 and 1947. After Yonto graduated, the school earned one more championship in 1949 before falling into one of the darkest stretches of the program. Awful seasons abounded until Ara Parseghian brought Joe Yonto back in 1964. The Irish saw three more titles under Coach Yonto in 1966, 1973, and 1977. In 1981, Gerry Faust pushed Coach Yonto into a desk job, and the Irish program again faltered. Lou Holtz brought Coach Yonto back into the stadium in 1986 and 1987. Had Coach Yonto not retired after 1987, he would have seen yet another national championship the following year.


Coach Yonto was Coach Parseghian's go-to guy for east coach recruiting. There he recruited legends big and small. Fellow assistant coach Johnny Ray kidded Yonto about recruiting a 5-10, 148 lb Joe Theismann by asking Yonto if he was to be the new waterboy. Meanwhile, a 6-5, 235 lb Ken MacAfee was worried that he was too small for major college football. Coach Yonto replied, "If you're too small, we might as well quit trying to recruit."
I haven't kept up on Coach Minter's recruiting prowess, but I'm sure many of you will point out that Notre Dame was unable to land a defensive tackle recruit until just Tuesday.


After a 21-17 loss to #1 Texas in the 1970 Cotton Bowl (following the 1969 season), the Irish were set to face the Longhorns again in the 1971 Cotton Bowl - and again Texas was ranked #1. Coach Yonto developed the famed "mirror defense" to shut down Texas' more-famed wishbone option, and the Irish prevailed 24-10. In the 1978 Cotton Bowl, the Irish yet again travelled down to face a #1 Texas team. Coach Yonto's defense held Earl Campbell and the Longhorns as the #5 Irish routed Texas 38-10. The decisive victory gave Notre Dame their 10th national championship.
Coach Minter is known for his zone blitzing schemes. Perhaps they will work with the right personnel. But over the past two years, it appears that Notre Dame doesn't have the right personnel. It also appears that the Irish secondary isn't being trained to at least look like the right personnel for the job. Well, then, why is Minter stubbornly sticking to these schemes?

Words of Wisdom

All from Coach Yonto.

On his playing days: "I was a fullback who ate my way to guard."

As a high school head coach, foreshadowing Yoda: "There is no try. There is do or don’t do!"

On Rudy being carried of the field: "Of course, we carried him off the field. He was the only guy small enough for us to pick up."

On running back Jerome Heavens: "The Gipper would have approved of this himself. You don't find a football player with more class than Jerome Heavens."

On being reassigned by Gerry Faust: "Do you know what a special assistant to the athletic director does? If I told you, it wouldn't be so special."

On wearing the green jerseys against BC in 2002: "Gimmicks don't pull the train, power pulls the train."

On the 2006 Army team: "You could have picked 11 midgets off the quad to play them. Or 11 trombones."

Finally: "That's the real meaning of coaching - to see what the players do when they get out, how they help one another."

Open Petition to Bring Back Joe Yonto as Defensive Coordinator

It's your choice. Defense wins championships.
Click here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Very, Very Rewarding!

Or awarding. Or something. SchrockStar called me out for my recent blogging slacktitude, especially in light of Brady Quinn's recent acceptance of the Maxwell Award. To make it up to him, here is a list of (to date-ish) awards won by this year's Fighting Irish football team.

Brady Quinn
Maxwell Award College Player of the Year House Rock Built calls it the Heisman Miss Congeniality Award. I call it the "We know you're as good as the other guy, if not better, and we're sorry that the media didn't hype you up as much" Award. Quinn brings home Notre Dame's sixth Maxwell award. Past winners include Ross Browner, Jim Lynch, John Lattner (twice), and Leon Hart.
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Best Senior College Quarterback Tony Rice was the first Notre Dame player to win this award when he did it back in 1989. Quinn joins an impressive list that includes Peyton Manning, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, and Matt Leinart. That's one-sixth of the current starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodney Peete, whose accomplishments include a long NFL career and marrying the hot chick from Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, is also a past Unitas Golden arm recipient. Unfortunately, Quinn also joins a list that includes the likes of Chris Weinke, Cade McNown, Danny Wuerffel, and Gino Toretta.
Sports Illustrated Second Team All-American Predictably, Quinn ceded the first team spot to that Troy Smith guy. Quinn didn't make the Walter Camp All-America list thanks to Smith and Hawaii's Colt Brennan, who put up Ty Detmer-esque numbers this year.
AP Second Team All-American Again behind that Troy Smith guy.
Pontiac Game Changing Performance Nominee Voting is still open, as the game-winning touchdown from the UCLA game is now one of the final ten plays up for this award.
Senior Bowl January 27, 2007 This is the bowl you want to be in if you have NFL aspirations. Both squads are led by current NFL coaching staffs, essentially turning this game into a draft tryout. A few years ago, Marty Schottenheimer coached Phillip Rivers' team. Schottenheimer used that as a chance to teach Rivers his San Diego system, and then Schottenheimer drafted Rivers. Last year, Jay Cutler used an excellent Senior Bowl performance to prove that he belonged with the big boys, and his draft status skyrocketed.

