Notre Dame vs. Pitt Preview

The following is a guest post written by Stephen Kahn.

In order to save his Notre Dame coaching career, Charlie Weis might have to pull off an upset victory at Heinz Field — the site of his college coaching debut. At about 8:00 pm on September 3, 2005, the Fighting Irish ran onto the turf at Heinz Field with an unproven quarterback in Brady Quinn and an inexperienced head coach in Charlie Weis. By midnight, ND Nation, and a large population of sports writers around the country, were hailing Charlie Weis as a genius.

Funny how things come full circle. Like in 2005, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish make the trip to Pittsburgh as underdogs. That being said, I think this could simply come down to who has the ball last.

There is no doubt that this matchup should be very high scoring. I will start by breaking down the Pittsburgh offense versus the Notre Dame defense. I see something different than most — most people would expect the Panthers’ sensational freshman running back Dion Lewis to run all over the Irish; I do not. With the exception of last week, the Notre Dame front seven has been very strong when it comes to stopping the run. That leads me to believe that junior nose tackle Ian Williams was speaking some truth when he implied that the Irish were “out-schemed” against Navy. I expect the Notre Dame defense to return to form and limit Lewis, quite possibly keeping him under 100 yards.

The key for the Panthers offense will be sophomore WR Jonathan Baldwin. On the season, Baldwin has 35 catches for 698 yards and four scores. He lacks explosive speed, but at 6’5″ 225 lbs, I’m not sure he needs it. The average height and weight of the four cornerbacks in the Irish rotation is 6’0″ 190 lbs.

In last season’s four overtime classic, Pitt threw four straight fade routes to Baldwin from the five-yard line. Note that in order to run the same play four times, it must have failed the first three, yet the Panthers were not afraid to try again; the fourth attempt was successful. Do not expect things to be any different on Saturday night. Baldwin has matured as a receiver and the Notre Dame secondary has done nothing to prove that they can stop a legitimate playmaker.

I now move on to the Notre Dame offense versus the Pittsburgh defense.It is important to note the injury status of several players. All-America TE candidate Kyle Rudolph will not play and is most likely out until a potential bowl game. I do not expect his absence to affect the Fighting Irish on offense. The Irish have failed to utilize Rudolph as of late and with Mike Floyd back, he is no longer as necessary in the red zone as he once was. Second, he probably would not have caught many passes. Rudolph caught just three balls per game against Michigan and USC. The reason: Teams with a legitimate pass rush force the Irish offense to use a tight end to block, with the tight end essentially serving as a third offensive tackle. Pittsburgh has the most sacks in the nation this season with 39, a whopping seven more than USC, which ranks second. For this reason, I do not expect Notre Dame TE’s to do anything but block and Mike Ragone and Bobby Burger should have no problem stepping in for Rudolph in that regard.

On a more positive note for Irish fans, junior running back Armando Allen and sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson are both expected to return from injury and play this week. Aside from that, no more analysis of the Irish offense is necessary because they have three consistent performers in Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Mike Floyd.  The Irish will throw early and often and put up a lot of points; assuming Clausen has time to throw.

All things considered, my prediction is as follows: without a doubt the game will be high scoring. I give the edge to Notre Dame because they have been pushed to the brink on a weekly basis and Pitt has yet to be tested. The Irish will battle for sixty minutes, fighting for their coach’s career with a chip on their shoulders after a crushing loss to Navy. Pitt might be looking ahead to its Big East battle with Cincinnati, which is likely to crown the conference champion and award an automatic BCS bowl bid. When the clock hits all zeros and probably not a second earlier, the score will be:
Notre Dame – 45
Pittsburgh – 42
–Stephen Kahn

6 Reasons Why Notre Dame Should Keep Charlie Weis for Another Year

The following post was written by Robert Miller.

As a 2000 Notre Dame alum and avid college football fan, all I have been hearing since Notre Dame lost to Navy is that Charlie Weis should be fired. It is easy to let emotions cloud judgment but a level-headed approach suggests a different outcome.

The following are reasons why he should NOTbe fired:

  1. The next coach will do no better because recruiting is what separates BCS contenders from non-contenders. Weis does not have the players to do any better than he is doing. The defense is average at best and is severely lacking speed and size. The offensive skill players are NFL caliber but the o-line is also average; otherwise the Irish running backs would have had a field day against the undersized Navy defense.
  2. The south has access to disproportionate amount of the talent which makes it difficult for old-school northern powerhouses (e.g., Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame) to compete in recruiting with teams from the south. The objective measure of talent is that a southern or southwestern team has won the BCS championship the last six years (i.e., SEC, Big 12 South, and USC). The last time a northern powerhouse won was when Ohio State beat Miami in double overtime and the only other northern team to win a BCS championship is Nebraska. The trend of the south dominating the north begs several questions. Why would a large number of top recruits come to freezing South Bend when they can go to sunny USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Florida, or anywhere else in the south to southwest? Why would Saban, Meyer, and all other “genius” coaches go south instead of north? Why has Bob Stoops not come to ND? The answer is they can get better talent in the south. The SEC is highly competitive so you would think coaches would not want to coach there, but they continue to choose highly competitive southern jobs over less competitive northern jobs.
  3. Weis needs more time to get better Irish defensive recruits. Notre Dame’s defense is like Tecmo Bowl on Sega Genesis. If you call the other team’s play then you sack them for a 10 yard loss; otherwise Dan Marino throws a 100 yard TD pass to Mark Clayton. The Irish defense has been bad all year and the only way to improve it is to get better talent. Stealing Manti Te’o from USC last year was a start but the Irish need to get a greater volume of top defensive players including a pair of studs on the defensive line that can attack opposing quarterbacks and an uber-fast safety to slow down opposing running backs.
  4. Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate are more likely to stay for their senior seasons if Charlie Weis remains the play caller because both have flourished in his system. Both want to finish strong and get Notre Dame back to a BCS game and having Weis on board gives them the best chance to do that. Further, they do not need another reason to leave after watching Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, and Sam Bradford have average senior seasons while Mark Sanchez and Percy Harvin are getting valuable experiences in the NFL.
  5. Buying out Weis’ remaining salary can only facilitate rising tuition costs for a school that is on pace to charge a million dollars for a four year degree by the year 2035. In addition, Notre Dame was one of a few schools to raise football ticket prices in 2009 after the country’s economic meltdown. Notre Dame should at least let Weis complete his original six-year contract that had him coaching through the 2010 season.
  6. Notre Dame will beat Pittsburgh this weekend despite Dion Lewis running all over the Irish defense. Clausen, Tate, and Floyd are on a mission for redemption after a devastating Navy loss. Further, the Irish can still qualify for the Gator Bowl which is where they belong anyway because a BCS Bowl-caliber team like Texas, TCU, or Georgia Tech would have smoked ND’s defense.

In sum, any coach is going to struggle to meet expectations at Notre Dame. What’s more, reasons 1-3 can be applied to Rich Rodriguez and Michigan. Fans and alums of northern schools should realize that their football team’s lack of success is a result of bigger forces (e.g., access to talent) than their team’s coach.

–Robert Miller

USC Trojans Football: A Dynasty Like No Other

After Southern California’s 47-20 loss to Oregon last night, I read that it was USC’s biggest margin of defeat since 1997. It was also — and this is much more astounding — the first time the Trojans had lost by more than a touchdown since 2001.

That’s seven and a half consecutive seasons without losing by more than seven points. It’s beyond impressive, and it makes Oregon’s dominating performance even more unbelievable.

I wasn’t shocked that USC lost. It was clear even before last night that this Trojan team, on either side of the ball, is not on par with the USC teams of the past five or so years. But they were ranked No. 5, sitting at 6-1 with a win at Ohio State. Even in a “down” year USC is still very, very good.

But more than anything, the loss points out how good this program has been over the last seven years. That 2001 season, when Southern Cal lost to Notre Dame by 11, was Pete Carroll’s first as USC coach. Everyone who follows college football even just a little bit knows that USC has been a top program over the past several years. But the fact no team had handily defeated them — hadn’t even come close — in all these years is mind-blowing.

When you think of the great programs of the last seven years, you think of USC, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State. But only USC could claim that they were never dominated in a football game.

Until last night.

Even if you thought USC was overrated this season, it had to be weird to see last night’s result, whether you were watching the game, saw the score go across the ticker at the bottom of your screen, or read about it Sunday morning.

USC on the wrong side of a blowout? It just didn’t look right.

ESPN College GameDay: The Best Pregame Show on Television

Two seasons ago, ESPN’s college football pregame show, College GameDay, came to Ann Arbor for the Michigan-Ohio State game. I was a senior at Michigan and my parents were in town for the weekend. We stopped by the set on Friday afternoon and saw the host, Chris Fowler, as we were leaving the parking lot.

I rolled down my window and told him I was at the first GameDay.

Fowler smiled. “Really? What were you, seven?”

Yes, actually I was. It was 1993 and I was in South Bend with my family for the game of the year, #1 Florida State vs. #2 Notre Dame. It’s a given now that the ESPN crew travels to the college town hosting one of the better games of the week. But the ’93 FSU-ND game was the first on-site broadcast.

It took place indoors and there wasn’t even close to the number of people there compared to the throngs of fans who stand around the set now. I don’t remember all that much from that weekend, but I remember watching some of the broadcast. Thanks to the Internet and my dad, I can provide more information than I otherwise could have.

Fowler and Lee Corso were both part of the first travelling crew, but instead of current analyst Kirk Herbstreit, Craig James was the third member of the team. They may have made their picks for all the top-25 games, but Corso certainly didn’t dress up as a mascot back then.

The show is now as much a part of college football as bowl games. I watched GameDay this morning; it’s a great way to kick off your fall Saturdays. When I’ve watched the NFL pregame shows, or their halftime shows, or their postgame shows, I am reminded of how good College GameDay is. The college guys have fun, but they aren’t laughing at each other’s “jokes” for 90 percent of the show like the NFL guys seem to do.

It’s cool to say I was at the first on-location GameDay, even if some people I tell, like Fowler, seem to be incredulous at first.

New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies World Series: A Mets Fans Perspective

Several people have asked me which team I’d root for if it’s the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge Mets fan, so just the thought of having to choose between these two teams makes me a little nauseous.

Though I wouldn’t root for either team, I would prefer that the Phillies won. I know, I know, this is the hated division rival, the team with the somewhat dirty Chase Utley and Shane Victorino and the arrogant, big-mouthed Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins. I hate the Phillies, and over the last year and a half I’ve decided I hate them more than any other baseball team, including the Yankees.

So why would I prefer they win it all? As strange as this may sound, it’s because they won it all last year.

I hate to write these words, but the Phillies own the Mets. They have since those final weeks of the 2007 season. Regardless of what happens in the World Series, the Phillies will open next season as three-time defending National League East winners and two-time defending NL Champions. The way I see it, another World Series win wouldn’t make it any worse.

The Yankees, however, have not won the whole thing since 2000. They have not won since they brought in perhaps my least favorite player, Alex Rodriguez. I’d like to keep it that way. Yes, the Mets payroll is big, but the Yanks’ is far bigger and I want them and their reckless financial decisions to fail. (Plus, I know a lot more Yankee fans than Phillies fans and I don’t need to hear it from them.)

No doubt this is a lose-lose situation for me and most other Mets fans. But when the Yankees play the Phillies in the 2009 World Series*, I’ll take the Phillies. Just don’t expect me to root for them.

*Yes, my intention was certainly to jinx the Yankees, who have not yet qualified for the World Series. At the time I started this post, the Yanks, up 3-1 in the ALCS, were losing Game Five 4-0. By the time I finished, they had taken a 6-4 lead. And right this very instant, the Angels have tied it at six. I think my jinx is working. I think.

2009 St. Louis Rams vs. 2008 Detroit Lions: Who is Worse?

Through five games, the St. Louis Rams are, like the Detroit Lions were a year ago, winless. They’ve averaged less than a touchdown (including the extra point) per game, have been blown out in all but one of their games so far, and, given their finish last season, (2-14) show no signs of improving. This chart helps compare these two horrendous teams.

