Sunday, September 20, 2009

In the Operating Room

Notre Dame 33, Michigan State 30

I need 40 CCs of Run Game, STAT. No, not that, not a handoff! Are you crazy, man? Can’t you see we’re going for a First Down here? Our quarterback’s toes are on the line! Give me the Wildcat—the WILDCAT! What do you mean, it didn’t work the last time? Are you in charge here? Inject it! Now…NOW!


Come on, heartbeat…come on…COME ON...


YES! Touchdown! Now we just need to—

What do you MEAN, they called it a Broken Collarbone? You can’t call a touchdown a Broken Collarbone, that’s absurd…that’s………

NO! Not another holding call!

More pena

All right—all right—third-and-fifteen—run it! Run!


Fine. Let the Defense handle it.


Doctor—doctor, there’s yellow oozing everywhere! There are too many penalties—we can’t possibly—

I don’t need your excuses! BLITZ!

But doctor, they’re burning our secondary like it’s a southern California wildfire! We can’t keep sending our linebackers up to—

There’s too much time left! We have to force the run! BLITZ, I say, BLITZ!

But doctor, the first downs are spreading! You know we can only stop these things in the early stages—if they get a first down, this drive will just keep going, and—



Every football season is like performing a long and complicated surgery. At the beginning, you cut the season wide open, and after mopping up the mess of nerves, depth charts, and asinine media coverage, you’re ready to begin. You know what’s waiting down the gullet—you just don’t know how the operation’s going to proceed.

This isn’t a routine colonoscopy, men! This is triple bypass surgery! At the end of the day, it’s not your asses [excuse me. your butts.] on the line—it’s your hearts! And the tortured hearts of those around you, waiting to see if you come out of the operation still beating.

We started out this season relatively clean—a routine incision, if you will, and a particularly accurate one at that. No response at all from Nevada the body. No excessive bleeding.

On the second one, though, we may have done some damage to the nerves. Fifteen stitches to Floyd’s knee. An unexpected air pocket through the hands of the offense. A wave of yellow pus that set us back nearly a hundred yards. A defense crucial operating instrument that bent and broke. A failure to adjust. A loss of control at the last possible second.

And this week, complications continued. More pus. More injuries. More frustrations.

But at least, this time, we managed to hold on.

The surgeon

I would just like to take this opportunity to say to you, Charlie, how much I hate the Wildcat formation. I find it frustrating, and I have never enjoyed watching it be employed by any team ever. It’s like slapping your quarterback in the face. (Not that Jimmy doesn’t need a good slap in the face, but that’s another matter entirely and has nothing to do with football.) I understand it’s different when your quarterback is, you know, injured, but if your QB can still play, give him the damn ball. Or, you know, give the backup QB the ball. But don’t go with this fancy direct-snapping shit and don’t put your QB on the field as a fake wide receiver and don’t keep running the same damn play out of the same formation.

And no—no, I DON’T care if we got a touchdown out of that formation, and I don’t care if Armando Allen’s pass to Robby Parris was successful or not, I will always hate the Wildcat, on pure principle. Alwaaaaaaaaaays.

(See, this is just one of those weird things. Probably the Wildcat helped us more than it hurt us, but I still hate it.)

I would also love to know why we ever, ever, EVER decide to run the ball on third-and-long. I’m not talking about 3rd-and-7 or something, I’m talking 3rd-and-15. Or 3rd-and-25. Or whatever the case may be. It’s stupid, and does it ever work for us? Not really. I don’t care if you think the defense won’t be expecting it—if they’re blitzing, there will be too many men up front for the running back to successfully evade all the linebackers (unless we have Julius Jones back on our team—do we have Julius Jones on our team? NO!), and if they’re not blitzing, the handoff will come soon enough for the linebackers to realize we’re not passing, so unless the defense is idiotic or we’ve got some spectacularly perfect blocking going on, our opponent will still have WAY too much time to shut the play down before it makes it past the first-down marker.

So what’s the strategy here, really? Cross your fingers and hope for good blocking technique on a team that seems to be lacking in certain fundamentals (i.e., catching the ball [Golden Tate :-( ], wrapping up & tackling [SERGIO BROWN])? Or are we maybe just vying for better punt position? (Laaaame sauuuuce.) I'd hate to accuse you of that, though, since you seem such a big proponent of Going for It all the time. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, look. It’s not that I don’t love Armando Allen or anything. Our run game / O-line has improved dramatically, and Armando’s gotten WAY better at breaking tackles, but even so, he’s not a superstar. He’s solid and dependable, but he’s not, you know, Adrian Peterson or anything. (Sigh.) And we’ve got a quarterback with a good arm. And we NEED the first down. So why run the ball? Why? WHY??????

It’s the same kind of WHYYY I have to ask late in the game when we’re at third-and-not-so-very-long and we need to run the clock down and we decide, just for shits and giggles, to THROW the ball. And it falls incomplete. (Re: our second-to-last drive in the game against Michigan.) Now, of course, I know the idea is for the receiver to CATCH the ball and all, but if what really matters right now is short yardage and running the clock down, why would you EVER throw the ball downfield???

This did not work for Peyton Manning in the AFC title game against the Steelers in the year Jerome Bettis got his Superbowl ring, and it will not work for you.

Here’s another thing I have also never understood about coaches—if you’re doing something, and doing it well, why stop? We dominated through the first quarter. Our offense was going, we were firing on all cylinders, we were scoring practically at will—

And then we changed things up. We said good-bye to our hurry up / 2-minute drill / whatever-you-want-to-call-it offense. And then we started doing stupid things like going for the Wildcat formation. And we lost our rhythm. And we started to draw penalties. And in the second quarter we started to crash and burrrrn.

Direct quote from the press conference:

Q. As a play caller, do you have to amp up your aggressiveness going into the game if it appears your defense isn't going to be able to shut people down?
COACH WEIS: You have to be ready for it. I'm always ready for it. We started off the game in no huddle, spread 'em out. It was a very easy explanation for that. For four years I've been here, we started off slow against them every time, just playing normal football. Then we've rallied. When we have rallied, we've rallied spreading them out. So I just figured we'd take the opposite tack and spread 'em out early. You have to be ready in case that's the way the game plays out.

Okay, so, I respect that strategy. But what I don't get is...if you’re playing an opponent like MSU and you have every reason to believe the game’s going to go down to the wire, why not rack up as many points as you possibly can until the defense starts making you pay? If you know "spreading 'em out" is what's going to work--WHY NOT KEEP DOING IT?

Because we didn't--we changed our scheme up. Even the commentators remarked on it. And, okay, maybe this had something to do with our offense reaching the end of the 15 or so “scripted plays” Charlie prepares for the beginning of every game, but come on. Show me what you’ve got, Mr. Offensive Guru. Surely you can think faster than that.

I mean, I know I’m no head coach or anything, but isn’t part of the strategy of the Weis offense to run the same plays out of many different looks? And to run many different plays out of the same looks? You don’t actually have to change it up to make the defense think you’re changing it up. And if you’re ramming it down their throats, don’t decide to just sit on your heels and take what the defense gives you. Keep ramming it down their throats until they knock you back on your heels.

And if you’re worried your offense can’t keep up the pace for four quarters, then I guess you didn’t condition your offense well enough.

You’re killin’ me, Petey, you’re killin’ me.

Scalpels and other instruments of precision

Dear Golden,

Ripper of a weekend! My pancreas spontaneously burst on Saturday & they rushed me to the ER & doctors were in a frenzy trying to figure out what was wrong! Eventually they settled on a diagnosis of dropped passes and inexplicably incomplete running routes resulting in near-interceptions, & they told me to cut down on the stress & stop letting secondaries stick on me like I was the Usain Bolt to their Tyson Gay. I’m sure you know the feeling.

Anyway, doctors say to take it easy, but if you could pick me up some more TD passes && smoking punt returns while you’re in West Laf. this weekend that would be great. Sorry to hear about Floyd’s collarbone—try not to let the pressure get to you now that you’re Mr. #1. You know what stress does to a pancreas!

Miss you!! Come back soon!!!!


(Note: To be fair to Golden Tate, he did lead the team in catches for 127 yards. He made some mistakes, but he did play a better this week than last week. However, if his leap into the MSU band is any indication, his head's still not quite right. He said in his postgame interview that he forgot it was the MSU band--so I guess that means heads-up, ND Band. Be prepared to catch Golden Tate the next time he catches a TD in the North end zone.)

Sooooooo…the health of our offense does seem to be suffering a bit, doesn’t it? Floyd’s out with the broken collarbone, Golden’s brain has gone to la-la land with some sort of mysterious pass-dropping disease that we can only hope isn’t infectious, our Right Guard (Trevor Robinson??) went out late in the game with an injury we can only hope wasn’t permanent, Sam Young keeps tossing yellow flags everywhere like he’s some sort of Ukrainian ambassador, and Jimmy, apparently, hurt his toe.

That was a pretty bonehead move of Jimmy’s, I thought—kneeling down when it became clear that that defender was going to sack him. Couldn’t you have at least slid or something, Jimmy? It’s not like a guy that big is going to be able to change his momentum in a flash. And to go down on a knee—do you realize it only takes fourteen pounds of pressure to bust a kneecap?

Thankfully, that seemed to be the only real boneheaded move Jimmy made all day. Even playing with some sort of hobbling toe injury, he put up big numbers-- 22-of-31 for 300 yards and 3 TD passes.

I’m curious to see how our passing game goes with Floyd out. Even Kyle Rudolph dropped a key pass or two yesterday, and the jury’s still out on Duval Kamara, Robby Parris, and that one freshman tight end who dropped a first-down pass near the end of the game—and um, WHY was that kid out there playing TE again??? Did one of our actual TE’s get banged up while I wasn’t paying attention? (It’s possible. I seem to remember spending the last five minutes of that game lying prostrate on the floor with my face pressed into a pillow. Sister Mary Rae came in, said “oh my goodness!” and left. She did not smile at me when she saw me later and asked about the score. I think perhaps she disapproves of my zeal. I may have to work on convincing her that football is not actually my religion.)

Sigh. So here’s hoping Purdue’s run defense is as breezy as the back of a hospital gown—otherwise we may have some issues trying to get our precision passing game to work in a pinch come Saturday.

Sometimes those clogged arteries can still produce a miracle or two

This is kind of a weird header, perhaps, but I am, of course, talking about our defense.

And by defense, I mean Kyle McCarthy.

Kyle McCarthy makes tackles. Kyle McCarthy bashes heads in. Kyle McCarthy reverses the fate of entire seasons in a single bound. Kyle McCarthy is a human maelstrom. Kyle McCarthy makes ball carriers weep like little puppies left out on the side of the road. Kyle McCarthy can save your job, file your income tax returns, and help your grandmother cross the street with the same amount of effort normal people use to LIFT THEIR LITTLE PINKIES INTO THE AIR.

So basically, when he leaves, we’re F*ing screwed.

I can’t believe the amount of bulls*t we let those interns get away with

And by interns, I mean referees. Please explain to me how THIS is not a touchdown:

I’m still waiting.

Also, that stupid onside kick recovery—no way. The ball has to go ten yards and REMAIN TEN YARDS before it’s eligible for play.

Thanks a lot, you li’l effers.

At least our kicker’s doing better

Nope, couldn’t think of an extended metaphor for this one. Oh well.

Anyway, after a pretty poor initial kickoff and that missed PAT, Nick Tausch seemed to settle in, and hopefully we’re going to start seeing some of the kick production we recruited him for. The hangtime and distance on his kickoffs improved toward the end of the game, and he recovered from the missed PAT with a very nice field goal later in the game.

As far as other special teams units are concerned—we didn’t choke up any returns for a TD this week, though it does seem like our kick return unit is a little weaker now than it was last year. Or perhaps that has more to do with the initial weakness of the kick-offs, and our coverage will improve with greater hang time.

In other happy news, our own kick return units seem a bit stronger, and/or MSU’s kicking game was weaker than usual—Golden managed to get his hands on a couple of punt returns, which is impressive considering MSU’s punter is apparently known for his ability to force fair catches.

Theo Riddick—apparently the fastest guy on the team now—did pretty good on his kickoff returns as well; I’d love to see him break out and take one to the house by the end of the season. I haven’t scouted the special teams on our upcoming opponents, so I don’t know the coverage units fare, but I’m not going to hold out for any miracles against USC or BC or even Washington at this point…so maybe when Washington State rolls around? I guess we’ll see.

Continuing the operation

So, speaking of our opponents….

WASHINGTON BEAT USC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know this is old news but, you know, it’s still exciting. Washington should be a verrrrry interesting game now. I think we’ll win, mostly because unlike arrogant-ass USC v. the PAC-10 (much like Michigan v. Appalachian State - hahahaha), we don’t overlook games. We’re currently big fans of shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties, but we don’t disrespect our opponents. I think we’ve fallen far enough and hard enough to have at least learned that much.

And there’s no way in hell USC is going to look past the Notre Dame game, so get ready for a bruiser on that end as well.

I’m most worried about our defense right now. With the usual exception of Kyle McCarthy and some occasionally good coverage from our secondary, we played pretty poorly against the Spartans, giving up over 400 yards of offense. Blitzes were largely ineffective, except on those three drives where we forced the Can’t Read / Can’t Write crowd to three-and-outs, and of course on that last play when McCarthy intercepted the ball. Run defense was mediocre at best. And the biggest problem, of course, was penalties.

I honestly couldn’t tell how good the Spartan offense was. Could you? I feel like we pretty much handed them at least two of their touchdowns by driving down the field for them. So, kudos to you, Sparty. It’s nice to know you can score once your opponent marches down into the red zone for you.

Against Nevada, we did SO well with penalties that this is just disheartening. Last week, it was chiefly our offense driving us into the ground. This week, it was our defense. Maybe next week we’ll be back to square one again? Let’s just hope the yellow fever doesn’t spread to our special teams, too, or we might be seeing some really unfortunate turnarounds in field position against the Boilers.

As for our offense…life is going to be tough without Floyd, but I think we can swing it. We have got to just start settling down and playing with consistency—aka NO MORE FREAKING PENALTIES, and no more injuries, if we can help it. At least until the USC game. I don’t think Purdue or Washington are going to play us as nastily and physically as MSU always does (seriously—was it just me, or did like EVERYONE get injured in that game?), so we should have a relative respite from injuries (we hope) before we face Southern Cal. (Though ideally, of course, we won’t have any injuries in the SC game either. I’m just saying—USC is the next time we’ll be playing a game wherein the players launch themselves at each other like they’re trying to bring down concrete parking garage supports instead of human beings.) We also have a bye week before the USC game, so unless all the players come down with some sort of mysterious illness between now and then, we should be in reasonably good shape by the time the Trojans roll into town.

The biggest plus I can say for this team is that they have the right attitude. They have the confidence and the swagger and the ability to hang tough in close games. And that kind of attitude changes EVERYTHING about how a team makes it through a season, especially after that stunner against Michigan last weekend. But the team's not hanging on to that--they're moving forward.

So…drink some orange juice. Slap on some band-aids. Bask in the sweet anesthetic of a hard-fought win.

Get ready for the next stage of surgery.

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