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.


No comments:

Post a Comment