Sunday, October 28, 2012

Being Punched in the Face by Awesome

Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13

Let me just say this right now: Anyone who watched that game and still claims the Irish are lucky, or that Oklahoma was overrated, or that Notre Dame faces a cupcake schedule, or that we need to argue over Notre Dame's relevance, is a f*$&ing moron.

I would like to steal a phrase from my friend Nick, and say that anyone who is still concerned about the Irish "silencing the doubters" can KISS MY RELEVANT ASS.

Because seriously--SINCE WHEN DO THE DOUBTERS MATTER? The doubters are a bunch of whiny attention-hogging pissants so pleased by the sound of their own disdain they should be forced to spend ten years in purgatory feeding an endless bowl of Joe Montana's chicken soup to Rick Reilly on a fork. 

The Irish are amazing. A-MAZ-ING. There was nothing that was not flabbergastingly awesome about that game.

It almost feels like I sat down and made a list of everything I hoped the Irish would do (or not do) in that game: Don't turn the ball over. Play smart. Minimize penalties. Stay on the ball. Force turnovers. Don't flinch. (Don't. F***ing. Flinch.) Play every down. Don't wait for them to come to you. Attack. Attack. Attack.

...and then the Irish took that list, wound it around their collective fist, and punched me in the face with it.


So I'm sitting here in kind of a toothless daze

wondering if maybe my front teeth actually got knocked out in a bar fight and I've just passed out on the sidewalk for a moment with little tiny leprechauns jigging in circles around my head (like some acid-trippy version of 1988), or if I'm actually living in this surreal reality where the Irish are 8-0.

It's not that I'm a doubter. That is the opposite of true. It's just that we've been waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting), gnashing our teeth and devoutly clinging to our rally beads and being crushed under the pain of loss--and suddenly, in the space of half a season, it's all morphed into leis and GameDay signs and HeisManti campaigns and national title talk that the ND Nation's half-scared to listen to, because WHAT IF JINX?! What if this?! What if that?!


I am so over that.

Read my bold-faced font:

This is not a test or a publicity stunt or a SportsCenter gag. This is not Lou Holtz saying the same thing Lou Holtz says every season (i.e., "Notre Dame is for real!") Guys: THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

I don't care what anybody else says. I. Don't. Care. There are going to be plenty of heathens spewing hot shit all over the message boards and the Twittersphere (and wherever else it is on the internet these denizens of dodo-brains choose to congregate), and what they say does not matter one stinking bit.

You know why? Because the Irish don't care what the message boards say. The Irish don't care what the betting lines say, or what the pollsters say, or what the bloggers or sportswriters or media pundits or news anchors or Heisman voters or random hyperbolic fans have to say. You know how I know? Because THEY JUST WENT OUT ONTO THE FIELD IN NORMAN AND THEY PROVED IT.

We are the noise. And outside the roar of the faithful stadium crowd, the NOISE DOESN'T MATTER.

There are lots of all-caps moments in this rant, because that is how Freaking Sick I Am of having to listen to a bunch of media clowns air their opinions based on watching approximately thirty seconds of our games each week. But you know what? You can take any f*$&ing thirty seconds of this game you like, and you will see the Irish dominating the line of scrimmage on almost every down.

Best stats off the top of my head: Zero turnovers. One penalty for five yards. One forced turnover. Two sacks. 5.5 ypc. 13 points surrendered to an offense averaging over 40 points per game. Second home loss for the Sooners for the first time EVER in a single season under Bob Stoops.

Seriously, if Mark May says ND is overrated and facing a weak schedule one more time, I'm going to see to it that he's trapped inside a boxing ring with Mike Lee until he can work his issues out.

I mean, in a way I appreciate the dude's illogical consistency (in the same way I appreciate Lou's semi-delusional pro-ND predictions at the beginning of every season), but Come. On.

At this point in the season, you have got to give it up and admit that there's SOMETHING going on with the Irish. I mean, really, anyone who actually FOLLOWS the Irish (such as Brian Hamilton from the Chicago Tribune, or Keith Arnold for NBC Sports, or Tom Coyne for the Associated Press, or hell, even Kirk Herbstreit, who seems to think Everett Golson is "my man Ev" after this game), will tell you that this game was proof that the nay-sayers ain't got much to say nay about anymore.

Now: could the Irish beat Kansas State? Or Oregon? Or (holy shillelaghs) Alabama?



So I gather there are still Stanford fans who are probably convinced that non-TD in overtime was actually a TD. (But too bad, because Wrong.) In the same vein, I'm sure there will be OU fans who are vexed with the holding call that brought back the TD before halftime.

But if you were watching the game on TV, it's definitely not the refs' fault that A) ABC didn't show the appropriate camera angles, or B) the mic in the stadium didn't work on that particular penalty. Also: C) even Brent Mushmouth said later that it was the totally correct call, and D) Oklahoma got a rushing TD later in the game, so you can just get over that.
Plus: E) even if Oklahoma had scored that first touchdown, Notre Dame still would have scored enough points to keep the game out of reach. Soooo that's that.

Look, I don't mean to be flippant about a tough game. I'm sure Oklahoma fans are feeling a little soul-crushed right now. They have a good team, they're used to having killer seasons, and they haven't had to cope with this many home losses since 1998. ( hoo?) Trust me, I know how it feels to feel like the officials may have screwed you out of a score. (ND Nation knows how this feels REALLY, REALLY WELL.)

