Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Notre Dame 20, Boston College 16

They're fast....

They're bold...

They're high-flying -- they're odds-defying --

They're heart-stopping -- they're eye-popping --

They're *Golden*....

They're the

(Coming this fall to a stadium near you!)

Come see the team that conquered oceans, slaughtered water parks, and grappled the gridiron to wrest a pineapple trophy (and the nation's top linebacking prospect) from its manxome foe in the exotic kingdom of Hawai'i!

Come view the vortex of victory that vilified the voracious villains of Sparta, vanquishing their vile view that our venue was their vacation villa!

Come marvel over the Golden victory-Smiths who snatched glory out of thin air to swat away their .500 record against a stinging, pestering, festering foe!

Let us bow our heads in remembrance of the team that broke the 42-game win streak against our noble comrades from the Naval Academy...let us not forget the sorrow of Senior Day against Syracuse...let us lament the tears of our laconic leader following our loss to the lowbrow lugs of Los Angeles...

For the STREAK-BREAKERS are but a fledgling company, and they have many yards to cover before they can return true Glory to our trophy cases...

Hail to the Interceptors

So. Five turnovers isn't a bad way to go about winning a game. Especially when three of those came in the form of interceptions--two of them courtesy of the unstoppable inferno of testosterone that is Kyle McCarthy, and the game-winner courtesy of the barreling bone-crusher that is Brian Smith. Those three interceptions suggest that our pass-rush isn't just a whim of wishful thinking. The two forced fumbles (by a back who hadn't lost the ball in his last 356 carries) suggests that our fundamentals have upped the ante not only with tackling, but with stripping the ball.

The successful conversion of a 4th-and-17 by our opponent suggests that members of our secondary ought to go home and rethink their lives.

BC came into this game ranked 106th in passing offense, averaging 117 yards per game, and left Notre Dame Stadium with 279 yards through the air, including 10 passes of 20 yards or more.

It's great that our run defense is doing so well and all, but forcing teams to take to the air really only works in your favor if your secondary doesn't keep coughing up huge plays.

Giving up the big play has been a struggle for our defense all season long, but it does seem like our defense has improved a little bit in every game this season. We've tightened up our run defense. We've improved our fundamentals in tackling. We've given Manti Te'o more playing time. We've made some strides in our pass rush. We've forced some turnovers. We've managed to win more than one game because of our defensive play.

And now, for only the second time all season, we managed to hold our opponent to less than 20 points.

Horrific 4th-and-17 conversions aside, our defense pretty much gift-wrapped this game for our offense. They handed them five possessions to rack up the score against Boston College.

But apparently the defense used double-sided tape and superglue to gift-wrap the game, because the offense absolutely could not rip it open--even though, presumably, they were trying.

Pass on

This game was (technically) won through the air by both sides of the ball. 128 receiving yards and 2 touchdown passes for Golden Tate. Passes to 6 different receivers and a 66.6% completion rate for Jimmy Clausen. (Also, you know, over 100 yards on the ground for Armando Allen and some halfway decent clock control to win the time of possession battle.) According to Rivals.com, Jimmy and Golden are now the top QB-WR duo in the nation.

It seems astounding that this can be the case when it felt like the offense was trying really hard to lose for most of the game.

A safety in the first quarter?

Failure to convert a 4th-and-1 on the goal line?

Less passing yards for JimmayJimmayJimmay than for Old Fogey Freshman QB Dave Shinskie?

Five turnovers and only ONE of them was converted into any kind of points at all?

I don't know what to think about this. Is our offense just hungover from the loss to USC? (The players claim they're not, but, you know, sometimes they lie.) Did the injury of Robby Parris hurt us that much? Was Charlie a complete dumbass for calling that Wildcat play on the goal line instead of just QB sneaking it? (I suppose that's debatable. We all know how I feel about the Wildcat. But that prejudice aside--when you're direct-snapping it to Robert Hughes, you're not fooling anybody. I am not at all surprised that BC's defense picked up on that play and managed to stuff us. However, despite my disdain for the Wildcat, I do expect better things out of our O-line at this point. Also, it is difficult to argue against the decision to give the ball to Robert Hughes in a situation like that, particularly when you think about the absolutely absurd 2-point conversion he made against Washington.)

Some credit is due to the Boston College defense, I suppose, but frankly any offense that can rack up 27 points and several touchdown passes against USC's defense shouldn't be having fits and starts and failures against opponents like BC. I don't want to criticize Charlie's "dink and dunk" strategy here, because I am such a fan of the short passes. Also I think it's good for Charlie to force Jimmy to rein himself in before he turns into another Rex Grossman, whose entire strategy in life seems to be, "F*** it, I'm throwing the ball downfield."

Perhaps the biggest problem we encountered with the "dink and dunk" strategy was that most of our receivers didn't do very well after the catch. You get the ball in Golden Tate's hands, and he will rack you up some extra yards. But this is not necessarily true for most of our other receivers, and if you're throwing short passes all day long, you really NEED your receivers to step up and make those after-the-catch plays, because the secondary is going to be swarming all over them like a pack of evil invading ladybugs. Robby Parris has gotten better at after-the-catch plays this season, but unfortunately he was out for most of the game. Duval Kamara did a decent job as the #2 receiver, averaging 8 yards per catch, but his longest gain was only 12 yards. And overall our offensive strategy didn't seem to work that well, considering over half of our drives didn't even make it past the fifty-yard line.

I suppose you could argue that we've improved our production in the red zone, because only once did we get inside the twenty and fail to score. I mean, that's some sort of improvement. Or something.

But...come on, seriously? FIVE turnovers and all we walk away with is one lousy field goal? That's almost as bad as making it to the red zone five times and coming away without a single touchdown. Or maybe it's worse. I really can't decide.

All I know is we need Michael Floyd the way diabetics need insulin. It shouldn't be this way, not when Jimmy and Golden and Armando are all playing so well--but without him, it seems like our offense just isn't working quite right. I don't care what kind of rankings the Rivals people are giving our QB--we should be racking up five touchdowns against teams like BC. And we're not. So something needs fixing--STAT.

For ND

On the flip side of that...isn't it exciting that we've gotten to this place again? This, "damn our QB threw for a couple hundred yards with a 66% completion rate and our top receiver & RB had 100+ yard days--this is so PATHETIC, why aren't we doing BETTER?" place. We're almost back where Weis started, at "9-3 is not good enough." Because, for this team, 9-3 is NOT good enough. We're still only seconds (and one overtime) away from being undefeated. We're still breaking streaks. We're still finding ways to win.

And we are nowhere near reaching our potential.

So COME ON, Coach Weis. COME ON, team. We are this close--THIS CLOSE to being a great team again. I don't know what it's going to take--I don't know what we have to do--but someone has to do SOMETHING to find that switch that will just TURN--US--ON.

I know that we've got it in us somewhere. I KNOW we've got the ability to play in every game the way we played in the Hawaii Bowl. And I keep thinking--maybe this week, maybe THIS week, maybe NOW we'll break out and make it happen. Maybe maybe maybe. Waiting waiting waiting.

We are sitting on this enormous effing geyser of potential and it JUST -- NEEDS -- TO -- E -- RUPT.

It's almost enough to make you want to strangle something. Possibly a giant stuffed animal in the shape of a cougar. (I mean, I wouldn't want to hurt a real animal.)

AD's Aweigh

So, in other news, let me just take a moment to vilify our Athletic Director.

Dear Mr. Swarbrick,


Look, I know you've got it in your head that all Notre Dame fans are all crazy-asses who want to be playing Top-10 teams every single week, every single season from now until forever, but that's just not true. We're not complete masochists. No one wants us to play, I don't know, Michigan followed by USC followed by Texas followed by TCU followed by Ohio State followed by Florida followed by Alabama followed by Boise State followed by Oregon followed by Iowa followed by Navy followed by LSU. I mean, maybe I'd put that kind of schedule together on NCAA Football just for shits and giggles. And I'm not saying it wouldn't be totally badass to see all of those teams on our schedule at some point. But all of them on the same schedule? Right in a row? We would die. Any team would die. Everyone would be injured by the end of the season. It would be worse than playing in the SEC. And no one actually wants that. (You know, unless our team magically transformed into the best team in the entire history of college football and kicked the crap out of all those other teams. But that's called "fantasy land," and contrary to popular belief, Notre Dame fans do not actually live there.)

What we DO want--and what you currently seem to be failing to grasp--is to at least have a STRONG schedule every season. Regardless of the ability of our team to compete for a national championship every single year, we do expect to have a schedule every single year that would actually allow us to be considered for a berth in the national championship. And seeing as we're an independent and all--you may have noticed--we are actually free to schedule games with ANY SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY, so the fact that you are wasting perfectly good game slots on schools like Tulsa and Western Michigan kind of breaks my brain. You want to extend the Purdue series to 2021? Fine. There's a history there. You want to give us opponents like Nevada to open the season and opponents like UConn for Senior Day? Sure. Whatever.

But how the hell is our team supposed to be ready for an away game at USC when the five games leading up to it are WMU, Navy, Tulsa, Utah, and Army? With any kind of luck, ONE of those teams might be ranked by the time we face them. And I know most of our O-line is leaving next year and all, but you know, I'm pretty sure Jimmy signed up to win a national championship. And I just don't see how that schedule is going to help us make any kind of case for a national championship at all. And how the hell are we supposed to ever get any ND team in shape for a national championship game again if we don't give them a proper lineup of opponents to battle with? Even if, hypothetically, we play like geniuses next season and steamroller over every single opponent 56-0 on our way out to California to clash with USC...even if we snap the streak against the Trojans and pull out the regular season undefeated for the first time in FOR-FREAKING-EVER...even if such a glorious and unlikely thing does happen...then we've still got to face some powerhouse team in the national championship game, probably from the SEC or the Big 12, and...we just won't be conditioned for it. You simply cannot come out of a schedule like ours prepared to face an opponent that's managed to survive the gory bloodbath that is the SEC. I mean, helloooo, did you watch Notre Dame play in the Sugar Bowl?

Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you are setting us up to lose.

And that--that is despicable.

If you ever stoop so low as to schedule a I-AA team (or whatever the hell it is they're calling them these days), I will be sending an actual letter to your actual office that will probably qualify as actual hate mail. And it will be interesting to see whether the alumni actually let you keep your job.

Love, Me

Onward to Victory

The 25th-ranked Irish (#23 in the BCS rankings!) are headed out to sunny San Antonio this week to play unranked Washington State (1-6).

If there was ever a time to lay a smackdown on an opponent...that time is now. Washington State's closest game of the season was their 30-27 victory over SMU. Their closest loss was a 14-27 decision against Arizona State. Most of their games have been total blowout losses, and there's no reason the Irish shouldn't be able to blow the game wide open against them, too. It won't necessarily be a cupcake game, but there's no reason we shouldn't walk out of the Alamodome with a solid, convincing victory on our hands.

We're facing another true freshman QB this week, Jeff Tuel, and he just put up 2 TDs and 354 yards through the air against Cal -- his best performance of the season and the best by a Cougar freshman since Drew Bledsoe in 1990. Our secondary better watch out, or Washington State could make this game way closer than it needs to be.

However, it looks like most of Washington State's weaknesses are things our team can exploit:

-Our offense needs to score often and early. WSU has been wildly outscored by its opponents in the first quarter this season, 112-3. There's no reason we shouldn't be able to do the same.

-Their run defense has been described as "non-existent." They gave up 309 yards on the ground to Cal; the Bears averaged 7.9 yards per carry. Should be a big day for Armando Allen, and I'm looking forward to seeing more production out of Robert Hughes, James Aldridge, and possibly even Golden Tate. (I strongly suspect Charlie of using the Wildcat formation during this game. I guess we'll see how it goes.)

-Their special teams (described as "a mess") gave up a 54-yard kickoff return and a 76-yard punt return against Cal. Let's hope Theo Riddick, Barry Gallup Jr., and Golden Tate all get some good blocks, because I'm hungry for a special teams touchdown. It's been quite a drought.

Now that we've got the Boston College monkey off our backs, hopefully this will be a good week for the team to refocus, get organized, and play a solid, dominant game.

After all, I expect nothing less from the STREAK-BREAKERS!!!!!!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I was going to post this last night but a skunk got in my way

USC 34, Notre Dame 27


That was.

On Waking up the Echoes, the ’77 Green Jersey game, and the Pain of Unfulfillment

So. All the buildup, all the momentum, all the confidence, all the cheering thousands seemed to fall nicely into place for this game. A Trojan horse was built for the pep rally. Rocket Ismail brought down the house (or…the sky, I guess, considering it was outside) with his “GO GET IT” speech. Eric Olsen shredded the words of the Observer staff writers who predicted a Notre Dame loss. Students attacked the campus sidewalks with chalk. Fans poured out to greet the Trojan buses. The team, looking more solid and more confident than I’ve seen them in a long time, appeared absolutely ready for this game. The crowd came out ready for a WIN. And until that clock hit 0:00 (TWICE), the team did not give up.

But there was no fourth-quarter miracle comeback this time.

The captains didn’t come pouring out of a Trojan horse on the field and the team didn’t don the green jerseys and we didn’t wake up the echoes of ’77, and our five billion visiting recruits didn’t get to see us knock off a top-10 team at home.

And that’s, you know, not okay, but that is that.

I’m glad we didn’t wear the green jerseys. This was a game that didn’t need green jerseys. This game was about proving something—proving we know how to win no matter the circumstances, the deficit, the color of our uniforms.

Which, you know, didn’t work out in the end, but all I’m saying is I think we had the right attitude in our approach to this game: that we are a team which needs no green jerseys to compete with USC.

ESPN will be saying all sorts of things about us, I’m sure, but I don’t care to listen to them. I don’t really care about their opinions or their two-bit analysis based on approximately 30 seconds of highlight reels. All the unimportant hype leading up to this game—the hype that had to do with Charlie’s job and Jimmy’s Heisman candidacy and blah blah blah rather than the hype that actually mattered, aka the efforts of the student body and the Irish nation in general to make sure the team felt their support—will be discussed ad nauseum, I’m sure.

The commentators were trying to say during the broadcast that this game will show whether Notre Dame can compete with Top-10 teams or not, whether they’re “back,” whether they’ve “arrived.”

But in this crazy-ass perpetual motion machine called life, we’ve never arrived; we’re always arriving. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how good people think you are—every week you’ve got to go out and prove what you are. That’s college football. Every seven days, there’s a new world order.

So, okay, maybe we’re down this week. But we’ve got a lot of football left to play and a lot of things left to prove and if you think this season and this team and this quarterback and this coach are going to fall apart because of what happened Saturday, you are a damn fool.

This is not to say that I am not crushed.

This is just to say that I am still in one piece, and I believe the team is, too.

Did you see how excited USC was to win that game? We effed their shit up, and they know it.

It was not easy. We did not go down quietly. We made their defense give up things (like touchdown passes) that they haven’t given up all season. Once again, in the clutch, when all we needed was for our defense to do something miraculous, they came through. Once again, in the final seconds, we were still pounding at the door with a battering ram.

Only this time, the door did not break.

The Michigan game we lost despite our clear superiority of play. We lost because we couldn’t hold on to the damn ball long enough. We lost because our defense was not yet the SuperClutch Club (still only available in the 4th quarter & beyond).

This game we lost because…well, we just lost.

I’m not going to whine about the officials, although it is tempting. They did a piss-poor Pac-10 job as usual, failing to call flagrant face masks and making up for it later by throwing flags down on only vaguely apparent mishaps. I could also argue for Kyle Rudolph’s endzone grab to be an actual TD, but…well, apparently the rule book is against me and there’s really no point now. The officials did not win or lose this game. They even rightfully managed to give us one second back on the clock and one last chance for a miraculous Overtime Spree of Glory.

But it was not to be.

How can I say this? We got outplayed.

Not by a whole helluva lot sometimes, but, well, we did. Their front four tore holes in our O-line all day long. Our secondary struggled like Houdini in a straitjacket against the pass. Our special teams, I’m glad to say, were decent—but then that blocked PAT.

I guess people are going to try to say that our team got “exposed”—Jimmy got exposed, our offense got exposed, whatever. I mean, like I said I’m not going to pay attention to ESPN / the AP / sportswriters in general this week, so I don’t really know what they’re saying. Certainly the Heisman committee is going to take a few steps back from the Jimmy-hype, but then again I stopped caring what the Heisman committee thought after they gave the trophy to Troy Smith. I might look at the polls later, but I’m not expecting gossamer reviews there, either.

So. We faced a top-10 team, and we fell just short. I’m sure people are thinking, DAMMIT if we’d just kicked that field goal, and then gotten that PAT….

But I’m glad we didn’t kick that field goal. I’m glad Charlie went for it on fourth down. I’m pissed as hell that our O-line didn’t make it happen—there’s no excuse for that. I don’t care who we’re playing. I don’t care if it’s the New York f*ing Giants—you go out there and you get that yard like your ability to procreate depends on it.

However. If the team didn’t prove that it deserves to be shot up in the rankings and clawing for a spot in the Top 10 just yet, they did prove that the era of USC dominance is waning. Or so I think.

Here's a helpful graph from Her Loyal Sons to better display what I'm talking about:

On that last drive, we successfully chewed up four minutes on the clock and brought the game down to the very last second, with the ball in our hands and on our terms. (For the most part.) In the last two plays from scrimmage, though, we got outplayed. They knew we were going to pass, and the D-line banged up on our O-line like they’d been doing all day (though I don’t think, this season, the term “manhandled” is applicable) while the secondary stuck on our receivers like flypaper. That Rudolph almost-TD catch gets more and more painful every time I think about it.

Nevertheless, we were not defeated in this game until that final (final) second ran off the clock. And not once did the players look defeated until it was all done.

And that is everything. That says everything.

This team really, truly, without a doubt, thought they were going to win. Knew that they could win. And proved that they could. They will not stop fighting until the final whistle blows. And that, right there, is the mark of a real team.

There is a sort of strange numbness in me right now. I did not expect them to lose. Call me a delusional Notre Dame fan if you will, but I think the team proved on Saturday that beating Southern Cal is not a matter of delusional fantasies. It was a real and tangible possibility right up until that last play from scrimmage when time ran out on us.

Unlike the Michigan game, I’m not going to say we should have won. But unlike the last six years out of eight, it was not a matter of there-was-no-effing-way-we-could-have-won.

we’re in ur win/loss record, screwing up ur dynasty
..........aka let’s talk about recruiting

I didn’t keep my eyes on the TV to see if they showed the alma mater, or to see how the team/student section responded to the alma mater at the close of the game. I’d imagine there was a certain amount of frustration and despondency. But I do not expect that there was heartbreak. I don’t think this game should break the team and it shouldn’t break the fans, either. Heartbreak is 2005. Heartbreak is having the game sealed shut and then having victory snatched away from you.

We never had the lead in this game, so there was nothing to take away from us. Only something that we failed to earn.

And my hope is that this makes the team more pissed off and frustrated than defeated. Knowing we were inches away—knowing what we’re capable of—

We’d better go out there and pound it to those Backup College bums like the bunch of second-rate, mealy, yeast-filled lumps of pizza dough they are.

Or at least, that’s what we need to do. We need to stop being the team that makes clutch drives in the fourth quarter and start being a team that kicks so much ass there’s not even a need for a fourth quarter. How about 35-0 by the end of the third? That sounds like a good score to me. Let’s give Dayne Crist some more playing time. That sounds even better.

Anyway, getting around to the main reason I brought up the alma mater: this is one of the many things that impresses the hell out of recruits. Win or lose, the entire student body stays to the end and sings the alma mater with the team. That’s respect. That’s solidarity. That’s family.

That’s Notre Dame.

So…I think the loss will be a little bit of a blow to our recruiting chances. But with the way the fans were, with the way the team played to the end of the game, and with the kind of atmosphere you get from being at a Notre Dame game in general…I don’t think the day will be a total failure as far as recruiting goes. But time is quickly running out on Charlie’s ability to recruit in general.

Let’s backtrack for a moment on that.

I’ve been re-reading bits of Murray Sperber’s Shake Down the Thunder. He makes a good point that Notre Dame’s pool of talent has suffered in the last decade (or so) because of our commitment to not admitting complete and total dumbasses / convicts / etc. into our school. (Randy Moss is the example Sperber used regarding the end of the Lou Holtz era.) Notre Dame worked hard for half a century to change its image from “Football U” to “New Ivy”—and judging by our student-athlete graduation rate and the administration’s demand that athletes suffer through classes like Calculus along with the rest of the student body, we intend to stay that way. Which is one of the many things I love about Notre Dame.

However, Sperber rightly points out that you do tend to lose out on some of the top talent in the country when you’re not willing to make concessions, such as inventing fake majors and allowing players to stay on for a final semester enrolled only in one class of ballet.

Sperber also noted that the advent of widely televised college football in the 80’s and 90’s neutralized ND’s advantage in nationwide recruiting, as other teams—particularly those ranked in the Top 10—gained more coverage on programs like SportsCenter and rose into the national spotlight.

The recruiting woes extended from the end of the Lou Holtz era right up until approximately now in the Weis tenure. This is not to say we didn't have any good players during those years--we just didn't have enough.

The recruiting landscape changed when Charlie came into town waving his four Superbowl rings, turning 50% passers into Heisman candidates and signing the #1 recruits in the country at completely ostentatious press conferences involving spiky hair, stretch limos, and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Whatever Charlie’s faults, they are not in the area of recruiting.

However. Time is running out on Charlie’s ability to make all the promises he’s been making to lure these top recruits to good ‘ol ND. It’s easier to nab talent when you can promise them lots of playing time right away and the opportunity to turn a team around.

But see, now we’ve got the talent. Now we’ve got some depth on the roster. Charlie’s been here for five seasons—all these players are his recruits. And we’re still not winning games like the one against SC.

If Charlie wants to keep landing the kind of recruits he’s been landing (Manti Te’o, for example), we’d better start throwing down some more performances like we did in the Hawaii Bowl.

Also, it’d be great if, before the fourth quarter comes around, he gets some more production out of the talent he’s got. Otherwise we’re going to start experiencing the same kind of talent drain we did in the late 90’s, we’ll be out another coach, and we’ll be right back at square one—with no Lou and no championships and no jeweled shillelaghs.

on the continuing battle against turf toe and other deficits

So, I wish I’d seen a little better production out of our offensive line, but I do have some positive thoughts on the offense:

-when we absolutely needed to make it happen in the fourth quarter (right down to the last possible second), we did
-we successfully ran the ball on a number of occasions, got more than one 10+ yard run out of Armando Allen, and on one scoring drive we got three first downs in a row
-the five sacks the defense recorded on Jimmy did little to prevent our offense from continuing to drive the ball down the field and score
-after failing to convert the 4th-and-1, the O-line sat down on the benches, gathered themselves, went out there and helped us score two more touchdowns

There were some positive things in the numbers, too. We got more first downs than they did—27 to their 21. We won the time of possession battle by a slim margin—31:11 to 28:49. We had zero interceptions to their one.

But those stats really don’t mean very much when you consider the other numbers. We had less than 100 yards on the ground, less than 300 yards passing, and only 367 yards of total offense to USC’s 501. (Golden Tate still had 100+ yards receiving, but, you know, he’s Golden Tate. Robby Parris got close, but no cigar.) We averaged 4.9 yards per play to their 8.1. We only converted 35% of our third downs.

Even so, the score ended up close, and in the stats, it shows. Trips to the red zone: USC – 5 chances, 5 scores. ND – 4 chances, 3 scores.

And just like that, we’re at 4-2.

I know it’s no use lamenting the loss of Michael Floyd, but damn. USC should be sending a letter of thanks to the Michigan State Spartans. No defense wants to see Floyd and Tate and Rudolph spread across the field. You put Michael Floyd in there, and suddenly your coaches are a lot less in the mood for slip ‘n slide and a lot more in the mood for drilling a pass rush that will knock the earwax out of you.

Not that that will save you from the Man, the Mystery, the Mohawk that is Michael Floyd. But you can always try.

Anyway, the point is—

Once again, we’ve proved that there is no such thing as a safe deficit for our team in the fourth quarter. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Even against one of the toughest defenses in the country.

That alone says a lot. Can we compete against a top-10 team? Yeah. We can. And can we win?


I’d have to say that our offense v. their defense was the more anticipated matchup of this game, and when it came right down to the wire, their defense won out. 55% passing, 2 TDs, and 5 sacks is not exactly a red-letter day for Jimmy and the O-line. No video game stats against this defense—which is more or less to be expected, I suppose.

That said, I was more disappointed in the O-line than I was in Jimmy. I expect more out of a group of veteran players who, most of the time, were only dealing with a four-man rush. You should not be giving up sacks to a four-man rush. Not when you’re all the size of Mack trucks. (Never mind that the USC players often seem to be a variety of slightly bigger Mack trucks.)

I do have some theories on this, though. Here are my vague thoughts on the O-line…

I’d imagine the O-line struggled a little bit simply because this is the best defense we’ve faced all season. This was their first big test under their new line coach, and, much like that 4th-and-1 we failed to convert, they came up a little short.

As previously mentioned, though, it is a mark of how much the team has improved that two of the drives which started with sacks resulted in touchdowns. It is also impressive to note that the same team which failed to score a touchdown against USC for nine consecutive quarters scored the first touchdown pass against SC’s secondary all season. (Because Golden Tate is a BEAST.)

I don’t want to look too far in the future, but thinking about next season—we’ll be losing a good number of starters from our O-line, but all the returning linemen will have a solid year of Coach Verducci under their belts. I think Coach Verducci’s done well with the line so far, and I think another year of consistency in coaching and drilling fundamentals will do a world of good for the next time ND faces a top-10 team.

Also I think it’s important to note that ND only had 4 penalties yesterday (to USC’s 8), so we played a much, much cleaner game than we have been. (Also, you know, the Pac-10 officials were blind and kept missing things. Which occasionally worked in our favor.) Anyway, if memory serves me correctly, only one of those four penalties was holding. Which is good, in a sense.

However…I am partially convinced that the O-line’s play against the four-man rush suffered not only because of the level of talent on USC’s squad, but also because our line has been drawing a lot of holding penalties this season, and I’m going to guess that on Saturday they were trying really, really hard not to draw any more. Which to me points to a breakdown in fundamentals. I mean, I have no experience as an actual offensive lineman, of course, but it seems to me that, when it comes down to potentially allowing a sack vs. drawing a holding penalty, that’s basically equivalent to winning your match-up with good fundamentals vs. drawing a holding penalty.

So if we’re not drawing penalties and we’re allowing sacks and everything I said in the above paragraph makes some sort of sense…we must be choking it up on fundamentals somewhere down the line.

Of course, I’m no expert on O-line play, so my theories could be entirely wrong. But those are my theories, anyway.

i love you, then i hate you. then i hate you, then i love you.
aka defense it would be great if you would stop letting our opponents into the endzone.

So. Our opponent scored 30+ points. Again.

And our defense came up with some big-ass plays right at the very end of the game. Again.

Why can’t the defense that forced 3-and-outs and two field goals in the first half of the game and made a clutch interception in the fourth quarter show up for the entire game? (Pause for a shout-out: thank YOU, Gary Gray, for saving our asses and giving us the chance to take the game right down to the wire. Again.) You can make goal-line stands against teams like Washington, but notsomuch USC.


I mean, there were some good things. We got three sacks. Eight different players recorded tackles for a loss. As requested, other members of the team learned how to tackle. Three players managed to finish above Kyle McCarthy this week in total tackles: Manti Te’o and Brian Smith both had eight and Gary Gray had six. McCarthy finished with an unusually low five (tying him with Kapron Lewis-Moore for the week).

Also, for most of the game, we did seem to shut down the run. There is something to be said for a defense that holds Running Back U to 121 yards rushing and Joe McKnight to less than 80 yards on the day. (Though let’s not talk about those long runs we gave up just now.) We did force the Trojans to take to the air.

Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to slow down their offense very much, considering that two different receivers had 100+ yard days and Barkley was 65% passing with 380 yards and 2 TDs. So I guess our pass rush / secondary / defensive scheme in general needs some work. (Seriously, who are these effing freshmen quarterbacks and why are they so much more mature than Jimmy was?)

Probably it is important to point out here that USC’s offensive line has accumulated the second-most starts in college football – right behind Notre Dame’s. So Barkley had some decent protection in the pocket, especially considering how apparently anemic our pass rush has become.

So here’s my wish for the rest of the season: let’s hold all of our remaining opponents to less than 30 points a game. Including obnoxious teams from Boston and teams that run the option and teams that did not deserve to win in triple-overtime last year. Think you can handle that, guys?

Great. Thanks.

So…the future

I’m coming home this weekend for the Boston College game.

I’ve got absolutely nothing to say in preparation for this game except that this is still a season for breaking streaks and those feathered fools are going to get what’s coming to them.


(Note: Regarding the title of this post... Last night, I was on my way over to the building where I get wireless so I could post this note, and I encountered one of our resident skunks sniffling around outside the building. Needless to say I backtracked quite quickly, before the skunk could feel even the least bit threatened. And so here we are with this post on Tuesday, several days too late to be of any consequence. But whatever. Also, true to my word, I still have not checked the polls or read a single word regarding the matchup on Saturday. So if there's anything really crucial I missed out on, let me know I guess.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

One Last SC week thought before it all goes down

this is not a poem....these are just my thoughts.

It is a Football Friday

the night before we play the Trojans.

There is a Trojan horse sitting out on Irish green right now

while there is a pep rally going on.

And everything in me is telling me that the Irish nation is going to pull out the upset

like they haven't done for decades,

and that the world must be in chaos

because i am here

and not where tens of thousands of bleeding Irish faithful



in light of my inability to change my own circumstances

and the fact that a victory tomorrow will be glorious no matter what continent i am on

and knowing that there will be thousands of other Irish faithful trying to catch the game online,

all around the world

let me just say,

that i am thrilled to be living in the computer age

the age of television

and the age of Notre-Dame-is-a-global-brand

because everyone in the world

(if they know us at all)

can tell how special we are.

And whatever happens,

we are the Irish nation--

a country unto ourselves

that no one can match

or touch

or clobber with a jeweled shillelagh.

Go. Irish.

BEAT TROJANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10 Day Countdown to ND vs USC

.....at the very last minute.

So, just in case you're procrastinating...

I figured a 10-day YouTube countdown was a good way to get myself pumped for the SC game, considering I can't be out at 2AM writing things on the sidewalks and all.

Here's the countdown, for your pleasure:

10. SI Photo Gallery --
Top 10 moments in the ND/USC rivalry:

9. 1973 -- Eric Penick's 85-yard touchdown run against the Trojans:

8. 1986 -- during the decade of dominance -- Milt Jackson TD catch:

7. No. 1 Notre Dame vs No. 2 USC, 1988. Video proof that "V for Victory" actually means "#2 behind the Irish." I can't tell what I like more about this video, the cheesy music or the 80's cheerleader hairdos....

6. "The Greatest College Football Rivalry" Fan-made video leading up to this year's matchup...I found it pretty entertaining. Though I maintain that USC doesn't actually have 11 national championships, and also that ND deserves to have 8 Heisman trophies. But whatever.

5. Old School... The ND/SC rivalry in 1946, 1947, and 1948.

4. Continuing the Old School history... #1 ND vs #17 USC in the 1949 matchup

3. GET ANGRY -- 1971 BRAWL between the Trojans and the Irish...

2. Get ready for REVENGE... The painful 2005 loss that the Pac-10 refs will never be able to give back to us no matter how many "Bush Push" penalties they fail to call on us against Washington.

1. Classic 1977 Green Jersey game -- including the epic Trojan horse:


Saturday, October 10, 2009


A weekend in the fall without a Notre Dame football game? What is the world coming to?

This is one of my least favorite weeks of the season. And one of the most important.

Bye week.

To shake off some of the blues, I'm going to do what I always do on the weekends: write about football.

To start off, let's do a little review.


(How much attention have YOU been paying this season?)


1. Jimmy Clausen has now thrown for the most yards in a single game by a Notre Dame quarterback.

2. Both times a Notre Dame player has been nominated as an AT&T All-America Player of the week this season (an award decided entirely by fan voting), the Notre Dame player has won.

3. Notre Dame has an equal number of wins over teams with winning records and teams with losing records.

4. Both Boston College and USC have six straight wins over the Irish.

5. The Irish are ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense.

6. Brady Quinn is still sexy.

1. When was the last time Notre Dame was 4-1 and did not appear in the Top 25 rankings?
b) last season
c) 2001
d) 1967

2. Which of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents does NOT have a winning record?
a) Pittsburgh
b) Navy
c) Washington State
d) UConn

3. In which game did Notre Dame fail to rack up more yards of total offense than its opponent?
a) MSU
b) Washington
c) Michigan
d) Purdue

4. During which quarter has Notre Dame scored the most points throughout the season?
a) First
b) Second
c) Third
d) Fourth

5. Who has the second-most tackles on the team behind Kyle McCarthy (who has 49)?
a) Robert Blanton
b) Harrison Smith
c) Manti Te'o
d) Brian Smith



1. Jimmy Clausen has now thrown for the most yards in a single game by a Notre Dame quarterback.
FALSE. Jimmy is one of only three Irish quarterbacks to have thrown for over 400 yards in a single game, and one of only two to have thrown for over 400 yards more than once in his career (the other being absolutely the most beautiful Notre Dame passer in the history of the universe, aka Brady Quinn). His 422 yards last Saturday against Washington put him in 7th place in the Notre Dame record books. Joe Theismann still holds the all-time single-game passing record. He racked up 526 yards through the air on November 28, 1970 playing against the Trojans in the Coliseum. (The day a Notre Dame quarterback does THAT again, I'll be able to die happy.)

2. Both times a Notre Dame player has been nominated as an AT&T All-America Player of the week this season (an award decided entirely by fan voting), the Notre Dame player has won.
TRUE. Jimmy Clausen won the award after his ridiculous performance and 303.7 passer efficiency rating in the Nevada game, and Golden Tate won it this week after racking up 244 receiving yards (the most by an ND receiver since Jim Seymour's school-record 276 yards against Purdue in 1966) and making a really spectacular head-over-heels catch that landed him a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated.

I like how anytime anything's decided by fan voting, Notre Dame players pretty much dominate every other player on every team ever.

3. Notre Dame has an equal number of wins over teams with winning records and teams with losing records.
FALSE. Notre Dame hasn't had a victory over an opponent with a winning record all season. However, all but one of our upcoming opponents have winning records, so starting next week with USC, we have a chance to change that--and, by the grace of God and a defense that learns how to tackle, possibly even claw our way back into the rankings.

4. Both Boston College and USC have six straight wins over the Irish.
FALSE. Well, and also TRUE. Both Backup College and the University of Spoiled Children have won six straight against the Irish--it's just that USC's also won seven.

We're a long way from the decade of dominance, aren't we? But one day we'll fumble our way out of the Dark Ages, I'm sure of it...you just sit tight and wait for the Return to Relevance. It'll be like our own personal Renaissance.

And it could start this very next weekend, if the Irish nation comes together and MAKES it happen.

5. The Irish are ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense.
TRUE. Last year, we were 65th. I have nothing else to say to this but HOLLA!

6. Brady Quinn is still sexy.
TRUE -- ALWAYS TRUE. If you didn't know the answer to this one, you are not my friend. Or my vague acquaintance. Or anyone who has ever been within earshot of me whenever Brady Quinn's name has been remotely mentioned.


1. When was the last time Notre Dame was 4-1 and did not appear in the Top 25 rankings?
Answer: b) last season

Hopefully you remember this, seeing as it was, you know, last season. Charlie's made some remarks recently that he thinks Notre Dame should be getting more respect in the polls. I understand where he's coming from, in the sense that USC, for example, is still number 7 and they recently choked one up to Washington. However, I also agree with the pollsters in the sense that, you know, we haven't beaten a single team with a winning record all season and our defense still doesn't know how to tackle and pretty much all of the squeaker games we won would not have been squeaker games if we didn't draw so many penalties / consistently fail in the red zone / let perfectly decent leads slip away / etc.

So, yeah, we're 4-1, but I don't think we should be ranked yet. We're only 11 seconds from being undefeated, but that's the point, isn't it? We're NOT undefeated. Our play has been slipshod, and we've got something to prove.

So let's go out there and prove it.

*EDIT* Oh hey--apparently we're RANKED NOW! Apparently some of the pollsters were listening to Charlie....?

2. Which of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents does NOT have a winning record?
Answer: c) Washington State.

Okay, so this one was pretty easy, but the point is that, at this point in the season, the opponents we've played have a combined record of 11-14. The opponents we've yet to play have a combined record of 24 - 11. USC, BC, Pitt, and Stanford (who saw that one coming?) are all going to be tough games. With the way this season is going, I wouldn't be surprised if all of those games (plus Navy) go right down to the wire.

Of course, I'm kind of hoping for a huge turnaround next week--for a clean game and a stunning, dominating, season-defining victory over USC, followed by hard-hitting, bladder-blasting, thunder-shaking, echo-waking blowout wins over the remainder of our weak-kneed, bug-eyed, fumble-footed, chicken-liver opponents.

But that could be just the side effects of the bye week talking.

3. In which game did Notre Dame fail to rack up more yards of total offense than its opponent?
Answer: a) MSU

The Spartans outgained us in total offense, 459-437, making them the only team this season to do so. Purdue was only twenty yards behind (383-363), and Michigan trailed by sixty (490-430). Washington's spread was only slightly wider at 73 (457-530). This alarming little statistic shows you just how much of the field our defense has been choking up to our opponents this season. We've been forced to try to outgain and outshoot our opponents in nearly every game this season just to eke out the win--and it's great that we've been able to, but it would be even greater if we didn't have to.

The only game in which the Irish truly dominated in total yardage was Nevada, where we slammed down 510 total yards of offense to the Wolfpack's 307. Even there, though, our opponent's total yardage is frustratingly high--Nevada averaged 5.5 yards per play, and if it weren't for their sheer ineptitude in the red zone (a la ND vs Washington), they could have made it a much closer game.

4. During which quarter has Notre Dame scored the most points throughout the season?
Answer: b) Second

GAME......... 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Nevada....... 7 21 7 0
Michigan...... 3 17 0 14
MSU........... 13 3 10 7
Purdue........ 3 14 0 7
Washington.. 3 13 3 11
TOTAL........ 29 68 20 39

Okay, so, this chart did not come out the way I intended, because apparently Blogger hates it when you attempt to format things, but whatever.

You can (sort of) see from the scoring trends that the Irish have dominated in the second quarter, and been weakest in the third quarter. This is a little alarming, is it not? Every week, it seems, our opponents come out after halftime with better, quicker adjustments. We fall behind in the third quarter and are forced to engage in an Epic Fourth Quarter Showdown, during which we score a lot to catch up, but also allow our opponents to score a lot to stay in the game. Notre Dame has been outscored in the fourth quarter by its opponents this season, by a combined 41 points to our 39.

Once again, it is encouraging to know that we can come from behind in the fourth quarter, and I would rather have this as a strength than a weakness--but I would also prefer that we not negate all of the points we score in the second quarter by playing a sloppy second half. There's really no need to allow our opponents to score so late in the game.

It's also interesting to note that the first quarter has been a bit of a low-scoring quarter for us--but not so much for our opponents. Purdue, Washington, and Michigan all scored touchdowns in the first quarter (Michigan scored two), held the Irish to only field goals to open the game. When the Irish managed to reach the end zone first, however, we held our opponents to 0 and 3 points in the first quarter. This isn't necessarily surprising; the first and third quarters are hardest on a defense, because those are the quarters they have to do the most adjusting to pick up whatever scheme the opposing offense is trying to throw at them.

What's surprising is that Charlie's offense has been so lackluster in its opening drives. All of those plays are scripted before the game even starts. What is it about our execution that's keeping us out of the end zone? Has Charlie's play-calling in the opening minutes become too predictable, or are we simply being too conservative because it's the first quarter? Perhaps the most logical explanation is that we have a field goal kicker Charlie finally trusts, so it seems like his general lust for the end zone and willingness to go for it on fourth down in the red zone has ebbed somewhat. Which is good for our kicker, but considering the close-game situations we've been getting ourselves into, not necessarily good for the overall scheme of the game.

Then, of course, there's the MSU game. Aganst MSU, our scoring trend was entirely reversed. We were strongest in the 1st and 3rd quarters, and allowed the Spartans to score 14 and 7 points in the 2nd and 4th quarters, respectively. I wonder if this has anything to do with Charlie's more aggressive approach toward the Spartans overall? You may recall that in his pressers during MSU week, Charlie talked about how he felt his team always got off to a slow start against the Spartans, so he was going to make sure they didn't do that this year--and they didn't. This strategy is likely what flipped our typical scoring pattern on its head.

It's difficult to say whether this is preferable to our typical game time pattern--either way, it seems, we're only really effective on the scoreboard in two quarters out of the four. And I don't have a problem with this, really, so long as we make sure that if we aren't scoring points, our opponents aren't, either.

But that's not the case. So...we've got issues. And despite the badass goal-line smackdown last week, they're mostly defensive issues.

5. Who has the second-most tackles on the team behind Kyle McCarthy (who has 49)?
Answer: b) Harrison Smith, 32 tackles

Next is Brian Smith, with 26 tackles, followed by Robert Blanton with 22. What's really distressing here is that, besides these players, no one else has recorded more than 20 tackles, and Manti Te'o, who has only been a starter for one game, already has 17 tackles--10 of which were recorded in last week's start. Against Washington, he and Kyle McCarthy had as many tackles combined as Robert Blanton's made all season.

This is great and all, but we're not going to have Kyle McCarthy forever. We're not even going to have Manti Te'o forever, because in the very near future he's going to peace out for a couple seasons to go on a mission trip (and then miraculously return, in the tradition of Julius Jones / the prodigal son / the Terminator).

Soooo I would advise the rest of the team to start wrapping up and tackling. STAT.

The pop quiz has now concluded. Moving on....

Why the Irish Should Beat the Trojans

So, I've been doing a little scouting on the Trojans. It's been painful trying to think of them in any context but SUCK IT TROJANS -- GO IRISH GO, but if I'm going to try to work out all the ways in which we're going to beat them, I have to know where their weak points are. So here are a few things to keep in mind as the game approaches:

1. The '09 Trojans are a far cry from the '05 Trojans.
The same is true for the Irish, of course, but with USC's slight downslide and ND's gradual rise, these teams are far more evenly matched than the polls seem to think. Or potentially, anyway. Everything this weekend hinges on the Irish playing to their potential--or at least somewhere far closer to it than they have been playing.

The '09 Trojans are a sloppy squad -- of late, they're struggling with penalties, throwing deep balls, third down conversions, and turnovers. They're a tough team and they'll play harder against the Irish than most of their Pac-10 opponents, but that doesn't mean the weaknesses won't still be there. The Irish should have plenty of opportunities to flummox the Trojans--and they, likewise, will have plenty of chances to stuff it to us.

2. USC went 3-for-9 and ZERO-FOR-TEN on third down conversions against Washington State and Washington, respectively
So, cue to the Irish defense: treat every third down like it's the most important play of your entire life. We have a propensity to give it up on third down (and, apparently, USC's defense has been struggling a bit with this too, so that's interesting), and against the Trojans, this SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. I think this is one of the keys to beating them, and if we can win the battle on third down (*ahem* including in the stands--I hope you all remember to bring your keys to this game), we'll be in good shape to take control of the rest of the game.

3. Go after the ball, go after the ball, go after the ball
The Trojans have been coughing up key turnovers in their past few games (particularly in the red zone vs. Washington). In addition to actually wrapping up and tackling, I'd like to see some more aggressive play from the defense in terms of going after the ball as well, instead of just lunging lustily at the ball carrier hoping a jar to the side or a nice dive to the waist is going to bring them down.

4. Disrupt the passing game
According to the "Trojan Football Analysis" blog (from which I've been stealing most of these SC-related tidbits), USC hasn't had much production from their deep passing game, largely due (I gather) to the "sore shoulder" injury of Matt Barkley. (Between Barkley's shoulder and Clausen's foot, I'll take Jimmy's turf toe any day.) If we can put some real pressure on the freshman, I think we can make him slip up and cause more grief for their deep balls. Also, I'd like to see some more proactive defense from our corners -- USC's thrown an interception in every game except their season opener against San Jose State. Let's see if we can't bump that number up a notch, shall we?

5. Run defense, beware
With the relatively lackluster performance of their passing game (they're averaging around 220 yards passing this season), it seems like the Trojans have been relying a bit more on their run game, which has been a bit of a weakness for Notre Dame these last several seasons or so. Last weekend we made Chris Polk look like a Heisman candidate. Let's NOT do the same against Running Back U. The Trojans are averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season--a bit lower than their ridiculous 6.4 mark from the 2005 Reggie Bush era, but still enough to give the Irish defense fits. Against teams with weak run defenses (like San Jose State and Washington State), the Trojans averaged 7.6 ypc. If we're going to win the battle on third down, we have to make sure they have third downs.

6. Buckle down, O-line, you're in for a bumpy night
For as wart-filled as their offense is, the Trojan D is looking pretty damn solid. The Trojans are #2 in the nation in sacks--they already have 21 on the season and they had eight against Washington State. Our O-line is much improved and Jimmy's gotten so much better in the pocket that I doubt they'll come anywhere close to this number against the Irish--but even so. With as close as these last few games have been, we have to avoid sacks at all costs.

Additionally, the Trojan defense has held their opponents to an average of only 64 yards rushing per game. Even with a recovered Allen, a returned Aldridge, and a good-form Robert Hughes, the O-line's really going to have to win the battles on the line of scrimmage for the Irish to have any kind of day at all on the ground.

Last but not least, USC has 3 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles this season, and their defense is averaging 8.6 points scoring per game (which is about 8 more points than Notre Dame's defense has scored all season). So for the love of Charlie's job, whatever we do, we've got to hold onto that football. No low snaps or sloppy handoffs or baubled catches please. And for the love of all that is emu-faced, NO BACKWARD PASSES.

This is one game that can't be won entirely in the locker room, on the field, in the playbook, or in the hands of Jimmy Clausen. This one's got to be won by the fans, too.

I can sense the hype building in South Bend already. I saw the Facebook group. I'm getting the vibes. The Irish nation is hungry for a win. The Trojans are thoroughly beatable. We've got a bye week to rest up and prepare. The agony of 2005 still cuts across our collective memory like a surgical scar. We've got the bloodlust--

And we're not going to take this one sitting down.

So, whatever you do next Saturday, DON'T--LET--UP. Don't stop yelling until you've got no voice left in you. If you walk away from this game still able to speak, you didn't scream loud enough. This team is working on a PhD in Close Wins, and everybody knows it. There's no reason not to scream until your head falls off.

I can't be in South Bend next weekend. My heart bleeds. I can't lend my voice to the cheering thousands.

But if you can--yell louder than you've ever yelled before. On every play, on every down, on every second the Irish are on defense. Don't stop yelling just because the play is over. Don't stop yelling just because the clock stopped. Keep going. They say Notre Dame stadium's not a tough place to play? Bullshit. I've heard the Notre Dame student section enunciate SUCK IT TROJANS with better diction than an elocution instructor. I've heard the Irish Band scream through the rain in MSU stadium to make the noise of several thousand raving Irish fans. I've been there to seen the crowd win the game.

Make it happen. Make it hell. Make the Trojans forget they have ears. Force false starts. Make them miss field goals. Get the adrenaline pumping so hard in our defense that they forget to feel pain.

Shake down the thunder.

Go out there and win just one more for the Gipper.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Fighting Irish

Notre Dame 37, Washington 30

"We're gonna go, go, go, go! -- and we aren't going to stop until we go over that goal line! And don't forget, men -- today is the day we're gonna win!" –Knute Rockne

This week, it’s all about school spirit. Yesterday’s game wasn’t anything worthy of a Grantland Rice article, but it’s certainly worthy of a few school song lyrics and some Notre Dame quotes of olde. (Yes, olde. With an “e.” The “e” is very important. It adds character and a sense of nostalgia.)

The Fighting Irish

“We will fight in every game, strong of heart and true to her name…”
–The Notre Dame Victory March

Those of you in the band possibly haven’t seen Notre Dame’s television ad this year, but it focuses on all of the research, academic work, and service work Notre Dame does to fight disease, social injustice, and poverty in various parts of the world. The tag line is, “We are the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.”

This fits in well with the theme of yesterday’s game—we are a team now that fights, fights, fights, and never stops fighting. We take games right down to the wire, and we prevail. (Never mind, for the moment, that these games shouldn’t be going right down to the wire—just go with me on this.) Charlie Weis said it himself in yesterday’s presser: “I’m just happy, really happy for these kids. They just keep fighting and fighting and fighting.”

Or, in the words of Golden Tate, “I guess we’re just a clutch team.”


Once again, the maturity, unity, and leadership of this team continues to shine through, prevailing over bad luck, dumbass coaching calls, and questionable officiating.

Gone are the accusations that Charlie Weis can’t win a close game. (Well. Maybe he can’t, but now he has players who want it badly enough and they sure can.)

Gone is the inability to win in overtime. (Screw you, last year’s Pitt game. You are but a bug splatter on the foggy windshield of my memory.)

Absolutely eviscerated are the questions about whether this is a team that can play with heart. (Our hearts are as big as the Emerald Isle, with hopes stretching higher than the top of Dublin’s Millennium Spire. …you know, metaphorically speaking and all of that.)

And gone is the tight pinch of dread in my chest that has me flashing forward to the worst of all possible outcomes (i.e., WE LOSE) before the game clock’s even run down to 5:00. (One of these days, football’s going to put me into cardiac arrest, but at least it won’t be with me thinking, “Oh BOLLOCKS, what a bunch of TOSSERS, we’re going to lose a bloody close game AGAIN!” ……because apparently my anguished inner monologue speaks with a British accent. Which is unfortunate, really, considering I’m cheering for the Irish.)

And, as the sign hanging in my bedroom back home so boldly proclaims, THE FIGHT IS BACK.

Fighting the Fight

”And when the Irish backs go marching by
The cheering thousands shout their battle cry
For Notre Dame men are marching into the game
Fighting the fight for you Notre Dame…”
-When the Irish Backs go Marching By

Notre Dame racked up 530 yards of total offense on the day, with over 400 of those yards snatched from the air by 6 different receivers. Despite this, however, it’s impossible to say that this game was won through the passing game.

This game was won on a miraculous 2-point conversion by Robert Hughes. This game was won on the swift feet of Golden Tate. This game was won in the trenches by a defense that put up monstrous, score-stopping goal-line stands worthy of the NFL. This game was won by the foot of Nick Tausch. This game was won by a replay official who decided Washington’s runner was down on the 1-yard line. This game was won by Jimmy’s presence in the pocket and the hands of Kyle Rudolph on a fourth-quarter TD grab. This game was won by the man, the mystery, the maelstrom that is Kyle McCarthy. This game was won by a 1-yard TD run in overtime by Robert Huuuuughes.

This game was won by the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame.

Now, that said, and as sweet as it sounds (and savor it, because it is)—WHAT THE HELL, GUYS? FIVE TRIPS TO THE RED ZONE AND YOU CAN’T SCORE AN EFFING TOUCHDOWN? I can’t decide which is more ridiculous, Charlie Weis’s prolific (well, theoretically prolific), pro-style offense failing to find the end zone on five trips into scoring territory, or scrambling QB Jake Locker’s inability to punch the ball into the end zone on six different tries from the one-yard line.

We could have easily made this a fifty-point game. It should never have been this close. Never.

Most of the write-ups after the game give credit to Washington’s defense for Notre Dame continually stalling in the red zone, but I don’t buy it. Not entirely. I believe they have a good red zone defense, but I don’t think they’re nearly as good as we made them look.

For example, on Notre Dame’s first drive, they had three absolutely beautiful run plays (including an impressive, well-timed, well-blocked reverse to Golden Tate that picked up 31 yards), then they get into the red zone and Charlie called a dumbass play from the Wildcat that went NOWHERE (three things on this play: 1. If we’re running the ball just fine not using the Wildcat, why-the-F would you switch TO the Wildcat? 2. We only run approximately 3 plays out of this formation, and in every game, the first time we run it, it’s always the same play: a direct snap for a run. Not a reverse, not a crazy fake followed by a TD pass, but a run. Don’t you think defenses have picked up on this by now? Washington’s clearly did. 3. If you will recall, on our next scoring drive, we AGAIN tried to run plays from the Wildcat in the red zone, and these were also hugely ineffective and led to another FG, so, you know, I don’t really care what the Wildcat did against Purdue, I still really hate this formation), then we got tackled for a loss (which, again, I’ll give credit to Washington’s defense for), and THEN we just straight-up dropped two passes, which, with the receivers we have (yes, even with Michael Floyd out), is just flat-out inexcusable. Jimmy’s throws, as a whole, are too accurate for our receivers to fail to make plays on them. (Hot damn. That whole paragraph was only two sentences. Thank YOU, parenthetical statements.)

Speaking of JimmayJimmayJimmay, I do have to give credit to the little pustule. He’s playing like the player we recruited him to be, he’s coming off like way less of a tosspot in his interviews, and though I’m still not convinced he knows all the words to the alma mater, at least now he knows Charlie’s playbook. Occasionally he still makes bonehead plays, such as throwing backward passes that are picked up off the ground by the opposing defense and run in for an easy touchdown, but I’m glad to say that these are uncharacteristic.

You can tell he’s really in control of things in the pocket—for example, his successful evasion of a sack to complete a pass to Tate in the second quarter, which Tate then took to the HOUSE using his killer speed, giving us our first touchdown of the day. These are the moments that mark the evolution of both Jimmy and Golden Tate. And it’s exciting to watch, even if Jimmy still reveals how much of a tool he is during his post-TD celebrations. (What’s with all this nodding and wiggling various fingers in the air after you throw a successful TD pass? Can’t you just jump up and pump your fist in the air like a normal person?)

What Though the Odds

“What tho the odds be great or small, old Notre Dame will win overall…”
– The Notre Dame Victory March

So, by “the odds” here, we’re talking about the referees. Pac-10 officials always do an, erm, interesting job officiating Notre Dame games, but toward the end of this game, I found some of the calls they made particularly intriguing.

I, like the announcers, was surprised that they ruled Chris Polk’s apparent TD run down on the one-yard line. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything, but I agree with the announcers that there wasn’t really incontrovertible video evidence that he was down before the ball broke the plane of the end zone. If they’d ruled the ball down on the one yard line and then had it challenged, I would agree with them upholding their call, but this way…. Well, like I said, I’m not complaining. It’s almost like football karma making up for the Michael Floyd TD they (not the Pac-10 officials specifically, but officiating crews in general) refused to give us against MSU. (Almost.)

But then it seemed like the refs felt like they short-changed Washington with that ruling, because then they tried to screw ND over. After our defense managed to pull out an absolutely STUNNING stop right on the goal line, the refs called a BS personal foul (“roughing the snapper”??? SERIOUSLY? I, like the commentators, did NOT see this happen) to give the Huskies another set of downs starting at the half yard line.

And, because the Irish defense apparently morphed into some sort of superhuman, ball-stuffing behemoth midway through the game—like an impossible mutant progeny of The Hulk and Optimus Prime—we stuffed them AGAIN.

Take THAT, Pac-10 Officials.

However, I thought the most intriguing call of the game came on that Hughes 2-point conversion run/shoving scrum-fest into the end zone. The officials looked like they were thinking about calling a penalty on that play (they even threw a yellow flag and everything), but apparently they decided they’d like to leave South Bend alive, so they thought better of it and ruled that whoops, sorry, that flag-throwing was just an accident. It’s like they were trying to give us our very own “Bush Push” play to take home and treasure. (*snort*) This, of course, in no way makes up for the bullshit ending of that 2005 USC game WHICH WE TOTALLY EFFING WON, but whatever. At least the Pac-10 officials still value their own lives, so that’s something.

Now, on to brighter and happier things.

The South Bend Cyclone Maelstrom

“A cyclone maelstrom can't be snared. It may be surrounded, but somewhere it breaks through to keep on going. When the cyclone maelstrom starts from South Bend, where the candle lights still gleam through the Indiana sycamores, those in the way must take to storm cellars at top speed.” –Grantland Rice

Okay, so I know I said yesterday’s game was nothing worthy of a Grantland Rice article, but there’s one exception to that rule, and that exception is the human maelstrom known as Kyle McCarthy.

This kid is sickeningly good.

Manti Te’o shined yesterday, racking up 10 tackles during his first start all season—and this still wasn’t enough to keep up with Kyle McCarthy. McCarthy finished the day with 12 tackles, 7 of them solo (which only 2 of Manti’s were).

How can you stop a beast? How can you contain a maelstrom?

You don’t. It contains you.

It contains you by wrapping up and tackling like nobody else on the team. It contains you by having a freakish sense of where the ball is going to be on almost every single play. It contains you by playing behind a defensive line that buckles down in the trenches on key plays. It contains you by stuffing your run game on the one-yard line over and over and over again. It contains you by leaping for interceptions (and near-interceptions) late in the game. It contains you by slamming into a receiver with enough force to jar the ball loose on a crucial 4th-and-19 OT play (with the help of Harrison Smith). It contains you by leading the team in tackles every single week for months on end.

And if the world were fair, and the voting for “the best player in college football” hadn’t become a glorified quarterback trophy, Kyle McCarthy should SO be on the Heisman Watchlist right now.

But no, apparently just being a maelstrom isn’t enough. Even if the Heisman committee did care about defensive players, he’d probably have to start running back all his interceptions for touchdowns and forcing more actual fumbles (instead of plays that are ruled not fumbles) and doing something visually thrilling on special teams, too, like blocking kicks or returning punts or something. Because it’s not enough to be good to win the Heisman—you have to be good with pizzazz.


But that will not stop Kyle McCarthy from continuing to be a human maelstrom, so I guess I can’t complain.

Rise and Strike

“Oh it’s a hike, hike, hike to victory
The call to rise and strike…”
—Hike, Notre Dame

So, it’s nice to see the motto on the front of The Shirt this year actually amount to something.

I know I’ve been maligning our defense these past couple weeks, but, you know, for the past couple games, they deserved to be a little maligned. This week, however, Jon Tenuta and his defensive staff, along with a truly awe-inspiring effort by the players, came through for us to make the win happen. Apparently all their work on fundamentals is paying off—-not so much with the whole wrapping-up-and-tackling thing (if our performance against Washington running back Chris Polk is any indication), but definitely with the fundamentals in the D-line, as evidenced by the previously-mentioned goal line stands. When push came to shove, we shoved back harder. I watched our defense do some things I truly did not think they were capable of. And in overtime, when we needed them to shove it down Washington’s throats—to rise and strike, essentially—they did. In a big way.

Now, if only this game would propel them to more consistency with, you know, TACKLING, I’d be really pleased. Maybe it’s just me, but after you run into a guy, he shouldn’t keep churning down field with the ball. He should be on his ass wondering what hit him. (1967. Stars and flowers and acid-trippy birds.)

Overall, though, our defensive play was light-years ahead of last week. Washington scored on their first drive, sure, but after that the Washington offense did pretty much NOTHING until the second half. Well, okay, they had that field goal right before halftime, but really, if it weren’t for the anemic play of our offense, including that one really unfortunate backward pass play by Jimmy, that wouldn’t have mattered at all—and there would have been no freaking overtime!!! (Oh, the possibilities….)

Enough of that, though. “What if”s don’t matter in football (just ask Michigan!), so moving right along…

Onward to Victory

“…while her loyal sons are marching onward to victory.”
—The Notre Dame Victory March aka The Legendary Notre Dame Victory March aka The Greatest of All University Fight Songs

And by this, we mean GO IRISH BEAT TROJANS!

Next week’s a bye week. This means I’ll be in football withdrawal, which means I’ll be writing a preview for the Notre Dame/USC game as a means of therapy. (And also possibly a pissy rant about how screwed up the Heisman voting has become.)

So until next week, kids…. $*@# IT, TROJANS – GO IRISH GO!