Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm so glad Jimmy cut his hair

Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21

Okay, so obviously yesterday's game was exhilarating in many ways, but there's just one thing I have to bitch about before I talk football:

Stupid freshmen and their stupid wave

...not to mention the first-down chop, which is also stupid and should be stopped immediately, even if it means chopping off the arms of all the freshmen.

There are some things that should never happen inside Notre Dame Stadium.

For example, the Stanford band should never perform.

The students should never leave before they've sung the alma mater.

And the crowd should never do the wave.

Props to the senior section for their solidarity in resisting. Booo to the crowd for taking their attention off the football game to do a stupid non-cheer that, in Notre Dame Stadium, mostly just looks retarded.

Anyway, moving on....

The Irish went 3-1 yesterday

And I'm not just talking about our football team's record. I'm talking about the team, the band, the cheerleaders, and the fans.

The team won! Irish: 1 Purdue: 0

Purdue's band didn't show. That's an automatic forfeit. ND Band: 1 Purdue Band: -scratch-

The cheerleader battle. In case you somehow missed this, our cheerleaders had a showdown with Purdue's cheerleaders in front of our student section. Each male cheerleader held up a female cheerleader with one hand, and Purdue and ND duked it out to see who could stay up the longest.
We won. ND Cheerleaders: 1 Purdue Cheerleaders: 0

And also the senior section lost the battle against the wave. ND Seniors: 0 Stupid freshmen: 1

(Also, in Quidditch news, Gryffindor beat Slytherin 170-60. This was on the scoreboard several times yesterday, in case you missed it.)

So there you have it--a true home effort for the Irish.

And now on to the important stuff....

What an offensive offense! I'm soooo glad they're no longer so offensive.

If last week's "pound the ball" effort was an example of how not to execute your run game, then this week's effort was an excellent display of how much of a beast Armando Allen is. Finally showing off his speed, agility, and some fancy footwork, Allen churned up over 130 yards of turf, had more long breakout runs than we've seen all season (and possibly all of last season as well), and--also finally--helped the offense finally gain something they've been grasping for all season: ball control.

Granted, Purdue's run defense is ranked 90th in the country, so this is not quite as promising as it would be if he'd had his breakout day against Michigan or MSU, but it's still something to get excited about. It's one thing to know what you're capable of. It's another thing entirely to perform to your highest level when the pressure's on. Even if the adrenaline gets your body moving, in football you still have to keep your head about you to know what you're doing and make smart decisions. ( I imagine.) The team buckled under pressure last season, but now they're rising to the challenge. It's good to see.

The real cause for concern going into next...well, okay not so much next week, but certainly the next few games / rest of the season / our perpetual season-long preparation for USC that the players probably shouldn't be thinking about right now but that the coaches should definitely have on their the 35% of our run game yesterday that did not involve Armando Allen.

Robert Hughes and James Aldridge ran for a combined total of around 70 yards, and neither of them had long breakout runs or even the kind of consistent short yardage that makes for a truly commanding run game. We've all seen Huuuuughes have good games, but yesterday was not the best, and the mystery (for me, anyway, caused by my poor depth perception and angle on the field) remains as to whether he's not hitting the holes or there just aren't any holes. It's nice for Armando Allen to be able to dance around people and sprint for the first down, but it's bad for our depth chart for our freight-train style running back to be stuffed for two-yard carries on practically every play.

So hopefully next week against Stanford, the O-line will have a little more room to flex its muscles and open up some holes for Hughes, who hasn't had much room to breathe since we faced Michigan....which seems wrong, because wasn't Michigan supposed to be the team with the really good run defense?

But enough about ground, let's talk about air. (We had so many deliveries on both counts, we're practically UPS!)

Jimmy's head seems to have cooled since he got that haircut--his decision-making yesterday was the best we've seen yet. He managed not to throw any interceptions (though there were a couple plays when he just got damn lucky the ball wasn't intercepted), and the one sack Purdue recorded against us came straight from his blind side, so it's not like he could have done much to evade it. There were several other plays when he managed to avoid the sack and (God be praised) throw the ball away, which is still my favorite new skill of his, considering he never did it last season.