But I will not concede that that holding wasn't holding, because it totally was. Nor will I accept any arguments that Golson's TD was not a TD. (I don't know who would argue this, anyway. It was an incredibly straightforward QB sneak and I still have no idea why the refs were so intent on reviewing it.) As for Manti's interception: the dude had possession before he hit the ground. They reviewed it for a good long time, and if you don't like it...well, as Coach Stoops said before halftime, "there's nothing you can do about the officials' calls." You've just gotta do what you can do to win the game.

And trust me: Notre Dame DID THAT.

It was impressive as hell, because Oklahoma is a very good team. They didn't get to where they are by being overrated. They got there by moving the ball extremely well; by having a beast of a backup quarterback; by stuffing our offense, forcing FG's, and pushing us into worse and worse field position as the game progressed. And if Notre Dame's offense had played against the Sooners the way they played against, say, Michigan, Oklahoma would have most likely won this game. Fortunately for us, ND's offense turned in their best performance all season, against the best opponent we've faced all season. And despite surrendering that rushing touchdown, I'd say our defense did the same.

Yes, I'm a bit sad that the "no rushing TD's allowed all season" stat is gone. But we still managed to hold our opponent to less than 17 points and 15 yards rushing. Plus we WON, so let's move on. Truly, this game wasn't won or lost by that rushing TD. This game was won by what happened on the line of scrimmage. At pretty much every point in this game, the Irish were in control. Oklahoma kept picking up first downs, often quickly--but they didn't often score. Our defense went bend-but-don't-break, and absolutely, they meant DON'T BREAK.


We pretty much kicked ass.

Favorite Moments of the Game
1. Cierre Wood's breakout TD run during ND's first drive of the game for a 62-yd touchdown
2. Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick putting their hands in prayer position and bowing to each other afterward
3. Manti Te'o sacking the quarterback
4. Manti Te'o doing a flying midair tackle
5. Manti Te'o intercepting the ball
6. KeiVarae Russell having like three huge tackles in a row (and his celebrations thereafter)
7. Kyle Brindza making two 40+ yard field goals after totally shanking a 35-yarder
8. Chris Brown's jaw-dropping 50-yd reception, after which I couldn't help feeling as though ND was trying to say, "lol jk Oklahoma, we're going to play with our real offense now"
9. Basically all of Oklahoma's penalties
10. Pretty much any time Cam McDaniel had the ball
11. Theo Riddick getting that TD run after dropping what would have been a first-down catch
12. Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood putting their hands in prayer position and bowing to each other afterward (seriously, can anybody find a picture of this?!)
13. Danny Spooooooond
14. EVERETT GOLSON ALL NIGHT LONG (srsly Everett why are all your best games in hostile away environments? you should get that checked out man)
15. John Goodman's Twitter feed describing what all the players were doing on the bus ride to the airport after the game:
"@jgoodman81 What about Golson. I'm guessing he's doing some serious tunes. Plugged in.....”  Ev is listening to Ricky Martin

"@jgoodman81what is @stadium20status doin?”  Cierre is still arguing w the fan on the sideline behind our bench

"@jgoodman81 what is @MGolicJR57 doing?”  Mike is currently eatin the leftovers that were in his beard from lunch.

"@jgoodman81 what's cam up to? Love that dude”  Cam the Man is just smiling from ear to ear. #gameball

The Future to be worried about next week. Let's celebrate for 24 solid hours, then keep our eyes on the prize for the Pitt game.

I'm sure Mark May's looking forward to that one.

Go Irish Beat Everyone

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Fruits of the Labor

Notre Dame 17, BYU 14

So here it is
We've got a team full of fives (and a seven)
and a zero you can't scratch away
til Saturday
if Saturday comes
(if you know how the light's gonna fade
how the laces will tie
how the game's gonna play
then you'll know if it's zero
or one)
if the cow-tipping Irish sling all the guns
if sooner than Sooners we rack up the score
if the red zone holds
Brindza's toe is gold
if Irish Chocolate gives snack-down to Jones
our fives will provide
on both scrimmage-sides
and we'll know that it's zero
not one

Hey guys, remember Evan Sharpley?

Sure you don't. But never mind, because he's totally right:

"Evan, there are no easy ground balls. Every ground ball is the hardest play you've ever had. It is only easy once you field the ball and finish the play."

What [the coach] was trying to impart to me is that each play takes the highest amount of concentration and focus. And that the "easiest" of plays could become the most difficult if I took my eye off the ball or faltered for a split second.

The sport may be completely different, but the thought process remains the same for the Irish players: there are no easy games.

Right on, Evan. Right on.

Generally speaking, the media's full of enough hot air to blow up a dozen Hindenburgs. So don't listen to a thing they say about trap game this or the-other-top-5-teams-in-the-country-won-by-at-least-30-points-last-weekend-what's-up-with-the-Irish-squeaking-out-an-ugly-win-over-an-unranked-opponent that. This game wasn't about putting up a flashy score. I'm pretty sure NO ONE thought that was going to happen (and if you did, you's smokin' somethin' bolder than field turf, that's all I'm sayin'). It's just about winning. That's all any week is about: protecting the zero.

And we did.

It's not an easy thing, winning. It's not even easy when it looks easy. It only looks easy because of a profitable combination of time, talent, effort, focus, work, work, and work--most of which happen during the off-season. What happens on the field every Saturday are the fruits of the labor.

And no, I don't care if you got a peach when you wanted a pear. It was a damn piece of fruit, so enjoy it.

The Pits

So not only did we protect our zero this week, we did so by coming from behind.

