Friday, December 31, 2010

ND Bowl Game preview: Go Irish Beat 'Canes edition

Let me just start by saying that I had every intention of doing some actual research and composing an in-depth, well-structured, fact-based diatribe about tomorrow's game.

But instead I ran out of time, so I'm just going to ramble for a bit about all the reasons we ought to win tomorrow. And hopefully somebody actually reads this before the game starts, otherwise there's just no point to this at all, is there?

Catholics vs Convicts renewed

One can only hope that the players themselves have only a fleeting understanding of what this whole "Catholics vs Convicts" thing really entails. I mean, don't get me wrong--I love watching footage of the 1988 tunnel fight as much as anybody--but I don't think there's any real need to try to bring back the feeling of that 80's rivalry. It seems to me as though the main perk of this matchup is that we get to reminisce about the old days without having to actually call forth the demons of yesteryear and renew the desire for bloodshed that got the whole ND-Miami series canceled in the first place.

There was a good piece by Jeff Carroll in the South Bend Tribune this week detailing the end of the ND-Miami series. You can read the whole thing here, but for the purposes of this rant, here is the most pertinent excerpt:

Many people seem to trace the demise of the series to before kickoff in the 1988 contest, when the two teams locked up in a ferocious brawl near the tunnel leading to the locker rooms beneath Notre Dame Stadium. Holtz fueled that conjecture, with comments after the game that it might be time for the schools to take a break from one another - effective immediately.

But the truth of the matter is that the next two meetings between the teams went off largely without a hitch. They were both hard-fought, cleanly contested battles between two programs that had developed a grudging mutual respect.

In actuality, crowd control was a much greater factor in the series' cancellation than player control. Although the CATHOLICS VS. CONVICTS T-shirts are today entrenched as an indelible piece of Notre Dame football lore, the university was not pleased at the time with the image they portrayed.

During the week leading up to the '88 game, an article in the Observer, ND's student newspaper, parodied Miami: “You intellectual snobs like to poke at .... our academic program. Now, we may not have any Rhodes Scholars, but I'll have you know that we have the nation's leading programs in intramural bowling, gator wrestling, drug running, and sports car appreciation.”

Notre Dame's campus did not have a monopoly on ugliness.

The 1989 game was played in primetime at Miami's Orange Bowl, and the school put in 3,400 extra seats to accommodate a rare overflow crowd. Irish offensive lineman Justin Hall recalled that his family members, who flew to the game from Texas, were spit on as they tried to make their way to their seats.

“That was the most vile, vicious venue for a college football game that I've ever been in,” said long-time Notre Dame beat writer and columnist Tim Prister, then working for Blue & Gold Illustrated. “They weren't there for Miami. They weren't there just to see Miami win. They wanted blood from Notre Dame. There was a nastiness - I would even call it an evilness - in the crowd that night. You could cut it with a knife.”

Hot damn.

It is safe, however, to assume that the heat generated between the two teams, and particularly the two fan bases, were a product of their place and time.


I think it's going to be a fun game to watch, scrappy and gritty and superimposed with old ghosts. Kind of like watching ND vs Army in Yankee stadium, only there are going to be a lot more people watching this game who actually remember Catholics vs. Convicts. (You know--people who still have all their teeth.) And speaking of which--if you've never seen this video of Rocket Ismail describing the 1988 tunnel fight, you should definitely go check it out right now:

(Also, if you have an extra 8 minutes to spare and really enjoy nostalgic films with cheesy old-school-sports-music and voiceovers, this is the video for you:

But of course, as both Notre Dame and Miami fans know all too well, this isn't exactly a renewal of the rivalry that sparked tunnel brawls and 14.3 Nielsen ratings. This is something else.

This is the chance for the Irish to start their climb back to the top.

The Echoes

I don't want to attach undue importance to a matchup between two 7-5 teams, one of which just lost its head coach and the other of which is relying on a freshman quarterback who turned the ball over four times in his regular-season finale...but nevertheless.....

This is big, yo.

This is a Moment for us. Or it could be, if we play it right.

Remember back at the beginning of the season when we were 1-3 and everybody was like "Ah, f*ck"?

And then later after we lost to Navy and everybody was really like "Ahh f*ck"?

And then when we lost to Tulsa a week after that and everybody was like "F*** it, the season's over"?

And now we're all 7-5 and going to a bowl game and we won on Senior Day and beat USC and shit. So it's like "F*** yeah, bowl game!"

Except that we still got no respect. We've still got shit to prove.

I was listening to some rambling idiots over on Yahoo! Sports the other day (these were actual sports pundits, mind you, and not just the crazy-asses who hang out on college football message boards), and they were hating on Notre Dame so hardcore I almost couldn't even believe it. It was all that horseshit again about how Notre Dame "lacks team speed" and "doesn't have the athletes" to keep up with Miami and all that other statistical bullshit that may in fact be true, but did not, for example, prevent us from beating USC.

Miami has some tremendous athletes on its squad, this is true. On paper, we may very well be screwed. But luckily football games are not played on paper. And as USC so heartily proved on Thanksgiving weekend, it doesn't matter how fast you are if you can't catch the damn ball.

Furthermore, talent doesn't mean shit if you can't play as a team. I'm not trying to insult Miami here; I'm just laying out some facts. We had plenty of occasion to say this to ourselves under Charlie: With all the talent we have on this team, why the f*ck aren't we winning more games? (All last season we have Jimmy-to-Golden and we still only scrape together six wins? Are you shitting me?) And just look at what Coach Kelly did last year. 12-0 with Cincinnati. (Seriously, who the f*ck plays for Cincinnati?) Yet another reminder that football is a team sport.

And let's not forget it.

The Hunger

One of the Yahoo! Sports pundits also pissed me off by saying that Miami is the "hungrier" team.

The hell they are.

Have you been paying any attention to Coach Kelly at all this season? (Of course not, because all you know about Notre Dame is whatever bullshit ESPN's been feeding you all year. Which means you've been listening to Kirk Herbstreit. Which explains where you're getting all this "Notre Dame lacks team speed" nonsense.) Coach Kelly wants to win a national championship, okay? That's why he came here. That's what he's working toward. He's got the hunger. And I think the team's got that hunger, too.

We've still got a lot of doubts to assuage, though, and at this point we've got a lot of disrespect being thrown in our general direction.

-Is the defense for real?
-Was that Utah win a fluke?
-How good do we really think USC is this year, anyway? (Answer: Not that good. But still good enough that it matters that we beat them. Especially since, you know, they were the best defense we've faced all season. And probably USC's players were too fast for us to keep up with. Although I'm pretty sure Robert Hughes didn't notice this while he was busy plowing through people like a human juggernaut.)

I've got no idea what the Miami players have had to put up with this year, but what with their head coach being fired and all, we can assume there's some frustrating shit going on down there, too. So perhaps they will enter this game with some hunger. But a hunger they can't focus, if their end-of-season loss to South Florida is any indication.

The 'Canes

To be honest, I haven't watched Miami play a single game all season and I have no idea how they're likely to fare as a postesason unit. As mentioned, the Hurricanes ended the season with some disappointing losses, and then their coach got fired. My best guess is that they are not exactly in the most unified state right now.

You never know, of course. Sometimes teams use these things to bond together. Leaders step up, the team miraculously gels, they go out there and win one last one for the coach (or...the Gipper or whoever), yada yada yada.

But, more likely, they lose their focus and sense of leadership, head into the postseason feeling uncertain and tank out big in their bowl game. (Re: Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl last year.)

My guess is that Miami will lie somewhere between these two extremes. It's difficult to say.

I still think we ought to win. I don't like to make predictions, really, but I will say this:

Our defense is so hot right now. I mean, for serious. Only allowing two touchdowns in the last seventeen quarters of football? Hott. They've been a really consistent unit for the last four games, and I absolutely don't understand why people are questioning it as a "fluke." It's a fluke if it happens in one game. Maybe two, depending on your opponent. But four games? Four? Really? Need I remind anyone that it took USC four tries to get the ball in from the two-yard line?

What really kills me is now that our defense is playing so well, people have started questioning the quality of our opponents rather than commending the D for its achievements. Which is halfway valid (in the sense that Utah kind of tanked themselves after that TCU game), but also kind of insulting. To be fair, however, I think the reluctance to commend our D may be more of a reflection on how the defense has been playing the past couple seasons than it is on the D's improvement and evolution throughout this season.

Anyway--moving right along to some actual talk about Miami--

According to Rakes of Mallow, Miami leads the country with 23 interceptions and they've fumbled the ball an additional 19 times. Their QB for this game, Jacory Harris, apparently started the season as a Heisman hopeful, but has been riding the bench for the latter part of the season. Harris could come out and play a perfect game, of course, but generally speaking, when a team's been struggling with turnovers and inconsistencies all season, they're not going to come out and play a clean bowl game. (Although I guess you never know.) Plus, our defense has gotten to the point where they're not only capitalizing on most of the opportunities that come their way--they're also starting to create opportunities. So really I think everything's boding well on the defensive side of the ball.

Offense is a little more concerning, but I think Tommy Rees should have a pretty good game. He's won on Senior Day, he's played at Yankee Stadium, he's thrown several picks at the Coliseum -- he's gotten a lot of big-time game experience under his belt very quickly, and I think all of that is going to help him focus during his first major postseason game. (Okay, I know it's only the Sun Bowl and all, but come on. It's ND vs Miami, the tickets sold out faster than they ever have in the history of the Sun Bowl, the Sun Bowl president is saying this is the most excitement he's ever seen about a Sun Bowl matchup, and I guess he'd know since he's been around it for fifty years.) Do I think he's going to get picked off during this game? Probably. He does that. (To be fair, Dayne Crist does that too.) In fact, the only game in which the Irish have not had a turnover all season was on Senior Day against Utah.

