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2008 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offense:
QBs
After starting several QBs last year (with few positive results), the Irish are likely to turn to Jimmy Clausen full-time. Clausen was the class of 2007 uber-recruit, and if he is healthy this year (which he apparently wasn't last year), he can only improve on his performance. Evan Sharpley, who spent the spring at first base for the Irish, will return to the gridiron as the #2 guy. The distance between Clausen and Sharpley likely isn't that great. After Charlie Weis ran off all of ND's other quarterbacks, true freshman Dayne Crist might gain some playing time as #3.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name
Comp
Att
%
Yds
TD
Int
Yds/Att
Jimmy Clausen
138
245
56.33
1254
7
6
5.12
Evan Sharpley
77
140
55.00
736
5
3
5.26
Demetrius Jones
1
3
33.33
4
0
0
1.33
Notre Dame Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Demetrius Jones
12
28
0
2.33
Evan Sharpley
38
-95
0
-2.5
Jimmy Clausen
62
-187
2
-3.02

Analysis:
Demetrius Jones's stats were accumulated in the opener before Charlie Weis revealed that he had no intentions of actually , you know, playing him. Clausen should be improved, especially since most of his problems were due to awful protection. After he sat out two games later in the year, he performed well in the final three games (albeit against Air Force, Duke, and Stanford). His production against opponents with a pulse should be somewhere between that and how he performed earlier in the year.

RBs
Junior James Aldridge was the Irish's leading rusher last year, though he gained more than 100 yards only against Michigan State and Navy. He is a classic I-formation tailback, with enough size to take a beating between the tackles. However, he lacks elite speed. Backing him up is sophomore Armando Allen. Allen approached 100 yards against Navy (his best game). Sophomore Robert Hughes is a bruiser back, and he got a taste of playing time last year as well. Many think other schools didn't recruit him as hard as expected because of his plodding speed. Redshirt junior FB Asaph Schwapp returns to pave the way for the running backs. Walkon Luke Schmidt provides a bit of depth.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
James Aldridge
121
463
0
3.83
Armando Allen
86
348
0
4.05
Robert Hughes
53
294
4
5.55
Travis Thomas
27
58
5
2.15
Junior Jabbie
10
28
0
2.80
Asaph Schwapp
12
14
0
1.17
Notre Dame Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name
Rec
Yds
TD
Yds/Rec
Armando Allen
24
124
1
5.17
Junior Jabbie
14
123
0
8.79
James Aldridge
5
30
0
6.00
Asaph Schwapp
3
27
0
9.00
Robert Hughes
3
17
0
5.67
Luke Schmidt
3
16
0
5.33

Analysis:
While the Irish RBs aren't exactly game-breakers, their lack of success in 2007 was more on account of horrid OL play than a lack of ability on their end. They are adequate between-the-tackles types, and should have more success in 2008.

Receivers:
Senior David Grimes brings the most experience of the WR corps. He has been a role player for the past 3 years, and will likely stay out of the spotlight this year, as sophomore Duval Kamara will get the most balls thrown his way. Junior Robby Parris and Kamara are both over 6-3, and are likely to be jump ball threats. They led ND WRs last year. Freshman Michael Floyd should get significant playing time, and don't be surprised if he is starting by the end of the year. Tiny George West (5-8) will get some playing time at a slot-type position, and Golden Tate will look to augment his returning duties with more consistent receptions. He was electric when he could get the ball last year. At tight end, 5th-year senior John Carlson has departed, leaving junior Will Yeatman and true sophomore Mike Ragone to fill the void. Yeatman is a mountain of a man at 6-6, 263, but managed to get more receptions than Ragone last year.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Receivers 2007
Name
Rec
Yds
TD
Yds/Rec
John Carlson (TE)
40
372
3
9.30
Robby Parris
29
361
1
12.45
Duval Kamara
32
357
4
11.16
David Grimes
27
224
2
8.30
George West
21
172
0
8.19
Golden Tate
6
131
1
21.83
Will Yeatman (TE)
6
37
0
6.17
DJ Hord
2
7
0
3.5
Mike Ragone (TE)
1
7
0
7.00

