Monday, November 26, 2007

Notre Dame - Stanford: Wrapup

On Saturday afternoon against Stanford, the Irish mercifully concluded the 2007 campaign by beating the Cardinal. In many ways, this game epitomized the season for the Irish -- sloppy at times, inconsistent, but with fashes of promise. Here are my thoughts:

1. This was not a great game for Jimmy Clausen. I was really hoping he would have 1 game before the season ended where he put it all together and showed for 60 minutes the tremendous promise he has. This was not that game. Jimmy was again harassed by blitzes all day and that played a factor as well. His INT in the second half while being sacked should not happen. That is just a young player who needs to know better than to try to throw that ball. I also think that once Jimmy gets healthy, his deep ball will look a lot better than it looked against Stanford. Nevertheless, Jimmy did plenty of good things as well and he is really developing some good chemistry with Duval. As always, I like the fire, passion, and intensity that Jimmy brings to the table.

2. Robert Hughes had a solid game. He really is a load to bring down once he gets churning. I am still not ready to toss James Aldridge aside, but Robert may be more ready to be "the guy" than I previously thought. Wait till you guys see more of Robert catching the ball out of the backfield. We are tempted to pigeon hole guys and says that because Armando is small and fast, he is our best screen pass back. Generally, that may be true, but I think you will see Robert do an awful lot of damage catching passes in the future.

3. It was a better day for the Irish WRs. I want to give some credit to the much maligned David Grimes. That catch he made laying out for the TD (any yes it most certainly was a catch depite the blind men in the replay booth) was a thing of beauty. It doesn't get much better than that catch. Duval is going to be a big-time WR playing with Jimmy. More and more, I am starting to believe that this is a critical spring for Robbie Parris. Parris has a lot of talent, but his inconsistency has cost him. I think he better take a significant step forward in the spring because he has some extremely talented freshmen showing up in the fall.

4. At some point, this offense has to take the step forward and show that we can handle the blitz. All year (and you can even argue that we didn't do a good job against the blitz last year) the Irish have been really hurt by blitzing teams. Right now, the Irish do 2 things against blitzing teams -- run misdirection and throw deep fly patterns. There is nothing wrong with either of those, but it isn't enough. The deep pass is just not high percentage enough and the run blocking of the line is not consistent enough to keep you out of negative yardage plays consistently. At some point (likely when Jimmy advances to the stage where he can check into and out of certain plays at the line of scrimmage) the Irish need to develop a quick passing game to beat back the blitz. I am not sure why the Irish did not run more slants with someone like Duval against the blitz.

5. The O line was, as it has been all year, inconsistent. It is maddening at times. The effort was fine against Stanford but the same inconsistency we have seen from the line all year showed up again. Without naming names, guys have to bring it physically AND mentally every down, and if they can't do that, then they should not be every down players.

6. Trevor Laws was...well... Trevor Laws. Meaning an unblockable, determined, high motor, productive terror on the football field. Trevor is far and away the MVP of this team and should be an All American. Thank you Trevor for an incredible season. It was truly a pleasure to watch this kid play the game this year.

7. The Irish LBs have a long long way to go. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal are phenomenal prospects and they are really fun to watch. However, the Irish need a lot more productivity out of the guys in the middle. Way too many missed tackles and way too many lost contains against Stanford.

8. Darrin Walls is about ready to burst on the scene. The light appears to be going on for him. He is playing with a lot more physicality, energy, and passion. He is well on his way to becoming the lockdown corner the Irish have desperately needed in recent years. I still wonder what he would look like as a regular kick returner. Hmmmmmm.

9. Terrail Lambert - I really like the kid as a player, but that hit he put on the Stanford QB was dangerous and clearly helmet to helmet. You are better than that Terrail.

10. Jim Harbaugh - You are retired. The game is not all about you anymore. Your sideline antics of jumping up and down and throwing your headset and drawing attention to yourself are embarrassing. Grow up. Your antics do nothing for you and they certainly don't help your team. Putting in a QB who has clearly suffered a head injury is irresponsible and dangerous and if I was a parent of a recruit watching that, it would make me think long and hard about sending my child to play for you.

11. David Bruton is going to be a monster next year. I really think that between this year and next year he is going to take the same step forward that Trevor Laws took from last season to this one. I believe David will be a captain next year.

12. Kicking - It has gotten to the point where I have to look away when we attempt any kick, even extra points. I am still not ready to give up on a kid like Brandon Walker though. If you follow the practice reports, he is pretty good in practice. It is simply not translating into the games right now. That tells me that it is a mental issue, not an ability issue.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

IrishGlory Q&A

I wanted to take some time before the Thanksgiving holiday to address some questions I have received:

1. Q: What do you think of Charlie Weis going back to New England after the season? Tom Pagna thinks it is a bad idea.

A: Thank you for the question. I think it is a great idea, regardless of what Tom Pagna says. After a season as difficult as this one, a good head coach needs to sit down, break down the entire program, and decide what is working well and what is not working well. The most important aspect of this process is honesty. A coach needs to hear it all in plain, brutally honest terms -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. To really have a meaningful impact, a coach needs to engage in this process with the people that know his schemes the best, the people whose judgments and counsel he trusts, and the people who know the coach well enough to hit him between the eyes with the things they believe he has done wrong. For Charlie, those people are located in New England. How could this be a bad thing? I have heard a few frequent criticisms:
1. These are NFL people and Charlie already runs the Irish program too much like an NFL organization. RESPONSE - Part of the evaluation process Charlie needs to undertake deals with scheme and personnel evaluation. I don't think there is any place I would rather have my coach go right now than to New England for any type of scheme or personnel evaluation. As an aside, take a look at the resumes of several of the New England coaches. I think you will find quite a bit of college coaching experience on their staff.
2. From Tom Pagna, he would prefer Charlie engage in this process with his current staff of coaches, not the New England coaches. RESPONSE - I don't get it. Sometimes it just seems like guys like Pagna are looking to make issues where they don't exist. Do you really think that after the season is over Charlie won't sit down with his entire staff and go through this analysis??? I don't see why the 2 are mutually exclusive. How does Mr. Pagna make the assumption that because Charlie will be going to New England to break down the season that he also won't be doing the same thing with his staff in South Bend????
Long answer to a short question, but I think it is a great idea and the Irish program will be better for it.

