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2009 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

More extensive previews coming as the season approaches, and this preview is a way to get a first look at the team, and also be corrected on anything I might have wrong. Highlighted players in the charts below are returning for 2009. Notre Dame’s website is poorly designed, plus they’re too good to “redshirt” they “grant 5th-year eligibility” which is the exact same thing under a more pretentious name.

Notre Dame Offense

QBs
It’s unclear whether Evan Sharpley will return for his redshirt senior year, since he’s bigger into the baseball than football, in my recollection. Fear not though, incoming freshman Dayne Crist is expected to be the new 5-year Heisman winner for the Irish, and he might end up being the backup over Sharpley.

Statistics

Notre Dame QBs Passing 2008
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Jimmy Clausen 268 440 60.91 3172 25 17 7.21
Evan Sharpley 3 5 60.00 18 0 0 3.60
Notre Dame QBs Rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Evan Sharpley 4 1 0 0.25
Jimmy Clausen 54 -73 0 -1.35

Analysis
Clausen took a big leap forward last year (partially a product of a functional-ish offense), and if he continues that, he might finally live up to about a third of the hype he got coming out of high school. If he gets hurt, however, it’ll be either a true freshman (Crist) or a guy who has never participated in spring practice because he’s busy playing baseball (Sharpley) backing his up.

RBs
Like many positions on this team, the Irish return everyone of note at the running back position. Expect Gray to get a little more action this year, as he’ll no longer be a true freshman. Allen and Hughes will likely still carry the load, however.

Statistics

Notre Dame RBs Rushing 2008
Name Rush Yds TD Yds/Rush
Armando Allen 134 585 3 4.37
Robert Hughes 112 382 4 3.41
James Aldridge 91 357 3 3.92
Jonas Gray 21 90 0 4.23
Asaph Schwapp (FB) 1 2 0 2.00
Notore Dame RBs Receiving 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Armando Allen 50 355 2 7.1
Robert Hughes 14 93 0 6.64
Asaph Schwapp 2 13 0 6.50
James Aldridge 3 1 0 0.33

Analysis
This is a definite position of strength for the Irish – at least as much as it can be, since they’ve run the ball pretty inconsistently ever since Weis has been around, and much more so in the past couple years. How much of that is offensive line play, and how much should be on the backs? We’ll see.

Receivers
Golden Tate was a star-in-the-making last year, and he’ll certainly start all of 2009. His best fit might be at the slot in 3-wide (or 4-wide) sets, giving other players a chance to step up on the outside as well. Floyd is a big reeiver in the Braylon mold, and Rudolph will try to bring some playmaking back to the tight end position, which the Irish haven’t had consistently since Anthony Fasano left.

Statistics

Notre Dame Receivers 2008
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Golden Tate 58 1080 10 18.62
Michael Floyd 48 719 7 14.98
David Grimes 35 321 3 9.17
Kyle Rudolph (TE) 29 340 2 11.72
Duval Kamara 20 206 1 10.30
Robby Parris 9 50 0 5.56
George West 1 6 0 6.00
Will Yeatman (TE) 2 6 0 3.00

Analysis
Tate is a great deep threat, as Michigan fans are all too aware. The other guys were good last year, but not particularly exciting. Caveat: This was a very young unit last year, and with another year of experience under their belts, they should be able to do more in the offense.

Offensive Line

Lineup
Paul Duncan, a fifth-year senior, is expected to start at left tackle, after taking an injury redshirt last year. He should be backed up by highly-touted and very-ugly junior Matt Romine. At left guard, 5th-year senior Eric Olsen will start, with redshirt sophomore Andrew Nuss behind him. At center, redshirt junior Dan Wenger will be backed up by Braxton Cave. Chris Stewart, a redshirt junior, will be right guard, with Mike & Mike spawn Mike GOlic Jr. moving from center to back him up. At right tackle, junior Sam Young, who has been awful in each of his previous campaigns, despite lofty #1-overall-recruit status, will be spelled by Lane Clelland.

Analysis
The Irish offensive line has been crap for the past couple years. They were slightly better last year, and Notre ame has canned the offensive line coach in an attempt to make things at least adequate. They return several starters, and there is no excuse (not that there was last year, and there was only a limited one the previous year) for yet another terrible performance. Paul Duncan struggled at LT before being replaced (an injury expedited this move) last year.