It's good to see David Grimes back in action. He definitely has the best hands on the team and a serious eye for the ball--on a play late in the game when Jimmy was clearly throwing the ball away, Grimes ran halfway back across the field and nearly made it in time for a diving catch (but not quite--the ball was just out of bounds by the time he got there). Grimes's 30-yard TD reception was also one of the highlights of the game. It was right in front of the student section, so as soon as everyone realized what was happening, there was a collective intake of breath and a moment of half-exploded stillness in which at least ten thousand people already had screams half-formed in their throats. And then the perfect pass, the perfect catch, the eruption of the cheering thousands, the mad scramble to play the Victory Clog in time. So beautiful.

Freshman WR Michael Floyd also had a breakout day, with more grabs than Grimes or Tate for an even 100 yards. This reflects just as well on Clausen as it does on Floyd--all three top receivers were nearly even on number of catches, and three more players (Kyle Rudolph, Duval Kamara, and Armando Allen) had grabs of their own. Clausen's gotten a lot better at reading the plays as they unfold and tossing the ball to the open man instead of just sticking on his favorite (usually Golden Tate) all day.

Most importantly, after struggling in the first half to put points on the board, the offense went into halftime, made the necessary adjustments, and brought their A-game for the second half. I'd much rather see them do that than see them strike fast and then stumble. Of all the things that have improved this season, I think mental toughness is the most important. I think if we can keep that same mental toughness if we're down after halftime instead of tied, it'll go a long way towards helping us win that bowl game our cupcake schedule has us destined for.

And we'll get by with a little help from our friends...

And by "our friends," I mean our special teams, which had a breakout day of their own considering we actually made an effing field goal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Good. I hope Brandon Walker's got that monkey off his back. Because there's no reason to keep going for it on 4th-and-1 if you trust your kicker. And if your kicker is making those're in pretty good shape.

Those running backs are slippery little suckers

...or apparently they are for our defense, which spent a lot of time chasing down Kory Sheets. I mean, when we stuffed him, we stuffed him, and we didn't, it was like he had oil slicked all over his uniform. We couldn't tackle him worth crap. And once he got away, he was fast.

I don't expect us to contain good running backs on every play. But I do expect us, when we have two hands on a guy, to bring him down.

But our D played a good game yesterday, all things considered. Purdue only scored once in the second half. Number 12, Robert Blanton, came up with a huge pick-6 in the second quarter to give our team some much-needed momentum after our offense sputtered through the first quarter.

We just need some tightening before we face tougher, less forgiving foes. (And, of course, the continued assistance of our offense so that the defense doesn't have to be on the field for most of the game.)

To conclude

We're back on track. Our team should fill up on even more confidence next week as we steamroll over Stanford. I'm not saying Stanford is awful (they're 3-2 at the moment, and did in fact beat Oregon State in their season opener, which is interesting considering Oregon St. just beat USC and all)...I'm just saying it's Alumni Band weekend, their lack of mascot is unutterably lame (the tree has been removed from their logo, btw), and when's the last time we lost to STANFORD?


Sunday, September 21, 2008

What is it with band away trips these days?

Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 7

This will be as brief as I can make it, considering how much I'd like to say. I've got a million things to do today, and no time for any of them.

Let me just start by saying that people who don't understand anything about the University of Notre Dame should not go on jawing about it as though their opinion matters. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you haven't read Dan Wetzel's take on our program:;_ylt=AuZQxfQsnjIMBxor08Sq7KIcvrYF?slug=dw-weis092008&prov=yhoo&type=lgns )

I am aware that we haven't won a national championship in about twenty years, or a bowl game since 1993, and that everything has gone downhill since Lou left.

But Notre Dame doesn't feature in national media prominence every year just because the media says so. It's because we have too many fans who CARE about the's because there's demand for's because Notre Dame Stadium has sold out for every game since 1967 (or something like that), even during last year's devastating 3-9 collapse.

Notre Dame isn't about winning for winning's sake. It's not about hopping on the bandwagon when we're good and turning our backs when we're not.

Notre Dame is about family. It's about, as Lou Holtz, pointed out, Mary on the Dome. It's about hard work, perseverance, excellence for the sake of bettering yourself, your community, your school, your future, your world. We're not all in this because we're all crazy obsessed with football. We're all in this because these are our friends, our classmates, our dorm mates. Our family.