2. Q: After Clausen threw the TD pass to Grimes, it looked like everyone congratulated Grimes and no one congratulated Clausen. Also, when Clausen gets sacked, no one seems to help him up. Do you think Clausen's teammates don't like him?

A: I respect this question because I also see what you are talking about, but I believe it is overblown. In the game of football, you have to earn guys' respect and that is very hard to do for a freshman, especially when you come in with the hype Jimmy had. Jimmy will never be just another freshman, or just a guy on the team. I think as Jimmy grows and develops and shows what he can do on and off the field, these issues will go away. From what I gather, Jimmy's personality is very different than the prima donna he is often accused of being. Sometimes it takes a while, and in some cases it takes older guys graduating, for those perceptions to go away and people to see what type of person, player, and leader a kid is. Coaches have to walk a fine line here. On the one hand, a coach needs to let his team know that it is not acceptable to let your QB get beaten up like that and not protected. On the other hand, a coach needs to avoid the appearance that the QB is his pet and needs to be defended. I think Coach Weis has handled this situation fine and I fully believe this will become a non-issue very shortly.

3. Q: You seem like a positive person when talking about the team and the program. What is your biggest concern going into next season?

A: Thank you for that, it made me smile. If you could see me watching the games on Saturday, I think you might change your opinion slightly because I am like most Irish fans and want to put my foot through the screen sometimes. I have several concerns for next season, but let me highlight 3 big ones:
1. Inside Linebacker Play - I think when Coach Weis and Corwin evaluate the defense this year, they will see that ILB play really hurt the defense at times. Mo Crum and Joe Brockington both played hard, but are athletically limited in my view and really struggled getting off blocks and getting to the outside. Brockington will be gone, but I think Crum will return. The Irish really need an infusion of athleticism and strength at ILB. The incoming freshmen should provide that, but in this defense, you need your ILB to really quarterback the defense with calls. In that sense, I think it will be very very difficult to take Mo Crum off the field next year. The best situation for the Irish will be if the light goes on for Toryan Smith.
2. Replacing Trevor Laws - Trevor has been the heart and soul of this defense and has really covered up a lot of deficiencies along the D line. Replacing him is a huge concern.
3. Special teams - special teams have been a disaster for seemingly the last decade. I have not seen many improvements and therefore have difficulty expecting improvement next season. With the schedule the Irish play year in and year out, they need solid special teams.

4. Q: You suck! When are you going to stop making excuses for Charlie Weis and accept that he is not going to get it done?

A: I guess this gets filed under the heading of "You take the good with the bad." :) I make no apologies for what I believe and stand behind what I have written. This is still the same head coach that took this program to 2 BCS games in his first 2 seasons. Don't forget that.

5. Q: With Hughes' performance last week, does ND have a RB controversy next season?

A: No. First of all, all 3 of those guys (Aldridge, Allen, and Hughes) are extremely close and will not allow that to happen. Second, I believe there are enough carries over the course of the season for all of those guys. As Charlie alluded to this week, I believe there will always be a place in the gameplan for Armando. I think Armando will always have his 10-15 touches worked into the gameplan. I think the battle for carries will be between James and Robert. With both being punishing runners, the Irish will need both of these guys. I also see differences in style between James and Robert. I firmly believe all 3 will see significant action. If you want to pinpoint who will get more playing time, I think a critical factor will be in the spring and fall, who emerges as the most reliable blitz pickup guy. That will be a separator.

Thank you all again for the questions. With this week being Thanksgiving, I would also like to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving. I am very thankful that folks like you take time out of your busy lives to read my thoughts and my blog and correspond with me. I truly enjoy getting emails from folks and love talking football. Thank you, Happy Thanksgiving, and GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Monday, November 19, 2007

Notre Dame - Duke: The Wrapup

It really feels good to be writing this after a win. Having watched the tape, there is plenty of material for me to comment on:

1. Jimmy is developing quickly. A few things really stood out to me:
Arm strength - For those who complained earlier in the year that Jimmy doesn't have a strong arm, watch this game. Take a look at the TD toss to Grimes. Take a look at the TD toss to Duval while running forward. Then go out in your backyard and try to throw a football that distance, that accurately, while running forward.
Pocket awareness - Jimmy is beginning to believe that his protection will be there. As a result, he is stepping into more of his throws and not throwing so much off his back foot.
Field awareness - Jimmy is being smart about down and distance. He is not taking the costly sacks that he was earlier and he is even scrambling a little to gain some yardage.
Leadership - Jimmy is a fiery competitor and we see that on the field now. As he gains more experience and more "pelts on the wall" as Parcells used to say, I expect him to really take ownership of this offense. I believe that starting next year, you will see more of Jimmy's personality permeate through the offense.
Jimmy still has a long way to go, but you have to be excited about his performance and potential. Some have asked about whether the older guys like/respect Jimmy. Freshmen aren't given things at ND. They have to earn them. You know how you earn respect from your teammates? You throw 6 TDs and 0 INTs the last 2 weeks. More than that, you find a way to get your 5th year senior and captain TE a TD on Senior Day. That is what guys respect.