Jeff Samardzija
Walter Camp Foundation Second Team All-American The Walter Camp Foundation is the granddaddy of all All-America selection committees. Samardzija joins record-setting Rice wideout Jarett Dillard on the second team, behind the talented Dwayne Jarrett and Calvin Johnson.
Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American SI places Jarrett, Johnson, Dillard, and Tennessee's Robert Meachem on their first and second teams.
AP Second Team All-American Joining Dillard behind Johnson and Jarrett
Pontiac Game Changing Performance Nominee See above. He's going in! Notre Dame has scored!
Senior Bowl January 27, 2007 This, along with good combine numbers, will help convert any scouts who still have white stereotypes running through their heads. It may also create a craze to recruit the Eastern European athlete.

Rhema McKnight
Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American McKnight is a good player who quietly had a very solid season.
Senior Bowl January 27, 2007 Missing most of last year due to injury, combined with a relatively quiet season, didn't help McKnight's draft status. This will be his chance to shine.

John Carlson
Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American I'm not sure what SI was thinking here, as Matt Spaeth - who won the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end - also was only able to make honorable mention. Carlson put up outstanding numbers this year. If he hadn't missed the last two games of this season, or if he hadn't burst onto the scene so suddenly, perhaps his trophy case would be much fuller right now.

Ryan Harris
Senior Bowl January 27, 2007 Has it been that long since the "too skinny" kid was thrown into the fire his freshman year? Harris will be given his chance to prove that all of the accolades over the years were well-earned.

Sam Young
Sporting News First Team Freshman All-American Freshman first became eligible to play in 1972. Since then, Young has been Notre Dame's first opening day starter on the offensive line. The important thing, though, is that he played well enough to keep the job. Young proved very early on that Bob Morton's hand holding was rarely needed.

Dan Santucci
East-West Shrine Game January 20, 2007 All postseason senior bowls are an honor. Not bad for someone who started out as a defensive tackle.

Bob Morton
Hula Bowl January 14, 2007 Morton was a four year starter at ND. The big redhead had better bring the extra-strength sunblock to Hawaii.

Victor Abiamiri
Senior Bowl January 27, 2007 Abiamiri is already a Day One pick in the draft. A good performance could make him a Round One pick.

Derek Landri
East-West Shrine Game January 20, 2007 Landri really isn't big enough to play defensive tackle in the pros. The fact that he wasn't picked for the Senior Bowl shows that he isn't considered a top talent right now. But if he plays with the same intensity he's shown all season, he will get the scouts talking.

Tom Zbikowski
Walter Camp Foundation Second Team All-American Zbikowski was named an All-American at defensive back. However, injuries hampered Zbikowski's performance, and limited him to zero interceptions, so one wonders if this is more of a lifetime achievement award. Still, a lifetime achievement award is well-earned in Zbikowski's case.
AP Third Team All-American

Geoff Price
Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American At first I wondered if, like Carlson, Price was hurt a little by coming out of nowhere in his senior season. But then I saw Price finished "only" seventh in the country in punt average. So, honorable mention is fair in this case.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What I'm Working On

Really, I'm not just playing NetHack and fooling around with Compiz. Really.

  • The Bring Back Joe Yonto as Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator campaign. I'm throwing some numbers together right now - we'll see how they turn out.

  • An essay requesting you to vote Buck O'Neil into the KankaNation Hall of Fame. No numbers in this one, just words.

  • The return of the KankaNation Gift Guides.

  • A look at the LSU blogs, and a Sugar Bowl preview.

