Meet the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame

Charlie Weis won 3 Super Bowls as an Offensive Coordinator and has 4 rings in all during his stellar 15 career as an NFL assistant coach. He left the back to back champion New England Patriots to become the head coach at his alma mater in 2005.

Location: South Bend, IN
Colors: Gold and Blue
Former Fighting Irish: Paul Hornung - Halfback, Safety, Punter - Green Bay Packers (1957-1962) (1964-1966), Nick Buoniconti - Linebacker - Boston Patriots (1962-1968);
Miami Dolphins (1969-1976), Dave Casper - Tight End - Oakland Raiders (1974-1980);
Houston Oilers (1981-1983); Minnesota Vikings (1983); Los Angeles Raiders (1984), Justin Tuck - Defensive End - New York Giants (2005-present), Brady Quinn - Quarterback - Cleveland Browns (2007-present), Jerome Bettis - Running Back - Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams (1993-1995); Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-2005), Joe Theismann - Quarterback - Washington Redskins (1974-1985), Tim Brown - Wide Receiver - Los Angeles / Oakland Raiders (1988-2003); Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004), Chris Zorich - Defensive Tackle - Chicago Bears (1991-1996); Washington Redskins (1997), Raghib Ismail - Wide Receiver - Los Angeles / Oakland Raiders (1993-1995); Carolina Panthers (1996-1998); Dallas Cowboys (1999-2002), The Four Horseman (Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, left halfback Jim Crowley, right halfback Don Miller and fullback Elmer Layden) (1922-1924), George Gipp - Halfback - (1918-1920), Joe Montana - Quarterback - San Francisco 49ers (1979-1992); Kansas City Chiefs (1993-1994)
Fast Facts: Navy - Notre Dame is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country.  Saturday will mark the 82nd consecutive year the two schools have played.

Coaching
Charlie Weis won 3 Super Bowls as an Offensive Coordinator and has 4 rings in all during his stellar 15 career as an NFL assistant coach.  He left the back to back champion New England Patriots to become the head coach at his alma mater in 2005.  Weis continued that success during his first two seasons in South Bend with consecutive BCS Bowl bids.  But things changed for the worse in 2007.  The Irish finished 3-9 after starting 1-9.  This season has seen Notre Dame return to some sense of normalcy.  The Irish are currently 5-4. 

Coach Weis has 6 coaches that have been with him his entire tenure at Notre Dame.  Special Teams Coordinator Brian Polian, Tight Ends coach Bernie Parmalee, Defensive Line coach Jerome "Jappy" Oliver, Wide Receivers coach/Recruiting Coordinator Rob Ianello, Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs coach Mike Haywood, and Assistant Head Coach (Offense)/Offensive Line coach are all entering their 4th seasons with the Irish, but it is two newer faces that are the headline names on the staff.  Former Notre Dame Quarterback Ron Powlus is entering his 2nd year as Quarterbacks coach while former Georgia Tech Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta enters his first season as Assistant Head Coach (Defense)/Linebackers coach.  Powlus is second in almost every major passing category in Fighting Irish history, while Tenuta brings with him his reputation for a blitzing, aggressive style of defense.  Coach Weis has reclaimed the play calling duties this week as Coach Haywood was forced to miss practice while he attended a family funeral.

Offense
When Brady Quinn exhausted his eligibility in 2006, he left a void in the Irish offense.  Last season's super recruit Jimmy Clausen (#7) was anticipated to fill that void.  But unfortunately for Irish fans, Clausen (6-3, 217lb, So.) had a freshman season that was plagued by injury and inconsistency.  He did start 9 games last season and finished with 1,254 yards on 138 of 245 passing with 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.  This season Clausen is finally 100% and his numbers bare that out.  He is 198 of 335 passing for 2,329 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  He is averaging 258.8 yards per game.  Clausen's backup is Evan Sharpley (#13).  Sharpley (6-2, 215lb, Sr.) started two games last season, including the one against Navy.  He finished 2007 77 of 140 passing for 736 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Part of what led to Notre Dame's frustration last season was the inability to run the football.  Though that has improved this season, the Irish still struggle at times and are currently ranked 95th in the country averaging 115.96 yards per game.  Their leading rusher is Armando Allen (#5).  Allen (5-10, 195lb, So.) is the fastest of Notre Dame's three primary running backs.  This season he has 457 yards on 101 carries and 2 touchdowns.  Allen is also third on the team in receptions with 35.  His best game as a freshman was against the Midshipmen, a game he started and finished with 16 carries for 91 yards and 3 receptions for 20 yards.  Both of the other primary running backs have more size and power.  Robert Hughes (#33) and James Aldridge (#34) both started games last season while Hughes (5-11, 237lb, So.) and Allen have split the starts this season.  Aldridge (6-0, 225lb, Jr.) leads the team with 3 touchdowns on the ground.  When the Irish use a fullback it is generally Asaph Schwapp (#44).  Schwapp (6-0, 257lb, Sr.) is almost exclusively used as a blocker, as he has only 1 carry for 2 yards on the season.

