Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Know thy Enemy:
North Carolina

Carolina March
Greensboro News-Record Sports Extra
Heels Blog
Heels, Sox, & Steelers
Tar Heel Times
Petey Pablo (sound)
Fanblogs North Carolina


Want me fluff pillow?

  • A very belated but very deserved Bone Hero nod goes to Jess Beguin, for chauffeuring the group of ne'er-do-wells that was Dave, Yonto, Aflac, and myself on band reunion weekend. Jess, I owe your car seat a million more hugs. By the way, do you think I could get it's number?

  • The Bone Class of 2003 was OK on the football field, but their legacy may be the Recruiting Class of 2028. Patrick Hatton, baptized last weekend, is already showing off his moves to the scouts. Rumor has it that Katie Bravo has "contributed" a boy to the class, while Baby Boy Cronk will be joining the world in a few days.

  • In the "promises that I probably won't be able to keep" category, I plan on paying more attention to the ND sports teams that John Carlson didn't play for. In theory, that includes my beloved Irish women's basketball team, which tips off exhibition play Tuesday night.

Friday, October 27, 2006

An Irish Hockey Revolution

by Pete Godlewski, KankaNation Goon Squad Captian

So for those who were paying attention this past weekend, the Irish Hockey team went on a two game road trip to New England, and for the fourth year in a row, spanked #1 Boston College 7-1 behind a hat trick from Mark Van Guilder, who is averaging two points per game. The next night they go into Providence and maul the Friars. Notre Dame is 3-1 and has outscored opponents 21-6 over the course of the start of the season, their only loss coming 3-2 to Minnesota State. Reading the Boston Globe, the beat writers bluntly stated the Eagles were stunned by the onslaught of Van Guilder and the rest of Irish offense, as well as being stonewalled by a tough defense. They’re a good mix of extremely talented freshmen and seasoned veterans. Senior goalie David Brown has been absolutely lights out, a goals against average of 1.47 and a .942 save percentage (that's pretty damn impressive). It seems that collegiate hockey is finally taking note, as the Irish have grabbed the #11 ranking in this week's Inside College Hockey Top 15. In all my time at Notre Dame watching games, (and Mr. Hatt can attest to this), we never saw a team like this. We saw some good ones, but this looks like one of the best teams Notre Dame has seen in ages. Our 2nd year coach seems to be the cause of this rise in stature. Jeff Jackson coached lowly Lake Superior State to two NCAA titles as well as numerous CCHA titles. From there he helped coached US Junior Hockey, and onto the Ontario Hockey League (a junior developmental league) where he turned around the Guelph Storm from a doormat into a quality contender. The NHL took notice and he was an assistant coach for the New York Islanders for several years. He's taking all this experience and imparting it to his young Irish squad and the boys seem to be taking heed. I look forward to following this team this year and for several more to come, and just wish that I was a student in the goon squad for four more years to watch this group. GO IRISH HOCKEY! (And Blackburn Sucks!)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 8: Navy

Navy Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Navy brings in a disciplined option attack that's second in the nation to West Virginia in rushing offense - by a mere 17 yards. Unfortunately, they lost quarterback and leading rusher 3 Brian Hampton last week against Rutgers. Hampton averaged 21 carries and 92 yards per game, and had 10 rushing TDs on the season. Replacing Hampton will be 10 Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (hey, what if he married Nora Rose Cooper-Surma?). KNKE (as soon as I find the blog that came up with this nickname, I'll give them due credit) has averaged 8 rushes for 17 yards a game as a backup so far. Without Hampton, Navy's next two top rushers are familiar faces from last year. Fullback 22 Adam Ballard is averaging 15 carries and 85 yards per game. Surprisingly, he's not used on the goal line much, as he only has one touchdown on the season. That one touchdown was an impressive 81-yard scamper. Slot back 7 Reggie Campbell averages 6-7 carries and 57 yards per game. He also has 4 touchdowns. Backup fullback 34 Matt Hall is averaging 4 carries and 25 yards per game spelling Ballard. Backup slotbacks 26 Shun White and 28 Zerbin Singleton both see about 2 carries a game.
The Irish linebacking corps gelled last week with the addition of Joe Brockington, and it may have been just in time. Defending the option requires discipline. The best I've seen it done was about five years ago when Gerome Sapp was assigned to the pitch man and had a breakout game. One would think that Chinedum Ndukwe and Tom Zbikowski have the skill sets to have similar success. Last year Navy was Corey Mays' breakout game. Will it be a breakout game for Brockington or Travis Thomas? Or will this young linebacking corps lack the discipline to get the job done? Bruising Navy fullbacks have tortured Irish linebackers over the past few years - even the good ones. How will this small, fast unit fare? Will Derek Landri and Trevor Laws be able to repeat last year's performances to aid the linebackers?

