Thoughts on the Duke Game

tom zbikowski5Offense

  • Clausen looked sharp again.  His passing percentage was just 50%, but when you factor in the drops, it would have been much higher so that doesn’t bother me at all.  What I really loved seeing is 6 TD’s to 0 INTs the past two weeks.  I realize the defenses he’s faced are weak, but seeing a freshman quarterback not making freshman mistakes is very encouraging.    His touchdown pass to Grimes was a thing of beauty.  He fired the ball perfectly in between two defenders with more velocity than we’ve
  • Robert Hughes turned in one of the best performances from an Irish running back since Julius Jones tore up a couple defenses in 2003.  He ran with a purpose and didn’t go down on first contact.  According to NBC’s stats, Hughes had 66 of his 110 yards after initial contact.  Weis and Haywood need to find a way to get Hughes and Allen on the field at the same time.
  • Drops. Drops. And more drops.  In the movie The Program, the coach made the running back with fumble problems carry a ball around campus and had the rest of the team attempt to knock it out.  Weis should devise a similar game where anyone on the can throw a ball at a receiver at any time.  If they drop it, they run in practice.
  • Seriously though, a couple wide receivers whose names I won’t mention need to stay after practice and become good friends with the JUGGS machine.
  • Dan Wenger played well in his first start and Chris Stewart is starting to establish himself as one of the best run blockers on the team.  He still needs work on his pass blocking this off-season to quote John Madden, Stewart is just one of those “big uglies who brings a load when he hits you.”
  • How on earth did both guards jump off-side on 4tt and short when Weis said twice “we’re gonna go on three?”
  • It was great to see John Carlson catch a touchdown in his last game in Notre Dame stadium.
  • Weis is starting to open up the play book more for Clausen and as a result, his average yards per completion was a little over 12 which is a vast improvement from the beginning of the season.
  • Robby Parris is having a tough stretch to end the season.  He reminds me a lot of Mo Stovall circa 2003-04 right now.  He’s having dropping problems and just isn’t using his size to his advantage much like Mo did before Weis arrived.  Let’s hope that he can develop just as Mo did.
  • On the flip side, Duval Kamara’s touchdown was a textbook example of how to use your size to shield off a defender in the end zone.
  • Would have liked to see the offense put some more points up on the scoreboard, but overall it was good to see the offense grind out 220 yards on the ground and weather could have played a role in Notre Dame running the ball more in the second half.
  • Wide receivers did a much better job of blocking in the run game than they have most of the season.
  • Seeing Zibby get in at quarterback was really fun to watch.


  • Despite their 1-9 record coming into this game, the Duke offense has been able to put on the board this year.  They scored 36 on Wake Forest, 43 on Navy, and 24 on Georgia Tech so holding them to one garbage time touchdown might be a bigger accomplishment than most will give them credit for.
  • Trevor laws only had 6 tackles.
  • Joe Brockington played a pretty good game and turned in the type of effort that’s been missing at times this year on defense.
  • David Bruton is going to be a very high draft pick after another year as a starter in 2008.
  • Ian Williams held his own in the absence of Pat Kuntz.  A full winter in the weight room should have him ready to make a bigger impact in 2008.
  • Brian Smith has had a couple bone head penalties this year, but he plays with a lot of intensity.  Corwin Brown needs to work on harnassing that with him, but I’ll take a defense that plays with his intensity any day – without the penalties of course.
  • I also noticed Brian Smith working a spin move at times on Saturday which is something I don’t recall him doing very often this year.

Special Teams

  • I wouldn’t mind if all of spring practice was devoted solely to special teams at this point.  The only aspect of special teams that was solid Saturday was the punting of Eric Maust who made a great play on the bad snap.  If Maust doesn’t get that punt off, Duke would have had excellent field position and who knows that the rest of that first half would have played out.
  • It’ll be interesting to see who is the punt returner next year.  George West was given a chance on Saturday, but didn’t get to make a return.  I would think Armando Allen, West, Munir Prince, and Golden Tate at least compete for the position this spring.
  • Weis’s decision to go for it on 4th down at the end of the Navy game is backed up with each missed field goal.


  • A solid win and the definition of “a win is a win.”
  • 11 penalties for 103 yards is unacceptable, but the 15 that came on John Carlson’s “unsportsmanlike conduct” was an absolutely horrendous call and how the Duke receiver who basically tackled Darrin Walls in the end zone didn’t get called for offensive pass interference I don’t know.
  • We’re finding some playmakers over these last couple of games and if the receivers hold onto the ball better, the score of the game might have been a lot different.
  • Weis putting in Zibby at quarterback at the end of the game was a great move by the big man and shows he really cares about his players.  Seeing things like that make it easy to see why Weis recruits as well as he does.

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  1. The game was a reason to smile but it was quickly washed away when my 11 year old son reminded me….Dad, it’s Duke!!! They do have a chance to show a little more this weekend in a game they “can” win. The fact is this team and staff has a LONG way to go. I am a Cub so…hope springs eternal.
    Keep up the good and honest work Frank.

  2. Bob Gillearian is a mad man. On the game notes: nice analysis. Zibby at qb made me smile and look over to my buddy and say “thats why Weis is a winner, and will be a winner here”. I thought Jimmy’s arm looked pretty darn good. Maybe I was kinda quick to flip the coin and give the job to Christ. I can see a battle a brewing for both of them.
    GooD Win and lets go get some Cardinals.

  3. By the way, Frank, Bob Gilleran is now after the South Bend Tribune. Didn’t like their analysis and is threatening to sue or some such nonsense. So keep entertaining us and allowing the rational to chat it up here. Thanks, Frank

  4. Frank,
    Great Analysis of the game. I saw the first part when both offenses stunk and had a family obligation so I had to go back and review the rest of the game. I saw enough to fully agree with your analysis.

    I will add some general thoughts:

    Once the offense got rolling, they played very differently. That demonstrates the importance of rhythm, confidence, and emotional momentum, especially for college age kids. Had Notre Dame played Duke after the USC game, they might have turned the second half of the season around. And a lesson for defensive coaches: Never give a quarterback or offensive unit a chance to get into a rhythm.

    Secondly, there now appear to be several offensive players starting to emerge with both skills, leadership and work ethic to bring a contender to the field. Offseason training will critically define the level of success, but the possibilities are high even next year.

    The defense has seriously high potential if the current leaders pass the torch to the younger more talented guys. Credit the Zibby, Laws, and Crum for their leadership if nothing else, because this unit could be fearsome even next year.

    Weis’s challenge in the offseason is not to over analyze the situation, but to look at what is needed in critical areas.

    First – motivation and psychology. Lou Holtz would be the perfect mentor. His communication of what you need to do as an individual is inspirational and will get the team to perform better than the sum of it’s parts. He can motivate beyond the X’s and O’s and get a team to overachieve.

    Second – Strength, Conditioning, Agility. Holtz’s offseason program between the 1987 and 1988 season was leading edge, and a key difference maker in the performance abilities of the team in it’s Championship run. This team clearly needs to improve, more in agility than anything else. Quickness and footwork are as important as all out speed.

    Third, physical practices stressing fundamentals and once those are mastered, getting into the fancy X’s and O’s Weis prides himself on. Weis could do a lot of what he wants if he can create a system that simplifies assignments while still keeping a sophisticated game plan. But in reality he’d be better off with a more fundamental approach on offense.

    Fourth, the coaches shouldn’t psych themselves out of games by overreacting. Holtz was a master of patience and convinced his players not to get uptight if a game wasn’t going great in the first quarter. The 1993 Sugar Bowl against Florida was an example. His gameplan was robust enough to let it gell in the third quarter. Weis needs to learn not to tinker, but to have faith and see his vison through.

    Also, close losses do matter. Quit gambling because even though they should know better, a 20 point loss because you went for it on 4th down inside your own 20 instead of punting with 5:00 to go, lettign the opponent score, gives your kids the feeling of being blown out. Don’t take irrational risks.

    If Weis pay attention to a few fundamental items in the offseason and can get this team inspired to turn this year’s failure into a motivational tool, then even next year could be an inspiring season.

  5. Another excellent analysis. Just a few comments:

    1. The “off-season in the weight room” comment is one that I have heard a lot of analysts make this year – particularly with regard to ND’s offensive and defensive lines. The performances of ND seniors at the NFL combines over the last few years does not give one any particular confidence that, if this is regarded as being one of the main remedies for performance improvement, there will indeed be the hoped-for improvement. Apart from the periodic exception, the ND line candidates have traditionally not performed well in the strength tests. Last year’s group was not only hard pressed to be in the upper half of the linemen but they had a difficult time doing markedly better than Brady Quinn. From what I could find for the last two years of offensive linemen, Dan Stevenson had 24 reps at 225; Mark LeVoir – 29; Ryan Harris – 22; and Dan Santucci – 23. Quinn had 24.

    If the weight room is looked upon a being a critical factor in improved performance, then somebody better take very close look at what is/has been going on at ND in terms of the strength and conditioning coach, the details of the program, and the performance goals that are being set.

    I am 63 years old and, although I have an athletic background and still compete in field sports at the Master’s level, there is no way that these guys should be in the low 20s when I can get to 17 reps.

    2. Special Teams – I could not agree with you more. ND ranks 87th on yards-per-return for kickoffs and 76th for punts. What worries me most about these figures is that we are putting our hopes for the future on the supposed quality and depth of the current sophomore and freshmen classes. Many of the non-starters from these classes now populate the special teams. If these are the spots where determination and athleticism are the key elements – which is how they are most often characterized, then I begin to wonder whether these highly ranked classes are all they were cracked up to be.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Very Good read
    I am in total agreement
    If I am not mistaken, CW and the coaching staff got All Seniors on the field (that were able)
    It was fun to watch

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