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.


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