ND Rush Offense vs. Navy Rush Defense

Against another good defensive line last week, Darius Walker again averaged under 3 yards per carry. Still, he's averaging 82.7 yards per game on the year. Coach Weis will likely repeat last year's strategy against Navy and plot long, time consuming drives. That will give Walker plenty of opportunities to boost his numbers. It should also give James Aldridge and Munir Prince a chance to show what they can do, too.
The Navy defense is giving up 128 yards per game on the ground, a number only slightly worse than Notre Dame's. Navy's leading tacklers are linebackers 57 Rob Caldwell with 60 and 40 David Mahoney with 55. The two have combined for 10 tackles for a loss.

Navy Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Navy is averaging a mere 53.6 passing yards per game. Of course, with a running attack like that, who needs to pass. Brian Hampton was averaging 3-for-7 passing for 43 yards per game. KNKE is 4-for-11 for 53 total yards on the season. 2 Jarod Bryant appears to be a "passing specialist." In five games, Bryant has passed 10 times and only rushed 4 times. However, Bryant has only completed 2 of his 10 attempts, for 20 yards. The talented Reggie Campbell is the team's leading receiver with 8 catches for 124 yards and a 77-yard touchdown. Wideout 87 Jason Tomlinson also has 8 catches, but for only 86 yards. No other Midshipman has more than 3 catches. Besides Campbell's TD, receiver 80 OJ Washington has the team's only other touchdown catch.
Notre Dame has the talent to match up with Navy's passing attack. However, the key is the element of surprise. If the safeties - and the corners - pay too much attention to the run, they can be and will be burned by a well-timed pass. Again, discipline is key. Perhaps Rick Minter can dust off the playbook Coach Yonto used to shut down the Texas wishbone in the 1970s.

ND Pass Offense vs. Navy Pass Defense

Sports pundits are finally realizing again that this Brady Quinn kid is actually pretty good. Quinn's average game to date is completing 25 of 40 passes for 277 yards and 2-3 TDs. Jeff Samardzija used the UCLA game to reclaim his spot as ND's top receiver. Samardzija is tied with Darius walker for the team lead in receptions with 42. He's also tied with Rhema McKnight for the team lead in touchdown catches with 7. Samardzija, Walker, and McKnight are each averaging 6 catches a game. Samardzija is averaging 70 yards per game; Walker, 40; McKnight 75. Tight End John Carlson is not far behind with 4-5 catches a game, for 64.9 yards per. David Grimes coming off a superb outing against the Bruins. He's now averaging 2 catches and 22 yards per game.
Navy is one of a limited number of Division 1A teams that runs a 3-4 defense. That's just one more thing the struggling Irish line has to worry about. Quinn will again be getting pressure from both sides, as LOLB David Mahoney and right defensive end 95 John Chan share the team lead with 4 sacks. Navy has only 4 interceptions (led by DB Jeremy McGown with 2), but they do have an impressive 9 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries on the season. That means the offense will have to be disciplined, too - no carrying the ball like a loaf of bread.

Special Teams

39 Joey Bullen and 90 Matt Harmon share field goal duties for the Midshipmen, and there doesn't appear to be any pattern to Coach Paul Johnson's use of the two. Both have long kicks of 39 yards. Bullen has made 2 of 3 attempts, while Harmon has converted 5 of 7. For the Irish, Carl Gioia has now converted 5 of 9 tries. He's 5 of 6 from inside 40 yards - not bad for a walk-on.
Navy's punter is 31 Greg Veteto. Veteto is averaging 38.4 yards per kick, with a long of 57. Interestingly enough, he's already had 2 kicks blocked this season. Geoff Price finally shanked a punt for ND last week, but that didn't hurt his average too much. Price is averaging 45.3 yards per punt, with a long of 62.
Jack-of-all-trades Reggie Campbell (and he's only a junior!) returns kicks for the Midshipmen. Campbell is averaging an impressive 26.5 yards per return with a long of 72. Unfortunately for Campbell, he wasn't able to find the end zone on that long return. For the Irish, Bobby Renkes has been out with an undisclosed injury, so freshman Ryan Burkhart has taken over as the kickoff specialist. Burkhart is averaging 60.7 yards per kick with 2 touchbacks in 14 tries. ND is giving up 17.7 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 22 yard line.
David Grimes and George West share kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Grimes is averaging 24.7 yards per with a long of 46 yards, while West is averaging 20.9 yards per return with a long of 33. Matt Harmon kicks off for Navy. He's averaging 61.3 yards per kick, with 8 touchbacks. Navy opponents are averaging 18 yards per return, giving them an average start at the 22.
Jason Tomlinson returns punts for the Middies. He's averaging 7.5 yards on 11 tries, with a long of 18 yards. Notre Dame is surrendering a mediocre 10 yards per punt return.
When healthy, Tom Zbikowski returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 7.2 yards per with a long of 25. In his stead, George West has two returns of 2 and 3 yards. Navy's punt coverage team is holding opponents to an impressive 5.8 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Landri, Victor Abiamiri, and Brockington.

