Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm going to pretend like that didn't happen

Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23

I don't even know if I can make myself do this. I've been trying as hard as I can to block this entire thing from my memory.

I've witnessed a lot of awful and wonderful things in Notre Dame Stadium. Yesterday, my Senior Day, was by far the worst. This probably wouldn't be so if it hadn't been Senior Day.

This was not the way I wanted things to end.

I'm not sure if I even have words. Possibly the only way to express my emotions about this game is with a large handle of vodka and some uncontrollable sobbing. (And no, that is not a summary of my evening after the game. Although to some extent I wish it were.)

I haven't really processed yet that it's over. No more games inside Notre Dame Stadium with the band, ever. I will never again for the rest of my existence be able to put on that band uniform and trot out of the tunnel. I will never have my seat on the sidelines again. I will never perform another Concert on the Steps or march out from the Dome or wake up ridiculously early to suffer through a Saturday morning marchout. Never.

It is over.

It's strange how even writing the words doesn't make it hit home.

Those poor effing seniors

As awful as I feel about all this, I feel even worse for the seniors on the football team. This was their day. This was supposed to be the day when all those guys who have never gotten to dress before--who have never gotten to take the field before, who have worked their asses off for the last four years to be a part of this team even though the 80,000 people in the stands never see them--get to strap on that gold helmet, hit the Play Like a Champion Today sign, run out of that tunnel, and take the field.

I don't think any of them got to play yesterday. None of them.

Of all the people who were disappointed in Notre Dame Stadium yesterday, those are the people my heart bleeds for most of all.

As terrible as it is to feel the blow of the loss as a fan--as a student--a band member--a Senior--I think it would be incomparably worse to be standing on the sidelines, wearing a football uniform, waiting and waiting for your chance to play--your very last chance to play in Notre Dame Stadium--wanting more than anything to go out there and hit some people, make a difference (not to mention have everyone you know see you on national TV), help the Irish win their last game at home...and in the end be able to contribute nothing. Your chance never comes.

It just seems so bleak it could almost be its own Greek tragedy. (Well, maybe not. To be a good Greek tragedy it probably needs a little more death and incest. But never mind the details.)

Syracuse. Syracuse? Syracuse. SYRACUSE??? SYRACUSE!!!!!

In case you were wondering, Irish fans, that actually happened.

And no--no, that wasn't anything remotely related to basketball (a sport where it's at least acceptable to lose to Syracuse every once in a while--except at home).

And in case you missed it, their team (and approximately 0 of their 3 stalwart fans left in the stadium at the end of the game) rushed the field and just stood there while the band played through postgame...and when we struck up the Victory March they pumped their helmets in the air in time with its rhythm. That was almost worse to see than Michigan State planting their flag on our thirty-yard line (can't read! can't write! good job losers), almost worse than BC players picking up bits of our field as if to say "we own this place" (good luck if you'd tried to do that on a day like yesterday, effers), almost worse than the Bush Push (must feel good knowing you beat us fair and square).

I don't know if I even feel humiliated at this point. I kind of just feel numb.

Even Michigan being 3-9 this season doesn't help.

Nothing quite helps when you remember that we were nineteen-and-a-half point favorites going into this game, and that every other game we've played this season--including our heart-wrenching losses--indicated that we should have wiped them off the face of the earth.

Or when you remember that last year's abominable 3-9 squad still managed to kick the shit out of Duke. Watching Zibby play quarterback was one of the few highlights from last season. It was a vindication, almost, for everything the seniors last year had had to suffer through.

We got no such vindication yesterday.


This game should never have come down to a field goal. It wasn't your fault.

I would give you a big hug and everything, you know...if I knew you.

Soooooo coooold

So I'm going to take a long shot here and guess that Jimmy Clausen has never played in weather that cold before. (You may have noticed he was the first person off the field before halftime.) I'm going to take another long shot and guess that the players from upstate New York have probably experienced a few degrees of chill in their day.

Granted, it was not the sort of cold most teams experience during college football season--even teams from northern climes. We've had games with snow before (the 1992 "Snow Bowl" obviously comes to mind), but I don't know that we've ever had so much snow accumulated on the ground before. Especially for a game before Thanksgiving. (Though if I'm wrong, by all means correct me.)

I'm not giving the weather as some sort of excuse or explanation (because frankly I don't want to hear any excuses--it's Syracuse and there are none), I'm just pointing it out. I would imagine that Jimmy would have had a more comfortable game in fifty-degree weather than twenty. I would also imagine that Brandon Walker's leg would have been slightly more limber, have gotten slightly more distance, if it were slightly less frigid.

But imagination doesn't win football games, so it's really a moot point.

The real point is--Syracuse came out hungrier than I expected (than most people expected, I would imagine), and they never let up. I don't know if our team was looking past them or they just had frostbite, but it was really frightening to watch our offensive line crumble, whip itself back into shape, and then crumble again. It seemed, in the second quarter, as though we'd gotten over the initial shock of Syracuse's aggressiveness and we were going to take the game in hand.

But then we didn't. So what the hell.

Not sure I really want to get into the gritty details right now

This whole memory-blockage thing may be working. I don't really have any desire to think about what actually happened on the field as far as specific plays go, so I'm just going to talk about the things surrounding the event that stick out in my mind.

I was talking to someone--oh, who was it? my dad's girlfriend, I think--after the game about how young these football players are. She was saying that when we get caught up in the game and start yelling and hollering and chewing people out, it's easy to forget that most of them (especially on our team) are only like...nineteen years old. Eighteen. Twenty. They're still just kids in a lot of ways, and we expect so much out of them.

I'm not saying we shouldn't expect excellence. I'm not saying they're not working toward it, or that they don't expect it out of themselves.

I'm just saying, from a fan standpoint, that she made a really good point.

That's why, as a fan--especially a Notre Dame fan--unless it's clear that you're yelling at the refs or something, you should never ever "boo" at our team. There was a lot of booing going on yesterday. I'm not sure any of it was really directed at our players--a lot of it was probably intended for the coach. But even so. I'm not a big fan of boo-ing in general, unless it's at a really bad play call. (The refs can take the heat, and besides that it's a sort of backwards way of supporting your team. It lets your players know that you're totally behind them, and you think they made the right play, at least. It's kind of an odd form of solidarity.)

