NCF Nation: Sam Young
Posted by ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel
1. According to the list of 12 Lombardi Award semifinalists, football is rarely played outside the south. Six of the honorees play in the SEC; two in the Big 12 South, and one each from TCU and South Florida. The exceptions are Big 12 North defenders: tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and linebacker Sean Witherspoon of Missouri. In an age of offense, 11 semifinalists play defense, and none will play in the Rose Bowl -- the Big Ten and Pac-10 got shut out.
2. Four-year starting tackle Sam Young says this is the best Notre Dame offense he has played on, including 2006 with Brady Quinn in charge. "The last touchdown drive to win against Purdue and the (last regulation drive) against Washington," he said, "there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we we’re going to put the ball in the end zone. Even when Brady was around, it hasn’t been like that." The huddles on those drives? "Calmest thing you’ve ever seen," Young said.
3. One key to watch in the showdown of unbeatens Thursday night: No. 21 South Florida is tied for fifth in the nation with nine recovered fumbles. No. 8 Cincinnati is one of three teams (with Colorado State and Oregon State) that has yet to lose a fumble. Whatever emphasis coach Brian Kelly put on holding onto the ball has worked. The Bearcats have fumbled only twice in five games. A year ago, en route to winning the Big East, the Bearcats fumbled 30 times in 14 games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Notre Dame has lost its last two games against USC by a combined score of 76-3. Yet coach Charlie Weis and the Fighting Irish players sound confident going into this week's renewal of the rivalry in South Bend.
What has changed to make them think they can hang with the Trojans this year? The answer can be found on the offensive front.
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|An improved O-line gives the Irish confidence heading into their game Saturday against USC.|
"Last year, I thought the defense hung in there for a while and the offense was just taking a whooping," Weis said this week. "I'm not expecting to be taking a whooping."
A reporter then asked Weis if he thought the offensive line had improved that much.
"Have you been at the games?" Weis countered.
It's obvious to even casual observers that the Notre Dame offensive line has grown by leaps and bounds this season. That group is a main reason why quarterback Jimmy Clausen leads the nation in passing efficiency and why the Irish have mounted an effective running game for the first time in three years.
The line had 100 career starts coming into this season, and four seasoned seniors are starting this year. The players insisted all offseason that its wealth of experience would lead to improved results, and so far they've been proven right.
"You can see it in the way we're making calls or how, when we're in pressure-packed situations, we're keeping our cool," right tackle Sam Young said. "It's awfully good to have a group of guys who have been playing together for a while now."
The last two times against USC, the offensive line was just awful.
In 2007, Evan Sharpley was sacked five times in a 38-0 loss. Last season in Los Angeles, the Trojans sacked Clausen four times, and he finished just 11 of 22 for 41 yards, with two interceptions in a 38-3 defeat.
"The offense, I thought we just got manhandled," Weis said about the 2008 loss. "From start to finish I thought we got manhandled.
"They were able to pin their ears back with four guys and get after us. I think they completely controlled the line of scrimmage, and I'd like to think that that won't be the case this week."
Notre Dame has allowed nine sacks through five games, but Clausen has usually had plenty of time to operate in the pocket. It's one thing, however, to hold off Purdue and Washington. It's another thing to do it against USC.
The Trojans may have lost a ton of talent to the NFL, but they're once again shutting people down on defense. They're tied with Cincinnati for the FBS lead with 21 sacks through five games.
"They really get after it." Young said. "It's a challenge. You have to look at it as a challenge."
If Notre Dame can't stop that pass rush, then it makes no difference how well Clausen is playing. The offense won't get anything going, and USC will roll to another blowout victory.
But if the offensive line can give Clausen room to make plays, then he and the passing game are strong enough to generate points. And then, at least, the Fighting Irish will have a fighting chance.
"We've had success this year whenever we've had the ball in our hands," Young said. "We expect to score and nothing less. And I'm not talking about three points; I'm talking about six. We have that kind of confidence, and it should be very advantageous for us this week."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For a guy who starts off an answer by saying, "I have to be careful when I say this, I have Big Ten officials coming in this week again [for the Michigan State game]," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis seems to have a tough time holding his tongue.
Anyone who watched the Notre Dame-Michigan game Saturday could see Weis wasn't pleased with the men in stripes. And when asked about the officiating at his Sunday news conference, Weis couldn't help but criticize several calls.
|Matt Cashore/US Presswire|
|Charlie Weis was less than thrilled with some of the officiating in Saturday's loss.|
"That game left a lot to be desired," he said.
Weis started off by addressing an out-of-bounds ruling on a screen pass to Armando Allen that cost Notre Dame a touchdown.
"I still haven't heard anyone tell me there's any evidence of Armando stepping out of bounds," Weis said. "The way I thought the rule is supposed to be, it's supposed to be conclusive evidence. I'm perturbed at that call."
Weis also took issue with a holding call against Fighting Irish tackle Sam Young.
"It's one of those tic-tac calls that I'm talking about," Weis said." But what happened, on the play, the defensive end, we chip defensive ends, so we chipped him. I'm not sure it was with an extra tight end or a fullback, but we chipped him and knocked him inside of Sam. So when he knocked him inside of Sam, Sam now has him. He goes to throw him to the ground. If he just pushes him to the ground, they probably don't call it. Hands in the air, throws him to the ground, that's what they called."
There was also a timing issue after Michigan scored the game-winning touchdown.
Weis thought there should have been 11 seconds remaining in the game, but the clock went down to 9 seconds after a kickoff that went through the end zone.
"First it went from 11 to 10," he said. "Then I complained it went to 9. It went from 11 to 10 to 11 to 9. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. Maybe we'd have one more second, throw a Hail Mary. Their answer to me was they thought that Theo [Riddick] tipped the ball in the field of play on the kick which would then start the clock. If he did, which I couldn't really tell whether he did or he didn't, so I'm going to take their word for it that that happened."
Weis said he sent in several plays to the Big Ten office but didn't file a formal complaint against the officials (he never does). He also seemed perturbed that the sideline officials didn't help get him get the referee's attention when he needed it.
Since Notre Dame is an independent, Weis won't face any discipline for his comments. But as he mentioned at the start, another crew of Big Ten officials is coming to South Bend this weekend.
You can bet they read this.
A Big Ten spokesman told me the league had no response to Weis' comments.
"Am I happy with the officiating? No," he said. "But you certainly don't want to do that, because then you're saying, 'The only reason why we lost is because they blew these couple of calls.' Most Notre Dame fans would say, 'I can't believe they made those calls. I can understand why they made 'em.' That being said, that's a never ending problem you're talking about.
"We're an independent so we're not really in a conference. We're affiliated with Big East officials. When you're playing interconference matchups, I'm not the guy who sets the rules. Whatever they are, they are."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen, senior safety Kyle McCarthy, senior offensive lineman Eric Olsen and senior linebacker Scott Smith were named on Saturday as Notre Dame's captains for the 2009 season.
The selections were made by a vote of team members on Friday. Clausen and Olsen will captain the offense, McCarthy will be the defensive captain and Smith will captain special teams.
The selections weren't exactly a surprise, but it's a good sign that Clausen -- whose leadership has been a question mark during his first two years in South Bend -- was voted a captain by his teammates.
Notre Dame also named its leadership committee based on the voting results. The members will be senior fullback James Aldridge, senior cornerback Mike Anello, senior safety Sergio Brown, sophomore wide receiver Michael Floyd, junior defensive end Kerry Neal, sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph, senior defensive end John Ryan, junior linebacker Brian Smith and senior offensive tackle Sam Young.
Notre Dame has a lot of recognizable names and players who have gained valuable experience the past couple of years.
But just how much top-line talent do the Irish really have? For answers, I turned to Scouts Inc. analyst Steve Muench, who has broken down hours of film from Notre Dame's 2008 season. Here are some snippets from our conversation.
On quarterback Jimmy Clausen:
He's got the size, he's got the arm and he's a lot more mobile than I think people realize. He's got some quick feet, he can buy himself some time and pick up some yards if nothing is available downfield. I know they throw down the field a lot, but I'd like to see him be a little more accurate as far as hitting guys where they can run with the ball. He needs to work on his accuracy a little bit, but the more important thing I think is the decision-making.
I like the fact that he's willing to take a big hit before he lets the ball go. But sometimes throwing the ball away or throwing it out of bounds is a better decision. I think he's still learning that. I think it's more of a mental than a physical hurdle for him. And I think he's more than capable of doing it.
It will be interesting to see how he progresses this year. He's got receivers now and there are some good prospects along the offensive line. The pieces are in place for him to really take that next step and realize his potential.
On receiver Golden Tate:
Golden Tate really does jump out to me. He reminded me of Alabama cornerback and punt returner Javier Arenas. The reason is, both of them are really good at starting and stopping and picking up speed. You know, that's a rare trait, really, the ability to change speeds that quickly. The other thing I like to see is how competitive a player he is. He really wants it. You can tell on film that he loves the game. That makes a big difference.
On safety Kyle McCarthy and middle linebacker Brian Smith:
I like McCarthy. He does a lot of stuff for you. He's a really good football player. I just like the way he plays the game. I don't think he has any athletic or speed deficiencies, and I also don't think he's any kind of workout freak. I think he's just a really good football player.
Smith is not as instinctive as McCarthy, and misdirections and play actions can be a problem. He's not a great athlete. But he's another guy I like because of the way he plays the game, because he's aggressive. He goes 100 miles per hour. He doesn't tackle as well as McCarthy, but they both tackle well.
I think they're both middle-round (NFL draft) guys. Golden Tate will be a second-round or late first-round guy. Clausen will either be a guy who really jumps up into the first round or he'll be a middle-round guy, because that's what usually happens with quarterbacks.
On the offensive line:
I think Sam Young will develop into a starting right tackle in the NFL. I think he's a smart guy. Technique-wise, he's really sound. He doesn't have great athletic ability. I don't think he could play on the left side or he would struggle. I think he could get a little bit stronger and work on his punch a little bit more, which is important in the NFL. But he could be a really good player. I think he'll be a second-round pick.
Their center, Dan Wenger, is 6-foot-4 and he does a pretty good job of staying low for a guy that size. And he's mean. I always look for that in interior offensive linemen. Someone who will get in your face, drive you off the ball and hit you through the whistle.
On the defensive line:
Ian Williams is a high-motor guy. He could be a five technique in a three-man front or a tackle in a 4-3. I don't think anything about him really jumps out on film. He has good size at 300 pounds and he plays hard. He doesn't have the athletic ability or closing speed or first step that really jumps out on film. I think he plays a little too high to hold up inside in a nose tackle kind of deal. He needs to get a little stronger at the point of attack and stay lower.
On Notre Dame's overall talent level:
Offensively, they have the tools and the pieces in place to be a real explosive team. They have the receivers and Clausen and a pretty good offensive line.
I definitely don't see that same kind of talent level on the defensive side. I wouldn't say they're lagging behind, but they're a step below the elite programs. I just don't see the speed at linebacker, or really the entire front seven. I don't see it from last year on film, and I don't see how this year it will be much different.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Welcome to your new home for all things Notre Dame. Here's what's being written and said about the Fighting Irish:
• Notre Dame Stadium is getting some new scoreboards, but a JumboTron isn't on the way, Eric Hansen writes in the South Bend Tribune. What's more, you can actually buy one of the old scoreboards at an auction site. So far, there's been a single bid, for $1,998.
• Former coach Lou Holtz says Notre Dame will go 11-1 this season, Michael Rothstein says in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Journal Gazette.
• Phil Steele has named Irish receiver Golden Tate a preseason first-team All-American. Offensive tackle Sam Young was named to Steele's second team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Carlos Osorio|
|Jimmy Clausen was 24-of-41 for 242 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Notre Dame's 23-7 loss to Michigan State.|
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The wackiness of the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry often leaves the losing team feeling bitter and angry.
Notre Dame was steamed after an overtime loss in 2005, and Michigan State never recovered after blowing a big lead against the Fighting Irish the next year.
Notre Dame's 23-7 loss on Saturday at Spartan Stadium stirred different emotions. The defeat was definitive, and though the Irish had their share of chances, there were fewer "what-ifs" and widespread disappointment.
"We didn't deserve to win," head coach Charlie Weis said. "We had a chance to win the game, but we didn't deserve to win."
Teams that deserve to win run the ball effectively. Notre Dame didn't. Teams that deserve to win stop the run. Notre Dame didn't stop Javon Ringer enough.
Teams that deserve to win convert in the red zone. Notre Dame failed on its only two chances.