ND 34, Navy 17: Walker, McKnight, Samardzija, Aldridge, and two by Gioia.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Little Nash Ramblings

  • As per Christmas tradition, I flipped through the toy section of our JC Penney Christmas catalogue. There was a two-page spread on "Power Team: World Peacekeeper" toys - military action figures/really good GI Joe knockoffs. The ads didn't mention whether they came with lifelike Cleveland Steamer/Golden Shower action.

  • Baseball Prospectus: Kenny Rogers only uses pine tar at home, maybe.

  • I just saw the replay of Plaxico's first MNF touchdown. I kept waiting for the announcer to yell, "My God, King! Roy Williams knocked the ref unconcious! He didn't see the touchdown! He's not going to count the touchdown! That's just not right!"

  • OMFG! Troy Smith should be given the Heisman right now! If anyone even deserves to finish second to Smith, it's Ted Ginn! Jim Tressel will be the next Browns head coach! Or not. (Note: These may or may not have been story topics in multiple Northeast Ohio newspapers over the past few weeks.)

  • The Browns fired Offensive Coordinator Maurice Carthon. Is Romeo Crennel next? No. Why would he be? It's going to take a while to undo what Butch Davis did, and at least the team is headed in the right direction now. Hey, both of Crennel's first round draft picks (Braylon Edwards) and Kameron Wimbley) are actually competent! The defense is on its way up, thanks to Kameron Wimbley and cornerback Leigh Bodden. Bodden quietly and routinely shut down the best receivers in the league before he got injured. Even the offense has some talent. True, Charlie Frye needs to decide if he's a circa 1999 poor man's Brett Favre or a circa 2005 one, but he's still young. There's talent at the skill positions. They just need a healthy line and some good playcalling. (And by no means is it fair to compare Carthon's playcalling to Charlie Weis'.) Sorry, Crennel's not going anywhere.

  • (Fans who don't follow the Browns but do follow SAT questions will find this analogy useful: Maurice Carthon:Romeo Crennel::Rick Minter:Charlie Weis.)

  • F-Bomb has a theory: If you can't name seven starters on your own team, you have no right to talk smack about other teams. With the rumors of Crennel's firing, and Joe Jurvicius's recent comments that Browns naysayers can "go to hell," I'd like to propose a corollary to that theory: If you can't name seven starters from your own team, you have no right to complain about that team. (Don't ask what brought this up.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17

Quarterback: The numbers look good - 27 for 45, 304 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions - but that doesn't mean Brady Quinn couldn't have been better. Quinn was sacked 5 times, often as the result of just a 3- or 4-man rush. One could blame the line for that, but it wasn't all their fault. The UCLA pass coverage held well all day, and Quinn often held onto the ball far too long in an attempt to make something happen. Quinn normally has a good inclination of when to scramble, but he didn't show it on Saturday. He also didn't show that he knew when a throwaway was better than a sack.

Running Back: It's become a pattern over the past few years - opponents put up impressive defensive averages against weak teams, and counterintuitively those averages hold up against Notre Dame as well. UCLA's run defense was stout against their weak out-of-conference schedule, and they were stout against ND as well. Darius Walker was held to just 56 yards on 21 carries, an average of 2.5 yards per. Walker did add 22 yards on 4 receptions.

Fullback: With a variety of spread formations and the use of John Carlson as an H-back, Ashley McConnell saw limited playing time and didn't touch the ball.


