UHND is hosting this week’s Irish Blog Gathering as we prepare for the life after Michael Floyd. This week we take a look at this weekend’s game against Purdue and reflect on the first quarter of the season.
Side note: the Irish Blog Gathering was originally created by SubwayDomer. He just relaunched his blog on a new platform and it looks great. Give him a visit if you have a minute.
1. The obvious question for the week, how does Notre Dame deal with the loss of Michael Floyd? What wide receiver steps up? How, if at all, does the offense change?
I wrote an article on Saturday night after the game about replacing Floyd, but now that Charlie Weis had his Tuesday presser and shed a little light on the subject I’ll add a little more. Weis said that he is considering moving Golden Tate around to prevent teams from keying on him which makes sense. After Floyd went down last year, the offense didn’t move the ball nearly as well culminating in the embarrassing offensive performance against USC. I would hope Weis learned from this and will do what he can to create favorable matchups for Golden.
I also think we’ll see some three wide receiver sets with Duval Kamara and Shaquelle Evans joining Tate. Evans might be the only wide receiver on the team who has the chance to be a dangerous deep threat to compliment Tate because of his speed.
As much as Weis says the offense won’t change, it almost has to at least a little. I would expect Notre Dame to attack the middle of the field more with Kyle Rudolph. Armando Allen is going to have to become a bigger weapon in the passing game on more than just screens too. Notre Dame has the weapons to make this offense go without Floyd, but Weis definitely has some work to do between now and October 17 to get this offense in a place where it can do some damage against USC.
2. After seeing three games from Notre Dame in 2009 have your expectations increased, decreased, or remained the same?
I would have to say my expectations are probably about the same as they were in the pre-season. I figured on a 9-3 regular season in the pre-season IBG and that is probably where the team is right about now – especially with Floyd out for the season. The defense is easily the biggest disappointment though and that could be what keeps this team from a BCS bowl right now.
The offensive line has exceeded my expectations more than any other unit on the team. Frank Verducci has done a truly awesome job with the offensive line so far. If you would have told me the offensive line would play as well as it has through games in August, I’d probably have had much higher expectations for this team.
3. The last two years against Purdue a Notre Dame player has had their breakout game. In 2007 it was Golden Tate and in 2008 it was Armando Allen. Who do you think could have their breakout game against the Boilermakers this year?
I think the obvious choice would have to be Shaquelle Evans. Like Tate in 2007, Evans hasn’t done a whole lot coming into the Purdue game, but we’ve heard a lot about his speed. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a couple of deep bombs thrown to Evans early to keep the defense honest without Floyd.
If Purdue is smart, they will key on Tate and put an extra man in the box to take away the running game until Notre Dame shows them that it has the wide receivers to run the same offense.
Prior to the 2007 Purdue game, Golden Tate had 0 catches and played in just one game. Against the Boilermakers Tate caught three passes for 104 yards and his first career touchdown. So far this season Evans has just 2 catches for 15 yards. We could see a similar breakout performance this weekend.
Wildcard here is Theo Riddick. Purdue has given up a lot of yards on the ground this year. If Notre Dame can soften up Purdue with the pass and open the run, Riddick could see some more action this week.
4. How would you grade the three new coaches on this year’s staff based on the first three games?
I don’t think you can give Frank Verducci anything but an A for the work he’s done with the Notre Dame offensive line. It’s almost like night and day. Last year Michigan State just beat up Notre Dame in the trenches and shut down the running game. They also got to Jimmy Clausen often. That didn’t happen last weekend. We’ve not only seen a better performance from the linemen but we’ve seen nasty streaks out players like Sam Young that we never saw before. Now Verducci just needs to get Young to cut down on the penalties.
Tony Alford has done a great job as well. Armando Allen might be the most improved player on the team. Outside of Allen though, the backs – especially Jonas Gray – have some suspect blocking skills so he still has plenty of work left to do as well. Still, the Alford hire has to be seen as at worst a solid B at this point.
As for Randy Hart, I would have to grade him an incomplete at this point. Everything I’ve heard about Randy Hart points to him being a very good coach, but the young Irish defense line is still learning on the job and experiencing growing pains. We did see Ethan Johnson start to grow as an interior defensive lineman last week though. Ian Williams had his best game of the season against the Spartans as well. The defensive ends, however, have been a disappointment this far.
5. Your thoughts on Golden Tate’s stage dive into the Michigan State band? Was he trying to avoid running into the band? Was the whole thing intentional? Little of column A, little of column B?
I think it was a little of column A and a little of column B. I don’t think that Tate could have completely stopped considering how close the Michigan State band was (who’s idea was that?), but I also don’t think he had to do a stage dive either. That said, I don’t have a problem with it at all. Notre Dame needs a little bit of swagger and since it didn’t draw a penalty I say no harm no foul.
Apparently Tate had made at least one fan on YouTube from the leap if nothing else.
6. How has your opinion of the Notre Dame schedule changed from how you felt about it in the pre-season?
It definitely looks a little tougher, but it’s still too early to tell. The new coach aura at Washington won’t last all season and at some point the lack of talent left by Willingham for Steve Sarkisian will catch up to them (hopefully before they visit South Bend next weekend). Michigan is clearly much better than I expected as well. Ditto for Pitt and UConn. At the same time, Stanford looks weaker than most thought they would be. As does Michigan State, Nevada, and Boston College. Surprisingly, USC looks weaker too as they could very easily be 1-2 at this point.
By the end of the season I think it’ll end up being tougher than most expected, and that will hurt the perception of Notre Dame’s season.
7. Should Jimmy Clausen be getting more hype for the Heisman?
It’s tough to say if he should be getting more hype for the Heisman. He certainly could be considering his stats are excellent and he’s shown a lot of leadership so far this season. The bottom line though is that Notre Dame is 2-1 and lost to a team they should have beat and Clausen will pay the price for that even though he played well in the loss.
If Clausen can put up some more gaudy numbers this weekend playing with turf toe and without All World wide receiver Michael Floyd than I will say that he deserves more hype than he’s currently getting.
That said, the October 17th game with USC will provide Clausen with all of the opportunity he needs to really put his name in the mix. If he continues at his current pace and can lead Notre Dame to a win then, he’ll be at the heart of the discussion.