Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Notre Dame 31, MSU 13

In case you're not familiar with the term, a palindrome is a word (or a series of numbers) that's the same backwards as it is forwards. Like "Hannah." Or "Stanley Yelnats." Or "A man a plan a canal Panama."

Or 31-13.

May a moody baby doom a yam?

Right, so not all palindromes make sense, but then neither do inexplicable back-to-back face mask penalties by fifth-year captains during the season opener, so as a sports fan you've got to gird yourself for a certain amount of bewilderment. You've also got to live with the conviction that at the end of long periods of murk and confusion, daylight bursts.

The longer it's been since you've seen the light, the more dazzling it is. And you don't want it to keep flashing into view and then retreating; you want it to stick around long enough to get used to. You want it to shine so often it doesn't burn you.

Only then can you stop worrying about whether the offense is going to keep doling out balls like a machine at the batting cages; or whether the defense is going to do its best impression of a sieve and allow a last-second touchdown in a down-to-the-wire, heart-cleaving rivalry game; or whether the team as a whole is going to play so sloppily it makes you want to wail and fling things like an infant making a mess out of a mashed-up mound of sweet potatoes.

Only then can you pound out a solid, undeniable victory for four quarters against a good team with an obnoxious bipolar fan base wielding an inferiority complex the size of the ACC (which, by the way Dan Wetzel, Notre Dame is NOT INTERESTED IN JOINING).

Only then can you remember what it feels like to breathe--and in turn exude correspondingly louder shouts of exultation.

In an interview with Jack Nolan this week, Coach Kelly dismissed the notion that there might be any lingering "Oh no, here we go again" mentality clinging to the team following the first two games:

"Our players don't have it. You know, I'd like to get our stadium to [not] have it as well, because I didn't think that we were loud enough on the last couple of drives in our stadium. We've really gotta get that cranked up, and that's a challenge to all of our fans."


I like that our campus is generally pleasant to visit and we try to keep Catholic Disney World classy for our visitors, but the stadium only ever really gets loud when we're playing Michigan or USC. Even if we're starting 0-2, that's just not good enough. Especially when it's the kind of 0-2 start we've had this season--you know, the kind where Vegas favors your team every week even though you haven't actually won a game yet.

To gank an observation from Irish Illustrated, the team ain't exactly feelin' all peaches-and-cream about the first two weeks of the season, either.

"They're not going to forget the fact that they've let two games slip away," said Kelly during his Sunday teleconference. "I'm hoping that the mentality that they carried with them at practice [last] week is one that stays with them the rest of the season because you're absolutely right, you want that feeling of, 'We're not going to let this happen again; enough is enough."

Enough IS enough.

Enough with the turnovers. Enough with the doubting. Enough with the failing-to-play-four-quarters-of-football. Enough with everyone knocking on Gary Gray--who, despite being a bit overshadowed by the stellar efforts of Robert Blanton, Harrison Smith, and a bevy of other defensive knockouts, had a great comeback after his perplexing play against Michigan and was singled out by Coach Kelly in the locker room to lead the fight song after the game.

And ENOUGH ALREADY with the fake field goals, MSU. We've got your number now. You're just an OOZY RAT IN A SANITARY ZOO, and we wash our hands of you.

No, it never propagates if I set a gap or prevention

...unless I'm a defense pluggin' up gaps and preventing yo' ass from scoring.

I could get used to watching defense like that. It wasn't perfect, of course--MSU outgained us in yards of total offense and accumulated more first downs--but the scoreboard is what matters, and at the end of the day it was all pretty friggin' impressive.

Our D shut down MSU's rushing attack--they had 29 net yards rushing on 23 attempts for a whopping 1.3 yards per carry. Some combination of a PASS RUSH I NEVER KNEW EXISTED and some key clamp-down plays by our secondary forced Kirk Cousins to throw for short yardage, basically betrothing him to screen passes in the second half.

Toward the end of the game, MSU drove into scoring territory more times than I would've liked, but then Cousins is a good quarterback, and it would be ridiculous not to expect him to make plays. The important thing is that our defense buckled down when it mattered.

And here are the stats that do matter: Only three points allowed off three turnovers. No touchdowns allowed after the first quarter. One forced fumble and one interception, with both turnovers occurring immediately after Notre Dame coughed up the ball to MSU.

The defense finally looks like they're back in the groove they had at the end of last season. It's difficult to say who had the best game, because there were so many players out there sharing the load and kicking ass. Manti Te'o (man-beast) led the team in tackles as usual, with 12, but Gary Gray was not far behind with 10. Harrison Smith resumed his post as resident ball magnet with five pass break-ups and 8 total tackles. Freshman Aaron Lynch channeled the spirit of Victor Abiamiri and came up big with five tackles, six quarterback hurries, and a sack that caused MSU's forced fumble, which was scooped up by fellow defensive end Ethan Johnson.

And Robert Blanton, of course, did his best to upstage everybody with six total tackles--including one sack and three tackles for loss--three pass break-ups, and the game-clinching interception followed by an 82-yard return that set up ND's final score of the game.

I spew all these stats at you not because I think they'll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (ALTHOUGH THEY SHOULD), but because they are reflective of a total defensive effort. There's not one guy on this squad who doesn't play, or who doesn't think this team can win. Even if there are still tremors of doubt in the fan base, this is team is mentally locked in. And now they're finally going out on the field and proving it.

I admit to some amount of dread and horror when Goodman fumbled that fair catch in the fourth quarter and MSU recovered the ball deep in Irish territory. It was even more infuriating because the play clock clearly went down to zero before the ball was snapped; if you watch some of the game footage on UND.com, you can even hear one of the coaches yell out "Delay of game!" from the sidelines. (I'm pretty sure the clock went down to zero before MSU's fake field goal attempt in OT last year, too, but whatever.)

And if the game had gone differently...well, that'd just be one more thorn to pull out of my side, wouldn't it?

But things didn't go that way this time. Our team refused to let it go that way.

You could say Robert Blanton got lucky, but I think the defense is getting to the point where they're not just lucky; they're creating their own luck. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it, "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."

The team is working that hard, and we're starting to see its effects. We're not falling apart--we're getting stronger. If this trend holds for the rest of the season (which I believe it will), our defense isn't just going to be good; they're gonna be great. And if it holds through next season, they're gonna be friggin' elite.

Go deliver a dare, vile dog!

I dare you to malign the play of our offense in the second half. Go on. I dare you.

Okay, so actually that's a terrible dare, because our offensive play in the second half wasn't particularly flashy or exciting or, um, point-scoring, but it did have a couple things going for it:

1) We held on to the football.

2) We held onto the football.

Ideally one day this will not be a statistic we get so excited about, but coming into this week we were pretty much ranked dead last in D-I for turnover margin. (Now we're one up from dead last.) And although I would have liked to see our run game churn up a few more yards and our boys pick up a couple more first downs, I'm perfectly okay with an offense that scores 24 points and doesn't cough up the ball when the team's ahead in the second half. MSU has a good defense and they made some key adjustments; Notre Dame was ahead and played conservative to keep the lead without endangering the football (a la South Florida).

Of course it is worrisome to think that the offense might not have scored at all in the second half if it weren't for Blanton's 83-yard interception return. They didn't even manage to get into field goal range for nearly two whole quarters. It'd be nice to have a run game bruising enough to pick up yards even when we're not grappling for the lead.

The offense isn't quite a four-full-quarters-of-football offense yet, though, so we're just going to have to settle in and be patient. Kelly has focused more of his recruiting efforts the past couple years on getting the defense squared away, because as he so rightly noted during his fall camp press conferences, "Winning championships starts on the defensive side of the ball--make no mistake about that."

Tommy Rees is still a young quarterback, still making mistakes. A lot of our receivers out there are still pretty young, too--but we're coming together. Just let it age a bit, like a good cheese or a fine wine. I think the bouquet's gonna be pretty stellar.

Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Behold the future. It is already here.

It's Aaron Lynch blowing up O-lines, and Steve Filer and Troy Niklas stepping in for Prince Shembo, and Kyle Brindza kicking the ball all the way to the end zone, and George Atkinson III running it back 89 yards for a touchdown.

And the newly-renewed optimist in me affirms that it's only going to get better from here. The season, the team--everything.

It would be disrespectful to say we can breathe easy the next two weeks, but at least we've got some breathing room. The air should be a lot less cloying now that we've made it past the first three weeks of fake field goals, Skunkbears, and sons-of-former-coaching-legends. Unranked Pittsburgh, Purdue, and Air Force ought to be hearty, but not heart-attack-y, matchups leading up to the bye week, and if the Irish can hold onto the ball and the defense can slam a few more run games out of existence, we ought to be in tip-top shape (both the team and the loving, stalwart fans) to gear up for our mid-October matchup with USC and a Halloween weekend grudge match against Navy's option. (Grudge match? Navy? Really? Maybe I should stop trying to think so far ahead...)

Only one more word to the wise for this week's rant:

Don't nod

Or rather, don't flash your hands at the camera to show off your sweet glove design. Apparently the leprechaun logo is now a sign of excessive celebration*.

You have been warned.


*Note: According the Notre Dame ESPN Blog, the excessive celebration penalty was, in fact, an incorrect call. Kelly knew it, too.
"We went over this," Kelly said. "We literally went over this specifically, because our gloves have the Fighting Irish on the inside. [...] That's like giving your 8-year-old a lighter, you know what I mean? I knew this thing was gonna be something that we're gonna have to deal with. And certainly we brought it up and got the green light, so there was miscommunication along the way."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Finding the Echoes

Notre Dame 31, Michigan 35

Beat me in an agonizing, soul-shearing, bladder-bursting, throat-clenched-up-around-your-eyeballs, down-to-the-wire brawling rivalry match once—good for you.

Beat me twice—shame on me.

Beat me three times—WHAT THE F***?

A rant for my comrades-in-arms

I do not care about statistics or fumbles or interceptions. I don’t care about all-time win records or Desmond Howard or fucking night games in the Big House. I don’t care about the numbers. It doesn’t matter how many yards we racked up or how many points we scored or whether our players broke any school records (which probably they didn’t, although they did last week—WHATEVER). Do you know what does matter?

Dear Notre Dame Football,

I love you and support you no matter what, so please GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

I say this out of a deep and extremely painful place of faith and support. I say this with a total commitment to everything I said last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. I’m not going to reiterate any of that because there’s no point.

I know that nothing I say or do or blither senselessly into the night is going to have any impact on how you prepare or how you act or what you do out there on the field, so everything I spout out amounts to basically NOTHING, but I know of no other way to cope with the frustration and the astonishment and the unholy heartache of watching a good team and a more-than-good defense lose YET AGAIN to a team that they could have beaten—that they had beaten—for absolutely no reason at all.

And I’m not going to watch the coach’s interviews, or the player’s interviews, or anybody’s interviews; and I’m not going to look at the stats from this week or read any articles or look at any fucking blogs; and I’m not going to come up with something clever because there’s nothing clever left to say. Not at two in the morning.

You know what is left to say?

You are Notre Dame, and you need to get over this. Whatever “this” is—snap out of it. I don’t care if you’re playing or coaching in a fishbowl. So what? I don’t care if every other team wants to beat you more badly than anything ever. YOU’RE NOTRE DAME, RIGHT? SO DON’T LET THEM.

Love, Lisa

Pontifications on Perplexities

Too many of our recent coaches—possibly ALL of our recent coaches—have treated the Notre Dame tradition like it’s some kind of burden, some kind of weight, some kind of distraction. Even the coaches that you felt like “got it”—as soon as they feel the pressure and experience the perplexity of the fishbowl, they want to get away from it. They want their teams to tune out of it and just go to work every day.

And on the one hand, sure. You want your team to go to work every day. But on the other hand—THIS IS WHAT NOTRE DAME IS.

I know everyone’s tired of Notre Dame being all in-the-national-spotlight even though fans of most other teams will gladly tell you we are no longer relevant and haven’t been for years. And maybe it is tiresome to cling to the good ol’ stories about championships and Heisman trophies and the Four Horsemen and Louuuu, but it’s important. Not because we’re crazy and not because we’re clinging to the past like it’s all we have.

It’s important because whether or not we’re playing like YE OLDE NOTREE DAMEE OFE YORE, we’re still…you know, Notre Dame.

During its 25th anniversary season, ESPN ranked the Irish as part of the #3 greatest college football rivalry of all time: Notre Dame vs. Everyone.

Which is still true. Everyone wants to play the Irish. And beat the Irish. And straight-up hate on the Irish. For curious reasons, beating us still matters, even when we suck.

Although right now we don’t suck. That’s not our problem. We’ve just got this discouraging little trend going of allowing-opponents-to-beat-us-when-they-have-no-business-beating-us.

A couple years ago, Dr. Lou gave our team one of his “pep talks." He said something along the lines of, “Sure, other teams get excited to play the Irish, and they’re going to go out there and give you their best game. But you get to go out there and represent the University of Notre Dame. What greater motivation do you need?”

Right on, Dr. Lou. I think you’ve hit the problem on the head.

I’m not saying this team doesn’t have the drive to win or the right idea about What It Means To Play For Notre Dame. I think we’ve got a lot more heart and a lot less punk-face ego than we’ve had in previous seasons.

But we’re still somehow in a place where our head coach is telling us to “be patient,” which is coach-speak for “holy shit it’s game one of season two and already people are hanging me out to dry.” More for resembling an heirloom tomato on the sidelines than for losing the South Florida game—but still, it’s not like the two weren’t related.

Obviously B.Kelly’s just as frustrated as the rest of us. Only lucky for him, it’s his job to fix this. So he gets to scurry off and do that while the rest of us sit around twiddling our thumbs wondering what’s going on behind closed doors and whether next week’s game against MSU is going to be another hope-staining stinkbomb of agony.

Mostly what concerns me, though, are Brian Kelly’s comments over this past week about living in the fishbowl and not being used to this kind of scrutiny. Which, okay, I understand--I’m sure it’s a harsh adjustment being suddenly so under-the-gun after experiencing the somewhat more patient and less hostile fan base during Year One. Not that year one was so easy—I recall writing a post last year commenting about how we, as a fan base, just need to CHILL OUT sometimes and let the players and coaches do what they do without the crushing pressure of OMG NO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN OVER TWENTY YEARS PLEASE WIN ONE NOWWWWWWW.

However. While I still believe the coaches and players need to tune out the restless pontifications of the fans, the students, the media, and desperate football bloggers everywhere, there are some things they don’t need to tune out. There are some things that I think are starting to be treated as a burden instead of as a boost, a boon, a bedrock of support.

What I mean by that is this:

Last night, after the game ended, when I was full of too many beers and too much disappointment and absolutely could not handle staring at footage of the Big House for one more freaking second, I went into the bathroom (I was at a friend’s house), shut the door, closed my eyes, plugged my fingers in my ears, and hummed the Notre Dame fight song.

I don’t know why I did this. I know it's strange, but I did it without thinking, and you know what? It made me feel better.

I confess this to you not because you need further evidence of how much of a total psycho I am, but because as I stood there blocking out everything except the single-note strains of my favorite fight song, I realized something.

Dr. Lou is right. All the things that we keep referring to as “pressure”—all the traditions and the history and the ongoing demand to Play Like a Champion Today—aren’t just cheesy harbingers of a past that has no place in our present. They’re not a burden or a curse or a marker of an era gone by. They're the reason you coach. They're the reason you play. They're the wellspring from which you draw strength.

The coach that is finally able to embrace this--to imbue the players with the sense that the echoes are not just out there waiting to be lived up to, but that they are yours, they are a part of you, from the second you step on campus--is the coach that will finally bring us all the way back.

Maybe Kelly is working on this. Maybe this is why he says “be patient.”

But it’s hard to be patient thinking of comments from last season when the coach described the team as "playing like they didn’t have all the traditions and history and expectations of Notre Dame hanging over them—they just flat-out played.”

Yeah, I want our team to flat-out play, but if you’re going to win a championship ever again, you have to do more than that. You don't shirk the traditions. You don’t even try to live up to them. You just have to live them.

The “measuring stick” of our team from yesterday informs us that we are not exactly there yet. And how do you get there?

I don’t know. I don’t think you can get there based on a confidence that comes only from accumulating wins—otherwise you end up like Utah last season, and you totally crack after your first loss.

So you have to get your strength from elsewhere. You have to have confidence that comes from nowhere but yourself, your teammates, your coaches. Not in spite of the pressure, but because that's why you came.

And it's not like the players aren't saying these things. They're just not doing them yet. At least not in a way that's allowing them to win games.

So I’m going to keep watching, and waiting, and hoping. One day we’ll round the bend and we will no longer lose games that are within our power to win. One day we’ll get back everything we had at the end of last season, and play for all four quarters. One day we’ll play like NOTRE DAME again.

Like next Saturday, maybe.

If all else fails, I’ll sit on the floor, plug my fingers in my hears, and hum.


Monday, September 5, 2011

This rant brought to you by the National Weather Service

ATTENTION BASEBALL FOOTBALL FANS: The National Weather Service has issued a warning for severe weather that is almost definitely occurring somewhere 100 miles west of the stadium. For your safety we ask that you seek shelter immediately. Please proceed with a benign acceptance that the stadium is being evacuated even though to your knowledge the only kind of weather that actually halts football games is the kind featured in The Day After Tomorrow, and the current conditions seem somewhat less intimidating than, for example, the subzero conditions of the 2008 Syracuse game, during which everyone in the stadium developed some degree of hypothermia (but since sky-to-ground lightning wasn’t involved, clearly it was much safer).

So it seems the University’s really taking these new safety procedures seriously. On the one hand this is a good thing, because people’s lives are considerably more important than football games. But on the other hand, I would prefer not to leave my seat at a football game unless I’ve been informed that if I don’t get my ass off the bench right now an F-5 tornado is going to remove it for me. This is football, yo—the sport with enough wanton disregard for the weather to shame the U.S. Postal service.

Or so I like to imagine.

I must have missed the worst of the weather, because I didn’t notice much of anything while I was hanging out in the stadium concourse or eating candlelight dinner in South Dining Hall during the World's Longest Halftime. (I used to make fun of people who paid to eat in the dining halls. Apparently I can no longer do this.) Pigging out on all-you-can-eat SDH allowed me to not only revisit my scandalous passion for fro-yo, but also to take a mental break from everything that was happening on the field. I came back after halftime feeling pretty good about life.

Apparently the team did, too, because they were in much better form during the second half. Or, more specifically, the offense actually scored in the second half. In the words of Tommy Rees, "Not only that, our guys stayed focused, our coaches did a great job of keeping us in the game. When we went out there after the first time, after the first delay after halftime, really our whole fan base was still here pretty much, and that was awesome to see. I felt like coming out of that we had the advantage with all the excitement and the fans, and it was a pretty cool atmosphere actually.”

It was. It totally was. And it was great watching the offense finally find the endzone, but it was kind of spastic-twitch-inducing watching two more interceptions and a missed field goal. Instead of watching the offense find a rhythm and catapult themselves into stratospheres of greatness, we're sort of watching them spelunk down into the nether-realms of bumblefuck.

Oh, that was unkind.

Let me rescind some of that by emphasizing that at no point yesterday did I think we were going to lose. Until, you know, we lost. I have a lot of faith in this team. Possibly too much. Let's discuss.

ATTENTION FOOTBALL FANS: The National Whether Service has issued a warning for severe whether that appears to be approaching the vicinity of Notre Dame Stadium. This system has already produced severe optimism, sky-to-ground fervor, and heavy deluges of kool-aid. For your safety, we ask that you please avert your eyes immediately. If you failed to bring a backbone, now is the time to put your head between your knees and wail. But do it quietly, so the person next to you doesn’t punch you for being such a floundering nincompoop after only two quarters of football.

So there was this lovely article in the Irish Insider on Friday that highlighted the dangers of drinking too much of the preseason kool-aid, but I stopped reading it halfway through because I’m tired of hearing the undergrads wax pessimistic about the state of our football program. I realize none of the undergrads were even born the last time Notre Dame won a national championship, but as a cranky belligerent old alum, I posit that this is no reason to gird yourself with undue angst before the season’s even started.

So maybe you haven’t seen Notre Dame do anything glorious lately. (Assuming last November & December don’t count.) So what? Just shut up and watch for it. It’s coming.

Maybe you think I drank way too much of the preseason kool-aid. Maybe you think I’m using denial as a coping mechanism. Maybe you think I watched the replay of ND-Utah 2010 instead of Saturday’s actual game.

But I didn’t. I promise you I didn’t. I watched the entire game with eyes wide open (you know, except for the bit I missed running back from South Dining Hall following the World’s Longest Halftime), and I did not despair.

Last year’s team started 1-3, lost to Navy, lost to Tulsa, lost half of its veteran offensive starters, and still managed to win its last three games of the season and notch a bowl win under a first-year head coach for the first time ever. And the players did all this in the face of haters and doubters and nay-sayers from their own student body.

So if you’re hating now, you better come up with a contingency plan for when the Irish prove you wrong—such as stop being such a spastic moron and get with the program because Brian Kelly has created championship-caliber programs at every single level of football he’s ever coached and it’s way too early to despair now because there is a level of football at which this team is capable of playing and Saturday was NOT IT. Right? Right.

Remember four years ago (you know, the 3-9 season) when the first play of the first game resulted in the quarterback (I’m pretty sure it was Demetrius Jones) fumbling the snap, and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the season? You didn’t want to believe this was true, of course, so you kept hoping. And hoping. And hoping. And then the Irish ended up having had the worst season ever, and the hope just killed you.

This season is not going to be like that season.

I’ll admit to not having read any commentary on the game so far, so I don’t actually have an accurate gauge on how people are reacting to Saturday’s shenanigans, but my best guess is that the players are down (but not beaten), the coaches are PO’ed (but are gonna fix it), and the fans are drenched with bewilderment (and possibly going into self-protective let’s-not-get-our-hopes-up mode).

Sometimes I wonder if our collective psyche as a fan base still hasn’t recovered from the devastation of that 3-9 year. (Or the Bush Push game. Or the 1993 Boston College game. Or since Lou got run out of town. Or whenever.) We’ve got too many consecutive years of crushed expectations, too many decades of mediocrity, too many herky-jerky rounds of WE'RE BACK--we're gone--WE'RE BACK--we're gone--WE'RE BACK--we're... Oh, piss it, let's just go to the Backer and pretend this isn't happening.

Weis in particular was really good at talking the talk and building up the team’s swagger. There were times you got to thinking the team was capable of scoring every single time they had the ball--especially when you had Brady Quinn or Jimmy-to-Golden on the field. Both Quinn and Clausen had their share of miraculous, last-minute-comeback victories, enough to send you into heart attack/seizure/spontaneous combustion mode, but so painfully addictive you couldn’t stop hoping, couldn't tear your eyes away.

Hope, man. Hope. Shattered hope just destroys you.

So believe me, I understand being tired of GETTING REALLY HYPED UP and then TOTALLY BEATEN DOWN. But once again--I refuse to despair. This team is NOT SHATTERED.

But obviously they have a lot of work to do.

As Coach Kelly noted in his post-game presser, “we've been down this road before. The disappointing thing is that we thought going into a year where we had some experience that we wouldn't have to go through this.”

The bad news--and the good news--is that it is completely within the team’s power to fix everything that went wrong on Saturday. We just need to stop beating ourselves.

“You can't start winning until you stop losing,” Kelly said. “You lose football games because you turn the ball over. You lose football games because you miss field goals. You lose the football game because you have four personal foul penalties. The list is long.” (For further pointers on how to lose football games, please see Notre Dame vs Michigan 2009). However—“given all that, you know, our kids put themselves in a position to battle the second half. There's no quit in this group, but you can't win playing like that.”

We didn’t get shoved around. We didn't get p'owned. We did a piss-poor job in the red zone, but there were many points where the game could have been ours and we freaking lost it.

Don’t get me wrong—I think South Florida’s a very good team. They played smart, they protected the ball, they pounced on our mistakes. They absolutely earned the win--nobody's going to deny them that.

But it was basically a total wonk-fest for the Irish, and in the words of Skip Holtz, “I give Coach Kelly an awful lot of credit. I think he's got a very good football team. We were just able to turn and win the turnover battle today, and winning the turnover battle and capitalize on a couple of errors, capitalize early and have the opportunity to put some points on the board.”

Watching this game actually reminded me a lot of watching the home opener vs. Nevada two years ago. We flattened Nevada 35-0, and everyone was kind of surprised (and enormously pleased) because we were coming off a mediocre .500 year and Nevada was supposed to have a top-notch quarterback and a pretty good team.

Nevada did have a good team that season—just not against us. After a rocky 0-3 start, they managed to clean up their mistakes, reboot their offense, and string together 8 wins in a row.

Not that this is much comfort to Irish fans, since everyone's gunning for a 9-win BCS Bowl season, and cleaning up the crap is what we were supposed to be doing LAST season.

But least we can take comfort that things still seem to be working out all right on one side of the ball. Speaking of which--

Dear Defense,

Thank you for not sucking.


Love, Lisa

P.S. Harrison Smith get your shit together.

Two sacks, five tackles for loss, 1 QB hurry, 1 pass break-up, and no touchdowns allowed until the end of the third quarter. Plus the defense only allowed USF to score once as the result of a turnover--a field goal, following a fumble recovery. The four interceptions resulted in three punts and a missed field goal attempt. (Unfortunately, the D was not on the field to prevent that 96-yard fumble return for a TD, although I did appreciate the hustle of some of the offensive players attempting to chase down Kayvon Webster. Dayne Crist is much faster than I give him credit for.) Overall the D looked pretty solid. B.J. Daniels was kind of a warm-up for Denard Robinson, so if they can keep that little bugger contained I think we'll have a decent shot at bringing down the Big House.

Depending on which version of our offense decides to show up, of course.

ATTENTION FOOTBAWL FANS: The National Whatever Service insists that you park your hootenanny on the concourse YET AGAIN so you can agonize about the nature of turnovers, enjoy the ten-minute spurt of rain, and listen to the student section spontaneously burst into choruses of “Don’t Stop Believin” and “The Notre Dame Victory March.” Please try not to think about all the times you’ve sprouted mold and fungus watching the Irish play in a downpour, and at least console yourself with the fact that the Michigan-Western Michigan game was called before the players even had a chance to take a whack at the fourth quarter.

All of the interruptions had a really weird effect on my perception of the game. Prior to checking the numbers, I would not have been able to inform you that Notre Dame racked up twice as many yards of total offense as South Florida (508 to 254), or that Michael Floyd and Cierre Wood gained roughly 150 all-purpose yards apiece. Clearly my recollection of the offense is somewhat muddled now, because what sticks out the most in retrospect are those bleeping red zone turnovers, delay of game penalties, Crist getting swapped for Rees, and two of my favorites (Theo Riddick and Jonas Gray) fumbling the fleeping football.

However, as mentioned, all is not lost. I'm keepin' the faith. All of these players will have a chance to go out there and redeem themselves (except possibly Crist, although I guess we’ll see), and I urge you to resist the urge to denounce them with vicious rhetoric until they've been given the opportunity to do so. (Actually, I would urge you to avoid denouncing them altogether. Keep the faith, guys. KEEP THE FAITH.) And as a matter of fact, you have to have faith in Theo Riddick and his punt returns, because he's staying put.

“He's got to do it," Coach Kelly said. "I told him to get his butt back out there. If we're going to have the kind of playmakers we need at that position, we don't have a waiver wire, we can't trade for anybody. We've got to get him to that position. The only thing I reminded Theo is he can't let his disappointment or emotion show in the way he plays. He's got to bounce back, and he's going to have to bounce back for us next week and have a great game.”

Whether or not Kelly wishes he had a waiver wire is beside the point. Riddick is a talented fellow and he's all we've got, so he's just going to have to step up and git 'r done.

That goes for the rest of the team, too, although everybody already seems to know that. As Exhibit A, I bring you parses from the post-game presser:

Tommy Rees: It's definitely a learning experience because you've got to move forward. We've got Michigan next week. So tomorrow this has got to be behind us and just got to look forward to the next game.

Kapron Lewis-Moore: We've got to bounce back. We've got Michigan next week, so we have to do that. We need to make corrections from the film and we have to move on.

Manti Te’o: I just say keep doing what we're doing. You know, learn from our mistakes and come back Monday and just make sure that things are all right. When an opportunity presents itself to make a big play, to make a game changing play, that we're in the position we have to be to do what we need to.

Cierre Wood: That fumble was just a moment that we had. I don't look at that as a defining moment, just an obstacle we have to overcome.

Harrison Smith: Sometimes, especially the first game of the year, you just get caught up in the game. If you're a good defense, you want to make plays. Part of that is being aggressive. We just need to eradicate the other stuff from our defense. […] This week is over now. We're on to Michigan already. That's all we can focus on.

These are not life-altering quotes, but I’m not really looking for life-altering at the moment--I’m looking for consistent. If you want to play championship-caliber football, this “first game of the season” bullshit isn’t gonna cut it. But if this is how the season started, then it's what we're gonna have to work with, isn't it? And at least we know we've got a team that's ready to bounce back from a loss.

Obviously we'd all prefer that they didn't have to bounce back from anything, but if this is what it takes for us to build consistency and toughness, then so be it.

T-minus five days til we take on the Big House. Let's fix our BS and rock this bitch.


P.S. Dear band, I'm very sorry you didn't get a chance to play your halftime show. That's lame.