Notre Dame Football Midseason Report Card: Jimmy Clausen's Offense Earns Passing Grade
A season of ups and downs with last-second wins, last-second losses, and plenty of opinions is halfway over.
Sitting right outside of the Top 25 with a 4-2 record, the Irish have a lot left to prove in the second half of the season.
However, the Irish pulled off four wins against Washington, Purdue, Nevada, and Michigan State.
What looked to be weak wins at the time, these Irish opponents have stepped up their game and now look like acceptable wins on a schedule that ranks as the 13th toughest in the nation.
The Irish find themselves in a familiar scenario to that of '08. Do they run the table or do they falter yet again?
Find out who got the Irish to that 4-2 record and who is going to lead the second-half attempt of a six-game winning streak.
Take an in-depth look at part one of Notre Dame's 2009 season.
Jimmy Clausen and his offense might be one of the best in the country. Give the Irish an actual defense, and you are looking at an undefeated team.
However, Weis does not have the luxury of an elite defense, and therefore, has to play shootout week after week.
Clausen has shown incredible strides from his sophomore to junior year under Weis. His leadership has been phenomenal, as he has put the team on his back in last-minute drives to lead the Irish to three late victories.
He is being considered as a Top Five Heisman candidate thus far in the season and is showing very few, if any, signs of slowing down. With Michael Floyd coming back, expect him to produce at an even higher rate in the second half of the year.
Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are the best pair of receivers in the country. If it weren't for Floyd's injury, you might be looking at a ranked Notre Dame team with one loss and in the top 15 in the nation. He is that much of an impact player for the Irish.
On the other hand, Tate has produced so rapidly that he is now even ahead of Clausen on some Heisman lists. An all-purpose threat, he is making the best out of Floyd's absence—something that many thought he wouldn't do.
Kyle Rudolph has also filled in for Floyd in many situations and has developed not only into an elite receiving tight end, but a very good blocker also.
Another big surprise coming from the receiving corps is Robby Parris after having a career game against USC, even while being targeted as Taylor Mays' personal punching bag.
Whether the fault falls on the shoulders of the backs or the line, the running game can be described as slightly above average.
Armando Allen missed some time due to a bruised hamstring, but had a fairly productive first half of the year. He has shown the ability to keep his feet moving in the pile and has been picking up yards after contact—a new asset to his game in '09.
Robert Hughes has been a huge surprise for this "average" unit. Supplying tough yards and a bruiser-type style, he has been a perfect compliment to Allen. He has a history of disappearing after breakout games, so Irish fans should keep their fingers crossed he is here to stay.
The first few games, Frank Verducci was being praised for his offensive linemen's play and protection. After USC week, some are now dubbing this unit as yet another average one.
This line has been an improvement over it's '08 lineup. Although they let up five sacks against the Trojans, that number is only one higher than the average. Nothing to worry about here as the line will get back on track as Verducci seems to figured out his unit fast.
Notre Dame has a defense?
It isn't a secret that Charlie Weis is an offensive-minded coach.
However, he is no longer an offensive coordinator, but rather a head coach of a football program in the nation's spotlight.
While the front four are fairly young, they are a very talented group. Tackles Ethan Johnson and Ian Williams have shown flashes of brilliance, but seem to be overmatched at other times. One play, you will see them stuffing a rush on fourth-and-1, and the next, see the tailback run right through the out-stretched arms of the two.
The pass rush hasn't been abysmal but leaves many things left to be desired. Just by singling Kapon Lewis-Moore out in tape, you can see he has what it takes to be a good defensive end in this defense. However, he is young and seems to be a year away.
Darius Fleming has been the most effective, and consistent, pass-rusher for the Irish. He has the skills of an athlete and a football player—something that this defense needs more of.
Linebackers Brian and Toryan Smith were expected to impress this year as upperclassmen, yet leave fans scratching their heads at times. Like the tackles, both linebackers have shown great inconsistency when it comes to making plays. Tackling is the issue here.
The freshman Hawaiian has been the most valuable linebacker thus far. Manti Te'o has led the team for two straight weeks in his first two starts. Need I say more?
The secondary had an argument for being the best unit not only on the defense in the beginning of the year, but on the entire team.
The Irish defensive backfield has been full of mishaps and missed tackles (even Kyle McCarthy has missed a few). The unit ranks 110th in the nation in pass defense. Last week against USC, the Irish were playing 11 on 10 with Harrison Smith on the field at the safety position.
The cornerbacks haven't been dreadful but have certaintly not been above the Mendoza line. Getting beaten and not turning to the ball has been a common occurrence for the likes of Darrin Walls and Robert Blanton.
If you can even call this a defense, it is below average—at best.
A freshman field-goal kicker, long-snapper, and punter make up the kicking game for the Irish.
Ask yourselves when was the last time that has occurred.
Not only are they freshmen, but they have been fantastic. Nick Tausch has been beyond dependable from the place-kicking position and has connected on all of his attempts after missing his first career kick.
P Ben Turk recently claimed the starting position over Eric Maust after the senior had shown symptoms of an inconsistent leg. So far, so good.
Jordan Cowart, the long-snapping professional, was given a scholarship by Weis for simply hiking the football to the holder. You haven't heard his name (besides a bogus interference call last week), and expect it to remain that way.
In the return game, you will find yet another freshman in Theo Riddick. Riddick serves as a threat every time the ball is put into his hands to take it all the way for six-something that hasn't been accomplished quite yet due to being brought down by opposing kickers. If that isn't motivation for the new guy, I don't know what is.
The coverage teams have been what we expected—very good. Mike Anello has been somewhat quiet but is still making an impact. Freshman Zeke Motta (the possible replacement for Smith at safety this weekend) has been a special teams phenom.
Charlie Weis has been on the hot seat for what seems to be going on three years now.
Jack Swarbrick had his opportunity to fire Weis last year and passed. Now, he must live with his decision unless the team finishes with a record worse than 9-3.
Taking over the play-calling from departed OC Mike Haywood (Miami-Ohio), Weis has done an excellent job with his offense. By installing wildcat packages and showing a more balanced attack, there isn't much to complain about on this front.
However, his team still has a record of 4-2.
As the head coach at Notre Dame, anything less than a BCS bowl is considered unacceptable and that is the reason for the question mark next to Weis' name.
If he can run the table or lead the Irish to a Gator Bowl win, the Notre Dame family will be "enduring" yet another year of Weis in 2010.
In need of change, Weis brought in a handful of highly-regarded staff members this offseason.
Frank Verducci has been a great addition as the Offensive Line coach/Running Game coordinator and is a fan favorite thanks to his attitude and technical approach to the game.
You can already see the Jersey-bred screamer has had an impact on his players.
Coaching the running backs, Tony Alford has been another successful hire for Weis. Alford has a great relationship with his players and seems to be on the same page as Verducci in terms of the ground game plans.
Coming from the Washington program, Randy Hart took over the defensive line and brought plenty of enthusiasm along with him.
Although the line hasn't made much of an impact, there is plenty of talent for Hart to work with and expect big things out of his players in the near future.
Offensive MVP: Jimmy Clausen
Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy
Special Teams MVP: Nick Tausch
Best Running back: Armando Allen
Best Receiver: Golden Tate
Best Offensive Linemen: Eric Olsen
Best Defensive Linemen: Ethan Johnson
Best Linebacker: Manti Te'o
Best Cornerback: Gary Gray
Comeback Player: Robert Hughes
Biggest Surprise: Robby Parris
Best Coach: Frank Verducci
Losing to Michigan and their freshman savior hurt the Irish more than most people think.
If they had won, the Irish would be sitting somewhere in the 15-20 range in the polls and would likely need to finish the season 5-1 in order to make a BCS game.
However, the Irish now find themselves needing to run the table to even sniff 10 wins. Lose one more, and the Irish find themselves in the Gator Bowl, probably against a team like Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech.
The offense has been great. The defense has been terrible.
Average those two together, along with the special teams and coaching, and the Irish find themselves sitting at the slightly above average level.
The defense can only get better from here on out and if the offense continues to be elite, the Irish can be a very good team.
Look for them to finish 9-3 with a Gator Bowl win thanks to the return of Michael Floyd.