Possibly no other position has shown more improvement over last season then the receivers.  Golden Tate (#23) had six receptions as a freshman.  This season, Tate (5-11, 195lb, So.) has 43 receptions for 742 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Last year, Michael Floyd (#3) was a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  This season, Floyd (6-3, 215lb, Fr.) leads the team with 46 catches for 702 yards and 7 touchdowns.  David Grimes (#11) leads the Irish in experience.  Grimes (5-10, 177lb, Sr.) has 20 starts in his career.  This season he has 21 receptions for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Duval Kamara (#18) is the biggest Notre Dame receiver.  Kamara (6-5, 219lb, So.) gives Clausen another weapon, especially in the red zone.  Thigh End Kyle Rudolph (#9) is 5th on the team in receptions with 20.  Rudolph (6-6, 252lb, Fr.) also is another match up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Maybe I spoke too soon, because the offensive line's improvement may be the biggest reason for the improved performance of the Irish offense.  Last season Notre Dame was at or near the bottom of the country in sacks allowed all year.  This season they rank 36th giving up 1.44 sacks per game.  Much of the reason for that improvement is due to Mike Turkovich (#77) moving to left tackle from left guard, where he started all 12 games in 2007.  Turkovich (6-6, 305lb, Sr.) has started 21 consecutive games in his career.  Left guard Eric Olsen (#55) has started 15 consecutive games, though six were at right guard in 2007.  Olsen (6-4, 303lb, Jr.) is the third most experienced offensive linemen on the team.  The most experienced by far is right tackle Sam Young (#74).  Young (6-8, 330lb, Jr.) is a three year starter with 34 consecutive starts.  Notre Dame has tradition of quality centers, with Jeff Faine, John Sullivan, Dan Santucci and Sean Mahan all currently in the NFL.  Dan Wenger (#51) hopes to continue that tradition.  Wenger (6-4, 302lb, Jr.), a high school teammate of Sam Young, has started 14 games in his career, including the last 11 at center.  With Olsen moving to left guard, the right guard position opened up for true freshman Trevor Robinson (#78).  Robinson (6-5, 306lb, Fr.) was highly touted coming out of Elkhorn High School in Nebraska.  He was ranked as the second-best player overall in Nebraska by both Rivals and Scout.com.

Defense
Pat Kuntz (#96) started the first 10 games of 2007 at nose tackle before his season was cut short due to injury.  This season Kuntz (6-3, 283lb, Sr.) has moved to defensive end and has 26 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and a team high 3 sacks.  He has also added an interception and a fumble recovery.  At the other defensive end, Justin Brown (#94) has played in all 9 games this season with 6 starts.  Brown (6-3, 277lb, R-Sr.) has 11 tackles with 3 tackles for loss on the year.  Taking over at nose for Kuntz is Ian Williams (#95).  Williams (6-2, 310lb, So.) played in every game as a freshman and started the final two games in place of the injured Kuntz.  He has 22 tackles this season with 2 tackles for loss.

The leader of the Irish linebacking corps is Maurice Crum Jr. (#40).  Crum (6-0, 235lb, R-Sr.) has 44 career starts to his credit.  He had started 43 in a row until the Washington game earlier this season.  Crum has 49 tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.  Sophomore Brian Smith (#58) leads all Irish linebackers with 51 tackles.  Smith (6-3, 245lb, So.) was one of only three freshmen who started on the defense last year, when he started the last three games of the season.  A pair of sophomores man the outside spots in the Irish 3-4.  Kerry Neal (#56) and Harrison Smith (#22) add speed and athleticism to the Notre Dame defense.  Neal (6-2, 246lb, So.) started 5 games as a freshman.  This season he has 16 tackles including 3 tackles for loss and a sack.  He also has an interception.  Smith (6-2, 212lb, So.) moves from safety to strong side linebacker.  He leads the team in tackles for loss with 7.  Smith is also 5th on the team with 40 tackles.

Strong safety Kyle McCarthy (#28) has waited his entire career for this opportunity.  McCarthy (6-1, 203lb, Sr.) had played almost entirely on special team, until this season when he got a chance to start.  He has responded to lead the team in tackles with 84.  He also has 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception.  Free safety David Bruton (#27) has not had that problem.  Bruton (6-2, 212lb Sr.) has 20 career starts.  He is currently second on the team with 76 tackles, but leads the team with 3 interceptions.  He had a career high 16 tackles in their loss to Pitt.  At corner, Terrail Lambert (#20) is the elder statesman.  Lambert (5-11, 195lb, R-Sr.) has 31 consecutive starts.  He has 33 tackles on the season.  At the other corner, Raeshon McNeil (#8) started one game before becoming the full time starter this season.  McNeil (6-0, 190lb, Jr.) has 25 tackles and 2 interceptions for the year.

Special Teams
It seems like a waste of time to talk about the Irish punter entering the Navy game.  Notre Dame has not punted against the Mids since 2004.  But hopefully we will see a lot of Eric Maust (#43).  Maust (6-2, 177lb, Jr.) has punted 34 times this season for an average of 40.4 yards per kick.

Brandon Walker (#14) returns as the Irish place kicker.  Last season Walker (6-3, 202lb, So.) was 6 of 12 on field goals with a long of 48 yards.  This season, he is 8 of 15.  Backup punter Ryan Burkhart (#39) handles the kickoff duties.  Burkhart (5-11, 190lb, Jr.) has an average of 61.1 yards per kickoff.

Starting running back Armando Allen and starting wide receiver Golden Tate share the return jobs.  Allen has 7 punt returns averaging 9.4 yards per return and 17 kickoff returns averaging 22.1 yards per return.  While Tate has 7 punt returns and 18 kickoff returns averaging 8.1 yards and 20.9 yards respectively.


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