Steve Kallas explains why Clemente must be remembered as one of baseball's greatest players.
ROBERTO CLEMENTE: YES, HE REALLY DID HAVE EXCELLENT POWER!!!!
Today, we live in a world where many people have never seen players like Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax or Mickey Mantle actually play baseball. So now, Koufax is “overrated," as one so-called expert has said (preposterous, of course). Also, Mickey Mantle “only” hit .298 lifetime, so how good could he have really been (one of the greatest players ever, that’s how good). As for Roberto Clemente: he didn’t have power, so he can’t be an all-time great. Right?
Well, one needs only to look at the facts to (maybe) understand the greatness of Clemente. Surviving film clips should be reviewed, as well, to learn about Clemente, considered by a few contemporaries to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players of all time. Yet he is considered by some modern day so-called experts to be not worthy of a mention.
As many of you know, the anniversary of the death of the great Roberto Clemente is on December 31. In 1972, Clemente was flying a rescue mission to help the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua when his plane went down. His body was never found.
Much has been correctly written about Clemente as an incredible humanitarian who cared deeply about other people. This is necessary and fantastic to keep his legacy going. His passion, his selflessness and his willingness to “do it himself” all should be celebrated. This article, however, focuses on Clemente the ballplayer, specifically about the bad rap that he has received as a hitter who did not have enough power to be considered one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Whenever people talk about the great talents of Hall of Famer Clemente as a ballplayer, they often come to what has been viewed as his major weakness as a ballplayer, the thing that kept him from being considered in the same class as the all-time greats. Clemente really didn’t have power, they say, he only hit 240 home runs, how can he be considered as one of the all-time greats if he didn’t hit a lot of homers?, etc. Well, a review of what some of his contemporaries thought, as well as a review of the field (Forbes Field) he played in for most of his career, will show that Clemente really did have excellent power and should not be left out of the all-time greats conversation.
“HE PLAYED IN AN AIRPORT”
This all started a number of years ago when Hall of Famer Duke Snider was on WFAN radio in New York City being interviewed by the famous duo of “Mike and the Mad Dog.” Snider was on talking about many greats, including Clemente. Clemente has always been considered a great player, except for that one fact – he didn’t have power. During the interview, one of the co-hosts said what virtually everybody has repeated through the years – that he didn’t have power, that he had only 240 career homers. Snider interrupted the interviewer and said, with surprise in his voice, “Clemente had power. HE PLAYED IN AN AIRPORT.” [Emphasis mine.]
This statement sounded surprising to this writer and others who were aware that Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, a Pittsburgh Pirate great (1946-53) right before Clemente (1955-72), had led the National League in home runs for seven consecutive years. How could Kiner, a prolific home run hitter, have done so well at Forbes Field while Clemente only managed to hit 240 homers in his career?
Well, here’s the answer to that question: In 1947, the Pirates talked legendary player Hank Greenberg into coming to Pittsburgh to play for the Pirates. According to various reports, in order to sweeten the pot for Greenberg, the Pirates decided to move the bullpens to left field. Forbes Field, a massive ballpark first used by the Pirates in 1909, was 365 feet down the left field line, 406 in left-center going out to 457 feet in deep left-center field.
Prior to the 1947 season at Forbes Field, according to baseball-statistics.com (unfortunately, a site that no longer exists as a baseball site), a “double bullpen, 30 feet wide by 200 feet long, was placed behind the left field wall – it significantly cut the distance in left field, reducing the left field line from 365 to 335 and the left-center power alley from 406 to 355 feet.” In Green Cathedrals by Philip Lowry, the dimensions of Forbes Field are listed as “Left Field, 365 (1930), 335 (1947), 365 (1954), Left Center, 406 (1942), 355 (1947), 406 (1954).”
The New York Times, in its April 19, 1947 edition, described the new “Greenberg Gardens” as a “tailor-made home run area in left field. The ‘Gardens’ are an enclosed bullpen which shortens the 365-foot distance to the left-field wall by 30 feet.”
Well, that answers a few questions.
The Gardens, re-named “Kiner’s Korner” by some (maybe the forerunner to Ralph Kiner’s post-game New York Mets show in later decades) since Greenberg retired after the 1947 season, stood at Forbes Field until Kiner, in a dispute with Branch Rickey (yes, that Branch Rickey, post-Brooklyn Dodgers), was traded during the 1953 season. According to the New York Times, Rickey tried to immediately take down the bullpen and shorter fence, but the National League ordered Rickey to leave it up until the end of the 1953 season, when it was removed.
The old, gigantic pre-1947 dimensions of Forbes Field were restored after the 1954 season (to have an understanding of how massive Forbes Field was, they stored the batting cage in left-center field ON the field DURING the games).
Of course, Roberto Clemente was a rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates one year later in 1955.
CLEMENTE’S MINOR LEAGUE “CAREER”
Some of you know the crazy rule that existed in the 1950s. If you signed a player for more than $5,000, if that player was not put on the major-league roster for that season, he could then be drafted after a year in the minors in the “Rule 5” draft. According to the excellent Clemente biography by David Maraniss, this is what happened to Roberto Clemente.
