Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Senior Day Snow Bowl

First things first--you might want to watch the ICON video from this week. It features choice game highlights, snippets of Coach Kelly's locker room speeches, and several extremely fierce Hawaiians:

Epic Bulldog
I've long thought that Brian Kelly looks a bit like a bulldog when he gets angry on the sidelines. His jowls quiver. His jaw clenches. He sometimes looks like he's prepared to latch onto the ref's arm and shake it in fury until the refs make the correct call.

At some point during the BYU game, in the midst of some furious texting, one of my friends posited that Brian Kelly's sideline rants were nothing short of epic, and I said yes. They are epic.

Epic bulldog.

If you are skeptical, then you should definitely watch the ICON video from this week. Zoom ahead to approximately the 2:47 mark, and check out Brian Kelly yelling at the team during halftime: "I ABSOLUTELY LOVE WHAT I SEE."

Because if that's not Epic Bulldog, then I don't know what is.

So here's to you, Brian Kelly, and the first graduating class at ND that you've coached for all four years.

This is an interesting class, because next year is the first year Brian Kelly will be graduating a class of seniors that he both recruited and coached. This year's seniors, by and large, were brought in by Charlie Weis to play his pro-style system--and we've seen some bumps in the road as Brian Kelly attempted to work some of these less-versatile players into a "you-must-be-versatile" system.

Last year's senior class had a little more flash, fame, and obvious NFL futures (not to knock Louis Nix, of course), but this year's senior class has done some things no senior class has done for a while. Like winning on Senior Day four years in a row. Beating USC 3 times. Going 11-1 in Notre Dame stadium over the last 12 home games. Playing for the national championship. And, you know, playing in bowl games four years in a row (which, btw senior band members, I am not jealous of you for at ALL). The overall record under Brian Kelly is 35-13, which puts us at a .729 win percentage--the best mark for any head coach at Notre Dame since Lou Holtz (.765). (Just think--if only we'd had a better showing against Alabama, we could've continued with the grand tradition of Notre Dame coaches winning a national championship in their third season.)

So it's frustrating to think that this season is, somehow, a disappointment. At the beginning of the year, the team was talking about gunning for a national championship, which without Everett Golson seemed unlikely at best...and then we had to recalibrate to aim for a BCS bowl...and then for an outside BCS berth...and now we're mostly thinking we'll be lucky if we can beat Stanford. It's the opposite of the trajectory we had last season, and that makes it harder to swallow.

Part of the reason these losses have been so bitter and untenable--and the reason I was so pessimistic yesterday--is because NONE of our losses were out of reach. It was mostly mental mistakes. Lack of edge. Lack of focus. And I bemoaned our ability to get the edge back.

But we did. And on Senior Day, no less.

Sayonara, Seniors

The goal on Senior Day is no different than the goal on any other day: win. But Senior Day always feels a bit different, because it marks the beginning of the end. The end of the season. The end of the year. The end of college, for those being honored. It's surreal, that "last time," because it both does and doesn't feel like the last time at all. By the time you're a senior, it just feels familiar. Game Day is something you've done twenty-three times already. Your brain knows the routine too well already; the majority of that gray sludgy mass in your head refuses to acknowledge that anything about this is different or new. Besides--it's not like it's the last last game. There's always that game in California over Thanksgiving. And if you're lucky, a bowl game.

And then, of course, there's the entire rest of your life to come back and tailgate and sneak into the student section and watch the players get progressively younger and younger while you grow old giving yourself ulcers over last-second touchdowns. Until one day you start saying, "When I was a student..." and you realize you don't actually know anybody who goes to school here anymore. Which brings you to approximately Phase VII of the life cycle of a Notre Dame Student.