  • Notre Dame Fall Sports Review, featuring Hermann Trophy winner Kerri Hanks and the National Runners-Up women's soccer team. (Darn UNC got them again!)

  • Some ND basketball coverage. The women Beat Purduuue! (ranked #9/10) 67-58 Wednesday night. The men are looking for some more upset magic against Alabama Thursday night, after they knocked off #23 Maryland the other day.

  • Notre Dame Football: The Year in Pictures.

  • BCS Predictions.

Until then, take a look at some of the blogs and sites I've been reading lately. They have also found a new home in the right sidebar.
MLB Trade Rumors
Baseball Musings
Baseball America
Let's Go Tribe
Good News in College Sports - "Tales of faith, persevereance, and overcoming adversity" from The Courtmaster

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Get Your Ballots Ready

Once again, it's time to vote for the KankaNation Hall of Fame. A blatant copying and pasting of the rules from last year's post:

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.

Obviously, they will also join the Class of 2006. To view past inductees and voting results, click one of the links below:
Class of 2004
Class of 2005
Class of 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Go Bobcats

Beat Chippewas!

Be sure to catch the Marathon (as in the oil company, not as in "really long") MAC Championship game tonight at 7:30 on ESPN. My Ohio University will face Central Michigan - the alma mater of Dick Enberg, Kevin White, and Dan Majerle. Check out the game notes.

As a current student, I was offered a free ticket to this game at Ford Field, albeit on late notice. I decided to decline in the hopes that Ohio would win, earning them a trip to the Motor City Bowl - also at Ford Field. I would definitely take a free ticket to that one, I thought. Alas, the Motor City Bowl eschewed the tradition of taking the MAC champion and instead invited local team Central Michigan, regardless of the outcome of tonight's game. Ohio will head down to the GMAC Bowl in Alabama. Here's the MAC bowl schedule - note that somehow the MAC managed to sneak two bowls into the week between the BCS games and the BCS National Championship game. Huh.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Devil's Advocate

I posted some discussion questions on the message board. Feel free to throw in your two cents.

USC 44, Notre Dame 24

Quarterback: It was shades of the Ty Willingham days, as Brady Quinn was forced to throw 45 times, completing only 22 of them. To his credit, he once again didn't make any stupid mistakes - intead of forcing the ball, he threw it where no one could get it. Quinn finished with 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also finished with 74 rushing yards, thanks to the soft pass defefense USC could afford to play with a huge lead.

Running Back: Like Quinn, Darius Walker moved the ball fairly well on the ground, going 56 yards on 14 carries. Of course, it would have been nice to see how Walker would have done without the Irish spotting USC a 21 point lead. USC did step up on obvious running downs: Travis Thomas rushed once for -3 yards, and James Aldridge ran twice for a combined 0 yards. Aldridge should get credit for keeping his knees off the ground on a then-important fourth-down conversion. In what was perhaps a very telling stat, Walker was held to 0 yards receiving on 1 catch.

Receiver: Rhema McKnight ended up with a rather nice day - 6 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. However, it was his key drops in the first half that swung momentum USC's way. Jeff Samardzija added 6 catches of his own for 79 yards and a touchdown. David Grimes showed that the receiving corps will be in decent hands next year by adding two acrobatic catches of his own for 34 yards. Grimes also russed for 2 yards out of the backfield on a busted trick play. In a move that went largely unnoticed, George West came in on a five-receiver set on the last drive and recorded 2 receptions for 14 yards.

Tight End: Marcus Freeman may not be able to stretch defenses like John Carlson can, but Freeman still did a commendable job as a pass catcher. Freeman had 5 receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown.

O-Line: The line did fairly well to a point. Then things got ugly and the concentration collapsed, leading to many false start penalties. I did like the use of backup tackles Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich as short-yardage/max protect tight ends, and they played well in that role. In an ideal situation, perhaps one of them could have had the chance to slip downfield to make a catch.

D-Line: Those who have criticized Notre Dame's lack of a pass rush since the end of last season will no doubt be back after this game. The line combined for just 7 tackles; Victor Abiamiri had none. Trevor Laws made a very heads-up and athletic play to get an interception off a screen attempt. However, as was the story of the game, the Irish were unable to cash in when it mattered most.

Linebacker: Here's where waiting for the ball to come to you, instead of moving to the ball, hurts. Maurice Crum tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, but often found himself out of position both on runs and passes. Joe Brockington added 6 tackles and the team's lone sack. Travis Thomas, Mitchell Thomas, and Torrian Smith all rotated into the game at one point, but none recorded a single tackle.