2. I am really excited about our RBs. Hughes had a great day, which was good to see on a number of levels. I know a lot of ND fans are jumping on the Hughes bandwagon now and discarding Aldridge. Not so fast. When healthy, James can and will be a key member of this offense. Armando Allen may be our speed back, but he is a really physical runner. He is not, by any means, a scat back. Ok, brace yourself, I am about to get in trouble again. I have gotten more comments than I can count this year about how this coaching staff doesn't develop players. I vehemently disagree and now I can give you another concrete example. For those who hold that view, do yourself a favor. Go pop in the tape of one of the first 2 or 3 games this season. Focus on the RBs picking up the blitz. It will be ugly. Now pop in the tape of the Duke game. Look at the RBs again. Night and day. Not even close. That, folks, is development. Blitz pickup is one of the toughest skills for young players to get. Mike Haywood, in particular, has done a phenomenal job with our backs this year and deserves some kudos for it.

3. WR play still bothers me. Way too many drops, too many lapses in concentration. Duval is already our #1 receiver and he is going to be our lead dog for a long time to come. You can see the confidence Jimmy has in him. However, all our WRs really need to improve their technique. Duval does the best job of using his body, but even he still needs work in that area. Robbie Parris is a big guy, but he just doesn't use his body well. That is why you see so many small CBs able to break up passes to him. There is also no excuse for the continued drops.

4. The O line had an improved game against Duke. I don't like the penalties at all, but there seemed to be more cohesiveness. Chris Stewart is a fun player to watch. He is one of those guys that just makes you smile and teases you with his potential. If he can improve his pass blocking, which is extremely poor right now, watch out. Dan Wenger looked like a totally different player at C. I never really saw the nastiness and potential that others saw from Wenger when he played guard, but when he was at C on Sat., his attitude and play just jumped off the screen.

5. Thank you Trevor Laws for a great season and for showing the next generation of Irish defenders how you go about your business and how you play if you want to be an All-American.

6. Kerry Neal and Brian Smith - Again, 2 guys just growing up in front of you. Brian Smith's fire is just contagious. They are still out of position too often, but they have the athletic ability to still make plays.

7. Mo Crum in particular, and the defense in general (minus Trevor) really need to make dramatic strides in the offseason on their tackling. Right now, you have to say that this is an extremely poor tackling team.

8. As I watched Tommy Zbikowski this year, and in this game in particular it stood out to me for some reason, it struck me that I am not at all sure that he really is a defensive player. He has never really looked natural at safety and his coverage skills are average. I really wonder what he would have looked like as an offensive player, used as sort of a mix between a guy like Chad Hall of Air Force and Wes Welker of New England. I don't have the answer to that, but it just made me wonder. Makes for an interesting debate I guess.

9. Penalties - 11 penalties is simply unacceptable. I watched the tape and reviewed all 11. You can say that some of them were borderline, specifically the Carlson celebration penalty, but the bottom line is the Irish took 11 penalties. Lack of concentration and lack of execution as manifested by the penalties, mental mistakes, and dropped passes are really what is keeping this Irish team from moving forward. It is not talent. Sure, teams like Michigan and USC out-talented the Irish. But the winnable games that we have lost like Navy and Air Force come down to the fact that those teams execute at an extremely high level and the Irish simply do not right now. By next season, I expect the execution issues to be significantly improved.

10. A win is a win. Please allow yourself to enjoy a win. I have read several boards and blogs this weekend, and there are people who just seem intent on pounding away at the negatives. I think that is just sad. Look, we all know this team is not a good team right now. We all know they made a ton of mistakes against Duke. We all know that drastic improvement is needed in any number of areas. However, the Irish won a game. I just suggest that people take a step back and allow themselves to be happy, even if it is just for a day. There is plenty of time to highlight problems. On the day you win a game, just enjoy it. I recently watched an interview with Joe Torre, former Yankees manager. Torre was asked what his biggest regret was in regards to his relationship with George Steinbrenner. Torre answered that he wished Steinbrenner allowed himself to enjoy the victories, enjoy the successes even a little. Instead, Torre said that Steinbrenner never allowed himself to be happy and was always finding problems and pushing buttons. Let's not be that way. Let's be realistic, see this Irish team and program for what it is right now, and have some fun talking Irish football.

I look forward to reading your comments!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

IrishGlory Q&A

I want to address some questions I received this week from readers:

1. Q: Do you actually think the O line is actually giving up plays just so the QB can get hit? I wonder? They sure don't take up for him with the cheap shots he's been getting lately.

A: This is a popular question I have heard an awful lot. I will answer it as directly as I can. I do not see any way in which any member of this football team, offensive line or otherwise, has deliberately missed a play on the field. I simply do not believe it has happened. The line has performed poorly this year, no question. At times, I think some players have not played with the intensity that is needed. However, I have never seen any evidence that anyone has deliberately missed blocks so as to get a teammate hit or injured. Let's face it, football is a violent game. Every player who straps on the pads knows that on any given play, on any given hit, a player can suffer a catastrophic injury. I refuse to believe that any member of the Notre Dame football team, knowing that, would deliberately subject a teammate to that kind of risk. Having said that, I do not believe this team has shown the cohesiveness that is needed. I have likewise been infuriated by the refusal to stick up for one another. Those are things that must change. I just refuse to make the leap from that to believing players deliberately make mistakes. I know those rumors are out there, but I believe they are utterly baseless.