Anyway, I just don't see how you can call yourself a fan and still "boo" your own team. It makes me furious when people say things like, "well if they're not going to try I'm not going to cheer for them."

Because what the hell of course they're trying. Just because they don't always succeed doesn't mean they don't try. You think the coaches would let them run out there in those gold helmets if they weren't trying? I don't care what your opinion is on the coaching staff at the moment. I'm just saying I don't think the word "try" really encompasses the problem.

And besides all that, the football players try a heck of a lot harder than the 68,000 people who come into our stadium and sit on their butts for most of the game. (The student body's pretty solid. You can usually count on them for an appropriate response. And if all else fails, you know, look at the band. We try to keep things as classy as possible.) So the next time you think about booing anybody, you might want to think about what exactly it is you've done to help the team. Have you cheered as loud as you possibly can for every play on defense? Probably not. Have you stood the entire game? I'm sure you haven't. Have you been at practice every day with the players, worked on the game plan week in, week out, devoted your whole life to trying to make this team better, to turn this program around, to get us to a bowl game and that coveted bowl win so we can break our NCAA-record nine straight bowl losses?

No, I don't think you have. So unless you've got something useful to say, you can just shut your mouth up with those "boos" and focus on creating some positive energy in that stadium. Because how the hell is the team going to benefit from your presence if you're not willing to stand up and cheer for them? How are they going to feed from the crowd if the crowd's not going to give them anything? You can't always wait for them to do something miraculous so you can cheer in appreciation. Sometimes you just need to cheer because it's your job as a fan to support your team. And if you're not doing that (people sitting behind me), I don't see where you get off flinging any "Boo"s anywhere.

I'm just saying.

Other fan things that make me angry

Okay, look. I appreciate the support of the band. I really do. I thoroughly enjoy every compliment we get, every "good job band!" that gets yelled at us during postgame marchout--for every kind thing anyone has directed toward the band, I feel immense gratitude.

But the next time anyone tries to tell me "you guys played well--better than the football team" I swear I'm going to break every rule in the band manual while simultaneously beating the hell out of someone.

I'm glad you think the band played well. I am. I'm glad you appreciate our efforts.

But I would just like to point out that, for as hard as we work, what we do isn't shit compared to what the football team goes through. Yes, we have practice every day and march our asses off for game weekends and do everything we can to uphold the traditions of America's first university band--but putting together a good halftime show is approximately five million times easier than playing four good quarters of football.

As a unit, we always try to execute to our highest level what we've practiced on the field all week--only when we perform, there aren't any 300-pound lineman running at us full speed trying to screw us up. There aren't any defenders trying to knock us over or running backs trying to run us over or quarterbacks calling audibles at the last minute. If marching bands tried to do what the football team tries to do every week, halftime shows would be a lot more terrifying.

Can you imagine taking the field to play "Carry on My Wayward Son" and out of nowhere see some opposing band's tuba section running at you, full force, snorting like bulls with their instruments' bells tilted straight at you like battering rams? Or piccolos running around jabbing people in the stomach? Bass drums knocking people over with one solid whack? Dear God. No one would ever put on a marching band uniform again.

So I'm sorry for refuting your backhanded compliments, but it is never appropriate to compare the band with the football team.

And on top of all that--when the team loses, we lose too. It doesn't matter if our halftime show clearly kicked the crap out of the other band's halftime show; we're there to support the team, and if the team loses, we don't go home happy.

So the future then. Impending doom...or redemption?

This is almost more painful to think about than yesterday's game. (Though you may have noticed that I'm avoiding the pain by hardly speaking of it.)

It would truly be the upset of the season if we managed to beat the Trojans by even a point. Even a controversial point. Even a point that was ruled later to be an illegal point. (Vindication, dammit.) I want to beat USC, of course. Beating USC would wipe away all the pain of the last two seasons. Of the last nine bowl losses, even.

It's a crazy dream.

But hell, so was Syracuse beating Notre Dame.

So was Appalachian State beating Michigan. (HAHAHAHA. It's still funny.)

....okay, I'm going to lay it out cold: I don't think we're going to beat USC. I think the entire band is going to travel to the Coliseum for the first time in the history of the band and be bitterly disappointed. I think we're going to win the battle of the bands and show up those Trojan (so-and-so's) in their own stadium, but I find it incredibly and extremely unlikely and also impossible for our team to pull this one out.

It sounds like I'm giving up. I'm not. I'm hoping for a miracle. I will cheer as loud as I possibly can on every single play, and I will not be distracted by picture-taking opportunities or post-halftime apples (if we even get apples) or obscene fans. I cannot tell you how much I would love to upset the Trojans in LA. My entire life as a Notre Dame fan (up to this point) would be complete. (There are still other things to consider, like imminent bowl games, but I would almost rather beat the Trojans and lose another bowl game than the other way around.)

And yes, even after that abominable performance against Syracuse, bowl games are still interested in us. Say good-bye to the Cotton and Gator Bowls for sure, but the Sun Bowl said recently that they'd still be very interested in a 6-6 Notre Dame team. (Effing hell. I do not want to spend my New Year's Eve playing the YMCA with the Village People. Though I may get my wish, depending on who the Gator Bowl picks. I think...if they take a Big East team, the Sun Bowl has to take a Big 12 team so they can't pick us...or something. But the Big 12's hella good this year; I can't imagine the Gator Bowl wouldn't want one of them. We'll see though. There are still other bowls out there who would want a 6-6 ND team for economic reasons. Though depending how pissed off the fans are at the coach, the turnout might be slightly less enthusiastic than usual.)

Anyway. I would say let's hope the Trojans overlook us so we can sneak in there and snatch victory away before they know what hit 'em...but since Pete Carroll's been there, the Trojans haven't overlooked us once, so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for USC to make a big mental error like that. I also wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to let up on us even if we're losing 38-0. (Thank you for last year, Pete Carroll, and for unnecessarily challenging a play like the jackass that you are. Looking forward to seeing you in action at home. P.S. Why is it that your face always makes me think of diarrhea?)

I do, though, think we can count on our team to play better. For one thing, they'll be in California, and I'm sure Jimmy will be much happier playing in his home state than he was in the frigid cold this week in South Bend. For another, I think it's safe to say they'd like to win as much as we'd like for them to win, and if they can just manage to show that undying hunger that Syracuse had, their efforts will come back to them tenfold. They will be the darlings of the Notre Dame universe (and the national media circus) for ages and ages if they pull this one out. They'll be slapped up on ESPN classic mere days later. They'll re-open their chances for a Gator Bowl bid. They'll reclaim some of the manhood they lost to Syracuse. They'll make Trojan babies cry.

And they will make the Band of the Fighting Irish the 400 happiest SOBs you've ever seen in Los Angeles. (And it will be in a way entirely unrelated to cocaine, so, you know, that'll be something new for L.A. as well.) And if only we were going to be in Los Angeles one day longer, they could just drop the entire band off at UCLA and we could celebrate with those completely baller SOBs all night long.

I'm pretty sure Dr. Dye would not approve this message.

So all fantasies aside, I just hope we play well enough for people to be like, "Okay, yeah, they deserve to go to a bowl game. Let's blame their last home game on the weather."

And if Charlie wants to save himself, this game is a little bit crucial.

The only thing that would make me even the smallest bit sad about winning is that it will mean Jimmy Clausen did something Brady Quinn never did, and between the two of them, Brady Quinn deserves to beat USC approximately 10 billion times more.

But you know what? Brady Quinn's a pro quarterback, and Jimmy Clausen just lost to....well, never mind.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back From the Dead

Mostly I'm talking about myself, not our football team, but I think in both cases it applies. To some extent. Maybe not. Anyway--

Notre Dame 27, Navy 21

This week has been disturbingly brutal for me, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't had time for this until right now, and I was just not going to write anything for this week...but you know what? It's Senior Weekend already, and now is not the time to be letting traditions slide.

So, five days removed from the contest in Baltimore, and without any assistance from statistics, here are my thoughts and fuzzy memories from the matchup.

The Big News First

I've got two words for you, Irish fans: Bowl Eligible.

Taste it. Savor it. Hide it in the back of the fridge and sneak bites of it like it's yesterday's cookie dough. (Okay, maybe that's a weird comparison, but whatever.)

Those two words may be the sweetest I've heard all season--except, of course, for the unbeatable "Irish Win!"

We've come a long way from last year's 3-9. We've got a long way to go before we're back in the race for a championship berth. But right now, I'm pleased--if not absolutely thrilled--to be where we are.

That said...

What in the name of holy shillelaghs happened out there?

I watched most of the game from the nosebleeds--which ultimately was a pretty sweet view--and though I spent the first half of the game having flashbacks to last season's offense, I was deeply impressed by the third quarter. Going into halftime, we looked like we were in a state of near collapse. We couldn't move the ball on the ground. We couldn't move the ball through the air. Our only touchdown came off an extremely impressive special teams play that was absolutely brilliant despite the excessive celebration call.

I'm not sure what made the first half so shaky. Navy always comes ready to play--and I'm sure they felt even more fired up, considering they finally broke their streak last year (they had to take us into triple overtime to do it, but nevertheless they did it)--but let's face it: Navy's defense isn't that good.

Most of the hiccups in the first half seemed to be mental errors. Jimmy throwing interceptions. The offensive line not covering their assignments to get the lanes open for the runners. (We know they can do this against decent or mediocre defenses; we've seen it happen against opponents like Washington and Purdue. And later in the game we did see a lot of yardage on the ground, so clearly our O-line is capable of doing these things--they just weren't doing it for most of the first half.)

Whatever the case, though, it was extremely disheartening to see our offense come out sputtering again. We know they can do better, they know they can do better--I don't want to blame it all on hangover from the BC game, but I will say that whatever it was I hope they've all shaken it off by now.

More on that later. The more pressing issue (this would be the issue that calls for invocation of holy shillelaghs) is: what happened in the 4th quarter?????

Believe me, I'm aware that it was raining. Every single bit of me got soaked--even the bits that were covered up by multiple layers of jackets. Rain is no excuse.

Did we simply take our foot off the gas again? Get complacent? It sort of seems like it.

I think Jimmy was pulled too soon. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he had a near-concussion or something. He seemed fine, but what do I know? I mean, it's nice that Evan got some playing time and all, but even so, 27-7 is hardly an insurmountable lead--as Navy so frighteningly proved during the last four and a half minutes of the game. I'm not saying we should ever try to embarrass a team--we're not USC, and I have a lot of respect for Navy--but still. We should never take the win for granted, either. That just makes teams like Navy hungry and dangerous. We might have had them beat on the football field, but as far as sheer grit and determination are concerned, they had us owned.

Because teams don't just go out there and recover two onside kicks in a row--not unless they're A) prepared to mangle their opponent to get it, or B) helped out a little by the opposing team. I'm not saying we coughed the ball up on purpose--of course I'm not saying that--I'm just saying I'm immensely disappointed in our special teams. Maybe I'll forgive them the first onside kick, but two? Really? I mean, when's the last time we saw an Irish team do that?

Oh wait, I remember--when we beat Florida State in 2002 under Ty, we had the game handily won, and in the last two minutes, Florida State recovered two onside kicks and scored twice. Their deficit at that point was too great and it didn't matter, but still--we took our foot of the gas at the end, started celebrating too soon, went home undefeated, and lost to Boston College.

So the moral of this season is...

Don't take your foot off the gas. Don't get complacent. Don't ever assume the game is handily won until that clock hits 0:00. (Although everyone who saw that disgusting USC game three years ago will probably argue that the clock hitting 0:00 doesn't mean crap.)

We've lost too many games this season by choking on our lead, and to almost do that against Navy...

Like I said, I've got a lot of respect for Navy. But still. Even more so than North Carolina and Pittsburgh, we had Navy's number, and until the 3rd quarter, we were winning the game almost in spite of our offense. There was no reason for our team to let that game almost slip away--but we did.