Safety: In case you didn't notice, Chinedum Ndukwe had to leave the game at the end of the third quarter. Actually, he had been out since the beginning of the third quarter - and perhaps the end of the third. How many people were in the ESPN/ABC booth, and how many people didn't notice that? David Bruton came in for Ndukwe and promptly got burned on a hitch-and-go. Bruton did finish with 2 tackles. Tom Zbikowski finished with 5 tackles, although that number seems high. Zbikowski spent most of the night standing next to the downed ballcarrier with his hands on his hips, instead of actually trying to make a play on said ballcarrier while the ball was still in play. Come to think of it, I'm not sure Zbikowski's hands ever left his hips on defense.

Cornerback: Now is as good a time as any to mention this: Notre Dame and USC both finished with exactly 404 yards of total offense. Both offenses made five trips to the end zone. That shows you how football is a game of opportunity. SC converted 5 of 11 third downs, 2 of 2 fourth downs, and had 4 TDs and a field goal in the red zone (in addition to a 43-yard touchdown pass and a kick return touchdown). The Irish were 7 of 18 on third down, 2 of 6 on fourth down, and scored 3 touchdowns and a field goal in the red zone. Now, that doesn't all rest on the Irish corners' shoulders, but I had to mention it somewhere. That being said, I haven't seen the defense look that lost pre-snap since a certain color commentator was patrolling the Irish sidelines. Mike Richardson was everywhere for the Irish, tying for the team lead with 9 tackles and 1 interception. Terrail Lambert had 3 tackles.

Kicker: Carl Gioia converted a 27 yarder, and made all three PAT attempts. Early in the game, Charlie Weis decided to eschew a 47-yard field goal attempt. However, again, is it really walk-on Carl Gioia's fault that Ty Willingham didn't leave the team with any scholarship placekickers?

Punter: Perhaps the pressure got to Geoff Price. Price averaged 39 yards on 3 punts, with a long of 41. That's actually decent for a college punter, but it wasn't Price's best day out there.

Kick Returner: In a wise move, Coach Weis replaced fumble-prone freshman George West with veteran Tom Zbikowski on kickoffs. Zbikowski returned 5 kicks 107 yards, with a long of 28. David Grimes returned one kick 17 yards, and a second 18 yards.

Punt Returner: Not applicable. USC did punt 3 times. One was blocked, and the other two managed to stay away from Zbikowski.

Special Teams: On the plus side, reserve linebacker Steve Quinn blocked a punt that was recovered by Chase Anastasio. On the minus side, the Irish coverage teams allowed a 43-yard punt return, and their onside kick attempt was returned for a crushing touchdown.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 12: USC

USC Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

23 Chauncey Washington bears the load for the USC ground game, but he shouldn't be considered a workhorse. He is strong at 6'1, 220, but he averages only 14 carries and 70 yards per game. Backing up Washington is 25 CJ Gable, who has averaged 6 carries and 25 yards per game. Washington and Gable will have to work together to make up for 26 Emmanuel Moody's producted. The injured Moody had averaged 9 carries and 50 yards per game. Washington leads the team with 8 rushing touchdowns, so look for him in the end zone. USC has a stable of running backs, and Pete Carroll has tried his best to keep all happy. 21 Allen Bradford and 13 Stafon Johnson average two carries per game. Fullback 37 Ryan Powdrell, receiver Vidal Hazelton, and return man/tailback Desmon Reed average one carry per game. Looking at Hazelton and Reed's numbers, I'd say that the Irish defense needs to be ready for some razzle dazzle. The defense probably doesn't have to worry about QB 10 John David Booty's legs, as he's netted -41 yards on the year.
Notre Dame's run defense has been less than spectacular, giving up 126.8 yards per game on the ground. Maurice Crum leads the team with 83 tackles, including 9.5 stops for a loss.