The three most important aspects of life at Notre Dame are religion, family, and education. I don't see football mentioned there anywhere.

So if you're trying to tell me that Notre Dame isn't the Notre Dame of old, that the mystique isn't still there--you're missing the entire point of Notre Dame.

It doesn't matter what our football record is. We still have fans who stay to the end of every game, win or lose, to sing the alma mater. We still have the best, most unique game day environment in all of college football. You know what Michigan State felt like yesterday? It felt like Penn State. All the white, the jumbotron, recorded music played over a loudspeaker. Generic College Town USA.

Notre Dame doesn't feel like that. Notre Dame feels like no other place in the country. Notre Dame isn't about the state, or the conference, or the region, or the flashy advertisements, or the name plastered all over the field. Notre Dame is first and foremost about that golden dome, about the family, about supporting each other. People forget that.

And don't even try to tell me that teams don't get excited to beat Notre Dame any more, Wetzel. Don't tell me they don't love to hate us. Don't even go there.

If that's true, then please explain to me why last year USC let themselves lose to fucking Stanford but came into Notre Dame Stadium and kicked our asses 38-0.

But enough of that rant. On to the actual game, or as much of it as I can stand to rehash.

The Good

Defense. Once again, they prove stouter than our offense. Javon Ringer racked up 200 yards, but he spent more time fighting for inches on the three-yard line than making triumphant dashes into the end zone. He didn't get a single easy touchdown all game. He only had one real breakout run--a near-triumphant dash for the end zone--and that was late in the game when the defense was tired. Even then, they managed to catch him up and knock him out of bounds.

The Spartans had to fight tooth-and-nail for pretty much every scoring chance, and our D held them to more field goals than TDs, giving our offense every chance to make it a close game, even a victory.

Which bring us to

The Bad

We tried to pound the football this week. We really did. Over and over and over. It was a good effort, theoretically. I appreciated the commitment.

But our offensive line started to break down again. Two sacks. No holes for the runners. The longest run of the day was by Golden Tate, and he's supposed to be a wide receiver. Armando Allen had a few good dashes, but Hughes got absolutely stuffed on every try. Was it the hostile environment? Was it monstrous D by the Spartans? Was it poor decision-making by the runners?

Our short passing game seems to have emerged, but Jimmy's decision-making is often still questionable. We had a couple interceptions. We had quite a few missed opportunities. We had some horrific flashbacks to last season. We had no scoring in the first half, and only one brief success in the second.

The team looked pretty crushed after the game, but not like they did after every game last season. Not in the defeated, dejected, oh-let's-just-give-up sense. But disappointed in themselves. Angry, almost. Like they know they can do better, but something just went wrong.

MSU's really the first decent team we've faced all season, and it sent our offense spiraling backwards. But I don't think they did it in a way that's going to handicap us for the rest of the season. I think it's just going to give the team a lot to think over this week as they strap their pads back on and gear up for the Boilers. Mistakes to correct. Many things to work on.

But no reason to throw in the towel. We've got a lot more to work with this season, and we've still got a bowl game in our future if we play the rest of the season right.

We've just got to get rid of

The Ugly


Jimmy, can you please try not to be such a total tool box?

I saw you after the game, Jimmy Clausen. I saw you throw that golden helmet on the ground and scowl your way through the alma mater and barely put your finger in the air before you stalked off the field.

You'd better be careful what you do with that helmet, Jimmy. There were a lot of people who came before you who made it an honor to wear that.

And if you want your respect on the field, you might want to try showing a little respect off it.

And finally, the coach

In the immortal words of Knute Rockne, "One loss is good for the soul. Too many losses are not good for the coach."

Charlie's reached breaking point.

We've got too much talent for us to be as mediocre as we appear.

After last weekend, everyone was ready to jump on the bandwagon again. "This is not the team from last season, hurrah! See? Almost the entire Observer staff picked them to beat MSU!"

But this team still has its own fun set of problems to overcome, and like it or not, I think one of the big ones is the coach.