Absolute beasts

Taking our minds off the worries for a second, let's just take a moment to recognize the defense for its absolute hardcore tenacity and p'ownage. They completely shut down the option. Seven points in three and a half quarters for a team that's been averaging nearly thirty points a game? I don't know about you, but that'll put holy poo on my toast any day. (And there is such a phrase as holy poo on toast, you know.)

Those last two scores were against our second string, so they don't quite reflect how absolutely boss our defense was on Saturday. I don't have the stats in front of me, but I do seem to remember a lot of three-and-outs and a lot of cheering for Golden Tate (which indicates even more punts), so clearly they were doing something right--and hey, in the third quarter when our offense resurfaced, we actually won the time of possession battle.

Any time your team is winning the time of possession battle against an opponent that runs a run-heavy're doing something right.

This game was further proof that our defense is not something we need to spend much time worrying about for the rest of the season. They've played consistently better in every game, and if they keep getting more and more solid every game next season, they have the potential to become the kind of defense that takes matters into its own hands when the offense punks out. (Like the Bears defense two years ago, when they took the team to the Superbowl in spite of Rex Grossman's best efforts to the contrary. If you do not believe me, clearly you did not see that Monday night game against the Cardinals in which six turnovers failed to pit the game in Arizona's favor.) Did you see David Bruton get his hands on those passes? He was this close to an interception both times.

In the next few games, we should see the defense maintain their high level of performance. USC will be their biggest test all season, but with the way they've been playing, I have no reason to believe they won't give our offense a solid chance to stay in the game.

Something is not right

Our offense, on the other hand, is looking a little beleaguered. They didn't look like anything against Boston College, and after the first two quarters of the game, they didn't look like they were going to be much of anything against Navy, either.

Thankfully, though, they pulled through.

Halftime adjustments this week were more effective than they've been for entire rest of the season. It's usually our second half that's the offensive let-down--this game, we seemed to play it in reverse. Could this have to do with Charlie being back at the offensive helm?

I remember reading an article much earlier in the week in which Charlie said something about this being the first time all season he's really been able to make halftime adjustments himself. Earlier in the season, apparently he wasn't as involved in the construction of the game plan, so those halftime adjustments weren't his to make.

What does this say about Coach Haywood? It might mean nothing, but it almost might mean that Haywood isn't the best at making and enforcing halftime adjustments, which is kind of scary. It may be, though, that the games where the team came out flat offensively in the second half had more to do with the adjustments of the opponents' defense and the complacency of our own players than it did with Haywood.

Still, though, I feel like there were far less head-scratching play calls in this game than there have been in the last few. No running the ball on 3rd-and-25, for one thing. Plus, there were several nearly picture-perfect drives in the third quarter, composed of a perfect balance of 5+ yardage running plays and short, quick passes. (If you ask me, the short, quick pass is the key to a successful offense. Long bombs are more fun to see, of course, but I'll take five completed six-yard passes over one-out-of-five completed thirty-yard passes any day. Not only do the short passes give you more yards in the end, but they chew more time off the clock, which is bad only if you happen to be racing against the clock.)

If our offense plays against USC the way it played in the third quarter against Navy, we should be in surprisingly good shape against the Trojans. Because barring some sort of defensive miracle (I expect them to do well, but I don't expect them to win the game for us--although I wouldn't complain if they did), our offense can't afford to play the way they have in any of our last three games. (Especially not now, with Michael Floyd out for the rest of the season.) USC may be good, but remember, this is a team that lost to Oregon State, so they're not completely infallible. It's conceivable we could pull one out against them, but considering the way our games went against BC, Pitt, and North Carolina, it's not looking incredibly likely.

I'm not going to give up hope, though. Our offense surprised me in the 3rd quarter against Navy. It was like they'd suddenly resurfaced after nearly drowning themselves for several weeks--and I hope they decide to keep their head s above water for a while.

Onward to victory

We face an abominable Syracuse team this weekend, so there's no reason we shouldn't destroy them quickly enough to let all of the seniors play.

(Oh and speaking of which--it is inconceivable that I should be so close to graduating already, so I'm just going to remain in denial and pretend like it's not happening.)

However the rest of the season plays out, it looks like we're headed for somewhere sunny and warm over New Year's...I just hope that wherever we end up, it doesn't involve the Village People.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Coach Weis's press conference yesterday was one of the most illuminating I've seen in a while. He mentioned some things that might help explain the offense's poor showing last Saturday. If you're really curious, you can read the whole presser here:

These are just some tidbits I found interesting.

Coach Haywood

If you haven't heard (I suspect an Observer article is imminent, though I haven't seen the paper yet today), a relative of Coach Haywood's died last Friday (or possibly late on Thursday). Not sure exactly who the relative is--Coach Weis tactfully didn't say--but you have to wonder how much that affected Coach Haywood's play calling at the game on Saturday, if at all. An interesting quote from Coach Weis suggests even more that he might not have been all there:

I think that having gone through a death during a football season myself at one time, you show up for the game but you're kind of in a fog. You're there, but you're kind of not there at the same time.

I can't help but agree. Death has a way of fuzzying up everything else in your life. It's not that you don't care or can't function, necessarily (although depending on the death, it might mean those things), it just...makes it harder to focus on everything. It overwhelms you, to say the least.

So I think it's probably safe to assume Coach Haywood wasn't exactly 100% on Saturday. It's not a case of assigning blame--it's just a fact. Death at any time is never easy to deal with...but in the middle of one of the most crucial weeks of your team's football season? It would throw anybody for a loop.

Knowing this now, though, I do think it was probably a factor in the offense's (temporary) breakdown, but looking at it from a team perspective, you can't really place the blame on one person. And besides--what else are you going to do in that situation? At that point in the week, Coach Haywood's the one who has implemented the game plan, he's the person most familiar with the opposing team's defense, he's the one who has been coaching the players toward a particular set of plays and scenarios on first, second, third down,'s not a point in the week where you can really flip the switch. So you chug through and trust the players to execute. (Which should have happened, but, for whatever reason, didn't.)

And obviously this is something that's still affecting the team this week.

Coach Weis Back on Offense

Coach Haywood will be flying home to Texas for the funeral this week, and though he is expected to be at the game on Saturday, this week it's Coach Weis making the game plan, strapping on the headset, and calling all the plays. This likely won't be a permanent change (it seems like Charlie's pretty well handed the power over to Coach Haywood at this point), but it will be interesting to see how it affects the game play on Saturday.

In other news, our QB should be looking a little improved

Apparently, Jimmy was sick last week. (Too bad no one was there to give him a bowl of chicken soup.) You can imagine how this might have affected his game play. Coach Weis said he didn't think it was a situation where Jimmy should have been pulled, because otherwise Evan would have been in there calling the shots, but still...if your offensive coordinator's not 100% mentally and your QB's not 100% physically, you're going to run into some problems. I'm not saying this explains absolutely everything about the team's game play on Saturday, but piecing these things together really helps explain some of the collapse we saw against BC.

Also according to Coach Weis, Jimmy may have been trying to "force it" a little bit.

Said that after the game the other day. I think we have guys that are just trying to make a play and they're trying to do too much. So it goes away from my premise that you're supposed to just do your job. Then when you start trying to do too much then you start forcing it and bad things happen.

No. Kidding.

This is one of those situations where you start to wonder--is it just a maturity thing? Does Jimmy need to grow a little more as a QB? Thankfully, a stalwart reporter posed this question during the presser, and Coach Weis said he thought Jimmy was past that "in a normal football game," but he added that even pro QBs sometimes make poor decisions when their team is down and they're trying too hard to play catch-up. He even cited Tom Brady as an example:

not to give an analogy to Tommy, but we played a game against the Miami Dolphins where he threw four interceptions and we ended up losing on a year when they were really terrible.

One interception he threw, it's a close game, and he's got a guy wrapped around him, throws it right to a defensive lineman, who runs it in for a touchdown and we lose. This is a guy going to the Hall of Fame, winning Super Bowls.

Which you can't really argue with it. Even Peyton Manning's had his interception-happy days. I'm not saying Jimmy Clausen should be put in the same league with Tom Brady or anything, but it's a fair point. Desperation brings out a lot of uglies.

However, Coach Weis also said something that thrilled me near to death, because it's the same thing I've been saying for the last two seasons:

So I think what he would tell you, which is the same thing that Jimmy would tell you, is that he was just trying to make a play. And what you have to do as a coach is explain to him sometimes taking a sack is a good thing. Sometimes throwing the ball away is a good thing. Sometimes you can throw the ball away and taking a sack is better than the end result where you throw the ball into traffic.

Didn't I say that a bazillion times last season? Didn't I?? DIDN'T I??????????????????

.....'m just saying.

It's not the most deep and insightful observation on the game of football, but it's clearly true, and it's good to know that even if there's sometimes a disparity between understanding and execution, at least Jimmy's getting the message from somewhere--and not just somewhere, either, but from the exact right source: da coach.

Further Words of Wisdom

Immediately following this question about Jimmy, Coach Weis addressed a question about the fans' reaction to the season thus far. I appreciated the question, and I doubly appreciated the answer.

Q: I think it's probably fair to say or maybe even conservative to say some people who are interested in Notre Dame football are a little inpatient now based on the way things have gone in the past couple of weeks. Given where this team was last year, the current composition in the roster, do you think that's fair?

COACH WEIS: I think that I'd be perturbed, too, if I were them, to be honest with you. I wouldn't be very happy the way the Pittsburgh game lasted, the way it ended, should I say.

And I wouldn't be too excited about how the offense and special teams played. Now, the difference between the Pittsburgh game and the Boston College game you can't give enough credit to how the defense played in the game.

So you could not say that in the Pittsburgh game. There was plenty of blame slash to spread around in that game between the coaches and the players and everything that happened. But you can't say that about how the defense played in the BC game, because they played darn well. And I think that now the offense has to step up and they have to do it this week. They have to do it next week. They have to do it the week after that, and we'll see where we are after we go through that three week stretch.

Damn straight.

So we shall see how the team fares this week, with Charlie at the offensive helm again, the team reeling from a nasty loss, Jimmy getting over a cold, and Coach Haywood dealing with a loss in the family (and speaking of which, you should probably keep him in your prayers). I'm exciiiiited to head out to Baltimore and see them in action...I expect them to be much improved.

Oh, and if you see Jimmy around LaFortune this week, offer to buy him a bottle of orange juice. And maybe a can of chicken soup.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

The only thing I can come up with is football dysentery

Boston College 17, Notre Dame 0

Those of you who watched yesterday's game (which I would imagine is...everyone reading this) understand what kind of a sucker-punch-in-the-face, flashback-to-last-year's-b
loody-nightmare-of-a-season, big-steaming-pile-of-dung game it was.

Because I have news for you, Boston College: you're still not any good. You're probably thinking you're pretty good right now, but it's a lie. It's the biggest lie in college football, next to Pittsburgh being ranked again.

The way I see it, the Eagles didn't do a whole lot to win the game. Instead, Notre Dame's offense went on the field and took a huge crap on themselves, doing pretty much everything they could to put the game in BC's hands without claiming a single point for themselves.

That's beyond crap, though. It's even beyond diarrhea. That's football dysentery. It's messy, it's smelly, it's disgusting to watch, and it's disturbing mostly because you know it is not the normal state of affairs.

I don't know what team showed up yesterday to play Backup College, but it wasn't my beloved Irish. That wasn't the offense we've seen all season. That wasn't even the Jimmy Clausen we've seen all season. That was an "oh shit, somebody poisoned the water hole!" Irish team...and now they've all got dysentery.

So here's the thing about dysentery

It's not like diarrhea. You can't just take some Kaopectate and wait for it to go away. You can't expect it to be over in a week. It's an infection in your intestines, and (as anyone who's played Oregon Trail knows) sometimes it proves fatal.

I can't tell you where our football team's headed for the rest of the season. I can't tell you whether they'll bounce back and beat a not-too-shabby Navy team next week.

