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Friday, December 14, 2007

Stanford Recap (finally)

I've been promising an expanded recap of the Stanford game since the day the game was played, and I apologize for being so slow to get it done. I admit that I am out of shape and was feeling very fatigued as the disastrous 2007 football season finally came to a merciful end. I experienced the 2007 campaign mostly from my sofa and my computer keyboard while 2,000 miles from campus (though I did catch one home game and one road game) and I was emotionally worn out by it. I can only imagine how hard it must have been on the players and coaches.

Since posting my very brief initial thoughts on the Stanford win, I've been second guessing myself a bit, wondering why my opinion of the game seemed so much more negative than everyone else's. After watching the game I was left with the strong impression that we played poorly, that we were lucky to win, and that the victory, while very much welcome, was not a step forward for the program (at least as far as level of play goes). Having finally reviewed the game stats in detail, I can see that, once again, I was 100% correct in my initial analysis. No need for applause.

Before I begin, let's recall that this game was played against STANFORD. They were 4 and 8 on the year, ranked 107th in total offense and 97th in total defense in the NCAA. They finished the year ranked #76 by Jeff Sagarin. So how'd we do?

Notre Dame had sixteen possessions in the game. Here is how we fared on offense on each of those sixteen possessions:

  • First Drive. 7 plays, 70 yards, lost fumble by Robert Hughes at the Stanford 8 yd line. (Key play, other than the drive-ending fumble, was a Hughes 45-yard run).
  • Second Drive. Clausen sacked and loses fumble on first play.
  • Third Drive. 6 plays, 18 yards, punt.
  • Fourth Drive. After a Zibby interception, 2 plays, 14 yards, Clausen runs 2 yds for TD.
  • Fifth Drive. 4 plays, 9 yards. Ball turned over on downs when Irish fail to convert on a 4th and 1 from our own 36.
  • Sixth Drive. 7 plays, 56 yards, Schwapp loses fumble at the Stanford 13 yard line.
  • Seventh Drive. 3 plays, minus-3 yards, punt.
  • Eighth Drive. 3 plays, 2 yards, punt.
  • Ninth Drive. 7 plays, 75 yards, Travis Thomas 1-yard TD run. Key play in the drive was a 44 catch and run by Junior Jabbie.
  • Tenth Drive. Kneel down to end the first half.
  • Eleventh Drive. 7 plays, 5 yards, missed 44 yard field goal attempt. (Note that this "drive" was aided by a roughing the punter personal foul penalty on Stanford after the first three plays went for minus-9, minus-1, and minus-6 yards.)
  • Twelfth Drive. 6 plays, 25 yards, punt.
  • Thirteenth Drive. 7 plays, 22 yards, punt. (This "drive" was aided by a personal foul face mask penalty on Stanford).
  • Fourteenth Drive. 3 plays, 0 yards, Clausen intercepted.
  • Fifteenth Drive. 6 plays, 68 yards, Robert Hughes 6-yard rushing TD. Key play was a 44-yard Hughes run.
  • Sixteenth Drive. Kneel down to end game.
Sixteen possessions. Throw out possessions 10 and 16, which were kneel downs. Of the remaining 14 possessions, three of them ended on lost fumbles, one ended on a Clausen INT, one ended on a failed 4th-and-1, and one ended on a missed (but very makable) FG attempt. That's 43% of the time that our offensive possessions ended in mistakes that either cost us crucial field position or a scoring opportunity (or both). We scored on three of the fourteen possessions (21% of the time), and punted 5 times (36%). All-in-all that is not very efficient offense.

The Irish converted just 4 of 13 third down opportunities (31%) and were 0 for 1 converting 4th downs. Clausen was sacked five times, and Stanford beat us in time of possession 34:15 to 25:45 (and actually held the time of possession margin for each of the four quarters).

Jimmy Clausen was 19 of 32 (59%) passing for 196 yards, no touchdowns and 1 INT. It's hard to evaluate his game. One the one hand, the game plan seemed to call for a lot of lower-percentage deep throws down the field. When you're being asked to make a lot of those throws, you have to figure you'll have a lower completion percentage. Yet, despite the felonious over-turning of the David Grimes TD, Clausen still had a good completion percentage. On the other hand, his percentage should have been lower. In my wrap-up of the Duke game I wrote:
Behind the stats, the biggest step forward I saw was Jimmy Clausen's progress in eliminating the big negative play. Certainly he has largely eliminated the fumbles and interceptions that plagued him early in the season. Yesterday I noticed that he has also eliminated the big, drive-killing sack. Early in the year, when pressured, Jimmy was prone to using a spin move to elude a tackler and then looping deep behind the line of scrimmage to buy time and/or escape the rush. Only he didn't escape anyone and instead we were routinely seeing sacks for losses of 10, 12, 14 and more yards. It seems that Clausen now understands that EVERYONE on the opposing defense is fast enough to chase him down from behind and that he has to move forward or laterally in the pocket before running toward the first down line or throwing the ball away.
Clausen took a step backward in this department against Stanford. He was sacked five times against the Cardinal, for losses of 8, 7, 9, 6, and 7 yards. Those aren't huge sacks for big yards, but the problem is that the sacks were mostly avoidable. Most of those sacks came with Clausen flushed from the pocket and moving toward the sideline looking for a receiver, then simply stepping out of bounds for a 6 or 7 yard loss rather than throwing the ball away. The right play there is to throw the ball away to keep you team in a manageable down-and-distance situation. 3rd and 7 is a lot easier to manage than 3rd and 14. So, while Clausen was 19 of 32, he should have thrown the ball away at least three times and been something more like 19 of 35 (54%).

A decent defensive day for the Irish combined with a snake-bit Stanford offense meant that Notre Dame was just able to squeeze one more game into the win column despite the sloppy offensive showing. Stanford converted just 6 of 17 times on third down, and they missed four field goal attempts. In the final 30 seconds, Stanford receivers dropped TWO touchdown passes that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime (assuming the PAT) or won the game (if they made a 2-pt conversion). So, while Irish fans are certainly happy to have won the game, you have to put this one in the "ugly win" category.

Some quick hits:
  • The field conditions were an embarrassment to Stanford University and its alumni around the world who contributed the money to build a brand new, modern football stadium. I wonder where all that money went?
  • The game officials were an abomination before God and shouldn't be allowed ever again to preside over a frosh-soph football game let alone a Division I game. I hope they were too ashamed to actually cash their game checks. Not that they need to cash those checks as I'm sure the Stanford boosters paid in cash. (Kidding!)
  • The ESPN announcers on the television broadcast need to go back to calling figure skating. I could not believe how much they whined about the shot the Stanford QB took on his noggin. Yes, it was a nasty looking hit. It's always dramatic when the QB's helmet flies off after he gets hammered. But you guys are not doctors! You have no idea if he has a concussion or any other injury! Do you not think Jim Harbaugh has just a little insight into how a QB feels and reacts after getting his clock cleaned? How about you guys quit crying and commend the young man for being tough enough to strap it on and get back out on the field. This is big-boy football, not synchronized swimming.
  • How about all those empty seats in the new (and very cozy) Stanford stadium? That was just a shame. Way to bring it Cardinal fan.
So, Notre Dame played a sloppy, ugly game against a weak opponent and came home with a "W". What are the good things to take away?
  • Despite all the adversity, the team held it together and found a way to win.
  • Duval Kamara had catches for 16, 12, 35, 8, 9, and 13 yards. He is going to be a star.
  • Robert Hughes could use just a little more top-end speed, but he has great instincts at the line of scrimmage. His footwork to get into and through the hole is fantastic. Good luck to anyone that tries to pry him out of the starting line-up.
  • David Bruton (OC Domer Player of the Year) led the team with 9 tackles, 8 of them solo. Can you say "pre-season All American"?
Whew. Glad to finally get that done. I've got some ideas for some post-season posts that you'll see in the coming weeks. And you might start seeing some political stuff here at OC Domer, as the 2008 election year gets into full swing. So be sure to check back occasionally.

Go Irish! Beat Aztecs!

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