2007 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted Jan 21, 2008

2007 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Recap: While most everyone figured Notre Dame would be rebuilding in the post-Brady Quinn era, few expected it to be so painful and profound.  The Irish became a national punch line in 2007 with a historically ugly campaign, losing nine games for the first time in school history, including an unthinkable six straight in South Bend.  The offense, head coach Charlie Weis' domain, was a particular calamity, averaging a mere 16 points a game, while finishing last nationally in total offense and sacks allowed.           

Offensive Player of the Year: TE John Carlson

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Trevor Laws

Biggest Surprise: Shocking UCLA at the Rose Bowl, 20-6, on Oct. 6.  Yes, the Irish were aided by the Bruins' lack of healthy quarterbacks, but at the time, Notre Dame was 0-5 and reeling out of control.  Despite managing just 140 total yards, the Irish used seven turnovers and a touchdown from LB Maurice Crum to mercifully break into the win column.    

Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Navy, 46-44, on Nov. 3 in an epic triple-overtime thriller.  Throughout the good times and the bad, handling the Middies had become a given for the Irish for more than four decades.  Until this fall.  Navy went toe-to-toe with Notre Dame before foiling a potential game-tying two-pointer for the long-awaited victory.  For the Irish, the loss was more symbolic than anything else, a sign of just how far the program had plummeted.   

Looking Ahead: At least the Irish will have momentum heading into next year, courtesy of season-ending wins over Duke and Stanford.  Notre Dame played a ton of kids this fall, including true freshman QB Jimmy Clausen, so the program should be in a better position to compete in 2008.  How much better is a question that'll be answered under a blue and gold microscope.         

- 2007 Irish Preview
2006 Irish Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 3-9

Sept. 1 Georgia Tech L 33-3
Sept. 8 at Penn State L 31-10
Sept. 15 at Michigan L 38-0
Sept. 22
Michigan St L 31-14
Sept. 29 at Purdue L 33-19
Oct. 6 at UCLA W 20-6
Oct. 13
Boston Coll L 27-14
Oct. 20 USC L 38-0
Nov. 3
Navy L 46-44 3OT
Nov. 10 Air Force L 41-24
Nov. 17 Duke W 28-7
Nov. 24 at Stanford W 21-14

Nov. 24
Notre Dame 21 ... Stanford 14
In an ugly game, Notre Dame got a six-yard scoring dash from Robert Hughes with just over six minutes to play, and then the Irish defense came through, sort of, with Stanford stalling on the Notre Dame six in the final minute with two dripped passes. Anthony Kimble ran for two touchdowns for the Cardinal for a 14-7 lead, but the Irish scored 14 unanswered points to pull out a second straight win. The two teams combined for six turnovers and five missed field goals.

Player of the game: Notre Dame RB Robert Hughes ran 18 times for 136 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 19-32, 196 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Robert Hughes, 18-136, 1 TD. Receiving: Duval Kamara, 6-93
Stanford - Passing: Tavita Pritchard, 10-24, 102 yds
Anthony Kimble, 20-80, 2 TD. Receiving: Mark Bradford, 7-111

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Considering the way things have gone, coming away with two wins to close out the year means a lot. This wasn't the first ten-loss season in school history, Jimmy Clausen started to make strides at the end of the year, and Robert Hughes appears to be a big-time talent to build a rushing attack around. There are still way too many problems, but the nightmare is over for now. Now it's time to go back and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

Nov. 17
Notre Dame 28 ... Duke 7
Notre Dame finally had an easy win with Jimmy Clausen throwing three touchdown passes with 25-yard plays to David Grimes and Duval Kamara in the second quarter and on a nine-yard pass to John Carlson in the fourth. Robert Hughes ran for 110 yards with 13-yard dash in the third quarter. Duke finally got on the board with a six-yard run from Zach Asack with 1:12 left to play. The Irish held on to the ball for 35:35.
Player of the game: Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen completed 16 of 32 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Duke - Passing: Thaddeus Lewis, 16-33, 121 yds
Rushing: Justin Boyle, 8-45. Receiving: Jomar Wright, 5-11
Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 16-32, 194 yds, 3 TD
Robert Hughes, 17-110, 1 TD. Receiving: George West, 4-24

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Beating Duke doesn't exactly save the season, or does it? Now, after Jimmy Clausen's excellent performance, there's hope for next year and will put the spotlight on the Stanford game to see if the team can keep the positive momentum going. There was an actual living, breathing running game with Robert Hughes moving well, but the real key was Clausen. He kept the chains moving, kept the Duke defense on the field, and he started to look like the players he's expected to become.

Nov. 10
Air Force 41 ... Notre Dame 24
Air Force outgained Notre Dame 285 yards to 58 on the ground in a tougher win than the final score might indicate. After getting down early on a Ryan Harrison field goal and a 19-yard John Robold fumble recovery for a score, the Irish tied it up with a 28-yard Brandon Walker field goal and a two-yard John Carlson catch. And then the Falcons took over with a 21-point run on two Shaun Carney touchdown passes and an eight-yard Spencer Armstrong run. Jimmy Clausen threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a 21-yard play to David Grimes, but the Falcons were able to put it away with a one-yard Carney touchdown run with less than two minutes to play. Trevor Laws came up with 17 tackles for the Irish.

Player of the game: Air Force RB Chad Hall ran 32 times for 142 yards, and caught two passes for 31 yards
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 10-16, 120 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Chad Hall, 32-142. Receiving: Mark Root, 2-36
Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 22-40, 246 yds, 3 TD
James Aldridge, 14-62. Receiving: David Grimes, 6-67, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Notre Dame stinks, yeah, yeah, that's nothing new. However, there was a glimmer of sunshine in the loss to Air Force thanks to Jimmy Clausen. For the first time all year, a Notre Dame quarterback made everyone around him better. Clausen started to bomb away in the second half and he actually started to lead the Irish to scores. This is a lost season anyway, so it's important to use the Duke and Stanford games to keep developing the young star. He's the key to getting the program out of the doldrums next year.

Nov. 3
Navy 46 ... Notre Dame 44 3OT
In the third overtime, Notre Dame's Travis Thomas ran for a five-yard score, but after a pass interference call on the two-point conversion, the Irish's second attempt, a Thomas run, was stuffed, and Navy broke the 43-game losing streak to the men from South Bend. The Irish had an apparent shot to win it in the final minute of regulation, but chose to go for it on fourth and eight on the 24 rather than try the field goal, but Navy came up with a sack. Eric Kettani ran for two scores, including a one-yarder in the first overtime, Joey Bullen nailed a 32-yard field goal in the second, and Reggie Campbell caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in the third, along with a two-point conversion catch. Thomas and James Aldridge carried the Irish running game for  235 yards, with Thomas running for three short scores, while Evan Sharpley and Duval Kamara hooked up for two touchdowns in the see-saw game.

Player of the game: Navy S Wyatt Middleton made 14 tackles with a tackle for loss.
Stat Leaders: Navy - Passing:
Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, 6-5, 81 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Eric Kettani, 20-70, 2 TD. Receiving: O.J. Washington, 2-19
Notre Dame - Passing: Evan Sharpley, 17-27, 140 yds, 2 TD
James Aldridge, 32-125. Receiving: Duval Kamara, 5-44, 2 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... How in the world did Notre Dame only throw for 140 yards on the Navy secondary? The Midshipmen are giving up mega passing yards to everyone. To have two weeks off to prepare and not be able to generate more yards through the air is inexcusable. Yes the running game worked for the first time all year, and yes the plan is to normally use the stronger offensive line against the smaller Midshipmen front to grind it out as the game goes on, but the plan didn't work, and now Notre Dame's miserable season becomes an all-timer of a clunker.