Courtesy SB Tribune/Jim Rider

If Jeff Samardzija is the player of the game, David Grimes at least deserves a star on his helmet. On a day when Samardzija was suffocated until the end of the game (3 catches for 7 yards in the first half), and Rhema McKnight was suffocated for the entire game (3 catches for 28 yards total), Grimes had a career day. Grimes ended with 8 catches and 79, which is almost double what he had in each category to date. (Of course, Grimes did make the Willingham-era mistake of running a comeback route 1 yard short on a crucial third down late in the game. If he runs just three yards further before cutting, Brady Quinn doens't even need to try that final quarterback sneak.) But it was Samardzija who was the hero, finishing with 8 catches for 118 yards an 2 TDs. On the game winner, he willed himself over and past several defenders on his way to the end zone.

Tight End: John Carlson also managed to step several times when Samardzija, Walker, and McKnight were covered. Carlson finished with 4 catches and 57 yards. It would have been less if Carlson didn't treat passes like bombs that detonate upon touching grass.

O-Line: The Irish offensive line helped prove how talented their UCLA defensive counterparts are. As mentioned above, some of the sacks were the fault of Quinn and the UCLA pass coverage, but the Bruins defensive line was still in the Irish backfield all day. Fourty-one total rushing yards isn't going to get it done on most days, either. Fortunately, as Lou Holtz pointed out in the postgame, Coach Weis was smart enough to max protect Quinn on the last drive, leaving one or two tight ends and a back home to block on each play.

D-Line: While it wasn't flashy, this may have been the Irish front seven's best game to date. While it seemed like Victor Abiamiri had a quiet day (I'm told that once again he was being held all day), he did finish with a sack and 2 quarterback hits. New starter (same as the old starter) Chris Frome had only 3 tackles, but Derek Landri and Trevor Laws each had solid performances as the Irish held UCLA to 26 rushing yards and 243 total yards. Again flying all over the field, Derek Landri had 5 tackles, including a sack. Trevor Laws had 4 tackles, 1.5 for loss. Laws also reached into a pile to rip out a loose ball.


Courtesy Getty Images/Andy Lyons

I think we have our starting three set. Joe Brockington's performance in the Stanford game earned him a start. This performance - 7 tackles - should have earned him another one. Those 7 tackles were one off of Maurice Crum's team-leading 8. Crum added a sack and a passa breakup. Travis Thomas returned and added 7 tackles, two for a loss. They may not be stars, but this is a unit that works.

Safety: The defense played well except for a few big plays. Unfortunately, the D's focus this year is to cut down big plays. On the first UCLA touchdown, Tom Zbikowski was up in run support, leaving Chinedum Ndukwe in a Cover-1. Someone on the UCLA side read the formation well, and called a double crossing route. The Bruins receiver caught a pass in the middle of the field and zoomed right past Ndukwe and the Irish secondary for a score. On the second touchdown, Ndukwe and Rey Herring seemed to be more interested in the big hit than wrapping up, and they both bounced right off the UCLA tight end. It's interesting to note that Zbikoski had 2 quarterback hits on the day, meaning he was playing more of the hybrid linebacker position then true safety. I don't see how a shoulder injury would hinder his ability to play in coverage, so perhaps that was done more out of faith in Ndukwe and Herring.

Cornerback: Terrail Lambert continues to improve - to the point that he was awarded a starting position - but he's not perfect yet. Lambert had 6 tackles and his third interception of the season, but he was also flagged on a key pass interference penalty late in the game. (The play looked like offensive interference if anything, but who's counting? At least the PAC-10 refs let them play for most of the game.) Ambrose Wooden recorded one tackle in his return to action. He'll need to step up in the next few weeks if he wants to take his starting position back from Lambert.

Kicker: Carl Gioia converted 2 of 3 field goal attempts on the day. Gioia's lone miss was from 48 yards. But consider this: The miss had plenty of leg, it was just wide right. Plus, Gioia's a former walk-on, while UCLA's "best kicker in the country (OMG!!!)" Justin Medlock missed from 47 in this game. I think we'll let Gioia's miss slide.

Punter: Coming into this year, Geoff Price was a very inconsistent kicker. That being said, I'm surprised it took until week 7 for the young man to have his first major shank of the year. The important thing is that Price wasn't rattled after the 21-yard punt, as he recovered to average 43 yards on his other five kicks. With a pooch punt of only 37 yards, Brady Quinn lowered his career average to 43 yards per.

Kick Returner: David Grimes handled all three of ND's kickoff returns. Unfortunately, freshman returner George West was afraid to tell Grimes when to stay in the end zone, and that often led to poor field position. Still, Grimes finished with an average of 17.7 yards per return.

