Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rad, man. Let's do this every week.

Notre Dame 50, Navy 10

So, guys. I've been sitting here for like twenty minutes trying to remember what was going on in my brain on Saturday while the Irish were racking up a golden anniversary's worth of points against the Naval Academy, but so far all I've got is this serene complacent feeling, like "all is right with the world, mannn...hey, what do you  need to rant for? Everything's all rad and...groovy."

Apparently Notre Dame scoring fifty points and holding an option team to 149 yards rushing (that's about half of Navy's season rushing average from last year, btw) in the midst of a weekend of gold-plated, shamrock-studded, Guinness-foamed awesomeness has turned me into a hippie. Except, you know, without all the...promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment. Yes, that was a quote from Austin Powers! So in that spirit...

Groovy, Baby!

Undefeated. YEAH!!!!! 

1-0 is not the most exciting record in the world, but it's a helluva lot better than 0-1 (especially if that 0-1 start comes after a five-hour rain-delay game with some freakish turnovers). Plus it makes the Fighting Irish undefeated in Ireland.

Far out, man.

You know what's remarkable? Is how much [Ireland] looks in no way like [South Bend].

I was addicted to Twitter on Thursday and Friday, looking at all the pics of Ireland, the football team playing giant chess, ND fans taking over the Temple Bar District, 9,000 fans showing up for a pep rally that was broadcast on Irish national television and featured everything from the Notre Dame Folk Choir to the Irish Prime Minister but apparently not the football team. Also, of course, loved the pics of the ND Band parading through the streets of Dublin (but dangit why don't they ever show the halftime show on TV?!)

Absolutely my favorite part of the CBS broadcast was the sideline reporter (was his name Flaherty?), who described the Irish sport of hurling as a "mix between lacrosse and second-degree murder" and asked an Irish fan in the stands, "What's unnecessary roughness? All the roughness seems necessary to me."

I would be okay with having color commentary like that for every game.

Shall we [score] now, or shall we [score] later? How do you like to do it? Do you like to [pass the ball]  first? You know, [post] and [curl]... [flag route]? Personally, before I'm on the job, I like to give my [running back] a bit of an [up the middle].

So you know what's awesome? When you have two rushers who rack up around 100 yards apiece (Theo Riddick had 107,  George Atkinson III had 99)...and neither of them is actually your starting running back. We'll be seeing more of the Theo-and-The-III show ("The Third" being my favorite thing to text people when George Atkinson III does something brilliant) in the Purdue game, since Cierre Wood's suspended until MSU. When MSU rolls around, we'll be glad to have Wood back, because there's no way we'll be able to manhandle MSU's defensemen the way we outpowered Navy's. Wood outweighs Riddick just a tad, so he'll be able to provide a little bit more of a punch off the line. Plus this will open up more flexibility for Riddick to line up at receiver (and hopefully confuse the hootenanny right out of the defensive "can't read-can't write" constituents). But I get ahead of myself. 

Obviously Navy's wasn't the most punishing defense we're going to see this season, but I was quite pleased with the overall effectiveness of our scheme, i.e. we didn't throw the ball too many times. Golson was 12-of-18 for passing with one interception. Watching an interception in the endzone brought back a few trippy flashbacks from last season, but we got back on track rather quickly when Navy fumbled in the red zone and defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt ran the ball back 77 yards for a touchdown (the third-longest fumble return in school history). After that, it was pretty much all peace signs and mood rings and sitting around singing kumbaya with flowers in your hair.

It's hard to have too much of an opinion about Golson yet, since he really hasn't been put in a pressure situations. But already we're off to a good start, because A) he didn't fumble any of the snaps, B) he didn't seem rattled or irreparably damaged by the interception in the endzone, and C) the coaching staff doesn't seem to be putting too much pressure on him for immediate perfection. According to Golson, the coaches have told him that it's okay to make mistakes. They expect him to make mistakes. "It's the poor decisions we have to eradicate," Kelly said. This last point is the most interesting storyline that has come out of fall camp, I think.

Well it's true! It's true! You're semi-[dominant]. You're quasi-[dominant]. You're the margarine of [dominant]. You're the Diet Coke of [dominant]. Just one [bowl win], not [dominant] enough.

According to this article from the South Bend Tribune, Kelly has been working on increased communication with the players--particularly the quarterbacks--this season, in an effort to return to a more involved, hands-on approach with his players. Evidently, this is the way he ran things at Grand Valley State and Cincinnati, and it seems to have gotten away from him a little bit since he was plunged into the insane media fishbowl that is Notre Dame.

It's hard to tell how true this is, or how much of a factor it might have played in regards to Kelly's overall success with the Irish the past two seasons. Certainly increased communication can't hurt, but if it's true that Kelly changed his coaching scheme once he got to South Bend, one has to wonder...why? It's like when presidential candidates change their entire approach to politics just because Now They're Presidential Candidates--and then they get too far away from who they really are and how they normally operate, and lose the election. And then you watch their concession speech and it's the best damn thing you've heard in their entire campaign (because they sound like themselves again), and you remember the reason they were nominated in the first place--and you're like, SHOOT, why didn't you do that the WHOLE TIME? (We're getting a little bit away from the "groovy baby" theme, but it's hard not to think of politics in an election year, so just go with me here.)