ND Rush Offense vs. USC Rush Defense

Darius Walker is averaging 20 carries and 99 yards per game. However, those numbers are skewed by great games against weak teams and so-so games against good teams. However, those performances against good teams are the result of many factors, not just Walker's running ability. James Aldridge has established himself as Walker's backup. Aldridge is averaging 6-7 carries and 27 yards per game. However, against the Trojans, Charlie Weis may choose to go to the veteran Travis Thomas, who had a TD against USC last year.
The Trojans are giving up 92 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers 55 Keith Rivers and 58 Rey Maualuga lead the team with 67 and 66 tackles respectively. Rivers, Maualuga, and 10 Brian Cushing - a familiar name, I'm sure - have combined for 16.5 tackles for a loss on a squad that has made 60 total stops in the backfield.

USC Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

A new year, a new quarterback for USC, and the numbers are still impressive. On average, 10 John David Booty completes 20 of 32 passes for 242 yards and 2 TDs. He's thrown 6 interceptions over the course of the season. 2 Steve Smith is the team's leading receiver with 55 catches and 8 touchdowns. 8 Dwayne Jarrett missed a game, but he's not far behind Smith with 48 catches and 7 TDs. Smith is averaging 87 yards per game and Jarrett 68. The number 3 receiver is wideout 1 Patrick Turner, who is averaging 3 catches and 25 yards per game. Tight end 83 Fred Davis averages 2-3 catches and 21 yards per game. Receiver 82 Chris McFoy will return from an injury. In 4 games, McFoy had 10 catches for 99 yards. Tailback Chauncey Washington is averaging 1 catch and 9 yards per game.
Notre Dame is holding opponents to 186 passing yards per game. Terrail Lambert leads the team with 3 interceptions, but Chinedum Ndukwe and Mike Richardson are right behind with 2. The Irish have gotten decent production out of their safeties, as Ndukwe (82) and Zbikowski (64) are second and third on the team in tackles. The defensive linemen aren't too far behind. Derek Landri has 62 tackles, 15 for a loss, including 7 sacks. Trevor Laws has 57, 8.5, and 3.5, while Victor Abiamiri has 42, 14.5, and 10.

ND Pass Offense vs. USC Pass Defense

Booty's numbers look very good, until you put them next to Brady Quinn's. Quinn's average day consists of completing 23 of 35 passes for 273 yards and 3 TDs. Once again, Quinn's primary target is Jeff Samardzija, who has 64 catches, 879 yards, and 10 TDs on the year. He's averaging 80 yards per game. Rhema McKnight has 58 catches for 776 yards and leads the team with 14 touchdowns. Darius Walker has 53 catches for 361 yards. Without John Carlson's 46 catches and 621 yards, another receiver will have to step up. David Grimes has made a living on out routes over the past few weeks, to the tune of 23 catches and 278 yards. But Carlson's speciality was owning the seams. Were Grimes' out routes for show, meaning he'll be the option over the middle this Saturday? Or will that middle option be Marcus Freeman or one of the freshman tight ends?
Playing in the Pac-10, USC is holding opposing passers to 196 yards per game. Linebacker 42 Dallas Sartz and defensive end 96 Lawrence Jackson are tied for the team lead with 4 sacks, so look for both Irish tackles to be busy. 29 Taylor Mays, a safety, leads the team with 3 picks, while corner 28 Terrell Thomas has 2.

Special Teams

Junior 19 Mario Danelo has made 12 of 13 field goals on the year, after making 11 of 12 last season. His long is 44 yards. Fullback/safety 14 David Buehler was called upon for a 49 yard field goal try last week, and he converted. Carl Gioia has converted only 7 of 11 field goals, but he's 7 of 8 from 40 yards or less. And it's not Gioia's fault that Ty Willingham didn't leave the team with any scholarship place kickers.
44 Greg Woidneck is the Trojans punter. Woidneck is averaging 3.5 punts per game and 38.8 yards per punt, with a long of 59. Geoff Price has continued to boom punts. Price is averaging 45.7 yards per kick, with a long of 62.
CJ Gable is USC's primary kick returner. Gable is averaging 27.6 yards per return with a long of 55. As the kickoff specialist, Ryan Burkhart is averaging 59.2 yards per kick, with 8 of 42 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame's special teams are giving up 19.9 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start on the 25.
David Grimes and George West return kicks for the Irish. While he hasn't broken a "huge" return (his long is 50), David Grimes does have an impressive 26.6 yard average. George West is averaging 20.3 yards per return with a long of 33. 17 Troy Van Blarcom is USC's kickoff specialist. He's averaging 62.7 yards per kick, and 35 of 59 kicks have been touchbacks. USC is giving up 18.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 21.
Desmond Reed is back as USC's punt returner. He's averaging a mere 3.9 yards per return with a long of 11. The Irish are giving up a mediocre 11 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski returns punts for the Irish. There's no need to remind everyone what he did last year against USC. Zbikowski is averaging 9 yards per return, with a 52-yards touchdown being his long. USC's punt coverage team is surrendering 9.1 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, McKnight, Freeman, Ryan Harris and the offensive line, Landri and the defensive line, Richardson.

