Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Down the Rabbit Hole

ND 14, USC 10

Did anyone else feel like they fell down the rabbit hole on Saturday?

I mean--there we were, enjoying a lovely golden after-afternoon (courtesy of the field lights), sitting amongst a bunch of perfectly normal, non-anthropomorphized flowers (and all-natural grass), watching both teams drive up and down the field, scoring perfectly normal touchdowns--and then the second half came around and Tommy Rees got injured, and suddenly it was as though we'd followed the white rabbit all the way to Wonderland.

Both endzones swelled or shrank in size, too large or small to brook admittance. USC's drives fizzled and turned back on themselves, like Alice stumped by the twists of the Cheshire Cat's logic--whereas our drives had all the pointless feeling of an endlessly circling Caucus-Race.

For those in the stands, getting drizzled by the weather (for the weather never ever does a thing for me), it may have seemed as though Time was standing stiller than at a mad-Hatter's tea party, each tick of the clock like a frustrating riddle without any obvious end.

And yet--O Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!--WE WON.

In our house, the heartless red Trojans will have off with our heads no more.

How doth the little crocodile...
...improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

I hope we are all in agreement that the Notre Dame defense was the crocodile on Saturday.

Stephon Tuitt was the jaws.

USC scored zero points in the second half. They also converted zero third downs, threw an interception, missed a field goal, accrued 11 total penalties for 95 yards, and turned the ball over twice on downs.

Stephon Tuitt was responsible for 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 pass break-up, along with being such a conspicuous beast he probably deserves to be memorialized in his own passage of fearsome verse. Not that we can overlook the rest of the defense--like Big Louuu, Carlo Calabrese (who led the team in tackles), Jaylon Smith (who had that interception), Sheldon Day (whose propensity for playing like a bulldozer cannot be overlooked), KeiVarae Russell, Dan "don't-bench-me-again" Fox.... Yes--like a many-headed hydra (or, um, an unslain Jabberwock), the defense has risen again.

Time will tell, of course; we'll see how we play against Stanford. But ranked or not, USC is still a formidable team to blank out for an entire half. As Coach Kelly put it, you don't fire the coach of a 4-2 team unless you think that team should be 6-0.

The way USC played in the second half, it's fairly obvious why they aren't.

The way Notre Dame's defense played in the second half, it's fairly painful to think about why WE aren't.

But to vanquish such a burbling foe at home, after twelve long years of whiffling it--ah! 'Twas brillig! (and the slithy toves / did gyre and gimble in the wabe / all mimsy were the borogoves / and the mome raths outgrabe...)

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!

Did anyone else feel astonished by how much they missed Tommy Rees? I must've felt nearly as astonished as Alice after she ingested her first bottle of "Drink Me" and grew to approximately the size of Godzilla (aka Lous Nix & Stephon Tuitt combined).

Here's the big question resulting from this astonishment: why don't we have a back-up plan?

You would think, after Everett Golson was booted out for the season, that we would have come up with a back-up plan. I mean--Tommy WAS the back-up plan, right? Which means Hendrix is, in the grand scheme of things, third-string.

But you can't have a backup quarterback who only knows how to run the Wildcat. Hendrix kept chucking balls at the turf like he was trying to nudge a hedgehog forward in a croquet match. I imagine he wanted to avoid any accusations of stealing the queen's tarts (by which I mean...causing a turnover) so much that he refused to parlay with his receivers at all. One can only assume it was nerves.

But this led to two quarters of USC stacking the box, stuffing the run, and toppling our ball carriers like a trio of tripped-up flamingos (in a croquet match), so that we barely seemed to move the ball at all.

In case you forgot how ridiculous the second half was, there was a stretch in the third quarter during which Notre Dame and USC traded the ball six times for seven consecutive three-and-outs. That's three plays. Each. SEVEN TIMES IN A ROW. Aka nine and a half minutes of game time with zero first downs.

That's even more absurd than a talking caterpillar smoking a hookah on top of a magic mushroom that will make you big if you eat from one side and small if you eat from the other.

However...can I just say that I do, in fact, appreciate Hendrix's efforts not to turn the ball over, even if it resulted in a whole lot of nada. We couldn't have afforded a pick-six, and as long as our defense was doing as well as they were doing, there was no reason to take unnecessary chances.

I believe the kid can throw the ball; I believe he's furious with himself over his performance; I believe he won't be caught unawares again when it comes to being the next man in (and I believe it is wise that we are committed to red-shirting Malik Zaire, because we're sure gonna need that kid in the future).