2. Q: IG,In your opinion,out of all the commits,which ones will be immediate impact players?

A. Notre Dame currently has 21 players verbally committed in this recruiting class. I think a number of those guys have the chance to see the field next year. It depends on how you define "impact player." To give some context as to how I am using the term in answering the question, from the current freshman class, I would consider Armando Allen, Jimmy Clausen, Duval Kamara, Brian Smith, and Kerry Neal as "impact players." They have all made significant contributions and have seen extensive playing time. Other guys like Mike Ragone and Robert Hughes have played, but I would not consider them to have made a huge impact on this season. Does that distinction make sense? As I look at ND's current verbals, 5 guys jump out at me as potential impact players for next year:

Sean Cwynar - ND is losing a couple of D linemen and rumors are Cwynar may enroll early. He has the frame and motor to contribute early at DE

Steven Filer - The Irish will have a need for depth at ILB next year and I think Filer can play early.

Michael Floyd - Floyd is very polished as a receiver and route runner. I do not believe he starts immediately, but he will be an impact player before the end of next season

Omar Hunter - He is simply too talented to keep off the field. I believe Kuntz will slide over to DE next year and take Trevor's spot. I think Ian Williams will start at NG and Omar will provide quality snaps behind Ian.

Kyle Rudolph - Mike Ragone and Will Yeatman will be the only returning TEs on the roster. I think there is an excellent chance for Kyle Rudolph to come in and make an impact, specifically by stretching the field from the TE position.

3. Q: IG, what do you think Charlie will do differently in the spring and in training camp?

A: Good question. Honestly, from what I am hearing, he is going to make things as unpleasant as possible. I believe workouts and practices will be physical and Charlie has said he plans to be more vocal. I do not believe intensity will be a problem. The young guys on this team are really hungry to turn this thing around. Besides, they are not blind, they see the rankings of this incoming recruiting class. They know that Coach Weis is not afraid to play a freshman if he is the best man for the job. Bottom line is Coach Weis knows that this team right now is soft and mentally fragile. He knows he needs to really toughen this team up, both mentally and physically. As much as anything else, he knows there needs to be a mentality change.

4. Q: IG, what do you make of the people coming out publicly saying Charlie is an ogre and is arrogant?

A: I wonder where they have been the last 2 years when Charlie was leading this program to back to back BCS bowls. It is amazing how someone's perceived "flaws" are discussed a lot more when you are losing. I have watched just about every one of Charlie's press conferences and I have watched how he interacts with the press, alums, and fans alike. To be honest with you, I have always found him to be refreshingly honest and candid. Can he be arrogant? Sure. Most successful football coaches are. Given the choice, I would much rather a confident coach than one who is afraid of pressure or publicly flogs himself for every decision he wishes he had made differently. One last point on this -- I find it very interesting that the individual(s) lodging these complaints have never even met Coach Weis. Seems that those who have worked with or played for Coach Weis have a very different opinion.


That's all for this week. Please feel free to share your comments in the comments or chat section Please keep the questions coming!!!!!!!! Send to:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Moving Forward

I have decided not to write up a recap of the Notre Dame-Air Force game from this past weekend. I thought about it and I just didn't see what would be gained by writing that. The issues that manifested themselves against Air Force are the same issues we have been talking and writing about all season. Instead, I am going to go against the grain of many of the other ND sites I have seen and talk about the future, moving forward. What do we have? What do we need?

What the Irish Have:

1. A Quarterback - I have said it since the beginning of the season. Jimmy is the present and future at QB for the Irish. There will certainly be bumps along the way, as there are for every freshman QB, but he has the talent, poise, and leadership ability that you need from the QB position. What excites me most is his leadership ability. Jimmy is a fiery competitor who will not accept losing. In the offseason, however, expect Jimmy to assert himself. I firmly believe that by this time next year, #7 will be firmly entrenched as the offensive leader of this team.

2. Talent at the Offensive Skill Positions - With Aldridge, Allen, and Hughes at RB and Kamara, Parris, and Tate at WR and Ragone and Yeatman at TE, the Irish have plenty of skill position talent to compete, and more is on the way with this recruiting class.

3. Exciting Young Outside Linebackers - The future is exceptionally bright for Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. As Coach Weis has said, the arrow is pointing straight up for those guys. I believe Kerry Neal is the better pure athlete of the two, but I love the passion Brian Smith brings to the game. I will predict here and now that Brian Smith is an Irish captain before his career is over.

4. Talent and Speed in the Secondary - Irish fans have been pretty critical of Bill Lewis and the Irish secondary and to be honest, I think it is largely unwarranted. Every secondary gets beaten occasionally. The Irish pass rush has been inconsistent (to be kind) and that makes issues look worse than they really are. Darrin Walls, Terrail Lambert, and Raeshon McNeil are a great foundation at CB. David Bruton will likely enter next season as a defensive captain and there will be quite a battle for the other safety spot.

5. A Very Good Head Coach - This is the one I know I will take heat for. Coach Weis has made mistakes this year. If you asked him, he would tell you that himself. However, he is still the same guy that led the Irish to 2 BCS games in his first 2 years. He did not forget how to coach. I do believe that Coach Weis has learned more this year than in any of his previous years in coaching. Coach Weis will continue to improve and develop, will continue to dominate on the recruiting trail, will make the necessary changes both in style, staff, and scheme, and will bring the Irish back.