Evidently not everyone was enthused about this.
"It made me mad," linebacker Manti Te'o said of the first touchdown. "It made a lot of guys mad. And when they scored again, it really made us mad." 

Source: Chicago Tribune

Coach Kelly said after the game that he was surprised by the reaction in the locker room. The team wasn't overly jubilant. In fact, one gets the impression they were kind of pissed.

Cierre Wood: We knew going into it that we were going to be the more physical team. We were shooting ourselves in the foot in the first half. Everyone knew it and everyone was on the same page.

Stephon Tuitt: A win is a win. But how we came out is pretty sluggish and slow. We can't come out like that because there are really good teams who can profit off that and we want to win games.

Kapron Lewis-Moore: We've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We had a defensive holding and some other stuff that kept the ball moving forward. Nobody panicked, we just kept the energy up.

All of this sounds oddly familiar, doesn't it? Except that this was a WIN, which means we've magically crossed the barrier from "We need to play better in order to win" to "We won, but we need to play better." It was not a perfect game, and good teams should always be striving for cleaner, more efficient ways of kicking the ever-loving snot out of their opponents. I will take this attitude all the time, every day of the week, three-hundred-and-sixty-five-and-one-fourths days of the year.

But a win is a win is a win. And it's not like we were playing some weak-sauce opponent, either.
Stephon Tuitt: A lot of people don't see it but BYU is a good team. They've won something like 20 games in the last two years. That's crazy. A lot of people think, 'Oh, it's just BYU', but BYU is a really good team.

BYU's head coach even said that this was the best game BYU has played all season.

Was the game closer than it should have been? Sure. Kyle Brindza's two missed field goals should have been (even more) inconsequential, because any team capable of producing 270 rushing yards against the nation's second-ranked rushing defense should have been making more trips to the endzone. Theo Riddick's leg-churning effort alone should have garnered more TD's. Riddick had 143 rushing yards against the Cougars--more than any running back since September 17, 2011. (Say whaaat?)

But we can't get our collective panties in a twist just because BYU scored a couple of touchdowns on us. I'd be dead shocked if we didn't give up a TD or two against the ridiculously prolific Oklahoma offense. It was sheer luck we didn't give one up against Miami.

What isn't sheer luck is how the Irish have responded all season.

The Juice

Defense wins games.  They win by force of focus and strength of conditioning. They win because the legs feed the wolf, gentlemen.

How many close games have we had to watch over the past few seasons? How many times have we had to score and score late and KEEP SCORING because our sieve of a line couldn't hold? How many times has the fourth quarter undone us? Well, no longer. The second half is not our enemy anymore. The second half is our chance to prove that we are strong enough to squeeze every last drop of juice out of this game until our opponent lies shriveled and defeated on the far sideline.

The Irish have been so good coming out of the locker room that they haven't given up a touchdown in the third quarter for the last six games. They've outscored opponents 95-26 in the second half (47-7 in the 3rd quarter; 46-19 in the 4th). The defense has played rough and physical late into the fourth quarter in every game--and I'm not pointing this out in frustration because there have been some games in which they've needed to. I'm pointing this out in jubilation because they CAN.
Stephon Tuitt: Our defense is full of people who have stamina. We're like dogs out there. We just keep going and going and going until we can't fight no more which is usually after the game.

Or, to put it in psycho-obsessive fan's terms: when we punted at the end of the fourth quarter, I stopped feeling nervous about the outcome of this game. Instead, I felt relieved. "Oh, good," I thought, "The game's over. The defense will shut this thing down." Two plays later, Danny Spond intercepted the ball. And all was peace and bliss in the leprechaun legion.

 Five stats to knock your socks off (aka intrigue from the game notes)
1. Junior WR TJ Jones has twenty-one catches this season. Eighteen of those resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.

2. BYU had minus-19 rushing yards in the first quarter. That's the lowest for any Irish opponent this season. Further, zero points have been scored against the Irish in the first quarter by any opponent this season except Miami (three points).

3. Stephon Tuitt had 2 sacks against the Cougars (presumably to make up for having 0 sacks in the previous game). He's already tied for sixth in Notre Dame's single-season sack records, and is still on pace to break Justin Tuck's mark of 13.5.

4. Tyler Eifert is the second Irish TE to collect 10 or more touchdown passes over his career. Ken McAfee (1974-77) holds the school record with 15.

5. Manti Te'o is the only defensive player in the FBS who has averaged over nine tackles per game and collected at least four interceptions in 2012. (Just in case you were curious, he's also recovered two fumbles and recorded two QB hurries that resulted in interceptions. Because MAN BEAST.)

Five Things You Should Click On

1) The #KapsBeenAtNDSince hashtag on Twitter (example: #KapsBeenAtNDSince he hosted Jerome Bettis on his official visit)

2) Trick Shot Monday - Back from Fall Break/Oklahoma Week edition: 

3) Manti's radio interview with Jim Rome (SERIOUSLY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THIS PEOPLE).

4) As long as we're talking about Manti, let me just mention that he is now officially LEADING THE FAN VOTE FOR THE HEISMAN. Also, Manti is leading the vote for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award (clearly when he's not being #5, he's busy being No.1).

5) Tom Coyne's article regarding the history of the ND-Oklahoma series

Oklahooooooma! (Yow!)

