Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka Indeed

Notre Dame 49, Hawaii 21


It's amazing! It's miraculous! It's stupendous! It's exhilarating! It's flabbergast-ing! It's beautiful! It's heart-wrenching! It's pineapple-shaped and tropical and full of dazzling aerial replays!

It's a WIN OVER HAWAII IN THE 2008 HAWAII BOWL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!..........bitches.

Best. Christmas present. Ever.

Finally. Finally finally finally finally finally we have ourselves some vindication. Some respect. Some glory, some honor, some--dare I say it?--tradition.

Crank me the fuck up!

Sorry. I shouldn't be cursing on Christmas.

But anyway, I'm sure you guys all know the stats. We snapped our NCAA-record 9-bowl game losing streak. We robbed the media of their favorite piece of Notre Dame trivia (that isn't really trivia because EVERYONE IN THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL NATION IS AWARE OF IT AND LIKES TO REMIND US OF IT ON A YEARLY BASIS). We broke some Notre Dame records for most yards passing and most points scored in a bowl game. We avoided having two back-to-back losing seasons for only the third time in Notre Dame football history.

And we avoided adding a few dozen more gray hairs to Charlie's head. Looks like he'll be able to survive the offseason with a few less annoying reporters / angry fans / belligerent alumni banging on his door demanding to know why he is still the head coach at the University of Notre Dame if he can't even follow his own maxim of "9-3 isn't good enough."

If only the Observer were being printed today. I'd love to see the comic strips for this one. Something happy for a change, darn you!

This note is going to be aaaaaaaaaaall happy. Happy happy happy happy happy. Happy like an emu-faced California boy in the sunshine. (Okay, sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Apparently, the tropics make people happy

So for everyone who lambasted me for lamenting my lack of holiday vacation to Hawaii (Holly Decker), claiming that we were just going to go lose to some mediocre team anyway, and why would I want to bother going to Hawaii anyway, and can't I just shut up about it already (okay, she didn't say that last part, but her eyes said it), here is what I have to say to you: Ha! Ha ha ha HA!

I was right, I was totally right, it would have been completely and totally worth going no matter how much it cost, no matter how bad of a sunburn I got, no matter how much lava I stepped in, no matter how many fish tried to nibble on my toes, no matter how much hair I lost after accidentally getting in the way of a fire eater--it would have been TOTALLY WORTH EVERY SECOND OF THE TRIP just to see those boys having fun in that stadium.

Curse you, administration. CURSE YOU!!!!!! I should have been there with 400 of my closest friends! I don't care what the economy is like--I'm selfish! WHYYYYY did I not hitchhike and then kayak to Hawaii for Christmas? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Okay, the whining's over now, I promise.

Ahem. As I was saying....apparently, the tropics make people happy.

As much as everyone's been criticizing the choice to go to Hawaii and play a game on Christmas Eve and not take the band (waaah), it looks like it was nothing more or less than exactly what the team needed. A chance to get away. A chance to escape the cold weather, soak in some sun, and--wait for it--relax a little bit.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to land in Hawaii and feel the balmy 80-degree breeze, smell the sea-salt of the ocean, and realize that everything terrible that happened in the past four (or mostly two) months was completely behind you. Finals--over. Loss to USC--finito. Losing at home on Senior Day--done. No point in dwelling on the agony, no point in lamenting what's past--there's only forward, there's only paradise, there's only VICTORY AND GLORY ahead!

Okay, I'm extrapolating a little I suppose. Probably they were mostly thinking "SHIT that plane ride was long where the HELL is my hotel bed?"

But you know, it's basically the same sentiment, so just go with it.

What I'm really trying to say is that as jealous as it made me to see them having fun trying to learn the hula (hahahah Pat Kuntz) or attempting to surf in a water park (hahahahahahahahahahaha Jimmy Clausen), I think it totally loosened them up enough to have fun. They were having fun playing football, you could totally see it. THAT IS WHAT FOOTBALL IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE, FYI. Freshmen and sophomores, in case you missed this memo the past couple seasons--the way our team played in the Hawaii Bowl is basically the way we expect them to play all the time. (Well, most of the time.) Doing their job, having fun, kicking ass...that is Notre Dame football.

So you may be asking yourself...why the hell didn't they play that way ALL SEASON?

That is an excellent question. I have no idea.

But I have some theories.

First of all, at the beginning of this season (after that sort of hiccup game against San Diego State), it looked like we were sort of headed in this direction. We had that great game against Michigan (thank YOU, Michigan, for screwing up enough to make us look good), we kept it close til the end against MSU, and we looked in good enough form to have beaten North Carolina and Pittsburgh, if only we'd been able to hold on to our double-digit leads.

But things started to take a nose-dive after the Pittsburgh game. Jimmy started making a lot of mental errors, throwing a lot of interceptions...our running game had fits and starts trying to get on the ground against decent teams...Michael Floyd went out with an injury...the team's spirit seemed to be flattened a little more each week under the crushing combined weight of our media circus, pissed off alumni, academic demands, illnesses, coaching switch-ups, and God only knows what else.

I mean, hopefully they were ignoring most of the media and the alumni and everything, but I definitely think that as the semester wore on, the combined rigors of academics, campus-wide colds, and perhaps Coach Haywood's temporary departure really started to weigh them down. A typical semester at Notre Dame starts to grind away at all the students toward the end, and if you think the football players are so adept at time management that it doesn't start to chip away at them as well, you are a damn fool.

Anyway, it seemed like the harder the team tried to glue things together, the more they fell apart. People accused them of not playing with passion. Players were quoted saying things like "they just wanted it more than we did" about Syracuse. Exactly how you cannot get yourself pumped up for Senior Day in your own stadium is beyond me, but it seems like that was indeed the case...and I don't want to tack it up entirely to exhaustion, but maybe that was a factor?

The point is that throughout all this, the football players never really got a break. Never really got a chance to get away from it all. Sure, they had a bye week, but it was before the Pittsburgh game, well before things really started to unravel. Obviously all college teams have to deal with, you know, having games every week, and I'm sure the team wouldn't want to give fatigue as any sort of excuse...I'm just saying mentally, I think their inability to bounce back in the second half of the season is a reflection of how young the team still is. And I think their time in Hawaii really helped clear their heads and get them re-focused for what they needed to do.

Also, I think for the team to really be able to do this--to really want this as badly as they wanted it--they sort of needed to hit rock bottom first. Not that last season wasn't rock-bottom...but as far as this season is concerned, as far as having the passion and the focus to play as a team...Syracuse was the lowest point in Notre Dame Football memory. I will never get the image of David Bruton crying out of my head. Or of the Syracuse players standing in the middle of the field celebrating while the band was playing the alma mater.

It should never have happened. But maybe the team needed it as fodder. Who knows?

Most of this is probably useless speculation, but it's easier to think about now that we've got a giant pineapple statue to put in the Gug's trophy case. :-D

Right, so the actual game.....


So, in case you didn't notice, the Jimmy Clausen we saw last night was Jimmy Clausen as advertised. Way to finally look like the number one high school recruit in the country.

As much as it hurts my heart to say it, he was pretty...astounding. He broke Brady Quinn's record for most passing yards in a bowl game before halftime. (Don't worry, Brady, you're still the better man.) And, sporting a nice tan and a goatee, he looked amazingly less like an emu. I was both shocked and impressed. 22 for 26 with over 400 Damn. What now, Tim Tebow? (Actually, I take that back. There's no reason to bring up Tim Tebow on Christmas. He makes me sicker than Urban Meyer. Oh great, now I've brought both of them up on Christmas.......ugh. No, don't ask me why I hate them, it's completely irrational and irreversible, I assure you.)

And of course my favorite, Golden Tate, had a huge day as well, with 6 receptions for 177 yards and three touchdowns (more Notre Dame bowl records) to finish with over 1,000 yards on the season. That B-E-A-utiful 69-yarder will be replaying in my head for days. (Possibly not as much as Jimmy Clausen falling over in the waterpark, but it's up there.) I was also way amused by one of the cheesier moments of the broadcast, when the announcers were trying to come up with Christmas-themed nicknames for the football players and they called him "Golden Frankincense-and-Myrrh Tate."

Robert Hughes kick-started our running game into action, pounding through the Hawaii line to give the Irish solid numbers on the ground (along with smashing through to get our first TD of the day), giving the O-line a chance to get in enough of a rhythm to open up holes for speedier Armando Allen, who remains quite quick but really seems to need a big hole to get started. He's shiftier when he's got some momentum behind him, as we saw during his kickoff return for TD (HELL YEAH!!), but still has some room to evolve as far as reading the evolution of plays from behind the line of scrimmage. Not that I'm complaining.

The offense was finally an...offense. They were in complete control for almost the entire game. Most of their punts came in the fourth quarter. Their second string went in with ten minutes left in the game, and senior Evan Sharpley got to have a proper sort of senior send-off that he missed during Senior Day, while freshman RB Jonas Gray got a chance to see the field for the second time this season, and showed us a glimpse of the shifty back we're going to enjoy watching over the next few seasons. He looks fairly stocky, but is remarkably speedy and nimble...he seems like an interesting amalgamation of Darius Walker and Armando Allen, actually. I'm really excited to see him get some more reps over the next few seasons, though of course he's going to have to battle it out hardcore with Allen, Hughes, and Aldridge first. Oh man, though, just think of all this DEPTH we're accumulating at running's insane....

It's almost as insane as all the depth we have with our receivers, because speaking of which, I still haven't mentioned Michael Floyd, David Grimes, or crazy-talented freshman tight end Kyle Rudolph. Floyd's presence on the field seemed to really loosen up Jimmy Clausen, who definitely missed the tall, lanky, sweet-handed freshman over the last few games. Just as important as his ability to catch the ball is his ability to spread the defense and help open up options for Clausen. Over the next two years, opposing secondaries should learn to fear the sight of numbers 3 and 23 on the field at the same time...just in case it doesn't make them nervous enough already.

David Grimes also got a signature moment in the game--after dropping a pass (surprising, since he usually has the best hands out there), he made up for it in a big way by catching a TD pass just a few plays later to make the game 14-0.

Kyle Rudolph never saw the endzone, but he did see a number of sweet, wide-open passes, including one of the prettiest ones of the night, right over the middle, which got the commentators talking about how Charlie Weis said that Kyle Rudolph may be the most promising tight end he's ever coached. This also bodes well for the future.

As painful as it has been to have a young team these past couple years, last night we finally saw the fruits of all that labor paying off. This team (as the commentators pointed out at least a dozen times) is growing up. And it's not just the flashy players, either, it's HOLY CRAP OFFENSIVE LINE WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE????

We played like a team. A real team with real pass protection and real holes for the running backs and real solid communication on every play. Only a couple errors on the night, in fact. We gave up one sack, which resulted from a breakdown in protection. We had a few RB tackles for losses, which I think were more the result of Charlie calling the same play too many times than the O-line not doing its job. And we had a few high-pressure moments where Jimmy had to evade defenders to get the play off--but he pretty much always did, in high form. His head, I'm pleased to say, was screwed on exactly straight.

And more exciting than all of this--no false starts. No holding penalties. Almost all of our penalties came on defense and special teams, in fact. Plus--NO TURNOVERS. Zero. Zip. Zilch. It was practically a perfect game offensively.

So Eric Olsen, Sam Young, Mike Turkovich, Dan Wenger, and Chris Stewart, I commend you.

I could not be more thrilled or more ecstatic for the future...unless, of course, I was somehow going to come back for another marching season. Or unless I was actually in Hawaii right now.

But I can't have everything, I guess, so I'll just have to settle for rambling about

Those other guys on the field kicking ass and taking names

And by that, I mean Sergio Brown. The man was everywhere last night. Defense, special teams--making huge tackles, blocking punts, getting up in Hawaii's face and drawing excessive celebration penalties. Last night was THE night for Sergio, who seemed to take over Mike Anello's "you're on your back before you even realize you caught the ball, bitch" position on special teams and absolutely shined in ND's nickel package against the warriors.

Almost more exciting than seeing Sergio Brown come into his own, though, was watching David Bruton finally do the thing he's been on the edge of the cusp of the verge of doing all season: intercepting a pass. And not only that, he had a fumble recovery late in the came. Plus he played like a BAMF as usual. Uncharacteristically, he did allow two Hawaii players in the endzone when he should have made key tackles--usually he's the only thing stopping the other team from getting into the endzone when there's only ten yards between them and glory. But obviously he made up for those plays with the two turnovers, and Jimmy Clausen & Co., firing on all cylinders, converted both of those into touchdowns.

Unsurprisingly, Kyle McCarthy remained the silent beast, managing to lead the team in tackles once again (with 7) without drawing excessive amounts of attention to himself. As with the offense, however, the success didn't just rest with one person--it was pretty evenly spread out among all the players, with Sergio Brown, Steve Quinn, Harrison Smith, David Bruton, and Raeshon McNeil right behind at 4 or 5 tackles apiece.

But the group effort didn't stop there--just in case you forgot how absolutely sick the Fighting Irish D played last night, we had six separate players record sacks last night: Kerry Neal, Mo Crum, Steve Smith, and Darius Fleming all brought Greg Alexander to the ground once, and both Quinn and Ethan Johnson nailed him twice.

Could our team have played any more like It's hard to imagine.

There were some frustrating moments, I suppose. For example, when Hawaii was backed up on its own ten-yard line after shooting itself in the foot with a series of penalties, it looked like the D was going to force another punt and give the offense another chance to show off. But then Hawaii threw a couple deep balls and drove all the way down the field for a TD. But even so...this was later in the game; it wasn't as though it exactly broke our backs to let them have it. (That's not really a good attitude, I suppose. We've seen our leads slip away late in the game enough times this season to make me nervous whenever the D starts slipping. didn't really matter in this particular game, so for right now I'm not going to worry about it.)

But just in case you've forgotten, there's more euphoria to be had from last night's huge W, because we still haven't talked about

Special Teams

As mentioned previously, Sergio Brown took over most of Mike Anello's ass-kicking, as our return unit continued to display why it's tops in the country. Looks like Charlie's focus on special teams in the off season really paid off this year.

And not only was our coverage stellar this time--Armando Allen ran back a kickoff return for a touchdown (96 yards!) for the first time since Vontez Duff did it in 2002. If you're thinking just now, "but Zibby...." that would be punt returns. Although speaking of which, Golden "is thy" Tate did manage to bring a punt back for a touchdown--on a pretty spectacular play that looked at first as though it was heading toward the wrong end zone and then miraculously ended up in the right one. Unfortunately, though, Golden couldn't put our point total over 50, as that particular play was called back on a roughing the kicker penalty...and I believe resulted in a Hawaii score.

Nevertheless, the special teams were continuously impressive. Eric Maust, when he did have to punt, managed to boot some we had no botched snaps and no blocked punts of our own.

Additionally (could it get any better?), Brandon Walker was perfect on the night on his extra points--which is even more exciting because it means whenever our team crossed the fifty-yard line, they pretty much just scored. (Including that one thrilling fourth-and-one conversion that looked like it was going to be nothing and then ended up a TD. Hell yeah!)

So yeah. It's going to be a pretty good holiday.

Sigh. I'm feeling rather content, in case you hadn't noticed. On top of all this, I am really thrilled Coach Weis is going to be able to breathe during the off season. He's going to have some time to worry about, you know, his health instead of the team's health. Plus this game was an incredible boon to all of our recruiting. I hope Manti Te'o, along with all the other recruits who were probably watching the game at home, was thoroughly impressed. (He would've been more impressed if our band was there to give him a taste of what the kick-ass Notre Dame student body is like, but you know, details.)

And now that I've written what I hope is a sufficiently long and entertaining Facebook note, I'm going to go make some sweet potatoes and try to enjoy the holidays. This will bring the 2008 Notre Dame football season to a close.

It's been fun, kids, and it could not have ended on a better note. I'm nothing more or less than mind-bogglingly, spleen-splittingly, head-burstingly, overwhelmingly thrilled.

And I in the mood for some pineapples.

Cheers, and as always, GO IRISH!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's okay that I'm not in the tropics...really....

At least I'm getting a white Christmas out of all this. Theoretically. This snow had better stop melting.

So putting all bitterness aside about the band NOT being able to travel with the team to Hawaii, I decided it's been too long since I wrote something long and rambling about my fifty favorite people on campus who I've never actually met. (Just go ahead and guess which ones aren't on my favorites list.)

I realize it's only T-minus 7 hours until game time, and I'm sure everyone has better things to do on Christmas Eve than putz around on Facebook (except me obviously), but I just couldn't resist the urge to pound out my thoughts about the game before it actually happened. I meant to do this days ago, but, you know...I put off my Christmas shopping too long. It's been a busy vacation so far.

But that doesn't mean I haven't had time to think about Charlie, Golden, David, David, Mo, Armando, Michael, Brandon, Robert, Mike, Mike, Mike, Kyle, James, Pat, Eric, Duval, Raeshon, Kerry, Harrison, Brandon, Emeka, Kevin, Sam, Justin, Sergio, Robert, and all the other men on the team, including my personal hero Jim Clausen. (I will give you fifty dollars if you can tell me exactly which last names go with which first names. And don't think I don't know which player I was thinking of when I wrote all those first names, either. I'm hoping that approximately 0 people will waste their time guessing, but you never know.)

Anyway! Here are my thoughts about the forthcoming Hawaii Bowl.

Our Opponent

The Warriors, at 7-6, have tackled their first season without Colt Brennan and most of the seniors who took them to the Sugar Bowl last year. (I would just like to interrupt myself for a second to point out that, had our band actually been able to go to Hawaii, this could have been a major conversation piece between the ND Band and the Rainbow Warriors Band. I have my suspicions that the Rainbow Warriors are not anywhere near as annoying as the LSU Tiiiigerbaaaaand....and also it's vaguely nifty that we actually have something in common with the Hawaii Band...besides, you know, being a D-I band. I'm just saying. Anyway, back to business.) And it wasn't a bad tackling job, either, considering they had an NCAA strength-of-schedule rating thirty places higher than Notre Dame's (not that ours, tied for 85th, was anything to get too excited about), a new QB fresh out of a season (or two?) at junior college, and a brand-new head coach.

After an inauspicious 1-3 start, with blowout losses to Florida and Oregon State and a close loss to San Jose State, the Rainbow Warriors managed to bounce back and crank out wins over Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, Idaho, and Washington State for a 7-win season. Their most lopsided win was over Idaho, 49-17, with squeakers over Fresno State and possibly Nevada. Most of the scores, though, seem to reflect that when Hawaii won, they were in pretty good control of the game.

Their other three losses came against Boise State and Utah State, neither of which were close. However, their loss on Senior Day came against Big East Champ Cincinnati, against whom they blew a 14-point lead in the 4th quarter, coming away with a stinging 29-24 defeat. Now that doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?

All things considered, Hawaii seems like a fairly well put-together team, and--get ready for the shock of your life--a pretty decent match for the Fighting Irish. You may not be able to believe this, but it looks like Notre Dame's playing in a bowl game against a team they can actually defeat. Hallelujah--it's a miracle.

And as for our team...

Looks like the Fighting Irish have been busy in the postseason gearing up for this game...lounging at their oceanside Waikiki resort, gloating about the 80-degree weather in Honolulu, checking out the beautiful women on the beach, putting in requests for transfer, getting themselves hired as head coaches at other schools, hopefully rejoicing over the fact that they didn't fail finals.... It's been a busy couple weeks for Notre Dame.

So in case you missed some of that, here's the latest news from our team:

-The football players love the weather in Hawaii. Shocker. (I hope you have such a big smile on your face AFTER the game, Jimmy Clausen.)

-Will Yeatman (a tight end who was suspended for the season after being arrested at an off-campus party, in case you forgot...and he's also a really good lacrosse player) has officially put in his request for release so he can transfer

-Offensive Coordinator Mike Haywood was officially hired as the head coach at Miami (Ohio)

-Coach Weis will be taking over the play calling duties for the Hawaii Bowl

-Michael Floyd is going to be back in the lineup for the game (YESSSSSSSSSSS)....but Mike Anello will not :-( :-( :-(

-David Bruton, along with a couple (dozen) other players, really really really really really really wants to win this game, sort of as a vindication for the last couple seasons being total crap (and not being able to win the two previous bowl games the current senior class experienced)

-The team has been having morning practices all week, which on the one hand probably helped them readjust their sleeping schedule faster, but on the other hand I'm still really jealous they're in Hawaii, so clearly they're having way too much of a vacation out there, and that...that...that's just not allowed. (Unless the band is there. Then, you know, whatever. ......I'm not bitter. Really.)

So, taking all this in...

I'm ridiculously excited to have Michael Floyd back. We average 110 more yards passing when he's in the game.

I'm really sad not to have Mike Anello back. he's one of the main reasons we have the top-ranked kickoff coverage unit in the country. (Although having seen the special teams perform very well against USC without Anello in the game, I'm still feeling pretty encouraged about our coverage units. Our return units, on the other hand, need some work...we are way better at tackling than at blocking, as you may have noticed.)

I'm hoping that paradise will have a soothing effect on the players....soothing as in "wipe away some of the sting of that disgusting home loss against Syracuse and subsequent thrashing at the hands of the grossest team in the country," not soothing as in "let's just lie around the beach and forget all our troubles." They still need to be angry enough to kick the crap out of Hawaii...but not so angry with themselves that they self-implode.

Hopefully, however, the mind-numbing effects of finals combined with a brain-mashing 10-hour flight across the country/ocean will have taken away the worst of the mental aftertaste of this season. I myself have already begun to feel quite cheery about the matchup--so much so that I made cut-out pineapple cookies with little ND monograms on them in anticipation of the game.

What Tho The Odds.....

Shocking as it may be, we are actually favored to win this game....well, depending on where you check. About half the lines seem to have Hawaii in favor by about 2 1/2, and the other half have us favored anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2.

The matchup really does seem to be fairly even. There's a pretty good article on, if you want to check out something slightly more in-depth:

But the gist of it is...

Hawaii has a an edge playing on its home field, where it has won 3 previous Hawaii Bowls. Historically speaking, Notre Dame has played Hawaii twice and won both matchups, but both were squeakers--ND won both games by a total of like 7 points. Combined.

It's not going to be an easy game. Most Notre Dame fans seem to already be in despair (clearly I'm enough of a state of despair that I'm already splitting my infinitives). And if they're not, they're still planning to mostly blow off the Hawaii Bowl in favor of family-centered Christmas festivities, for which I cannot blame them. I, of course, will be attending a 5 o'clock service with my father, coming home for a leisurely dinner, and then gluing myself to the couch from approximately 7:45 onward, with a large bottle of water (for all the screaming) and a couple brick-shaped pillows (for throwing at the TV). Champagne and a cell phone will be on standby for celebration.

As usual, I feel that much of the game hinges on the head of Jimmy Clausen, and which way he has it screwed on before the game starts. Obviously we can't afford for him to throw a bunch of balls into double coverage for some inopportune interceptions...but with Michael Floyd back in the lineup, I feel like we have a much higher chance of success. We can only hope.

Hopefully a little R&R will have done our O-line good as well. I'm not saying they will have magically re-learned and perfected all their fundamentals within the last couple weeks, but if they have nothing to distract them in Hawaii besides football and beaches, maybe they will have time to think about, I don't know, how to not be...lame.

Okay, clearly I did not get enough sleep last night and my brain is not as clever as usual, but never fear, I will come up with something miraculously entertaining when the game is over.

I have full confidence the Defense can take on the Warriors offense, particularly since the Warrior running game isn't much to shake a stick at, and one of our biggest weaknesses this season has been containing stellar running backs. We don't have to worry about that here; all we need to do is get a good pass rush going, and the D should be able to put this game fully into the hands of our offense.

Which is the part that worries me, of course.

If any of our backs can manage to punch through the line, though, they might have a chance of establishing a run game--Hawaii surrendered nearly 200 yards (at least) to every bowl-eligible team they've faced this season.

Let's keep our fingers crossed for a good offensive day.

That's all for cheers, Merry Christmas, and of course


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Here It Goes Again

USC 38, Notre Dame 3

The verdict from this weekend: not good.

You probably figured that one out on your own.

Did we get the first down? Did we...did...oh. I guess not.

Our extreme lack of offense was both obvious and alarming. Besides being crushed in the second-most lopsided loss in ND-USC history (guess what was the most lopsided? oh right, that would be last year), all semblance of Jimmy Clausen seems to have disappeared. Where are you, Mr. #1 football recruit in the country? As painful as it is to say, we do actually need you. C'mon Ron Powlus, what's the deal? You mean you don't have all the answers for your little gunslinger?

Okay, to be fair, this wasn't really Jimmy Clausen's fault. There were a lot of negative factors in this game that offset anything Jimmy Clausen might have done. First, there's the absence of Michael Floyd, Jimmy's new favorite receiver. I think Floyd would have made a big difference in the Syracuse game, and a less-big difference in the USC game. But still--a difference. The difference between a field goal and a touchdown, maybe.

That's twice this season we've gone an entire game without seeing the Irish get in the endzone. Still better than last year, I suppose, with the two shutouts against Michigan and USC. But still. Disappointing.

In an attempt to put things in perspective, this is the first Top 10 team we've faced all season, and unquestionably the best (as painful as it is to say of USC, it's obviously true). The other ranked teams we've faced have been lower and more questionably in the the Top 25, and had we beaten any one of them, we would've jumped into the Top 25 rankings ourselves. But we didn't, so that just shows you how disturbingly average we are this season.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't think our offense could handle a Top 10 team. Not yet. Our offensive line has been shaky all season--shaky enough so that our only decent running games came against limp-noodle defenses like Purdue and Washington--and against USC, we showed very little progress. Jimmy hardly had time to throw, and when he did, it was back to the bad decision making again. Two interceptions, and in between only very short passes that betrayed either lack of confidence or lack of options.

It's probably more lack of time and lack of options, and though generally I'm hugely in favor of the short passing game, in this game it was clearly ineffective, as none of these short passes ever seemed to cross the first-down marker. We only got four first downs the entire game. 91 total yards of offense. Three points.

Not quite as bad as last year's -17 yards rushing (after like three games), but still. Ouch.

The big difference between this season and last season is that this season we have expectations. We're going to a bowl game, despite what we've seen in these last two games. So as much as losing 38-0 at home against USC last year sucked, this season it feels even worse, because at least this season our offense has been decent. Well, most of the time.

What we couldn't get done in the air, we certainly didn't make up for on the ground. We had 50 yards rushing, and I believe most of those yards came late in the fourth quarter--the only quarter in which we won the time of possession battle, and the only quarter in which it ceased to matter how many yards we got on the ground. And speaking of woes on the ground...

Not more key injuries

Armando Allen hobbled off the field in the second half with what looked like an ankle injury (noooooo). This was distressing, but not quite as distressing as seeing Mike Anello completely flattened early in the first half and driven off the field on the dreaded Injury Cart of Doom. Or...whatever it's actually called.

Anyway, I haven't heard anything about any of these players since the game, so if you have some sort of injury status report, by all means fill me in.

Enough with the horror stories

Okay, so even with Mike Anello out, our special teams did not die. We didn't let anyone run a kickoff or punt (mostly punts) back for a touchdown. We didn't let them block any of our punts. We went 1 for 1 on field goals. Bonus.

Also, our defense played a hardass football game, except for the part where USC managed to get 38 points on the board.

If only it weren't for the offense, our defense would be doing so well

It's so true, too. Did you see those BAMF play in the first quarter? Hot damn. That first interception was thrilling. Captivating. Enthralling. It created the perfect opportunity for the offense to go in there and score.

But they didn't.

The defense gave the offense two more chances to cut the Trojan lead away, with two more interceptions later in the game. But then we couldn't, so it didn't matter.

That's like the story of the defense's life this season. It's sooooooo distressing.

I'm not saying the defense played plenty good enough for us to win this game--not like in the other games where we actually should have won. Any time you let a team crank out 38 points, you're not putting yourself in a position to win. (Unless, you know, your team has 40 points. But in a game like that, it's not the defense that matters.) What I am saying is that the defense at least played well enough for us to compete.

After that big ol' scuffle in the endzone before the game, I was so convinced our team was fired up enough to go out there and give the Trojans a good scare, and in the first quarter it looked like we might be able to pull it off, if only the offense could get itself firing on all pistons. I was all, "1988 Miami tunnel fight yeahhh!!!"

And then I remembered that this is not the sort of team that can propel itself to victory with a mere tunnel fight. This is not a team that appears to have all of the fundamentals and technique deep in reserve, just waiting to burst out at the right moment against the right opponent in a display of intense passion reminiscent of Notre Dame whoop-ass teams of yore.

No, this is not a team like that. This is a team that let itself get all limp noodle playing at home against Syracuse on effing Senior Day.

This is more painful than watching the mullet come back in fashion. (Dear God, not that I'm suggesting that's going to happen either.)

The situation is bleak, Irish fans--as bleak as the coming 3 months of permacloud over South Bend. (Although, hey. Some of us don't mind the permacloud.)

So as long as we're pondering how far we've fallen since Lou left, let's just take time to consider that the majority of Notre Dame's student body wasn't even born yet the last time Notre Dame won a national championship. Michigan now has the winningest record in college football (which we did have at one point in living memory, mind you). USC's managed to catch us up in both National Championships and Heisman Trophies. Ohio State is now the only Divison-I school in the country that has never suffered an eight-loss season. (Thanks a lot, Charlie. Even Ty only went as low as 5-7.)

And the gleaming light of redemption we saw earlier in the season seems to have faded.

I'm not saying this season should have been our complete reversal, our catapult back into national prominence, or our statement that we have risen from the ashes of our own smoldering self-defeat. Last season was abysmal. This season could have been nothing but in-between.

But the things that we're lacking don't seem to be things you can blame on youth and inexperience. Playing with passion--how hard is that to do when you're strapping on a gold helmet for the University of Notre Dame? Playing hard all four quarters--how difficult is that, really, when that's your job to do? Working as a team....even Syracuse at 2-8 managed to do it better than we did in our own stadium.

So what is wrong out there? Are these things you can blame on the coach? Lack of leadership? Lack of unity within the team? What is the matter?

I mean, it's not like the players don't care. It's not like they don't try.

But when you have people like Golden Tate offhandedly commenting that, "yeah, Syracuse just wanted it more than we did" or "we really let up in the second half," there is an effing problem there. These are not things our players should be thinking or feeling or saying. Regardless of the outcome of the game, you as a team have a responsibility to your school to go out there every week and play the hardest four quarters of football you can. You can't ever let up. You can't ever give up. You can't ever allow yourself to sit there after a game and think, "Damn, they just wanted it more than we did." You go to Notre Dame. Everyone wants to beat you, even when you're awful. You always have to want it more.

I don't understand.

Is it the coaching? Is it?

I couldn't tell you. Nor can I say if Charlie Weis's job is actually in jeopardy. Don't believe everything you see on ESPN. I don't care what the talking heads seem to think. It's up to Jack Swarbrick, and all he's said so far is that he will be making an evaluation of the program following the season in the same manner he will evaluate every program after the conclusion of its season. And that is that, so there's no sense getting all riled up about how much it might cost to buy out Weis's ridiculous contract just yet.


Hard as it is to believe, we've still got another game to play this season. We don't yet know which game, but surely there will be a game, and surely winning it would be an epic struggle.

I hope--almost against hope--that we do manage to win whatever mediocre bowl game we get shipped off to. And I do hope for it to be mediocre. I'm tired of getting overmatched in bowl games that are too good for us. I don't want to extend our NCAA-record 9 straight bowl losses to 10. I've had enough of that, thank you.

Before we played Syracuse, the Sun Bowl said they'd still be interested in even a 6-6 Notre Dame team. It's looking less likely they'll pick us, though, as their ability to pick us hinges on the Gator Bowl's pick...and it frankly doesn't look like our team really belongs in a New Year's Eve bowl game any longer.

Other possibilities at this point are the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, possibly against BYU; the Texas Bowl vs Rice (in Houston); and the Hawaii Bowl vs (wait for it) Hawaii.

The rumor is that if we get picked for the Hawaii Bowl, the band will not be able to go. The payout for that bowl is less than $400,000 and it would cost nearly half that just for the band's airfare--which is disappointing, considering I would love nothing more than to spend part of my Christmas Break in Hawaii. Or any part of my life in Hawaii. I really want to go to Hawaii. I think if we get chosen for this bowl and the band does not get to go, we should raise a big stink about it and see if we can't get some funding. I think the team deserves our loving and supportive presence.

I also seem to remember ND signing some ridiculous contract stating that we get one million dollars every year we participate in the BCS, even if we don't get invited to a BCS Bowl (Orange, Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, National Championship). Where's that money going, pray tell? Or what about our six billion dollar endowment fund? What, you can't spare a small chunk of change from that for the Band of the Fighting Irish? Ridiculous.

As I seem to remember it, we just went to the Coliseum and completely showed up the Trojan "ass clown" marching band in their own stadium. We got applause from USC fans. We got cheers. We got a louder cheer than the Trojan band got by far, and furthermore, at pregame the crowd booed louder for our band than they cheered for their own band, so clearly we made much more of an impression. Plus our arrangement of Take On Me is better.

So in conclusion, the band is one of the greatest aspects of the college game. It would be a crime to rob the fans in Hawaii of the full college atmosphere. One marching band is just not enough. I bet most of them have never seen the Notre Dame marching band before, either. It would be a new and completely enriching experience for all. Plus it's in Hawaii.

Okay, enough of that. It's just as likely we'll go to San Diego instead.