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:

No comments:

Post a Comment