Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What now, Cardinal?

Notre Dame 28, Stanford 21

Praise be the Lord...I finally have enough free time to write this note. I wanted to write it on Sunday. I can't tell you how much I wanted to write it on Sunday. I also can't tell you HOW MUCH FUN it was to spend all of Sunday reading and reading and reading....and reading...and writing some papers...and finally taking responsibility for all the work I've let myself get behind it. It was the greatest joy of my existence.

Well, besides Notre Dame Football of course.

Pat Kuntz's Revenge

So if you attended the pep rally on Friday or, you know, follow Notre Dame football at all, you are probably aware that one of Stanford's tackles, Chris Marinelli, was talking some serious smack about us before the game. He insulted not only our players, but our stadium, our school, and our fans.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this ticked some people off.

Kuntz's speech at the pep rally ended up being absurdly long and involved him ripping his suit off to reveal a wife beater and jeans (for reasons I'm still not entirely clear on), but the general message was that ND was not going to take that kind of crap from Stanford, and Kuntz's plan was to go out there and rip Marinelli's head off.

Although Marinelli seems to have escaped with his head intact, Kuntz recorded two sacks, an interception, and one fumble recovery late in the 4th that clinched the game for ND. So thank YOU, Stanford, for adding fuel to that fire.

I'm willing to bet Marinelli still doesn't have any warm fuzzy feelings for Notre Dame Stadium.

I suppose I wouldn't, either, if my team hadn't won a game there since 1992.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No...it's Jimmy Clausen's ego!

...and I'm sure it's just soaring through the air this week thinking about Jimmy's 347 passing yards, 3 touchdown passes, 0 interceptions, and 72% completion rate.

Look, it's not that I don't want Jimmy to succeed. Every time Jimmy succeeds, the team succeeds.

It's just that...he's such an ass already. If last season didn't manage to crush the ego out of him, nothing will. And now that we've started to do well, his ego's just going to get bigger...and bigger...and bigger... until it's the size of the actual grotto in Lourdes. Or possibly something bigger and less holy, like the entire West Coast.

Quarterbacks should have confidence, obviously. But they shouldn't strut up to podiums during pep rallies chewing gum and showing off their new haircut like the most pus-ridden pustule on earth and then regard the student body as though they are a bunch of plebeians. Don't look at me like that, Jimmy, or I will shove my Dean's List GPA right up that snarky little ass of yours.

Okay, on to the actual offense

On a less biased note, it is good to see our spiky-headed gunslinger making better decisions from week to week. He's really starting to keep his options open as far as passing goes, and he's no longer quite as fixated on his favorite receivers or even throwing the ball downfield. Coach Weis even mentioned it in his presser: “I think it’s a major step when the quarterback doesn’t force balls down the field and is willing to throw to his flair control.”

Amen to that. We saw a lot more short passes on Saturday, a lot more dump-offs. If your receivers can keep their feet under them, you're going to get a lot more yards that way then if you hang out in the pocket too long waiting for those deep routes to get open.

While we're talking about passing, I'd just like to say that I can't believe Michael Floyd is a freshman. Not that he and Golden Tate aren't fabulous already, but it looks like by the time Jim-may is a senior, Floyd and Tate are going to be unstoppable aerial beasts. (BEASTS I TELL YOU, BEASTS!) We already know Coach Weis's recruiting has been killer the last three years, but it's nice to see that talent starting to come into its own.

As long as we're at it, it would be unfair to leave Armando Allen out of the discussion. He had seven catches on the day for 66 yards--including one 3-yard grab he converted into a 28-yard TD run--but only 33 rushing yards. Although his numbers on the ground come nowhere near the totals from last week, he still racked up nearly 100 offensive yards (and more than that in all-purpose yards with his returns).

Our lack of yardage on the ground is once again lamentable (83 net yards), as is our inability to properly utilize the smash-bang-boom talents of Robert Hughes. Our offensive line is obviously much improved from last season, but we've still got some hiccups, and they're not likely to disappear in the coming weeks as we face some of our tougher opponents (and no, I am not referring to Syracuse).

I do believe that our O-line will continue to get better as the season progresses, but obviously our opponent's teams are going to be improving from week to week as well, and as long as our opponents are aware that we've struggled and downright failed to convert 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-inches, our short-yardage run game is going to continue to be a struggle for us long down the road.

So I guess it's a good thing our defense keeps stepping up to spark us on to victory

Once again, I'm thrilled to say, this game was won with a team effort. The offense managed to score of its own volition, but it also got a huge boost from the defense's first interception, giving ND its first score of the day. As already detailed, Pat Kuntz had a monster day, but the defense as a whole played pretty well--until the fourth quarter, that is, when we allowed Stanford to score twice before stuffing their last drive.

In the first half, our defense ended half of Stanford's drives by intercepting the ball. Stanford had to fight tooth-and-nail for their only score in the first half, chewing up 7 minutes of clock time on 95 yards and 14 plays. This is both good and bad for our defense; it meant they weren't giving up huge plays, but it also meant they weren't stopping the short first-down plays and they tired themselves out a little. Nevertheless, the defense held Stanford to only one real scoring chance in the first half, and it was to our chagrin that the Cardinal players took it.

In the second half, things went swimmingly until those back-to-back scoring drives Stanford had in the 4th. In the 3rd quarter, our D ended two Stanford drives on punts and forced them to kick a field goal on a drive that began on the Notre Dame thirty--a field goal which they happily missed. After those two head-scratching touchdown drives, the D tightened up again and forced Stanford to turn the ball over on downs, then forced a fumble on Stanford's last drive when our own offense choked the ball up on downs.

If anyone was watching the game from an angle other than from the corner of the endzone (or even if you remember the game better than I do) and has some insight on what happened to our D during those two Stanford scoring drives, feel free to expound your thoughts.

Things are gettin' sticky

...as the team heads to North Carolina this week to face the Tarheels. NC is in the rankings now, at #22, making them officially the toughest opponent we've faced all season. It will be the first game of the season at which the band is not present (I imagine the entire band is excited for the respite), so the team won't have our boisterous support. However, I've heard that tickets for the NC game were the hardest win in the Alumni Association lottery this year, so this indicates that a strong Notre Dame presence will be felt, even without the band's bright and shining instruments.

And speaking of rankings...this is the first time in history that the Fighting Irish have gone 4-1 and NOT been ranked in any of the polls. Apparently we got six votes this week (holla), but I have to say that, perhaps also for the first time in history, I agree with the pollsters that we should not yet be ranked. (Though I can't say I actually agree with the pollsters about the rest of the poll.) If we come through and beat North Carolina this weekend--then hell yeah, we should be ranked.

But for right now, there are still too many questions. We've still only made one field goal this year. We've let teams creep back up on us at the last minute. We've failed to bump the score up over thirty or forty points when we had every opportunity and every right to. We haven't yet garnered a solid victory over a solid opponent.

This weekend, we have a chance to erase some questions, and if we go out and play as a team once again, I can't see any reason why we shouldn't bring home another W.


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