ND 31, USC 27: McKnight, Samardzija, Travis Thomas, one of the freshman tight ends, and Gioia drills one. Beat SC!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

KankaNation-Related Things I'm Thankful For

Editor's Note: ND-USC preview coming tomorrow... I hope.
  • A loving family, a good job, a challenging master's degree program, a roof over my head, and all that good stuff.

  • The chance to buy drinks - and not flowers - for a veteran of Iraq this weekend.

  • Great friends who put up with my inane ramblings. You guys are what keeps this site going. I'm just happy to do anything I can to facilitate our keeping in touch.

  • Those interwebs. Without them, this shy cellphone-less nerd probably wouldn't talk to any of his college friends any more.

  • Aw shucks, all my friends. Group hug, you guys.

  • The complete strangers - and new friends - who read this site on a regular basis. (To the person from Surrey, BC: I understand that your Thanksgiving is in October, so I apologize for this being a month late.)

  • The blogs who link to me. Their writing is a million times better, yet they still don't mind giving me a few residual readers.

  • Klondike's javascript skills. They've turned an annoying looking site into an annoying-looking site with cool "animated" thing-a-ma-bobs.

  • FireFox 2.0's built-in spellchecker. Because I can't read or write.

  • Ohio University, for choosing the quarter system. I'm on break through the end of the year, so I'll finally be able to update this site regularly. Maybe.

  • The future generation of bones, and the great parents who I know will raise them properly.

  • Coed softball. Trust me - it's awesome. Plus, if you join the fall league, you get to play through November!

  • A football coach with character, class, and a never-say-die attitude.

  • Three pro programs on the rise. Now all we need is a little patience.

  • Little rubber wristbands. The may be overused, or out-of-style, but for some there a great reminder to keep your priorities in check.

  • Advance thanks for safe travels this holiday weekend.

  • Football weekends at ND. Whether it's The Backer, or the game, or just sitting around someone's apartment telling old stories, I can never get enough Saturday trips.

  • The chance to spend four years at Our Lady's University. I don't know what it was, but I got really nostalgic last weekend, from the time I spotted the library, dome, and basilica from the turnpike. And is it starting to get dusty in here right now?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

But Don't Take My Word For It

It was an unusually busy day here in the 'Nation. Here's a recap of the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning posts, for your reading enjoyment:

Kanka's Army Weekend in Review

Aflac's Fantasy Football Minute

Notre Dame/USC: Redemption and Glory, by Dave

Redemption and Glory

by Dave Schmitt, Special to KankaNation

Unbridled joy and ecstasy are part of what makes college sports so great. Every player and student should experience a night that makes them reach for the heavens and thank God for putting them in that time and place. No matter what came after, Rutgers will always have that Thursday night in Piscataway, and Valparaiso will always have the Bryce Drew shot. October 15, 2005 was supposed to be such a night.

It was all set up so perfectly. After Weis, Quinn, & Co. unleashed unexpected devastation against lesser foes, in came the great Trojan squad, loaded with future NFL stars in their collegiate primes. The game was at home, the echoes were awakened by the presence of Irish royalty, and the thunder shook down with the sight of the dark green jerseys. The Irish went punch-for-punch with USC all the way, capped by an explosive punt return TD and Quinn’s brilliant 87-yard TD drive. Then, Leinart made an impossible throw, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and in the confusion Bush pushed Leinart into the end zone for the incredible final note. Until my dying day, I will believe that Notre Dame came as close to winning that game as a team can possibly come without actually being credited with the win. It was supposed to be ours. Only a miraculously stunning turn of events kept it from being the last night of the Trojan dynasty.

13 Months later, USC has reloaded, but although some familiar faces like Stovall, Fasano, and Hoyte have graduated, the Irish are back almost entirely intact. Redemption and glory are still attainable. Revenge, nearly inevitable. Imagine what it must have been like for these players, to deal with the impact of that loss, a game they wanted more than any other after the humiliation of three previous 31-point defeats. They have sat on this for 13 months now. It is time for this special group of guys to win this game. Just look at the personalities and talents on this squad. Quinn, the rocket-armed golden boy. Samardzija, the two-sport clutch baller who is the envy of every young boy playing in a backyard. Harris, the four-year starter on the offensive line who expected much better than he got in the first half of his career. Abiamiri, the superhyped recruit who is finally learning to dominate. Zbikowski, the boxer and hard-hitting safety. McKnight, the wise old sage who didn’t get to play in this game last year. Landri, the man from Southern California who took a flyer on the Irish and would like to stick it to his hometown team. A Hollywood casting director couldn’t come up with a better group of stories. They are among the most beloved group of players in ND history. It’s time for their moment of glory.

The leader of this bunch, Charlie Weis, likes to downplay emotion and stick to the business of playing sound assignment football. This works well in the pros, where the guys are all getting paid and their main motivation is to improve for their next paycheck. But in college, they are playing for their school and their pride. Especially in this game – ND almost certainly is out of the running for the title, Quinn probably can’t overtake Troy Smith for the Heisman, and one last game likely won’t change the draft stock of too many of these guys. They are playing for one thing this week: to avenge last year’s game and the beatings that came before it. Hopefully Charlie will see it this way. This is one week where emotion is important.

This team has serious flaws, defensively and in the running game. USC will not be an easy task by any stretch. But Notre Dame squads have beaten the odds many times before. This one must be won for the glory of Notre Dame, Our Mother. Beat SC.

Fantasy Football

by Aflac. That's what she said.

So one of my coworkers set up a fantasy football league, and I got talked into joining. I didn't expect to win the whole thing, but I thought I'd be able to put together an average team -- this is not the case. I routinely get clobbered. I've been trying to figure out why, and I've gotten it down to two things: ignorance and indifference.

Ignorance: While I enjoy a good football game regardless of who's playing, I don't pay much attention to the names of the individual players. I might remember them during the game, but five minutes later I'll just remember that "some guy" had a ton of rushing yards. This has caused me to draft a team full of Steelers and former Irish players since those are the names that I remember. It doesn't help that the Steelers are having a rough year. Now you're probably saying: "But Aflac, even if you didn't get a good team in the draft, you can still build one through trades and picking up free agents." I'm glad you brought that up. That's where indifference comes into play.

Indifference: I have a lot of trouble caring about a pretend football game that involves no action and all statistics. I have no desire to spend time and energy on something so intangible. The other guys spend hours poring over their teams and proposing potential trades. I, on the other hand, have barely touched my team since the draft. The reason, I think, is that I just don't waste my fantasies on football. At the top of my list is the one involving the big house, the speedboat, and the Ferrari - followed closely by the one involving Jessica Simpson, a can of Cool Whip, and a 9-iron. The one involving Payton Manning throwing passes to T.O. is all the way at the bottom of the list.

So that's my explanation for doing so poorly. The whole thing turned out to be more involved and more boring than I initially anticipated. So, if I get roped into playing again next year, I'll likely be tapping the KankaManiacs for advice, because I'm clearly incapable of doing it myself.

The Weekend in Review

"Wow, I still do WIRs?" Edition

Pep Rally

Friday night, I snuck into the pep rally. (I won't say how, to avoid copycat crimes, but let's just say that Sarah isn't the only tall person in her family.) I like the new leprechaun - he's very fired up about football. So much so, in fact, that he replaced Chuck Lennon as pep rally MC. Don't worry though - Chuck Lennon was still able to make a cameo appearance to raise the roof and shake down the thunder.
One of the highlights came during Dan Santucci's speech. Santucci was talking about the highs and the lows the seniors had been through. Then he mentioned the "tragic loss" that they faced - and the crowd went dead silent. The tragic loss, of course, was the closing of Boat Club.

Women's Soccer 3, Colorado 0

The women played Colorado in the third round of the NCAA tournament Friday night. I only caught the first half, but the Irish were on the attacke most of the time, with the ball rarely crossing the midfield stripe. I also had a great view of a corner kick that was headed in for the second goal.

Hockey 4, MSU 1

Tried to go to this one, but it had been sold out since noon Friday. I hear it was a great game, though.