It'd be really nice to hope for another game with no turnovers, but I just don't think that's likely. As Rakes of Mallow puts it,
Miami's secondary is nasty, full of four and five-star athletes, ranking third in passing yards per game, second in pass efficiency defense, second in completion percentage allowed and eighth in sacks. It seemed very unlikely Notre Dame was going to attempt to ride Tommy Rees to victory in its bowl game regardless of opponent, but the Hurricanes lining up on the other side of the field almost guarantees that we're going to see a lot of Robert Hughes left and Cierre Wood right.

Which I am totally okay with. In fact, I think Robert Hughes is about due for another 100+ yard game. I'd just like to see him barrel people over all afternoon. Human juggernaut. Human juggernaut!

The Spread

Without going into any further detail, I think we're heading into a fairly even matchup. If Miami's supposed to have the better players, I think right now Notre Dame's got the better team. A strong finish in November says a lot. It means more, I think, than a lot of the pundits are willing to give it credit for. (Mostly because they've got no faith that our team culture is changing into, you know, a winning culture.) I think, heading into the postseason, Notre Dame's definitely got the mental edge.

Right now, though, we're listed as three-point underdogs. We're also being described as a "struggling" program.

I guess that's true. This season was a struggle.

But we never punked out, we never gave up, we never caved in. (And by "we" here, we mean the players and the coaches. The same cannot really be said for all the fans.) And we're not going to cave in now.

All of the hardships we've faced this season have only made us play harder. And anyone who's being hard on Brian Kelly at this point is an effing moron who hasn't been paying attention to the way the team is coming together. We're headed on the up-and-up. Can't you feel it?

I don't think this game's going to be easy. No game is a gimme, and anytime you think so you end up losing to (for example) Appalachian State. But I don't think we should be underdogs in the spread, either. I know it's only three points, but still. I think we got this. We're hungry, bitches.

You want to know how hungry?

In the words of Ian Williams, upon being asked how he felt about Miami not recruiting him because he was "too small"--

"I guess you'll find out on December 31st."


Sunday, November 14, 2010


Some nights stick with you forever.

Some day you'll be old with creaking bones, probably hooked up to a monitor the size of a potato chip taking measurements of all your key bodily functions including the exact trajectory of your next fart (sorry, I've been reading too much Dave Barry lately), and someone will mention that the Irish are getting ready to play on Senior Day, and suddenly memory will leap over the years and you'll find yourself standing right back there on that field soaked in endorphin-tinged glory, screaming and reveling with 8,000 of your closest friends (or, in the case of the band members, no longer capable of paying any attention to what you're playing because you're mentally screaming and reveling with 8,000 of your closest friends; but that's okay because at this point your fingers know the songs better than your brain does anyway; and besides who the hell is going to care if you accidentally play an E-flat here anyway? Who the hell is going to care if you're incapable of playing anything at all? That's right, no one), and it will be as though no time has passed at all.

Some details will start to blur together, but other moments will lodge deep in your brain; and as other bits of memory fade, these will become sharper by contrast, and more potent.

I will never forget the 2006 night game against MSU in Spartan Stadium. I will never forget the rain-drenched, mud-soaked fervor of moldy band jackets and mildewed sheet music; the slip-n-slide-Africa-exploding-volcano halftime show; the sheer decibel level of the 400 people standing next to me. Never again in my life will I hear the marching band scream as loudly as they did that night, and if someone tries to tell me otherwise, I will not believe them. The band was so unbelievably cacophonous that we had alumni writing in to the Observer about it afterward. Including this letter, which I often think of when I think of that night:

Give due credit of last Saturday's win to the Notre Dame marching band. We sat across from them on the press box side of the field. They had to stand on the sideline the entire game, and they played their hearts out in the last eight minutes of that game when Michigan State imploded. They made the noise of 30,000 screaming Irish fans every time the Spartans tried to run plays from deep in their own territory late in the game. I don't think that Notre Dame would have won the game without them. I am told that the Michigan State game was their only scheduled road game. If this is true, it's a shame.The University should cough up the money to send them on the road every time we play a quality opponent.

Thomas D. Drake alumnus class of 1974 Sept. 24

(Thank you to the Observer archives for that one.)

Other sharp-and-clear memories from that night include the football team running over to stand next to the band and the several hundred Irish fans who clambered their way down the quickly-emptying stands to be in our corner of the stadium after the game; Jeff Samardzija yelling "Play the fight song!" over and over again until we did; taking a picture of the final scoreboard; hurrying out of the stadium behind the MSU band, not even marching but clumping as closely together as possible so the MSU fans (who were cursing and throwing things at us BEFORE the game started) didn't feel tempted to do anything they might regret later; boarding the buses feeling too exhausted to keep celebrating but too ebullient to care; eating THE BEST SUB SANDWICH I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE; discovering that I had the DVD of Rudy shoved into the recesses of my backpack, and subsequently enjoying the viewing of said movie more than I ever have in my life....

It's funny; you'd think I would have more concrete memories of the actual football game. But to be honest, the live-game action is all kind of a blur. Do I remember what happened in the game? Of course. I was standing right behind the endzone (THE ENDZONE) at field level, so the angle was terrible, but I remember the adrenaline of the turnaround--the miraculous turnovers--the fabulous TD passes from Brady Quinn--

And I know that, long after many other Notre Dame football players have faded from my consciousness, I will remember Terrail Lambert's name.

But I don't necessarily remember what all these plays looked like, from my angle on the field. I don't remember the exact moments in which they occurred, or what I was doing with myself at the time; I just remember screaming and screaming and screaming until I couldn't think anymore. And now when I look back on that game and reminisce over all the miraculous football action that occurred, I don't picture it from my angle on the field. I picture it from this highlight video:

Funny how memory works, huh?

It's something unpredictable, but in the end that's right

This year's seniors entered during the fall of 2007 and experienced the worst season in Notre Dame football history, followed by two disappointing 6-6 campaigns and this season's frustrating, injury-leaden "transitional year" in the wake of a coaching change.

Not that there weren't any bright spots; a win in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl and Golden Tate come to mind. But there were a lot more low points, and the low points hit you harder, especially when, for example, you come out in the freezing cold and lose on Senior Day amid a flurry of snowballs to a 2-7 Syracuse team with a lame duck head coach. (And you make David Bruton CRY.)

This, of course, would be MY senior day, and it was sheer misery. My hands went numb, my toes went numb, my heart went numb. The post-season pineapple trophy was nice, but it didn't really make up for things. (Last year's seniors know what I'm talking about, although at least for their actual Senior Day they didn't start to go numb in all their major organs.)

And I only bring this shit up because last night was--I don't know--redemption.

I think that word is thrown around too much when it comes too football, but it kind of feels true, doesn't it? Doesn't it seem like all the pussy-ass twatwaffles who wrote into the Observer about rushing the field when we lose on Senior Day (or who silently agreed with said twatwaffles) need to just pack up with all their unbelief and get the hell out of town?

Thank you, Rocket.
Thank you, bye week.
Thank you, seniors, for sticking with it.
Thank you, team, for not cashing in your chips.
Thank you, Tommy, for not throwing any interceptions.
Thank you, Robert, for giving us the play we needed to allow us to play the way we should always play.

And thank you, Coach Kelly, for being the coach that I know you are; for understanding how to manage the emotions of a bunch of college kids; and for saying exactly what I've been thinking all week long.

Behold this quote:

You saw it today, a football team that didn’t have on their shoulders the traditions and reputations and all the things that you have to worry about sometimes being a football player at Notre Dame. [...] They just flat-out played.

And in doing so, they managed to uphold all the traditions and reputations and expectations that come along with being a football player at Notre Dame.

Can I just say again--it's funny how these things work, isn't it?

Just remember: football is 80% mental, and 40% physical.

(...and 100% badass.)

I know I've used this Little Giants quote before, but I love it because it's SO TRUE. So much of football (so much of life) is all about your attitude and the way you come to play. In the words of Brian Smith:

You just have to have the emotional advantage, that even if you aren't, that you play like you are the baddest on the field and nobody can stop you. Having the kind of attitude makes you a better player and so that gives you that edge.

As an individual player, the mental edge can only take you so far. (For example, you might think you can beat Golden Tate in a one-on-one matchup, but HA HA HA he's totally going to score on you at some point and there's just nothing you can do about it.) But if your whole team has that mental edge, you're going to win football games.

Certain friends of mine from Texas are going to find this extremely painful, but we owe some of yesterday's win to the Horned Frogs.

I was thinking maybe Utah would come off the loss to TCU feeling pissed off and out to prove something, but instead they came out looking demoralized and more than a little sloppy. Ten penalties for 65 yards in the first half? Ouch.

Some of the first half success we can reasonably attribute to Utah not being quite ready to play, and our players being in-the-zone enough to capitalize on it.

Our offense did nothing the first couple possessions. They needed a kick, a momentum swing, to get things going, and they got it. And once the offense got going...Jonas Gray had some killer runs, Michael Floyd had some crucial grabs and some even more crucial blocks, Duval Kamara came out of nowhere (like he does occasionally) and had two TD grabs on his Senior Day, and Tommy Rees threw for 3 TDs and NO INTERCEPTIONS in his first official start.

So can I just say again -- THANK YOU ROBERT BLANTON.

Or should I be thanking Harrison Smith?

That first interception was absolutely crucial. I think it gave us the momentum swing that set the whole rest of the game in motion. I realize that the offense didn't do anything with the possession immediately following that play, but I think it made all the difference for our D.

