North Carolina 29, Notre Dame 24
So if last season was one of those cringe-worthy "rebuilding years," I guess you could call this season a..."growing year." Particularly in yesterday's game, we saw flashes of both how good this team is going to be and how young they still are.
The first half of the game was straight-up domination. North Carolina didn't score a single touchdown. Notre Dame won the time of possession battle. We made a field goal. We had a little bit of running going on.
The second half of the game was like one giant hiccup. We surrendered a lot of our momentum to Carolina with that pick-six, and even though we scored right away to answer, we never got back our control. We started making mistakes. Carolina got a couple more turnovers, and we let the game get away from us.
North Carolina's a pretty good team, but so are we, and I think that was pretty apparent yesterday. We could easily have jumped into the rankings this week if we'd made our second half as solid as our first half.
But like I said, I think it's really a matter of growing pains. Jimmy threw two interceptions. We failed to get two fourth-down conversions. In the fourth quarter, our team just couldn't hold on.
In that agonizing and somewhat controversial last drive of the game, we saw flashes of the threat our team can be in a close, fourth-quarter situation. Jimmy's got his head wrapped around that two-minute drill pretty nicely, and we got so close to making it into the endzone in the final seconds of the game.
But we didn't.
These are the kinds of things we're going to have to overcome to be a truly good team. (And that are crucial if, you know, we ever want to win a bowl game again.) We are on the edge of being on the verge of being on the cusp of being a totally BALLER football team, but there are quite a few things that just aren't there yet. But this team is so darn young that unless something goes horribly wrong in the next couple years, we WILL be that baller football team.
So, first things first...my favorite person ever
I've decided I'm going to stop badmouthing Jimmy in these posts. No, really. You all know how I feel. In the future, I will attempt to be as objective as possible. It's of no more use to keep sucker-punching that little cussmouth with insults. As enjoyable as that is, it's not...really...useful. Instead I will pretend that he is just in uniform all the time, because that is the only time I truly support him.
*ahem* So..speaking as an objective third party with absolutely no personal interest in the matter, yesterday Jimmy (much like the team itself) showed us flashes of how good he's going to be at quarterback, and of how much he still has to learn at quarterback. He's really taking the offense into his hands these days. He's really good at pointing his fingers, calling some choice audibles, and throwing some pretty passes. Some of the stuff he tried to do last year is actually working this year -- for example, running away from the defenders who break through our line and then actually completing a pass instead of getting sacked. That was pretty nifty. There were also some really nice pass plays, especially on that final drive of the game. It was reminiscent of Brady Quinn-era fourth quarter drives, even, except that we didn't come away with the TD. (Although don't think I'm comparing Jimmy to Brady Quinn. I'm just saying...the coaches are employing a similar style of offense in a similar situation.)
It's all about the underclassman these days
Which we already knew, of course, but I still have to give the shout-out to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd for continuing to play like the beasts that they are, and for bringing in two of ND's three touchdowns on the day.
After a pass-heavy first quarter, Armando Allen found a little room to run, and James Aldridge had success in a few short-yardage situations, including a 2-yard TD run.
Robert Blanton -- who, much like Michael Floyd, I can hardly believe is a freshman -- had some huge tackles and one almost fumble recovery. (Sadly, the ball carrier was ruled down.) This kid showed us in the Purdue game that he's a playmaker (remember that interception?), and he's definitely someone to keep an eye on for the next few games and--happily--years.
Although Allen and Aldridge had some big scampers that led to a TD, our run game still isn't consistent enough to be the anchor of our offense; we tacked up 89 yards on the ground compared to 383 passing yards. Granted, our game plan in the first half seemed to be more anchored on passing than rushing, but I feel like that has more to do with our O-line's weakness in blocking for runners than Carolina's defense. The Tarheels lead the nation in interceptions, so the pass-happy offense we ran against them in the first half seemed like more of a risk than usual.
Of course, we didn't get picked off in the first half, so I guess I really can't knock the game plan-- it was the execution in the second half that killed us. Clausen was having a pretty good day (65% completion rate) until he threw those interceptions. The pick-six we recovered from...but not that second one.
Defense, get tough
They were pretty stout in the first half, holding Carolina to three field goals. I'm sure they were all cursing profusely when our offense gave NC their first touchdown of the game. The bad stuff started seeping in when Carolina wore our defense down a bit in the third quarter on a 13-play, five-and-a-half minute scoring drive.
As previously mentioned, Robert Blanton had a couple big solo tackles and the one near-fumble recovery, but the anchors of our defense also had pretty solid days--and on this side of the ball, the flashy players are our upperclassmen. David Bruton led the team in tackles yesterday with seven solo and one assist; Junior Raeshon McNeil was right behind him with five solo tackles and one assist. Pat Kuntz had a huge sack. Mo Crum had four solo tackles and one near-interception. (Oh, if only. If ONLY.)
But it wasn't enough to slow down Carolina once they did what they've been doing all season -- making killer plays on defense and special teams. That last interception really took the game out of our hands, though the defense did all they could to give our offense one last chance to score.
In the end, it was a game ND had every right to win, and we lost it.
We were playing against NC's backup QB. Their best WR (coincidentally also named Tate) got knocked out of the game with an injury. We contained their other big threat at kick returner. We didn't let them block any of our punts. We made an actual field goal. We were ahead almost the entire game, and when they pick-sixed us, we answered right away to stay in the lead.
And in the fourth quarter, we...just...lost it.
This is the difference between being a pretty good team and a good team. This is the difference between being a team that makes it to bowl games and a team that wins bowl games. When push comes to shove...we need to push back harder. When the pressure's on, we can't split wide open.
When Jimmy's got the ball in his hands this week, I hope he's not thinking about that interception. I hope he thinks about it when he's watching film, when he's going over plays, when he's thinking about the game, but I hope when he's out there on the field making decisions, it doesn't cloud his mind. It seems like he's gotten pretty good at putting those things behind him (having all that practice last season and all), and that last drive he--and the receivers--really did come out strong. It was so close--SO CLOSE--to being a miracle.
I think we've got it all. We've got what we need. We know what we need to do. We just need to...do it. We can't come out strong and then let ourselves get flat. We can't fall behind and then play catch-up all the time. We just need to figure out the median and play solid, keep shoving it at the other team relentlessly until they're too tired to think straight. We've got the talent. We've got the skillz. We've got the team. We just need a little more time, a little more push, a little more experience maybe, and we'll be right where we need to be.
A much-needed rest
So this game leads us into our bye week, and as infuriating as the game was to watch, I don't think it's necessarily a bad game for the players to have on their minds as we head into two weeks of practice and a week-long break from school.
It's not the kind of loss that's going to have our team feeling miserable and defeated and completely violated. It's the kind of loss that's going to leave them pissed off for the next couple weeks--mostly at themselves. That kind of anger, when channeled into physical aggression, can be way more helpful than harmful, I think, at least as far as football's concerned. When you fail to do something you know you can do, all you want is another chance go out there and prove you can do it.
And now this feeling's got two weeks to fester. Obviously I don't expect the football team to be walking around for the next couple weeks in a blind rage, but I do feel like they're going to want to go out against Washington andprove something. I'm hoping they jank up the score to fifty. I hope they're pissed off enough to take the lead and keep pounding the ball into the end zone until the other team can't think straight.
I think we should be 5-1 right now, and that 5-1 should have bumped us up into the top 25. (Because I'm sorry, I don't care if they kicked the crap out of Kent State and Toledo and Akron, WE ARE NOT WORSE THAN EFFING BALL STATE.) We did still get one vote this week in the AP poll, but then again so did Cincinnati, so I guess that's not saying much.
At any rate, if we want to take out some aggression, it shouldn't be too hard to do against the 0-5 Huskies (probably 0-6 after they face Oregon State next week, but I guess you never know)--though I do feel sorry for Washington. We've totally been there in the last couple years, both with the terrible season and with Ty Willingham controversy. Trust me, Huskies, I know how you feel.
But that doesn't mean I don't want our team to go out there and straight-up dominate, because we really NEED another game this season where there are no question marks, no second-half surges from our opponent, no "HOW DID WE LET THAT HAPPEN" moments.
I don't really like making score predictions, but I will say that if the Huskies do make a late, fourth-quarter surge for points, it better be because they're so far behind they have no hope of catching up, and our defense is just sitting on its heels trying not to get injured.
Happy Bye Week, everyone. Good luck on midterms and enjoy fall break.
And after that's over...
GO IRISH BEAT HUSKIES!