Cue every un-original joke you can think of involving the word "sooner" and the musical "Oklahoma!". It's time to head to Norman for a Saturday-night showdown against the eighth-ranked Sooners (5-1). The Irish are 8-1 all time against Oklahoma (including a victory over Stoops's 1999 squad), but they haven't played at Norman since 1966. It's going to be a tough environment, what with College GameDay in town and absolutely nothing else going on anywhere in the entire state of Oklahoma.

This will be the most potent offense we've faced all season. Since their 24-19 loss to Kansas State, the Sooners have 156 points in three consecutive wins, including a 52-7 victory over Kansas and a 63-21 thwomping of Texas. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones has 1,653 passing yards on the season--647 of which came in the last two games, along with 12 TD's. Also, Oklahoma has only lost four times at home under coach Bob Stoops. They've gone to 13 straight bowl games, including 8 BCS matchups and 1 national title. It's no surprise Oklahoma's being favored by 10 points.

But screw all that. This game isn't going to be won on the laurels of this season or last season, or even the previous ten. This game is going to be won inch by inch. Throw by throw. Snap by snap.

Every play is the hardest play.

If the Irish keep focus, there's no reason they can't pluck out a win against another top-10 opponent the way they have against every touch opponent this season.

With pure. F***ing. Grit.

 Copyright © 2012 South Bend Tribune


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Land of Eternal Happy Hour

Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13 (OT)

After the Michigan game, I was so amped and pumped and frothing-at-the-mouth excited (madder-than-a-hatter or a rabid wolverine) that I came home and banged away at my keyboard until I could no longer keep my eyes open.

Last week, I floated in a daze of saccharine until compulsion compelled me to churn ratiocinations out of the mental equivalent of a barrel of sweet cream.

This week was a voice-loss, bone-rattling, skin-soaked, lightning-streak of goal-line glory, but afterward the adrenaline settled from a raging boil into a nice, even simmer.

This is what we're doing now, for the rest of the season. We're simmering. We've got all the ingredients in the pot, and we've got to keep the temperature in check so the dish doesn't fizzle out or boil over. Once a week, we get to come back to the pot and give it the ol' stir. But not 'til the season's played out will we really know how it's cooked. Not until the very end will we be able to bite in and see if we've achieved perfection.

Or rather--this is what the coach and the team and the staff are doing. We're just the guests out in the lobby, drinking all the booze and nibbling the finger-foods and staring hungrily toward the kitchen, trying not to get too filled up.

Yes, when your team's 6-0, it feels an awful lot like you're living in the in the Land of the Eternal Happy Hour.

The Feast

Take whatever bit of metaphor you want here. Maybe it's not so much that we're stuck in Eternal Happy Hour as it is that we're sitting down to a banquet each week, eating whatever array of dishes the coaches are able to serve (based on injuries, player performance, etc.) And then on game day, while the team's attempting to serve up the meal, their opponent barges in (wearing offensively-colored chef's hats) and tries to smash the plates and burn the soup and sneak pickled beets into everyone's food. Our team's success is best defined by how well they're able to thwart the attempted thwarters of their crowd-pleasing confections.

(I mean, this is basically football, if it were a really really messed-up version of a reality cooking TV show.)

Right, so if you're still with me in this weird little metaphor: you must agree, the feasting so far this season has been excellent. And based on the overall lfan response, I'd say the company at table's been even better.

Of course, there are always a few obnoxious guests who you'd really rather didn't show up at all. Like the guy who claims his food's overcooked, even though hasn't bothered to so much as cut open his potato (*cough*Mark May). Or worse yet--the food critic who's guzzled so many self-congratulatory glasses of champagne he can no longer tell a Beef wellington from a pork butt (RICK REILLY).

I'd be the last to say we've had a perfect game this year, but there has not been a single week so far this season when I haven't left the table feeling full and supremely satisfied. Our record is perfect, and that's what matters.

Better yet, we're beginning to see the transformative effect a good meal can have. It's not just the goodness of the food. It's the way it's served, the attention to detail, the team effort required to produce and deliver it, and most of all, it's the way people come together over it. We're lingering longer and longer at the table after every meal, unwilling to let the night end. Hoping to get a glimpse behind those doors; wanting to congratulate and celebrate with the people who made this glorious sweet madness happen.

That, by the way, is what was going on when the students jumped onto the field after the game. It wasn't about needing to flip the tables over and dance on top of broken dishes (aka celebrating an upset win so improbable you have the carnal urge to tear the goalposts down). It was more after years of being served sunken souffles--after being so repeatedly disappointed you just never want to see another souffle ever again--someone orders you a souffle; and you're thinking to yourself oh why why why? there's no way this is going to come out well - this place hasn't had a decent pastry chef in YEARS--but then the souffle comes out and you practically leap out of your chair, because OMG OMG OMG PERFECT SOUFFLE. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?????? NO YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. JUST LET ME GO BACK AND SPEAK WITH THE CHEF. LIKE AT LEAST LET ME GIVE HIM A HUG OR SOMETHING. THIS IS THE BEST SOUFFLE I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIIIIIIIIIIIIFE.

( know, guys, I think it's possible *I've* been guzzling too many glasses of hypothetical champagne.)

The Salad

So our offense is definitely the salad course this season. It hasn't got the consistency yet to be classified as something more homogenous, like fondue (although maybe that's too homogenous). You never know which ingredients are going to be thrown in every week, and the fan base is in wild disagreement over which is the appropriate dressing (aka starting quarterback) to hold it all together, so in the end you get this strange ranch/honey mustard combo which absolutely nobody is entirely pleased with. Including the quarterbacks. Including the coach.