(And since I just made that up right now, I guess I'd better elaborate on what the phases are:
Phase I: Prospective Student "Please pick me oh please pick me oh please oh please oh please"
Phase III: Disillusioned Student "I am so sick of dining hall food. I can't believe anybody pays for this. I never want to eat at South AGAIN."
Phase IV: First-semester Senior  "My brain never really came back from study abroad..."
Phase V: Second-semester Senior "Oh God Oh God WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?"
Phase V: Poor Young Alumni "Wait, I have to donate HOW much to get into the football lottery next year?"
Phase VI: Old Young Alumni "Guys, I don't know anybody who lives in South Bend anymore. We're gonna have to get a hotel."
Phase VII: Cranky Young Alumni "Man, when I went to school here, quarter dogs were still twenty-five cents."
Phase VIII: No Longer A Young Alumni  "Wait, I have to donate HOW much to get into the football lottery next year?"
Phase IX - XI: TBD

I don't know how many phases there actually are, because I haven't reached them yet. I suspect there are three more levels, and at least one of them is "Crotchety Old Alumni Who Still Thinks The Students Should Be All Guys." Though I suspect this will be modified by the time I get there.)

Anyway. Back to the football.

So on Senior Day, everything's the same, except you're kind of rooting for all of the seniors to get playing time, in addition to the win. You want to see those backup players take the field. You want to see Danny Spond in full uniform again. (You want to see Zibby in at QB.) And when you play a team like BYU, you know it's going to be nigh-impossible to get a comfortable enough cushion to send out your third- and fourth-string. Especially when your team's just had two weeks to mull over an unconscionable loss to Pitt.

So you worry. You obsess.

And then you watch in delight as your team comes out swinging, dominates the line on both sides of the ball, and basically owns the field for the majority of the game.

Mental edge = recovered.

And it's sharper than a vorpal blade. Or a subtle knife. Or the sword that cut the ring from Sauron's finger.

Gunning for Touchdown Mode

Tommy Rees has two modes: Touchdown Mode and Turnover Mode. Yesterday, we mostly saw touchdown mode, but I guess Tommy  couldn't resist throwing one more pick in the endzone (you know...for old time's sake). I don't mean to be hard on Tommy (yes, I do), but hey, the kid's tough. He's done everything that's been asked of him, and he's done it with aplomb (you know, except when he's busy throwing interceptions). And he always comes back fighting. That's become true of this team as well: even when they've suffered a knuckle-headed loss, even when they're getting run over in a national championship loss to Alabama--they come back fighting.

I guess I shouldn't have doubted this senior class would make a mental comeback on Senior Day. After all--on Senior Day, they've never lost. The senior-class mindset was perhaps epitomized most fully by linebacker Dan Fox, who led the D with 9 tackles, and obscene amount of focus, and probably the best game of his entire career.

But what's most impressive about this win, perhaps, was the total team effort. The kind of effort we've been expecting to see more of all season, where everyone's locked in, everyone steps up--so that when your starting center goes down with a season-ending injury in the middle of the game, the next man in plays so well (and the rest of the team continues to perform so consistently) that you hardly notice the switch was made at all.

So many of the players who helped us corral the Cougars yesterday weren't seniors at all: Tarean Folston, who scored the first TD of the game; Cam McDaniel, who kept us barreling forward on the ice-slicked ground; DaVaris Daniels, who had the two biggest catches of the game; Jarron Jones, who had 7 tackles and a blocked kick; and Kyle Brindza, who, when they said they were sending the punt unit on the field prior to his 51-yd field goal, said "Are you kidding? That's in my range!"

Now THAT's Notre Dame football.

As Coach Kelly put it in his presser:
This is the way we need to play. This is what we're capable of playing. It's a much more physical brand of football. [...]  I think the Pittsburgh game was an anomaly for a number of reasons that I just can't get into right now [...], and they had a chance to go out and show in their last home game the kind of football team that they really are.

