Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not Exactly Golden

Baby steps.

I said before the game that I expected Notre Dame to score more than 40 points on the San Diego State University Aztecs, and that they shouldn't allow more than 7 points defense. The defense played pretty much played up to my expectations, but the offense still has some work to do if this team hopes to beat the Michigan Wolverines next week. Here are my quick thoughts on the game.

1. Surprise player of the game? Easily Sergio Brown was the biggest surprise to me. Playing as the fifth defensive back, #31 made plays all over the field. Great in coverage, good tackler, awesome special teams player. No doubt we'll see a lot of Sergio as the season unfolds. His play all the more important after losing Darrin Walls for the year. Game ball on D goes to S. Brown.

2. We almost lost #5 and #33 this game. Thank goodness they returned to the field. On the goal-line fumble play by Robert Hughes, it looked to me like his ankle really got mangled, and I didn't expect him to be back. Armando Allen got rocked on his fumble, and I wasn't sure he would get up at all. Two close calls. Whew!

3. Where was James Aldridge? After Sergio Brown, Aldridge's absence from the box score was the biggest surprise.

4. Duval Kamara needs to get his head right. One of Jimmy Clausen's two interceptions was all on #18, as the ball bounced right off his chest and into the air for the INT. The second interception was clearly a mix-up between Clausen and Kamara, but #18 looked awful on the play, never turning around to look for the ball. Given the play of the youth behind him (Golden Tate and Michael Floyd), Kamara is in serious jeopardy of moving way down the depth chart. Did Robby Parris play?

5. Golden Tate has obviously been working hard in the off-season. Not only is he fast, but he surprised with great hands, making clutch catches in tight spots. Excellent footwork along the sideline as well. Great to see this speedster emerging as a real weapon on offense. Game ball on offense goes to G. Tate.

6. Maurice Crum is obviously an important player for the Irish on defense as he is the wily veteran helping "quarterback" the defense. But he's probably the least talented linebacker on the field for the Irish. He had back-to-back penalties at one point today. One was a Travis-Thomas-brain-dead late hit on the SDSU QB, the other was a defensive holding (or was it pass interference?) committed because he was out of position and getting beaten by a receiver crossing the middle.

7. I liked the defense. If they had gotten just a little help from the offense, we'd be writing about how dominant they were. Although they didn't get many sacks, they were very disruptive in the pass rush, tipping balls and hurrying the San Diego State quarterback. The linebackers were very active in stopping the run, rushing the passer and dropping into pass coverage. We've got to work on defending that shovel pass. Overall, tackling was much improved from last year. We'll be fine on defense if the "O" can control the ball a little bit and keep the field position reasonable.

8. The running game certainly featured the left side of the line. Are we saving Chris Stewart and Sam Young as a "surprise" for Michigan? It seemed that Stewart and Young were dominating their guys when we went to that side, but we kept running left. I especially didn't care for the "stretch" play to the left side, which got blown up more than it worked.

9. Jimmy Clausen looked good at QB. Not "great", but solid. He was helped enormously by an O-line that for the most part gave him a reasonable chance to throw the football. He had a few "plus" throws, and a few "minus" ones. One big "minus" was when he missed a wide open Golden Tate in the back corner of the end zone after both made nice adjustments on the play. The announcers on the game said Weis told Tate that he ran a bad route on the play, but to me JC had him wide open and threw a bad ball.

10. Special teams was a mixed bag. The kick-off and punt coverage teams looked good. Kick returns were very good. Place-kicking was awful. Again.

11. One of the biggest things I was looking for this year was whether Armando Allen could run through first contact and keep going. He was huge in that department today, most spectacularly on his big kick return.

12. Part of me wants to be bitter about the margin of victory. But we lost a fumble at the goal line when Robert Hughes' knee was probably down. We threw an INT into the end-zone on a clear mix-up play. We botched what should have been two made field goals. That's twenty points we left on the field. Obviously you can't turn the ball over and give up those scoring chances. But today's somewhat disappointing offensive production is a far cry from the way we lost games last year, with our quarterbacks being tossed around the backfield like rag dolls.

Baby steps. I'm sure I'll have more tonight or tomorrow once I digest the game stats.


Threehills said...

Good analysis. Only point of contention was that I thought the throw to Tate in the back corner was dead on, had Tate not slipped. I'd blame it on Tate rather than Clausen.

Suprised we didn't see more of Floyd after his TD.

And where WAS Aldridge?

James Spurgeon said...

"Obviously you can't turn the ball over and give up those scoring chances. But . . ."

But they're still turning the ball over . . . and over . . . and over. And defensive penalties kept drives alive for the Aztecs over and over as well.

Yes, there were some items that looked good and could leave one feeling optimistic. But this was Sand Diego State and we were nearly down 2 touchdowns in the 4th.


The mistakes have got to stop.

trey said...

Heres the thought that will keep me motivated for next week: we looked better this week in a badly executed game that scUM did in THEIR first hiccup of the year. scUM came back this week much improved from the Utah debacle. You have to think we'll improve in 1 or 2 places, so we're still better than the skunkbears.

Colonel Domer said...

Didn't deserve the W for 3 1/2 quarters, did we?

A la Ole Blue Eyes: Mistakes? We made (more than) a few. Look at John Walters' blog on the NBC Sports page. He has a great list of them all. Pretty much matched the list I was making. We had two third down and one fourth down defensive penalties that extended Aztec drives. We turned the ball over twice in the red zone. We fumbled a field goal snap. Duval Kamara had a good pass pop off his pads for an INT. I could go on. I might later.

Bright spots? There were a few of those, for sure. Mike Danello is the real deal on special teams. And Kyle McCarthy had 15 tackles. I believe that between Kamara, Golden Tate, David Grimes and Michael Floyd we can have a good array of wideouts. I would say Jimmy Clausen’s arm is definitely 100% and I think it’s a good 100%. And no sacks allowed on 34 attempts. A good sign.

But these goods and bads are all at the tactical or operational level of gridiron warfare. There are bigger, more strategic themes we must be concerned with. My strategic level worry beads:

1. Near the end of the 3d quarter, after we had gone 3-and-out, INT, Fumble, 3-and-out to start the second half, Pat Haden said “It is library quiet”. And he was right. This team is not getting the fans excited. At the end of the game, Tom Hammond gave us a C+. I think he was generous. For once, I agreed with Mark May. His adjective was “uninspired”. For all the verbiage I’ve read about the passion and emotion of this team, it was sorely lacking for 50 minutes or so today.

2. Where is the offensive “vision”? We rushed for 105 yards, at a 3.1 yards per carry pace. As I said earlier today, that won’t win many games. Our “template” drive was our fifth possession in the second half. Five Clausen completions to 3 different receivers and two Allen runs averaging 5 yards per, capped with JC’s 38 yard TD pass to Golden Tate. Every play was crisp, the passes were mostly quick reads. If we do a drive like that 3 or 4 times per game instead of once, we’ll win a lot of games this year.

3. This team hasn’t yet told us why we want to be in the trenches with them. From the coaches to the players, they haven’t demonstrated to us what their raison d’etre is. Why do we want to love them? How will they make us forget Brady and the Shark? We want to believe, but they’re not playing like a team that is going to pull us in to believing. Do they believe in themselves? It’s not evident yet.

But take heart. It wasn’t pretty, but we’re still BCS eligible.

Have a good week all. Please also take pause on Thursday to remember all the great Americans who lost their lives seven years ago on September 11th.

Anonymous said...

I was unimpressed with Kamara as well. I think the receivers were lacking some fundamentals. Example: Tate was setting up the deep route all day with outs and curls, then when he hits the deep route, not even a head fake to get the corner and safety to bite! What is that about. The rest of the offense-same. Poor fundamentals!

Anonymous said...

I agree with #4 in particular. Kamara came in overweight and not ready to go. If he's not into this, then step aside. Floyd looked great on the TD. Great separation.

Anonymous said...

San Diego Irish

John Walters is ready to fire Weis and hire Skip Holtz, but more sane ND fans should take a minute and use some sane analysis of what went wrong yesterday. A team full of young players made a bunch of mistakes that young players make.
Fumbles (Allen and Hughes) dropped passes/interceptions (Kamara), and missed blocks (Rudolph among others).

You can only do so much with coaching, at some point the players need to grow up and execute.

On the bright side, ND finally has legit game breakers in Tate and Floyd and if Clausen continues to develop, and the run game improves this will be a very potent offense by this time next year if not sooner.

San Diego State (yes, I know, they lost to Cal Poly) has a history of playing tough against big time opponents--don't believe me, read all about it here:

Rebuilding a program is never fast or easy, and although Weis may not ultimately be up to the job, I wouldn't jump to that conclusion just yet. If you don't think this team has improved greatly, go back and watch some tape of last year's
early season games.

Anonymous said...

ND is in for a long season. Charley is a sad excuse for a coach. Chuck Long outcoached him, just as everyone did last year. Charley is about on par with a decent high school coach in his
4th year of coaching. He is befuddled and the team shows a total lack of preparation. It is sad to see ND becoming the laughing stock of college football.