After a glowing report from Dodger super-scout Al Campanis (interestingly, he gave Clemente an A+ for power), Clemente was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers (to keep him away from the New York Giants so they wouldn’t have Willie Mays and Clemente in the same outfield) and his bonus and contract made him someone who would have to be in the majors or subject to a draft at the end of the year. The Dodgers did the same thing a year later with a young pitcher named Sandy Koufax – but the Dodgers kept him on the major league team in 1955.
The Dodgers tried to “hide” Clemente in the minors in 1954 but many knew of his great talents. So, while Koufax was “protected,” Clemente had a one-year minor league career – only 87 games, only148 at-bats, only a .257 batting average.
The attempt to hide Clemente didn’t work and the Pirates took him with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft.
CLEMENTE’S MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER
Roberto Clemente showed up at the airport (Forbes Field) in 1955 as a very young (20), very inexperienced (148 minor league at-bats), very out of place (in Pittsburgh) player. Below is a discussion of some of the power he showed and what some of his contemporaries thought of him from a power perspective:
A coach for the Chicago Cubs in 1959, the Hall of Famer witnessed Clemente hitting a home run out of Wrigley Field on May 17, 1959 that landed on Waveland Avenue, well over 500 feet. It went out to the left of the scoreboard in center field. Hornsby said it was one of the longest home-runs he had ever seen in his 45 years in baseball.
Two Koufax stories: 1) In the excellent Clemente biography by Kal Wagenheim, Koufax said that the longest ball ever hit off him to the opposite field was “hit off me by Clemente at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1961. It was a fastball on the outside corner, and he drove it out of the park; not over the fence, but he knocked it way out.” Koufax went on to say that Clemente “could hit a PITCHOUT for a home run.”; 2) On May 31, 1964 at Forbes Field, Clemente hit a home run off Koufax 30 feet high off the light tower in center field. Koufax said he couldn’t recall anyone hitting one longer off him (from “Tales of the Tape”).
Many don’t know that the face of the Boston Red Sox was a coach for Manager Harry Walker of the Pirates for three years when Clemente played in Pittsburgh. Two Pesky stories: 1) The Wagenheim bio talks of the day (May 15, 1967) when Clemente hit three home runs and a double against Cincinnati, driving in all seven runs in an 8-7 loss. Pesky, who played with the great Ted Williams, said he had never seen such a fearful display of power in one game.; 2) According to the Maraniss bio, Pesky told writer Len Biederman of the Pittsburgh Press that the only hitter he had ever seen get solid wood on the ball time after time as much as Clemente was his [Pesky’s] friend, Ted Williams.
Walker was the manager of the Pirates in 1966. Before the season started, he went to Clemente and told him (according to the Wagenheim bio): “Roberto, I wish this year you would go for power, hit 25 homers and get 115 runs batted in. We will need it for the pennant.” Clemente went out and, in his MVP season in 1966, hit 29 home runs and drove in 119 runs (and scored 105 runs). This was staggering because it was (and remains today) the third highest home run total for a right-handed hitter in the 61-year history of Forbes Field (excluding, of course, the Greenberg Gardens years of 1947-53).
CLEMENTE v. STARGELL v. KINER
It’s obviously hard to compare, but understand a few things about this trio. Clemente only averaged about 5-6 home runs a year at Forbes Field, a place he played in for fifteen-and-a-half seasons. Willie Stargell (WILLIE STARGELL!) only averaged about 10 home runs a year at Forbes Field in the seven-and-a-half seasons he played there. Yes, Stargell was a lefty and it was just about equally hard to hit home runs for lefties (although the deepest part of the park was 457 to left center).
The Kiner comparisons are fascinating. Kiner played one year, his first, at Forbes Field when it was an airport (the year before Hank Greenberg came to Pittsburgh). In that first year (old dimensions), Kiner hit 23 home runs. Then, with the advent of Greenberg Gardens, Kiner hit 51, 40, 54, 47, 42 and 37 in his next six seasons (Kiner often credited his mentor, Hank Greenberg, with teaching him (Kiner) how to pull the ball, making him especially deadly with Greenberg Gardens in left to left-center field at Forbes Field).
This is not to detract from Ralph Kiner in any way. In fact, his 23 home runs in 1946 led the National League. But Kiner, according to The Baseball Biography Project (www.bioproj.sabr.org) , only hit eight home runs (of his 23) at Forbes Field in 1946. In 1947, with the advent of Greenberg Gardens, he hit 28 (of his 51) at Forbes Field. In his one season playing his home games in the old Forbes Field, Kiner hit 23 home runs for the season. In the next six seasons playing his home games with the much shorter left to left center field fence, Kiner AVERAGED over 45 home runs a season.
Give that a little thought when you think about Roberto Clemente.
ALL-TIME LEADING HOME RUN HITTERS AT FORBES FIELD
Without question, this is a somewhat misleading stat. But it’s presented to show the futility of trying to hit home runs at Forbes Field. The all-time list at Forbes Field, according to baseball-statistics.com, is
1) Ralph Kiner, 175;
2) Roberto Clemente, 85;
3) Willie Stargell, 74;
4) Frank Thomas (obviously of the old Pirates and, later, Mets, not the more modern day slugger), 64;
5) Wally Westlake, 62.