Oct. 20
USC 38 ... Notre Dame 0
USC had no problems rolling past Notre Dame, as Mark Sanchez threw two first half touchdown passes, a ten-yarder to Fred Davis and an eight-yard play to Allen Bradford, and two in the third quarter. Stanley Havili caught a scoring strike from five yards out, and Vidal Hazelton made the play of the game taking a Sanchez pass 48 yards for a score. Joe McKnight finished the scoring with a 51-yard dash in the fourth. Notre Dame gained just 165 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: USC QB Mark Sanchez completed 21 of 38 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame - Passing: Evan Sharpley, 17-33, 117 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Armando Allen, 11-58. Receiving: Duval Kamara, 4-33
USC - Passing: Mark Sanchez, 21-38, 235 yds, 4 TD
Joe McKnight, 7-65, 1 TD. Receiving: Fred Davis, 5-40, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
It's still USC, so there's no real reason to be too upset about a loss, but once again the problem is the offense. There isn't any. Evan Sharpley did what he could to hold up against the Trojan pass rush, but there continues to be a stunning dearth of weapons to help him out. If the defense isn't forcing a slew of turnovers and making life easy for the offense, there aren't any points coming. Now the real season begins with Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. The Irish have to win three of those, and it has to use the two weeks off to figure out something, anything to beat Navy and keep the 41-game streak going.

Oct. 13
Boston College 27 ... Notre Dame 14
Andre Callender ran for two short first half touchdowns and caught a nine-yard scoring pass in the third quarter to a 20-0 lead, but Notre Dame fought back with a 19-yard Evan Sharpley scoring pass to Robby Paris and a 25-yard Brian Smith interception for a touchdown. Matt Ryan answered with a five-play, 44-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Challenger, and then the defense took over. The Irish finished with just 193 yards of total offense and 28 rushing yards.
Player of the game: Boston College RB Andre Callender ran 23 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and caught ten passes for 91 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: Boston College - Passing: Matt Ryan, 32-49, 291 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Andre Callender, 23-90, 2 TD. Receiving: Andre Callender, 10-91, 1 TD
Notre Dame - Passing: Evan Sharpley, 11-29, 135 yds, 1 TD
James Aldridge, 5-17. Receiving: Robby Parris, 4-94, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Basically, if the defense isn't forcing turnovers, or scoring, Notre Dame doesn't have much of a shot against anyone with a pulse. The running game was stuffed against BC, gaining just 28 yards, but the coaching staff never even attempted to make a commitment to pound the ball. Trying to find a consistent quarterback between Jimmy Clausen and Evan Sharpley has proven futile so far, and now they have to face the USC defense. On the plus side, the defense is doing a relatively strong job. It didn't stuff BC, but it kept the game from getting out of hand.

Oct. 6
Notre Dame 20 ... UCLA 6
In a game that might have set back offensive football 50 years, Notre Dame forced seven turnovers to pull off the win despite amassing just 140 yards. The Irish scored in the third quarter on a one-yard Jimmy Clausen touchdown run, and 50 seconds later, got a Maurice Crum 34-yard fumble recovery for a score. UCLA lost starting quarter Ben Olsen to a knee injury, and was only able to manage two first half Kai Forbath field goals.
Player of the game: Notre Dame LB Maurice Crum made seven tackles, one sack, forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles, picked off two passes, and scored a 34-yard touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 17-27, 84 yds
Rushing: James Aldridge, 22-52. Receiving: John Carlson, 6-38
UCLA - Passing: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, 12-28, 139 yds, 4 INT
Kahlil Bell, 18-64. Receiving: Joe Cowan, 5-69

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The win over UCLA doesn't really solve anything. The defense turned things up a notch, and it kept Ben Olsen in check when he was in, but as soon as McLeod Bethel-Thompson came in, it was a free-for-all on forcing turnovers. UCLA self destructed, allowing the Irish to overcome yet another putrid offensive performance. Basically, Notre Dame needs to win the turnover battle 7-0 to win games right now. At this point, a win is a win.

