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


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