Friday, September 10, 2010

Purdue Review and Muck Fichigan (IBG Week 2)

Her Loyal Sons hosts the Irish Blogger Gathering for this week. I've been on the road for work this week, putting in some long hours in the office, and my blogging has predictably suffered. Who the heck schedules any sort of actual work between September 1st and the Super Bowl anyway? It's anti-American in my view.

So I want to put down a few very quick thoughts on the Irish win over Purdue in Coach Brian Kelly's first game.

The Irish beat Purdue by 11 points, making the wise guys in Las Vegas look pretty darn wise. I had predicted a 14-point win, so I was pretty close. But the game was actually closer than the final score indicated. The Irish only out-gained Purdue by 36 yards (358 to 322). Each team had 20 first downs.

The things I saw that I really liked included an obviously improved ground game (Armando Allen was solid at 5.2 ypc, Cierre Wood was eye-popping at 8.3 ypc), and a generally solid bend-but-don't break defense that also managed to generate some pressure on the quarterback. Purdue's longest play from scrimmage was a 23-yard scramble by the quarterback. The longest run by a non-QB was 14 yards. The longest Boilermaker pass play was just 16 yards. The Irish sacked Marve 4 times. The final really good thing was a very solid special teams performance that contributed greatly to the Irish win in the field position battle. Notre Dame's ASFP (Average Starting Field Position) was it's own 33-yard line. Purdue's ASFP was the 22-yard line.

Dayne Crist's stat line was "fine." 19 of 26 for 205 yards, 1 TD and zero INT. I don't know how things go in your house, but in my house if my wife (or my daughter) tells me that something is "fine" that's not synonymous with "good." "Fine" is synonymous with "not at all fine, and you better figure it out and fix it mister or there's gonna be trouble later." It wasn't all on Dayne, as his receivers dropped several catchable balls. But Dayne had quite a case of Brady Quinn-itis going on, allowing his adrenaline (or something) to severely affect his accuracy. I am going to chalk it up to first-start jitters and hope there are no second-start jitters. Thank goodness for Kyle Rudolph who appears in the early going to be Crist's security blanket. Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick need to step it up against Michigan, and of course catch and hold onto the ball. Between the drops and three fumbles, the ball was on the ground way too often in game one. And a safety? Really? I trust that's the last we'll see of that.

All in all, a "good " start for the Irish in the Kelly era. Better than "fine," but not great.

Now a quick, but pithy contribution to this week's Irish Blogger Gathering

1) You've now seen Notre Dame Football: The Kelly Edition, Volume 1, Episode 1. Was it everything you thought it would be? Were characters missing from this episode that you were expecting to see featured? Did it strike you as a carbon-copy of Kelly's Cincinnati teams, or is there something discernible between the 2 programs beyond the colors of the uniforms?

It was not everything I thought it would be, as discussed above. I never felt like the passing game was truly "clicking", although the success in the running game was a bit of a surprise. I hope we'll see more from Theo Riddick this week. If he doesn't step up, opponents will shut down M. Floyd and dare you to find another way to beat them.

Was it a carbon copy of Cincinnati? Seriously? What Notre Dame fan has ever watched a Bearcats game? I haven't seen more than 5 minutes of Cincinnati highlights that I pulled off You Tube once. I only watch football that matters.

2) Pick one positive play, offense or defense, by the Irish from last Saturday that you feel serves as a bit of metaphorical foreshadowing for the 2010 Irish. Extra points if you can stretch the metaphor to fit Kelly's entire tenure at Notre Dame.

Man, you piled the words metaphorical, foreshadowing and tenure into this one question. I guess we know who the English major is.

Okay, here's your play. Score still tied 0-0 in the first quarter. The Irish have had the ball twice, punted twice. Armando Allen is the featured back and has had runs of 4, -2, 1, and 4 yards and one reception for no gain. Purdue is in Irish territory and driving, when Darrin Walls intercepts a Marve pass at the Irish 16. The Irish offense takes the field, with Cierre Wood at running back in relief of Armando Allen. On the first play of the drive, Cierre Wood takes the hand-off and slashes his way up field for 16 yards and a first down. He follows up with a 15-yard rush on the next play, and also adds another 15-yard run later in the drive. To cap the drive Armando Allen scores a TD on a nifty 22-yard drive that had a lot more energy than any of his carries before Wood entered the game.

Metaphorically, Cierre Wood's first carry was an injection of youth, energy, and talent into the the Irish offense that picked the team up and propelled it to a touchdown and, ultimately, to victory. This foreshadows the injection of youth, energy and talent in the person of Coach Kelly and the players he will bring into the Irish program.

3) Pick another play, offense or defense, by the Irish from last Saturday again, but this time, make it a negative play. Tell us how that play serves as a bit of metaphorical foreshadowing for the 2010 Irish. And again, bonus points for stretching it over Kelly's tenure.

Is it too easy to pick Michael Floyd's great catch and run, followed by his horrible fumble that cost the team a touchdown and put the outcome of the game in doubt?

That was a foreshadowing of the growing pains that we will see for much of 2010. We'll see flashes of brilliance, signs of great potential, and then we'll see flashes of failure, signs that we aren't ready to be champions yet. We saw all that on just that single painful play.

4) You know us, we're stat geeks. Give us a stat that we should be watching this season that will A) Tell us something enlightening about the 2009 Irish and/or B) Tell us something enlightening about the average Top-5 teams at the end of the 2009 season.

I love Average Starting Field Position (ASFP). It tells you a lot about the hidden yardage within a game. A team that takes care of the ball and makes few mistakes will generally win the AFSP battle, and they will usually win the game. Against Purdue, as noted above, the Irish won the ASFP battle by 11 yards (the 33 versus the 22 yard line). That's a fairly sizable margin, and that's why the Irish won by 11 points even though we barely out-gained the Boilers and both teams had 20 first downs. Turnovers is arguably the most important stat in football, and special teams play is the most under-appreciated. ASFP usually reflects a team's performance in both these important areas.

5) Notre Dame is currently a 4 point favorite in the coming Michigan game. You get 3 points for being at home. The AP poll actually ranks Michigan higher than ND. ND is 1-4-1 in the last 6 games with Michigan in which the Irish were favored and 9 and 6 in the last 15 games in which Michigan was favored. Does any of this worry you? Why or why not?

Let's see. Last November, with Irish QB Jimmy Clausen passing for 329 yards, UConn beat Notre Dame 33-30 in double OT in Notre Dame Stadium. One week ago, Michigan whipped UConn 30-10. So therefore Notre Dame is favored to beat Michigan this week by 4 behind a young QB making his second start.

Makes. No. Sense.

I'd prefer to be the underdog against UM any time. But I doubt that Coach Kelly is going to let the boys be over confident going into this game.

6) Last week, Frank at UHND put the Gathering on the spot with our predictions for the season. After week 1, are there any of those predictions that you'd like to alter? Any upon which you'd double down?

Clearly I was giving the Big East and Pittsburgh too much credit. I had Pitt ending the season as the highest-ranked Irish opponent, and I had their running back Dion Lewis winning the Heisman. Pitt has serious QB problems, which allowed Utah to just pack the box against them and stuff Dion Lewis. Lewis is in for a long season.

7) Describe in no fewer than 30 words why you hate Michigan.

Over the summer there was much discussion about a major re-alignment of college football, and many felt that Notre Dame could not survive as a relevant, national football power if it remained independent. So-called experts have repeatedly opined that it was obvious that Notre Dame should join the Big Ten. What most commentators fail to understand is that Notre Dame is independent for one reason, and one reason only: The University of Michigan, under a succession of football coaches and athletic directors, led a conspiracy fueled by anti-Catholic bigotry and jealousy which aimed to keep Notre Dame out of the Western Conference (forerunner of the Big Ten) and to discredit Notre Dame as a University and as a football program. Notre Dame became an independent and America's college football team playing coast-to-coast because the other universities in its own back yard refused to respect them enough to put them on the schedule. Given the long and inglorious history of despicable treatment of Notre Dame by the members of the Big Ten generally and Michigan particularly, Notre Dame should not EVER consider joining the Big Ten until the members of that conference issue a formal, public apology to Our Lady's University.

More on the ugly history of Michigan's treatment of Notre Dame can be found here:

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