Notre Dame 33, Washington 7
Ahhh vacation. I hope everyone's rested, relaxed, and ready for Notre Dame Football 2008: Part 2.
The second half of our season has started out a little more auspiciously than our first half. We've progressed from a shaky 21-13 win over San Diego State (whose record, by the way, now stands at 1-7) to a 33-7 whomping over winless Washington. The most painful part of that game for Notre Dame fans was having to listen to the overly tangential commentary of Bob "Guess what? I used to coach at Notre Dame too!!" Davie.
That said, I would just like to take a moment to empathize with Washington. I know how it feels to be so utterly winless so late in the season. I also know how it feels to have Ty Willingham as your coach.
Ty, on the one hand, strikes me as calm, confident, classy, and overall a quality human being. The respect and admiration he gets from his players is overwhelming. It's hard to dislike a man who has 60+ college kids singing his praises week in and week out.
On the other hand, though, that respect and admiration doesn't always allow his squads to win the crucial games. He accumulated winning records at both Stanford and Notre Dame, but over 10 seasons, only five of them were winning (and one of his seasons at ND broke even at 6-6), and he only coached one winning bowl team.
It's sad to see Ty let go so unceremoniously (...again), but I'm sure for most Washington fans it's a welcome indicator that next year's squad will be better than the last. (And boy do I understand that feeling.) I think Ty's got a lot of merit as a mentor and a motivator, but I'm not sure the arena of D-I college football is the best fit for him. Then again, what do I know? At any rate, I hope that Ty finds a good fit somewhere.
But enough about that. On to the action.
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy
Jimmy's 53% passing this week was good enough for 200 yards, one TD, and receptions by five different wide receivers--but his performance overall was a little concerning, considering the Irish were up against the weakest pass defense we've seen all season.
After that first beautiful touchdown pass to Michael Floyd, the passing game teetered slightly; Jimmy missed on 10 of his first 16 passing attempts of the night. He also threw two interceptions--one overruled by a pass interference call, and the other on a 4th-down attempt that resulted (happily) in Washington grounding the ball on the one-yard line. Sheer luck got us out of some tight passing spots in Saturday's game, but we can't expect to be so lucky for the rest of the season.
Let's just hope Jimmy's a little rusty coming off the bye week and we won't have the same kinds of misfires as we go up against a stronger-than-expected (at least by me) Pitt team this week. The last thing we need is Jimmy throwing more minor tantrums on the sidelines after muffing up a perfectly decent drive. It's frightening how much we rely on that kid's arm in big games. And thinking ahead to our next big road match-up...Jimmy's really going to have to be in top form against BC if we want to show those Backup College clowns who's boss.
Running up a Storm
Our running game was back in action on Saturday, looking the best it has all season. Six different players (not including our QBs) had positive rushing yards, with Aldridge and Allen taking the bulk of the carries and chewing up valuable amounts of turf and time to keep the Irish in control of the ball for most of the game.
Freshman Jonas Gray also racked up some impressive numbers in the fourth quarter, rumbling along for nearly as many yards as Allen (61 to Allen's 62) on just nine carries, and averaging (along with Aldridge) over 6 yards per carry. I doubt we'll see him as a starter this season, but it's good to know we've got plenty more artillery lurking in the background should the need arise. And hey, if things pick up some more the second half of the season, maybe we'll see him a couple more times in fourth-quarter situations as well.
It's unlikely we see as much ground action against Pitt, but it's still rather heartening to see even our second teams coming out strong in a run attack.
Hooray for Brandon Walker!
I bet you never thought you'd see those words this season.
However, it seems that whatever kind of rust settled on our QB over break didn't affect our kicker. Brandon Walker's triumph over what was chiefly a mental battle led him to make 100% of his kicks on Saturday--a trend we can only hope continues for the rest of the season.
Walker's success between the posts even led Weis to give our new, walk-on kicker David Ruffer a shot. In case you haven't heard about this kid, he's a transfer student from William & Mary, an interhall player for the Siegfried Ramblers, and the newest addition to our football team. His first attempt at an extra point in front of a nationwide audience unfortunately dinged off the right goalpost, but apparently Ruffer's been making 45-yarders in practice, so if he can cure his own game-time woes, we just might have a solid kicking unit for the rest of the season.
I guess we'll see.
And speaking of special teams
...how about that fake punt?!
I'm glad we can do these things now. It's nice to see trick plays every now and again. Especially when they're as monstrously effective as this one was (Harrison Smith ran for 35 yards say WHAAAT).
And speaking of things that totally kicked ass last weekend
Oh heeeeeeey defense, how's it going?
I just thought I'd write a thank you letter to show my appreciation for your efforts this week.
Dear Mr.'s Herring, Crum, McCarthy, Bruton, Lambert, Anello, Fleming, Blanton, H. Smith, B. Smith, S. Smith, T. Smith, Williams, Brown, Neal, Leonis, Gray, Johnson, Richardson, Mullen, and McNeil,
Thank you for being such total badasses. I deeply appreciate your beastly total of a combined 49 tackles and 4 sacks.
I found it a particular display of your raw, superhuman beefy man-grit that you did not allow the Washington offense to cross their own 40-yard-line until the fourth quarter.
I was also so overwhelmed by your testosterone-fueled display of forcing repeated 3-and-outs that I may have swooned and fainted some time in the second quarter.
I can only hope that you denizens of the D-line, leviathan linebackers, colossal cornerbacks, SuperStrong safeties--you Gargantuans of the Gridiron, you Monsters of the Midfield!--can maintain such a high level of p'ownage throughout the rest of the season (particularly against USC), thereby cementing yourselves in the tomes of football glory (especially after you've beaten USC) and earning yourself the respect and awe of football fans for all the ages of eternity (beat USC).
In love and devotion (and with the hope of more raw manpower--particularly in the form of forced fumbles and interceptions), your fervent admirer,
I think that pretty much says it all.
So...Pitt was ranked this season. Who saw that comin'? However, after a 54-34 loss to Rutgers, they've been booted out of the rankings again, meaning that even if the Irish absolutely spank them on Saturday, we still won't have beaten a ranked opponent all season. (Never mind that we could have and should have beaten both of the ranked opponents we've already faced this season. Moving right along...)
Pittsburgh opened their season with a ten-point loss to Bowling Green, and then bounced back to win five straight games, including one squeaker over Iowa (21-20) and an impressive upset of #10 South Florida (26-21), followed by an apparent trouncing of Navy (42-21). Their loss to a now 3-5 Rutgers squad bumped them from #17 straight out of the rankings, which suggests their position in the Top 25 was shaky to begin with. It also might have something to do with the fact that during the Rutgers game, Pitt quarterback Bill Stull suffered a concussion, and his status for Saturday's game is apparently still uncertain.
Prior to the Rutgers game, Pitt had the 10th-ranked pass defense in the nation, but Rutgers QB Teel gave the performance of his life with a school-record 6 TDs in the first half alone. Apparently Pitt's touted defense was having an off day.
I doubt they'll have such an off day this week. Look for Pittsburgh to bounce back and try to neutralize a not-quite-superhero Clausen, as well as contain our burgeoning run game. On that same token, look for Jimmy to have a better, more controlled performance this week...and let's hope our defense keeps playing like they're the hammer and not the nail.
GO IRISH BEAT PANTHERS!