Offensive Analysis
The Notre Dame offense finally has some experience after the past couple years oscillating between terrible and mediocre. Still, you have to wonder exactly how shrewd Weis is, since he’s supposedly an offensive genius, and his teams have mostly been utter crap the past two years. Spare me the “Willingham’s last two classes sucked” mantra as well. Weis’s 3-8 year was with players from HIS recruiting classes that would have been juniors at the time. Sounds like his first 2-3 recruiting classes must not have been all that great either. For someone whose motto is “no excuses,” making excuses seems to be all that Weis does. If Clausen can make another step forward in ’09 (and, sadly, Weis’s track record implies that he will), the Irish offense should be able to move the ball fairly well.

Notre Dame Defense

Defensive Line
This all depends on whether the Irish make up their mind with regards to the 4-3 v. 3-4 debate. With Tenuta likely gaining clout within the staff (and with good reason – he’s a bigname coordinator), I would expect the 3-4. Pat Kuntz and Justin Brown are both gone, and Ethan Johnson will step up to fill one of the DE spots full-time. He’s put on a ton of weight (Michigan wanted him as a 4-3 DE coming out of high school , when he weighed around 240), and Irish fans are hoping he’ll be able to occupy a couple gaps. Ian Williams and Morrice Richardson should be the other starters. Behind them, there is scary little depth.

Statistics

Name Tack TFL Sack Int Fum
Patrick Kuntz 42 8 3 1 1
Ian Williams 40 2 0 0 0
Justin Brown 24 4.5 0 0 0
Ethan Johnson 17 4 3.5 0 0
Morrice Richardson 11 0.5 0.5 0 0
Emeka Nwankwo 2 0 0 0 0

Analysis
If the starters can’t step up into full-time roles, the Irish DL could be in trouble. This is especially troubling in the 3-4 defense, where the DL is absolutely vital to keeping the playmaking linebackers unblocked. Still, the starters should be adequate, if not better. Johnson excelled at getting to the QB last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he is utilized in ’09.

Linebackers
Maurice Crum is gone, but the Irish had plenty of linebackers get some experience and playing time last year. Brian Smith and Darius Fleming will play big roles for the defense, along with Kerry Neal. Toryan Smith and Steve Quinn should compete to be the 4th linebacker starting for the Irish. Incoming freshman Manti Te’o is the most exciting player (at least based on guru ratings), so expect him to play as well.

Statistics

Notre Dame Linebackers 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Int Fum
Maurice Crum 65 5.5 3 0 0
Brian Smith 54 4 2 0 1
Darius Fleming 25 2.5 2.5 0 0
Kerry Neal 25 4 2 1 0
Toryan Smith 18 0 0 0 1
Steve Quinn 14 3 3 0 0
Scott Smith 12 1 1 0 0
John Ryan 7 0 0 0 0
Steve Filer 1 0 0 0 0
Kevin Washington 1 0 0 0 0

Analysis
Crum wasn’t so much a star as a guy put in position to make plays and making them. None of the replacement players are flashy either, but they should be able to step in and make the plays that Crum did. That said, they won’t do anything that makes you say “wow,” either. They’ll just be a group getting the job done. Te’o brings the flair some, and he may leave on a Mormon mission, so don’t be surprised if the Irish play him early, to get as much as they can out of the guy.

Defensive Backs
The Irish lose Davis Bruton, who was a pretty good player at one of the safety positions. Harrison Smith will replace him, and Kyle McCarthy will return at the other safety spot. Raeshon McNeil will return at one corner position, and Robert Blanton was a pseudo-starter at the other spot by the end of the year, so he’ll probably man the other position. Terrail Lambert, the player he is replacing, was oft-maligned by Irish fans, so I don’t think they’ll lament his departure, except in terms of depth.

Statistics

Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2008
Name Tack TFL Sack Int
Kyle McCarthy 110 3.5 0 2
David Bruton 97 1.5 0 4
Harrison Smith 57 8.5 3.5 0
Raeshon McNeil 41 0 0 2
Robert Blanton 33 3 0 2
Terrail Lambert 33 0 0 0
Sergio Brown 28 2 1 0
Mike Anello 23 0 0 0
Ray Herring 17 0 0 0
Gary Gray 15 0 0 2
Leonard Gordon 5 0 0 0
John Leonis 1 0 0 0

Analysis
McCarthy is a safety in the “hey look we have a white safety” Tom Zbikowski mold, and he’s similarly… adequate. Losing Bruton could be a pretty big hit for the Irish, as he was their best ballhawk, in addition to being the guy who made a lot of plays for the Irish. Harrison Smith was more of a designated blitzer than a true safty often last year (think Brandon Harrison), so he might struggle to make a transition to playing deep. The corners should be decent, but the depth there is not great.

