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The good, the bad, the ugly: Pitt

Nov 16, 2009, 7:30 AM EST

So I took Sunday off from writing about the Irish. Mental health day let’s call it. It was a beautiful November day in Southern California,  not a cloud in the sky, a temperature you might as well have dialed up on the thermostat, and I had myself a nice lazy Sunday.

I have a feeling things weren’t the same in South Bend.

Notre Dame canceled Charlie Weis’ usual Sunday night press conference, citing a later than planned arrival back into town after last night’s game. While many of us would’ve liked to hear Weis’ take on Saturday night’s loss, it was probably for the best to give the man a break. As he said last night, he’s got to start worrying about UConn.

(And after seeing Stanford demolish USC, it’s clear that the Irish really need to worry about UConn, as that might be the only chance at an elusive seventh win…)

There’s plenty of time to talk about what’s to come, but until then, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

THE GOOD

I’m running out of superlatives for Golden Tate. If there’s a more impressive football player in college football, I haven’t seen him. Last night, Tate almost single-handedly brought the Irish back from the dead, and his punt return for a touchdown fulfilled the special teams compulsories of his Heisman worthy campaign.

Tate and Michael Floyd both went over 100 yards receiving, and while it might be a hollow comparison with the season going down the drain, the Irish have the collegiate version of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin starting at wide receiver, and if Tate sticks around, will return the dynamic duo next season as well.

THE BAD

While the defense played decent in the first half, they were still plagued by the explosive play, as Jonathan Baldwin’s 36-yard touchdown catch showed. And when the Irish defense needed to make plays in the second half, they simply couldn’t do it. Whether it was poor tackling, bad ball skills, or a nonexistent pass rush, the Irish defense came up empty when it mattered the most.

The Irish didn’t get a single sack on Bill Stull Saturday night, and only managed four quarterback hurries. Even worse was the tackling by the Irish defense on backup running back Ray Graham’s 53-yard touchdown run, where Graham made practically half the defense miss, including safety Sergio Brown twice. With the team desperately in need of the defense to step up in the second half, the Irish gave up 10 third quarter points, putting the offense into a hole they couldn’t get out of.

THE UGLY

To put into perspective how woeful the Notre Dame punting game has been, I took a look at the high school alma maters of Eric Maust and Ben Turk, figuring that even their high school punters were doing better at their jobs than the two Notre Dame scholarship punters.

At Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia, where Maust was a standout baseball and football player, Riley Lyons averaged 36 yards a punt last season, with a long of 49 yards. At St. Thomas Aquinas, where Ben Turk punted last year, the Raiders are averaging over 39 yards a punt this season.

Meanwhile, the Irish punters have kicked 37 times for an average of 35.4 yards on the season, getting out-kicked by their high school equivalents. Even more detrimental, in Notre Dame’s four losses the Irish have been forced to punt 14 times and are only averaging 30 yards a kick. When you’re playing good teams, you can’t consistently put yourself in the hole in the field position battle, and that’s exactly what Notre Dame has done.

On Saturday, Notre Dame’s was forced to start, on average, at their own 21-yard line. Pitt’s average start was at the 30, and that’s not including Clausen’s interception or “fumble” that would skew this stat even more in Pitt’s favor. Notre Dame’s mediocre punting game has been just as detrimental to winning as the much maligned defense.

  1. PittRools - Nov 16, 2009 at 6:48 PM

    FAIL

  2. StephenOfTroy - Nov 16, 2009 at 11:27 PM

    Keith Arnold wasted a lot of space talking about punting when what was actually both bad and UGLY was ND’s baffling inability either to protect Jimmy Clausen in the pocket or roll him out.
    I’ve seen Clausen get sacked too many times in critical situations. USC sacked Clausen or pressured him intensely early, causing ND to get out of its game plan and get down by 20. Back-to-back sacks at the end of the Navy game — NAVY, for crying out loud! — the second for a safety. And then the Pitt game. Sack to make it 3rd-and-16 on the last drive. Then pressure gets to Clausen and he either fumbled or intentionally grounded the ball. (Let the whining about the vast zebra conspiracy begin. What do you think was going to happen on 4th and 16? Gimme an S! Gimme an A! Gimme a…never mind, we’re not playing what-if.)
    You have a senior O-line. Opposing teams know that Clausen is going to drop back 40 to 50 times a game. How does Weis, the alleged offensive genius, not come up with a pass-blocking scheme that will protect his golden boy and allow said golden boy to throw it to Tate unmolested?
    You’re not running the ball. Why not put a double tight-end formation in for the last drive? Why not bring a fullback off the bench to pass-block? Let’s get wild and crazy. Why not COACH your players about how to block?

  3. bill in shanghai - Nov 17, 2009 at 10:15 AM

    uh, maybe you should concentrate on your beloved and troubled trojans? or did it make you sick to see them get blasted off the planet last weekend?

  4. StephenOfTroy - Nov 17, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    Bill, remember when then-Senator Obama said “a President needs to be able to do more than one thing at a time?” A Trojan fan can do more than one thing at a time. By the way, we got our cardinal-and-gold a&ses kicked by Stanford. No question. But “blasted off the planet?” No. That’s something that happens when you go 3-9 like ND, or when you get shut out 38-0 like ND, or when you lose 2 games in a row at home to a service academy, like ND. Spare me the hyperbole. We just got badly outplayed by a great team. They did the same thing to Oregon the week prior. Talk to me in a couple of weeks, after Harbaugh auditions for a contract extension with Stanford by rolling it up on ND and trying to go for a 2 point conversion when he’s up by 20+, like he did to us. Of course, we stopped the 2 point conversion. Not sure you’ll be able to say the same thing.

  5. Patrick - Nov 17, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    you may have stopped the 2 point conversion…but they ended up scoring another TD making that irrelevant

  6. Vincentspop - Nov 17, 2009 at 5:13 PM

    Weis is the problem…..period

  7. StephenOfTroy - Nov 17, 2009 at 10:11 PM

    Patrick, I’m not sure you understood my point. The 2-point conversion attempt in that situation is universally acknowledged as poor sportsmanship, like sticking a thumb in the other team’s eye. You don’t need to do it. Scoring another TD is another issue.
    For example, when USC gets up by a large margin against a team that cannot stop it, Pete Carroll commonly goes to two zone running plays, over and over. Those are the simplest, most basic plays in the book. If you score using one, so be it, but you’re not trying to use razzle-dazzle. And if you do score, you kick the extra point.
    Going for two just shows that Harbaugh was trying to stick it to USC. And I’m certain the players and coaches understood it as such. It would be easy to say “and we’ll kick the sh&t out of them for doing so” but talk is cheap. The only thing that counts is what happens on the field. But watch what happens when USC goes to Stanford Stadium next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pete goes for 2, or leaves Barkley in for an extra possession, when we are ahead by an insurmountable amount late in the game. :)

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