The good news is that Tommy's back. He suffered a neck sprain during the game, but he was cleared for practice today. According to Coach Kelly's presser, he should be fine to play on Saturday.

And only now can we appreciate how crucial Tommy is to this year's success.

I maligned the playbook before, missing the versatility Golson brought to the field; I complained that Kelly had hardly changed the game plan to accommodate Rees at all--he'd merely been painting white roses red. And though I've said, more than once, that I believe Tommy makes all the right reads, not until very recently did it seem as though all those reads were clicking.

The pace of our offense in the first half was like nothing we've seen all season. Like nothing we've seen for YEARS. It was the fast-paced, high-tempo offense we were promised when Kelly first came to South Bend.

Our first drive was astounding in its efficiency, and disappointing only in its lack of production. (Just imagine, if we'd scored on that one, how much less nerve-wracking the second half might have been.) It was not a speed I'd expected to see--not this year and not against USC--but what better time for it to manifest? What better time to make full use of our tight end? To split catches between Niklas, Jones, and Daniels? To balance the offense with Cam McDaniel's century-mark game?

If only the second half had matched the first one. If only Tommy hadn't gone out. Maybe then the smackdown I envisioned might have come to light, instead of just turning out to be a prolonged daydream.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."(And why the Irish, back-to-back
play ruddy option teams)

We've got Air Force this week, followed by Navy. It's a sheer stroke of luck we've got both option teams on our schedule two weeks in a row. A one-and-six Air Force squad isn't likely to give us too many fits (assuming our defense hasn't had too many Honey Buns over fall break), and it should have us primed and ready for facing Navy at home next week. (Holla if you're going to the Navy game. I should be out tailgating most of the day.)

I always like playing the service academies. Not because I think they should be easy W's (pffbt--have you seen us play Navy these last few years?). I just like the tradition. You can't boo your own military, and it's hard to hate on enlisted men and women who show up in uniform and celebrate by doing push-ups and defending our country from terrorists.

Plus it's kind of nice to take a break from all the angry bile I swallow every time I see Michigan's winged helmets, or the seething rage that threatens to consume me every time the "Spirit of Troy" assaults my eardrums.

So stay classy these next few weeks, ladies and gents. If you see and servicemen and women out there, give 'em a pat on the back. Maybe a beer. Leave the ass-whooping to our boys out there on the field.

Don't worry. They'll git 'r done.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Smackdown Edition

I have an extremely short time in which to write almost everything I should have said these last two weeks.

Let's start with the important stuff: GO IRISH BEAT TROJANS.

If the last decade of Notre Dame football has taught me anything, it's that playing the Trojans does not necessarily make or break your entire season.* There are things in the world of Notre Dame football that feel worse than losing to USC (assuming USC is good that year), and there is at least one thing that would feel better (like winning a national championship).


It has been a long time since we gave the Trojans a good old-fashioned smackdown. I would really, really like to see us send those cocky, latex-ridden little pustules home with a big fat lopsided score--or, better yet, a big ol' goose egg tucked between their legs.

I am sick--dead SICK--of these close-scoring games. We've put up with five or six long years full of nailbiters--against good teams, against mediocre teams, against teams we have no business coughing up the ball to--and it is time. To. Stop.

I don't care what USC's talent level is like this year. I don't care if they have a stable filled with five hundred running backs. I don't care whether they've got a strong offense or a weak defense or whatever the hell it is they have--and no, I don't particularly care whether their head coach just got fired, or whether their hometown's just been sacked and burned by a bunch of angry Greeks--I WANT. TO KICK. THEIR ASS.

I want to kick their ass for so many reasons. For 2005 when they really didn't beat us and 2007 when they really did; for the entire first decade of the 2000's when Pete "cut-and-run" Carroll was busy parlaying his juvenile shenanigans all over the Trojans complex (and kindly turning a blind eye to all the NCAA rules violations taking place under his distinctly post-pubescent nose); for every idiotic sports reporter who thinks the ND-USC rivalry has somehow waned in recent years; but most of all I want this for the players.

I mean--I'm sure I have slightly different priorities than the players. And at the end of the day, if it's a win--well, I'll take it. But I'm tired of people saying that if we beat the Trojans, it's because we're lucky, or because their starting quarterback was injured, or whatever. I'm tired of railing against the nay-sayers and I'm tired of waiting for another decade of dominance and I want us, for once, to be able to go out there and not have to battle on a goal-line stand in overtime in order to make a statement. I want us to make a statement on the board that NOBODY CAN REFUTE.