Look, I'm not saying the last two seasons have been a complete and utter travesty or anything. But certainly I wouldn't say we've seen the full manifestation of whatever brilliance managed to turn the Cincinnati Bearcats from Big East bottom-feeders into an undefeated, "THIS-freaking-close-to-playing-in-the-national-championship" team in 3 seasons or less.

There are a lot of arguments you could make for why that is--such as last season would have been a whole lot cheerier if we hadn't had the absolute worst turnover margin in the entire FBS. The stats-lovers over at Football Study Hall agree that Notre Dame should have come out of last season looking a helluva lot better than they did. The numbers even are in our favor for potential bad-ass dominance this season--if we can manage to turn the corner and turn "good on paper" into SO FRIGGIN GOOD it's better than an acid trip at Woodstock. (Sorry, I'm having trouble keeping up with my own theme here. Although I'm pretty sure absolutely nothing about this theme is appropriate, especially since most of the things it suggests would almost certainly get our players suspended for a violation of team rules.)

Anyway. My actual point is: the head coach is a pretty big tipping point when it comes to winning or losing games. So if Kelly really did slip away from his identity as a coach, and is now getting into pre-nomination form (as it were), maybe it's the push we need to return to dominance. Though of course if you follow Dr. Lou, you'll already know Notre Dame's got dominance written all over it this season:

Lou Holtz ‏@ESPNDrLou
I stand by my word, Mayday….. 11 wins for Notre Dame this season.

I appreciate few things in the world of football more than this man's unwavering optimism.

You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly?

Speaking of players who resemble sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads: MANTI TE'O. Can you believe that was his first-ever interception in an Irish uniform? I can't. Seems hard to believe, considering his freakish nose for where the football's going to be. But I guess when you're busy tackling the helmet paint out of people (and, you know, playing linebacker instead of corner), racking up your sack count and your TFL, you don't always have time to be snatching pigskins out of the air in a single bound. (Or something.)

So if you actually clicked on the link for the Football Study Hall Notre Dame 2012 football preview up there, you may have noted that their #1 recommendation for our defense is to force more turnovers. We really haven't had a dominant, turnover-forcing defense since approximately 2002. I'd say we're possibly on the verge of the cusp of having one now, except we're really lacking in experience at corner. And based on Navy's three-play, all-passing touchdown-scoring drive to open the second half, I'd say there's a possibility that we may get burned in our pass protection later in the season--against teams that are actually known for their passing games.

Of course, one could argue that that particular drive was an anomaly. The fact that Navy even HAD a drive composed entirely of passing plays is a testament to our defense's ability to shut down their option attack on the ground. Considering that was Navy's only touchdown drive of the game, we can reasonably say that our D was pretty well in control for most of the game. Plus, they racked up 3 turnovers and 3 sacks, which is fairly impressive against an option running team not known for making too many sloppy mistakes. (Though admittedly, Navy's been a bit sloppier than usual since last season.)

It's hard to tell from one game, of course, but I am optimistic that our defense may be on the right track toward upping its turnover ratio. This is something we'll definitely need against teams like, for example, MSU--which based on its season opener has the next incarnation of Toby Gerhart playing in its backfield. Either that or nobody at Boise State knows how to tackle, which I find somewhat hard to believe.

Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?

aka Who's glad the preseason AP poll has finally breathed its last breath?

I like the rankings a lot better this week, because I think they more readily resemble how they should've looked to begin with. Michigan's been plunked down to #19, Notre Dame's been bumped up to #22, Oklahoma's holdin' steady at #5 and USC's been juked out of the top spot by the much-more-deserving Alabama.

Oh, be-have!

Considering the beast of a schedule Notre Dame has this season, I'd say it's something of a relief to have gotten the Navy's option handily out of the way and be heading back to the Bend to face Purdue in our season opener. The thing to worry about most this week is probably a potential player hangover--both from jet lag and from opening the year with such a dominant win. Purdue's not exactly gonna be a powerhouse, but they did win a bowl game last season (and beat Ohio State), and they've got a couple really good defensive linemen in Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, so that'll be a nice test for both our QB and our O-line. It'll also be a good test for our D to see how they settle into a more "normal" scheme after all that prepping for the option.

As mentioned, we won't have Cierre Wood back for this game, but Amir Carlisle (our sophomore RB transfer from USC), who's been out with injury, has been cleared for practice this week, so it is pos-si-ble we may see him in the lineup against the Boilermakers. (Which would be nifty.)

All in all, we are in excellent shape to start the season. Nothin' left to say this week except GO IRISH BEAT BOILERS!

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