Rank and File

IrishEyes wraps up its coverage of ND/UM with its weekly player ratings and unit rankings as well as a review of Coach Weis' chosen personnel groups and Jimmy Clausen's passing tendencies, as the Irish begin preparation for Michigan State.

Question: How many tackles is "too many" at the safety position through two games?

Answer: I'm no expert, but its lower than 37…

That's the number Irish 5th-year strong safety Kyle McCarthy and junior FS Harrison Smith have totaled in a combined effort vs. Nevada and Michigan. While the safeties in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's scheme often have cross-over duties as linebackers (according to Tenuta in a pre-season interview), 37 is a staggering number for players doubling as the back line of a team's defense.

In other words, 343 rushing yards allowed through two games is a statistic that does indeed paint an accurate picture of the Irish defense in mid-September.

Now for something more positive:

Irish Top 10 through Game Two

It's probably still too early, but as promised, here's the first edition of my weekly Top 10 Irish players for 2009

  • Jimmy Clausen – He's No. 1 and Floyd is 1A. Clausen has the harder job and has been nearly flawless.
  • Michael Floyd – Like Ivan Drago, only the blood proves he's human…
  • Armando Allen – The best effort of his career with the only mistake a needless 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that changed field position for the game's final five minutes. While I found the call to be ridiculous, there's no doubt Allen tempted fate, either with his purported words or obvious "shhh" motion, with the official standing next to him.
  • Trevor Robinson – I couldn't differentiate among the O-linemen after one performance (Nevada). It's still tough, but Robinson has stood out and handled his business on a snap-by-snap basis.
  • Golden Tate – Two key drops lowered his mid-September status as Floyd's equal and a freshman mistake (as a junior) at the end of the game was a major error. It likely wouldn't have mattered (the odds were not good that ND would complete a Hail Mary, especially without Floyd) but he should have known (and been told) to get down on that final play. And no, I don't buy that he's an athlete looking to go to the house (Weis' words, not Tate's). Give me a break, with seven defender's and 55 yards between Tate and the end zone he should have been an athlete looking to give his team one more play.
  • Kyle Rudolph – Improved run-blocking vs. Michigan (and that game is weighed heavily in this column) and he's an unstoppable force offensively that needs more action this week. Rudolph was targeted for five passes in Ann Arbor and that's not enough.
  • Sam Young – Aside from two costly penalties (one a false call) Young has blossomed in his final season. He's stronger at the point and far more consistent as a pass-blocker. I listed Young with two sub par blocks vs. UM (and another that was too close to call).
  • Eric Olsen – Excellent vs. Nevada…Fine vs. Michigan (I reviewed him with four sub par blocking efforts on TV). I have faith in Olsen as a senior center, both as a drive blocker in short-yardage situations and as a blocker in space.
  • Kyle McCarthy – Two games, two big plays, 20 tackles and when he misses, he hustles back into the mix. He's currently the team's best defender but the Irish will be better off if someone up front could challenge him for that honor.
  • Paul Duncan – Aside from two nonsensical blocking assignments (Duncan was asked to move down the line at the snap and execute a block on Wolverines DE Brandon Graham) I thought Duncan played well in Ann Arbor.

Honorable Mention through Both Games: Harrison Smith (I wouldn't argue with Smith as a member of the top 10) and Chris Stewart

Most Likely to Rejoin the Conversation Next Week: Brian Smith

Hey Man, I'm Open

Jimmy Clausen threw 45 passes Saturday (including penalized plays). The targets of those passes are listed below:

    Tate: 15 (two square-in routes and 13 outside the hash marks)
  • Floyd: 13 (three slants and one square-in with the rest outside the hash marks)
  • Rudolph: 4 (two inside and two outside the hash marks)
  • Allen: 4 (three screens and one over-the-middle)
  • Evans: 3 (all outside the hash)
  • Kamara: 3 (bubble screens)
  • Gray: 1 (middle)
  • Unaccounted For: 2 (missed two plays though I believe both were *outside)

Pass Target Breakdown: 34/*36 passes attempted outside the hash marks (including penalized plays) vs. 9 passing attempts inside.

Personnel Groupings

Coach Weis featured seven personnel groupings vs. the Wolverines (the numbers below include penalized plays):

  • Three Wide Receivers, Tight End, Half back: Used for the majority of the 2nd half and 34 plays over the course of the contest.
  • Two Wide Receivers, Two Tight Ends, Half Back: 12 total plays
  • Two Wide Receivers, one tight end, one half back, and one fullback in an Off-Set I formation (with either Robert Hughes or Bobby Burger as the lead fullback): 12 total plays.
  • Four Wide Receivers (this does include tight end Kyle Rudolph split out wide) and a half back: 10 plays, nine of which occurred during Notre Dame's final scoring drive.
  • Empty Backfield Formation (generally splitting Armando Allen out wide as well at Rudolph – the defense thus faced five "wide receivers"): 4 plays
  • Three Tight Ends, Half Back, Wide Receiver: 1 play
  • The Wildcat Formation with Armando Allen taking a direct snap in the shotgun and Jimmy Clausen split wide (away from the direction of the play). 1 play.

