Sunday Morning Drive Thru

IrishEyes weekly first look at the key storylines from Saturday's contest.

Go North-South, Big Man

At 5'11" 235-(plus) pounds, Irish junior running back Robert Hughes isn't a classic big 'back, but he has found his identity as a collegiate runner.

At his best, the combo-back from Chicago is a downhill, one-cut runner: a player that does damage running through the second level, gashing defenses for five to eight, to 12 yards when he finds initial daylight at the line of scrimmage.

After a breakout final month of his freshman season in 2007 and opening two-game home-stand last year, Hughes struggled to carve a consistent niche over the next 14 games (charted below), but since he entered this year's Purdue contest midway through the second quarter on September 26 as a replacement for game starter Jonas Gray, Hughes has run with confidence, authority, and a purpose.

  • Hughes (Final Two Games 2007 and First Two Starts 2008): 71 carries, 378 yards, 4 touchdowns. Separate rushes of at least five yards: 35 in 4 games.
  • Hughes (Final 11 games 2008 and First Three Games 2009): 83 carries, 269 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Separate rushes of at least five yards: 27 in 14 games
  • Hughes (Purdue through Washington State, 2009): 57-291-4. Separate rushes of at least five yards: 21 in 5 games.

Hughes finished yesterday's matchup vs. the Cougars with 131 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and added four receptions for 51 yards on the evening. His 182 yards from scrimmage marks the highest total by a Notre Dame running back since Darius Walker netted 219 yards from scrimmage (on 40 touches) vs. Purdue on September 30, 2006.

Hughes and injured classmate Armando Allen (ankle – Allen likely would have played vs. a more formidable opponent last night in San Antonio) should form a reliable, winning duo over the next month as the Irish encounter rushing defenses ranked 59, 19, 51, and 46 to close out the regular season.

Welcome Back and Welcome Aboard

Two Irish receivers scored their first touchdowns of the season last night as junior Duval Kamara and sophomore John Goodman started and finished the offense's 40-point outburst with TD catches from one of their respective classmates.

When Notre Dame's first possession, a methodical 10-play, 45-yard drive, stalled with a field goal at the Cougars 6-yard line, it appeared to pensive Irish fans that though the game would hardly be in doubt, the Irish might not have hit the field with all pistons firing.

But after twice stopping the Cougars after three snaps, quarterback Jimmy Clausen drove the Irish 80 yards in 6 plays on a drive that culminated with a Clausen-to-Kamara touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. Kamara, who two years ago set program freshman receiving records for receptions (34) and touchdowns (4) hadn't hit pay dirt since the first quarter of Notre Dame's 35-17 win over Michigan in Week Two 2008.

Like Hughes in the backfield, the imposing Kamara has settled into his role as a possession receiver over the last two games, catching 10 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Seven of those 10 receptions have resulted in either a first down or touchdown for the ND offense.

Likewise emerging over the last three games is the sophomore Goodman, who caught a frozen-rope from backup quarterback Dayne Crist for a 64-yard post route touchdown from the left slot, midway through the final period. The pass was the sophomore Crist's first TD toss as well, though Crist was lost to injury (knee) one series later.

Goodman's 64-yard catch-and-run was the fifth longest play from scrimmage by an Irish player this season (and the longest by someone other than Golden Tate or Michael Floyd).

Simply the Best

Junior WR/Wildcat QB Golden Tate put on a first-half show for the prime time audience, catching three passes for 83 yards and a score while carrying the ball on four occasions totaling 64 yards and another touchdown.

Tate's spinning 16-yard TD run over the left side in the 2nd Quarter provided the Irish with a 16-0 advantage but it was his half-ending touchdown grab that will have the nation talking this week…talking Heisman, in fact, if the Irish continue to win through the season's final month.

With seven seconds remaining in the first half and the ball placed on the midfield stripe, Clausen rolled to his right and fired a pass that traveled 60 yards in the air (the clock expired as Clausen's spiral sailed toward the end zone). Out of the pack leapt Tate, who's two-handed snatch of the football at its highest point over and eventually secured from three Cougars defenders, while incredible to the Irish football neophyte, was par for the course for fans and game announcers Pat Haden and Tom Hammond who've had the opportunity to watch the Half-Man, Half-Amazing Tate work over the last three seasons.

Since his first three receptions, all leaping, one-on-one jump balls (for 104 yards and a touchdown) vs. Purdue in September 2007, Tate has gone from athletic curiosity, to promising receiver, to one of the nation's most dangerous targets…to possibly the nation's best offensive threat as we enter November 2009.

At 5'11" Tate explodes off the ground to out-jump, out-hustle, and out-muscle cornerbacks and safeties for deep passes. He's a top tier player after the catch, rarely allowing himself to be tackled prior to additional yardage; and his puzzling two-half episode of the dropsies (second half at Michigan and first half vs. Michigan State) now ranks as a distant memory (or more of an unsolvable mystery for those that have seen him attack the football in the air since).

Part Derrick Mayes (with the ball in the air); part Tim Brown (Brown, like Tate, doubled as a backfield threat that was arguably his team's best runner); and part John Taylor (Taylor, the ex-49ers compliment to Jerry Rice, was by far the NFL's best receiver after-the-catch in the for a 3-4 year period), Tate is easily the nation's most electrifying player and ranks among the nation's best offensive weapons…a legitimate first-team All America candidate and darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender through eight games.

Defensive Dominance

Washington State's offense entered the contest with the baggage of a few unfortunate and ultimately telling statistics that played into ND's favor:

  • Sacks Allowed: Last in the nation with 35…Notre Dame's four-man defensive front added five to that total (Ethan Johnson 1.5 – the latter shared with Kerry Neal; Darius Fleming 1; Steve Filer 1, and Paddy Mullen/Zeke Motta were awarded the official honors).
  • Total Offense: 114th entering the contest with a 282-yard-per-game average…the Cougars managed just 206 vs. Notre Dame Saturday night, due largely to 10 tackles-for-lost yardage (a category in which Washington State ranks last nationally by a healthy margin) by the Irish defense.

    10 of Washington State's first 11 drives resulting in either an interception (twice) or punt (eight others). The Cougars full-game, possession-by-possession snap total: 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 7 (TD), 3, 1 (INT), 3, 3, 1(INT), 7 (TD), 7 (Game Over).

Washington State has a poor offense and the Irish defense, with one notable first half exception, handled the Cougars attack in an appropriate, shut-down manner for the game's 11 decisive possessions.

Tausch is True

It appears the standard Irish fan's oft-lamented question, "Why can't we recruit a kicker?" will have to be put on ice for the next few seasons as freshman placekicker Nick Tausch, eight games into his collegiate career, is the program's new record-holder for consecutive field goals made.

After missing his first attempt, a 28-yard gimme at Michigan, Tausch has split the uprights on kicks of: 34, 22, 42, 46, 34, 34, 40, 34, 21, 24, 37, 34, 29, and 23 yards. The final listing broke the record of former walk-on Mike Johnston, who drilled 13 consecutive field goals in 1982.

Not yet tested under game-ending pressure or near the 50-yard mark, the reliable Tausch nonethless serves as first-year security blanket for his head coach and the team's offensive play-caller, though he has missed two extra points during his span of field goal perfection (including a blocked PAT last night in the Alamo Dome).

Note: IrishEyes will have a brief update tonight after Charlie Weis' 8:00 PM press conference, though injury information is unlikely to be released until Tuesday during Weis' weekly meeting with the media.


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