Defensive Analysis
The 3-4, assuming the Irish plan to use it as their identity full-time now, really relies on defensive linemen to occupy the offensive line, leaving the linebackers free to make plays. In that light, losing 2 defensive linemen is a pretty huge question mark, especially when the leading tackler at linebacker is gone. Another interesting note is that the linebacking corps didn’t make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, which is one thing that the 3-4 defense is designed to allow them to do. Is that a scheme matter or just a lack of good enough bodies? If they switch back the the 4-3 fulltime, they still are very weak along the defensive line, but the linebackers are less of an issue. The secondary should be pretty good, though without a ton of depth. It seems as though Michigan’s run-game strength should be able to run the ball fairly well against the Irish. Will it be enough?

Special Teams

Punter Eric Maust returns, as does kicker Brandon Walker.

Statistics

Notre Dame Kicking 2008
Name XPM XPA % FGM FGA Long %
Brandon Walker 39 39 100.00 14 24 48 58.33
Notre Dame Punting 2008
Name Punt Yds Yds/Punt
Ben Armer 50 2032 40.64

Analysis
Walker was money on extra points last year, but boy, is that field goal percentage scary. He doesn’t have a great excuse either, as it was his second year as the starter (he went 6/12 as a freshman). He has the leg, nailing a 48-yarder last year, he’s just frighteningly inconsistent. In fact, that led, in part, to the Irish’s demise against GERG last year, as he missed 3(!) of his 6(!) field goal attempts.

Overall Analysis

The Irish return enough talented players to take a huge leap forward in 2009 – though we were saying the same thing last year. This is a definite make-or-break year for Weis, and if he can’t win with this team, it just shows that he isn’t cut out to be a head coach at the college level. The Irish will be strong on offense, which should really drive this team. The question remains: which was the real Irish offense, the one we saw against BC or the one we saw against Hawaii? I’d lean more towards BC, since the Warriors had a pitiful defense last year.

Posted under Analysis, Football
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11 Comments so far

  1. Jivas says...

    Now, I’m a fan of this site, and the quality of the content is normally pretty high … but this is a steaming pile of crap. I stopped reading after the WR breakdown. The offending items:

    (1) While the ND website may pretentiously exclude mentions of a “redshirt”, it’s a pretty significant error to Dayne Crist as an “incoming freshman” and “true freshman”. This guy was a big-time recruit last year, brought in the year after Clausen – it is hardly a secret that he’ll be a redshirt freshman this coming year.

    (2) Michael Floyd was an “OMG shirtless” recruit last year who posted a 48-719-7 season AS A TRUE FRESHMAN (and he missed at least the Hawaii bowl game due to injury, deflating his stats to some extent), but the “other guys” other than Golden Tate were “not particularly exciting” last year? WTF?! Is this a joke? Michael Floyd had about as exciting of a season as a WR could possibly have, in terms of generating excitement for what he’d be capable of, and as a Michigan fan I’m terrified of having to watch this guy play against us for another 2-3 years. (Hopefully it’s only 2).

    Pardon the negative comments – it’s indicative of my surprise to see this type of content here, as you guys do generally run a fine blog.

  2. markusr2007 says...

    Notre Dame plays Nevada at home the week before playing Michigan away. This is arguably Chris Ault’s best Nevada team ever offensively and defensively, and he’s had some great ones by Div II standard. Notre Dame should win that game too on paper, but Weis’s teams have not played well in openers over the last 3 years (2006 vs. Ga Tech W 14-10, 2007 vs Ga Tech L 3-33,2008 vs. SD State 21-13. Whereas Weis’ teams could sort of go through the motions and win games vs. George O’Leary or Chuck Long, it will not be a slam dunk vs. Ault and Nevada in my opinion.

    It will be an interesting game and could impact Notre Dame’s team confidence heading into Ann Arbor the next week.