But what else can we do? Truth is, we haven't got a starting quarterback who can meet all our needs. If we did, he'd be starting, and he wouldn't be getting pulled. Maybe Golson's not 100% the quarterback we need right now--but neither is Rees.

Rees is definitely better with reads and seems clearer-headed under pressure, but against good defenses I don't think he works the long field any better than Golson. Lest we forget, the last time Rees saw significant action, Notre Dame only scored 13 points (3 of which came under Golson's lead)--despite six freaking turnovers by the Wolverines. To be fair, three of those turnovers came before Rees was put into the game--but Rees still didn't put together a touchdown drive for the entire second half.

The two scoring drives Rees engineered against the Cardinal started on the Stanford 35-yd line and 25-yd line, respectively. Only one of these resulted in a touchdown. If you want to make a case for "Rees Should Be The Starter," then you better make a convincing case for why he didn't score a game-winning touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal. Yes, he scored the clutch TD in overtime. But it would have been even more clutch if we hadn't had to go to overtime at all. That's the kind of stuff that wins you the starting job. (Mad props to Stanford's defense tho.)

Don't get me wrong--I like Rees just fine. But I like Everett just fine, too. And Rees's main selling point right now is that he hasn't turned the ball over as many times (THIS SEASON). Truth is, ain't neither of them the bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch we've been craving. Not right now, anyway. And there's nothing we can do about it except cross our fingers and hope Golson keeps growing up fast.

In the meantime, though, we continue to win games on the robust romaine base of our O-line, with just enough chive and bitters and stunning assorted vegetables (Eifert, Jones, Riddick, Wood, Daniels, Toma, etc. etc.) to give our QB/dressing rotation situation the help it needs.

Though, of course, the whole experience really rests on the back of

The Main Course

The defense has obviously been the meat-and-potatoes of our team this year (or tofu-and-potatoes, if you insist on being that way), but this week they were more than that. They were both the main course and the dessert. They were the Corona AND the lime wedge. They were the sundae AND the cherry on top.

They always come as good as advertised--and yet every week they somehow manage to get better.

The stats are good enough on their own. No rushing TD's allowed for the last 34 quarters of footballl. No TD's at ALL allowed in the last four games. 14 forced turnovers on the season (enough to match the total number of forced turnovers from last season). ess than 300 yards of offense racked up by our opponents for the last 5 games: Purdue (288), No. 10 Michigan State (237), No. 18 Michigan (299), Miami (285) and Stanford (272).

But watching these guys play is even better. It's not just that they dominate (and they do), or that you know you could watch Manti Te'o or Stephon Tuitt or Big Louuuu on pretty much any play and see something badass happen. It's more about having that feeling, that surety, that something badass is going to happen. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and wait for it.

I'm pretty sure that's called confidence. No, better yet--that's swagger.

It's not knowing that you know how to win. It's knowing that you have everything you need to take hold of the game and shove it right back in your opponent's face. It's knowing you're not gonna quit, not gonna quit, not gonna quit--and knowing that you've put in enough work in the off season that your body's not gonna quit on you. The skills have all been tenderized and marinated and treated and cured (or...whatever), and now it's all cooked up and ready to go.

Like Matthias Farley, for example. Te'o led the team in tackles this week (as is his beastly man-beast wont), and Zeke Motta was not far behind (with his mad Mama Kyle ball skillz)--but Farley had a breakout game with 8 tackles, a tackle for loss, and that huuuge 41-yd interception return (after a QB hurry by Louis Nix). That interception in particular was one of those freeze-and-let-the-goose-bumps-rise moments. As soon as the ball came out of the QB's hand, you could see Farley was going to catch it. His eyes were locked. It was a Moment.

And then, of course, there was that HOLY CRAP PERFECT SOUFFLE goal-line stand in overtime to win the game. (LIKE SERIOUSLY RIGHT HERE:  HIS ELBOW WAS TOTALLY DOWN)

The hors d'oeuvres

Really this section should be at the beginning, and it should be all about the special teams--but I don't have enough to say about the special teams, except:
1) YAAAAY KYLE BRINDZA -- that's the fourth game this season we wouldn't have won without the skill of your foot
2) Da'Vonte Neal continues to be my hero for refusing to settle for the fair catch
3) One of these days George Atkinson III's going to get another run back for a TD (I just know it)
4) O hai Ben Turk. Nothin personal but it'd be swell if we saw less of you these next couple games (get on that, offense *snap snap*)

Mostly, though, this section is about


Not Manti Te'o. Not Everett Golson.

That would just be, you know, our ranking in every single poll.

I'm gonna hold on to this feeling as long as possible, because really, this  is just an appetizer for what the postseason might maybe-possibly-perhaps-but-probably-not look like. Oklahoma and USC are #9 and #10 in the first BCS standings, which means we once again have at least two Top-10 opponents remaining on our schedule. The sweet madness is we're still ranked higher than them. We're also the only team in the FBS to have beaten 3 ranked opponents at this point in the season.

Though let's not get ahead of ourselves too much just yet.

Next Week's Course

We've got a little bit of a wild card coming into town next week in the BYU Cougars. Notre Dame leads the all-time series (such as it is) 4-2. Fifty percent of these games took place when the Irish were ranked in the top 10 ('92, '93, '05). BYU has never been ranked while facing the Irish--nor have they beaten a top-10 Irish team. (Not that this means much. I am just saying.)