The defense--or perhaps more accurately, Harrison Smith--went out still feeling high after that interception. Harrison Smith made the first two tackles on Utah's possession, both of them run plays (and the second run was enough for a first down). Then, mysteriously, Utah decided to throw the ball three times in a row, and our defense (to the shock and awe of all in attendance) managed to PUT SOME PRESSURE ON THE QUARTERBACK and shut down the Utah passing attack, forcing one two-yard gain and two incompletions.(And no, Utah did not have any penalties on that particular possession, so the only self-inflicted agony there was the playcalling.)

And Utah, with its head still-not-quite-in-the-game, managed to fall asleep on the punt play and allowed Robert Blanton blow right through, block the punt, scoop the ball up on a lucky bounce, and sprint straight into the endzone.

And then we were on fire.

We got a little help from Utah, sure, but our boys played all four quarters, and the defense in particular did not let up. Fueled by the momentum and the crowd and the mental edge, they kept the Utes out of the endzone and Protected Our House in a way all the doubters and haters and unbelievers have started to claim we are no longer capable of doing.

Well, screw you people. You wanna know what protecting our house on Senior Day looks like? It looks kind of like this:

Utah Possessions - How Lost


Or, better yet, it looks like this:

(Sorry about the stupid ad at the beginning....if anyone has a link to a better highlight video, by all means let me know.)

Perhaps I'm sounding really reasonable and calm about all this...but have I mentioned that I pretty much feel like this?


Haven't I been saying all season that we're making improvements, and we're getting better and better mentally, and one day this is all going to manifest into something brilliant? (HAVE I been saying this all season? I can't remember. I've been THINKING this shit all season.) More fabulous quotes from Coach Kelly (and I swear I'm not just mimicking everything he's saying and trying to pass it off as my own):

It's the culmination of what we've been working on since December. You don't just pull these out of a hat. You don't just wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, let's rise up today.' It's the consistency of approach from a day-to-day basis and how we go to work every day.

We're not a finished product by any means, but we're starting to develop the mental and physical toughness, the way that you need to go and approach this game on a day-to-day basis.

You tell 'em, coach.

Also, quotes with some definite attitude from Cierre Wood:

The game plan was to come out and just beat them up physically and mentally.

I think we did that very good. There was definitely body language in the first half, and midway through the third quarter. It seemed like they didn't really want no part of us no more. So we just had to go for the kill.


(You can talk the talk as long as you walk the walk, Cierre, but the next time we lose a game my heart's going to break a little more over your grammar.)

Also, I'm going to steal some key facts from this Eric Hansen article in the South Bend Tribune:

  • The Irish broke a streak of 11 straight losses to ranked teams, which started with a 47-21 home drubbing from Michigan on Sept. 16, 2006.
  • It was the highest-rated team the Irish had taken down since before any of the current players attended freshman orientation - more precisely, a 17-10 upending of a third-ranked Michigan on the road in game 2 of the coach Charlie Weis Era back in 2005.
  • Saturday marked the fewest points the Irish allowed against an AP Top 20 team since a Jan. 1, 1993, Cotton Bowl win over No. 4 Texas A&M, also a 28-3 victory.
  • It was the fewest points Utah has scored since losing 17-0 to UNLV on Sept. 22, 2007. That's a span of 45 games including Saturday's Irish victory.
  • It was ND's largest margin of victory against AP Top 20 team since Oct. 12, 1996, when Notre Dame beat Washington 54-20.

  • Also, Hansen's article ends with this comparison:

    [...] this team, this mission is about big pictures and foundations, not isolated moments in time. In the post-Lou Holtz Era, Notre Dame has become the McRib of college football.

    It's back. It's gone. It's back. It's gone.

    It's back?

    Hahaha. Who knows? And to be honest, right now I don't even care.

    The Irish won on Senior Day. That's all that matters. We've got two games to go and our hopes of becoming bowl eligible are still alive, but I'm not going to think about any of that right now.

    I'm giving myself at least a twenty-four-hour rule, and I'm celebrating.

    To conclude

    So, since I'm waxing all nostalgic about my most memorable game as a student, I'm curious to know... What's your most memorable game? As a student or otherwise. And, for current students (and seniors especially), what stuck out at you yesterday? What were your favorite moments? What little ancillary details do you think will stick with you, long after many other things have faded?

    Last but not least...


    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    I can't tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like

    Steel knife in my windpipe

    You know that feeling like your ribcage has cracked open and your breastbone's slowly being ground into a pebble? Like your knees have swollen up with the venom of a thousand wasp stingers and your eyes have been doused with acid and your brain is fizzing over like an out-of-control science fair project, and the only thing you can do is lie there and pray for it to be over?

    Except, you know, if your body becomes reduced to a twitching, oozing, vomitous mess, they usually let you check yourself into a hospital and forget about the world for a couple of days.

    And sometimes it seems like, for the players, there is just no rest, and no relief. Especially not with everything that's happened this past week.

    And it's not like it's even just the players, you know? It's a whole family, a whole community. If we weren't all bruised and weary before, surely we've got the shit slapped out of us now.

    Thank God it's a bye week.

    To be honest, I'm not even worried about the fate of the football season right now. I'm just worried about everyone getting some sleep. Real rest is probably too much to ask for...but sleep, at the very least.

    Just gonna stand there and watch me burn

    Everything I think to say seems to come up empty. I could voice the thoughts that we all have rolling around in our heads, but what's the point? It's all just a bunch of WHY and OH GOD and YOU'RE KILLING ME, PETEY, and NOT AGAIN. Possibly followed by some impotent sobbing.

    Nor does it seem wise to fall prey to the voice of the campus jackasses. (You know who I mean -- the sorts of people who write sarcastic-ass notes to the Observer about storming the field after a loss.) These are the people to not listen to, ever. These are the people who, after a loss to Navy, will happily ensure that you don't win another game for the rest of the season, because they're pussies, and they're going to cash in their chips early and walk away. Probably even thinking they've won something, because they still have money left in their pocket at the end of the day.

    Well, let me tell you something, jackass. You don't get anything by not playing. You don't get anything by giving up. And you sure as shit don't have the right to go around insulting people who are out there doing what you could never do.

    Does anyone remember a couple of seasons ago when the Irish lost 17-0 to Boston College and I posted a rant saying we were having football dysentery? I'm sorry I ever wrote it that way. I'm not saying that game wasn't sufficiently painful to watch, I'm just saying...letting frustration turn to venom like that is not the way to go. (I say after openly accusing certain Notre Dame students of being jackasses.) I mean, spouting out agony and frustration and openly wondering wtf is going on out there is one thing, but football dysentery? I think that was taking things too far. (YES I JUST SAID THAT.) Sometimes I think I take everything too far. point is...

    Look, it's not like I'm happy with what's going on here, either. This isn't what we want to see, this isn't what tradition mandates, this was a gut-wrenching, heart-humbling week to begin with...but the way I see it, we've got two options.

    1. We can either cash our chips in like a bunch of pussies and give up, or

    2. We can make like the football team, give ourselves a 24-hour rule, GET OVER IT, and figure out what the hell we can do to make it a game against Utah.

    The more I suffer, I suffocate

    We need to stop suffocating ourselves. Or maybe just the head coach. Brian Kelly looks older to me already. And tired. This goes back to what I said earlier about everyone just needing some sleep. I mean it. I think the pressure's too much. We all just need to step back and take an effing chill pill. Did you see how much Charlie aged during his interim as head coach? We must have taken ten years off that poor man's life. And his kid. Charlie Jr. couldn't even go to school sometimes after losses.


    "But it's a D-I program, it's a fishbowl, there's tons of pressure all the time, everyone knows that, Brian Kelly knows that, he's even addressed it in press conferences..." and BLAH BLAH BLAH.

    That's great and all, but these guys are all also human beings, and maybe if after every loss we wouldn't lament and bemoan and beat things to death and we could just take our chokehold off for a few seconds, everyone would have time to breathe and rest and think properly, and be all calm and sharply focused, instead of wound up like a corkscrew being all FUCKFUCKFUCK, we have to WIN we have to WIN why aren't we WINNING?????!??!?!?!?!

    HEY - remember that time we went 6-6 and the players elected to go the Hawaii Bowl and everyone was all pissed off and saying "what the hell this is the worst idea ever, we can't play a game on Christmas Eve, and why is the University wasting all this money flying the team all the way to Hawaii just so we can lose another bowl game to a mediocre-ass team" and WAH WAH WAH BLAHBLAHBLAH --

    But the football players didn't hear any of this shit because they were in HAWAII, going to luaus and watching Jimmy Clausen fall on his ass in a waterpark, and then they went out on the field and kicked the shit out of Hawaii, just like they should have been kicking the shit out of every other semi-decent team all season (but they weren't because who-the-hell-knows-why), and they proved everybody wrong and came back with a pineapple trophy and Manti Te'o.

    That wasn't so bad.

    See? So maybe everybody just needs to RELAX. Veg out. Refocus.

    And we need to do some serious refocusing, because thanks to injuries we've got practically a whole different team out there from the one we started the season with.

    I can't breathe, but I still fight while I can fight

    So, assuming that the Notre Dame chokehold doesn't release (which of course it won't; even if this was being read by more than like 10 people every week why the hell would anyone listen to me? because I am CLEARLY CRAZY), I'm guessing it will be something of a struggle to battle through the general campus atmosphere these next couple weeks. It's bad to go into a bye on a loss, even worse to go into a bye after a loss that could easily have been a win.

    But after the week that campus just had, I think a bye is kind of what everyone needs right now.

    It will be good for the players to have some time to regroup. They've got a new quarterback to contend with, a shift in scheme...if ever there was a time for Kelly's "next man in" mentality to come to fruition, the time is now.

    Obviously there are some things you can't do in two weeks. You can't give your freshman QB any more live-game experience. You can only do so much about his high, frighteningly floaty passes. You can't surround him with veteran players.

    But you can get things going. You can build trust; and it seems like, with the way the players have been buying in to Kelly's philosophy, there's a good level of trust between them to begin with. You can work on building chemistry; and in some ways having younger receivers out there might help a young QB build that chemistry. (Unless, you know, the young receivers completely blow their assignments.) And you can work on the head stuff. Mental preparation, leadership, confidence, etc etc etc. Which, actually, I must say, it seems like Rees has a pretty good foundation of to begin with.

    He didn't look scared out there. He threw some floaty passes, yeah; threw behind some receivers a little bit; is pretty lucky he was going up against Tulsa's abysmal pass defense in his first start. But nevertheless he threw for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns and went 60% on completions, and that is not shabby at all. (And it helped, too, to have Floyd out there with 11 catches for 104 yards and 2 TDs.)

    Not that I don't lament the loss of Crist. How much do I wish all of our players were healthy? Sooooo much. But this is the way things are, and if we're going to have a freshman QB lead the team for the next three games, it might as well be a freshman QB who has two full weeks to prepare for his first official start.

    I like the way it hurts

    Okay, well, that's kind of a total lie, but what I'm referring to here (in the most tangential way possible), is the playcalling at the end of the game. It's easy to look back now and think, "WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU NOT KICK THE FIELD GOAL?? RIGHT NOW THE KICKER IS THE MOST CONSISTENT PLAYER ON OUR TEAM!!!!"

    But to be honest, at the time, I didn't think twice about it. In fact, I totally concurred. So I guess that means I still do kind of concur.

    You have more than one down left--you're close enough to the endzone to give it a shot--you have time--why NOT go for it? In fact, since you already have the central field position you want for your kicker, might as well go ahead and throw it to the endzone twice.

    Yes, there's always a chance of an interception; but there's also the chance that if you kick the FG now, Tulsa will have a really killer return run on special teams that will set them up for a game-winning field goal with five seconds left on the clock.

    And fear of interceptions is no reason not to throw the ball. Especially not when your QB just threw for four touchdowns.

    (And just in case your mind went there, yes, I was also in favor of Belichick's 4th-and-1 call against Indianapolis last season. Although actually the first thing that came to mind just now--speaking of gutsy NFL playcalls--was a Tampa Bay game I watched a few years back when Jon Gruden was still coaching. Tampa scored a TD at the very end of the game, and if they'd kicked the extra point they would have tied and sent it into overtime, but Gruden decided to go for the two-point conversion instead. Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion and they won. I remember watching the post-game interview, and the reporters asking Gruden why he went with such a gutsy playcall, and his response was something along the lines of, "Well, you know, any time you make a call like that, people are going to call you a moron if it doesn't work, and they're going to call you a genius if you win. I play to win football games. I don't play for overtime. We had a shot to win right then, so I called it, and we won." This is a philosophy I completely respect and, as a coach, would probably adhere to. If I ever had my own team [hahahaha], I think I'd be like that one high school coach who always goes for it on fourth down. He had a feature in Sports Illustrated a few seasons back. Screw punting--just go for it. I am always in favor of going for it on fourth down. And of throwing Hail Marys. And of NOT playing for overtime.)

    Not that this makes the result of yesterday's game any better....I'm just saying.

    All I know is I love you too much to walk away

    So here comes another Senior Day. Another neutral-site "home game." Another season's end.

    I know everyone's thinking "f*ck, no bowl game this season," but, as mentioned, that is a pussy-ass mentality, and can we please not fall victim to it?

    It is football. Anything can happen. Maybe Utah comes in thinking, "Aha! A weak sauce Notre Dame team with a freshman quarterback and a spate of injuries that just lost to Tulsa! VICTORY IS OURS!!!"

    And instead we kick their ass. (Kind of like Iowa over MSU. Bahahaha.)

    I know, everyone thinks I'm delusional. But, as I have mentioned several times, losses are only guaranteed if you cash in your chips before the game even starts.

    Don't cash in. Don't do it.

    And hell, even if you think you're going to go down, why not throw out everything you have and end in a blaze of glory?

    I've seen plenty of giving up these past couple seasons.

    I think we're long overdue for some glory.

    And if Brian Kelly's not saying the exact same shit to his team over the next two weeks, I will eat my effing shamrock socks.


    That is all I have to say.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Fishbowls and Football Fields

    This is what happens when I'm grouchy and off-kilter and don't write anything for a long time.

    In the great fishbowl of fate, it is hard sometimes not to feel dead in the water--like a moist, pebbly fish dropping, or a stiff plastic stem of seaweed, or a lumpy green clump of algae stuck to the side of the tank.

    Work and alarm clocks and disappointments drag us down.
    Chemicals in the brain fizz over into agony--apathy--dischord--sleep.

    I was not who I am this morning. I haven't felt like myself all day.

    I'm trying to be eloquent, but mostly what I feel right now is tired.

    Tired of letting time slip away--tired of the ways in which the days force me to spend my time--tired of never having enough time to sleep--

    Tired of the descant of drudgery splashed across the newspaper pages,
    the wrath of ages,
    the talking heads they tout as sages,
    the dyspepsias of cubicle cages.

    And things that rhyme.

    I'm tired of using up my minutes on the minutae of my life.
    Tired of composing melodious malefactions on the mismatched militiamen of the gridiron.

    Every time I sit and pick at words, the time comes up empty.

    I'm not making much sense, I know. I've slipped into the doldrums this week.

    For the past several weeks.

    I keep meaning to write something about football.... I keep meaning to write. And this week, when it seems like it would be most respectful to let the words fall flat and let time pass in silence--

    I can't.

    I keep thinking about Declan Sullivan.

    And all sorts of things that go along with that, too, of course...youth and life and death and time, and what I use and what I waste, and what if I had been cut off at 20 years old? And all that sort of thing.

    But it seems unwise to say too much on Sullivan specifically; what happened this week feels too far away and too close to home all at once, and anyway what could I say that has not been said already? Especially speaking of a person I never really knew.

    I can only express, in the act of breathing in and out and pressing my fingers to the keyboard, the strange and unrelenting sensation of being alive...the solidarity of sleeping and waking and sensing that is shared among everything ephemeral, everything that dies.

    And to say that, on the opposite tack some might take when speaking of perspective, in fact I think tomorrow means a great deal. To watch the game. To play the game. To sweat and scream and shiver. To be alive because we are alive. We owe that to ourselves, and to each other. And, in no disrespectful way at all, to the dead.

    Every awakening--every spurt of blood--every slash of pain--every shaking press of palm to palm--

    These are all saturated with the knowledge that we are vital, we exist, and sometimes I think the only real disrespect is to ignore that--to resent it--to be careless with our time and piss it away.

    To stare down the field of fate and decide not to play.

    I suddenly don't feel so stuck anymore.

    In memoriam...

    I will scream louder
    I will live harder
    I will breathe into every last inch of me
    and I will not be afraid of time.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Press Conference Quotes: "Go Irish Beat Eagles" edition

    Interesting tidbits from yesterday's pressers...

    Apparently Robert Huuuuughes is moving up to the #2 back position this week. According to Coach Kelly:

    We're still really high on Cierre Wood. This is not let's push Cierre to the side. He's a young kid now. [...] This guy's got four games and everybody wants to throw the poor kid under the bus. I think he's going to be a really, really good player. He just needs time. One of the things that Robert can do and utilize against B.C. is he's a big, strong, physical kid and he may be able to help us a little bit in pass protection. [...] In some instances. I want Cierre to know, hey there's no pressure on you, son. Go play. Sometimes he plays like there is all this pressure on him to be the next Heisman Trophy candidate. He just needs to go play and relax, and hopefully he'll do that.

    Although you know, Cierre, nobody around here would mind if you were the next Heisman Trophy candidate.

    On Dayne Crist's development...

    I see it more so that he's throwing for over 300 yards a game. His interceptions, obviously, are not crazy. They're higher than I want. It's the combination of making four or five really, really good plays and maybe one or two not so good plays. So I think where we are in the development is obviously playing more consistently. How do you get consistent? You gain confidence. When he's confident now, he's really, really good. He loses a little bit of confidence at times, that's where we're working on the development of Dayne Crist, and that's what he has to bring to each and every game.
    In other words: you keep your eyeballs in focus, Dayne Crist. You'll be just fine.

    Regarding the somewhat stifled run game...

    Well, I'll start with the last two games. The Michigan State game is a six man box, very difficult. They blitz the backers quite a bit, so that's why the ball was thrown as much as it was. When we needed to hit some runs, our version of running the ball is the shovel, the quick option out on the perimeter. Those become run plays out of that structure. They're not counted as such, they're counted as passes because of the shovel version. But I think that the Michigan State game was the circumstances more so than anything else. I think if you look at the Stanford game, there were time that's we got beat up front. And there were times that we probably should have run the football when we tried to throw it, because of, you know, so much drop 8. So I took some of the responsibility last week for not being more effective in the running game. I think Stanford needs a little credit on that as well. We expect to get back to a better balance this week.

    Umm I sure hope so. Because the balance last week was -- how shall we say? -- non-existent.

    On Notre Dame's tough schedule in the opening weeks of the season....
    Moving forward, it will be a strength having a schedule like this moving forward. I think with our spring and summer preparation, coming into the year we're going to be further ahead when we play tough competition right out of the gates. Maybe it's not showing right now, new offense, new defense, special teams. At times we've been sporadic. But I'm still not in favor of throwing 1AA teams in there. I still feel like we should be playing the kind of schedule we're playing, and I think it's going to pay off for us.


    Moving right along...

    On dealing with losses while building up a program...
    It's the same process that we're going through in terms of building our program and doing the thing that's we need to do to win for a long, long period of time. Every program that I've been involved with, they've won championships after I left, and I'm not leaving this one. I want to win them. But we're going to get to that level as well. The process is the same, it's just the expectations are different.
    I really like how up-front he's being about all of this. I mean, yeah, every coach says they want to win a championship. Lots of coaches claim they're going to win championships. But Brian Kelly, man...he really fucking means it. You can tell.

    I am in favor.

    On Braxston Cave and Mike Golic switching it up at center....
    Again, Braxston (Cave) is in his first year. There are some growing pains there. The one thing we need with Braxston is a little bit better job at cadence, and he's a little too consistent with some of the things that he does that gives the defense a chance to, as you saw against Stanford, they did a pretty good job of film study. They knew when Braxston was going to snap the ball. He's got to be more firm with his snaps. His snaps have not been very good. So some of our concern with Braxston is less about who he's blocking and how he's blocking. Though we always can get better there. We need a little bit better management of cadence and when the ball comes out and how it comes out. Dayne's had to catch too many balls below his knees, which takes his eyes off what we're trying to do offensively.
    Hmm. I wonder how good those BC players are at their film study.....

    Some player presser quotes

    Dayne Crist, on becoming more prepared to attack a drop-eight package...

    Right, and like I said, teams don't live in that world, really. You're not getting a great majority of those snaps unless, like I said, the situation calls for it within the game and within the score and everything like that. So if a team wants to go out and start the game and drop 8, we're going to run for 300 yards. It's one of those things where it's more a situational thing and something I think I was able to mature with a little bit and understanding that situation. Now coming back after talking with Coach Kelly and watching tape with him and doing what we need to do to correct our problems that we had with it, now it will be one of the situations where like I said we've got answers.

    Kyle Rudolph, saying all the right things regarding our strength-of-schedule....

    That's why we come here. We come here to play the best teams in the country. You know, three or four weeks before conference play, and you play 1AA teams and MAC teams and stuff like that that some of these other schools are playing against. With us, we're going to play the best week in and week out. And we're going to get the best from the people that we play week in and week out simply because we're Notre Dame. And that is something that is the reason we came here, and what we look forward to our schedule.

    Dayne Crist, on how the team's handling the losses...
    You can see the hurt that lingers after a game, and all the guys are like that, really. But by the same token, guys are also--we realize that we're right there. You know, it's one of those things where guys aren't coming back to practice on Tuesday still drooping over a loss. Guys are coming back battling on a Tuesday. We had a great day of practice yesterday. As soon as you're done with a loss, the first thing you want to do is go play. As soon as the clock hits zero, it's when do I get to play next? It's the first thing you want to do is get it out of you and go get a win. I think that's how guys are responding. I'm definitely proud of how guys are responding, but we need to make sure that we understand what that feels like, and we don't want to feel like that anymore.

    You bring it, Irish.

    And now, a word from Manti Te'o, on what cataclysmic weather patterns aligned to bring about week's tornado/volcano eruption of tackles:

    I don't think I did anything different.

    Oh. sure?

    I just made the corrections to the mistakes I did in the past games.

    Really? That's...that's it? You sure you didn't channel any energy from badass photo-shopped video game covers, or channel the power of your Samoan ancestry through your tattoo, or conquer with the spirit of Kamehameha, or--

    Oh. Well, okay then.


    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Notre Dame Football: Moby Dick Edition

    Notre Dame 14, Stanford 37

    A football rant, as interpreted through the words of Herman Melville.

    Whenever I find myself growing grim...whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before [sports bars], and [glaring in the face of every Michigan fan] I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately [signing onto football message boards] and methodically [pissing off every USC fan I see]--then, I account it high time to get to [Notre Dame Stadium] as soon as I can.

    There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about [Our Lady's campus], whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of [the cheering thousands] over the [Four Horsemen and the Rocket and the Seven Mules]. And meet it is, that over these [twin lakes], wide-rolling [quads] and [hand-picked mascots] of all [twenty-nine dorms], the [echoes of the Victory March] should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-[swaying student body] but made so by their restlessness.

    There is no steady unretracing progress in this [football season]; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:--through [pre-season]’s unconscious spell, [the season opener]’s thoughtless faith, [the first loss's] doubt...then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of "if."

    But once gone through, we trace the [season] again; and are [wins], [losses], [overtimes], and Ifs eternally.

    There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.

    Or, as Knute Rockne once said: "One loss is good for the soul. Too many losses are not good for the coach."

    It's clearly way too early to be making judgment calls about Brian Kelly one way or the other, but it's impossible not to feel frustrated over the last three games. We've had to suffer through a lot of tough losses these past few seasons, and it's hard to spit the bitter, coppery, blood-tinged taste of defeat out of your mouth without spitting some of your fervor and optimism and confidence as well.

    Intangibles make a difference. Not as much of a difference as hard work, talent, and perspiration, but enough of a difference that even video games choose to incorporate not-quite-palpable factors such as momentum swings into their gameplay. And heading into this game against BC...I suspect we're going to have a few intangibles that have gone a little out of whack.

    The players always say they've put the losses behind them; they always say they're too busy worrying about next week to spend much time thinking about what happened last week. And I'm sure that's true, in a sense; they've got class and practice and homework and jersey chasers to worry about, and that's more than enough to keep any group of post-pubescent tough young gentlemen occupied. After all, why waste your time brooding over last week's loss when you've got plenty of other things kicking your ass this week?

    But even so. These sorts of things do weigh on you, whether you want them to or not.

    One and three. One-and-three. Oneandthree. (Please stop saying that.)

    It's not like it's something you can just shake off. It's a little more lasting than that. Sort of like a harpoon in your backside.

    Hell is an idea first born on an undigested [football loss]; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by [Michigan victories].

    How unfortunate for our strength-of-schedule rating that Purdue lost to Toledo.

    And how unfortunate, also, that beating the Irish vaulted both Michigan and Michigan State into the Top 25, and Stanford into the Top 10.

    And how perpetually unfortunate that these teams from Michigan keep winning, because even though that technically helps our strength-of-schedule, ew.

    You know, apparently the Irish are pretty good this year. Otherwise how the hell do you explain Stanford jumping up seven spots in the polls after beating a team that's 1-3? (Yes, I am aware that there were several major upsets on Saturday, but that is so not the point.)

    This is sort of starting to feel like familiar territory, isn't it? In the sense that it seems like we're actually a pretty decent football team, and apparently beating us means something...but we're not really winning too many games. So, um, shit.

    It's an interesting mix of issues this year. You can see some hangover problems from the last couple seasons, most notably in our run blocking and special teams return unit. I maintain that our run game has been decent so far mostly because Armando Allen is a beast, and regularly conjures yards out of nothing.

    Yet habit--strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?

    I am convinced that a lot of this goes back to the weak fundamentals we experienced under Charlie. Fundamentals require strength and technique built up via hours of mindless repetition, and unfortunately time is one thing you really don't have during the regular season.

    So although I am hoping for some across-the-board improvements as the season progresses (particularly as we go on to play our not-ranked-and-definitely-not-going-to-be-ranked opponents), I really don't think we have a chance at being dominant on the line of scrimmage until we've got another off-season under our belts. (Although as always, I hope the team proves me wrong.)

    And I think we will be dominant. Eventually. I have faith in the strength & conditioning staff. I have faith in the team. Of course I would like to see us win all of our games all the time, but as I've mentioned in previous weeks, I'm not looking for instant gratification here. I think what we're seeing right now is kind of a slow build up to where we want our team to be.

    You can already see the places where some of our fundamentals have improved, most notably on the defense. Tackling's been much better across the board. Secondary coverage has been very solid (although unfortunately I can't say the same of our pass-rush). Overall team effort & attitude is up at least 35% from last year. (Plus you could probably tack on at least another 10% uptick in morale because JimmayJimmayJimmay is no longer within a 50-mile radius of the stadium. Not that watching Jimmy-to-Golden wasn't fun. But you should all know how I feel about Jimmy Clausen by now, so moving right along....)

    So I'll take our team as a work-in-progress, at least for now. Even though the score ended up 37-14 (yikes), I was not disappointed with the effort our players put out--in the sense that they kept putting out. There's a lot of fight and not a lot of quit in these guys, and even though the results on the field are not at all as splendid as anyone remotely related to Irish football might have hoped, I still kind of get the feeling there's something good going on here.

    Perhaps you think I've been swallowing too many of Coach Kelly's presser comments without question, but damn if I don't keeping agreeing with the guy. For example, regarding how the players are dealing with the season record right now:

    Well, you know, we all want to win. They want to win football games. But they know what they're doing is making a difference. They're getting better. They're getting to the point where they can compete and think that they can win every game they play. They have to take solace in that right now, because I have to. We're all in this together as players and coaches. [...] I think what we get is that we know that we're making internal, in our own room, behind the walls, we know what we're doing, and I think that keeps us moving forward.

    And it's not like it's just the coach spouting all this off, either. The players seem to be coming from the exact same place. Like Dayne Crist, for example:

    We have guys that want to win, guys that know we can win, and we have a potential to win the rest of the games on our schedule. There's really that belief in the locker room. It goes all the way through. There's no guys in question right now of where we're going. That's a great feeling. Again, have to step up and be a leader of the offense and get us going in practice more than anything else.

    And of course all this goes hand-in-hand with my favorite quote from the movie Little Giants:

    "Just remember: football is 80% mental, and 40% physical."

    I am convinced that if we get the mental parts of our football team all aligned, the physical part will start spilling out like crazy.

    I mean, hell, just look at what Manti Te'o did this week.

    Is he mad? Anyway there's something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on an [offensive line] when it cracks.

    Or, in the words of Eminem, maybe that's what happens when a tornado meets a volcano: Manti Te'o emerges and makes twenty-one tackles.