    Then when I think about it some more, Michigan’s prior opponent, WMU, is good enough with their star QB and running game to sow similar seeds of doubt with the Wolverine team.

    This UM-ND game will be a great one.

  3. Andrew says...

    Wow, Javis, hyperbolize much?

    1) Is he inaccurate in saying that Clausen’s backups are Crist and Sharpley? And until the season is over and Crist hasn’t taken a snap (or is granted a waiver), yes, he is a true freshman. If he ever has to see time, he will be a true freshman. Now, it’s probably apparent that Weis would rather NOT use him if he can help it, but nothing Tim wrote is incorrect.

    2) I think you’re misinterpreting Tim’s comments on “the other guys.” Floyd had a solid season and while his potential is terribly exciting for ND fans (and, conversely, just plain terrifying for us Michigan fans), last season was solid but not spectacular. Great for a true frosh, but Tate was clearly the go-to guy. I think Tim does understate a little too much Floyd’s abilities, but I wouldn’t call it “a steaming pile of crap.”

  4. Jivas says...

    Andrew,

    First, it’s Jivas, not Javis, but whatever – I have a weird name, so I understand.

    Point-by-point:

    1) Crist was on the team all of this past season; unless ND has a game scheduled this coming Saturday, I don’t see how he is a true freshman next season. If I’m missing something here, please advise.

    2) In my opinion Floyd’s season wasn’t “solid”, it really was *spectacular*. He played 9 games as a true freshman and went 48-719-7 in those games. While I understand that a simple pro rata projection is a very poor tool and is fraught with some logical issues, it does have some value as a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Well, going from 9 to 13 games, his line goes to 69-1039-13, as a TRUE FRESHMAN.

    !!!!!!

    That’s not spectacular? Braylon Edwards had 3 catches for 38 yards as a freshman. David Terrell had 14 catches for 149 yards, Mario Manningham had 27 catches for 433 yards. Michael Floyd’s production last year, combined with his status as a 5-star “OMG shirtless” recruit, makes him a mega-superduperstar prospect.

    If Michigan had someone who fit this profile, we’d all be fitting him for a Heisman, and the MGoBlogosphere would have a tizzy if anyone contended that he were anything less than an angel on earth and a scientifically created amalgam of Charles Woodson, Braylon Edwards, Desmond Howard, Anthony Carter, and Bo Schembechler.

    (Hyperbole stricly for effect).

  5. Pat says...

    I believe that Jivas is correct in his entire analysis, except for the “steaming pile of crap” comment.

  6. Junkball says...

    Jivas, the comparison with Michigan receivers is a poor one, since frosh WR’s under Lloyd were generally nothing more than split-end run blockers, with the exception of Manningham. Pull up some data from a school that actually utilizes their freshman receivers (2008/9 Michigan?) and then compare.

  7. Thunder says...

    Unfortunately, one error can doom a whole post. It’s not uncommon. I wouldn’t say that this post is a steaming pile of crap, but Jivas’s points ring true – Crist isn’t an incoming freshman, and Floyd was pretty damn exciting for being a #2 receiver.

  8. Jivas says...

    Pat and Thunder,

    You have sufficiently shamed me. I could have made my point in a kinder fashion. I rescind my mean words. (You know, if that were possible on the interwebs).

  9. Rob says...

    2 things….

    1)”Rudolph will try to bring some playmaking back to the tight end position, which the Irish haven’t had consistently since Anthony Fasano left”
    Actually Former ND TE John Carlson (2nd pick of Seattle) was just as good as Fasano back in 2006 & 2007 ….

    Fasano 40rec, 576yds, 2 tds in 2005
    Carlson 47rec, 634yds, 4 tds in 2006
    Carlson 40rec, 372yds, 3 tds in 2007
    Rudolph 29rec, 340rec, 2 tds in 2008

    2)ND returns Darrin Walls (4 star on Rivals) who started 11 games back in 2007 and returns after missing all of last season for academic reasons.

    Good write up…thanks

  10. BigM says...

    Don’t forget about Anello on special teams. he had a bit of an impact last year on special teams. He will be back for his 5th year I wonder who the other gunner will be wreaking havoc?

  11. LW says...

    I believe that Jivas is correct in his entire analysis, except for the “steaming pile of crap” comment.

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