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--
Thank you for not sucking.
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.
GO IRISH BEAT WOLVERINES!
P.S. Dear band, I'm very sorry you didn't get a chance to play your halftime show. That's lame.