The Cougars made a brief appearance in the polls earlier this year before losing two close games in a row, to Utah (24-21) and Boise State (7-6). They won a 6-3 squeaker of their own against Utah State, and the rest of their victories have been pretty convincing--including a 47-0 victory over Hawaii. However, BYU's most recent game was a 42-24 loss to a 10th-ranked Oregon State--a somewhat surprising final score, considering the teams were tied at 21 late in the 3rd quarter. It's possible BYU's defense was under-prepared for Oregon State's backup QB Cody Vaz (who evidently hasn't taken a snap since 2010 but who threw for 332 yards and 3 TD's), but mostly, it seems, the Cougars were hindered by their 3 INT's and 4 surrendered sacks on offense.

I doubt we'll be seeing 300+ passing yards from the Irish this weekend. BYU still has the fifth-ranked defense in the nation, and I imagine Kelly will be conservative with the play-calling--even if the Cougars aren't quite as physical up front as the Cardinal (that does seem hard to imagine). However, if the game vs Oregon State is any indication, BYU's defense can be worn down and beaten. Assuming Golson's recovered from his concussion by Tuesday, he'll be the starter this weekend (seems likely). As long as he doesn't throw three picks this week, we should be all right. (Or, as I prefer to think of it, we should be kicking ass.)

And even if he does, you know...our defense got his back.

(Somebody go knock on wood or something. I'm practically swimming in Kool-Aid over here.)


P.S. I don't think the Trick Shot Monday video's been posted yet this week, so in case you're in withdrawal:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This Week's Edition of NDFB Brought to you by the Number 5

Notre Dame 41, Miami 3

You know what 5-0 feels like? 5-0 feels like lounging in the pool after a long day out in the sun. 5-0 feels like a warm fireplace and a mug of hot chocolate after an ice-crusted morning shoveling snow. 5-0 feels like glorious exhaustion, and the reward of being undefeated carries its own sweetness.

The entire week is the pursuit. The few spare hours after the clock hits 0:00 are the happiness.

And it's not a reckless happiness, either. It's not a carefree, lackadaisical, unexpected high. It's something the players have worked for. 

There are signs posted all over the Gug. AVOID THE NOISE.

"Don't get infected with success," Kelly has said, over and over. "Focus. [...] Whatever it takes to beat Stanford, that's what we have to do."

And they are focused. They are. Since the Purdue game, the defense has been playing at a level that's almost frightening. And ever since the Purdue game, we've been waiting for the offense to spark something bright enough to match the defense's success.

This week, we finally got there.

High Fives

"Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." -Abraham Lincoln

The 125th season of Notre Dame Football is off to a 5-0 start, after the Irish racked up 5 rushing touchdowns in a 41-3 victory over Miami led by the men wearing #5. Manti Te'o finished with 10 tackles and1 pass break-up as the leader on a defense that forced Miami to punt 5 times and kept its opponent out of the endzone for the third straight game. Everett Golson went 17-of-22 for186 yards with 51 additional yards on the ground, converting 5-of-11 third downs to lead an offense that erupted into 587 total yards.

As a result, ESPN College GameDay is headed to South Bend this weekend for the first time since 2005.

The Stable

Soooo you know how we had that great day of offense against Navy at the beginning of the season, and then our run game mysteriously disappeared for three weeks, until (much like Snuffleupagus) you began to wonder whether it had really been there at all? WELL HEY GUYS I THINK IT'S BACK AND I THINK IT'S REAL. Notre Dame's 376 yards on the ground are the most since the year 2000, and the second-most ever in school history. We had 2 backs who eclipsed 100 yards, and our 5 rushing touchdowns were scored by four different runners: Theo Riddick (21 total yds), Cierre Wood (2 TDs, 118 yds), George Atkinson III (127 yds), and Cam McDaniel (55 yds). McDaniel's whose 1-yd scoring run capped a completely gorgeous 8-minute drive during which he was given the ball on 12 consecutive plays.

But that wasn't even the greatest drive of the game. What about the 7-minute scoring drive in the 3rd quarter, during which we ran the ball on every single down? Or the 3-play drive at the end of the 3rd quarter, in which Atkinson broke away and ran 55 yds for a touchdown? It's no wonder the offensive line was awarded the game ball.

By the way, George Atkinson III (aka The Third, if you're me and you're weird) averaged 12.3 ypc during this game--the best mark since Reggie Brooks averaged 13.7 ypc against Purdue in 1992. One gets the impression that if you hand The Third the ball enough times, he's eventually going to burn your opponent with a huge run. He's got shifty feet, and by heavens, he's got the speed. He had a 32-yard run vs MSU and a 56-yard scamper vs. Navy. (Against Michigan and MSU he had 5 total touches combined. Clearly not enough touches.) We know from last season that he's a legitimate threat on kickoff returns, too--though due to the stellar play of our defense, he hasn't had many opportunities this season (not that I'm complaining, thankyouverymuch).

After three straight weeks of what seemed like a total sputter in the backfield, our run game has returned. We can assume that part of this has to do with Miami having the 118th-ranked defense in the FBS (though to be fair, this ranking came after we completely ran all over their faces like a herd of stampeding rhinoceroses). But part of it has to do with the adjustments the O-line has been making this season. They've transitioned from a gap-and-pull attack to a zone blocking scheme this year, and never mind if you don't even know what that means. The point is, it's been an adjustment for both the O-line and the running backs, and according to Coach Kelly, they spent a lot of time working on this during the bye week.

Clearly it paid off.

You know what the most exciting part about all of this is, though? We have three fantastic running backs rotating as starters on the depth chart (Riddick, Wood, Atkinson), and they ain't even all we got. After his 55-yard drive on Saturday, sophomore Cam McDaniel's practically begging to see more of the ball. According to Coach Kelly:

It's hard to get 'em all touches. We're struggling trying to get those three guys. Cam is one heck of a good running back. He runs it as effectively as any of those three.

But wait--there's more! Sophomore transfer Amir Carlisle from USC (aka A Man Who Saw The Light) is taking a medical redshirt this season, and will be back battling for a starting spot in the spring (though, to be fair, both Riddick and Wood will most likely have cleared out by then). I can't remember being this excited about this many Irish running backs

Five things we did NOT see in this game

Uno. Sacks. This is the first game in which the Irish defense has not recorded a sack so far this season. This seems unfortunate in particular for Stephon Tuitt, who is averaging 1.2 sacks per game, tied for seventh in the nation.

Dos. Our opponent scoring a touchdown. The Irish have the 2nd-ranked scoring defense in the nation (right behind Alabama), and have not allowed a touchdown for the past thirteen quarters of football. Further, The Irish are the only team in the nation to have not allowed a rushing score this year. Going back to 2011, Notre Dame has not allowed a rushing TD in seven straight games (30 quarters), the longest streak by an Irish team since the 1976-77 seasons.

Tres. Turnovers. For the first time this season, neither the Irish nor their opponent turned the ball over during the game. GLORY BE.

Cuatro. Our opponent scoring first. True, this was due mostly to Miami's receivers dropping the ball after completely burning our secondary twice during Miami's first drive of the game--but nevertheless, the statistic holds true. You can bet other teams have taken notice of what Miami was able to do during that first drive; but you can bet, too, that teams will take an equal note of what Notre Dame's defense was able to do for the rest of the game. With a little help from Miami's mistakes and penalties, the Irish were able to adjust to game speed and do what they've been doing all season. Notre Dame is the only team in the nation that has yet to trail. It's also the first time a Notre Dame team has not trailed in any of its first five games since 1947.

Cinco. Golson getting the jitters. I don't know if it was because of the neutral site, the bye week, the O-line, his increasing comfort level with the playbook, or just the fact that he was able to get a few midterms behind him, but Golson looked a LOT more comfortable on the field this week than he has for any games played thus far in Notre Dame Stadium. However well Golson played last week, the fact remains that Tommy Rees is the only Irish quarterback this season to lead a touchdown drive inside Notre Dame Stadium. In Coach Kelly's words:

You're always concerned when you have a younger quarterback that he's going to be able to pick up a lot of things that a team like Stanford likes to do defensively.

They're an aggressive defense, they bring a lot of looks. But I will say this: He did a lot of things in the second half that he had not done all year. He recognized pressure, did not run out of the pocket, stayed in there and delivered some balls on time. If that continues to show itself, he's going to be very, very difficult to defend because he's got that confidence level and a strong arm that he can deliver the ball.

We must assume Golson is the starter going into the matchup against #17 Stanford--but we must also wonder if he will display the nerves he seemed to get his first couple games playing under the watchful gaze of Touchdown Jesus. Let's hope SuperGolson shows up for this game, because we're gonna need a lot of things to beat Stanford, but jitters ain't one.

Five Favorite Random Things To Come Out of Irish Football This Season
1. Chocolate News (
2. Trick Shot Monday (
3. Notre Dame Walk-Ons  Twitter feed (@WOPUnation)
4. Prince Shembo's bike seat (which apparently now has its own Twitter feed?!
5. Robby Toma deciding that the most important thing he could mention in prime time on national television was TJ Jones's pair of red skinny jeans

Five Things We Could Do Without for the Rest of the Season
1. Mark May
2. Irish turnovers
3. Injuries
4. Anyone using the word "relevant" in a context remotely related to football
5. Unspecified violations of team rules

Five Things That Would Be Totally Freaking Awesome To See This Season
1. George Atkinson III running a kickoff back for a touchdown (against USC)
2. Stephon Tuitt breaking Justin Tuck's single-season sack record (against USC)
3. Manti Te'o getting a pick-six (against USC)
4. Tyler EIfert hauling in the game-winning TD (in a BCS Bowl)
5. Manti Te'o winning the Heisman (srsly though. That WOULD be awesome.)

Manti 4 Hei5man

Okay, first things first--in case you weren't aware, you can cast one vote EVERY DAY for Manti Te'o at the Nissan Heisman website: 

Nissan gets to cast one official vote in the Heisman ballot at the end of the season, based on the winner of the fan vote. Geno Smith, quarterback of the 5th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers, is the clear favorite at this point in the season (and probably will continue to be for the rest of the season, unless something goes terribly wrong), but Manti has a surprisingly strong showing, considering the last defensive player to win the trophy was, um...pretty much no one ever.

According to the official Heisman website, the Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to "an individual designated as the most outstanding college football player in the United States." Really, though,the trophy has been awarded almost exclusively to running backs and quarterbacks since its inception in 1935. Of the 76 total winners, 38 have been RBs and 30 have been QB's (keeping in mind that Archie Griffin won it twice). That's a whopping 89% of all total winners. Of the remaining Heisman recipients, 3 are designated as Fullbacks, making the true QB/RB win percentage closer to 94%.