What the Irish Need:

1. Leadership/Unity from Players - The Irish desperately need some guys to step forward, take the bull by the horns, and assume the leadership mantle that has been largely vacant all year. The coaching staff can yell and scream and demand accountability from players, but this thing won't get turned around until some players step up and demand accountability from each other. Too often, it seems that Irish players view their performances in a silo. They worry about taking care of their own responsibilities and figure that it is up to the other guys to worry about their performances. The players on this team need to demand excellence not only from themselves (first and foremost), but also from their brothers. The O line is the perfect example. I like Sam Young. I like Mike Turkovich. I like Eric Olsen. However the O line is a position that demands teamwork, chemistry, cohesiveness. If 4 guys do their job, and 1 guy makes a mental error, the whole play could fail. It can no longer be acceptable for players to be satisfied if they carried out their responsibilities. Think back to a guy like Jeff Faine. Other members of the line that played with Jeff would tell you they feared the guy. They didn't want to let him down. They knew if they screwed up, it wasn't just a coach that would be in their face, they would have to answer to Jeff. The Irish need 2 or 3 of those type of guys to step up on each side of the ball. What gives me hope is that I see potential candidates. The possibilities I see are: Dan Wenger, Jimmy Clausen, Eric Olsen on offense and Pat Kuntz, Brian Smith, and David Bruton on defense.

2. Improved Special Teams - Like it or not, the Irish will still be fairly young next year. With the schedule ND plays year in and year out, special teams has to be a rock that you can depend on. It hasn't been for quite some time. That must change.

3. Attitude Adjustment - I can't sugarcoat this. I do not like the attitude of this Irish team. They are passive. They don't stand up for one another. They wait for things to come to them rather than taking the fight to the other team. And finally, after this draining season, they look mentally defeated to me. The Irish need to come back next year with a different mindset. They cannot allow teams to take liberties with their QB, they cannot hang their head after 1 bad play, they cannot tiptoe to the play and hope they don't make a mistake. Simply, they cannot accept that the ways things have been is the way things will continue to be. They need to take ownership of this program.

4. Consistent Running Game - This goes without saying. So much of the history of the Irish football program is tied to a dominant running game. While I always want a balanced attack, this team will not tap its potential until they develop a dominant running attack. The Irish have the RBs. They should have the O Line with progress. Now they need the punishing mindset and the commitment from Coach Weis in his playcalling to bring back a punishing rushing attack. This doesn't mean we need to run the ball 50 times a game. What I want to see is a team that can run the ball when it wants to and when it needs to. I want to see a team that on 3rd and 3 or less can call a running play and KNOW that they can make the yardage.

5. Infusion of Talent and Numbers - The Irish need to sign the currently committed recruits and land a few more. Plain and simple.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 9, 2007

IrishGlory Q&A

I wanted to address some questions I have received this week:

1. Q: What do you think of the decision to start Jimmy Clausen?

A: If Jimmy is healthy, and that is a big if, then it is absolutely the right decision. At this point, I think Jimmy's hip and other bruises are more of an impediment than his arm. I think his arm has benefited the most from not starting. Coach Weis has made the decision that Jimmy is healthy enough to go and I am anxious to see him play. It is plainly obvious that Jimmy is the present and future of this team. What Coach Weis is hoping by making the move now is that the Irish can win a few games down the stretch this season, which will give Jimmy confidence, and help guys rally around Jimmy a little bit. The offseason will be a lot brighter if the team and fans go through it feeling pretty confident that our QB position is in good hands. If Jimmy can play well and win, it will also help him become more of a leader in the offseason.

2. Q: I can't believe the Irish lost to Navy! Do you see any way they can beat Air Force?

A: Yes, I do. I read a lot of people talking about Navy and Air Force as if they are the same team. They are not. Air Force is not as punishing on the ground as Navy, but they throw the ball better. I also believe Air Force has a better defense. Here are my keys to the game. If the Irish are going to win, they need to, at a minimum, do these two things:
1. Win the first quarter, get a lead
2. Run the football
You can mark it down now. If the Irish get down in this game early, or struggle to run the ball, this could get ugly. Real ugly. The reason I say that is because Air Force has a much better pass rush than Navy, to the tune of 3 times as many sacks. I believe the Irish are a mentally fragile team and if they get down early or can't run, Air Force will move in for the kill.

3. Q: Ian Williams looked good against Navy after Pat Kuntz got hurt. Do you think Williams will beat out Kuntz and be the starter next year?

A: Coach Weis was asked a similar questions about Ian this past week. What I expect to happen is that in the 3-4 alignment next year, you will see Kuntz shift outside to Trevor Laws' spot and Ian play NG. If Justin Brown comes back for a 5th year, I think that is your starting D Line. In the 4-3 alignment (which the Irish play a lot more than people think), I believe Kuntz will slide inside and play with Williams at DT, while a guy like Kerry Neal and/or Mo Richardson will slide down and play DE. Incoming freshmen can also work their way into the mix as well.

4. Q: Who is the most important remaining recruit for the Irish?

A: In my opinion, it is Trevor Robinson, OL from Nebraska. Trevor is a kid that the Irish staff identified and targeted from the very beginning of this recruiting cycle. They really like his size and the attitude he plays with. Trevor committed to Nebraska earlier this season, but has since re-opened his recruitment. I believe the Irish are in his top 2 with Nebraska. There are a lot of rumors floating around, but I think we should see how the Nebraska situation plays out. Trevor can play either guard or tackle at the next level, though personally I see him more as a guard.


That's all for this week. Please feel free to share your comments in the comments or chat section Please keep the questions coming!!!!!!!! Send to:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bunker Mentality

This week, Coach Weis made the decision to limit the availability of players and assistant coaches (except coordinators) to the media. My reaction??? GREAT MOVE. There is simply nothing left to say.

What is to be gained by continuing to expose yourself, your players, and your coaches to the endless barrage of repetitively negative questions from the media?

Do we really need to hear the media ask John Carlson and Trevor Laws AGAIN if they feel they made the right decision in coming back?