The Clash of the New Ivies & The Search for Self-Actualization

So as we head out to play our frenemies next week in Palo Alto, let's hope that we continue to play like the football team we really are, instead of a football team that looks like it got mugged twenty feet outside the stadium and then ran onto the field with its pockets emptied of a decent run-blocking scheme and proper tackling technique. (Sorry. Still angry about the Pitt game)

The 8th-ranked Cardinal (the color, not the bird) have beaten five out of five ranked teams they've faced; their two losses came against unranked Utah (26-20) and then-unranked USC (20-17). This does not necessarily bode well for #25 Notre Dame (now ranked again in the BCS standings). On the one hand, Notre Dame beat USC. On the other hand, Stanford beat Oregon.

What does bode well for us is the way we played against BYU. If we can keep up that level of focus and avoid turnovers of any kind (excepting possible leftovers from Thanksgiving), there's no reason we shouldn't be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Cardinal. Also boding well for the Irish is that Stanford seems to have taken its frustration out on Cal this weekend (63-13), so hopefully they'll be facing the Irish on an even keel.

Although I have to say--for as much as I deplore Stanford's band (for example), and for as much as I want the Irish to win and prove (yet again) what they're made of--I'm kind of frustrated that Stanford had the gall to lose to Utah and USC. We need more teams like Stanford in the top 10, for the sake of college football. To make a point about not compromising academic standards for the sake of sport. We need these teams to win BCS bowls--if for no other reason than to score a Pyrrhic victory in a war we may have already lost.

But in the meantime, I hope we both end this season 9-3.

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune
Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Points too late to matter

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of [a loss], I shall fear no [future losses], for thou art [football].

And that is just how thou art.

Words too late to matter
I feel like I should apologize for how lackluster this is going to be.

I meant to write when the wound of the loss was still fresh and oozing, riper than a spoiled pomegranate. I mean to write when I had the horror of the game still clearly in  my head; when words of yin and yang could act as a balm to ease the sting of loss and my thoughts were still raw enough to be wrung into clever metaphors. Instead I wrapped a bandage over things and went about my business, while below the gauze things bled and scabbed and then peeled off, only to scab and peel again. Now I press at the tiny pinkish flesh where the wound has healed and find that I don't know what words I had there at all.

I recall expounding on several theories in a series of frantic texts during the Pitt game (because how can I understand my angst about sports except through electronically-enabled cogitations?). I present them to you now in no particular order and with no particular amount of relevance:

1. I feel like we've been playing a bowl game every week. I mean--our team hasn't necessarily been playing like they're in a bowl game every week, but I feel like our opponents have. I mean, I know people like to say "every team gets up when they play Notre Dame," but that's not always true. Sometimes we lay the smackdown (like at Air Force). And in some seasons (let's face it) it's not always so hard to beat us.

But this season...Oklahoma and Arizona State looked like they were playing us for the freaking Fiesta Bowl. Navy's game against the Irish was near-perfect, even though we beat them; Oklahoma's game wasn't, even though we lost. The Michigan game was the same old train wreck it's been for the last five years, and the USC game is the only discernible evidence that last year's defense came back to play this season. And though we've got seven wins; though we can move the ball well; though we've still got vestiges of the defensive adjustments we were able to make last year...we can't win unless we play clean. And that's been hit-or-miss. If we turn the ball over once, we'll turn it over twice. And our opponents, for the most part, aren't making mistakes back. They just let us shoot ourselves in the foot, watch us hobble around trying to cover all the gaps in our defense, and dare us to win by sheer grit and the skin of our teeth.

The game against Pitt was enough to take the last of our hope for a BCS berth and stab it to the wall like a butterfly in the early days of entomology. Look, folks! Look what they've caught. Look at the bright streaks of optimism in its wings!

Maybe this is all karma coming back to slap us in the face for beating Pitt in overtime last season. Or for the way we won the MSU game this season. Win one game on penalties--yea, so thou shalt lose.

(............or not.)

2. The actual theory that I posited via text during the game: maybe we lose all of our bowl games against ranked opponents because the whole season is like one long bowl game for us. By the time we reach the end of the regular season, we're so so mentally drained from having all of our opponents swarm us like maggots in a meat market that we sink too far into our rest, and we lose our edge.