It'd be nice for them to have a game that leaves an indelible mark upon the psyche of the fans, so that the next time we have a highlight reel showing the great matchups in Notre Dame-USC history, we don't have to hearken back to the 1977 green jersey game or the 1988 #1 vs #2 game or--God forbid--the 2005 game to talk about a classic in the rivalry's history.

I guess what I really want is for this team to be the team that goes out there and makes a statement and then backs it up with a series of successive victories culminating in a quality bowl win against a ranked opponent. (It's on my Christmas wish list.) And there's no obvious indication that this year's team will necessarily be the team to do this thing. But there's no indication that they can't be the team to do this, either.

On paper, ND and USC look sort of similar. Both teams are both 4-2 and unranked after starting the season ranked. USC has had lopsided victories against Hawaii and Boston College, close wins against Arizona and Utah, a 3-point loss to Washington State, and a funtime touchdown carousel sort of game against Arizona State, which resulted in a 62-41 loss and the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin.

So I'd say the on-paper crap means next to nothing. Notre Dame's pair of losses this season were both coulda-woulda-shoulda games against ranked, then-undefeated teams (who both decided to lose last weekend), in which our main deficits were A) turnovers, and B) lack of team identity. Both of which can be fixed.

Keep in mind that this is an Irish team that's beaten USC in 2 of the last 3 meetings. Tommy Rees has more victories against the Trojans than losses. That hasn't been true of an Irish quarterback since last century.

Guys, I know this has no basis in reality, really--but we are DUE. It is our TIME. Let us go forth and make this smackdown happen.

I mean, did you see what we did against Arizona State?

*except in 2005

Right, so about that thing that happened in Dallas


I don't care that it ended up being a 3-point victory and I don't care (much) about Arizona State's late-game surge; DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE? That was OUR--GAME. It was not Arizona State's. Five sacks, three forced fumbles (two recovered by ASU), three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and seven tackles for loss? YEAH. That was our game.I don't know where that defense came from, but they came BACK.

Maybe they've finally figured out where their nucleus is. Or maybe they were really fired up about Jarrett Grace's injury. Grace being out is a huge blow for the team; by all accounts, he was becoming a real leader and a real presence at the linebacker position (which, as you can imagine, is where the attention of the defense gravitated over the last couple years). But just as important as having those leaders on your team is having a team that gets fired up and rallies when a player goes down.

But of course we don't want players going down. We want our team to get fired up and fly around and play more like they did against Arizona State EVERY WEEK.

It wasn't perfect, of course. We had one stellar interception/pick-6 on ASU's 4th down attempt late in the game; on ASU's other 4th down attempt they scored a touchdown. So, obviously, room for improvement. But we're getting closer. SO MUCH CLOSER. (And just think--if our defense had played like that against Oklahoma...well, but never mind the past-tense hypotheticals; they will get us nowhere.) ASU was kind of like a coming-out party; now we just gotta bring that shit hoooooooooooooome. You realize we haven't beaten USC inside Notre Dame stadium since 2001?


One last word on the yin and the yang

Speaking of it being time for things--and the notion of ebb and flow--if you look back on the history of the ND-USC rivalry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame%E2%80%93USC_football_rivalry#Game_results), the peaks and troughs have become more pronounced over the last four decades--in the 70's, the Trojans dominated; by 1982, they'd closed the gap in the all-time series record to 27-23. Then they didn't win another game against the Irish until 1996, at which point the momentum of the series began to shift again, and by the early 2000's it was Notre Dame's turn to flounder.

A "great rivalry," according to certain sports writers, shouldn't have such large spikes of victory and defeat. It should be made up of smaller peaks and valleys; more evenly-spaced interstices of light and shadow.

But hey look, buddy--MOUNTAIN RANGES AIN'T SYMMETRICAL, all right? Sometimes you have to climb a REALLY REALLY REALLY high peak before you get to the next one. Sometimes one side of the mountain just kicks your ass for a while. It ain't all gently rolling foothills, or evenly-spaced rest stops, you big whinerbaby.

And besides--what makes a rivalry a rivalry isn't something you can define by how close the games are, or how evenly the wins are swapped back and forth. A rivalry is about the feeling in your gut and the energy in the game and the endless roar of the crowd, so loud and pervasive and enduring that you start to wonder--WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? Week in and week out, we have nearly the same demographics--nearly the same mix of first-timers and alumni and students in the crowd--but when we play the Trojans, that crowd is not the same. It becomes a tempest--a maelstrom--and in the center, the eye of the storm--that's where the game takes place. And we, the howling winds, we beckon--we challenge--we dare both teams to grapple for control of the storm.

Even in the worst of our years, I have seen this storm come alive.

THAT'S a rivalry game.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Yin-Yang Edition

*Note: My knowledge of yin and yang comes almost entirely from pop culture's appropriation of the taijitu symbol and a cursory reading of a Wikipedia article on the subject, so nobody take my interpretation of Taoist philosophy too seriously.

The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.

In football, winning and losing are the yin and the yang. There are no victories without small dark spots of defeat; there are no losses without small bright spots of victory. The whole of the game is both a win and a loss, merged together; the outcomes are inseparable, and one without the other means nothing.

During the course of the game, the win and the loss are always present. Both forces exist on every play, big or small; when one team has a succession of small victories, we call it momentum.

Momentum shifts, ebbing and flowing, like ripples in a pond. The higher the peak of the ripple, the lower the trough. But the water moves, and the trough eventually becomes the peak.

This is why sporting events must be timed; whoever holds the peak when the clock stops gets the win. Otherwise the games would never end.

Sometimes one team beats another so soundly that it is impossible to imagine the losing team ever capturing a win. But over the last few weeks, Notre Dame's wins have looked so similar to its losses--and its losses have been so close to its wins--that the whole season seems to be ebbing and flowing like the curves of a taijitu--the black-and-white symbol we recognize as representing the yin and the yang.

The Yin: ND 21 - Oklahoma 35

Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, and passive [...].

Shadows fell at the very beginning of this game. Two turnovers within the first two series isn't something you can do and expect to beat a team like Oklahoma. Even so, there were plenty of spots of daylight moving over our proverbial mountain. We didn't look defeated, even after going down 14-0 so early in the game. In fact, our offense looked very in control of itself on its fourth possession, putting together a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive that chewed five minutes off the clock. We rushed for 220 yards--our highest number all season. George Atkinson III had a massive 80-yard breakaway TD run (which I personally think serves as its own advertising campaign for why Notre Dame should try to run more sweeps instead of running up the middle from the SHOTGUN all the time--seriously, can we not snap the ball from under center? Have we seen the O-line open up any holes large enough to justify that much downhill running?). Tarean Folston's big almost-TD run was ALSO up the sideline to the left (you see? You SEE?), and Troy Niklas made another one of his, "Oh hey! A tight end! Where have you been all season?!" grabs.

Our defense made several huge stops against the Sooners, the likes of which we haven't seen since last season. Oklahoma only went 5 of 14 on third-down conversions. They did score on three out of four trips to the red zone--but two of those were field goals, and one was the result of a turnover.

Our defense is steadily improving. You can see things beginning to settle in. Flashes of brilliance have started to emerge.

But three turnovers is too many against a team like Oklahoma, and our defense is not yet good enough to stop a good offense at will. In the third quarter, after our offense put together a 75-yard scoring drive to make the score 28-21, it seemed as though the game was within reach. But Oklahoma responded immediately, chewing up 75 yards of their own for a TD and capping off the scoring drive with 2-point conversion.

We were not over-matched--not really--but as in the Michigan game, we fell behind too early and couldn't get out of the shadows.

Interlude: The voices in the box

Listening to the great sports broadcasters of the past is like listening to a form of art. Like great jazz musicians, the commentators must improvise to riff off the action on the field, fusing all the passion of a die-hard fan with an intricate know-how of the game in order to recreate for the listener an echo, a mirror, a snapshot of the game; to give them with a clearer lens through which to view the action on the field.

Such art does not exist in TV broadcasting. Instead of navigating the game with the smooth ebb and flow of a jazz artist, today's voices in the booth function more like hack musicians who were taught how to play a few bars of ragtime once, and now they sit down every week and play the same thing in a different key and hope nobody notices.

TV commentators aren't really paid to be experts, anymore--just to know more than the casual fan. They're not even paid to care.

And that's television's big mistake. In pandering to a national audience, they've eliminated the one element absolutely crucial for success in any art form: PASSION. The ability to show that you give care.

By far, the TV commentators I despise the least are the ones who cover the Olympics--because they're allowed to show bias. The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team's victory over the Soviet Union would not have been dubbed the "Miracle On Ice" if it weren't for Al Michaels's ebullient cry of, "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" as the clock ticked down to zero. He was allowed to cheer for the team; he was allowed to let his passions take over. He knew darn well that he was sharing this victory with other Americans, and that his voice would not, for example, be broadcast in the Soviet Union, where you can be damn sure no one was standing around calling that game a "miracle."

But this is not possible for national football broadcasts. Bias is only allowed for hometown radio announcers--the last potential wielders of an art form that has, for the most part, died from the national consciousness. (Or rather, been brutally stabbed to death by television.)

Here's an idea that will never happen: instead of having to listen to the idiotic pandering of the "unbiased" commentators in the booth (who rarely know more about the teams they're covering than the average enthusiastic fan), why not stick two hometown announcers in the booth together and let them duke it out? Hometown announcers don't have training in national TV broadcasting, of course. But they do follow their teams week in and week out; they know what they're talking about, and more importantly, they CARE. Let them get into a knock-down, drag-out fight over who should be beating who, or which team's getting it worse from the refs. And here's a radical concept--why not let them talk about the GAME? The ins and outs of the plays; why they're being called now and why they are or aren't working and whether they fit with the play-calling trends the coaches have been employing this year. Talk about who missed what assignment, and whether it was the quarterback or the receiver's fault; talk about who opened up the gaps to make a run play happen; talk about why the hell coaches feel, EVER, that a prevent defense late in the fourth quarter is a good idea.

It can't possibly be any worse than the inane pandering we have to put up with from the booth every week (let's talk about golf! let's talk about Eminem! let's interview LeBron James! let's talk about the refs! oh wait, is there a player injured down there? do we know who it is? nope? okay, let's talk about the refs some more!).

In fact, the casual viewer might actually learn something about the game of football.

But I'm sure that's too much to hope for.

The Yang: ND 17 - MSU 13

Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive[...].

This is the way to win--by being solid, focused, aggressive. By not turning the ball over, capitalizing on your opponent's mistakes, and defending your turf late in the game.

If you believe the talking heads in the booth, then Notre Dame won this game because of the referees. But I wouldn't listen to that claptrap if I were you. MSU was penalized 10 times for 115 yards; Notre Dame was penalized 8 times for 86. If the refs are throwing flags left and right, there's nothing you can do about it except adjust your game and stop whining.

Coach Kelly had no way of knowing what the TV commentators were going on about in the booth all game--but trust me, it was mostly a prolonged discussion about how many pass-interference penalties were called against MSU--but it was nevertheless extremely satisfying after the game to hear Kelly say something akin to, "MSU's defense was playing man coverage all game. They were all over us. I thought they should've gotten more penalties."

As far as shadows-in-the-midst-of-our-sunshine go, our offensive numbers weren't pretty in this game. We only averaged 2.8 ypc on the ground against the nation's top-ranked defense, and Rees completed 40% of his passes for 142 yards (less than half his total from the previous three games) and 1 TD.

On the bright side, MSU's offensive stats weren't much better (3.2 ypc and a 50% completion rate from their QB)--and if MSU had the best defense in the country, ours didn't look too shabby in comparison.

However, there are still bits of the yang that have not yet been fully realized. Our defense is probably no slower than they were last season--but they LOOK slower, don't they? Even when our D-line breaks into the backfield, we don't regularly come up with a sack. Either the quarterbacks we've faced are too mobile (and we've forgotten what having a mobile quarterback is like?), or there's just something missing. We're not flying around the field like we used to. We're not being aggressive. We're not taking control.

We're not ANGRY enough.

But we should be.

Interlude: Pride

I've been thinking lately (or...as usual) about why it is we get so crazy about football. I posited this to a former professor a few weeks ago, and she said: "Pride."

That's all it is, really, isn't it? The desire to win. To have bragging rights. To be able to wax poetic in crazy blog posts about the athletic prowess of people you've never even met. To say that our team, our school, our football players have one-up on someone else's. On everybody else's, if you manage to win the ultimate bragging rights.

But why does it matter so much? It's just a game. Just a collection of wins and losses. We've given it such attention, such prestige--such a ticket price--that it's become a stage on which to win personal, local, national glory. This is both to its benefit and to its detriment.

For Notre Dame fans, so much of our pride rests in the past--on the laurels of previous championships, previous trophies won, previous coaches who shaped the legends that are long gone. But we insist there's something else in our pride, too; a notion something must be different about how we win and how we lose. 

There's been some outcry over the past week over whether the players ought to sing the alma mater with the students after every game, win or lose. According to this letter from Jack Swarbrick, he and Coach Kelly sat down after the 2011 season and determined that the players would only sing the alma mater with the students after a win. It's been almost two years since the Irish have lost at home, so there was confusion after the Oklahoma game; some of the players ran into the tunnel straightaway, but others, hailed by their fellow students, remained behind to sing the alma mater.

This is a tradition that's only really been in place since 2006, but already we've grown proud of it. It's an impressive sight, watching ~7,000 students (let's face it, some of them punk out) remain in the stands after a loss, just to sing the alma mater. Even if it's a big, big, big, big loss. It impresses the hell out of a lot of people. And that show of solidarity, for many, has become almost an emblem of what Notre Dame represents: a family--a community of students and alumni and fans predicated on something more than just a win/loss column.

Despite our collective monomania over winning another national championship, football is not all that Notre Dame stands for. It has never been. The basilica is the highest point on campus for a reason, followed by the dome and the library: religion, family, education. In that order. And on purpose. I feel like I say this at least once per season, but the faith and the community of Notre Dame are more important than academia. Football doesn't even make the list.

As imperfect as Notre Dame's execution of this ideal is, the important thing is that we are still and always fighting to achieve it. ALL of us are fighting against our own vices, our own weaknesses, our own setbacks, to try to be what we want to be. Our ideal selves. And that's the important part, really: the fight. (What would YOU fight for?)

And that's why, during the Oklahoma game, I despaired over the last five minutes. Not because of the points on the board--not because of the ultimate result of the game--but because of the way we fought. Or rather...didn't fight.

We're still lacking that edge--that transcendent quality that makes it possible to come back against a team when you're two scores down and there are less than five minutes left. It's not a matter of strength and conditioning; it's all mental. We lack a rallying point. Someone's got to step in and fire up the troops. SOMEONE. But who?

Yin and Yang: Arizona State

Yin and yang transform each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall.

In case you missed it, Arizona State scored 62 points in victory over USC last weekend, which resulted in the Trojans firing head coach Lane Kiffin. (Between you and me, though, Kiffin is such a little piece of sewage that this cannot possibly have been the only factor leading to his demise.) The 22nd-ranked Sun Devils are averaging 44 points per game, led by QB Taylor Kelly (1,370 yards, 11 TDs) and coached by Todd Graham (formerly of Tulsa and Pittsburgh). For a full run-down of ASU's (depressing? terrifying?) offensive statistics, I recommend this article.

But before you have a panic attack, let's consider a few things.

1) Notre Dame has not looked over-matched in any game this season. I don't care what sort of fancy things Arizona State's been doing with the football--Notre Dame is not a bad team, not a slow team, not an under-conditioned team; we're a good team suffering from an identity crisis. Which means...

2) The breakthrough could happen at any time. It took until the Michigan game last year for our defense to start lighting it up. Without a Manti Te'o figure in the backfield or an anchor like Kapron Lewis-Moore on the D-line, I don't know who's going to be the catalyst for us. But I'm convinced that if we get one, it'll flip some sort of switch. Things will click into place again. A new order, a new identity will be established. And considering how well Arizona State's been playing,

3) This could be the game. I know it seems illogical, since this is probably the most terrifying offense we've seen so far this season--but that's exactly it. This is the challenge. Think of the yin-yang; the trough becomes the peak. This is the peak we have to become in order to defeat them.

4) Arizona State has faced two ranked teams so far this season: Wisconsin, who they beat by 2 points, and Stanford, who they lost to by 14 points. Notre Dame isn't as good as Stanford this year, but we're definitely on par with Wisconsin (even if we did get booted out of the rankings this week), and there is absolutely no reason this game should be out of reach.

Just as long as we don't commit any egregious turnovers, we should be fine.

Also, keep in mind that the "neutral-site" Shamrock Series games have treated us very well thus far. This alone is no reason to go placing bets, of course, but do keep in mind that when we played Miami(FL) last year, the commentators were still insisting that we "lacked the team speed" to keep up with a much-improved Hurricanes...and then we went to Soldier Field and kicked their butts 41-3.

So I don't want to hear it about Arizona State. Doubt the Irish all you like, but I don't think we've seen the best of them this season, and I don't see any reason why tomorrow can't be the defense's coming-out party--or Cam McDaniel's homecoming party--or (however frustrating the play-calling might be) the Reesus' next chance for ascension.


Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive