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!

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