Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cyclops vs. the Kraken

Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24

So. I am not particularly enthused to be talking about this game. Which you may have gathered, considering it’s Tuesday and I haven’t posted yet. Hmm. Fabulous. It’s been a real rip-snorter of a week so far.


Last week’s impromptu analogy about Cyclops vs. the Kraken turned out to be shockingly accurate for this week’s game, considering that it was slightly damp on Saturday, certain Michigan players have dreadlocks that vaguely resemble tentacles, and Dayne Crist apparently had to go out of the game for a while because he wasn’t feeling well and was having trouble seeing out of his right eye. (Post-game comments from Coach Kelly suggest that he hit his head on the ground too hard on a running play, although the coaching staff did not say that it was not a concussion, otherwise they never would have put Crist back in.)

To provide a general sweeping overview of the game, all I have to say is that Cyclops was THREE SECONDS AWAY FROM GLORY…and then nothing. Cyclops got poked in the eye.

Things to take note of when Cyclops is down for the count

Sorry, Dayne. I really don’t think of you as Cyclops. (Or the team, for that matter.) I’m not even totally sure there was something wrong with your right eye. This is just what I learned via some mad texting during the game. (Bahaha. Speaking of texting during the game. All you young alumni out there might want to check out this post on the “Things Notre Dame Students Like” blog.)

I am still not sure that I enjoy this analogy very much, because the Cyclops has always seemed like kind of a weak opponent to me (what with his lack of depth perception and all), and also I’m pretty sure that comparing Michigan to an enormous, many-tentacled spawn of the world’s nether-regions is WAY TOO INTERESTING for them. Even with Denard Robinson and his Dashing Dreadlocks, Michigan football doesn’t exactly inspire dread on the same level as some demonic denizen of the deep. No, it just sort of lingers around in your psyche like the fart of a rabid skunkbear, ruining your mental state for days on end but not actually causing harm in any lasting way.


Although I will reiterate some of my comments from last week and say, once again, that I am not expecting some sort of dream season, and in fact would be a little alarmed (though not unhappy) if we did. We have to treat this as a work-in-progress, because that’s what it is. We don’t have a real team identity yet on offense. We don’t yet have that late-game, fourth-quarter, game-saving push on defense.

Although we do continue to have some killer special teams, particularly compared to Michigan’s special teams (bahaha), which I will not complain about at all.

So, some actual notes on the offense:

-- It is impossible to feel overly pleased about a game in which your first, second, and third string quarterbacks all throw interceptions.

--It is frightening how much of a difference Dayne Crist makes. Some combination of maturity and, um…maturity…must be the main factor in his success, because sure as shit none of the QBs on our team right now have a lot of actual experience playing the college game. One of Coach Kelly’s comments on the performance of the backup quarterbacks after the game: “I did a poor job preparing them.”

Undeniably their performance was disappointing, especially considering that in his second season at Cincinnati, Coach Kelly rotated five different quarterbacks through his spread offense and his team still managed to win the Big East. (This is one of my favorite fast facts about Coach Kelly. I randomly spew it at people all the time). I must admit I was hoping for something better from our backup QBs, but I have to keep reminding myself that, first of all, you can only expect so much progress after one off-season. Second of all, no amount of practice (not even high-tempo practice) can simulate what it’s like going into a game for the first time. And third of all, it is unfair point too many fingers at the quarterback. (Unless the quarterback is Jimmy Clausen.)

Obviously some of it falls on the coaching staff. If they’re going to preach a “next man in” philosophy to the team, they better make sure that applies to the quarterbacks, too. I liked another comment Coach Kelly made about possibly creating some different packages for the backup QB’s, maybe finding some schemes that would allow them to manage the game a little better if they’re put in that situation again. Of course this is the sort of thing you always wish would have been implemented before the game, instead of having to talk about it after a loss…but nevertheless I’m liking the thought here.

So many intangibles get thrown out of whack when your starting QB goes down, and I think if Kelly does decide to install specific packages for the backup QBs, it will create an extra comfort level for all of the players. It seems to me like it would be harder and more jarring to have a QB jump in during the middle of a game and start running the same packages in a slightly different manner than it would be to have a completely different set of packages for each QB. Having different packages means you can adapt to the unique style of each gunslinger, and it means your whole offense knows what the backup plan is. Then everyone can be like, “Aha, Tommy is in, we’re going to do thus-and-such,” as opposed to, “Oh crap, Dayne Crist wasn’t supposed to get injured AGAIN. Now what do we do?” (Don’t try to tell me the players weren’t thinking that. They totally were. For at least 2.2 seconds.) So I am expecting better things for the future here. I guess we’ll see.

Or, hopefully, Dayne Crist will remain uninjured and we won’t see.

--I’m liking T.J. Jones so far. A true freshman with two games and two TDs. Nothing further to say on this, but I like it.

--ND’s opening scoring drive churned up 71 yards over the course of 13 plays. Our two touchdown drives in the second half combined for nearly 150 yards and took a grand total of 3 plays to accomplish. I like that we can make quick strikes, of course, but I would like it even more if we didn’t have to. And I would rather see the other team’s defense getting all tired out in the fourth quarter than ours.

--It’s pointless to speculate about how the game might have gone had Crist not gone out in the first half (when Michigan did most of their scoring), but it was nice to see our team bounce back after halftime. We rallied. We came back fighting on both sides of the ball. We did not quit, even if we did cough up that last-minute scoring drive to our opponent. But we nearly had a last-minute score of our own—we came within three freaking seconds of doing something spectacular—but alas. Ball overthrown. Game over. Better luck next week.

Notes on defense…

-During the second half, Michigan didn’t score for nearly two full quarters. In fact, Michigan had possession of the ball for 11 minutes and 45 seconds during the fourth quarter and they only scored once. Unfortunately this was the score that won them the game, but still. Our defense kept us in the game during the second half, and as the result of sheer tenacity (and Michigan’s really shitty kicking game), they managed to hold our opponent to less than 30 points for the second week in a row, which was something they seemed to be incapable of doing for pretty much all of last season.

-Notre Dame’s offense committed three turnovers and Michigan only made us pay for it once.

-Michigan was 3-of-16 on third down conversions. Although unfortunately they still had 532 yards of total offense (Notre Dame had 535), so we can assume they were having a lot more success on first and second downs.

-Denard Robinson was personally responsible for 258 yards on the ground and threw for 244 in the air, which adds up to 502, aka 94.4% of the total yards gained by the entire Michigan offense. Which is impressive and at the same time slightly sickening. In the same vein, Robinson is now over a third of the way toward having a 1,000 yard rushing season, and it is only the second game of the year. (Please excuse me while I vomit a little.)

-Although speaking of the Dashing Dreadlocks, Coach Kelly had a good comment in the postgame presser. This is definitely something to think about: “He’s a tough kid. […] When you run a quarterback 25 times, you've got to have toughness. I'll let Coach figure out whether that's the case for 10 games. Coach Rodriguez knows his team better than I do. But we hit him pretty hard today.” Um yeeeah. Raise your hand if you think RichRod isn’t going to relent until Robinson is completely concussed and hobbling and broken. (I’m not saying I endorse this sort of thing. The prospect is completely horrifying. But if you recognize what a skeazebox Rodriguez is and you’ve heard anything at all about the Michigan practice violations, you may agree with me when I say that Rodriguez doesn’t exactly seem like a coach who knows where to draw the line.)

-In other depressing news, credit for Denard Robinson cannot go entirely to Denard Robinson. (Even if he is—to steal a line from Pretty Woman—a “slippery little sucker.” P.S. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie: that line is about snails.) Those holes didn’t come out of nowhere. Did you see that blocking? There was some killer blocking. We need some killer blocking. Armando Allen touched the ball 15 times and didn’t even break a hundred yards. 5.9 yards per carry is extremely decent (and way better than last year’s averages, which always seemed to hover somewhere around 4.5), but we weren’t getting enough production when Crist was off the field to actually score. Sure, some of it falls on the quarterback to hurry up and snap the ball before the defense gets a good read on what the offense is doing, but hey, does it really matter if they figure out what you’re doing as long as you manage to block the shit of them? That’s what we need a little more work on. Blocking the shit out of people.

-Defensive leaderboard… Leading the team in tackles this week again, to no one’s surprise, was Manti Te’o with 13 (6 solo, 1 TFL). followed by Carlo Calabrese with 10 (5 solo). Harrison smith and Darrin Walls are next with 9 and 8 tackles respectively; Walls had the most solo tackles on the team this week with 7, which suggests that Denard Robinson’s 244 passing yards were keeping him busy.

-Obviously extremely disappointed that we gave up that last drive. Really no excuse for that except fatigue, and it seems like fatigue shouldn’t be much of an excuse as long as adrenaline still exists. But, as mentioned in the first defensive note here, our D was on the field with the Michigan offense for 11:45 in the fourth quarter. After keeping Michigan at bay for the entire second half, we must assume that fatigue is the reason Michigan got away with that late-game bullshit. (I’m not sure what their defense’s excuse is for letting us nearly come back and score again with only 20 seconds left in the game, but that’s their problem, I guess.) Maybe with another year of conditioning and a more balanced / time-consuming / prolific offensive attack this sort of thing will no longer be an issue???

Thoughts on this week

I am practically falling asleep at my keyboard now (it’s way past my bedtime; I’ve grown so weak in my old age), so I will just wrap this up really quickly by saying that obviously I’m woefully disappointed that we did not pull out the win, particularly since it seemed like we were going to after the sun came out and Kyle Rudolph pulled off that dazzlingly spectacular 95-yard TD run. But, as mentioned before, alas. Not so.

And so I have spent the past three days moping and now feel it is time to move on and think about how we are going to demolish MSU.

This is my theory, anyway. You see, for the last several years (like at least five or six now), we have only been able to beat either Michigan or MSU, but not both in the same season. So my hypothesis is that since we lost to Michigan (rawrg), we will surely beat MSU. Particularly since MSU has no Denard Robinson and I am assuming both of Dayne Crist’s eyeballs will be in excellent condition for the duration of the game.


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