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.


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