Next weekend we face Purdue. As far as I know, they don't have a Javon Ringer, but they do have a pretty decent senior quarterback in Curtis Painter, and they're the next real litmus test for whether this team is going to sink or swim.

...and for whether Charlie's got the answers or just a bunch of BS he backs up with four Superbowl rings and an ego larger than his waistline.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nothing Like a Rain Game

Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17

The Irish emerge victorious once again. :-)

There's nothing like chanting "Who's house? OUR HOUSE!" in the tunnel before pregame and then after the game realizing it actually means something. OUR HOUSE wasn't much of one last season, but it's good to see us taking the field back this year. There's nothing worse than having an opponent disrespect you at home...which was pretty much the case for all of last season.

But now we improve to 300-96-5 all-time in Notre Dame Stadium, and with another win over Michigan, we creep slightly closer to taking back the all-time win percentage. We just need Michigan to have a couple bad seasons...and we need to have a couple good seasons...and it'll all work itself out again.

And it's Fumble, Fumble, Hike to Victory....

So obviously the key stat of this game was turnovers. I think that first fumble really set the tone for the whole game. Kind of like the first botched snap last year really set the tone for THAT whole game.

Within the first three minutes of playing time, the crowd inside Notre Dame Stadium was more euphoric than they had cause to be during all of last season. Two huge turnovers right away, backed up by two actual scoring drives on offense. (And by "scoring drives" I mean "red zone opportunities.")

And then a monstrous pass to Golden Tate to bring us to a cushy 21-0 lead in the first quarter--which, by the way, is the most points we've ever scored against the Wolverines in the first quarter.

If only we could have kept that production up for the rest of the game, we could have really repaid the Wolverines for last season.

Not that I'm saying 35-17 is a bad score. 35-17 is a "hahaha--what now, bitches?" kind of score. But it's not a "damn...we whooped your ass so bad I'm going to be all patronizing and feel sorry for you" score.

And it should have been that kind of embarrassing, patronizing score.

Impotent Offense?

Okay, we did score 35 points, and 28 of them were offensive. This is nothing to scoff at. However, our offense didn't score a single point in the second half. Our final TD was brought in off a fumble recovery by linebacker Brian Smith.

What happened to "pounding the ball"? Why is our short passing game so atrocious? WHY can't we convert on third-and short?

Look, I'm not saying we should be unhappy with this game. The win was decisive and hella fun to watch. Our team drop-kicked those imaginary colors straight back to Ann Arbor. I don't think there should be any lingering questions in anyone's mind whether this team--I'm talking the whole unit: offense, defense, and special teams--can play as a team.

That's really the biggest thing to take away from this win: our team won it. Not just the offense or the defense or the baller special teams. And not just the team--the students, the band, the alums. That stadium was LOUD yesterday. And it poured, and we got drenched, and no one left except those losers wearing imaginary colors in the upper deck pretending like they were football fans.

And considering Michigan's defense (which returned 7 starters this season) is basically the same D we saw last season, you can really see the improvement and the unity in the O-line. Did I mention no sacks?! NO SACKS!


Once again, field goals continue to play absolutely no role in our offense. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, but it's not entirely a good thing, either. This basically means that our field position was either so close to the end zone that we just straight-up went for the touchdowns every time, or we were so far away we couldn't manage to get ourselves in field goal range before having to punt the ball away.

And we punted the ball away too many times.

There's a serious problem if your offense can't convert 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2, or even 4th-and-2. Not just once, but repeatedly. The same problem, over and over. What is the DEAL, guys?

Plus, Jimmy was only 10-for-21 passing with two interceptions. Maybe you can blame it on the weather, but you can also blame it on What The Hell, Jimmy? Aren't you supposed to be REALLY REALLY GOOD?

Obviously we got away with it in this game. But we're not going to be able to get away with it against teams that will actually punish us for not scoring on offense. There's this thing called ball control, and we don't have it.

But enough of that...there's no reason to linger on the question marks this week. We have a lot of other things to be happy about right now. We have a "SUCK IT, Wolverines" win over Michigan. We have a fan base that's not still thinking, "shit, 2007." We have a young team brimming with confidence. We have sparkly blue-and-gold intangibles spurting out of our every orifice.

And, in thrilling fashion...

We now have Special Teams

Welcome to the arena, boys. Let's hope you stay a while.

Eric Maust came up with an array of fabulous punts, and never lost his cool, even when the ball hit the ground, even when Michigan brought pressure.

Even when he shouldn't have been out there punting because we should have converted our 3rd-and-1.

Mike Anello recovered the Michigan fumble on our second kickoff to set up ND's second score of the game.

Brandon Walker made all of his PATs in high style, sending at least one ball straight over the net, but had no chance to redeem himself after missing a long FG in last week's game. Maybe next week, eh?

Except for that whole "Michigan-totally-showed-y
ou-they-were-fake-punting-and-then-you-called-a-time-out-and-you-STILL-didn't-stop-the-fake-punt" thing, there's not much to criticize on special teams. Holla!

Opportunistic--but slightly porous--Defense

Our defense seems to be experiencing the same head-scratching hiccups they have for the last several seasons. They often look great on first down and second down, stuffing the ball, sacking the QB, breaking up passes, etc. But on third down, it felt like they were forever giving up 3rd-and-9, 3rd-and-11, 3rd-and-15... Thankfully, though, it only felt that way. I could have sworn the statistic was worse than this, but Michigan was only 4-of-12 on third-down conversions (but still enough to be one better than ND's 3-of-12).

But that's okay, really, because David Bruton saves us all by miraculously and consistently forcing our opponents to fumble during really key plays in the red zone.

And even if our D had trouble tackling that slippery little sucker McGuffie (who was pretty much the Wolverines' entire offense) for most of the game, they did manage to shut out the Wolverines in the second half. And they forced them to go for 3 points instead of 7 in the second quarter when it looked like Michigan was about to make the game close.

And kindly disregard all this talk of "oh they outgained us on the ground blah blah blah"...because that doesn't really matter much when you can't back up those yards with scores. an Away Game!

MSU game two years ago was the wettest, most agonizing, most wonderful night of my life. At least as far as college football is considered. Just imagine the rain we had yesterday--but imagine MORE of it. And imagine the score being reversed in the fourth quarter, with us losing quite handily. Right up until about the last six minutes.

And then imagine our opponent turning the ball over a bunch of times and us coming back, in the darkness (it was a night game) and the pounding rain, to take home a 40-37 victory.

Okay, so that doesn't quite evoke all the emotions flying back and forth across the stadium, the deafening, unbelievable loudness of the band (I've never heard 400 people scream so loud in all my life), the miraculous wonder of God's creation that is Brady Quinn, or the unbelievable game-changing performance of Terrail Lambert, without whom that game would have been entirely lost--but still. At least you can imagine the rain and the sheer misery that would have been our bus ride home had we not prevailed. (Cue all of our away games last year, minus the rain.)

So anyway, we're headed back to East Lansing, for a road trip that will hopefully be less soggy but just as victorious.

It's a sad state of affairs in college football when the Spartans are definitively better than their in-state brethren (I can just imagine Wolverines fans cringing at the suggestion that the MSU faithful are their brethren--but they're both from Michigan, so to hell with them), but thus is the case this season. MSU even has a Heisman-trophy candidate on their team in running back Javon Ringer, who ran for 282 yards yesterday in a 17-0 win against traditional powerhouse Florida Atlantic. (To be fair, the Owls are actually better than they sound--they're only in their eighth year as a program, but they made it to the New Orleans bowl last year and won.)

Word on the street is that MSU's gotten better and a lot more consistent, so we can't count on them to self-implode on us this season. But I guess we'll see.

The Spartans remain unranked, but look like they're in pretty decent shape so far, losing a close 38-31 matchup in their opener against (now) 23rd-ranked California and dominating Eastern Michigan 42-10 last weekend.

You could say it'll be our first real test all season--some are saying it'll be our first real wake-up call--but considering how fired up our team is and the way they've been talking in post-game interviews, it'll just be another chance to prove that our team is back--and their wins haven't just been about luck. Just take it from linebacker Brian Smith, who says, "I believe in luck. But I believe we're a good team and we're forcing these things to happen."

Despite the hiccups, despite the worries, our team is playing like a team.

And I think we have every likelihood of heading up to East Lansing next week and, rain or shine, kicking some MSU ass.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's the moooost wonderful time of the year....

Notre Dame 21, San Diego State 13

Ahh football season. If you know anything about me at all, you will know that my life is now complete. The stars have aligned, the demons have been chased away, and all that is good and shining in the heavens smiles down upon the earth and says, "Go Irish."

Or something like that.

Anyway, as you all are perfectly aware, there is nothing in the world like a Notre Dame football weekend, and yesterday we had a pretty good one. As fans go, the Aztec faithful were respectful and, as far as I could see, pretty classy. On my walk back to TC, an SDSU fan stopped me to give mad props to the band, and also ask how big we are. (Those were his exact words. "Mad props." ...just kidding.) Score one for the Band of the Fighting Irish.

And hey guess what guys?

The Irish win at home!

It's hard to believe, I know, especially for you sophomores, but trust me--we used to do this ALL the time. As a matter of fact, if we had lost yesterday (just thinking about it is giving me vomitous convulsions), it would have been the first time we lost back-to-back home openers since 1887-1888 (you know, in the first two years Notre Dame had a football program).

I suppose we have Kevin White to thank for this cupcake schedule. It could not have come along at a better time. In the future, of course, I will continue to scoff at any easy-ass schedule the Irish have lined up, because quite frankly, we deserve better. There's no reason we shouldn't have the toughest schedule in the country every year, and there's also no reason we shouldn't be able to compete with the best in the country every year.

Except for right now, of course. Now there are plenty of reasons, which I'll get to in a minute, but for right now I'll just say: wooooooo! The Irish win at home!

And I would like everyone to keep in mind, no matter how dire they would like to be about the fact that we did not crush former Division II powerhouse San Diego State, that a win is a win. Is a win. Is a win win win!!!!


Anyone who says that yesterday's team resembled last year's team needs a good whack over the head. Possibly with a large metal frying pan. Or a football cleat. Or a shillelagh. Or something.

Charlie's done a lot of talking about the changes he's tried to make in the off-season--hiring Jon Tenuta, handing over offensive play-calling duties to Mike Haywood, trying to spend more time with the players, actually paying attention to special teams--and whether or not these changes are going to be enough to set us back on track is not yet apparent. (For those of you who aren't aware, "back on track" means "back in contention for the national championship," which we've never gone so long without winning.)

Basically, Charlie spent the off-season trying to figure out what he should have been trying to figure out three years ago: how to be a college head coach instead of an offensive play-calling guru. Too bad he didn't have the chance to do this at some other, less football-oriented school first, instead of on the national (media-circus) stage of historically great (and perennially hated) Notre Dame.

Even if Charlie's solutions in the off-season aren't 100% what we need, at the very least they've already done a heap of good for the boys on the team. Anyone who says otherwise clearly did not attend the pep rally on Friday night.

This team is miles away from the disjointed, despondent, and often-dejected squad we saw struggle for cohesiveness through all of last season. This guys all actually appear to be--wait for it--having fun. They look like they enjoy each other's company. They smile. They're coming up with their own cheers, for goodness' sake.

This is an extremely good sign. You can't have unity on the field if you don't have it off. The thing that worries me, though, is that the only significant person who seems to be outside the loop (as far as team bonding goes) is Jimmy. According to my roommate, they wouldn't let Jimmy in the "Crank me up!" huddle at the pep rally. This does not surprise me at all; Jimmy is a little pustule with an attitude problem. But he's what we have right now, so hopefully this year's team is a little more willing to block for him than last year's.

I would also like to point out that when we won the coin toss yesterday, we deferred to the second half, which is normal for most teams, but for Charlie, it's huge.

Oh hey, offense. Welcome back.

Okay, so our team's not specifically good right now, but they're not specifically bad either. (You want to know what specifically bad is? Specifically bad is last year's team, which had negative fourteen rushing yards after three games.) We've got a lot of things going for us that we didn't have last season.

For example: Jimmy did not get sacked. At least, not that I saw. I did go to the bathroom once, so maybe I missed something. But I'm thinking no. This is extremely refreshing. Sure, our opponent was San Diego State, but last season Jimmy got sacked at least four times in every game including the Duke game, so really, this is very encouraging.

Secondly, OMFG WE HAVE RUNNING GAME. Not a particularly excellent running game, but you know, the fact that it exists is kind of exciting. The O-line still has some issues opening up holes for people (namely Robert Hughes, who apparently had to be tackled by San Diego State's entire defensive line every time he ran up the middle, because he is such a beast), but that doesn't concern me nearly as much as it did last season. You know why? Because now we have something to build off of. We didn't have that last year. Last year we went from bad to really bad to oh-hey-we're-still-bad to "screw it let's just pass the ball all the time" bad. And then we got to the end of the season and Charlie realized we still didn't have a running game established, so we tried again against weaker opponents and actually managed to gain some ground yards (cue Robert Huuuuuuughes).

At any rate, there were very few running plays that resulted in no gain. Unfortunately, most of these seemed to be on crucial 3rd-and-1 conversions, but...oh well. Like I said, it's something to build off of. Armando Allen seemed to average about five yards a carry, and Robert Hughes seemed to bash through a couple people every time he got his hands on the ball, even if there was nowhere to go. (P.S. Where was James Aldridge yesterday? I feel like I didn't see him at all...)

Also, success in the air! Didn't I say it? DIDN'T I? Golden Tate is the man. There were some very nice grabs yesterday, off some not-always-so-gossamer passes, by Duval Kamara and David Grimes as well as Tate.

Not to knock all Jimmy's passes -- he's improved leaps and bounds since last season. For example, Jimmy has finally learned to throw the ball away. I can't tell you how invigorating that is. Also, overall, the offense managed itself a lot better and with a lot more composure than it did last season. I know yesterday's game wasn't at all what we were hoping for, and I know we were playing San Diego State and everything, but still. Even with the botched field goal, even with the turnovers, I was never concerned that we wouldn't win. Frustrated, of course. Horrified when Hughes and then later Allen went down.

But there's something different about our team this year, yeah? They made it happen. They didn't give up. They had the capacity during the whole game (and I feel this was evident from the beginning, though you can call me delusional if you like) to do what they did in the fourth quarter: drive the ball down the field and score.

I feel that the reason we did not do this well in the first half is, first of all, we tried to throw the ball WAY too many times on 3rd-and-short, and failed. I don't care if we tried to run the ball on 3rd-and-short later in the game and failed. That doesn't mean you should give up on your run game. That just means you need to pound the ball on 3rd-and-short until your offensive line knows what they need to do to make it happen. If you can't gain a yard on the ground when you most need it, there's something wrong there. (It's not like SDSU's defense was so stellar or anything. You know?)

Also, we had some bad luck. That turnover when Robert Hughes got CRUSHED and injured really wasn't his fault. That would have been a score. It was a really good drive up until that point. (But hey, karma worked in our favor later when we stripped the ball from SDSU on the goal line.)

Aaand we also just had some screw-ups. That botched field goal later? HUGE mistake. But that's something we can fix. (We hope. Why oh why don't we have any awesome kickers? Whyyy?)

Jimmy's pick? Frustrating, but at least there was only one of them, and we came back on the field again and scored in high fashion.

We had a game with four turnovers. Against another team, we might have paid dearly for it, but our defense played solidly enough (and SDSU's offense played weak enough) that that didn't happen.


And we managed to end the game on our own terms, holding onto the ball long enough to end the game by taking a knee (though I would have preferred slinging the ball into the end zone one last time, just to get the score closer to what it should have been).

What we're experiencing here is growing pains. We've got a little momentum. We've got something of a running game and something of a passing game and a no-huddle offense in place for emergency use.

And hey, we've got a little defense too.

Crank Me Up

Thanks to the freshmen for attending the pep rally and teaching "Crank me up" to all the upperclassmen who apparently think they have better things to do with their lives than go to the pep rally on Friday night (you fools).

But no thanks to the freshmen who think we need to do the stupid first-down chop. We're not Florida State, thank you very much. Get over it.

Anyway, our D did a decent job of bringing pressure and knocking away enough pass attempts to hold SDSU's QB to a 49% completion rate. As predicted, with the extra emphasis on linebackers and blitzing (courtesy of Jon Tenuta), we're slightly more susceptible to the big play, which bit us in the butt a few times as we gave up key 3rd-and-long conversions.

BUT we did come up with the BIGGEST play when we needed it--David Bruton's stripping the ball on the goal line to keep the Irish well in the game. There are some definite sparks there.

I would have liked to see more aggression, though--perhaps getting that safety when we had the opportunity, a few more sacks, and oh, I don't know, an interception or two?

Like I said, growing pains.

But before you get all, "OMFG it was SAN DIEGO STATE how did we almost lose to THEM??" just consider a few things

As previously mentioned, a win is a win. A win is not embarrassing. As Coach Weis said in his post-game presser, "I'll take an ugly win every day of the week."

Because here's the thing about ugly wins: they help you more than they hurt you. First of all, your team walks off the field with a W, so they get to feel good about themselves all week. They get to celebrate with the student body, sing the alma mater with a big fat smile on their faces, hear the ever-elusive victory clog.

And if your opponent for next week is thinking, "oh hey, thanks SDSU for exposing all their weaknesses!" --guess what? SDSU did our team that favor, too. We know what almost cost us the game. We know what we need to fix.

And, more importantly, we know that in a game-time situation, we can overcome those weaknesses long enough to bring home a win.

Also I would like to point out that for most teams, particularly teams that have never gone up against the Irish before, playing Notre Dame is a Big Fucking Deal. Everyone loves to beat us. Even when we stink, the college football world is So Aware of us. When you play in Notre Dame Stadium, you play on a national stage. (It's like Monday Night Football in the Pros, okay? Everyone's watching you.) I can guarantee you San Diego State has NEVER had such a large national viewing audience before (they have played against other big D-I schools like Michigan and Ohio State, but neither of those schools have an exclusive contract with NBC now do they?), and I can bet you the coaches spent a lot more time scheming over how to trip up the Irish than they did scheming over that I-AA school they lost to last week.

If you weren't aware of this before, be aware of it now: Everyone brings their A-game when they play Notre Dame. We don't just have to be better than our opponent. We have to be better than the best our opponent can possibly play. (Unless they're Michigan State. Then they're likely to self-implode and do the job for us.) I'm not saying San Diego State was wonderful or anything, but they certainly played better this week than last week, and (if you watched Coach Weis's presser) they did as much as they possibly could to trip us up; they didn't bring out their usual set of schemes, they brought pressure on the weak side when they usually come from the strong side, and so and so on. And they had the lead for a while.

But we're stronger this year, and we fought back. We're not convincing yet. But we've got something.

Murky waters ahead

So we face Michigan next week. They're not supposed to be any good this year. Then again, last year they lost to Appalachian State and went on to kick our butts 38-0. (See what I mean when I say A-game?)

Soooo it's really tough to say how we're going to go up against my second-most-hated opponent of the season. (The first is USC, always USC.) They have the most inexperienced offensive line we're going to face all season, so hopefully our linebacker-heavy defense will be able to capitalize on that, but who knows?

Michigan's hard to estimate, considering they have a new coach, no solid quarterback (it's a rotation between Threet and Sheridan at the moment--I'm sure we're all aware of how fun Musical Quarterbacks can be), an untested O-line, and the same gutless, uninspired football they've been playing for the last hundred years. They lost to Utah in their opener and are coming off an ugly win of their own against Miami (OH), which they won 16-6.

All I can say is there's no reason for us NOT to win. The Wolverines haven't done anything impressive so far, and they've had TWO games to get in shape for ND. I say we're going to take back our house and kick Michigan to the curb in old school fashion. And if we can, let's exact a little revenge for last year's game...SHALL we, boys?

Oh, and if the putrid sight of Michigan's [imaginary color]-and-blue uniforms isn't enough to get your gag reflex going, consider this: their kicker this year is Nathan Parseghian, Ara's great-grandnephew. Let's prove to that loser he made the WRONG choice, shall we?

*EDIT* Oh thank God I was wrong. Nathan is Miami's kicker. Well that's okay then. (Clearly I was not actually watching the Michigan game. I don't look at those turd monkeys if I can help it.)

To conclude: The Irish are 1-0. I'm in my happy place.