Only five players have ever managed to win the trophy playing a position other than QB or back. Two of these were Wide Receivers--Notre Dame's Tim Brown (1987) and Michigan's Desmond Howard (1991). Another two were designated as "Ends"--Yale's Larry Kelley (1936) and ND's Leon Hart (1949), both of whom played on both sides of the ball. (I think we can envision "end" being something akin to Tight End on offense, and probably something similar to back or corner on defense.) The lone defensive winner in Heisman history is Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson (1997), who also starred as a punt returner and saw time as a wide receiver on offense.

So basically, having Manti Te'o in the Heisman conversation at all is kind of extraordinary. Other defensive players have been in the conversation in the past, of course, but in the end the voters tend to overwhelmingly favor dynamic offensive players who play for top-ranked teams. Since the year 2000, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Only Mark Ingram (RB, 2009) managed to break the streak.

This year will likely be no different. But I am going to log into the Nissan website and cast my vote for Manti every day, anyway, because A) you could ask for no better representative of hard work, integrity, family, football, intercollegiate athletics,  the state of Hawaii, the University of Notre Dame, the United States of America, the human race, etc. etc., than Manti Te'o, and also B) I don't care who wins the trophy as long as Te'o beats out Matt Barkley in the fan voting.


Also, while I was poking around the Heisman website investigating past winners, I came across these little nuggets regarding the sculpting of the trophy, which I'd never heard before:
It was designed by New York sculptor Frank Eliscu. [...] Eliscu used his friend Ed Smith, a starter on the New York University Football team, as the player model for his initial creations.

A design was tentatively approved and Jim Crowley, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and football coach of Fordham University at the time, consented to look over the clay model at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham. The prototype was set up on the field and Crowley had his players take various positions to illustrate the football sidestep. Sculptor Eliscu bent the arms and legs of his model to match the action.

The final inspection of the cast was made after a dinner at the McAlpin Hotel on November 16, 1935, attended by Coach Elmer Layden and the entire Notre Dame football team (they had just played a memorable 6-6 tie with Army before 78,114 fans). The members of the Fighting Irish squad were impressed by the animation and fidelity of Eliscu's model. The 1935 Notre Dame team thus put its seal of approval on this new trophy.

Now it was ready for its final stage, bronze casting, after being refined by a diversity of intercollegiate contributions: the live model from New York University, the Fordham team which brought reality to the prototype, the men from Notre Dame who endorsed it, and two of the "Four Horseman" (Layden and Crowley) who gave it their personal blessing. The trophy was, indeed, an almost classic sculpture, an artistic as well as athletic triumph.

Therefore, it seems only fitting that Notre Dame has the most Heisman Trophy winners to date.

Taking on the Cardinal

Saturday's game is the 27th matchup between Notre Dame and Stanford. The Irish lead the series 17-9, but (in case you somehow don't recall) Stanford has won the last 3. The Cardinal definitely aren't as formidable as they've been the last few seasons, but you can bet that their loss to Washington will have little bearing on how well-prepared this team is to play the Irish. Except for a possible handful of fifth-years, none of the players on this team have ever lost to Notre Dame. Which means they're probably not as scared of us as they should be.

True, we're ranked 10 spots higher than Stanford in the polls, but this is a team that knocked off (then-ridiculously overranked) #2 USC, so I can't imagine they'll be overly intimidated by our top-10 ranking. I do imagine, however that they'll come in and play very tough football. No way we're gonna be racking up 367 yards on these guys. Tough to imagine us keeping them out of the endzone all four quarters, either. But oh man, if we do--what a freaking statement.

Kelly's taking Stanford wicked serious, and you can bet he's doing his best not to let the focus slip at ALL.

A lot of things stand out about this football team. First, they're a well coached team in all phases, offense, defense, and special teams. They're a physical football team. [...]  Their defense is an outstanding group. They're difficult to run the football on, and it's hard to get the ball down field because their cornerbacks are under constant pressure and that was the case for us last year.

We will have to get better as a football team this week. We will have to improve on our performance against Miami if we want to beat Stanford, and our players understand that the plan we have laid out for them this week is to get better. It's fundamentals, it's technique, it's assignments, it's all of those things. [...]We're talking about 18 to 21 year olds that are easily distracted, so the charge is to keep them focused on what they need to do to get better as a football player. I've worked this plan for a number of years. I've had great success with it. If they choose to continue to follow it they're going to continue to have success. It's the trust element of staying focused on what we can handle and what we need to handle and we will be fine.

It's always nice to hear the coach say these things. It's even better when you've got raw physical evidence that it's working and the players are totally buying in. Not that Stanford's a team anybody would be overlooking, anyway, but you get what I mean.

Also, below is a quote I felt compelled to pull out of the press conference in its entirety, because it touches on a big issue that A) an appalling number of schools don't seem to care very much about--SHAME ON THEM, and B) people keep trying to use as an excuse for why Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship in 24 years:

Q. The NCAA spends a lot of money marketing the concept of student athletes and extolling their virtues and all that. Stanford was in the national championship picture last year, you guys are unbeaten in the top 10 this year, how significant is it for the sport of college football is it that two premiere academic institutions in the country are so successful on the football field as well for the cynics out there that it can't be done in the class and on the field both.
COACH Brian Kelly: I would hope you would write a story about it because I feel that strongly with your statement that it doesn't get enough attention. You have two outstanding academic institutions that are ranked so high in terms of graduation rates and I think there is a report on "U.S. World and News Report" in terms of the top institutions as well as on the football field. I know that's one of the reasons why I came to Notre Dame. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that you could do it in the classroom and you can certainly do it on the football field.


And, of course: