Q&A - Notre Dame Style

This is a feature we've put together for the LSU and USC games, and it was so successful we decided to do it again! Jeff Baumhower, Publisher of Irish Eyes, was kind enough to answer the questions you asked about Notre Dame. Check out his responses to get an insider's perspective on UW's next opponent.

Ask him how warm "Cheeseburger Charlie's" seat is? Is it warm, flame-broiled, or directly under the flames?

Jeff Baumhower: Many Notre Dame fans expected Notre Dame to be 3-1 at the end of September, but they didn't expect Notre Dame to squeak past a couple opponents they figured to handle easily… There is no doubt about it, at this time, Weis is one bad loss away from going from the frying pan into the fire – so directly under the fire.

In a football related question, ask him what he considers to be the factor(s) that have limited their ability to run the ball effectively throughout Weis' tenure.

JB: There are a lot of reasons, depending on what year you pick. In Weis' first two seasons at Notre Dame, they ran the ball fairly effectively; in terms of total yardage per game, it was more a matter of choice. Weis would gameplan against a team's weakness. If that meant he could win throwing the ball 40 times he would. In ‘05-'06 the running game was a disaster, with '07 having an entirely new offensive line and new backfield…call it the Willingham effect. Not only couldn't they run the ball, but they couldn't protect the quarterback. They also lacked the aggressive mentality to run the ball. This year with a new offensive line coach, Frank Verducci, ND seems to have regained that attitude and is averaging 158 yards a game (4.2/carry).

How have the Notre Dame lines stacked up against their opponents thus far in the season? Are they relative strengths or weaknesses of the team?

JB: This was the biggest concern for ND fans coming into the season. The offensive line has met and even exceeded expectations and the offensive line is considered a strength of the team through four games. They've been able to run the ball effectively as well as protect the quarterback. They're able to pick up the 3rd and short on the ground, which had been an issue in the past.

The defensive line is another story. The unit isn't very deep and it is fairly inexperienced. Junioir defensive tackle Ian Williams, sophomore defensive tackle Ethan Johnson and sophomore defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore are all tied with 10 tackles on the season which puts them eighth on the team, and that's coming from a front four that has played the vast majority of the defensive snaps. They have had trouble making plays in the backfield and only have one sack on the season. They don't create a lot of pressure, most of that comes from blitzing linebackers. The front has done a good job in short yardage though, coming up with a several big stops.

I haven't really been following ND much. So which players are out with injuries and which players are expected to play injured. Of the players expected to play where do they rate from 0-100%?

JB: The biggest injury is to wide receiver Michael Floyd. He broke his collar bone against Michigan State and is out for the season. He is only a sophomore, but is considered one of the top receivers in the country. He was Notre Dame's No.1 receiver and the guy they went to when they needed a big play. 13 receptions for 358 yards (27.5 per catch) and five touchdowns… in only two and a half games.

Starting running back and leading rusher, Armando Allen has been slowed by an ankle injury and missed last week's game. He should be ready to Saturday. I'd put him at about 90%.

Jimmy Clausen (turf toe) played half of the game last week. You could see that he was bothered by his injury. He's a very accurate passer and missed several throws you'd expect him to make. The word is that he's ready to go, but this is an injury that will be with him until the last snap of the '09 season. I'd put him at about 80%.

Other than those three, Notre Dame is healthy.

What's the story behind Fauria leaving? And where has he landed? Not that this is technically an ND question anymore since he's gone. I just happen to remember the kid from when he was 10 years old playing flag football and am interested to know where he is.

JB: Joseph Fauria was to be Notre Dame's No.2 tight end this season, and would have given Notre Dame one of the best tight end combinations in the country, along with Kyle Rudolph. Unfortunately he was suspended for the 2009 season for two university violations. Fauria elected to transfer to UCLA rather than serve his suspension.

Notre Dame's pass efficiency defense ranks #82 in the country. What does Jeff think are the issues there - talent? Coaching? Scheme? Fluke based off of who they've played so far?

JB: That's the million dollar question right now for Notre Dame fans. Coming into the season the defensive backfield was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but it has actually been the weakest link. The talent should be there, and the unit is deep with five guys that could rotate in at any time and two safeties that make a lot of plays. Most feel the scheme is the issue. Notre Dame hasn't given up many deep balls, yet their pass defense has given up a ton of yards and a high completion percentage. The corners have played very soft and have allowed receivers to catch the underneath patterns without being challenged. Dink and dunk all day long.

Their defense overall appears to be vulnerable. If he were an opposing offensive coordinator, what would he point out as the weaknesses of the Irish defense, and what would he attempt to exploit?

Right now, I don't know where you wouldn't attack the defense. It really hasn't played very well and when an opponent has had to move the ball, they generally have been able to do so. I'd simply take the gameplan from Michigan and Michigan State. Dink and dunk, mix in some running plays and move Locker around in the pocket. Be patient, and take what the Notre Dame defense gives you.

On the flip side, the Irish passing game seems to be running in high gear. How much does the absence of Michael Floyd hurt the Notre Dame passing game? What about the turf toe that Clausen is playing through?

JB: Losing Michael Floyd will hurt Notre Dame. Golden Tate is a very good receiver, but he's a great receiver with Michael Floyd on the field. Without Floyd, teams will be able to roll over to Tate and basically shut him down. ND has some experienced receivers behind Tate, but no one with the playmaking ability that Floyd had.

No doubt that Jimmy Clausen will be affected by his toe injury. He wasn't nearly as accurate last week, and what mobility he did have, is pretty much gone.

How would he describe their running game? Do they use zone blocking or man blocking? What kinds of running plays do they favor?

JB: Far less zone blocking than in the previous seasons. The Irish have been consistent in the running game because of new center (former starting guard) Eric Olsen's ability to pull on toss plays, largely to the right side, and starting sophomore right guard Trevor Robinson's consistency at the point of attack.

The Irish favor stretch runs over the left side where the oft-used two-tight end formation (Mike Ragone) and slot receiver Duval Kamara have excelled blocking in space. LT Paul Duncan can be beaten in pass protection, but he and left guard Chris Stewart have opened room on the edge for Irish 'backs through four games.

When the Irish go power-I, third tight end Bobby Burger has been successful as a lead blocker finding the MIKE linebacker...an area in which the Irish have struggled prior to this season.

Four-year starting RT Sam Young is asked to move quite a bit in the Irish running game. Like Duncan, he's found a niche as a run-blocker but can be had by speedy edge rushers. Young struggled with (a highly underrated) Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue last week, as did normally reliable right guard Trevor Robinson.

Why do you think we waited until the worst season in college football history to rid ourselves of Ty, and ND didn't?

JB: Notre Dame had fired Willingham and there was a huge controversy over it. I think Washington was between a rock and a hard place. They committed to Willingham and if they had pulled the trigger on him any earlier than they did, Washington would have been hammered by the media just as Notre Dame was.

Did the UW admin call ND admin to do a background check before hiring Ty?

JB: They hired him, so I guess they didn't.

Does Rudy Ruettiger have season tickets?

JB: I'm not really sure on this…

What is the dollar amount that ND makes from their own TV contract?

JB: Just enough to pay off the remainder of Tyrone Willingham's contract.

What do they think about Randy Hart--any stories yet?

JB: I don't have any great stories on coach Hart, but I do know that he's injected a lot of energy into the practices and his kids seem to respond to him very well. He's got a ton off energy and is great to watch on the practice field.

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