Mostly I posit this because I used to get sick every spring break in college. Or any school break, really. I'd run myself so ragged during the semester that by the time I had time to rest, my body was like, "GREAT we are now shutting down ENTIRELY." And I became totally useless for many days.

Maybe that's what happens to the team. Maybe you can only play so many bowl games before your mental edge starts to dull--and then you give yourself a break to sharpen up again, but you can't. You can't. Look at the shape that blade's in. It would be easier to just melt it all down, start things over and re-forge. So--essentially--that's what we do.

Of course, I do think we would have done better against Alabama if the heart and soul of our defense hadn't been distracted by a HORRIBLE CATFISHING SCAM for like two whole weeks before the game (yeah, I'm sticking with the press-conference version on this one). But hey. What can you do?

3. We're still hungover from the national championship loss. Not mentally, this time. But physically.

Because last season we did have the mental edge in every game. His name was Manti Te'o. And this was what allowed us to play so incredibly hard; what allowed us to make a miraculous goal-line stand against Stanford and hang on for every--single--win (save one).

But you can't play that hard for that long without it taking a toll. The defense put it all out there, again and again and again, in a way you just don't in a normal season. And then you get to the championship game and you lose and your spirit breaks. You have no endorphins to temper the sheer ache of your effort; no wave of euphoria to wash away your bruises and carry you into next season. Instead, you feel the hurt. Every ache settles deep in your bones. Bruises become proof of defeat instead of effort. Joints throb like they're predicting the weather.

And by next season, your whole defense shows up injured.

Maybe this sounds slightly mad. But even Manti Te'o's been injured this season. [Also, I swear the same thing happened after the Bears lost to the Colts in Superbowl XLI. Chicago's defense was so good that they carried the team to the championship--despite the best efforts of Rex Grossman to turn the ball over as many times as he possibly could (including one memorable Monday night game in which Grossman threw six interceptions and the Bears still won)--then they lost to Peyton Manning (who is afraid of literally no defense ever), and the following season half the defense came back injured and they went 7-9. Perhaps there were other extenuating factors but I really don't remember now.]

To further our defensive woes, Louis Nix is now out for the rest of the season due to knee surgery and will most likely abscond for the NFL next year. (Not that we can blame him, I guess; he's graduating in January, so he'll have his senior day this weekend...and if there's any concern about potential future injuries, probably better to face those fears in the NFL than risk getting hurt again in college and not get drafted at all. Though it is sad we won't be able to see him play out all four years of eligibility.)

The valley of the shadow

I can't rehash the Pitt game. I can't do it. If I was going to, I would've done it weeks ago, and maybe it would've involved a metaphor form the Count of Monte Cristo about how we're all either kings or pawns (and Pitt got to be king-of-the-moment)....but if anyone's still trying to figure out what happened against Pitt (besides some truly outrageous penalties), I don't know, either. The answer's probably turnovers.

Notre Dame has turned the ball over thirteen times this season--10 interceptions and 3 fumbles lost. However, we've also gained the ball ten times from our opponents, so overall our turnover margin is -3. Which, uh, sounds slightly better but still is not exactly great.

Here's the part of this statistic that matters most:
In Notre Dame's wins this season, our overall turnover margin has been +4.
The cumulative turnover margin for our losses is -8.

This pretty much sums up Notre Dame's entire season: if we can hold onto the damn ball, we can win the game.
If we can't, we're screwed.

More or less.

I think this is the part of the rant where I'm supposed to give you an inspiring speech about Senior Day, but actually all I'm thinking about right now is my own Senior Day. Aka the day everyone almost froze to death watching us lose to a 2-7 Syracuse team. Aka the Worst Senior Day Ever.

In an attempt to eradicate this horrific mental image, I've been reading bits of Coach Kelly's presser (about how Tommy Rees is always the first one to show up for practice and the last one to leave). And scrolling through my Twitter feed (@Kegsneggs I have no idea what is targeting. // @KeithArnold Neither do the rest of us. I think Stephon Tuitt just knocked down a dorm in frustration.) And reminding myself that somewhere beneath this festering canker of frustration, I know that this team is better than its record; that we had no business losing to Pitt; and that no matter what, I have faith that we can turn the yin to the yang.

Plus it's Game Day, and I'm an addict. (Somebody stick an IV in my arm. I'm ready for a fix.)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Fixin' for Victory Edition

So the Irish are 7-2 and ranked #23 in the BCS, with three not-so-easy games left before we can start talking about bowl bids in earnest. Despite the inevitable anger and frustration during the nail-biter against Navy, I'm actually feeling pretty good about us at this point in the season (especially if I don't think about how things might have been different if certain players had had the scholastic fortitude to comply with the university's extremely clear stance on academic dishonesty. But no matter). There's lots of stuff to be impressed about (and some stuff to be distressed about)--but one thing I wouldn't do is pay attention to anyone who says we're vying for a BCS bowl bid until we've played Stanford. Then--and only then--shall we have proved whether we are worthy.

But let's start with first things first.

Notre Dame 45, Air Force 10
aka This land is your land, this land is my land, but the air over Falcons stadium is f***ing ours

Remember that time Notre Dame went to Air Force and Tommy Rees threw for five touchdown passes to five different receivers for like the first time in school history?
Or that time Kyle Brindza kicked a 51-yd field goal like it was nbd, because, pshhh, that's not even his career longest?
Or how about that time half of our starting players got to sit out for the entire 4th quarter because we had so much of a lead WE DIDN'T NEED THEM ANYMORE?
Or the time Andrew Hendrix got to redeem himself after a stupendously poor showing against USC by coming in against Air Force and throwing a ridiculously beautiful 47-yd pass to freshman WR William Fuller before running the ball in for a TD on the very next play?
Or what about that time the defense held its opponents scoreless in the second half for the second week in a row?
Or that game where seven different defensemen were credited with tackles for loss? And the team as a whole had one penalty and zero turnovers? And the entire game was pretty much the equivalent of sitting there and eating your way through a large pumpkin pie Blizzard--delicious and filling and stomach-aching-ly satisfying, and so infused with the pumpkin-ripe of autumn and the nutmeg-spice of the holidays that by the time you've finished you can think of nothing else except to lie there in a semi-euphoric stupor, your limbs jazzed from too much sugar (or possibly too many touchdowns), wondering why things can't be this good and rich and satisfying all the time?


I only ask because I can barely remember the last time I felt so hazy and full and satisfied after a game. It seems like we've gotten maybe one game like this per season. In about fifty percent of our seasons. For the last fifteen seasons. Give or take.

And for the first time in a while, I thought to myself, "Oh yeah. This is why teams try to schedule cupcake opponents early in the season."  Because sometimes you just need a game where you can boost confidence, give your team a chance to gel, and (before you run through your entire playbook and reveal too many secrets to your future opponents) give your second string some time to play.

Only we don't do this so much at Notre Dame, because we don't believe in starting the season with dessert. Even games we start out *thinking* might be cupcake-y often turn out to be more than we can stomach.

It's like our opponents show up with the attitude of, "Ohhhhhh, so you think we're gonna be some big soft pudding, eh? You think you're just gonna schlep right through us, eh? Well, we've got news for YOU, you great bunch of dome-brained Bloody-Mary-swillers. We ain't pudding. Oh, no--today we're gonna be RANCID TAPIOCA."

And you can't digest that sort of thing at all.

Even in years when we are genuinely too good to let rancid tapioca get the better of us, it's often easy to forget how good we really are. Because there's no amount of retroactive Pepto-Bismol that can cure the heavy, greasy, fried-onion-log consistency of that loss to Michigan, or the overcooked-steak toughness of that twice-pick-sixed tragedy against Oklahoma. And since our O-line still isn't strong enough to push opposing defenses aside (like a mound of buttery mashed potatoes) and create neat seams up the middle (for the smooth gravy train of our running backs), we still rely too much on Tommy to make things happen. And on defense? Our consistency is harder to to predict than the quality of a souffle in the hands of an inexperienced chef.

I'm not accusing Bob Diaco of being an inexperienced chef (you all know how I feel about Bob)--it's just that it was pretty hard to stomach the half-raw tuna steak that was the Navy game after watching our D perform so beautifully against Air Force. And it's still hard not to wonder what happened to all those truffles and bon-bons the defense was doling out last season (even if we've already posited that it probably has something to do with our current lack of a master chocolatier at linebacker).

But we can't fixate on these things.

We've got to aid our digestion by chomping on the cool mint leaves of reason and reminding ourselves how much we're capable of doing RIGHT.

And it's when you're watching a game like the one against Air Force that you remember, "Oh, yeah. EVERYTHING. We are capable of doing just about EVERYTHING right."

And you just remember that (when things are going wrong and the breaks are beating the boys). You look at what the D did against both Air Force and USC and you remind yourself it was not a fluke.

The other sweet spot of the Air Force game (at least for me) was being able to watch the CBS Sports Network Broadcast, which featured A) less commercials than the average sitcom, and B) Aaron Taylor. Seriously, NBC needs to figure out a way to hire Aaron Taylor right now. The man is full of insight (and Lou Holtz impersonations). He cares about the team. He knows how to pronounce the players' names. He TALKS ABOUT ACTUAL FOOTBALL. Somebody please hire him immediately.

In the meantime, let's talk about this:

Notre Dame 38, Navy 34

Part of me would like to characterize this game as one big toothache following the sweet overindulgence against Air Force, but that wouldn't really be fair--to our team or to Navy.

After two straight years of getting chomped on by the Irish, Navy came pounding into Notre Dame Stadium and churned out a near-perfect game: zero penalties, zero turnovers. Two punts.

Notre Dame played a somewhat-less-clean game, with 5 penalties for 55 yards and 2 turnovers--but 0 punts. That's probably the most significant statistic of the game; Notre Dame scored every single time they had the ball (that they didn't turn it over), and this effort, combined with Navy missing a crucial point-after attempt, probably kept the game from turning into another triple-OT debacle.

All the back-and-forth in this game wasn't so much like watching a tug-of-war as it was like watching Wreck-It Ralph and Fix-It Felix grapple over the facade of the Nicelanders' apartment building in Fix-It Felix Jr. (and if you haven't seen "Wreck-It Ralph," you're just gonna have to go with me on this one.) Notre Dame struck first, sending the shiny gold hammer--I mean helmet--of George Atkinson scampering to the end zone for the game's initial TD. The Middies responded by punching through Notre Dame's defense on a 9-play, 56-yd scoring drive, culminating in a pile-driving smash into the end zone for Navy's first TD.

And so it went. Navy's ground-pounding scoring drives sent Notre Dame hopping around, looking for a way to fix the score to our liking. Our defense had a few moments of brilliance, including Jaylon Smith's game-winning tackle on Navy's last 4th & 4 attempt--which was akin watching the Nicelanders throw Wreck-It Ralph off the top of their apartment building to end of the game. There were some other nice patch-ups on defense, too (1 sack, 5 TFL, etc.), but most of our repairs came from the swift, sure hammer-strokes of the offense.

TJ Jones and the endzone came together like the cross-sections of two perfectly cut beams. Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack rat-a-tatted their way down field with the force of two handheld nail guns. And Tarean Folston bore down the field with the strength and persistence of a power drill, leaving 140 yards and possibly some Navy-blue sawdust in his wake.

Whatever fumbling hits we may have made against our own hands, we never bruised ourselves too badly to go on. We had the conditioning to go blow-for-blow against Navy. We had the fortitude to keep coming back as the score fell out of our favor. And, most importantly, we had the right tools.

There are no teams I admire more than the military academies for the way they play the game. But when it takes six guys to tackle Troy Niklas; when a freshman RB can jump and juke (a la Julius Jones) and make guys miss--well, that's stuff you can't really coach for. That's stuff you can barely recruit for. And in this game, it made all the difference.

I know it's hard not to be nervous/vexed/confused/all in an internal kerfuffle over what's going on with the defense, but after considering these last two weeks, I say: don't sweat it. Coach Niumatalolo has had Notre Dame's number more than once, and he's smart enough to adjust his schemes to vex Diaco--especially after having a chance to watch what Notre Dame did to shut down Air Force. Yes, our defense had an extra week to practice defending the option, too. But Navy executes the option WAY BETTER than Air Force, and--let's face it--that near-perfect game against the Irish is was probably the best effort Navy will put out all year.

Plus, Notre Dame sustained a series of unfortunate injuries (Sheldon Day and Kona Schwenke both with ankle sprains, Ben Councell with a season-ending knee injury, Austin Collinsworth with a strained neck, and of course Louis Nix still out with knee tendinitis) that most likely set the tempo of our game slightly awry.

But I'm not losing sleep over it. If we can get it done against the option, we can get it done against anybody. In fact, I think we're gonna look much snappier on defense moving forward, because we'll be able to get back to playing the way we did against USC. (It'll be good to see a pass rush again, eh?)

To End: An Interlude

And to anyone who maintains that Notre Dame shouldn't have its players sing the alma mater with the student section after a home loss (*coughcough*BrianKelly*cough*): why don't you just watch the last few minutes of the Air Force game, when Notre Dame went to stand with Air Force as they sang their alma mater, and tell me if it doesn't cause some slight stirring in your soul; some notion that this show of unity hearkens to something greater and deeper and wiser than this game; something truer than a loss, greater than a win and more important than looking ahead to next week's game. You just think about what it means to be a family, and whether a show of unity means more in good times than in bad.

And you get back to me on that.

Oh, I know no one's ever going to read this who has the clout to make these kinds of decisions (none of THEM care what I have to say)--but DANGIT, guys. Singing the alma mater with the players after the game is a tradition to be proud of. Because it means more than just football. More than just win or lose.

And that's something worth fighting for. 

Bring on the Pittsburgh Pussycats
I  mean Panthers.

Okay, probably shouldn't jest about Pitt, considering all the debacles we've experienced against them in the past (including last year's 3-point OT victory). And especially considering that the only time we've beaten the Panthers by more than 7 points for, uh, the last fifteen years or so was when we beat them 42-21 in 2005.

I've got nothing but but respect for the tenacious, cat-scratch fever of Paul Chryst's kitty-cat crusaders.

I am just saying: I think we are too good to put up with any more of this nail-biting BS and I think we ought to pummel them into kitty litter.

Pitt is more of a powerhouse on defense than on offense, which works directly in our favor. We've already proved we can move the ball on anybody. We just need to go out and prove it against these pugnacious prowlers of the night without committing any turnovers (DO YOU HEAR ME TOMMY? Oh, and TJ, too--let's not leave TJ out of this after that stupendous slip-n-fall last week [ay ay ay caramba]).

Maybe I'm just hungering for another pumpkin-pie-Blizzard kinda game. And this hunger is especially voracious against Pitt because they were the team that nearly spoiled our championship hopes last season (y'know, before Alabama did), and they had NO BUSINESS DOING SO. I have no intention of allowing those feline philanderers to fight us down to the wire again. (Y'know. 'Cuz I have so much say in these things.)

Most of Coach Kelly's presser this week read like an extended injury report, but he did have this little gem about the Panthers in there:
But they always just play us so hard, and before I got here two losses I think in overtime, difficult games that went to overtime. So midwestern team, tough, blue collar, physical, they don't seem to like Notre Dame very much, and they want to beat Notre Dame. 


I absolutely couldn't tell you why, but those f***ers always get all over us like they're in heat or something. Well, you know what? BRING IT, BAGHEERA. We are sick of your hormonal rage and we are about ready to fix you.

Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune