Thursday, September 24, 2009

IBG: Life After Michael Floyd Edition

This week's IBG is brought to you courtesy of the consistently awesome, UHND:

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?

What I think you'll likely see is more of a ball-control offense featuring short, high percentage passes mixed with runs and, on occasion, the long ball. With the exception of an inexperienced Shaquelle Evans and Golden Tate, who will be the focus of a lot of attention, the personnel does not lend itself to much in the way of a deep threat. At the same time, Charlie is quite used to choreographing long, sustained drives with a balanced offense from his days in New England. From the perspective of receivers, I think Duval Kamara, both because of his blocking and experience, and Shaq Evans because of his big-play potential will be the most important. That said, the key to this whole offense is Jimmy Clausen. His development as a very accurate and poised quarterback is what will make this offense, and its young receivers, click.

2. After seeing three games from Notre Dame in 2009 have your expectations increased, decreased, or remained the same?

While, in the preseason, I expected Notre Dame to be around 9-4 or 10-3; with Michael Floyd in the lineup all year, I think they may have done better. Yes, the defense has been a work-in-progress but, with a healthy Floyd, the offense gave the Irish a chance every week, including USC. Without him, however, I think ND probably does drop at least another two games. So, bascially, my answer is, the same as in the preseason, a little bit decreased from the eary portion of the regular season.

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?

Jonas Gray. With Michael Floyd out and, in my opinion, the offensive focus about to shift to small ball, who better to take the reins than Jonas Gray? Purdue is 102nd in the country in rush defense and Gray is a beast when he gets a head of steam behind him. Allen's a little dinged and giving him an opportunity to get a bit of rest while Gray leads the charge would be a smart strategy for ND. Much like Allen's breakout against the Boilermakers in '08, I think we could be talking about a 100-yard + performance by Gray this year.

4. How would you grade the three new coaches on this year’s staff based on the first three games?

This is tough because there's such a small sample size with which to work, but I guess I would go with:

Verducci: B+. The line has opened up running lanes in both conventional formations and via the Wildcat and their pass blocking has been outstanding. This is easily the best the starters on this unit have played in several seasons and the reserves have also played well. Two things keep this grade from being an A - 1) This is a very experienced unit that should be doing at least as well as it has, and 2) when it counted against Michigan, they couldn't move a smaller defensive line back a few yards to run out the clock. The fact that these guys hadn't worn out the Wolverine front seven by that point in the game is somewhat inexplicable.

Alford: B. Allen has really improved and is a much more consistently solid runner than he has been previously. This, in some part, deserves a nod of the cap to Alford. On the flip side, while Jonas Gray has shown flashes of brilliance as a runner, he has been pretty terrible at pass blocking. Moreover, while it looks like Theo Riddick is going to be very good, what's happened to Robert Hughes? Hughes was once viewed as a candidate to be a featured back and now he's an afterthought. Sure, some of that is competition, but when he's been in the game, I've not seen anywhere near the same progress as with Allen. If we're going to give Alford credit for Allen, we need to deduct for Hughes. All in all, a better rushing game, but certainly not yet an A.

Hart: C. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think the defensive line is not as far away from being good as many may think. They have shown the potential to penetrate, but either overpursue or miss tackles. A lot of this is youth and inexperience. I do think that Hart is doing a good job technically with his troops, but they really need to provide better results on the field before this grade can improve.

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?

Little from Column A, little from Column B. I think that Tate probably made the catch, figured he couldn't stop and decided to make the best of it with the most theatrical post-touchdown performance I can remember seeing from an Irish player. I know the Spartan band probably hated it, but it was the kind of good-natured and silly fun that seems to be part of Tate's nature and makes him such an enjoyable player to watch.

6. How has your opinion of the Notre Dame schedule changed from how you felt about it in the pre-season?

It's probably around the same. Michigan is certainly better than I thought, but Michigan State and Nevada are worse. Looking forward, I am still not sold on Washington (they've played well but, ultimately, could prove to be Stanford 2007 redux), USC is probaby worse, BC, Washington State, Navy, Pitt and UConn about the same and Stanford slightly worse. Starting this week, I think the season will start to come in to much clearer focus as teams are more than a quarter of the way through the year and will start to settle into what they'll be for the rest of it.

7. Should Jimmy Clausen be getting more hype for the Heisman?

Absolutely, yes. People always say that being a QB at ND automatically puts you into the Heisman conversation. True, but it can also be a detriment. There is an awful lot of anti-ND sentiment in the media (shocking, I know, but press on) and, when you've received the same hype as has Clausen, expectations tend to be totally unreasonable. Even with that, find me another player, at any position, who has been as infallible as Clause this season. Can't be done. Ridiculous completion percentage, 300 yards + passing every game, nine TD passes and ZERO interceptions. Tremendous. And, since the last time I checked, Clausen doesn't pay defense, it's awfullly hard to hold Irish shortcomings against him...though Heisman voters clearly will.

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