Obviously, Clemente is high on the list because he played many years there, but the point here is that NOBODY could hit a lot of home runs in Forbes Field (again, except during the Greenberg Gardens years).
PIE TRAYNOR AND TRIPLES
While this quote from legendary Pirate Pie Traynor wasn’t about Clemente, it makes a further point. Dave Anderson wrote a column in the New York Times on July 11, 1970 (just before the closing of Forbes Field) discussing the fascinating point that, in the 61-year history of Forbes Field, a no-hitter was never pitched there. Anderson quoted Traynor as saying: “The reason for that is that it’s a ‘triple’ ball park, not a ‘homer’ ball park. Hitters shorten their swings.”
Fascinating stuff. On more than one occasion, Clemente told sportswriters about the absurdity of trying to hit home runs in Forbes Field. In 1964, for example, Clemente told a sportswriter that “As long as I’m in Forbes Field I can’t go for home runs; line drives, yes.”
Indeed, Clemente hit 166 triples in his career, playing home games for fifteen-and-a-half seasons in a “triple” park. Who knows how many of them would have been a home run in a “normal’ park or in Greenberg Gardens?
Interestingly, to almost prove Traynor’s point, two no-hitters (by Bob Gibson in 1971 and John Candelaria in 1976) were thrown in the Pirates’ new stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, in the first seven seasons there. Pie Traynor had a point.
With information at baseball-reference.com, a review was made of virtually every Clemente at-bat in the 1967 season. The goal was to try to get a feel for how many additional homers Clemente might have hit in Greenberg Gardens or a more “reasonable” ballpark. Not scientific, but the results are interesting.
In 1967 home games, Clemente hit approximately 18-20 fly balls that were fly outs to left or center (including sacrifice flies) or extra base hits to the outfield (mainly triples). There were eight home games for which actual at-bats were not available. An exercise in futility? Not really, because it’s just to make the additional point that Clemente had power that didn’t show up in his home run totals because of where he played in the 1950s and 1960s.
SANDY KOUFAX AND FERGUSON JENKINS
Clemente didn’t hit more than six home runs against any individual pitcher. But the two that he did hit six home runs off, Sandy Koufax and Ferguson Jenkins, are two Hall of Fame pitchers. Interestingly, he hit six off Koufax in only 107 at-bats. He hit six off Jenkins in only 94 at-bats. Both work out to 30+ homer seasons with about 500 or so at-bats.
THE 1971 WORLD SERIES
The Baltimore Orioles, big favorites to beat the Pirates, didn’t really know how to pitch to Clemente (not that anyone else did). Clemente stood far away from home plate and he would often be pitched away under the theory that he couldn’t reach the outside pitch. Of course, he had excellent power the other way and many of his blasts were to right and right-center field. But National Leaguers knew it was a waste of time to pitch him inside. Clemente once said, “Pitch me inside and I’ll hit the ball to [expletive deleted] McKeesport.”
In the ’71 World Series, Clemente’s (finally) national recognition MVP World Series, according to the Maraniss bio, the Orioles had decided to pitch Clemente inside (contrary to Gene Mauch’s (Phillies manager) Clemente Rule – “Don’t pitch him inside. He’ll kill you.”). This led to his .414 Series average.
In Game 6, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer came inside to Clemente in the first inning. He hit a triple down the left field line. In the third inning, Palmer pitched Clemente away. He hit a home run to right field. With the game tied at two in the tenth inning, Dave Cash singled but then stole second, allowing the Orioles to walk Clemente intentionally. The Orioles would win, 3-2, forcing a Game 7.
Orioles ace Mike Cuellar started Game 7 for the Orioles. Long time rivals, Clemente turned on an inside pitch and hit it 390 feet over the left field wall after Cuellar had retired the first 11 Pirates he had faced in the pivotal game. The run turned out to be the difference as the Pirates won Game 7, 2-1, and the World Series.
Clemente had at least one hit in every game and had two doubles, a triple and two home runs in the seven-game Series.
OTHER CLEMENTE MOON SHOTS
By no means all-inclusive, here is a list of other Clemente notable smashes:
1. In 1955, according to the Wagenheim bio, Clemente hit a Warren Spahn pitch OVER the scoreboard in left field at Forbes Field. The New York Times, on February 11, 1954, explained in advance what a shot this would have to be when, discussing the tear down of Greenberg Gardens, the Times wrote, “More important, however, is that instead of clearing a twelve-foot screen to land in homer territory, the hitter will now have to power his drive over the left-field scoreboard, which rises 25 feet 6 inches.” A few days after the Spahn homer, Clemente hit a 430-foot triple off Johnny Antonelli.
2. On September 8, 1958, Clemente tied a National League record by hitting three triples in one game.
3. Early in the 1960 season, Clemente went three for three against Cincinnati, with two doubles, a single and, according to the Maraniss bio, “a long sacrifice fly that would have been a home run in any other park but was hauled in by Vada Pinson near where the batting cage was stored at the 457-foot sign in deepest left-center.”
4. On May 6, 1960, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, Clemente hit a ball pitched by Sam Jones into a terrific wind. According to the Wagenheim bio, “the shocked fans and players saw the home run ball land 450 feet away as Roberto calmly trotted around the bases.” According to “Tales of the Tape,” “Despite the wind, the ball carried into the remote bleacher area beyond the left field fence. Clemente and Ernie Banks are the only two visiting players to reach that remote area of the park (along with two Giant players).”
5. In June of 1966, according to the Wagenheim bio, during an 11-game home stand, Clemente hit .444 with 28 hits and six home runs. Two of the home runs were to deep right center in Forbes Field, landing “between the Barney Dreyfuss monument and a light tower close to the 436-foot marker.” During that home stand, according to “Tales of the Tape,” one of those home runs, hit off the Cardinal’s Al Jackson, was hit so far that Cardinal’s outfielder Curt Flood said, “I just didn’t think that anyone could hit a ball that far.”
6. On September 6, 1966, Clemente got his 2,000th hit off Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, a mammoth blast into the upper deck in right field at Forbes Field.
SO, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
This is in no way to say that Clemente had the power of a Mantle or a Mays or an Aaron (even Clemente admitted that wasn’t true). But it is to say that Clemente had excellent power and, if he had played somewhere else (or during the time of Greenberg Gardens), his home run totals would have been much higher. As Kal Wagenheim astutely noted in his Clemente bio, “Many a home run in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, or Philadelphia would have fallen innocuously into the left fielder’s glove at Forbes Field.” Nor could you compare Clemente’s power to that of the great Joe DiMaggio, who hit 361 homers while playing in his own airport at the old Yankee Stadium.
But Clemente had his moments (and many of them) where he showed what he could do. He understood early on that it was pure folly to try and hit home runs at Forbes Field. He stood far away from the plate; so most people pitched him away. He had stunning opposite field power for his time or any time. He played mostly in the pre-1969 high mound “pitcher’s era.”
He came to the majors before he was ready, was thrown into the deep water and survived and then thrived. The Maraniss bio lays out well the many injuries that Clemente had and played with throughout his career. Despite those, he wound up passing the great Honus Wagner for most games played by a Pittsburgh Pirate.
To sum up, any conversation about the greatest players ever is simply incomplete (and misguided) without the great Roberto Clemente’s name in the conversation. He may not be a top five player of all-time, but once you go to the bottom of the top 10, and certainly to the top 15 or 20, Roberto Clemente’s name is in the mix and on the list.
Remember, HE PLAYED IN AN AIRPORT (Thank you, Duke Snider.)
© Copyright 2019 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.
Part 2: Pete Dichiara discusses the early part of his 2019 PBA50 Bryan Bowling Center Open victory.
Part 3: Pete Dichiara discusses the later part of his 2019 PBA50 Bryan Bowling Center Open victory and what lies ahead in his bowling career.
The $1 Million International Trot at Yonkers Raceway Presented by MGM Resorts, Saturday, October 12, 2019
October 10, 2019 Interview with John Campbell: International Trot • Yonkers Raceway by MGM Resorts.
Notre Dame Football: Looking Back (Briefly) at the Win Over Bowling Green and forward to USC (Saturday, October 12 on NBC at 7:30 PM EST)
There’s not a whole lot to say about the Notre Dame 52-0 victory over an “undermanned” (Coach Kelly’s word) Bowling Green team, but it certainly was an opportunity to get Ian Book to throw the ball down the field. His 16-20 passing for 261 yards and five touchdowns was notable in that he threw four of those TD passes between 20 and 35 yards.
The stats are the stats, but suffice it to say that Tony Jones, Jr. ran for 102 yards on only seven carries and JavonMcKinley had five catches for 104 yards and a TD. Chase Claypool had two TDs and Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble and Avery Davis all caught TD passes.
So, with a shutdown defense, what did it all mean? It means that Notre Dame did all it could do, in a lopsided game, to prepare for USC.
USC is Loaded at Wide Receiver and They Get Their QB Back
Well, not JT Daniels, who’s out for the season. But KedonSlovis, their freshman QB who has filled in admirably for Daniels, will start, according to USC Coach Clay Helton.
USC is loaded with three top receivers: Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Pittman is “explosive” and a “big play receiver” who “catches everything thrown his way,” according to Coach Kelly. Vaughns “obviously has great length” and is “a match-up issue,” according to Coach Kelly. At 6’4” and 6’3,” respectively, Pittman and Vaughns (as well as slot receiver St. Brown) are probably the keys to the game for USC.
As USC Coach Helton said at his press conference, “We’ve got to be able to hurt them with the deep ball.” So Notre Dame is on notice on what USC is going to try to do this Saturday. Coach Helton also said, commenting on the health of his team, that USC’s bye week, “couldn’t have come at a better time.”
What About Notre Dame at Cornerback?
Well, therein (potentially) lies the problem. With no Shaun Crawford (elbow injury), Notre Dame is undermanned at corner. They obviously have Troy Pride, Jr., but at the other corner will be sophomore Tariq Bracy, who made his first career start at Bowling Green last Saturday. After that, it’s 6’3” Donte Vaughn (Coach Kelly is obviously looking for some height at the position due to the length of Pittman and Vaughns) as the next corner in the game.