    Which kind of overshadows how Harrison Smith had 11 tackles, and how Jamoris Slaughter had 7 tackles plus a 26-yard return on an interception; also how Zeke Motta recovered the fumble on Stanford's botched fair catch at the start of the game and Darrin Walls recorded an interception later on; plus how the defense recorded a season-high seven pass break-ups and put in a killer effort for the entire game.

    You've gotta hope that this kind of output from Te'o is only gonna amp up the rest of the defense more. And at this point they could probably use some help with the amping--not because they're not turning in a good performance overall, but because they're spending so much freaking time out there on the field.

    And (for those of you who didn't actually watch the game) the defense definitely did not play as poorly as the score indicates. Stanford did score a touchdown on their first drive of the game, but the first drive of the game is never anything to get up in arms about. And the defense proved that, because when Dayne Crist fumbled the ball away on our next possession and gave Stanford a huge momentum swing, we held them to only a field goal.

    In fact, the defense refused to let Stanford into the endzone again until the fourth quarter. Plus they only allowed them to score once in the third. Stanford had to settle for four field goals in a row, which would have put us in an excellent position to make something out of this game if our offense had managed to, you know, do something.

    Particularly in the third quarter. Scoring in the third quarter would have been really nice.

    But alas! Stanford kept putting the ball through the uprights--on the foot of former ND player Nate Whitaker, no less. (I think it's safe to say that's the best game he ever had inside Notre Dame Stadium.)

    And Notre Dame's offense continued to...not score.

    But at the beginning of the fourth quarter, it still seemed like all was not lost. I mean, maybe the team was just setting itself up for a really stunning comeback. Right?

    . . . because truly to enjoy [a victory], some small part of you must [have experienced a loss], for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.

    So then we're heading into the fourth quarter and the score is 19-6. The game is getting really frustrating, but it's not entirely out of hand. (Except of course that our offense still hasn't managed to find its rhythm, our run game is non-existent, and the defense is getting tired.) We have the ball at mid-field on a 3rd-and-1, and it looks like we have a good chance to keep the drive going. And then--then--

    We call a freaking pass play.

    What. The. Hell

    Not that I don't have faith in Kyle Rudolph or anything--but seriously, what the hell?! It's one yard. ONE YARD. And we don't complete the pass.

    So then we decide to run the ball on fourth down, and we don't convert. (Which, let's face it, is kind of embarrassing.)

    That is some combination of poor blocking and specious playcalling right there.

    I am not pleased about that. I am not pleased about that at all.

    Give not thyself up, then, to [turnovers], lest [they] invert thee, deaden thee...

    So after we turn the ball over on downs at midfield, Stanford takes advantage of the momentum swing and some killer field position to drive the ball down and find the endzone. And our defense is clearly slowing down at this point, because basically the whole drive consists of Stepfan Taylor catching a 23-yard pass and scampering all over the place for some first downs.

    And it looks like the D is going to make a killer goal line stand for like 2.2 seconds, but then Stanford gets a first down on like the 1 yard line, and because Stanford is not Washington (and they weren't subjected to a bunch of dumbass play calls), they manage to jam it in there. Plus the two-point conversion. (Which is lame like a one-legged waitress at IHOP named Eileen.)

    But it's like, okay, we're still in a position where Stanford's trying to put the game out of reach. So maybe if our next drive goes well--maybe if the offense finally gets something together--

    And ohhh hey look at that, Dayne Crist just threw a pick-six.

    Stick a harpoon in me, I'm done.

    Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a [losing record], sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the [team's young quarterback], like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every [misdirected pass] that is tossed to them...

    Okay, so, Dayne Crist is playing like a young quarterback, which isn't the end of the world because, um, he's a young quarterback. He obviously still doesn't have that much experience running the spread offense, and for some reason he keeps throwing interceptions and/or coughing up fumbles in every game. Which is really frustrating...but not completely devastating. After all, Brady Quinn was never more than a 50% passer until Charlie arrived, and Jimmy's freshman season was the worst in school history. (Not that this was entirely his fault, but, you know, facts are facts.)

    And actually, I think Dayne is playing better than Brady or Jimmy did in their debut seasons. There have been less interceptions overall, and Crist's 56% pass completion against Stanford is the worst mark he's put up all season. Plus, after throwing a pick-six, he went out there and drove us down the field for a touchdown in less than two minutes. And AA capped it off with a successful two-point conversion.

    Now that's maturity.

    Plus, even though there have obviously been mistakes and hesitations, I feel like Crist's tendencies as a young QB are not quite as frustrating to watch as, for example, Jimmy's. Crist has had a few crucial overthrows in the endzone, but he isn't constantly overthrowing the ball. And he's also not constantly refusing to throw the ball away, either, like some other quarterbacks I could mention. Nor does he seem to have a general propensity for throwing the ball downfield. I suspect that the lack of deep passing might have more to do with the playcalling than with Crist himself, but nevertheless I am pleased to see that he does not have the Jimmy Clausen/Rex Grossman complex of "F*** it, I'm throwing the ball downfield."

    And although this game obviously marked the offense's poorest performance so far, Crist still managed to throw for over 300 yards and a TD--even with Stanford in eight-man coverage for most of the game.

    On the flipside, of course, we wouldn't have had to throw 44 times if we'd been able to run the damn ball. AA only averaged 3.5 ypc this week, and the only other runner who even got his hands on the ball was Jonas Gray--4 touches for 12 yards.

    Pretty abysmal.

    I know I disparaged our run blocking earlier (and obviously it does need improvement), but you have to tip your hat to Stanford for this one. They played a good game. They did enough to prevent us from establishing any sort of rhythm, we went 4-of-13 in third down conversions, we turned the ball over a couple times, and we just couldn't get it done.

    To put it one way.


    I have some more beef with the playcalling in this game.


    Look, I don't really care who your opponent is--if your offense stalls on the first drive of the game and then immediately (miraculously) gets the ball back on a botched fair-catch fumble recovery, there is absolutely no excuse for not converting that into a touchdown. No excuse.

    I don't care if it's early in the game. I don't care if 3 points is better than 0. How the hell can you not convert that into a touchdown?!?!?

    And who in their right freaking mind gets down to the 11-yard line in the opening minutes of the first quarter and decides, "Oh hey, lets get tricksy and call a direct snap to our running back! The defense won't have any idea what to do with that play!!!!!"

    I mean, okay, I sort of understand the logic in direct-snapping it to your running back and then cleverly having the RB throw the ball instead of running with it.

    And I also kind of understand the logic behind direct-snapping it to your running back again and having him carry it the second time--because based on your previous play, perhas the defense will be all faked-out and think, "Oh, maybe he's going to pass again, maybe we should drop back into coverage or something." I mean, I get what he was going for there. It makes sense on paper.

    But NEWS FLASH: that kind of trickery is only effective when your first effing pass play from that formation gains more than three yards.

    And plus--WHAT THE HELL, it's still the first quarter. Now is not the time for crazy trickery. You have badass field position and an offense that has proved itself extremely capable of scoring in the red zone. Why the hell would you turn your back on that? What, was Dayne Crist having eyeball issues again?

    I mean, yes, I understand the desire to be bold--we've never used that kind of formation under Brian Kelly (right?), so we can assume Stanford wasn't really expecting to see that sort of thing from us. And obviously if it had worked, that would have been great.

    But you know, I've never really liked any of this stupid direct-snap Wildcat formation nonsense, not even when Golden Tate was running it and it actually occasionally worked for us. My whole theory is--you have a good quarterback, so whythefuck are you taking the ball out of his hands? You have a chance to go up seven early in the game--why are you taking a gamble?

    I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

    Maybe if you'd reversed some of the playcalling. Maybe if you'd had Dayne Crist throw to the endzone on first down instead of third. Maybe then your tricksy little direct-snap nonsense would've worked out better. Maybe.

    But I guess we'll never know.

    And just as long as I'm here ranting about the playcalling, I have another point of contention: WTF was up with that time-out at the end of the game? If you're going to go for the touchdown, great. I am all for that. But if you were going to go for it, why did you wait so freaking long to call the timeout??? If we'd called it right away, we could've gotten two more plays off instead of one. We probably could have scored again. Stanford's defense was letting us drive down the field by that point; the end of the fourth quarter was really the only time I ever saw a rhythm starting to emerge from our offense. So why--why--like, why?


    Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

    This seems like something both sides might say to themselves as we head out to Boston this week for a continuation of the Holy War.

    Once again, it seems like there really shouldn't be so much anger and bitterness involved in this matchup. But there absolutely is.

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Notre Dame students insist on referring to the only other private Catholic D-I football school in the country as "Backup College."

    Or maybe it has something to do with how Boston College never actually does anything brilliant on its own (national championships won by BC: zero), but it does have a long and glorious history of screwing up the national championship race for teams that are actually contendors.

    Or, as Herman Melville puts it, To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on [BC football], though [Doug Flutie and Matt Ryan] there be who have tried it.

    BC's not exactly looking like a powerhouse opponent this year, considering their two victories so far have been over Weber State and Kent State, they just lost 19-0 to Virginia Tech, and apparently they still have two QBs battling it out for the starting spot.

    But it's still a night game on ESPN in Boston, and after getting shut out last week I'm sure BC will be ready to bring it.

    Should be interesting to see how they handle the tornado/volcano on the east coast.

    Also should be interesting to see how the offense bounces back.

    You know, after all that ranting, I'm starting to feel better about life. And after reading the pressers from this week, I'm starting to get a better feeling about how the team's going to handle their second road game.

    But--as always--I guess we'll see.

    But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep.

    For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this [football program], they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include...all the generations of [All-Americans], and [coaches], and [Heisman winners], past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of [Catholic Disney World], and throughout the whole [college football] universe, not excluding its [non-BCS] suburbs.

    It was that accursed [twenty-year championship drought] that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!... I'll chase [it] round [the Big House], and round the [Coliseum], and round the [Orange Bowl], and round perdition's flames before I give [it] up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that [twelfth championship] on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till [it] spouts [blue banners] and rolls [trophies] out.

    All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy [Irish fans], are visibly personified, and made practically assailable in [that elusive twelfth national championship]. We pile upon the [Golden Dome] the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by [the college football world], from [USC and Backup College and Bo Schembechler on] down....

    Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering [twelfth national championship]; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.

    And in the meantime....GO IRISH BEAT EAGLES!

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Press Conference Quotes: "Go Irish Beat Cardinal" edition

    Grab-bag of quotes from the Wednesday pressers.

    These thoughts are belated as always, of course, but it's a Football Friday and I've got to do something to keep myself from going crazy over lunch hour.

    First up, comments from Coach Kelly. Lots of quality tidbits here.

    On how the team is looking at this point in the season...

    I mean, we're in the first quarter of our season, first chapter of the book. I think it's a little frustrating to read right now, but I'd stick with the book. I think it's going to be a good read.

    I second that opinion. We've had some tough losses, but we're not a bad team.

    On how the players are faring sitting at 1-2...
    This team is getting better each week. They're frustrated right now that they haven't got it over the finish line, so to speak, but I like our kids and the way they're competing and practicing and doing the things that we're asking them to do.

    Just keep pluggin', guys. Instant gratification is swell, but it takes time and intense pressure to produce (for example) a diamond.

    On an impressive defensive stat that I totally overlooked...
    Minus 6 yards rushing in the fourth quarter on the road against a team that wants to impose their will on you rushing the football. Those are good signs.

    On the defense's toughness...

    Look, I'm not a big numbers guy, and I don't get wrapped up in it, but I watch them. And what I liked about our defense that will carry the day is they played tough when tough was required, and that's what we've been preaching. Be tough gentlemen. Gentlemen off the field, be tough when tough is required, and our defense played tough when they needed to play tough.

    Although you may be thinking, "But what about all those flagrant mistakes? Those huge runs we gave up against Michigan and MSU?" (Unless you already listened to this press conference, in which case you already know Coach Kelly's comments.)

    So, on improving the defense...
    And look, this is not an excuse. We've got to make those plays. But you ask me why you see there's light at the end of the tunnel, it's those things we know that we can correct. If I was standing there before going, we've got no chance to stop the run, that's a different feeling. I feel like the way we performed on the road in the fourth quarter against a team that was going to run the ball gives us some real good things to look for.

    Shifting gears here, I also appreciated the comments about the team's attitude after the loss.

    Look, you can't fake losing, okay. You can't fake hurt after a game. So when I looked through the locker room, I could tell who the phonies are, and I know the guys that it really hurts. [...] This group, it hurts.

    Well, damn straight it better hurt.

    On bouncing back after a loss...

    Q. Getting back to all the close losses this team has had the last couple years, you hear people say that a team needs to learn how to win a close game. Do you believe in that at all or is that just a bunch of talk?

    COACH KELLY: No, not this group. I've had teams that didn't know how to win. You could just tell. That's not this group. They need to play cleaner. They've got to do some things during the game that obviously puts them in a position to close out games. No, this team does not have that sense, from me, if you will, that they don't know how to win. They know how to win. They have to play cleaner, and championship teams do.

    Which seems to be backed up by the mentality of the players....

    Q. When you look at your stats, you set a bunch of records for a first time starting quarterback on the road in terms of touchdowns and yards. As I look at you right now, you don't really care about that because you didn't get the win.
    Dayne Crist: That's dead on, yup.

    Q. Talk about that mentality that you must have as a quarterback, that's the only part that really matters is getting the victory in the end.
    Dayne Crist: That's the only stat, like you say, at the end of the day that matters to me, honestly, is wins. If we're not winning, nothing else is important. We obviously have a lot of work to do to correct that and make sure we're getting the win on Saturday.

    Also, just to close...absolutely love Dayne Crist's attitude about road games. I know I maligned him a bit for appearing out-of-focus this week on the road, but you gotta respect this attitude.

    Throughout my entire career, in high school and in some of the limited action I had in college so far, personally I just love playing on the road. I think that's a pretty special environment. I mean, granted, I love playing in front of your home fans, but there's something pretty cool about going into a place where everyone hates you, everyone is screaming at you, is against you. All you really have is the guys you traveled with. I think that's an exciting opportunity. Some people would say that's overwhelming, but I really enjoy that.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Totally Flabbergasted and Faked Out

    Notre Dame 31, MSU 34

    Nothing takes it out of me like a night game at Spartan Stadium.

    I’m not sure what it is.

    It's not like it's that mutant-doomsday, total-fallout sort of feeling I get after watching a mushroom-cloud end to the season belch its way out of the bowels of the Coliseum.

    It's not like it’s that totally gutted sensation of arriving home after a clawing shitfest of a gang fight in the Big House with putrid streaks of maize dripping down your arms.

    It's not even like it's that scabbed-over, wart-filled, pus-seething ooze of a reaction that accompanies the not-so-ancient boils and bitterness of the Holy War.

    It’s not like that at all.

    It's more like…showing up at a banquet being thrown in your honor only to have your host spit on your shoes, serve you meat cooked with maggots and drinks laced with piss and expect you to stay and smile while you’re eating it. And you stay, but just to spite them. You stay just to piss them off, even though you know by the end of the night they'll have insulted you and booted you out the front door while attempting to shove their country's flag up your ass. (Although by that time they’ll be so drunk that they'll miss and end up shoving it through your shoulder blades instead.)

    And it always shocks me that I feel so strongly about MSU. Maybe it's the result of once having spent four hours standing in the rain and the cold and the mud screaming at the top of my lungs with nothing to keep me upright but adrenaline and pure rage. Or maybe it's something about the sheer unexpected hostility of the place (why are they always so angry? why do they hate our band so much?) -- knowing on both sides that we are not each other's biggest rival, knowing that Notre Dame owns the all-time series by a killer margin, knowing that no matter what MSU does early in the season, the team will most likely fizzle out and choke on applesauce in the end, because that’s what they do.

    So maybe that's why there's little left besides rancid bitterness. Maybe that's why all touches of class (except for I guess the MSB) seem to have dissolved from the rivalry. Maybe that's why it's impossible to watch the players beat up on each other in the dark miserable hours of the night without feeling like all the energy and honor and glory are being sucked right out of you. Or injected back into you…as the case may be.

    And here’s Brian Kelly, trying to coach us into a team of tough gentlemen, letting the clock elapse into overtime, not even suspecting that an opponent’s FORTY-SIX YARD FIELD GOAL might be a fake.

    I think the time of being a gentleman’s gentleman in the game of football may have passed.

    I think it may have passed back in 1966.

    And not to mention I hate overtime more than anything else invented in sports EVER and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GRIDIRONED WHY WOULD YOU WILLINGLY PUT YOUR TEAM THROUGH THAT??????????????????????????????




    I mean...have you been paying attention to our overtime records recently?


    Return of the Killer Cyclops

    Dayne Crist, you are breaking my heart.Well...sort of.

    I mean, not entirely. But how long is this Cyclops thing going to last, anyway? You were definitely not all there for a good chunk of the game on Saturday. Or maybe one of your eyes just wasn’t all there. It’s difficult to say.

    Some signs that Dayne Crist perhaps did not have all his chakras aligned or his energy patterns crossed or his biorhythms on the correct wavelength for part of the game:

    -We scored once in the first quarter and did not score again until the third

    -During the three possessions that followed our first touchdown, Crist went 3-for-9 passing and threw an interception that set MSU up for their first score

    -We drew two delay-of-game penalties running our no-huddle offense.

    However, conversely:

    -We scored touchdowns in our first three possessions of the second half

    -On those scoring drives, Crist went 16-of-19 passing, with a stretch of 8 completions in a row

    -We scored every time we made it to the red zone

    To sum up: when Dayne Crist is on, we are golden. When he is not, we are screwed.

    And this should not really be the case, because our run game should be better than it is. Armando Allen may be averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but the team as a whole for this game is averaging something closer to 3.5. Which suggests scurrilous things about our run blocking, I'm sure.

    I am also not sure how I feel about this general philosophy of, “Oh hey, we just got 10+ yards on that run play1 let’s run the exact same play again, except to a different side!”

    I mean, on the one hand I support the theory that you should keep shoving your run game down the other team's throat until they absolutely force you to shut it down--and if they let you get away with running the same play over and over again, more power to you. But what the hell, let’s please not bank on that. Let’s bank on our O-line getting tougher and opening up some bigger gaps instead.

    Also, I thought I sensed some hesitancy in Dayne Crist about getting hit. This hesitancy did not exist in the Purdue game. Or the first part of the Michigan game. I understand why it exists now, of course, and of course no one wants to see Crist get injured. However. Seeing as we're running the spread these days, our quarterback’s gotta have two eyes and two feet. (This is a unique requirement among spread quarterbacks. I’m sure you were not aware.) And we all saw how hesitation put a real dent in Floyd's production last fall. We cannot survive the same sort of hesitation from our QB.

    This is not to say that Crist is playing terribly. He just needs to be with it for the entire game. Otherwise, as mentioned, we are screwed.

    Tackles for Loss, Tired Samoans, and other things that kept our defense going

    So, considering how well our defense seems to be playing, it's kind of shocking that we've lost these last two games. Just like it was kind of shocking to check the stats after the Michigan game and discover that we'd given up over 500 yards of total offense. (Michigan's defense did too, but they didn't lose so that seems less detrimental.) And against MSU, we gave up 477 yards of offense (once again about the same number of yards their defense surrendered), failed to shut down a fake field goal, gave up thirty points to our opponent for the first time all season, lost, know what the funny thing is? I feel like they really didn't play that poorly. It's possible that there's a huge gap between my perception and reality these days, but I don't really think so.

    The numbers from this game alone are impressive. Three players with double-digit tackles. Four sacks. Two QB hurries. Five pass break-ups. One interception. Eight tackles for loss (including the sacks) caused by seven different players.Eight players with at least five recorded tackles. Forced MSU into four three-and-outs.

    Once again, it will not surprise anyone to learn that Manti Te'o was the team leader in tackles (11 total, 2.5 TFL), accompanied this week by Zeke Motta (who had a really breakthrough game with 11 tackles, 0.5 TFL, and an interception) and Harrison Smith (10 tackles, 1 pass break-up), who also had a killer game against Michigan. Carlo Calabrese didn't stand out in total tackles as he has for the past two weeks, but he did register 1.5 sacks. Other standouts include Darius Fleming, who had 2 sacks, 6 tackles, and a QB hurry, and Ian Williams with 8 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Among others. The sheer number of players with flashy stats to report really says something positive about the kind of across-the-board effort and teamwork coming out of our defense these days.

    Although--point of concern--both Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta are safeties. And as noted last year, on several occasions, when safeties are leading your team in tackles, it is not the best sign in the world.

    And speaking of the flipside here.... Although it does seem like our defense is making tremendous progress in general, there are quite a few worrisome stats buried in the numbers as well. For example:

    -Despite the four sacks, Kirk Cousins still threw for over 200 yards, with 2 TDs and 70% pass completion

    -MSU's top two rushers averaged 6.7 and 6.4 yards per carry, respectively

    -Michigan State successfully converted both of their fourth down attempts.

    -As well as that f&@$#*% fake field goal in overtime.

    So, as mentioned, overtime is the most excruciatingly hideous thing ever invented in all of sports and I hate it. And any time you go into overtime, it's hard not to think about how you got there--and what you could've done to avoid being there. you start adding up all the things you could've done in regulation (if only we'd had one less turnover, if only we'd gotten close enough to kick that field goal at the end), but those things don't matter, because they didn't happen, so you've got to let them go. (Isn't that what the players try to do every week?)

    And even with all the abject horror, shock, and desolation I felt watching that fake field goal make it to the endzone (SERIOUSLY WHO HAS THE KIND OF BALLS TO CALL THAT PLAY!? Not Brian Kelly, apparently, because he totally didn't see it coming), it's not like you can really blame the defense (or special teams unit, as it were) for not catching the play. You can't be like, "Well screw you, you should've prepared for that."

    It what it is.

    The defense didn't turn in a perfect performance by any means, but I don't know, I just feel like they sort of did they best they could at this point in the season, and at the end of the game they were just too worn out to do everything they were capable of.

    I hate to say this. They're in such better shape than last year. They really are. But what can you do in the face of turnovers? What can you do when it's your first away game of the season? Your first night game? And you're on the field for ten full minutes of playing time longer than your offense, and you can't get off the field long enough to catch your breath?

    I don't think I've ever seen anyone look as exhausted as Manti Te'o looked at the end of that game. I didn't even know Manti Te'o could be that tired.

    Although speaking of things, persons, and theme songs associated with Hawaii...

    Allow me to take a break from all the football rambling to put in a brief plug for the Notre Dame Band.

    As you may or may not be aware, CBS is hosting a contest for the best rendition of the Hawaii Five-O theme song performed by a college band. The winning band receives $25,000. The winner will be decided entirely by fan voting, so you should go VOTE FOR THE NOTRE DAME BAND:

    If the Notre Dame Band wins this contest, they will use the money for charity. But that's not why you should vote for them. You should vote for them because their video is clearly the best. And I am not just saying this because I'm and alumni and I'm biased. I actually sat through all of the videos on the website, just to be fair (and consequently I have had the Hawaii Five-O theme song stuck in my head for two days), and there are clearly no other submissions that can compete with surfing stick men and an exploding volcano. There are even third-party websites that agree with me. If you don't believe me, you can always check the website out yourself. And VOTE!

    And now back to your regularly scheduled football rant

    So anyway. I don't quite know how to explain this. I mean, yes, I realize that we've lost the lost two games, and I've been very depressed about this, but all the same I get the feeling that we're not actually doing that poorly. Not only have the losses been quite close, but...I just feel like it's notreally anyone's fault anymore. It's not really any one unit that's dragging us down; there are faults on all sides of the ball, including the coaching staff.

    But at the same time, that means there's less of a gap between the performance of one unit versus another. Somehow it just feels like everything's more evenly spread this year. The responsibility, the successes, the failures, the blame. Somehow it just all seems more closely intertwined. Somehow it seems more like

    As I've said, I feel like our team's really pretty good, except of course that we keep losing.

    And this makes me feel oddly optimistic about next season...but not necessarily next week.

    Visions of the future

    So we are playing Stanford this week. But in order to anticipate the future, you have to understand the past, so allow me to point out some interesting trends I have noticed over the first three games:

    *Turnovers. Two lost fumbles and an interception against MSU; three interceptions against Michigan; one lost fumble (three total fumbles) against Purdue. The good news is that our defense has been stout enough to prevent our opponents from capitalizing on the most of those turnovers. The lost fumble against Purdue we got back via a stunning interception by Darrin Walls; the two lost fumbles against MSU, as well as two of the interceptions by Michigan amounted to nothing more than a few punts and some wear & tear on our defense.

    But the bad news is that both MSU and Michigan did manage to capitalize on one turnover apiece. And as close as both of those games were, those were changes of possession that we really couldn't afford to give up.

    The even worse news is that in our first three games we've had as many turnovers as touchdown passes. (Seven, for those of you who don't feel like counting.) Our opponents, in their games against us, only committed three turnovers combined.

    So if you throw in that safety we coughed up against Purdue, you've got about 8 reasons why--despite AA averaging 5.5 ypc and Dayne Crist throwing for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns against MSU--our offense hasn't managed to find its identity yet and we're sitting here at 1-2. If you tack on the lackluster performances of our backup QBs during the Michigan game, I'd say you've got about 10 reasons.

    Taking control of the field at this point doesn't seem to be so much a matter of moving the chains or controlling the clock. After all, the no-huddle spread isn't an offense that pays much heed to time of possession statistics. And when we've got momentum, we've got no problem moving the chains.

    But when you're committing that many turnovers, you're not in control of anything. We don't need to score on every drive (although that would be nice), we just need to keep the ball in our hands when it's ours. And if we have to give it away, it had better be a punt.

    Because if we continue to commit these kinds of turnovers against teams like Stanford and BC and Utah, we are royally effing screwed.

    *Penalties. Against Purdue and Michigan, our opponents incurred twice as many penalties as we did. Purdue got flagged 5-for-33 and Michigan had 8-for-99; Notre Dame only racked up 2-for-15 and 4-for-29 in those games respectively.

    The Purdue game was relatively clean all around; both teams pretty much just drew standard penalties like holding and false starts. (And kudos to the crowd, of course, for helping to incur those false starts.)

    The Michigan game, to no one's surprise, was played much dirtier--at least on Michigan's side. At least four of their eight penalties were personal fouls; the rest were fairly innocuous things like holding penalties and false starts, which ND had a few of as well.

    Overall, the first two games were played pretty clean on our side. The only really troubling thing I noticed among these penalties was that we got called for an illegal formation once in each of our first two games. (Although the illegal formation call against Michigan was declined, so technically it didn't count against us.) You could take this as a sign that we're still working out the kinks of our offense--which we are--but it's frustrating to see because it's sloppy, and we don't want to devolve into sloppiness.

    Against MSU, the penalties were more alarming. In our first two games we drew six total penalties. Against MSU, we had seven. And I wouldn't say these penalties marked an increase in sloppiness so much as a lack of focus. The two delay of game penalties, as previously mentioned; a false start, a case of pass interference, an illegal block in the back, and two personal fouls.

    And somehow, miraculously, our opponent still managed to come out of the game with four more penalties than we had.

    Like I said, I don't know what it is about night games in Spartan Stadium. They always seem to bring out the worst in both sides.

    *Strong second half starts. Three weeks in a row we've scored a touchdown on our first possession of the second half. Against Purdue we scored on our first possession for a TD, against Michigan we scored on our first two possessions for a TD and a FG, and against MSU we scored on our first three possessions in the second half for 3 TDs. So clearly this means we're going to come out and score four in a row against Stanford.

    Despite this fun little trend, we've also made lot of our mistakes during the second half. After scoring that 3rd-quarter TD against Purdue, our next two possessions resulted in a fumble and a safety. The next drive after our FG against Michigan ended in an interception. After scoring 3 TDs in a row, our next two posessions against MSU fizzled away into a 3-and-out and a fumble.

    Well shit, you might say. This is getting alarming.

    You should give due credit to the opposing defenses, of course, for forcing/capitalizing on our fumbles, snagging the interceptions, and finally cracking down after letting us score three in a row. But mostly you should feel alarmed by our lack of consistency. It's not like we're going out there after successful scoring drives and having lackluster possessions that result in us moving the chains a couple times before being forced into a respectable punt. No. We're going out there after successful scoring drives and coughing the ball up, getting shut down, letting the momentum swing away from us.

    And if you're letting that kind of shit happen, you are not putting yourself in a position to win games.

    So what do we need to do to beat Stanford?

    Not get injured.

    Not commit any turnovers.

    Not give up any big run plays.

    Not get fooled by any fake field goals.

    Not call plays so ballsy they cause us to go home and have heart attacks after the game.

    (Note: In all sincerity, my prayers & best wishes go out to the MSU head coach. Extremely frightening and unfortunate, that.)

    And, um, let's try to keep the vision good in both eyes and not commit any delay-of-game penalties again...shall we?