2008 Detroit Lions 2009 St. Louis Rams
Record 0-5 0-5
Points For 76 34
Points Against 159 146
Yards Per Game 253 281
Avg. Margin of Defeat 16.6 22.2
Rushing TDs 2 0
Star Player Calvin Johnson, WR Steven Jackson, RB*
Primary QB, Week 1 Jon Kitna Marc Bulger
Primary QB, Week 5 Dan Orlovsky Kyle Boller
Primary QB, Week 10 Daunte Culpepper ?
Preseason Record 4-0 3-1
Final Record 0-16 ?

It’s your call. Are the ’09 Rams worse than the ’08 Lions? Will St. Louis win a game this season? Let me know in the comments section or send me an e-mail at andrewjkahn@gmail.com.

*Jackson is clearly the Rams’ star, but you can see in the stat right above his name that he’s yet to score on the ground, so he can’t be that great.

Iowa Beats Michigan 30-28 at Kinnick Stadium

The Comeback Kid could only watch from the bench this time as his team made another late-game rally.

Tate Forcier didn’t appear injured; rather, his coach decided his team was better off without him on the field. The results were mixed and in the end, Michigan came up short, losing to Iowa 30-28.

The freshman quarterback had only five college games under his belt, but had established himself as a comeback artist (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, and Michigan State). Rich Rodriguez obviously didn’t feel he’d be getting the same magic from Forcier last night in Kinnick Stadium.

With 7:42 left in the fourth quarter, Rodriguez inserted Denard Robinson, another freshman, into the game. It took 4:46 but Robinson led Michigan to a touchdown, rushing for over 40 yards on the drive, including a three-yard scoring run. The Wolverines had turned the ball over four times and had two egregious blown defensive assignments that directly resulted in Iowa touchdowns, yet they were only down two after the score.

Following a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes, Michigan got the ball back with 1:30 remaining, needing a field goal to win. Forcier acted as if he was taking the field, but Rodriguez held him back. This time, Robinson was getting the chance to be the hero.

Unfortunately for Michigan fans, Robinson is not yet the dual-threat QB they hope he can become. After a 14-yard completion and a seven-yard run, Robinson was intercepted. He has now thrown 15 passes and been picked off three times.

Should Forcier have been on the field for the final drive?

If I were the coach, he probably would have been. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to question Rodriguez for his decision.

Look at it this way: If Robinson didn’t come in on Michigan’s previous drive, would their final possession have even been meaningful? You can point out that Robinson’s value comes in the form of running, something that Michigan didn’t have enough time to do. Therefore, Forcier — the much better passer — was the logical choice to lead the team down the field. Oh, and you might also reference Forcier’s three previous instances of late-game heroics.

But Forcier had also played pretty well in the early parts of those three games, particularly the Notre Dame and Indiana games. Last night, he was 8-of-19 with no touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble before being replaced. In his two fourth-quarter drives, Michigan  unnecessarily burned a timeout and was penalized for a delay of game (though the former may not have been Forcier’s fault).

These mistakes made Forcier a liability in Rodriguez’s eyes. Can you blame a coach for benching a guy he doesn’t trust?

Some are saying Rodriguez sat Forcier because he was “mad” at him. I must agree with that, but only because of the reason why he was so mad: Forcier was making too many costly mistakes. The odds of Robinson leading Michigan into field goal range weren’t great (which reminds me, if you want to argue a coaching decision, question Michigan’s onside kick) given that the clock was likely going to force him to do it through the air. But he’s shown high-level explosiveness this year, so who’s to say he couldn’t rip off a 40 yard run?

Like many of the people who are likely criticizing Rodriguez, I’ve watched all of Michigan’s games this year — including the first three and a half quarters of Saturday night’s game. Nothing from that chunk of time (and that should be the most important chunk when making in-game personnel decisions) suggested that Forcier would get the job done in that situation.

One man's writing in one place.