I can say (like pretty much everyone else in the ND football world will be saying) that we pretty much have to beat Navy if we want to remain bowl eligible. And Syracuse, of course, but I'm more concerned about Navy at the moment, because that's the team we have in front of us, and also Syracuse is 2-7. As you may have noticed, we've gotten pretty good at beating teams that suck. It's the teams with winning records this season that are giving us all the trouble.

Anyway, the point is that a few years ago ND made it to a bowl game with a 6-6 record, almost entirely through the merit of being Notre Dame. However, during that season I do believe we actually managed to beat a few decent teams, so that probably worked in our favor as well. If we go 6-6 this season...I think things get a little more iffy. Pummeling Syracuse isn't exactly going to catapult us into the top 25. And if we can't beat Navy, the odds of us beating USC are...well...

What I'm saying is, this year a 6-win ND team isn't exactly a gimme for the Capital One Bowl or the International Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl or any Random College Town With a Stadium and an Obscure Sponsor Bowl.

And as long as we've got the dysentery in our system, the rest of the season could play out a little messy. It might take some antibiotics to get things going again.

Somebody poisoned the water hole

And oh hey, guess who it was?

It was us.

Last week's quadruple-overtime loss was what I like to call a Spirit-Crusher. (Not just a spirit crusher, you know, but a Spirit-Crusher. The hyphen is very important.) It's the kind of thing that takes all the gas out of the rest of your season--or, conversely, gives you so much of it you've got dysentery.

As Notre Dame fans, we've all seen them before. The most recent of these (which any of the seniors can attest to) was USC 2005, aka the Biggest Lie I've Ever Seen. You could see what that game did to the team. It half-destroyed them. It crushed their momentum. And it carried over. It carried over to the bowl game, and painful tinges of it followed them the next season when they went out to USC and got tormented again, only this time the torment was just plain losing, as opposed to having victory ripped from your hands on a completely bogus and illegal touchdown call after the clock had already wound down to 0:00.

Or, if you want to bring up even more painful memories, 1993, when a field goal lost us the game to EXPLETIVE UNHOLY EXPLETIVE MORTAL SIN EXPLETIVE ENTIRELY AGAINST THE CATECHISM EXPLETIVE Boston College and in the long run cost us the national championship (which Lou, by the way, still maintains we ought to have won). [This, for those of you who aren't aware, was before they instated the BCS and had an official national championship game every year. This was Back In The Day when everyone just played out their season, got picked for bowl games, and after all the bowl games were finished, a National Champion was declared. Which is why when we talk about Notre Dame's 11 national championships, we have to say "consensus," because without that "consensus," we'd have way more. And so would a lot of other schools, but I don't care about them.]

You could say that 1993 game was the greatest Notre Dame Spirit-Crusher of All Time, because since that game:
-Lou was forced to leave
-Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship
-or a Heisman Trophy (though I still maintain that the Heisman was absolutely robbed from Brady Quinn by that convict from Cleveland whose name no one even remembers anymore, and oh hey guess who's the got the big guns in Cleveland now you stupid jerks)
-or a single bowl game (making it the longest dry spell in ND football history since the days of Knute Rockne)
-We renovated the stadium and blocked out most of the view of Touchdown Jesus
-We hired Bob Davie
-and George O'Leary
-and Ty Willingham
-We snapped our NCAA record 43-game win streak against Navy
-We've suffered through the Absolute Worst Season in Notre Dame Football History
-We hired Charlie Weis, who for a brief flash looked like he might be our salvation but now looks like he could be the death of us (the jury's still out on that one, I'm afraid)

And now, we've got dysentery.

I'm not going to be looking at stats for this game. They're not important.

And if you don't believe me, just consider the stats from last week. I think the bloggers at Section 29, Row 48 phrased it pretty nicely, in the form of a question:

How do you outgain a team, win the turnover battle 3-0, have your unreliable kicker nail four straight field goals, commit fewer penalties than your opponent, do better on third downs than your opponent, get more sacks than your opponent, more first downs than your opponent, hold a 14-point lead at half and still manage to lose the game?

So yeah, screw statistics for this week, on the basis of not just that, but also on the basis of Dear God, this game is still too painful to think about. (Especially now that I'm sober.)

So I'm just going to play my favorite game instead.

The Blame Game!!!

Much as I would love to place all the blame for this loss on my favorite little emu-faced gunslinger, I can't. I can rest maybe 96.5% of the blame on his shoulders, but not all of it.

Okay, fine, even that's a little extreme.

Attempting to speak with some amount of objectivity...

It really was sort of the whole package that drove us under. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching. The football dysentery.

Not quite as much the defense as the offense, though. I mean, Boston College only really scored of its own volition once the entire game. The rest of it was the result of obscenely good field position and turnovers and blocked punts (which I guess goes along with obscenely good field position) and all of that other nonsense. Our defense really played a lot of solid football. We had some good coverage going on...we had that whole stiff-on-first-and-second-but-limp-on third thing going on...we almost picked the ball off a few times....

But the D (and the special teams) couldn't quite manage to do what our offense really needed them to do, which was take the game into their own hands and put some effing points on the board.

This is not something you should have to ask your defense to do. I'm just saying it's something we desperately needed them to do. They were just so busy fighting the OMFG BC HAS AMAZING FIELD POSITION AGAIN? battle, they didn't quite have time.

The special teams also failed to come through. The punts had plenty of altitude but not enough distance (particularly the one that was blocked), the returns were overall less-than-average (especially the one that Golden Tate fumbled), and the coverage on BC's punt returns was only average at best. And poor Brandon Walker had to pace on the sidelines the entire game watching the team choke so badly they didn't even get into field goal range until it was too late in the game to matter.

And our offense bit the big one and did approximately nothing the entire game. Unless, of course, you count them dumping the ball into the hands of BC's defenders--was it four times? five?--as doing something. In that case, we did quite a lot.

I'm not going to pull a Michigan and give some BS "clearly we're still the better team and the better team lost" speech. (In case you weren't aware, they do this after pretty much every game they lose to ND.) Because clearly right now we're not the better team. Right now we've got dysentery. And apparently the biggest byproduct of this dysentery is


Flag! What a pretty flag! Look at all the flags! Pretty yellow flags!

It could be a f^&*$% Olympic sport. Flag-tossing. Look at those referees go!

I don't even want to know how many penalties we incurred in yesterday's matchup. I will just sit here and pound on my keyboard in not-so-blissful ignorance.

If anyone's going to try to sell me the "hostile environment" bullcrap for this game, I'm not buying. (I've got enough crap on my hands as it is.) I think you can blame a loud, hostile environment for maybe one or two false starts, but other than that it's just your team screwing up. Not communicating, not focusing, not in the groove.

We just never had the groove yesterday. We never got anything going. We had a few nice catches, a few decent runs, but overall it was just...not there.

I realize that Boston College has a good defense and all, so it's not like I can't give them any credit for shutting us down. I'll give them approximately 50% percent of the credit. Okay, maybe more like 40%.

There were just too many bad decisions made by the offense yesterday. Too many. A lot of them very obviously by our quarterback, who's still learning how and when to scramble, who still has a propensity to throw deep balls into heavy coverage, and who doesn't quite yet have the savvy and the authority to say "screw it, we're not running that dumb ass play" while still in the huddle.

For example, all these awful play calls we have on third-and-long. I don't know who is making these decisions, but our inclination to run the ball on 3rd-and-25--not just this season, but last season too--is really distressing. I mean, maybe I'm not a football guru or anything, but as a fan, I have seen this "run-the-ball-on-third-and-ridiculously-long" thing work maybe 1 out of the approximately 465 times we've tried to do it. Call me crazy, but it seems like this strategy just isn't quite working for us.

I don't care if your quarterback's thrown three picks already. I don't care if you're deep in your own territory. I don't care if you think there's no way you're going to get the ball on first down even if you pass. Running the ball on third-and-long when you haven't established control of the ground yet basically reads like a "screw it, let's just try for the next set of downs" sort of play. And frankly, it pisses me off.

But that falls under the realm of coaching, I guess, and not as much penalties...though perhaps it's a fair argument that good coaching prevents a lot of penalties from being made.

Whatever the case, we played sloppy enough for our penalties to offset our gains. This is doubly distressing because it's happening so late in the season. Our penalty count has been pretty excellent so far--we've even had a couple games where we were virtually faultless.

But like I've been saying, it's the dysentery. Something is in the players, screwing them up, and if they can just flush it out of their systems I think everything will go back to being okay.

Which brings me to our next concern

Navy. The Midshipmen have won two straight since losing a 42-21 crusher to Pittsburgh. I would say they're on a roll, except their most recent wins have been over a 1-9 Southern Methodist squad and historically incompetent Temple. They have a 6-3 record, with their other two losses against Ball State and Duke in the second and third weeks of the season. Before you guffaw, however, keep in mind that Ball State is actually ranked this season (another sure and depressing sign of the Apocalypse), and Duke has managed to scrape together enough wins already to double their season win total from last year...which I believe was 2. Maybe 3. (All right, you can guffaw a little about Duke.)

At any rate, Navy should be no limp noodle this season, and if you guys remember last season, it's always tough to defend against the option. They haven't beaten any one in particular (unless you count Wake Forest, a team that was ranked when Navy beat them, but has since fallen out of the Top 25 into the shadows of football glory), but they have beaten most of them soundly, and they look to be averaging around thirty points per game. In fact, in none of their games have they scored less than 21. (That's what the option will do for you.)

However...their defense will be nowhere near as good as BC's; Navy's opponents seem to be averaging around twenty points a game, and considering they've beaten approximately nobody, this is encouraging.

So here's our chance--beat a team with a winning record on the road. Tidy up that little mess from last year with a win to re-start our streak. Cling to those hopes of a bowl game. Get rid of that awful dysentery.

I will be heading to Baltimore for the game next weekend, so I shall babble about the glorious-ness of that trip when I return.

Oh, and regarding the dysentery...somebody ought to call Dr. Lou.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Just a Note

Everything previous to this post was originally posted on Facebook. Everything after this post will obviously be fresh.

I don't claim to know everything about football; I just like to babble. But apparently other people find it entertaining, so I thought why not start a blog?

Comments are welcome. Further football insights are appreciated.

Arguments against my clear and occasionally arbitrary biases (such as my intense dislike for Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, the entire state of Michigan, etc.) will be ignored.


Pittsburgh 36, Notre Dame 33 (4OT)

Aughhh. It burns. It aches. It stings. It pinches you right in the heart.

Because any time a game comes down to a quadruple overtime battle between place kickers, it never really feels like your team won or lost the game. (That's not realistic, but that's how it feels.) It just kind of feels like a "who's-going-to-mess-up-first" battle. And all kickers mess up sometimes. They just do.

It's games like this, though, that make you wonder why it would be such a bad thing to have ties. Sure, it might screw up the BCS a little bit, but quite frankly, f*** the BCS.

I know all of this is easy to say as the loser of this game, but I still think it's true. Nobody kicked anybody's ass in this game. It became a defensive overtime stalemate.

Still, though, like all of our losses this season, it was a game we could have and should have won.

Where we stand

Well, we're 5-3. All of our wins have come against teams with losing records, and all of our losses are to teams with winning records that, at some point-or-other in the season, were ranked.

None of those games were out of our reach, but we just couldn't hang on for the win. It's disappointing, but it's a continual reminder that this team is still hovering just on the edge of being what it could be. We haven't spilled over yet. We haven't proved our greatness.

It's both encouraging and disheartening to be able to say about these games that we should have won them as opposed to just could have or might have won them. This season has not been a matter of us doing things nobody thought we could do. It's been a matter of tripping over the things we know we can do. And it hurts, it burns, it stings, to watch the players go through that...again.

Speaking of which...

Brandon Walker.

Needs a big hug.

Look, all I'm saying is if he lets that last field goal go to his head and starts shanking his kicks during the games again, I will personally run out onto the field and maim him with my piccolo.

Anyone who makes a 48-yard field goal in the highest-pressure situation imaginable in college football really can't be blamed for anything.

And any time the fate of the game rests on the shoulders of the kicker (and rests on the shoulders of the kicker one, two, three, four times), it means the rest of your team has broken down somewhere. It was as true for Pitt as it was for us, and we just came out a little unlucky in the end.

I think Brandon Walker's a good kicker, in the sense that we know he can make the kicks. I really just hope he doesn't let this get to him. I mean, I know it will, I know it will bother him all week, but it's something I hope he can shake off by the Boston College game, because I'm pretty sure we're going to need him in good condition by the time we ship out to face those pesky Eagles.


Soooo I feel like the defense played pretty well, considering. They didn't let up at the end, except, you know, to let Pitt score that last touchdown. But all things considered, Pitt's last touchdown shouldn't have mattered, because Raeshon McNeil's second interception of the day set our offense up beautifully for a touchdown, and we just couldn't make it happen.

Also, thank the Lord for David Bruton. He is the reason you almost never see opposing wide receivers make it into the end zone after they turn short pass plays into long-ass sprints down the field. He might not knock them out til they get to the five-yard line, but he chases those effers down and knocks 'em out just the same. Bruton led the team in tackles yesterday, with 9 solo and 7 assists, so he was all over the place, kicking ass, taking names, making the Pittsburgh players cry inside. He was just ahead of Kyle McCarthy, who had 15 total on the day, and Mo Crum, who had 9.

I almost had a heart attack when Bruton got injured. He had like the most badass play of the game--he jumped up to intercept a pass and somehow got completely flipped over in midair and landed on his back with the ball still in his hands--and it was so absolutely monstrous that another defensive player went and jumped on him to celebrate before he realized Bruton was hurt.

Thankfully, he seems to have come out unscathed, seeing as he played for most of the rest of the game. Nonetheless it was terrifying.

Anyway, despite these efforts, the D still let LeSean McCoy rack up 169 yards on the day (most of them later in the game when there were suddenly these enormous holes the defense couldn't plug up), so our run defense continues to plague us.

Pass defense was better--obviously we had the 3 interceptions, but we also held Pitt's QB to less than 50% passing. So that's something

But still...we had quite the nice lead going into halftime (17-3), and we let it get away from us, particularly in the fourth quarter. Pitt was only 5-of-17 in 3rd-down attempts (keeping in mind that 4 of those third downs came on OT), but they converted all 3 of their fourth-down attempts, and the third-downs they did convert were often long and impressive...and had no business being converted, the way our defense was stuffing them on first and second downs. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Not quite what we were looking for

Our offense, likewise, broke down in the second quarter. Did Pitt figure us out? Is that it? Did their D finally shake off the woes of last week's game against Rutgers and start playing like the nationally-ranked defense they're supposed to be? Oh, perhaps.

They did bring a lot more pressure in the second half, which is always bad news for Jimmy. I hate to see that kid on the run. He has gotten better at making decisions in those high-pressure situations, but it's still rare that he actually converts them into anything. At least, though (as I keep saying), he has learned when to throw the ball away. And hey--no interceptions this week, so that's a bonus.

In fact, the offense didn't cough the ball up once this week. With the turnover margin so strongly in our favor, it is further difficult to see why we couldn't have won this one in regulation.

Overtime Woes

That last drive of the game should have been a score. No question. We are perfectly capable of running a two-minute drill. And we didn't even have to get it in the end zone--just in field goal range. That last drive has me frustrated not so much at the players, but at the coach.

I think we called the first time out of the drive at an appropriate place. We had one more time out and enough seconds left on the clock to get the ball within scoring range. But we couldn't get the play off--there was too much confusion and we had to call another time out.

That, if you ask me, is a moment of poor coaching. If in one time out, you can't get your team organized and ready for the next play, you should just be...slapped. I mean, maybe the defense gave us a look we weren't expecting. That's certainly possible. But in a late-in-the-game situation like that, it's still no excuse.

And then to punk out and choose to go into overtime...that just makes me angry. Sure, I can see the reasons for doing it. But still, with thirteen seconds on the clock and Golden Tate and Michael Floyd on the're not going to at least try for the Hail Mary? I know we weren't behind, and I know it wasn't game-over if we didn't try, but still. I hate overtime. If I were a coach, I would rather chop off my right arm than willingly give the game up while we were still in regulation.

Maybe that's not the best vote of confidence in the team, but football overtime has to be the most agonizing thing ever invented. I hate it. It makes me feel like I'm going to spontaneously combust and vomit and have an aneurysm all at once. My constitution wasn't made for it. I cannot handle watching it. I feel about ready to explode with every snap of the ball.

And dear God, how can the players handle it? Every single play could be the death of you. Or, you know, the game.

Except then it's not, of course, because then you have to give the other guys a chance to score, and then it's just agony, agony, agony all over again...

Plus, you get into a position where the game can go on pretty much indefinitely. I mean, imagine if Brandon Walker hadn't missed that field goal. We could have been there all night. We could have scored sixty points apiece and still been forced to keep going. It's terrible. It's worse than baseball. Things like that should not happen in the glorious game of football.

I prefer sudden death overtimes. Maybe your team never gets their hands on the ball and maybe you think that's unfair, but hey, if your team can't get it done in regulation maybe they don't deserve fair. If your defense can't give your offense a three-and-out when you so desperately need it, maybe you don't deserve to win the game. That's all I'm saying.

I mean, I guess you could also argue that in a game like this, you could still end up in a position where you play another quarter of football and absolutely nothing happens, but that seems unlikely. Defenses get tired, teams get desperate, points get scored.

Whatever. Moving on.

Next week

Another road game, this time against the ever-loathed Backup College. They are also 5-3, and they also have beaten approximately 0 good teams. However, while our record betrays us to make us look like we don't have the ability to beat those good teams we faced, BC's record exposes them for the limp sausages they are. They got spanked by North Carolina 45-24, couldn't get it done against a 4-win Clemson team, and choked in their second week against Georgia Tech.

I'm sure BC fans will argue that even with the same record they're still obviously better than we are, that two of the games they lost were clearly closer than two of our close losses, that clearly their two shut-out wins against Kent State and Rhode Island prove their dominance (especially considering our performances against San Diego State and Stanford)...but you know what?

I say they are a bunch of ass clowns, and we're going to rip their heads off.