Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cleveland Indians: Is Being Average An Improvement?

Recently, Walk Like a Sabermetrician took a look at 2008 hitting by position. They calculated runs created and runs created per game for each position, and used that to create a Runs Above Average metric that compares each player to the average production at their position.

My hypothesis has always been that you should want at least league-average production at every position - or at least a net of league average production.

So how did the Indians fare in 2008? Not too well. If you scroll down to the second to the last table in the Walk post, you see that the Indians were great at shortstop and center field, very good at catcher, and varying degrees of bad everywhere else. That's only three of nine positions above average, and a net of -11 runs above average.

The next step is to predict how the Indians will fare in 2009, to see what, if any, changes need to be made. I couldn't figure out how RAA was calculated. However, I did take the 2009 Marcels and calculated runs created and RC/27 for each of the Cleveland Indians key figures. Having that, I could compare that to the positional averages from the Walk article.

Now, I will admit there are two problems with my methodologies:
1) I'm using the generic RC/27, while "Walk" is using RC/G. RC/G uses the average number of outs per game (since the home team doesn't bat in the ninth when they're leading), which from what I could tell is normally around 25.5.
2) I'm comparing 2009 projections (from an admittedly simplistic projection model) to 2008 numbers, when ideally I should be comparing to several years worth of data.

That being said, here are Cleveland's RC/27 numbers for 2009, according to Marcel:

Unfortunately, the Marcels don't include lefty/righty splits, but that would be a nice thing to look at in the future. Keeping that in mind, the best lineup by these numbers would have Kelly Shoppach catching; Victor Martinez at first; Asdrubal Cabrera, Jamey Carroll, and Jhonny Peralta in the infield (I'll leave the position argument for another article); Ben Francisco, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo in the outfield; and Travis Hafner at DH.

The 2009 projections give Cleveland four players above the league average for their position - Shoppach at catcher, Peralta at short, Sizemore in center, Choo in right, and Hafner at DH - with Cabrera around the league average at second and Martinez not too far behind the league average at first. (Or, if you prefer, you can call Peralta a league-average third baseman and Cabrera an above average shortstop.) You can increase that number to five if you count that Francisco's numbers are above-average for a center fielder and Sizemore's are still above average for a center fielder.

Fans of the Indians should see several nice things in these numbers: Martinez' ability to handle first without much of an offensive number, Cabrera's bat catching up to his glove, Peralta able to hit enough to be at least an average first baseman, and Hafner bouncing back to be productive again. Of course, these are just projections, but the offseason is always a time for optimism.

Now, back to the numbers. To recap, the Indians have five above-average positions (comparing Francisco to a center fielder), one average, one slightly below average, and one well below average. Working solely off these numbers, and thinking only about 2009, the wise choice would be to trade Kelly Shoppach for a league-average infielder. In that situation, Martinez would move back to catcher and Garko would enter the lineup at first base.

Thanks to Peralta and Cabrera's versatility, that infielder can be from any position, although a 5.1 RC/G third baseman would obviously be more productive than a 4.8 RC/G second baseman or 4.4 RC/G shortstop. The increased production from Carroll to the new infielder would more than compensate for the dropoff from Shoppach's 5.36 RC/27 to Garko's 5.21.

Of course, I am in no way suggesting a trade based solely on these findings. But what I am suggesting is that, by virtue of having more players at or above their position's averages in 2009, the Indians can look forward to a better season offensively.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cleveland Indians: A Look at Baseball America's 2009 Top Prospect List

Baseball America recently released their Top 10 Cleveland Indians prospects for 2009. Along with the top 10 list is a list of the Indians best tools, and an always-fun look at what the Cleveland lineup may look like a few years in the future.

This year BA projected what the Indians may look like in 2012, and like their current prospect list their were some surprises.

The Prospects List

The biggest surprise to most, I'm sure, is that catcher Carlos Santana tops outfielder Matt LaPorta, who many thought to be one of the top prospects in any organization. LaPorta struggled with the Mendoza line in double A, the Olympics, and the Arizona Fall League, no doubt feeling the pressure of being "that guy from the CC Sabathia trade."

Meanwhile, Carlos Santana broke out at all levels this year. Indians fans lamented the journey of catcher Max Ramirez, who went from Atlanta to Cleveland for half a year of Bob Wickman in 2006, then to Texas for half a year of Kenny Lofton in 2007, then blossomed into a Major League-ready talent in 2008. Well, the Tribe got their payback when they traded half a year of Casey Blake for Santana, who now ranks just ahead of Ramirez in Project Prospect's latest Top 10 Catchers Under 25 ratings. Oh, and Santana is a full year and a half younger than Ramirez.

The article that accompanies Baseball America's Top 10 list correctly assesses Mark Shapiro when it comes to evaluating young talent. While Shapiro has come up short in the draft - often with questionable picks - he excels at acquiring minor league talent from other organizations, and complements that with free agent signings from Latin America. The list reflects that assessment, as Santana, LaPorta, and Michael Brantley find themselves among the Indians best prospects after starting this year in another organization. (Brantley was the player to be named later in the Sabathia trade.)

However, Shapiro is starting to show a knack for finding diamonds in the rough during the draft as well, as Cleveland's top three picks over the last three years - David Huff, Beau Mills, and Lonnie Chisenhall - find themselves at eigth, fifth, and sixth on the list. Mills, from a northwestern junior college, and Chisenhall, who until that point was most famous for getting kicked off of the University of South Carolina's squad for theft, were both considered overdrafts, but have flourished so far in the minors. Adam Miller and Canadian hero Nick Weglarz are also Shapiro draft picks.

This Year's List vs. Last Year's

Of the players who made both lists, Nick Weglarz was the biggest gainer, going from sixth in 2008 to third in 2009. Adam Miller and Beau Mills both fell, from first to fourth and third to fifth respectively. Miller's injuries notwithstanding, the two's new status is less a reflection of their own regression and more a reflection of the increased talent at the top of Cleveland's pool.

Chuck Lofgren and Jordan Brown fell off the list entirely from last year, and perhaps not surprisingly were left exposed in the upcoming Rule V draft. Lofgren especially deserves a second chance, as his poor 2008 was a result of injuries and his mother's battle with cancer.

Wes Hodges also fell from the list from his number four spot, but he continues to be Cleveland's projected third baseman, for at least 2010 and 2011. (For more on the 2012 lineup, keep reading.) David Huff stays the same at number eight. Aaron Laffey, Ben Francisco, and Jenson Lewis, meanwhile, all "graduated" from their prospect status in 2008.

Best Tools

I didn't get to see any of these prospects in action in 2008, so I'm not in a position to agree or disagree with anything BA said. However, there are some promising signs to point out.

Michael Brantley has immediately become the team's best hitter for average and best athlete. That's great for someone who's expected to be the team's leadoff hitter of the future. That's especially great on a team that's been starved for athleticism as of late. Matt LaPorta, predictably, is the team's best power hitting prospect. Finally, it's nice to see that despite all his struggles, Adam Miller is still considered to have the best fastball and slider in the organization.

Cleveland Indians Projected 2012 Lineup

Indians fans will notice quite a few exceptions from 2008 on this list: Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklin Gutierrez, Ben Francisco, and Aaron Laffey stood out for me.

Garko, Gutierrez, Francisco, and Laffey, while decent, are also easily replaceable. Victor Martinez's current contract is up before 2012, and Baseball America surely took that (and Victor's age) into account.

But what about Shoppach and Cabrera? The Indians recently added Carlos Santana and Chris Gimenez to their 40-man roster, who along with Martinez, Shoppach, and Wyatt Toregas give the club five catchers. Some say that is a clear sign the Indians will use Shoppach as trade bait to fill in a key need this offseason.

Cabrera is the mystery, though. For the past several months, I've campaigned to move Jhonny Peralta to second base, both because his defense isn't good enough for short and his offense isn't good enough for third. I was just about to give up (hey, we can move him to third and sign a good offensive second baseman to make up for it) when Baseball America sparked the debate again. That leaves the shortstop position open to Cabrera and Carlos Rivero. I don't know much about Rivero, but I'll take the experts' word on him for now. After all, it is just harmless speculation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 11: Syracuse, Senior Week