Drummer's Circle

At the circle, a random Class of '74 alum spotted my band jacket and struck up a conversation that lasted the entire 45-minute "set" played by the drummers. He wasn't in the band, and neither were many of the people in the impressively huge crowd that showed up that night.

Saturday Pregame

Our pregame tailgate was brought to you by Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I kid you not.

Last Hurrah

As the Irish came out of the tunnel before the game, Rhema McKnight trailed the pack. He was snapping pictures of anything and everything as he jogged in. Bob Morton did a little haka-like dance for the student section. Before ND's final possession, as the offense loitered on the field, the band began to shout "Brady! Brady!" Quinn gave a sheepish smile and wave. McKnight ran over to Quinn, looked at the band, and pointed as if to say, "Is this the one you want?" McKnight then pushed Quinn forward and raised his arm like a referee does for a victorious boxer. The band then changed their chant to "Rhema! Rhema!"

Saturday Postgame

Coach Yonto was in good mood following the game. He joked that you could have taken any 11 midgets off the quad and won that game... or any 11 trombones, even.

Women's Basketball 87, Western Michigan 67

Each section of the stands was assigned a player, and given an appropriate homemade sign. Our section was given Charel Allen, so we were given signs that said "A+". I used this as an opportunity to heckle the band and grade their performance, even though they were half an arena away and had no chance of hearing me.
The team had its good moments and its bad moments. Freshman Ashley Barlow is a tough player. She dove after loose balls and forced several jump balls and turnovers. In the end, she was credited with 6 steals. At one point, I joked to Sarah that there may be a few times this season when Barlow finishes with more steals than points scored. And then Barlow started shooting. She finished with a team-high 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three-point range.
Like I said, the team had its ups and downs. Melissa D'Amico could teach the men's team a thing or two about boxing out. The continued to shoot free throws well. They also displayed great ball movement and great cuts to the basket at times - but those things don't do any good when you miss 10 easy layups.
It's an exciting young team, but still a work in progress.

Celebrity Sightings

I always seem to see one or two famous faces. This time, Yonto, Jess and I were almost run over by a golf cart carrying Don Criqui as we walked by the stadium on the way to Concert on the Steps.
If he counts as a celebrity, I was sitting down the aisle from irishoutsider and introduced myself. Unfortunately, it didn't look like Trev was able to make the trip.


I also always seem to meet a new reader or two every time I visit ND. This time, I learned what a great recruiter Yonto has been. He has obviously inherited the Coach's recruiting skills; the Coach was Ara's east coast recruiter, landing players such as Joe Theismann and Ken MacAfee. Yonto has made readers out of roommate Wally and girlfriend Jess. Also, his cousin (uncle?) Bob stumbled across this site, and is now a fan.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 11: Army

Look for a big game from:
95 Abiamiri, Victor Defensive Line23 Anastasio, Chase Wide Receiver49 Augustyn, Matt  Running back56 Borseti, Nick  Linebacker52 Brockington, Joe Linebacker7 Cardillo, Craig  Wide Receiver89 Carlson, John  Tight End64 Chervanick, Dan  Offensive Line60 Cullen, Casey  Defensive Line87 Freeman, Marcus  Tight End75 Frome, Chris  Defensive Line45 Gioia, Carl  Kicker68 Harris, Ryan  Offensive Line35 Kenney, Tim  Defensive Back66 Landri, Derek  Defensive Line98 Laws, Trevor  Defensive Line91 Leitko, Travis  Defensive Line27 Lyons, John  Running Back79 Mattes, Brian  Offensive Line35 McConnell, Ashley Running Back5 McKnight, Rhema  Wide Receiver76 Morton, Bob  Offensive Line18 Ndukwe, Chinedum Defensive Back17 Price, Geoffrey  Punter10 Quinn, Brady  Quarterback96 Renkes, Bobby  Kicker30 Richardson, Mike Defensive Back83 Samardzija, Jeff Wide Receiver50 Santucci, Dan  Offensive Line57 Stephenson, Jr., Dwight Defensive Line78 Sullivan, John  Offensive Line47 Thomas, Mitchell Linebacker26 Thomas, Travis  Linebacker/Running Back22 Wooden, Ambrose  Defensive Back9 Zbikowski, Tom  Defensive Back

ND 38, Army 14: Scores from Anastasio, Freeman, Travis Thomas, Wooden, Zbikowski, and Gioia.