Saturday, October 11, 2014

Notre Dame Football: Haiku Edition

Apparently ND football haikus are a thing this week, thanks to Subway Domer's fit of poetic inquiry in the Irish Blogger Gathering. Kind of takes me back to the Weis era, when Haiku Notre Dame had its sterling run. Speaking as someone who once wrote a blog post entitled "Notre Dame Football: Moby Dick Edition," I can't entirely discount the appropriation of classic works or art forms to get the point across about exploits on the gridiron. So this week the blog will be, erm, poetic.

Frozen Five

Five men wait, frozen--
while wins rush past like rapids--
dangling like hooked fish.

No word on the hearings. Rumors leaking that no matter the outcome, the five suspended Irish players won't see the field this season. Brian Kelly denying any knowledge of the outcomes. The whole situation is appalling. It's bad enough that the investigation had to happen at all (don't even get me started on integrity and the apparently inversely proportional relationship between academics and athletic prowess in America)--but if it had to happen, just make it HAPPEN.

It's a sticky situation: if you let the players play and they're found guilty of academic dishonesty, they'll be suspended or expelled from school, and then become retroactively ineligible for all games and practices in which they participated (from the time the academic dishonesty started onward, presumably). Which then opens up the NCAA quagmire of Notre Dame potentially vacating wins in which those players participated.

Which, if you ask me, is pretty much the stupidest punishment ever. Those games happened the way they happened. Who can say whether the game would have turned out any differently because of that single player? But, you know, clearly something must be done to show people the seriousness of academic violations. So obviously the best solution is to wipe entire seasons off the record, thereby invalidating the play of every other person on the field and stripping the games of any meaning or outcome.

Yes. That will show them.

Anyway: If the players AREN'T found guilty, then at least they've been going to school and attending class, so they won't fall behind in their credits. But now they've missed six games--half a freaking season--and suffered the ignominy of an investigation and suspension for no reason. And will probably have to face not playing for the entire season, because of eligibility issues. And lack of practice. And so on.

If the players ARE found guilty, then they'll have to deal with suspension or expulsion, plus additional appeals and hearings. And if they're suspended from school immediately, then all the academic work they've done so far this semester (presumably of their own volition--?) will have been for naught. Although considering they're under investigation for academic fraud in the first place, I'm really not sure how to feel about this--only that it seems odd, given the circumstances, that they've been stripped of athletic privileges but still been allowed to go to class.

So clearly there was never an ideal way to handle this situation. Having uncovered the potential Honor Code violations during the summer session, the administration had no choice but to wait until school officially reconvened in the fall to assemble a hearing committee, which must include Notre Dame students (by code of the...Honor Code).

But it seems like the best option in a less-than-ideal situation would have been to get it over and done with as fast as humanly possible. Obviously the students, professors, and administrators involved in the hearings have enough else on their plates without having to decide the fates of five students who potentially committed the ultimate act of disrespect toward an institution of higher learning. But come on. Seven weeks? No verdicts?

Considering ND is filled with obsessive overachievers collectively invested in the outcome of collegiate sporting events probably more than is reasonable or wise, it is hard to believe this is the best we can do.

As to the outcome of the investigations: I have no idea what is going on. None at all. Given that Everett Golson was suspended last season due to Honor Code violations, it's not like we can exactly point to the entire team having squeaky clean records or anything. It's still depressing. But I don't know anything about the situation and don't care to speculate. The only thing I can say is that this catch-and-release job they're pulling on the five students in question has dragged on so long it's borderline cruel, and whatever the outcome, it just needs to COME. Let's get this over with.

Anyway. Enough depressing ranting. On to actual football!

Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14

By Golson's faith, strength, and arm
Cardinal sins die.

The Irish are 5-0 for only the third time since Lou left.

Five years into Brian Kelly's program, this is what we want to see: a team staying alive until the very end; playing physical without getting pushed around; recovering from mistakes by playing with confidence--and absolutely no fear.

Everett Golson is a winner. As he's been the perpetrator of our greatest pitfalls so far this season, so has he been the engine of our victories.

The man will not stop. He will not quit. He is 15-1 as a starter.

He will not be defeated.

I'm not just talking about the scoreboard at the end of the game (although that is obviously the most crucial statistic). I'm talking about the mentality it takes to win the game. Never mind that our ground attack has been sputtering at best. Never mind the unusually high number of turnovers in the red zone (actually wait, do mind those; just be grateful they're happening so deep in enemy territory our opponents have had to work hard to make anything out of them). Just keep in mind that whatever happens, Golson will go out on the field next play and try to win. And everyone around him will try to win. And even if it takes until 4th-and-11 in the last minute of play, he will keep trying to find a way to win.

Full satisfaction lies in full effort. You can't ask for more than that. (Although srsly guys, STOP TURNING THE BALL OVER.)

In many ways it feels like we are in the Top 10 by default. Just because we're undefeated. Which, you know, we've earned--but people are still acting like we haven't earned our stripes. Our defense is still young and our secondary relatively untested (though so far we're being pretty punishing against the run). Our offense can move the ball against anybody--we gained nearly as many yards in the first HALF against Stanford than the top-ranked Cardinal defense had allowed in a single game all season. But we've had lots of mistakes, lots of turnovers these last three games. With Michigan's season going down the tubes, there's still some sense that we haven't played any "real" opponents. That everything will somehow be decided against Florida State next week.

But make no mistake: beating Stanford is still a tremendous victory. Not a statement victory (whatever the hell that is) or proof positive that we "belong" in any particular place in the rankings. But five weeks into the season, we've at least proved that we're not going to stop fighting. That we're going to keep plugging at it, without loss of confidence or resolve. That we don't get rattled. The way the players talk about the team is only ever positive, only ever "everyone on the team can play."

It's not just confidence, you know, it's faith. We're not winning because of the offense, or because of the defense. We're not winning because we're executing so perfectly on every play. We're winning because the WHOLE TEAM PLAYS. Even if they botch an assignment, they botch it 100%--which, if you're going to make a mistake on the field, is the only acceptable way to do so. Even when Golson's scrambling for his life, it's just because he's trying to get another play off. Trying to make something happen. Playmakers. That's what we've got. Everybody trying to make plays, all the time.

So if you're not going to be the most experienced, most perfectly executing team in the history of teams, that's about all you can ask for.

Well, except for having a defensive coordinator who decides that instead of going into a "victory defense" at the end of the game he's just going to call an ALL OUT BLITZ and sack the ever-loving shit out of Stanford's quarterback (or pay dearly for the gutsy call).

I couldn't have scripted a better end to the game. At this point, I almost feel like I couldn't ask for any more from Van Gorder, who is absolutely capitalizing on the advantage of nobody-knows-what-my-game-is yet to shock the hell out of opposing defenses. NO HESITATION. NO OVERTIME. NO MERCY.

I feel like if I were to come back in my next life as a defensive coordinator, I would probably come back as something resembling Van Gorder. (He's my spirit animal, guys.)

Last but not least, can I just take a moment to commend the special teams for really, incredibly excellent play all season long? Never mind those two botched field goals (which were fixed later by the holder--here's a revolutionary idea, to quote Brian Kelly--PUTTING ON GLOVES so he could handle the ball better in the rain). The fact that we have a special teams unit worth speaking of is still kind of surreal. But also: awesome.

And against North Carolina, we are just going to keep bringing the awesome.

Onward to Victory
Cleats laced, run game go
Trap game test of tar on turf to see
whose heel stomps hardest

(Hint: it's ours.)


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