Punt Returner: With an inconsistent UCLA punter, and with Tom Zbikowski still resting, Coach Weis chose to use the talented George West as a deep return man on punts, with the sure-handed Jeff Samardzija as a short man. (Thus marks the last time anyone will use Samardzija's name and "short man" in the same football article.) West had one return of 3 yards, while Samardzija had one return of 2.

Special Teams: Notre Dame's coverage teams were average at best, giving up 12.5 yards per punt return and 20.5 per kickoff return.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 7: UCLA

UCLA Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

28 Chris Markey has taken over for the graduated Maurice Jones-Drew, and he's picked up right where Maurice left off. Markey is averaging 98.2 rushing yards per game, on only 16-17 carries per game. Markey has only one rushing touchdown, while backup 36 Khalil Bell has two. Bell averages 9-10 carries and 38 yards per game. Markey and Bell come from the same physical mold; both are around 6' and just over 200 lbs. 42 Chane Moline is the power back. ("Chane" is the brother of teammates 46 Chad and 50 Chase. Guess who's lucky enough to be the youngest brother?) Chane has totalled 9 carries for 20 yards and 2 TD this season. Obviously, he's one to look for near the goal line. Fullback 32 Michael Pitre has carried the ball only twice this season, one time less that WR 1 Brandon Breazell. QB 12 Patrick Cowan scrambled 4 times for 20 yards last week, and was sacked twice.
Notre Dame's defense is giving up a staggering 134.8 rushing yards per game this year. MLB Maurice Crum, who was criticized by this site last week, leads the team in tackles with 43. He hasn't gotten much help from his fellow linebackers after Travis Thomas was injured. There's no word yet on whether Thomas will be back this week. Will Notre Dame scheme to stop the run, and take their chances with a young quarterback, or will they concede the run and attack that young quarterback?

ND Rush Offense vs. UCLA Rush Defense

After struggling against strong defenses, Darius Walker's numbers are slowly returning to their normal levels. Walker is averaging 20 carries and 88 yards per contest. He leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns. With Asaph Schwapp officially out for the season, Ashley McConnell is the starting fullback. McConnell has carried only twice this season. If Travis Thomas is still out, the backup tailback situation will be interesting. Munir Prince has been overmatched by the size of college defenders. James Aldridge looked impressive in his ND debut, averaging 6.2 yards on 4 carries, but it was against the second stringers of a bottom 3 run defense. Brady Quinn has been effective with his legs, but hasn't been a threat. Thanks to sacks, Quinn has netted -23 yards on the ground.
UCLA is giving up 84 yards per game on the ground. That's impressive when you see that they held Rice, Washington, and Stanford under 60 yards each, and Arizona to -13 yards. That's not so impressive when you see that they gave up 256 rusing yards to Oregon. Linebackers 33 Christian Taylor, 42 Aaron Whittington, and 51 Reggie Carter have combined for 74 tackles, 8 for a loss.

UCLA Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

UCLA starter Ben Olson is out with a knee injury. His backup, Patrick Cowan, had his necked stepped on last week but should play this Saturday. Last week, Cowan completed 16 of 31 passes for 112 yards. He had no touchdowns and 1 INT, and his longest completion went for 14 yards. Brandon Breazell has been UCLA's top receiver this season. He's averaging 3 catches and 35 yards per game. Right behind him are 8 Junior Taylor and 88 Matt Willis. Both are averaging 2-3 catches a game. Taylor is averaging 23 yards per game; Willis 17. Willis is tied for the team lead with 2 receiving touchdowns. Back Chris Markey, TEs 86 Logan Paulsen and 15 Ryan Moya, and WR Marcus Everett are averaging 2 catches a game. Everett also has 2 receiving TDs. FB Michael Pitre is averaging just over 1 catch a game.
The big news for the Notre Dame pass offense is the loss of Ronald Talley. Chris Frome, thrust back into the starter's role, is out to prove he deserves the spot. Of course, he may have already proven that before Talley left. Frome has 12 tackles on the season - one more than Talley - and three quarterback hits. After another big day against Stanford, Victor Abiamiri leads the team with 5 sacks. Chinedum Ndukwe is tied for the team lead in tackles (43) and interceptions (2). Tom Zbikowski may not be back Saturday, but it looks like he left the strong safety position in good hands. In his first career start, Ray Herring recorded 9 tackles. Mike Richardson leads the team in the ever-popular pass breakup category (5), and it looks like he'll be rejoined in the starting lineup by Ambrose Wooden.

ND Pass Offense vs. UCLA Pass Defense

Brady Quinn's numbers are slowly improving this year. His average day consists of completing 25 of 39 passes for 272 yards and 3 TDs. His leading receiver has been Darius Walker with 38 catches for 258 total receiving yards. Rhema McKnight has put up the impressive numbers with 37 catches for 495 yards and 7 TDs. He's leading the team in receiving yards, TDs, and yards per game (82.5). While it seems like Jeff Samardzija is having a quiet season, he's right behind McKnight with 34 catches for 369 yards and 5 TDs. Not to be outdone, TE John Carlson has 28 receptions for 397 yards and 2 TDs. If you're a fan of averages, Walker, McKnight, and Samardzija pull in about 6 catches again, while Carlson will get 4 or 5. Samardzija and Carlson will gain about 60 yards per game in the air; Walker, 43.
UCLA is holding opponents to 167.7 passing yards per game, another number that may be misleading. The Bruins are led by talented defensive ends 44 Bruce Davis and 17 Justin Hickman, who have combined for 12 sacks and 19 total tackles for a loss. SS Chris Horton leads the team with 35 tackles and is tied for team lead with 2 INTs. CB 23 Trey Brown also has 2 interceptions and 6 pass breakups, but is listed at only 5'9".

Special Teams

Senior kicker 7 Justin Medlock has converted 14 of 15 UCLA field goal attempts. He's made two from 50/51 yards, and his only miss came from the 40-49 yard range. Carl Gioia has made half of his field goal attempts for the Irish, going 3 for 3 from 35 yards, and 0 for 3 on longer tries.
17 Aaron Perez is UCLA's punter. He's averaging 39.3 yards per kick. Eleven of 27 punts have gone inside the 11, 2 have gone for touchbacks, and 4 have been fair caught. Geoff Price continues to boom away for the Irish, averaging 46.6 yards per punt. He's put 9 of 28 kicks inside the 20, with 3 touchbacks and 3 fair caught.
Freshman receiver 3 Jeremy McGee has been UCLA's primary kick returner. He's averaging 17.4 yards per return with a long of 31 yards. With Bobby Renkes ailing from a leg injury, Ryan Burkhart made his Notre Dame debut against Stanford. Burkhart averaged 59.8 yards per kick with 2 touchbacks. ND coverage teams are giving up 17.3 yards per kick, giving opponents an average start on the 22 when Burkhart kicks.
David Grimes and George West split ND's kick return duties. Grimes is averaging 27.4 yards per return, West 20.9. Justin Medlock kicks off for the Bruins, averaging 59.4 per with 7 touchbacks and 2 out of bounds. UCLA is giving up 19.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 25.
4 Terrence Austin, another freshman wideout, returns punts for the Bruins. He's averaging an impressive 13.8 yards per return, thanks to a long return of 79 yards. (However, the 79 yard return somehow wasn't a touchdown.) Notre Dame is giving up an average of 9.8 yards per punt return.
If healthy, Tom Zbikowski will return punts for the Irish. His average is slowly rising, and it now stands at 7.2 yards per return. In his stead, George West has returned 1 punt for 2 yards. UCLA is impressively holding opponents to 2.5 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Walker, Quinn, Abiamiri.

ND 35, UCLA 21: Samardzija, McKnight, Carlson, and one of each for Walker.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Third Kankaversary!

Today marks this blog's third anniversary. I had a great idea for a post today, but unfortunately never got time to write it. It probably would have sucked, anyways.

For those of you who enjoy reminiscing, here's a look back at how last year's Kankaversary was celebrated, and the post that started it all. Also, be sure to check out the Best Of section in the right sidebar for some of Kanka's Sports Page's best posts.

Notre Dame 31, Stanford 10

An abbreviated look at Saturday's game, with some thoughts completely plagiarized from a conversation I had with Nick Yonto. Not everything is, though, so if something sounds stupid, it probably came from me. Nick's thesis: "This is not a good football team." Of course, with coaching in his blood, one can expect Nick to be a perfectionist.

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Darron Cummings

Darius Walker once again had a field day against Stanford, going for 153 yards. He even threw in a 32-yard run for good measure.
Munir Prince just isn't physically ready to run between the tackles. For the time being, it may be best to use him as a receiving option. James Aldridge is physically ready for college football, and he impressed in his Notre Dame debut. Aldridge picked up 26 yards on 4 carries in garbage time.

O-Line: Bob Morton is spending too much time babysitting Sam Young, and Young doesn't need nearly as much help as Morton thinks. Morton is also starting to let his emotions get the best of him. There's a big difference between playing aggressively before the whistle and trying to start a fight after the whistle.

D-Line: The line actually had a good day. Trevor Laws had 8 tackles. After recording 4 sacks against Stanford last year, Victor Abiamiri added 3 more this year. Derek Landri once again seemed to be all over the field.


Courtesy AP/Darron Cummings

Mo Crum is far too passive a player. He waits for the play to come to him, instead of going after the ball. I was going to say that Anthony Vernaglia and Mitchell Thomas finally showed signs of life, but I see Vernaglia only recorded 1 tackle and Thomas 0. Joe Brockington did have 5 stops.

Secondary: According to Coach Weis, Tom Zbikowski was simply given a day off. Ray Herring stepped in well, leading the team wiht 9 tackles. In the end, though, it's hard to have a bad day when the opposing quarterback finishes 7-for-13 for 68 yards.

Kicker: According to UND.com, freshman Nate Whitaker got a chance to kickoff late in the game.

Kick Returner: Someone needs to take leadership out there, unless this is all part of some insanely clever ball control scheme by Coach Weis.

Punt Returner: I like how the return game was handled in Zbikowski's absence. When the Cardinal were punting from Irish territory, ND needed a sure-handed and confident returner to prevent a disaterous fumble. Coach Weis sent in his best set of hands in the form of Jeff Samardzija. When there was a little more room to breathe, Weis went with a true returner in George West.

Shameless Plug

The KankaNation Facebook group has been around for a while, but to be like the cool blogs, I'm officially going to advertize it on my site. So, um, click here. Yeah.

Notre Dame trustees are invited to join as well.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 6: Stanford

by Jon Byrer, KankaNation Chief Legal Analyst

You can't judge a book by its cover, and the same goes for the Stanford football team. Despite the fact that they haven't won a single game, and that they have managed to rank at or near the bottom nationally in defense, and, according to a confidential source close to the program, they wet themselves sometime in the third quarter of the UCLA game this weekend, this team cannot be underestimated. Notre Dame has only one date circled on its calendar--November 18--and the let-down is entirely possible.

Why, you might ask?

Walt Harris, the football mastermind who led Pittsburgh to the glory of an epic BCS ass-kicking at the hands of the Utah juggernaut before being fired and replaced by a man with a significantly larger mustache, has come up with a secret weapon that could decimate the Irish, who are still reeling from the image of Jonelle Smith inexplicably slapping himself at a press conference prior to conceding defeat to Illinois.

That secret weapon...


You heard me.

Thus concludes the official Stanford preview.

News and Notes

Not much time to write a Stanford preview, so I turned it over to our Chief Legal Analyist, Jon Byrer. (Scroll up.) Congrats to Jon, who just accepted a clerkship with the Minnesota Supreme Court. You may recognize the name of one of his new employers.

In my Purdue wrapup, I wondered aloud if Brady Quinn set any records for career total yardage against Purdue. Pete Schrock from SchrockStar.com did the legwork and sent me this email:

The latest column posed a question whether Quinn's numbers vs Purdue put him in either ND or PU's record books.
The answer is yes, both. In fact. the NCAA record for yards against one team was set by Hawaii's Timmy Chang, who played five times against Rice because of a medical redshirt year. He had 1,719 yards against the Owls. In his final four seasons, Chang had 1,498 yards of total offense versus Rice. Quinn has 1,497 vs Purdue

Not that I doubted Pete, but I checked the official NCAA recordbook (PDF). Chang did get 1,719 in five years against Rice, but the official record holder is (or should I say was) Ty Detmer with 1,483 against San Diego State. Somewhere, Rocket smiles.

Quick thoughts on the baseball playoffs:
  • Here's an excerpt from Baseball Between the Numbers on a winning formula for the playoffs. As you may have seen in last week's SI, this is how this year's team's fit the formula.

  • A's/Twins: Ah, the finally one of these teams will win a playoff series. This series features a west coast team and a team from the central time zone. So for obvious reasons their first two games are played in the 1 PM eastern time slot. right. Crazy series so far. For the past few years, the Twins were a team built to play pinball in their dome, but suck on the road. This year they finally found a balance, and I was going to predict them to go far. Then the A's won the first two, in the dome no less.