Analysis:
Much like running backs, the main problem for receivers was the OL. If the Irish front five can buy enough time for the wideouts to get open, this should be a better year production-wise. Charlie Weis has to do a better job scheming to get Golden Tate the ball. He could excel from a slot position with two tall guys on the outside. I expect to see Yeatman and Ragone get about equal playing time. Yeatman's size should make him a great blocker (and, if last year is any indication, the OL needs all the help they can get), whereas Ragone is more of a receiver. Without a proven TE, I wonder if the young QBs' security blanket will be gone.

Line:
Mega lolz @ ND last year. They were far and away the worst offensive line in Division I football. Before ND apologists (like Charlie Weis) make excuses that they don't have the talent, keep in mind that the Irish started the following players:

Notre Dame O-Line 2007
LT
LG
C
RG
RT
Sam Young
Mike Turkovich
John Sullivan
Eric Olsen/
Dan Wenger
Paul Duncan
5-star
4-star
4-star
4-star
4-star
Sophomore
Junior
5th Year
Sophomore/
RS Freshman
Junior
13 Career Starts
15 Career Starts
33 Career Starts
Playing time as frosh/
none.
Backup 1st 2 years.

This was not an inexperienced or untalented line. Their lack of success speaks primarily to poor coaching, both positionally and from the offensive coordinator. With Weis ceding playcalling duties, they may improve in that respect, but their position coach remains the same. Fortunately for the Irish, almost everyone is back, except their best player, center John Sullivan. Wenger will slide over to take his spot, and the other positions should remain the same.

Analysis:
A year more experience will do the Irish some good, though losing their best player on the OL must hurt, especially when he was a leader like Sullivan was. Center will be the weak point of the Irish line, but they should improve in all respects. It's hard to imagine them being any worse.

Offensive Analysis:
The Irish offense certainly can't perform any worse than it did last year. With more experience everywhere, and only two key losses (Carlson and Sullivan), expect improvement. I question the position coaching pretty much everywhere (but mostly on the OL), but the Irish have talent. With Weis no longer calling plays, the sequencing should improve dramatically.

Notre Dame Defense:

Defensive Line:
The Irish are in the second year of their transition to the 3-4 defense. They lose both of their starting DEs from last year in Trevor Laws and Dwight Stephenson. Junior John Ryan comes down from a linebacker position to fill one of the needs, and senior Justin Brown will man the other spot. Pat Kuntz, a senior, returns at the nose. I question whether these three guys have enough size to be the space-eaters that the 3-4 defense requires its linemen to be. The ends are closer to linebackers, and Kuntz is more like a DE. Backing up the D-Linemen are Redshirt freshman Emeka Nwankwo, Ian Williams, and Morrice Richardson.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Defensive Line 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sacks
Trevor Laws
112
8
4
Ian Williams
45
1.5
0
Pat Kuntz
43
2.5
0
Dwight Stephenson
40
4.5
1
Justin Brown
30
3.5
1
Morrice Richardson
7
1.5
1
Darrell Hand
3
0
0
Paddy Mullen
1
0
0

Analysis:
I'm not too concerned about the returners' lack of production last year, since the 3-4 scheme doesn't allow linemen to get a lot of stats. However, it's the aforementioned lack of size that is troubling for the Irish. I think opposing OLs worth anything will be able to discard the DL much more easily than the Irish would like, and the linebackers won't be free to roam. Another thing that Irish fans might be worried about is the semester-long absence of Pat Kuntz. He missed the spring, which may mean he needs a few games to get back up to speed.

Linebackers:
Notre Dame had approximately 6,000 linebackers play last year as they tried to find a set of four who were something other than miserable. Of their best unit, they lose all but Maurice Crum. Moving into starting positions will be sophomore Brian Smith on the strongside, and junior Toryan Smith at MLB, if he can fend off freshman Steve Filer. Sophomore Kerry Neal will take over on the weakside. Key backups lost include Anthony Vernaglia at the strongside, meaning ND is promoting a third-stringer to a starting role. Scott Smith, Steve Quinn, and Kellen Wade will by key backups.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Linebackers 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Int
FumRec
Joe Brockington
108
8.5
1
0
0
Maurice Crum
83
3.5
1
2
1
John Ryan*
39
5
2.5
0
0
Anothony Vernaglia
20
1
0
0
0
Kerry Neal
20
2
2
0
1
Scott Smith
18
0
0
0
0
Toryan Smith
14
1
0
0
0
Travis Thomas*
5
0
0
0
0
Steve Quinn
5
1
0
0
0
Kevin Washington
2
0
0
0
0
* Notes: Ryan has moved to the defensive line for 2008. Thomas alternated between RB and LB during his career, so his stats are included.

Analysis:
The 3-4 system is designed to feature the linebackers, and these guys didn't impress at all last year. Losing three starters certainly won't help them improve on their 2007 performance. These LBs are neither athletic nor tough enough to anchor a defense, and it appears as though Charlie Weis's genius switch to the 3-4 defense was not a great idea. With superior position coaching from Jon Tenuta, this group may be serviceable in '08.

Defensive Backs:
Terrail Lambert and Darrin Walls return at the corner positions. Lambert is a 5th-year senior, while Walls is a true junior. Between them, they started nearly every game last year, and Lambert was a starter in '06 as well. At the safety positions, David Bruton returns at free, while Tom Zbikowski (fyi, I've heard he's a boxer) will be replaced at strong safety by fellow slow white guy Kyle McCarthy. None of ND's returning players have impressed so far in their careers, while redshirt junior McCarthy is stepping into some big shoes (though Zbikowski sucked despite the hype).

Statistics:
Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Int
David Bruton
85
4.5
1
3
Tom Zbikowski
80
1.5
1
2
Terrail Lambert
34
0
0
1
Darrin Walls
32
2.5
0
1
Ambrose Wooden
27
0
0
0
Kyle McCarthy
20
0
0
1
Raeshon McNeil
9
1
1
0
Mike Anello
7
0
0
0
Sergio Brown
7
0
0
0
Jashaad Gaines
6
0
0
0
Leo Ferrine
3
0
0
0
Munir Prince
3
0
0
0
Ray Herring
3
0
0
0
William David Williams
1
0
0
0

Analysis:
Though Terrail Lambert and Darrin Walls have played a lot, that unfortunately means little more than stepping onto the field and getting torched over and over again. Bruton was decent last year, though uninspiring. The experience of this group should provide the most comfort to fans, but the corners are slow, and McCarthy is no speed demon either. Matching up with speedy teams should be a huge problem.

Defensive Analysis:
Notre Dame, despite a lot of "solid, but uninspiring" comments from the likes of me, didn't perform too poorly on defense last year. However, one must call into question the caliber of opponent as well. Stanford, Duke, and Air Force are hardly formidable foes, and UCLA and Purdue had nobody fearing them most of the year (we won't get into the media overhyping of BC). They will take a small step forward this year, unless Jon Tenuta works some magic.

Special Teams:

Geoff Price returns as the punter. He got tons of practice last year (though Eric Maust also got 21 kicks in). Brandon Walker is the returning placekicker. He didn't have many attempts last year, and he was less than solid on them.

Statistics:
Notre Dame Kicking 2007
Name
FGM
Att
%
Long
XPM
Att
%
Brandon Walker
6
12
50.00
48
22
23
95.65
Notre Dame Punting 2007
Name
Punts
Yds
Avg
Geoff Price
54
2260
41.85

Analysis:
Kicking certainly isn’t a strong point for the Irish, and Walker had better improve or they are in trouble. Price is a good-not-great punter, despite all the practice he got last year (ZING!).

Overall Analysis:
The defense of Notre Dame shouldn't be significantly different from last year. I expect their pass defense to improve slightly, and their rush defense to decline slightly. It is on offense where they need to make huge strides. If the line can be anything other than terrible, and Clausen is healthy, the Irish should be far less pitiful in 2008. They won't be as good as they were with Brady Quinn, but there is no way they repeat last years nightmare.

Labels: ,


“2008 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    That's a pretty off-base and hilarious preview.

    ND 31
    UM 13

  2. Blogger Tim Says:

    If it's "pretty off-base," what's wrong with it?

  3. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Nothing Tim. Let the Domers give a better one, with the top 3 rushers not gaining 1000 yds last year, and the top 3 returning rec. not catching 1000 yds, and a QB that showed zero improvement throughout the year, how do you really say anything except, 'They can't be that bad again, can they?'

    The line I keep hearing is 'well you have an unproven QB this year', and that would differ from last year how? If Henne had played we would have hung 70 on em.

    With what you had to work with, nice job. Obviously, if their line comes out and is not drastically improved, they will struggle to win 3 this year. And a loss to UM in week 3 will have similiar effects to the MSU losses to UM in years past. A big giant flushing sound as their season spirals down the toilet.

    UM 24
    ND 10

  4. Blogger Pat Says:

    Since you asked Tim, here are some personnel mistakes I noticed.

    RB
    Many expect Hughes to be the starting running back. In addition to averaging over a yard and a half more per carry than the other backs, he had the best spring game of the bunch. Also, Luke Schmidt isn't a walk-on. He'll play an H-back type role for ND this year.

    OL
    You have the OL starting five incorrect. Young is back at RT and Duncan is now at LT. Olsen is at LG with Chris Stewart at RG. Turkovich will be the first OL off the bench. Wenger will be the center.

    Also, Turkovich did not have 15 career starts heading into 2007, he had 0. He still doesn't have 15 career starts.

    DL
    The starting nose tackle is Ian Williams. Pat Kuntz will slide over to Trevor Laws's old spot at DE. The other DE spot will be split between Justin Brown and Morrice Richardson. The incoming freshmen will probably beat out the other backups at some point in the season.

    LB
    ND lost one starter from last year's group, not three. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal were the starters by the end of the year. Either Scott Smith or Toryan Smith will replace Brockington.

    Special Teams
    Price has graduated. Maust took over as the starting punter last year when Price got hurt and returns as the starting punter.

  5. Blogger Tim Says:

    Thanks for the input, Pat.

    As far as the offensive line goes, that was the opening day starting 5 last year, not the most commonly used lineup.

    The Turkovich thing was a factual error on my part. He now has 15 career starts, after starting all 12 games last year.

  6. Anonymous kevin Says:

    A QB that showed no improvement last year? You definitely didn't see ND's last 4 games. I know most college football fans are hoping Clausen will be a bust, but it's just not gonna happen. He's good. Get used to it.

    And I hate to break it to you, UM fans, but "an unproven QB" is the least of your worries. Do you even know how your team looks this year? UM loses its four-year starting quarterback, back-up quarterback, four-year starting running back, top two wide receivers, top four tacklers, four offensive lineman, and have a new coach implementing a new system with a quarterback who will have zero experience and running backs known for their fumbling more than their running.

    Good luck.

  7. Blogger Tim Says:

    I never said Clausen didn't improve (and in fact said the exact opposite).

    Also, thank you for filling me in on the status of the Michigan football team. I was entirely unaware.

  8. Anonymous kevin Says:

    I know, Tim. My comments were directed at "Anonymous 7:47". Sorry that wasn't clear.

  9. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Yes sir, Clausen really looked better against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. Now how many of those games did he win? It's not a matter of winning a Heisman with this kid, it's just how many can he get. Sound familiar. This ain't HS anymore Jimmy. Sorry Domers.