But after Vaughn, there are issues and question marks. Maybe freshman Cam Hart or freshman KJ Wallace or freshman Isaiah Rutherford. But Coach Kelly would prefer not to use inexperienced corners against a team like USC.
He may not have a choice.
Sophomore Houston Griffith might have been an option at corner, but Coach Kelly, at his press conference, insisted that Griffith would remain at safety.
So What’s the Notre Dame Defense To Do?
Well, the key to the game for Notre Dame will be how much pressure they get on the USC quarterbacks (backup QB Matt Fink, who was key in USC’s victory over then #10 Utah, will also probably play).
Maybe they can get a good enough rush with their two excellent ends (no Daelin Hayes off the bench) or maybe they have to bring the blitz. But it says here if USC takes a lot of shots down the field (with “the deep ball,” as Coach Helton said they will), that could be a problem.
Offensively, Notre Dame gets back Jafar Armstrong, their best two-way (rushing and receiving) back. While Coach Kelly said Armstrong would be limited “to about 20 plays,” it could be an in-game decision as to whether it’s more than that.
Ian Book threw the ball very well down the field against Bowling Green.
Now, we’ll see if he can do it against much better competition.
It says here that Notre Dame, at home, gets the job done and continues their attempt to get back to the College Playoff.
By Steve Kallas
MISSED OPPORTUNITY AT GEORGIA
In our Notre Dame at Georgia preview, we discussed the slow starts that Notre Dame had gotten off to in their first two games. While Coach Kelly essentially blew off a pointed question about the slow starts in his Monday pre-game Georgia press conference, it says here that Notre Dame’s first two possessions at Georgia hurt them badly, even though they led 7-0 and then 10-7 at the half.
To beat Georgia in Athens, if you have the chance, you have to open up a big lead, if possible.
Which brings us to Notre Dame’s first two possessions. The first was marred by two penalties by star offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg. Notre Dame was moving the ball down the field. Cole Kmet looked like an NFL tight end playing in a college game, despite the fact that it was his first game of the season. But an unnecessary roughness (15-yard penalty) call on Eichenberg and a false start (5-yard penalty) call on him cost the Irish 20 yards and field position. While you never know what would have happened, it would seem that the Irish, minus those two penalties, would have had at least a chance for an early field goal.
On their second possession, despite another false start penalty (Notre Dame would have 12 penalties in the game), Notre Dame was able to move the ball to the Georgia 32-yard line where it was fourth and two. Rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal, Notre Dame went for it. An early snap by the center sailed by Ian Book, who did well to recover it and almost complete a pass. But they turned the ball over on downs.
Those two possessions hurt Notre Dame’s chances to open up a bigger lead than three points at the half. In the second half, Georgia ran the ball well after being stymied by a great effort by the Notre Dame defense, particularly in the first half and, frankly, throughout the game. To hold Georgia to 162 yards rushing (with top running backs D’Andre Swift (18 carries for 98 yards and a TD) and Brian Herrien (8 carries for 43 yards)) is an excellent job, especially given the fact that the Notre Dame offense had three consecutive three and outs (so the Notre Dame defense got tired). But between Jake Fromm’s coolness (20-26, 187 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and 0 sacks) and star kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s three second-half field goals, Georgia was able to win the game, 23-17
Cole Kmet was incredible in his first start -- 9 catches for 108 yards and a TD. Chase Claypool chipped in with 6 catches for 66 yards and a TD.
As Coach Kelly said in the postgame press conference, Georgia just made a few more plays than Notre Dame. To Coach Kelly’s credit, he took the blame for the many false start “cadence” penalties (as he called them), saying that Notre Dame usually goes on a hand clap and, in Georgia with the raucous crowd, decided to try a silent count that simply didn’t work.
While there are no moral victories, Notre Dame had a great game plan and almost pulled off a stunning upset. While this bodes well for the rest of the season, Notre Dame has to run the table from here on in.
Virtually all of the “experts” said, before the game, that, if Notre Dame lost, they had no chance to make the College Playoff. A ridiculous statement, especially given the way that Notre Dame played in defeat. Thankfully, Gary Danielson of CBS (the best analyst in the business), who by his own admission didn’t think that Notre Dame would play as well as they did, stated at the end of the game that Notre Dame still can run the table and make the Final Four.
Amen to that.
#18 Virginia comes to South Bend this Saturday. As Coach Kelly said, this will be the game that defines his team. Why? Well, it says here that when you get knocked down (a tough loss on the road to Georgia) what only matters is how you get back up and keep fighting.
Virginai (4-0) is no slouch. They have an experienced coach in Bronco Mendenhall. According to Coach Kelly, Virginia has “elite” players on defense, referencing outside LB Charles Snowden, who was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week last week with a 15 tackle, two-sack performance against Old Dominion. Coach Kelly also mentioned inside LB Jordan Mack, another star defensive player and CB Bryce Hall who, according to Coach Kelly, will be a high NFL draft pick.
Coach Kelly also mentioned Bryce Perkins as an “explosive and dangerous” QB with a “really good wide receiver” in Joe Reed. Although Virginia is 4-0, it should be noted that they trailed a so-so Old Dominion team 17-0 before settling down and scoring 28 unanswered points.
It says here that Notre Dame has to run the table to make the College Playoff. This is the beginning of that long journey. Notre Dame, at home, should handle Virginia, especially with the return of RB Jahmir Smith (while still waiting for Jafar Armstrong) and the first start for WR Michael Young. If Notre Dame plays to the level of how they played against Georgia, they will be fine.
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“Speaking of Sports”
Notre Dame at Georgia Preview (CBS, 8 PM Eastern)
The non-conference game of the year, #7 Notre Dame heads to Athens to take on #3 Georgia. Both rolled over their opponents last week (Notre Dame 66 - New Mexico 14 and Georgia 55 - Arkansas State 0). Can Notre Dame get the job done on the road? It says here that they can.
But What About Those Slow Starts?
Perhaps the bigest problem facing Notre Dame is their slow starts in their first two games. Losing 14-7 to Louisville (before pulling away from them) and then not scoring an offensive touchdown in the first 18 minutes against New Mexico (before rolling over them) qualifies as slow starts to this writer.
But Coach Kelly would have none of that at his Monday press conference, essentially saying (in response to a pointed, slow-start question) that it was no big deal and he didn’t see it that way. But for Notre Dame to win, they will have to absorb that initial punch that often comes when you play a top team on the road. If they don’t, it could be a long day in Athens.
The Return of Cole Kmet
Probably the biggest plus for Notre Dame is getting back their star tight end, Cole Kmet. With the emergence of Tommy Tremble and the steady play of Brock Wright, Notre Dame (as Coach Kelly said at his press conference) can now put two or even three tight ends on the field. That could very well cause some match-up problems for Georgia’s defense, which is real good against the run and we’ll see how good against the pass (given Ian Book and Notre Dame’s many receiver weapons).
While it would have been good if Kmet had received some reps in the New Mexico blowout, it seems clear that the coaching and medical staffs wanted to give him that extra week to get really healthy. Kmet could be a key player in this big game.
Georgia, As Usual, Is Loaded
Kirby Smart has made Georgia a national power and they are loaded this year. Jake Fromm, in Coach Kelly’s words, is one of the “premiere college quarterbacks,” and he’s the reason, according to Coach Kelly, that Georgia is a premier team. Fromm has put up very good numbers in his first three games this year, going 42-56 (75%) for 601 yards and five touchdowns with no picks, while letting the running game (see below) shine against lesser opponents.
Georgia also has incredible running backs, led by first-round-pick-to-be Andre Swift (in three games, 31 carries for 290 yards and three touchdowns, as well as three receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown).
But they have other excellent backs in Brian Herrien (21 rushes for 121 yards and three touchdowns), James Cook (eight rushes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, with six catches for 57 yards), and Zamir White (19 rushes for 141 yards and two touchdowns).
Coach Kelly commented on Georgia’s outstanding offensive line, anchored by left tackle Andrew Thomas, saying that “he’s probably a first round draft pick.”
Perhaps Georgia’s greatest weapon, in a close game, is kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who has made all five of his field goals this year, including a 50-yarder. How good is he? Well, in his prior two seasons with Georgia, Blankenship is 39-46 for an astounding 85% success rate with a long of 55 yards. This guy will be kicking on Sundays next year.
What About Notre Dame Recruiting In Georgia?
An interesting sidelight to this game has been the success of Notre Dame in recruiting top players from Georgia. In fact, Georgia Coach Kirby Smart talked about it more than Coach Kelly in their respective press conferences. This year, for example, Notre Dame was able to recruit from the Atlanta area both Tommy Tremble (whose father was an all SEC player at Georgia back in the 1990s) and Kyle Hamilton, who had a pick-six last week against New Mexico. Coach Smart said that “we recruited both of them hard,” but they both wound up at Notre Dame.
So, How Does Notre Dame Win?
Well, it says here that Notre Dame has to stack the box to try to stop or at least control the Georgia running game. Georgia has a lot of young talent at the receiver position, but they have four excellent running backs who will try to wear out the Notre Dame defense. It says here that how Notre Dame does against the Georgia run is the key to the game.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame is hurt by the continued absence of Jafar Armstrong, their best dual-threat running back, and Michael Young, who is, according to Coach Kelly, “about a week behind” Cole Kmet. Notre Dame will have to rely on Tony Jones, Jr. and Jahmir Smith to run the ball against a stingy Georgia defense. Also keep an eye on Avery Davis who, after being switched from defense to offense to get some playing time, had an explosive 59-yard touchdown run against New Mexico on his first offensive touch.
Notre Dame can win this game by avoiding a slow start, controlling the Georgia running game and having Ian Book making some plays to his tight ends, as well as Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. Also, hopefully, explosive Lawrence Keys III and Javon McKinley can make some plays on the outside.
We’ll see what happens … .
By Steve Kallas
Well, the long wait for college football is finally over. Notre Dame, pre-season rank #9, begins their season on the road at Louisville on Monday, September 2 (8:00 PM, ESPN).
Everybody who has looked at the schedule understands that Notre Dame’s three biggest games are all on the road: at Georgia (9/21); at Michigan (10/26);and at Stanford (11/30). But before we take a big-picture view of the season, let’s take a look at Louisville.
Game One: Notre Dame at Louisville
If you follow college football, you know what Louisville’s new head coach, Scott Satterfield, has accomplished while at Appalachian State. In 2007, he was an assistant coach who called all of the offensive plays when Appalachian State stunned then #5 Michigan at The Big House in what many consider to be one of (if not the) biggest upsets in the history of college football. What people don’t remember is that Michigan took the lead, 32-31, late in the fourth quarter. Then Satterfield called the plays that created a seven-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with the game-winning short field goal with 26 seconds left in the game.
Just last year, and 11 years to the day of that monumental upset of Michigan, now head coach Satterfield took Appalachian State into Happy Valley to play #10 Penn State. His team scored 28 fourth-quarter points to force an overtime. While they lost to the Nittany Lions in overtime, you understand what this man can do and why he was selected to replace Bobby Petrino after a miserable 2-10 2018 season.
How Much Talent Does Louisville Have on Their Roster?
Well, we’ll turn to Coach Brian Kelly to see what he thinks about Louisville’s roster. At his press conference earlier this week, Coach Kelly pointed to Mekhi Becton, Louisville’s 6’7”, 368-pound left tackle as a guy “who will be playing in the NFL next year.” He also respects the Louisville QB, Jawon Pass (yes, that’s his name), who won the job essentially by default after a knee injury to Malik Cunningham, his competition.
Pass is a 6’4”, 239 pound QB who is actually viewed to be a pocket passer. But, according to Coach Satterfield (at his press conference), Pass has shown an ability to run the ball as well.
Coach Kelly also talked about the talent that Louisville has at the wide receiver position.
Will QB Ian Book Improve This Year?
It says here that he will take another step up this season. As you know, Book didn’t start until game four last year. So he received all the starters reps this season after winning every game last season up until the Clemson loss. While Book has been criticized for not being able to throw the long ball, particularly against eventual National Champion Clemson, the reality is that he was under siege in that game.
For Game One, Focus on the Notre Dame Receivers
Even though Miles Boykin is in the NFL, Notre Dame, on paper, figured to have an outstanding group of wide receivers this season. But Cole Kmet and Michael Young are both injured and the mystery of Kevin Austin continues (Coach Kelly shut down questioning about Austin, only saying that he would be at Notre Dame all year; there are now conflicting reports as to how much time he will miss).
But they still have Chase Claypool and the reliable Chris Finke. Jafar Armstrong is now a running back who was converted from wide receiver, but he may play some slot receiver for Notre Dame while they are somewhat undermanned at the receiver position.
What About This Game?
Coach Satterfield is going to do an excellent job at Louisville. But even he bemoaned his lack of depth as a football team at his press conference, pointing out that he didn’t even have much time to recruit for this season.
It says here that Notre Dame’s defense will cause problems for Pass, who, according to the Louisville coach, is going to have to take shots down the field. While Coach Satterfield showed tremendous respect for the Notre Dame defense (mentioning defensive ends Julian Oakwara (#42) and Khalid Kareem (#53) by number), he may not be aware of how good DE Daelin Hayes is (Hayes, a senior, was specifically mentioned by Coach Kelly as “a guy we haven’t even talked about” who had “his best camp ever” at Notre Dame).
Notre Dame shouldn’t have a problem with Louisville. Coach Satterfield will make this a good program again, but it’s going to take some time.
So, What About the Season?
Notre Dame has to use these first two games as a prep for the biggest regular season game this year against Georgia in Athens. But it says here that Notre Dame has two chances to return to the college playoff. If they beat Georgia (yes, right now that looks like a longshot -- but let’s wait a couple of weeks to see how the first two games shake out), they are lined up to have a big shot to run the table which would put them back in the top four in the country (they should really increase the playoff to eight teams, but that’s for another time).
But even if Notre Dame loses to Georgia, wins at Michigan (a team that seems to be overrated, especially with Jim Harbaugh as coach -- many thought he would immediately bring them back to top tier national prominence, which simply hasn’t happened) and wins at Stanford (a team that is in a bit of a decline) *****could still propel them into the playoff conversation at 11-1 (assuming, of course, they run the table against all but Georgia).
We’ll see what happens … .
NFL’S New Pass Interference Review Rule Doesn’t Go Far Enough
By Steve Kallas
If you are a football fan, you’ve probably seen the play twenty, fifty, even 100 times: the NFC Championship Game. January 20, 2019. Rams at Saints, tied at 20, 1:49 left in regulation. Saints quarterback Drew Brees drops back to pass. Tommylee Lewis appears open to Brees’s right and Brees throws him the ball. Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman arrives very early and knocks Lewis over before he has a chance to catch the ball.
A clear pass interference call.
So, What Happened?
Or, more appropriately, what didn’t happen? Well, despite two officials looking directly at the play with an unobstructed view, no pass interference call was made. To say it was an egregious non-call is an understatement.
What Would Have Happened If the Call Had Been Properly Made?
Well, it would have been first and goal on the Rams 6 or 7 yard line with 1:45 to go in regulation. The Rams had one time-out left so they could have stopped the clock after the first down play which, presumably, would have been a run or even a QB kneel down. So, with about 1:40 left in the game, the Saints could run two plays and the Rams could not stop the clock. That’s 80 seconds (40 second clock between plays) plus two plays before the fourth down, chip shot field goal attempt to win the game.
Absent an incredible screw-up, the Saints would have kicked the game-winning (go to the Super Bowl) field goal with no time left or, more likely, a very few seconds (about 5-10) left in the game.
What Did Happen?
With no penalty call, the Saints had to kick a field goal on the next down. But that left time for the Rams to go back the other way, tie up the game with a field goal and then win the game in overtime.
While many have correctly pointed out that the Saints had opportunities to win the game despite the egregious call, they miss the point. The point is, and this rarely (if ever) happens, had the right call been made (with a chance to go to the Super Bowl), the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
Where Did We Go From There?
Well, incensed (and rightly so) head coach of the Saints, Sean Payton, led the charge to have a rule change. And he was greatly supported by the other NFL coaches (especially Bill Belichick, Jason Garrett and Andy Reid). Earlier this offseason, the NFL announced the new pass interference review rule:
1) Pass Interference will be reviewable. Coaches can challenge any call or non-call. (After a back-and-forth, it was eventually decided that the coaches could do this at all times except in the final two minutes of each half and overtime).
2) A booth review would exist for any potential calls or non-calls of pass interference in the final two minutes of each half and overtime.
3) The rule change is for the 2019 season only.
As you probably know, coaches now get two challenges a game. If they use both and are successful on both, they are awarded a third challenge.
Why Isn’t This Enough?
Well, there are a number of reasons but, first, we’ll look at Sean Payton’s quote right after the March 26, 2019 meeting that established the new rule.
Sean Payton said, “The feeling I think is there is still some more to do relative to putting someone upstairs or having the replay official that’s currently up there in a role that’s more expanded. I think we’ll get to that but I don’t think there was an appetite this year for that.”
So it would seem, from this quote, that Sean Payton clearly wants the replay official to have the power to review an egregious play (like the one that most likely cost him a trip to the Super Bowl) at ANY TIME during an NFL game.
And he’s 100% right. Imagine, if you will, the exact same play happening in the upcoming season’s playoffs but with 2:10 left in the game. It could be the deciding play in the game; you know, the difference between going to, say, a Super Bowl or not.
But the coach, for whatever reason, has already run out of challenges. The non-call would be just as egregious and important as the non-call in the Rams-Saints game. The result would be the same (can’t be reversed). But the blame would mainly go on the head coach: why did he run out of challenges, etc.
Sean Payton clearly sees this problem. The rule should be (and it seems, based on Payton’s quote, that someday it will be) that the replay official can review any pass interference call or non-call at ANY TIME during a game.
That would immediately fix any run-out-of-challenges problem that would just make the NFL (and, probably, that particular coach) look terrible with an identical bad result (or, at least, unfair result) for the team, the fans and the game itself.
But Wait, There’s More!
There’s an additional problem here that Sean Payton probably knows about but it was just too soon to talk about it. Suppose there was an identical fact pattern to this past Rams-Saints fiasco except, instead of an egregious pass interference no-call, a defensive end or a linebacker beats the left tackle so cleanly it’s obvious he’s going to sack the quarterback who doesn’t see him. But the left tackle recovers and all he can do is grab the defensive player by the ankles and take him down before he gets to the quarterback.
Somehow, inexplicably (just like Rams-Saints), no call is made. The officials just missed the call. The quarterback, in this case, completes a pass to ice the game. Everybody goes ballistic and somebody (Sean Payton, maybe) comes up with the idea that a non-holding (or holding) call should be reviewable. You get the point.
What Should Happen?
Well, Sean Payton won’t leave this alone. Maybe next year there will be more of an “appetite” (Payton’s word) to expand the rule.
What should the rule be to avoid what could very well happen this season?
The NFL should institute a broader rule to the one that will go into effect this season. It should be that the replay official can step in at ANY TIME during an NFL game to correct an egregious call or non-call on any play. Whether it be an egregious hold, trip, offsides or neutral zone infraction or anything, it should be reviewable and correctable on the spot.
One final example: Patriots-Chiefs, late in the last AFC Championship game, Dee Ford lines up obviously in the neutral zone (maybe even with the Patriots line he was so far past his proper line-up position). He’s called for a neutral zone infraction and, if he’s not, the Chiefs probably win the game. As you know, the Patriots keep the ball and eventually win in overtime.
Suppose THAT infraction wasn’t called. Different game result allowing a different team to go to the Super Bowl.
Again, you get the point.
Sean Payton, the victim of obviously one of the worst calls ever (if not the worst call!) in an NFL playoff game, is way ahead of the field in thinking of how to correct the problem. His quote above shows that he obviously (and correctly) knows that a replay official should be able to call for a review of a call or non-call for pass interference at ANY TIME in the game.
This writer believes that Payton also knows that this kind of review should be expanded to any play that is egregious (like the Rams-Saints play or other examples given in this article).
But he also knows that you have to take baby steps once a new rule like this is being implemented by the league.
We’ll see what happens.
© COPYRIGHT 2019 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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