Monday, October 31, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....

Notre Dame 56, Navy 14 was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Here we are: it is the best of times. Two unquestionable whomp-fests over two option teams that we've lost to in recent years. Navy would have put up a much better offensive showing if they'd been playing with their starting quarterback, of course; but as it was, I think the inexperience at quarterback allowed our defense put up one of their best showings all season. Particularly Manti Te'o (to the surprise of no one), with thirteen total tackles.

Perhaps the defensive showing wouldn't have been as impressive had Navy not so thoroughly flummoxed our defense last year; but either way it was nothing less than a gigantic Kit-Kat bar of joy to watch our tremendous young tacklers trollop the option for almost the entirety of the game. We held Navy to their lowest rushing total all season, tied for forcing the most punts (5), and after giving up three third-down conversions in a row early in the game (and getting lucky on a missed FG), we buckled down, and in the third quarter stopped them flat-out on 4th down--twice.

The two touchdowns Navy scored came as the direct result of Notre Dame's two turnovers, both of which occurred at nearly the same place on the field: one on the ND 27, and one on the ND 26. This is both good and bad--good because it means the defense prevented Navy from reaching the red zone of their own volition following every kickoff except for one; but I find it somewhat unfortunate that our D couldn't stop them either time they began their possession with an extremely short field. (Although considering we scored 56 points and it didn't matter anyway, I'm not going to gripe about it.) Obviously, the only really troublesome thing is that the turnovers occurred at all.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This game--and the Air Force game, and the MSU game, and the first three quarters of the Michigan game--looked a lot like the season we thought we were going to have this year. We are capable of playing very well, and there have been many times we've shown it.

But the epoch of belief has faded into incredulity more than once this season. After last week's game, it's impossible to say with any sort of confidence that our team has arrived anywhere.

Not that you ever really arrive while the season's in progress; being good demands not only continual effort, but continual proof of success. In order to prove anything, you've got to prove it for the entire season. Good teams win. Consistently. End of story.

I don't think it's a question of effort. I believe our players have the desire and the ability to win, the camaraderie to play as a team, and enough confidence to have fun while they're doing it. But they do not know how to keep full focus all of the time, and last week they showed it. They're kids, you know? It was fall break. And for whatever reason, the coaches weren't able to keep them on-task enough to show up fresh for the game.

From the post-game interviews, you got the sense that the players didn't know what happened, either. Another lesson learned, right? Can't lose focus in your preparation. Not even during fall break.

But it's hard to take much comfort from this, because the problems that plagued us at the beginning of the season seem to plague us still. Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers.


The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

We seem to be doing a lot of things in pairs so far this season. A pair of quarterbacks battling for the starting job. A pair of close losses to start the season, rife with turnovers, that we could have won. A pair of inexplicable goal-line turnovers scooped up by our opponent and run all the way back for a touchdown. A pair of 50+ scoring wins over service academies at home for the first time in decades. A pair of running backs who have come into their own. A pair of kickoffs returned for TDs by a freshman for the first time since Rocket. A pair of high-stakes night games (Michigan, USC) that have sent our hopes for a BCS Bowl game slushing into the gutter, where live the preseason rankings and almost every word that has ever come out of Mark May's mouth. A pair of freshman defensive ends (Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt) stepping up for seniors plagued with injury (though now that Kap's out for the season, it'll be more than a pair).

Some of these things are good, of course, but others are grievous--sometimes even freakish--mistakes, and ones that you certainly don't want to see repeated. Oh consistency, you elusive brigand. Can't you be caught and made to stay? What lure can we possibly provide that will cause you to linger of your own accord?

There's definitely something to be said for looking great against teams that you're supposed to look great against. Be enthused--be very enthused. But all the same, look at the games in which we've struggled this year. We've been the victims of our own collapse. We've got a persistent and un-pluggable leak of turnovers. We've got a solid defense that, for a few crucial quarters this season, has not known how to be solid. And we've got a head coach with decades of experience that seem to be working very well for him--except that he seems to keep referencing the fact that he's got so many years of head coaching experience in order to defend the reasoning behind some of the things that he's done. There's a learning curve going on for everyone right now.

And the season isn't over. We still have a huge chance to make a statement, if we can manage to keep our defense on task and our offense balanced and steady. (You know--if.)

But I suppose I shouldn't really be looking that far ahead. Right now, I'm not worrying about Stanford. I just want to see what the next week brings. See how Tommy's lookin'. See if any of the wrinkles smooth out.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Allow me to digress.

Look guys, I know our stadium's not particularly loud and raucous (except when we play Michigan or USC), but there's really no need to start blaring a series of generic rock anthems at people in the hopes that something will stick. I suppose I appreciate the effort and all--but as usual when the administration steps in, there is a feeling of artifice about it that mostly makes me want to groan.

I mean, it's not as bad as the whole Freekbass incident, but playing Crazy Train a hundred times during the USC game got almost as annoying as hearing THIS is-the-only SONG we KNOW every five seconds. (Almost. Not quite. Nothing in the world is as annoying as the Condom Band playing that song over and over and over and over and over and over and over...seriously, don't they all just want to smack themselves with their instruments after a while? Or are they just too busy caught up in their pastiche of doucheness to care?)

They seemed to try to branch out a little during the Navy game, but seeing as piped-in music has never really been a thing at Notre Dame Stadium and so many songs have already been commandeered by other schools, it just feels like we're posing. And none of it sounds right, with the exception of Dropkick Murphys before kickoffs. See, that's more Notre Dame. It's loud, it's Irish, it's not arbitrary. (Although if we're going to play "Shipping up to Boston" in the stadium when we play Boston College, it will feel kind of weird. Just sayin'.)

Mostly I'm irritated because whoever is in charge of the music clearly has no idea what our identity in the stadium is, so they're just playing songs that they associate with sporting events, and instead of pumping the crowd up, it's starting to sound friggin' tacky. The crowd for USC was electric, no doubt, but they didn't need the help of loudspeakers; they would've been electric on their own. And on days when we're kicking Navy's butt by 30 points, AC/DC isn't gonna help. Better to have no music at all than something that's going to have no effect.

Anyway, don't want to gripe about this overmuch, but in closing can I just say:



Right. Well I guess that's as much as I've got for the moment.

It was a dark and stormy night...

So we're facing Wake Forest in football for the first time ever this week, in our fourth of six night games this season. Wake Forest is traditionally a bit of a limp noodle when it comes to football, but currently they've got the same record as the Irish (5-3). They've lost to Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina; notable wins include Boston College and then-23rd-ranked Florida State. Last week's 49-24 loss to North Carolina was a five-turnover affair, with 28 of Carolina's points coming off Demon Deacon turnovers.

“We definitely weren’t sharp and it’s tough to put your finger on the one thing that caused that,” quarterback Tanner Price said.

Oh, my. That sounds familiar.

But unlike the Irish, the Demon Deacons haven't been plagued with turnovers all season; they had five total in seven games prior to playing North Carolina.

Let's hope both teams show up with a clean game this Saturday. Not that I wouldn't love to see the Irish strip the ball and force another stellar special teams turnover, of course...but I'd like to see us manhandle another opponent without any help from turnovers at all.


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