Notre Dame Players to Watch

37 Anello, Mike Cornerback67 Bemenderfer, Thomas Center94 Brown, Justin Defensive End27 Bruton, David Safety40 Crum Jr., Maurice Inside Linebacker72 Duncan, Paul Offensive Tackle11 Grimes, David Wide Receiver6 Herring, Ray Defensive Safety96 Kuntz, Pat Defensive End86 Kuppich, Paul Tight End/Long Snapper20 Lambert, Terrail Defensive Cornerback43 Leonis, John Defensive Cornerback28 McCarthy, Kyle Defensive Safety45 Patterson, Kris Wide Receiver48 Quinn, Steve Inside Linebacker41 Rodriguez, Nikolas Halfback44 Schwapp, Asaph Fullback13 Sharpley, Evan Quarterback35 Smith, Kevin Inside Linebacker41 Smith, Scott Outside Linebacker63 Tisak, Jeff Offensive Tackle77 Turkovich, Michael Offensive Guard/Tackle42 Washington, Kevin Inside Linebacker

No analysis for this one since it's Senior Week, but I did want to point out that Syracuse's quarterback has a familiar name. Cameron Dantley is the son of Irish basketball legend Adrian. Cam wears number 4, likely a tribute to his dad's number 44.

Also, for those who haven't heard, Michael Floyd and Brian Smith, injured against Navy, are out for the season. With Kevin and Scott Smith potentially playing their last games, there go the hopes of an all-Smith linebacking corps.


Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 17

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Notre Dame Women's Basketball 62, LSU 53

Editor's Note: Scroll down for a recap of the ND-Navy football game.

Notre Dame's women's basketball team kicked off their season on national television Sunday in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic. The 14th/16th ranked Irish took on the 22nd/24th ranked LSU Lady Tigers on the Tigers' home court.

Both teams looked rusty for the first 10 minutes of the game, but started to get into a groove after that. It was a close contest all the way, but Notre Dame pulled away in the second half and held on to win 62-53. The Irish won thanks to solid free throw shooting and a pressure defense that really rattled the young LSU team.

Ashley Barlow, the tough-as-nails scrapper with the sweet shot and great all-around game, is now expected to be Notre Dame's go-to scorer. She didn't disappoint in this contest, finishing with 19 points.

The Irish started with Barlow andMelissa Lechlitner, and Lindsay Schrader at guard, Becca Bruszewski at power forward, and Erica Williamson at center. But Williamson saw limited playing time in this one, as Devereaux Peters spent most of the game at one forward position, and Burszewski and freshman Erica Solomon rotating at the other forward spot. Freshman Natalie Novosel also came in occasionally to give the three guards a breather.

Schrader finished with 13 points and Peters 12. Peters has the height of a power forward (6'2") and the game of a slashing small forward. The ESPN announcers said several times that it will be hard to keep Peters out of the starting lineup, and it's hard to disagree with that sentiment.

Solomon looked good on offense and rebounded well on both ends of the floor. Her defense needs work, but this was only her first game at the collegiate level. Erica Williamson returned late in the game to provide much needed post presence on defense.

Overall, this was a sloppy game, but in the end Notre Dame showed why they're in the top 20 in both polls. Once their offense got going, it worked smoothly - cuts to the basket were turned into easy layups, and those layups were actually made. Free throws continue to be a source of strength for this team. When they needed some momentum, the Irish turned up the pressure and it led to turnovers and easy points.

It was a good start to the season for this Notre Dame team. They went into a hostile environment against a ranked opponent for their first game of the season, and they came away victorious.

The Irish women's basketball next plays on Wednesday at 7:00, in their home opener against Evansville.

Notre Dame 27, Navy 21

Quarterback: Jimmy Clausen finished a very deceiving 15-of-18, as almost all of his passes were screens or dumpoffs over the middle. When he did throw downfield, he added two more interceptions to his total. In his defense, though, he was playing most of the game without Michael Floyd. Clausen did rush three times for five yards, including a headstrong head-first dive that almost resulted in a knee injury.

Running Back: The gameplan called for Notre Dame to pound the ball at Navy's undersized 3-4. James Aldridge was the feature back, recording 80 yards on 16 carries. Robert Hughes added 64 yards on 13 carries, while Armando Allen had 60 on eight carries. Freshman Jonas Gray had seven carries for 16 yards, and his struggles were partially due to Navy crowding the box in obvious run situations.

Allen also had a big day in the passing game, recording team highs in catches (seven) and yards (60). Aldridge and Hughes also had one catch apiece.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp didn't record a touch in this game, but he did have several key block to aid the Irish ground game. Steve Paskorz made an appearance at fullback as well.

Receiver: Michael Floyd left early in the game after Aldridge and a tackler rolled into his left knee. With Floyd out, the Midshipmen were able to key on Golden Tate and hold him to zero catches. Tate did lose three yards on a "wildcat" formation direct snap. I was wondering just the other day if Coach Weis, with his NFL ties, would ever give a wildcat look. He did, but the timing was bad. Since it was the first play of the second quarter, it gave Navy time to react and align themselves properly before the snap.

David Grimes lead all receivers with three catches, plus one 10-yard gain that was credited as a run on a swing pass. Robby Parris, playing in Floyd's absence, and Duval Kamara each had one reception.

Tight End: Kyle Rudolph had one catch for eight yards.

Offensive Line: The line wasn't perfect - Clausen was hurried a few times, sacked once, and had the ball knocked out of his hands for a fumble. But overall the Notre Dame offensive line played well, especially the left side, on the way to an efficient 340 yard performance.

Defensive Line: As a whole, the defense played well for a second straight week. But the line especially played well in this one. Ian Williams had seven tackles, which is outstanding for a nose tackle. Justin Brown had five tackles, one for a loss, and recovered a fumble. Pat Kuntz had four tackles, including a half-sack.

Linebacker: Toryan Smith has had at best an up-and-down career at Notre Dame, but he had the game of his life on Saturday. Smith led the team with 10 tackles and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Toryan's production came from increased playing time after Brian Smith went down with a right knee injury after being chop blocked.

After being shut out in the Boston College game, something you never want to see from your fifth year middle linebacker, Mo Crum rebounded with seven tackles and a forced fumble.

Safety: Thanks to the play of Toryan Smith and the Irish line, David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy didn't have to be heroes in this game. Bruton and McCarthy did finish with six and five tackles, respectively, and Bruton did come close to picking off both of Navy's first two pass attempts.

Cornerback: Not surprisingly, playing Navy's triple option offense, no Irish corner recorded more than two tackles. Still, freshman Robert Blanton always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, recording a huge stop in the backfield early on, and breaking up a pass to the end zone on Navy's second-to-last play of the game.

Kicker: Don't look now, but Brandon Walker has made nine of his last 10 attempts, including field goals from 28 and 36 yards in this game.

Punter: Sure, Eric Maust's three punts were the first for Notre Dame against Navy in the Charlie Weis era. But I'm sure the team will take a win over a silly record any day, especially when their punter averages 44 yards per kick.

Kick Returner: Golden Tate returned two kickoffs in this game, one for 18 yards and one for 20.

Special Teams: Well, the Irish will definitely be working on recovering onside kicks this week. That being said, this was a win, so let's finish with the positives:

From what I can tell, batting a kick out of bounds is legal as long as you don't bat it forward. So Robby Parris did make a heads-up play, if only he had batted it in the right direction.

Mike Anello continues to inspire special teamers everywhere, as this week he blocked the punt that resulted in Notre Dame's first touchdown. He also proved, at least to some, that the "secondary line of defense" punt formation that so many college teams use isn't perfectly impenetrable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 10: Navy

Navy Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

As usual, Navy runs the triple option to perfection. And as usual, at least in recent years, the quarterback and fullback position are getting the bulk of the carries. 2 Jarod Bryant has taken over at quarterback following an injury to 10 Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. But both Bryant and Kaheaku-Enhada are day-to-day for Saturday's game. The two have combined with 4 Ricky Dobbs to average 25-26 carries per game and 106 yards per game.

This year's bruising fullback is 36 Eric Kettani, who is averaging 13-14 carries and 75 yards per game, and 5.5 yards per carry. Backup fullback 38 Kevin Campbell is averaging close to two carries and seven yards per game.

The slotbacks have been exceptionally effective for Navy this year. 26 Shun White is averaging 11 carries and a team-leading 92.7 yards per game, as well as 8.4 yards per carry. 33 Bobby Doyle is only averaging one carry per game, but he's making it count with a 14 yards per carry average. 29 Greg Shinego is averaging just over one carry and six yards per game.

White, Bryant, and Dobbs lead the Middies with six rushing touchdowns apiece.

Notre Dame will have its hands full with a team averaging 308 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. The good news is that the regulars on the defensive line - Pat Kuntz, Ian Williams, Justin Brown, Ethan Johnson, and Morrice Richardson - at least outweigh Navy's fullbacks. The bad news is that the linemen will have to deal with Navy's cut blocks, which they hopefully have seen a fair dose of in practice this week.

Safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton lead the team in tackles, and will be looking to repeat the type of performance fellow safety Gerome Sapp had against the midshipmen a few years back. But they'll need some help from a young linebacking corps, who can hopefully stay disciplined against any misdirection plays.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Navy Rush Defense

Notre Dame's rushing game has struggled its way to 115.6 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. Armando Allen has been the best of the bunch, averaging 11 carries and 50.8 yards per game, with a 4.5 yards per carry average. Robert Hughes is averaging eight or nine carries and only 28.4 yards per game, or 3.3 yards per carry. James Aldridge is averaging seven carries and 27.4 yards per game, for a slightly better 3.9 yards per carry.

Navy's defense is giving up 116 rushing yards per game. They're lead by outside linebacker 5 Corey Johnson, who has 62 tackles on the season - 5.5 for a loss. None of Navy's linebackers come in at over 225 pounds, so it will be interesting to see if the Irish counter with Allen's athleticism or Hughes and Aldridge's size in this game.

Navy Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Predictably, Navy's QBs don't throw much, averaging only four pass attempts. But when they do pass, they have been very effective, with a 61.7% completion rate. Bobby Dobbs has been the most effective (85.7%) in the small sample size of seven passes. KNKE has completed 72% of his passes, while Jarod Bryant has completed 56.2%.

89 Tyree Barnes is Navy's leading receiver. The 6'2" wide receiver has 15 of the team's 37 receptions and two of the team's five touchdowns on the year. After Barnes, ten Middies have caught at least one pass, but no more than four. Also, no Navy player other than Barnes has multiple touchdown receptions.

All passing defense stats can be thrown out the window when it comes to the triple option. Notre Dame may be best assigning their best cover corner to Barnes and asking the other ten players to defend the run.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Navy Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has struggled in the middle of the season. He's still averaging 22 completions on 37 attempts, 258.8 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1-2 interceptions per game. More importantly, he's still the starter.

Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are still the top two receivers and are still averaging around five catches per game. Armando Allen is averaging four catches per game, and David Grimes (when healthy) three. Kyle Rudolph is averaging over two catches per game, but as of late Clausen has been forcing the ball to Rudolph despite the coverage, especially on routes over the middle.

Navy is giving up 256 passing yards per game to the Notre Dame offense's 259. Navy's tackle for loss leaders are defensive ends 59 Matt Nechak and 63 Jabaree Tuani, with 7.5 and 6.5 respectively. Nechak, a physical specimen at 6'4", 249, also leads the team with four sacks.

Safety 8 Wyatt Middleton is second on the team with 61 tackles, while linebacker 51 Ross Pospisil and corner 18 Rashawn King lead the Midshipmen with two interceptions apiece.

Special Teams

19 Matt Harmon has been very good for Navy this year, converting 14 of 16 field goals with a long of 49. Even more impressive is that one of his misses was a block, meaning it wasn't entirely his fault. Harmon has made all six of his attempts under 30 yards. Notre Dame's Brandon Walker is still at 8 of 15 with a long of 48.

35 Kyle Delahooke has been a very serviceable punter for the Middies, averaging 40.7 yards per kick with a long of 55. He has had two punts blocked in 26 attempts, though. After a rough week at Boston College, Notre Dame's Eric Maust is now averaging 40.4 yards per punt and still has a long of 54.

Navy's kick return duties have been shared by 28 Greg Jones and 22 John Angelo. Jones, a receiver, is averaging 17.2 yards per return with a long of 25. Defensive back Angelo has had more success, with an average of 22.2 yards aided by a long of 57. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.1 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a solid 16.5 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Golden Tate recently took over kick return duty from Armando Allen. Tate is averaging 20.9 yards per return with a long of 29. 45 Jon Teague is Navy's strong-legged kickoff specialist. Teague is averaging 65.8 yards per kick, with seven of his 46 kicks going for touchbacks. Opponents are averaging 22.3 yards per return, giving them an average start on the 27.

Wide Receiver 85 Mario Washington is Navy's punt returner. He's averaging 7.9 yards per return with a long of just 16 yards. Golden Tate has also taken over punt returns from Armando Allen. Tate is averaging 8.1 yards per return with a long of 42.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

James Aldridge, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, David Bruton, Kyle McCarthy


Notre Dame 28, Navy 24

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Notre Dame News and Notes

  • Jake Peavy is a hot item on this winter's MLB trade market, and the Cubs are one of the teams who want him. Rumor has it that the Padres would want Jeff Samardzija (among others) in return for Peavy.

  • Voting is now open online for this year's Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Be sure to support for Notre Dame seniors Mo Crum in football, Matt Besler in men's soccer, and Kerri Hanks in women's soccer. Hat tip to an anonymous on campus reader for the links.

  • Speaking of online polls - those reliable sources of truth - this is unrelated to Notre Dame, but Dave Cameron is up for a $10,000 scholarship for his fine work at the baseball blogs USS Mariner and Fangraphs. Vote here, and be sure to check out both of his blogs.

  • Finally, some thoughts on the game:
    • You can't pin this one on the defense at all. They played the entire first half in their own territory, and only gave up 10 points.

    • Similarly, you can't blame the blocked punt on Eric Maust, as ESPN apparently tried to do. Yes, their are certain things a punter can do to avoid blocks, but not when someone races up the middle untouched

    • When Kyle Rudolph is the primary receiver, Jimmy Clausen has gotten into the habit of staring him down the whole time and forcing the pass no matter how many defenders are in the area. This is especially true on passes over the middle. Something to look out for in the next few games.

  • Go Irish. The future is bright but it's not here yet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 9: Boston College

Boston College Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Predictably, a year after Boston College lost its star quarterback, it is relying on its running game. What may come as a surprise, though, is that BC's top two runners are freshman. Both are small and quick.

41 Montel Harris is leading the way with 10 carries and 58.7 yards per game. Josh Haden is the latest Eagle tailback to wear the #1 jersey, and he's averaging nine carries and 39 yards per game. Junior 6 Jeff Smith is the veteran option. He's averaging four or five carries and 24 yards per game.

At 6'4", 239 lbs, quarterback 10 Chris Crane may look like a pocket passer, but he's also a threat to run. Crane averages six non-sack carries per game, and leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns.

Fullback James McCluskey averages three carries and 12 yards per game. Cornerback 21 Razzie Smith has six carries in as many games, so the Irish defense will have to look out for him as well.

Notre Dame's run defense is giving up 128 rushing yards per game, while Boston College's offense is gaining 150. With the variety of options Boston College has, Notre Dame's entire front seven will have to be on its toes. Safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton lead the team with 76 and 73 tackles, respectively, while Harrison Smith now leads the squad with six tackles for a loss. But all three safeties are outweighed by Crane and McCluskey, so they will need help from the Irish line and inside 'backers Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, and Maurice Crum.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Boston College Rush Defense

Armando Allen has been Notre Dame's best running back this year. Not only does he lead the team in carries (95; 12 per game) and yards per game (54.1), but he also has the best yards per carry average of the "big three" at 4.6. Robert Hughes is averaging nine carries and 29.8 yards per game, but a meager 3.3 yards per carry.

James Aldridge is averaging seven carries and 30.9 yards per game, and 4.2 yards per carry. Aldridge has also become the go-to back in the red zone, in a sense, as his three rushing touchdowns top Hughes and Allen's two apiece.

Boston College is playing without team leader 16 Brian Toal, who broke his leg in game six of the season. In the past fifteen years, the Toal family is second only to the Hasselbecks in their Boston College legacy. You may remember Brian's older brother from such moments as the deciding interception return in Notre Dame's 2002 green jersey game.

In Brian Toal's absence, fellow linebackers 94 Mark Herzlich and 34 Mike McLaughlin have picked up the slack. Herzlich and McLaughlin are first and second on the team in both tackles and tackles for a loss. Herzlich has 68 tackles and 7 TFL, while McLaughlin has 44 tackles, 6 for a loss (tying him with two other Eagles in that category).

Boston College Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For a first year starter, Chris Crane has been surprisingly effective, completing 56.1% of his passes. However, he's also shown his inexperience with 12 interceptions on the season, compared to only eight touchdowns. On an average day, Crane will complete 18 of 32 passes for 178.4 yards.

Crane's top two targets are his starting wide receivers, each averaging three catches per game. 2 Brandon Robinson is the downfield threat, averaging 16.4 yards per catch and 55.5 yards per game. 18 Rich Gunnell is averaging 9.1 yards per catch and 29.5 yards per game.

Fullback James McCluskey and tight end Ryan Purvis are each averaging two catches per game. That means Crane isn't afraid to use his dumpoff option when necessary.

Six other receivers are averaging at least one catch per game. And while Robinson and Gunnell are both under six feet tall, Crane does have plenty of options that are 6'2" or taller.

Boston College has a fairly even playcalling mix when it comes to runs and passes. But with the success the Eagles have on the ground, you have to believe the Irish will rely on their safeties for run support. That puts pressure on the Notre Dame corners, but both have played well recently. Raeshon McNeil had two interceptions last week and leads the team with seven passes defended on the season. Terrail Lambert is fifth on the team with 31 tackles.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Boston College Pass Defense

There are some who say that Jimmy Clausen hasn't looked sharp in his past few games. Of course, all he does on an average day is complete 22 of 36 passes for 262.9 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.

Like Boston College, Notre Dame's starting wideouts are leading the team in receptions. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are both averaging around five catches per game. Tate has the edge in yards per game at 84.5 to 79.1. But Floyd has the edge in touchdowns, seven to five (not counting Tate's rushing touchdown).

Armando Allen and David Grimes are each averaging just over three catches per game, while Kyle Rudolph and Duval Kamara are both averaging close to two catches per game, and Robert Hughes one catch per game.

Boston College gives up only 168.5 yards per game on the ground, but that number is tainted by games against Georgia Tech's triple option, Rhode Island, and two MAC schools.

Still, the Eagles are averaging almost three sacks and two interceptions per game. Most of the pressure comes from their line, where 90 BJ Raji, 52 Austin Giles, 47 Brad Newman, and 60 Ron Brace have combined for 11 of the team's 21 sacks.

Mark Herzlich and strong safety Paul Anderson are tied for the team lead with three interceptions apiece. Herzlich is listed at strong safety, which tells me he's done a great job covering opponents' tight ends this year.

Special Teams

83 Steve Aponavicius is his third season as BC's placekicker. For a veteran kicker, he's been shaky. Aponavicius is 7-for-12 on the year, including 3-for-7 from 30 yards or more and a long of only 36. He's also had one kick blocked. Brandon Walker, who had a streak of seven straight field goal makes snapped at the end of the Pitt game, is now up to a respectable 8-for-15 on the season for Notre Dame. His long is the 48-yarder he made in the third overtime of last week's game.

Freshman 46 Ryan Quigley is BC's punter, although 14 Billy Flutie has punted a few times too for the Eagles. Flutie is also listed at wide receiver and has attempted a pass this season. That's the type of stuff you can do when your uncle is the face of the program. Back to Quigley, he's averaging 39.8 yards per punt with a long of 56. In fact, he's had three kicks of fifty yards or more in 28 tries. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.2 yards per punt with a long of 54.

Jeff Smith is averaging 20.4 yards per kick return for Boston College, with a long of 56.Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.0 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a solid 16.6 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has taken most of the kicks and has a 22.1 yard average and a long of 53. However, he was not on the kick return team last week, presumably to move the focus to Golden Tate. Tate now has a 20.5 yard average with a long of 29. 23 Billy Bennett is BC's kickoff specialist, and he's averaging 62.7 yards per kickoff with three touchbacks in 39 tries. Boston College gives up a below-average 24.4 yards per return on average. That gives opponents an average start of the 32 yard line.

Rich Gunnell is averaging a solid 13.3 yards per punt return for the Eagles. He also has a 65-yard touchdown to his credit. Armando Allen started the season as Notre Dame's punt returner, but Golden Tate took over the job last week. As with kick returns, is probably just a move to give Tate more chances, and not anything negative that Allen did. Allen is averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22, while Tate is averaging 3.2 yards per return with a long of 10.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Raeshon McNeil


Notre Dame 27, Boston College 24