Sept. 29
Purdue 33 ... Notre Dame 19
Purdue added to Notre Dame's misery as Kory Sheets scored from one-yard out, Dorien Bryant caught an 11-yard touchdown pass, and Chris Summers nailed three field goals on the way to a 23-0 halftime lead. Notre Dame opened the scoring in the second half on Jimmy Clausen's first career touchdown pass, hitting John Carlson from five yards out, and got within seven on two Evan Sharpley touchdown passes. The Boilermakers got comfortably ahead with a 14-yard Dustin Keller scoring grab.
Player of the game: Purdue RB Kory Sheets ran for 141 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and had a reception for eight yards.
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame - Passing: Evan Sharpley, 16-26, 208 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Armando Allen, 6-25. Receiving: Robby Parris, 7-93
Purdue - Passing: Curtis Painter, 22-37, 252 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Kory Sheets, 27-141, 1 TD. Receiving: Dorien Bryant, 8-82, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Jimmy Clausen certainly tried to gut it out against Purdue, but even though he had a good game, Evan Sharpley moves the offense better. The offense has more of a rhythm, and appears to be far more productive when he's in. Without a running game to fall back on, the offense needs someone who makes things happen, and that's Sharpley more than Clausen at this point. Even so, if he's healthy, ND has to stick with Clausen. It's all about playing for the future and getting its star as much experience as possible.

Sept. 22
Michigan State 31 ... Notre Dame 14
Notre Dame scored its first offensive touchdown of the year on a one-yard Travis Thomas touchdown run for a 7-0 lead, and then MSU went on a 17-point run with two short Brian Hoyer touchdown passes and a 27-yard Brett Swenson field goal. The Irish marched 80 yards in five plays with Robert Hughes busting in a three-yard scoring run, but the Spartans owned the second half with two more Hoyer touchdown passes, highlighted by a fourth down 30yard touchdown throw to Kellen Davis, his second score of the day. The Irish ended up getting outgained 354 yards to 203.
Player of the game: Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer finished 11-of-24 for 135 yards, four touchdown passes, and one interception..
Stat Leaders: Michigan State - Passing: Brian Hoyer, 11-24, 135 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Javon Ringer, 26-144. Receiving: Devin Thomas, 4-55, 1 TD
Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 7-13, 53 yds
James Aldridge, 18-104. Receiving: George West, 3-25
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Irish might be 0-4 for the first time in its history, but there were positive signs against Michigan State. For the first time all season long, the offensive line was pushing someone off the ball. It didn't happen on a regular basis, but there were a few good pounding drives to provide a glimmer of hope for the running game for the rest of the year. The offense tried to diminish the role of Jimmy Clausen and the passing game, but to have a chance to stay with Purdue and UCLA on the road over the next two weeks, the offense will have to finally start getting something down the field.

Sept. 15
Michigan 38 ... Notre Dame 0
Michigan dominated Notre Dame on both sides of the ball, as Mike Hart ran for two first half touchdowns, Ryan Mallett threw touchdown passes to Greg Mathews, Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham, and the defense came up with eight sacks and held the Irish to -6 net rushing yards. Notre Dame only averaged 1.4 yards per play and turned it over four times.
Player of the game: Michigan RB Mike Hart ran 35 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 14 yards
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 11-17, 74 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: James Aldridge, 10-51. Receiving: David Grimes, 3-10
Michigan - Passing: Ryan Mallett, 7-15, 90 yds, 3 TD
Mike Hart, 35-187, 2 TD. Receiving: Mario Manningham, 2-35, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Broken record time; the lines aren't even close to playing well enough for the team to be competitive. This could be the softest team Notre Dame has had, well, ever, with no pass protection, no running game, and no ability to hold up on the defensive line. Worse yet, this looks like a horrifically coached team with bad snaps, poor execution, penalties, and general sloppiness all over the place. Step one to improvement is to ditch the passing game and run, run, and run some more. That might sound crazy considering this is the nation's worst running team, but the coaching staff has to try to force the front five to get physical.

Sept. 8
Penn State 31 ... Notre Dame 10
Penn State held Notre Dame to zero net rushing yards and 144 total, but it was a closer game than it might appear in the final score. The Nittany Lion offense finally started to put the game away late in the third quarter when Austin Scott ran for a one-yard score, and then close out with a five-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter. The Irish started off the scoring when Darrin Walls returns an interception 73 yards for a score, but Penn State's Derrick Williams one-upped the play with a brilliant 78-yard punt return for a score. Jordan Norwood scored on a ten-yard catch midway through second for all the points Penn State would need.
Player of the game: Penn State LB Dan Connor had 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass broken up.
Stat Leaders: Notre Dame
- Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 17-32, 144 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Travis Thomas, 6-12. Receiving: Armando Allen, 6-38
Penn State
- Passing: Anthony Morelli, 12-22, 131 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Austin Scott, 28-116, 2 TDs. Receiving: Jordan Norwood, 3-20, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Where are the lines? This might be a weekly beef, but the Notre Dame lines are stunningly awful. When Penn State wanted to pound the ball in the second half, it did. When Notre Dame had any desire to run the ball, it couldn't. There isn't any talent in the backfield to run the ball, there's a true freshman slinging it, and the defense isn't good enough to pitch shutouts. Other than that, everything is all good. Fortunately, Michigan is up next. If the offense can't score next week, then it'll truly be time to pack it in and work on next year.

Sept. 1
Georgia Tech 33 ... Notre Dame 3
Georgia Tech blew out Notre Dame in a game that wasn't even as close as the ugly final score might indicate. The Yellow Jacket defense held the Irish to -8 rushing yards thanks to nine sacks, while the offense got two Tashard Choice touchdown runs, including a 22-yarder off a direct snap. Travis Bell connected on four field goals for Tech. Notre Dame's only points came late in the third quarter on a 24-yard Brandon Walker field goal.
Player of the game ... Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice ran for 196 yards and Jonathan Dwyer two touchdowns on 26 carries, and added three receptions for 22 yards.
Stat Leaders: Georgia Tech- Passing: Taylor Bennett, 11-23, 121 yds
Rushing: Tashard Choice, 26-196, 2 TDs  Receiving: Greg Smith, 3-31
Notre Dame - Passing: Evan Sharpley, 10-13, 92 yds
Demetrius Jones, 12-28  Receiving: Robby Parris, 3-30
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Much will be made out of the quarterback situation and what'll happen next before facing Penn State, but it doesn't matter. As the Georgia Tech pass rush showed, the Irish offensive line will be in big, big trouble over the first eight games of the year. Yes, the quarterbacks have to make better decisions, and they have to hang on to the ball, but they never, ever got time to operate, and they had no running game to help out. The secondary didn't have a great game, even though the stats might not show it, and the run defense was non-existent. Basically, this is a team in big, big trouble.

Sept. 1 - Georgia Tech
Is it possible an offense can lose the offensive coordinator, a sure-fire NFL superstar and a four-year starting quarterback and be better? Absolutely. Calvin Johnson's departure will sting, but the passing game should be even better with Taylor Bennett (or any one of a slew of terrific prospects) taking over for Reggie Ball. Patrick Nix left to take over the Miami offense, but John Bond is a veteran who did a good job with the Northern Illinois program for the last three years. James Johnson will be a decent number one target, and now someone else has to quickly emerge to take the heat off and give Bennett more options. Tashard Choice is an All-ACC caliber back leading a deep and talented group of runners working behind a fantastic line loaded with experience and
Defense: The defense had two lousy games against Clemson and West Virginia and was solid against everyone else. With just about everyone returning, expect another great year holding almost everyone to under 300 yards and around 20 points. The defensive line will be one of the team's strengths with one of the best groups of ends in America. MLB Philip Wheeler deserves All-America attention while the safety tandem of Jamal Lewis and Djay Jones will be one of the ACC's best. The corners are a bit suspect and the proven linebacker depth is a bit thin, but those aren't glaring problems.

Sept. 8 – at Penn State
Offense: Known for being button-down conservative, now it's time for Penn State to open the offense up. At least, that's what it has to do to play to the team's strengths. The receiving corps has the potential to be the best in the league with three great targets in Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, and an all-star-to-be in tight end Andrew Quarless. If senior quarterback Anthony Morelli is consistent and gets the ball to his speedy receivers deep, the passing game will be fantastic. The line, despite the loss of Levi Brown, will be excellent with the expected emergence of tackles Dennis Landolt and Gerald Cadogan, but the real question mark will be running back Austin Scott. The one time star recruit Austin Scott has to finally show he can be the workhorse for the running game. If not. it'll be throw, throw and throw some more.
Defense: As always, the defense will revolve around the linebackers. Paul Posluszny might be gone, but Dan Connor, who'll take over in the middle, could turn into a better all-around playmaker, and Sean Lee will be an All-Big Ten performer. The line doesn't have much experience with only one starter returning, but there's plenty of promise on the inside in beefy tackles Phil Taylor and Abe Koroma. The secondary will be stellar if Anthony Scirrotto gets past his off-the-field legal troubles. If not, corner Justin King and safety Tony Davis, who moves over from corner, will keep the pass defense from sliding after a good 2006.

Sept. 15 – at Michigan
Offense: Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord didn't change things up much in his first year, and there aren't going to be a lot of bells and whistles for an attack with all the stars returning. Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Mario Manningham form the best skill trio in America, while tackle Jake Long and quarter Adam Kraus form one of the nation's best left sides. The only issue is depth, which is stunning undeveloped or a program like Michigan. Of course there are talented prospects waiting in the wings, but there will be major problems if injuries strike early on.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Ron English did a fantastic job in his first season sending the dogs loose to attack more than previous Michigan teams. Now the hope will be for overall speed and athleticism to make up for the lack of experience and a few gaping holes. This won't be the nation's number one run defense again, and it won't be fourth in sacks, but it will create plenty of turnovers and force a ton of mistakes. It'll also give up too many big pass plays. The safeties are fine, the linebacking corps won't be an issue, even without David Harris to anchor things anymore, and the line, in time, will grow into a strength. The biggest issue will be at corner, where Morgan Trent isn't a number one lockdown defender, and there are several untested prospects waiting to get their chance to shine.

Sept. 22 - Michigan State
Offense: In keeping with the overall belief system of the new coaching staff, the offense will try to become more physical and should play to the strength, which will be running the ball. The line is big, and now has to start hitting to open things up for the speedy duo of Javon Ringer and A.J. Jimmerson and the pounding Jehuu Caulcrick. All eyes will be on Brian Hoyer, who might not be Drew Stanton talent-wise, but should be a more consistent quarterback as long as the receiving corps, which loses the top three targets, becomes productive right away.
Defense: The aggressive, attacking approach didn't work under the old regime, and now the new coaching staff will want to play it a bit closer to the vest to start, and then will start to make big plays as everyone figures out their roles. There won't be too many bells and whistles in the basic 4-3, but some chances will need to be taken, and head coach Mark Dantonio is great at adjusting and forcing teams out of their gameplans, after not doing much to generate any pressure in the backfield last year. A pass rusher has to emerge, but the overall potential is there to be better with Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick good safeties to build around, while the linebackers should be one of the team's biggest strengths. The line is the key after a few awful years of doing a lot of nothing.

Sept. 29 – at Purdue
The Purdue offense was like a big budge action movie with a ton of fireworks and explosions, but had a plot that goes nowhere. It cranked out yards in bunches but did absolutely nothing against the big boys scoring three points against Wisconsin, seven against Maryland, 17 against Iowa, and was shut out by Penn State. It'll be in the top ten in the nation in yards again with Curtis Painter getting a jaw-dropping good receiving corps to work with led by the amazing Dorien Bryant in the slot. The 1-2 rushing punch of Jaycen Taylor and Kory Sheets is the best yet in the Joe Tiller era, while the right side of the line, Sean Sester at tackle and Jordan Grimes at guard, along with center Robbie Powell, will be dominant. The left side of the line is a concern and there's no developed depth anywhere, but the starting 11 should move the ball at will.
Defense: The Boilermakers haven't played defense for two years, and now the hope is for experience to turn into production with nine starters returning. Stopping the run will be priority one after finishing last in the Big Ten allowing 191 yards per game. The porous secondary should be better with all the young, inexperienced prospects of last year ready to shine as veterans. Overall, the pillow-soft D needs to find a nasty streak and start to play far tougher.

Oct. 6 – at UCLA
Offense: Tired of his feeble offense and conservative play calling, Karl Dorrell is turning the unit over to Jay Norvell, a Nebraska import who'll be calling plays for the first time in his career.  With him comes an up tempo version of the West Coast offense that'll be rooted in high percentage passes and the occasional use of the shotgun.  Norvell's triggerman will be lefty Ben Olson, who's held off the challenge of Patrick Cowan, and is still waiting for a breakthrough season five years after being a ballyhooed BYU recruit.  Although 12 players with extensive starting experience return, only guard Shannon Tevaga and running back Chris Markey can be considered bona fide threats for all-league honors.  To help get Olson where he needs to be, a playmaker or two needs to emerge among a pedestrian receiving corps.
Defense: Kudos to defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who did the improbable in 2006 by whipping a sorry Bruin defense into shape.  Ten starters are back from that unit, which finished No. 2 in the Pac-10 in total defense and tops against the run.  One All-American rush end, Justin Hickman, has departed, but one, Bruce Davis, returns to wreak havoc on league quarterbacks.  Although the linebackers look nothing like the ones across town at USC, they're fast, instinctive and a nice fit for Walker's defense.  Middle linebacker Christian Taylor is the definition of a hard-working college athlete that makes a ton of plays, but likely won't be wearing pads beyond 2007.  The secondary is an enigma that's loaded with returning talent, yet still vulnerable through the air.  Strong safety Chris Horton laid the groundwork last year for what should be a terrific final season at UCLA.

Oct. 13 - Boston College
Offense: It's Matt Ryan's offense and everyone is just playing in it. The new coaching staff will install a new zone blocking scheme, putting a premium on quick, flashy runners, but the line might not be suited for the system. The receiving corps is decent, but nothing special, and the tight ends are promising. It all comes down to Ryan, who'll have more control in the attack, able to change things up a bit on the fly, and he should be tremendous now that he's healthy. He was the best quarterback in the ACC last year, and that was with a broken foot.
Defense: Is it time to start giving the BC defense a little love? It allowed 17 points per game in 2004, 15.92 in 2005, and 15.69 last year. With defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani back, it should be even better with nine starters returning including the entire front seven if linebacker Brian Toal is back from a shoulder problem. The monster tackles, B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, will gum up everything inside, while the deep linebacking corps will quietly be among the ACC's best. DeJuan Tribble is one of the league's best shutdown corners, and Jamie Silva is a top free safety. The problem? There isn't a reliable second corner, and strong safety is a question mark.

Oct. 20 - USC
Offense: Does anyone in the country reload faster than the Trojans?  While there'll be new faces on the line, at wide receiver, and at offensive coordinator, the high-powered results that have become commonplace in the Pete Carroll era aren't about to change.  Of course, it helps to have at the controls strong-armed senior John David Booty, one of the early favorites to add a fourth Heisman Trophy to Heritage Hall in the last six years.  He'll be surrounded by an absolutely decadent amount of skill position talent, but most of the receivers lack experience at this level.  In this case, talent will overcome inexperience in a rout.  At 6-5 and 220 pounds, junior receiver Patrick Turner has the imposing size and sticky fingers to conjure up images of Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, and have a breakout year.  Although the line is going to miss the presence of center Ryan Kalil, returning two-time All-American Sam Baker to protect Booty's blindside will help cushion the blow.    
Defense: The Trojan offense is good.  The Trojan defense is scary good.  Backed by a Who's Who of future first-day NFL Draft choices, USC is ready to unleash the nastiest and stingiest unit of the Pete Carroll era.  Led by Sedrick Ellis at the nose, Keith Rivers at middle linebacker, and Terrell Thomas at cornerback, the Trojans boast seven players capable of making a run at All-America honors in 2007.  Yeah, a few more sacks and takeaways would be nice, but this is as close to a flawless unit that there is in the country.  From front to back, they're aggressive, experienced and fast enough to create a swarming effect on the ball carrier.  Although the Trojans will give up yards to teams playing from behind, scoring meaningful points on them in the first three quarters is going to be a year-long nightmare.

Nov. 3 - Navy
Offense: Navy led the nation in rushing in 2005, led the nation in rushing in 2006, and will lead the nation in rushing in 2007. What's the difference? The ground game will be terrific as always, but now it'll be truly special with the best combination of backfield talent and experience head coach Paul Johnson has ever had. There won't be any passing game, but it won't matter with a ground attack that can crank out a big run from anywhere on the field. The big concern will be the line with no experience among the backups whatsoever and a shaky starting five if left tackle Josh Meek's injured knee isn't healthy.
Uh oh. Wholesale changes need to be made with only three starters and seven lettermen returning. The best defense will be a good offense needing the ground game to crank out long drives to keep this inexperienced, woefully undersized, untested group off the field. Pass rushers need to emerge with the hope for Chris Kuhar-Pitters and Casey Hebert to turn into playmakers around rising star tackle Nate Frazier. Clint Sovie and Irv Spencer will turn into reliable inside linebackers, but outside linebacker will be a question. The secondary will be a work in progress around solid corner Rashawn King.

Nov. 10 - Air Force
Offense: For what seems like the 19th year in a row, Air Force is going to make an attempt to be more diversified and add some passing to the mix. This time, under new offensive coordinator Tim Horton, it might actually happen. Slowly. Running the ball will still be the team's bread-and-butter, but there will be some shotgun, some spread, and a mish-mosh of other offenses to try to get thing moving. Shaun Carney is a good, veteran quarterback to handle all the changes, but he doesn't have much to work with. The receiving corps needs work before it can become a threat, the backfield will be fine in the triple-option, but could struggle in a traditional set, and the offensive line needs to undergo major changes.
Air Force hasn't played defense in about three years and it'll take a major overhaul and a fantastic coaching job by new coordinator Tim DeRuyter to change things up. There's no size, not enough speed, and little in the way of experienced reserves. There has to be some semblance of a pass rush, and the hope will be for the speedy outside linebackers in the 3-4 to generate it. Far more has to be done against the pass. Now for the positives. Drew Fowler is one of the Mountain West's best linebackers and safety Bobby Giannini is a tackling machine.       

Nov. 17 - Duke
Offense: Eleven starters return to an offense that lived through the growing pains of a youth movement in an attempt to take a giant leap forward. New offensive coordinator Peter Vaas, who comes over from Notre Dame, should help make quarterback Thaddeus Lewis more consistent. Helping the overall cause even more is a veteran line that needs to be far better after doing next to nothing well throughout last year. It'll be tailback by committee with several different options to see carries, while the overall strength will be at receiver with several young, big, good-looking targets for Lewis to use to push the ball deeper.
Defense: The defense is still not going to be a rock, but there's promise with several good young players to revolve around. Top prospects Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk are rising stars on the line, while Patrick Bailey is a playmaker who'll be one of the ACC's better pass rushers. Michael Tauiliili is a playmaker at middle linebacker, but the outside linebackers are question marks. Safeties Chris Davis and Adrian Aye-Darko are good, and they'll need to be with major concerns at corner.

Nov. 24 – at Stanford
Offense: Jim Harbaugh wants to attack defenses with an up tempo offense that'll feature lots of pre-snap motion and a ball control element that harkens back to the Bill Walsh days of the West Coast offense.  It worked swimmingly at the University of San Diego for the past couple of years, but this is Stanford where ten points and less than 250 yards a game was the norm last year.  The Cardinal is experienced everywhere and pretty deep at the skill positions, but none of that will matter unless the offensive line does a complete 180 off last year's atrocious performance. 
Defense: New defensive coordinator Scott Shafer is scrapping the 3-4 this year in favor of an attacking 4-3 that is designed to create more turnovers and more plays for negative yards.  The Cardinal is open to suggestions after finishing last in the Pac-10 in just about every defensive category in 2006.  There are holes, to be sure, but Shafer will also inherit some exciting young talent at each unit, such as sophomore tackle Ekom Udofia, sophomore linebacker Clinton Snyder and junior cornerback Wopamo Osaisai.  Above all else, the defense has to find some answers against the run after being humiliated for more than 2,500 yards and nearly five yards a carry a year ago.



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