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?


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