Unit Rankings

My summer Unit Rankings (based 80 percent on what we had seen in the past and 20 percent on logical improvement) were as follows: WR, DB, Kick Coverage, QB, RB, LB, TE, Return Teams, Kicking Game, OL, DL.

Below are the Week Two re-rankings of those units (to be updated every Tuesday throughout the season):

  1. Quarterbacks – Clausen was arguably better vs. Michigan, considering the opponent and circumstances, than he was in his torrid two-game domination of WAC opponents Hawaii and Nevada. Jimmy Clausen gives the Irish a chance in every game; there may not be a better pure passer in the nation.
  2. Wide Receivers – Second half mistakes by Tate and Evans can't be overlooked, but there's no cause for concern among this group of wideouts assuming Floyd's 15-stitches hold up through the next two weeks.
  3. Tight Ends – They block as a unit (especially the backups, Ragone and Burger, though Rudolph improved greatly from Nevada to UM) and their leader is an absolute force as a pass-catcher. Rudolph was underutilized vs. Michigan, targeted for just five passes (that includes penalties) and just two in the second half. This group was greatly undervalued (by me) in the pre-season, has been better than expected, and will continue to improve…this season and beyond.
  4. Offensive Line – From debilitating weakness in '07 to so-so in '08…the '09 line has evolved into a team strength after a strong, "winning" effort on the road vs. a quality opponent.
  5. Running Backs – Armando Allen's grade for the Michigan game would have been an A+ if not for the needless and ultimately costly celebration penalty. Regardless, Allen's become a true go-to back in 2009, lacking only breakaway ability to complete his arsenal as a runner. He's ideally suited for the approach of this offense.
  6. Return Teams – Inspired effort by Barry Gallup in the third quarter with a career-best 52-yard return (which also ranks as the second best kick return of the last three seasons by an Irish player), though the Irish were unable to capitalize. Nothing to speak of on punts as the large majority have been blown dead or resulted in a fair catch by Golden Tate.
  7. Defensive Backs – McCarthy and Smith have been impressive but the unit has failed to make enough of an impact and ultimately let down on the game's decisive drive in Ann Arbor. Though the group technically ranked as a weakness Saturday its likely the depth of talent will allow the DBs to bounce back. The Irish will face three quality receivers this Saturday (a better group than what was on the field in Ann Arbor) and the Notre Dame back line must repond.
  8. Linebackers – Solid and at times spectacular against Nevada but were overmatched and continually victimized by the elusive Tate Forcier in Saturday's loss. Though it's obviously impossible to simulate Forcier's skill set in practice, the Notre Dame Linebackers struggled mightily in Ann Arbor. Better tackling is mandatory if the Irish are to reach their potential as a defense.
  9. Kicking Game – The Irish can't continue to bounce back from missed 28-yard field goals every game, every season. Freshman Nick Tausch deserves credit for bouncing back and hitting his next two chances.
  10. Kick Coverage – Kick-off depth has been a major disappointment after August boasts to the contrary…the Irish coverage unit failed at Michigan, allowing a relatively untouched 94-yard return for a score.
  11. Defensive Line – It's painfully obvious the worst-case scenario (No. 11 pre-season ranking) has come to fruition. 10 games remain for the young depth to emerge and for the group to improve, especially at the point of attack. The unit faces a stiff test this Saturday with what promises to be a physical Michigan State offense.

Michigan Roundup

Five Items You Might Have Missed:

  • Duval Kamara taking out two defenders on Armando Allen's overturned touchdown reception
  • Paul Duncan's path-clearing block on Allen's successful two-point conversion
  • A wide-open Robby Parris over the middle (from the slot) on Clausen's (perfect) incomplete pass to freshman Shaquelle Evans
  • Backup LG Dan Wenger clearing a path for Allen for a 15-yard gain on ND's final scoring drive
  • Darius Fleming blowing up a 3rd and Goal toss right to hold the Wolverines to a field goal in the third quarter.

Offensive Players of the Game: Armando Allen and Jimmy Clausen. Michael Floyd deserves mention as well.

Defensive Players of the Game: Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith

Unsung Players of the Game: Trevor Robinson and John Ryan

Better on Tape than Live: Ethan Johnson

(I) Thought He'd Have a Better Game: Brian Smith, Sergio Brown and Darrin Walls

(I) Thought He'd Play More: Robert Blanton, Manti Te'o, and Hafis Williams

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