Coach Weis is doing exactly the right thing with this move. He is closing up ranks and focusing on what really matters at this point - his coaches and his players. There is enough negativity within a program when you are 1-8. You do not need to add to that mindset by subjecting your coaches and players to the same negative questions over and over again. There is also something to be said for closing up ranks and sending the message to your team that the only folks that matter are the guys in that locker room.

Weis has given the media more access to himself and the team than they probably deserved at this point. Case in point: After the USC game, Coach Weis thoughtfully answered a question by stating that teams should have their fun at the Irish's expense now. Personally, I thought this was a phenomenal answer. At once, it sent a message to the team, to recruits, and to the fan base that their leader had not lost his confidence and was willing to take a stand for them. Nevertheless, Weis was again criticized for his supposed "arrogance" and not having the "proper amount of humity." How can you possibly expect players not to quit and not to lose their confidence if he had answered any other way? What reaction would it have caused among the players if Weis had bowed his head, showed "humility," and said, "Yeah we are awful right now, this season has been awful, and I just hope that next year will be better than this year???"

The time for talking is long past. There is nothing that Coach Weis, or an assistant coach, or a player could say right now that will change the way this season has gone or will help earn a victory over Air Force. It is time to continue to work hard, to continue to stand together as a football program, and to go defend your home turf against a tough Air Force opponent. I agree that Coach Weis has made mistakes this year. He has acknowledged that. However, he is still the same guy that took ND to 2 consecutive BCS games. He did not forget how to coach overnight.

The question I get asked over and over is whether Coach Weis has lost this team, whether the team has quit. The most honest answer I can give is this: When you are 1-8, there are certainly guys who have become so disillusioned that they give in. However, the majority of this team is still in the bunker with Coach Weis, still hungry for a victory, still with enough pride and desire to go out and give 110% every weekend. How do I know? I will give you a clue -- it has nothing to do with what anyone says to the media in response to questions. It has everything to do with what I see with my own 2 eyes:

I see every single member of the team rush to congratulate a grief-stricken Robert Hughes.

I see an unselfish guy like Travis Thomas never once show with his body language that he is anything less than a great teammate.

I see Trevor Laws laying it all on the line every single game, every single play.

I see Pat Kuntz after suffering an injury against Navy begging to go back in the game, getting popped on the side of the head by an assistant coach because he is so fired up on the sideline.

I see 2 QBs in Evan and Jimmy who could easily have become divided by the so-called QB controversy and constant media obsession who talk after every series, learning together and growing together.

Because of what I see, I know that better days are ahead. And those better days just might start this week, the week the Irish stopped talking about what it takes to win and starting doing it. I am just as fired up for this Air Force game as I was for Georgia Tech. It is time to go win a football game. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Notre Dame - Navy: The Aftermath

Another Monday morning coming off another Notre Dame loss. I have lots of thoughts and lots to say, especially after watching the game a second time on tape. I suspect that many of my thoughts this week will spark some serious questions and debate, which is good. I look forward to reading your comments, questions, and opinions. With that said, here are my thoughts:

1. Charlie Weis is the head coach of this football team. He is also the guy who runs the offense. Neither one of those statements are likely to change any time soon, and that is a good thing. I have read several message boards this weekend and have read lots of comments about how Charlie needs to give up the offense or hire a new offensive coordinator. In my view, this is ridiculous. Folks, this is the same guy who created an all-time explosive offense in his first year, and who led us to BCS bowls in both of his first 2 years. Like everyone else, I scratched my head at some of the play calls on Saturday. We did not lose this game because of playcalling. Not by a long stretch. Are there changes that need to be made in the offseason? Absolutely. I suspect they will certainly be made. One of those changes will not be, nor should it be, a change in the offensive playcaller.

2. Before I talk about individual positions and components in this game, my overriding thought when watching the tape was, "These guys simply do not know how to put a team away." We can talk all we want about breakdowns and playcalls, etc. To me, one of the biggest missed opportunities of the game occurred right at the beginning. ND had a lead. Navy turned the ball over. ND had a GOLDEN opportunity to score again and go up 2 scores. Navy was reeling, taking uncharacteristic penalties. We did not take advantage. A veteran team that knows how to win would have put their foot on the opponent's throat there and found a way to score. We didn't, and the reactions I saw from our players suggested they did not realize how important that score would be. They looked happy to be leading in the game, not pissed off that they could have buried a team early. That is the difference between a veteran, winning team and a team dominated by young guys who are just hoping not to screw up.

3. Evan Sharpley: I hate to come off like an "I told you so." That is not my intention at all. Evan did not lose this game for the Irish, but he also did not play winning football. I like Evan -- I like his leadership, his tenacity, and his never give up attitude. But as I have said before, Evan is a flawed QB. It is why he will likely always be a solid backup college QB. The accuracy issues I have discussed previously were pronounced on Sat. There were several opportunities to make plays in the passing game on Sat. and the kid just couldn't put the ball where it needed to be. His inability to instinctively feel the rush and protect the football really hurt on the fumble and subsequent TD. I like Evan, but he is simply not the guy who is going to lead ND where we need to go. I will say it again -- when Jimmy gets healthy, when Jimmy gets stronger, and when Jimmy gets a line that can protect and open holes in the running game, Jimmy will take that job and he will not give it up.

4. Hats off to Armando Allen and James Aldridge. They ran hard, and protected the football. I have read a lot of comments about how Armando needs to be the starter. I disagree. Just because James is not as fast or as likely to take it to the house does not mean he is not valuable. Armando is perfect in the role he was used in on Saturday. I strongly suspect Armando would lose a great deal of his effectiveness, not to mention get beaten up physically, if you tried to turn him into a 30-35 carry back in this offense. I am a big James Aldridge fan, and I think the distribution of work Sat. gave a nice glimpse into the future. Next, I would love to see Armando become more of a weapon in the passing game. That will come.