  • Mets/Dodgers: I was watching the game today, and saw a guy in a gray Mike Piazza jersey. I couldn't tell if it was a Mets jersey or a Dodgers jersey. Or maybe he was just a really confused Padres fan.

  • Cardinals/Padres: I watched Game 1 of this series on MLB.com's new "Enhanced Gametracker," even though I could have watched it on TV. Enhanced Game Tracker is like crack to a baseball fan like me. For each pitch, it tracks release point, velocity at release, break (angle and distance), and velocity when it gets to the plate. They even do the little animation that tracks the pitch. Then you can go back to each at bat in the game and watch the animation pitch by pitch. Put's ESPN's new gametracker to shame.

  • Tigers/Yankees: Tonight's game got rained out and will be made up Thursday at 1 eastern. Apparently the Tigers are pissed at MLB for not being told early enough that the game was being moved to tomorrow. The Yankees were told, and Mike Mussina didn't bother to warm up. Justin Verlander did. Considering Verlander is a young pitcher who's already thrown more inning than he ever has in a year (and his performance started slipping in the last month or two to prove it), this could have serious repercussions. I only have one question: "Derek Jeter: Great shortstop, or the greatest shortstop?"

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Notre Dame 35, Purdue 21

Semi-abbreviated game review.


Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

Brady Quinn had another very successful day against Purdue, completing 76% of his passes for 316 yards and 2 TDs. I haven't looked, but Quinn's four games against Purdue have to put him in Notre Dame or Purdue's record books for career numbers against/by a single opponent.
Darius Walker finally saw a weak defense, and he thrived. Running Charlie Weis's ball-control offense, Walker saw a combined 40 touches (31 runs, 9 passes), 219 yards, and his first rusing TD of the season. James Aldridge, as you may have noticed, did not play in this one, but Munir Prince had two rushes for 7 yards.
Rhema McKnight continues to benefit from all the attention paid to Jeff Samardzija. This time around, McKnight pulled in 10 catches for 120 yards and 2 TDs. George West got his first touch on offense, and took an end around 11 yards for a TD. The play, which started with a fake to Walker up the middle, was set up beautifully as Walker was the only player to touch the ball up to that point. West's run was originally designed for David Grimes, but Grimes had to sit out this game due to an injury. Also because of Grimes' injury, Chase Anatasio saw more time at wide receiver. As usual, he blocked well, and also recorded his first catch of the season. John Carlson had another good day in the seams, this time picking up 62 yards on 5 catches.
When Ryan Harris was left alone against the talented Anthony Spencer, it showed. That's more of a compliment to Spencer's skills than it is a knock on Harris. The line palyed a little better than it has been, but there still were some rough spots out there.


Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

This was the story of the ND pass rush on Saturday - close, but no cigar. The Irish recorded 9 quarterback hits - 4 by Victor Abiamiri alone - but no sacks. The secondary seemed to get lackadasical after the team was up by a few scores. Even Tom Zbikowski, who refused to miss a tackle in the first two games of the season, failed to wrap up on several occasions. If you're an extreme optimist, you can say that they would have played better in a closer game. Is that a good excuse? Not really.
Terrail Lambert continues to improve after the Michigan game. He led the team with 11 tackles, including one for a loss, and caused and recovered a fumble. Chinedum Ndukwe had 8 tackles, and Leo Ferrine had 5 in his first extended action of the season. In his first career start, playing for the injured Travis Thomas, Joe Brockington had three tackles.
On a positive note, Derek Landri is still flying all over the field. In the past few games, Rick Minter has been using the undersized defensive line to his advantage by dropping them into coverage on zone blitzes. I also continue to be a fan of the third down passing formation where Ray Herring comes in at safety and Zbikowski drops down o a nickelback, linebacker, or even a down lineman. It's a good use of Zbikowksi's athleticism without making him a full-time linebacker - where the extra weight would hinder his natural speed.
Also on a positive note, the Irish were able to contain Purdue's two headline weapons, Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller. The duo combined for only 8 catches. Most of those catches going to Keller on short routes late in the game, when ND was back protecting against the deep ball. Of course, Purdue's #3 option, Selwyn Lymon had a field day, but that's another story.

Special Teams

Ryan Burkhart made his debut as kickoff specialist, and averaged 58.8 yards per kick.
The gunners were again not double covered on punts, and Tom Zbikowski's lone return went for 2 yards. Darrin Walls perhaps played his first bad game of the season on defense, but did combine for 44 yards on 2 kick returns.

If anyone would like to write this week's Stanford preview, please let me know by Wednesday.