5. Our receivers are a microcosm of the team -- talented, inexperienced, and maddeningly inconsistent. Duval Kamara is going to be a great one. The guy who frustrated me on Saturday was Robbie Parris. As has been the case all year, his concentration just seems to come and go. Some games, some series, he is phenomenal. Other games, like Saturday, you wonder where his head is at. This game was ripe for Robbie Parris to break out. He was matched up against a 5 foot something 3rd string CB. Granted there were not many passes called, but even when he got a chance, he just seemed to float through the play rather than grasping the brass ring that was right in front of him. The jump ball in the end zone is a perfect example. The ball was catchable, he had a huge size advantage, but he just didn't make the play. Frustrating.

6. O Line - They were decent. That is the best way to describe their performance. They had probably 2-3 breakdowns from my notes, but they were costly breakdowns. This game, unlike some others, was not lost because of O line play. The usual suspects continued to struggle, but let me single out Eric Olsen. I know he had a costly penalty, but if you want a nasty O line, it starts with him. He is probably the least physically gifted of any lineman we are starting this year. However, he makes up for it by just getting after guys. I love his attitude. I can't tell you how many times I saw him on running plays downfield pounding on people. Now if only we had a few more guys who were joining him. Mike Turkovich also played really hard. What Sat. showed me is that Turk is a man blocker. Give him the job to get after the guy in front of him and he will maul the guy all day long. Where he really struggles is when he is asked to zone block or read and pick up a blitzer.

7. While this was a team loss, I am placing heavy blame on our defensive performance. The D line was devastated by the loss of Pat Kuntz. Ian Williams played admirably, but asking him to play that many snaps and get cut blocked all day long was too much. The defense also missed Kuntz's fire and his passion on the field.

8. The LB play in this game was abysmal. There is no other way to describe it. It was awful and painful to watch. Brian Smith is one of my favorite players, and I am not singling him out by any means, but he had a tough day at the office. I suspect he has never seen the triple option run as fast and as efficiently as Navy runs it. He really struggled. All of our LBs just could not shed blocks. How does that happen???? When they did shed blocks, man did they look slow getting to the outside. They could not get to the edge on the pitch and got beaten outside all day long. This had a domino effect. Because Charlie and Corwin could not depend on the LBs getting to the outside on the pitch, they had to take gambles and fire a CB like Darrin Walls in to take the pitch. The domino effect is that this leaves the Navy WR running free with only safety coverage. A smart offensive mind like Paul Johnson realized this and made the Irish pay.

9. Playcalling - A lot of people have complained about a few play calls this week. Let me weigh in with my thoughts:
4th and 15 fake field goal (1st quarter) - I have read Charlie's explanation and I am still scratching my head. Evan Sharpley is on the ground as the holder. Asking a guy to take the snap as a holder, get up, and scramble 15 yards seems bizarre.

Not kicking the field goal (4th quarter) - This is the biggie that has people up in arms. I understand exactly why Charlie didn't kick it. It doesn't mean I agree. I think you need to give your team a chance in that spot. Going to OT with a Navy team whose offense only has to go 25 yards puts you at a distinct disadvantage. I think you have to go for the win. Actually, I might have even considered going for 2 instead of 1 when we scored the tying TD in regulation.

Going away from the run/2 pt conversion call - I have to admit I don't understand this criticism. Several people have complained that Charlie abandoned the run in the 4th quarter and tried to get cute and pass it. My response: watch the film. Navy CLEARLY made a strategic shift in the 4th quarter and loaded everything they had into stopping the run. You saw it with James getting stuffed a few times in the 4th quarter. Just as Paul Johnson adjusted when ND did this, Charlie was doing the same thing. The difference? Navy protected the QB, ran a great route, had a QB deliver the ball accurately and on time, and caught the ball. ND didn't do any of these things. There was nothing wrong with the playcalling. The execution was the problem here. On the 2 point conversion, what play would you have liked Charlie to call???? That run with Travis was open all day. Navy just made a play and guessed right.

10. This football team is at a crossroads. For some reason, this loss feels different. While getting throttled by USC hurts, players can keep going 110% because they know USC is more talented and they have to keep working hard to get to that level. However, after the Navy game, I saw a group of guys that were emotionally drained. I just wonder how much more they have left in the tank. Like all of us, I suspect they are questioning everything, including themselves. This is not an excuse. I still want to see who has the pride, the enthusiasm, and the leadership ability to overcome this loss and play their hearts out against Air Force.

Sorry for the long post today and thank you for indulging me. I am interested to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 2, 2007

IrishGlory Q&A

I wanted to post the first installment of the IrishGlory Q&A based on questions I have received from readers. Again, I stress that my answers reflect my thoughts and opinions only. Thank you and please keep the questions coming!

1. Q: Since we are not Bowl eligible at ND can the coaches still practice the team through December under NCAA rules or is it "hands off?

A: Since the Irish are not Bowl eligible, they will not be able to practice during this period. The players can still lift and workout on their own, but as far as I know, the coaches cannot be involved. I imagine Irish coaches will be devoting a large portion of this time to making sure current recruits are solid and nailing down the few remaining slots. This will be a stressful time for Irish fans and coaches, as you can be sure that other teams will be putting the full court press on Irish commits with the Irish not participating in a bowl game. I imagine the coaching staff will also use this time to begin the evaluation process for 2009 recruits as well.

2. Q: Of the remaining recruiting targets at WR, who do you see Notre Dame landing?

A: Notre Dame currently has 2 receivers committed -- John Goodman and Mike Floyd. They are currently recruiting Deion Walker, Gerrel Robinson, Jonathan Baldwin, and Chris Harper. I think the Irish will take 1 more receiver in this class and it may well be the guy who wants to commit first. I believe the Irish will land either Deion Walker or Gerrel Robinson.

3. Q: Do you think Jimmy Clausen will play again this season?

A: If Jimmy is healthy, I really believe the Irish coaches would like to get him some time in the remaining games, though perhaps not as the starter. The problem is that I don't believe he is currently healthy. Just watching him move around, I believe the injury he suffered against Purdue is still lingering. Jimmy would benefit immensely from some playing time down the stretch, but only if he is healthy. The benefit of Jimmy gaining experience does not outweigh the cost of him potentially getting further injured or changing his mechanics to compensate for injury. The best thing for Jimmy Clausen between now and the start of next season is for him to be full go for offseason conditioning so he can hit the weights hard and add the strength he needs.

4. Q: Do you think there will be coaching staff changes after the season?

A. I have no idea. However, I do believe that Charlie will be reviewing the entire program at the conclusion of the season. The coaches most frequently mentioned as being on the hot seat this season are Brian Polian and John Latina. I believe Charlie will let Corwin Brown determine if he is satisfied with his defensive staff. As for John Latina, my personal feeling is that Latina did not forget how to coach overnight. Do yourself a favor and go read Latina's bio on the UND site. It is impressive. I have been as frustrated as anybody with the O line play this year, I am just not ready to throw Latina under the bus for that. I believe there are other factors involved.

5. Q: Notre Dame can't seem to find a kicker who can consistently make extra points and field goals. Do you think that Notre Dame will recruit a kicker this year?

A: No. No. No. I think Brandon Walker is the kicker of the present and future for this team. I think he has shown enough to know that the potential is there. At some point, you have to win with the kickers you have. You cannot continue to use scholarships on kickers year after year, it is just not a wise allocation of limited scholarship resources.

Thank you to all and keep the questions coming!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Notre Dame - Navy: What I Expect

The bye week has re-energized me and I can't wait to watch some Irish football this weekend against Navy. I don't know about you, but it didn't feel right to have a fall weekend last weekend with no Irish football. I believe the coaches and players used the bye week to recharge the batteries not only physically, but also mentally. Here are my fearless thoughts and predictions of what to expect from this weekend's contest with Navy:


1. Evan should have a nice day against this Navy defense. They are soft in coverage and mostly seek to keep the play in front of them. If Evan can be accurate with his short and intermediate routes, he should complete a high percentage of his throws. I do not believe we will see Jimmy in the game this week.

2. This game presents the perfect opportunity for Charlie to really work on the running game. The Irish have a considerable size advantage, and Navy has really struggled to stop the run. The Irish should be able to move the ball both through the air and on the ground, but for the benefit of developing our team, I expect Charlie to give the offense every opportunity to pound the ball on the ground. I will sound like a broken record, but I will say it again -- the Irish offense will never tap its potential until they can effectively run the football. This week is the perfect opportunity to begin to establish that mentality.

3. I expect a number of those quick WR screens. Some Irish fans understand them for what they are (a way to pick up a few yards and keep a struggling offense out of 3rd and long), while other Irish fans have grown to despise this play. Nevertheless, having watched film on Navy, their corners give HUGE cushions to receivers at the line of scrimmage. I expect Charlie to use a number of WR screens, especially early, to tempt Navy into bringing its corners up closer to the line of scrimmage.

4. I think this will be the week John Carlson gets rewarded for his team-first attitude and catches a number of balls. For the better part of the season, Carlson has not been significantly involved in the passing attack because he has had to stay in to help with blitz pickup and pass protection. Navy, however, ranks close to the bottom in number of sacks and their pass rush is weak. I expect that this will free up Charlie to allow Carlson to get involved in the passing game.

5. I expect that at the end of this game, Irish fans will come away believing that the O line has improved. Will this be the result of genuine improvement or a weaker opposing defense? Only time will tell. I suspect it will be a combination of the two. I will be very interested to see how many snaps guys like Chris Stewart (tackle and guard) and Dan Wenger (guard and center) get in this game.


1. I expect to hear the names Trevor Laws, Pat Kuntz, and Tom Zbikowski an awful lot on Saturday. I expect the Irish to play more of a 4 man line look on Saturday with a combination of 4-3 and 4-4 type looks. I expect Laws and Kuntz to figure prominently in attempting to plug the middle and stop the Navy fullback (who I believe is an excellent football player). I expect the Irish to bring Zbikowski up closer to the line of scrimmage to take the pitch man. In the 4-4 look, I think we will see Zbikowski functioning more like a LB in this game.

2. I expect Navy to put up a lot of yards, but not necessarily a lot of points, in this game. They are simply too efficient in their scheme on offense to shut down.

3. I do not think this is a game that will highlight Kerry Neal and Brian Smith as much as previous games. They are still light and need work on stopping the run. For both those guys, rushing the passer is their primary skill at this point in their development. Playing Navy, this week calls for strength in stopping the run, discipline, and thorough knowledge of your responsibilities within the scheme. I think this gameplan sets up for a Mo Crum/Brockington/Toryan Smith/John Ryan and even Vernaglia type of game.


I have long since stopped making any predictions for what this Irish team will or will not do on special teams. At this point, I would be thrilled if on Monday morning when I am writing my wrap-up on the game that I do not have any major mistakes to write about. We can worry about making explosive plays on special teams after we fix the fundamental mistakes that we seem to make week in and week out.


Notre Dame - 27
Navy - 24

By the way, I am still looking to put together a mailbag feature, so please feel free to send any questions you might have to Thank you.