Saturday, October 4, 2014

Notre Dame Football: Schrodinger's Cat Edition

See, this is why I don't make predictions. They always come out feeling less like predictions and more like I'm tempting fate. Everyone please ignore me any time I start talking about the future. PAY NO ATTENTION to the woman behind the keyboard. (In other news: I predict we are going to play terribly against Stanford. Terribly.)

Nevertheless, despite a penalty-laden victory over Purdue and a terrifying five-turnover foot-shooting fest against the Orange, the #8/#9 Irish are 4-0 and heading into our first big test of the season against the 14th-ranked Cardinal. (You know, since Michigan has apparently decided to rock it like it's 2008 and all. Which I am totally okay with. As mentioned.)

On the bright side, the Irish have scored 30+ points in their first four games for the first time since 1943. Which would be a bit more impressive if the other members of the Top 25 weren't busy shellacking their opponents by scores of 56-14 (#9 MSU vs Wyoming) or 62-27 (#11 UCLA vs #15 Arizona St) or 63-7 (#16 LSU vs New Mexico St).

The usual arguments must be trotted out for inspection. It still seems both unnecessary and distasteful to beat opponents by a fifty-point margin just to prove how good you are--as though taking it out on clearly overmatched teams proves anything at all. There is this insidious sense that yes, if your team is REALLY that good, you should be steamrolling over all of your unranked, "lesser" opponents, and the best way to prove this is by racking up the score, and if you don't do this you are clearly not one of the elite.

Which is just poor sportsmanship.

But it's become so commonplace that I think this (horrible) mentality contributes to our frustration when we play, for example, Purdue.

Because the Spoilermakers have a tendency to give us the best game of their season. Which is the kind of grit and verve that should be commended. But instead Irish fans have a tendency to gnash their teeth and wail in frustration. Particularly this year, coming off the downright euphoria of blanking Michigan, heading into the Shamrock Series game with two solid wins under our belt that were so clean, so free of penalties or injuries or costly turnovers that it was downright flabbergasting to see the mental mistakes against Purdue. A team that, in the week prior to playing the Irish, lost 38-17 to Central Michigan. It was hard, in the midst of the action, not to want to yell "KNOCK IT OFF PURDUE. STOP PLAYING LIKE YOU ARE IN THE ROSE BOWL. THIS ISN'T THE POSTSEASON JUST SIMMER THE HELL DOWN."

Which, you know, is kind of like complaining, "Last practice and this asshole thinks it's the Super Bowl."

But unlike O'Hara, our actual frustration isn't that our opponents are playing like they're in the Rose Bowl. Our actual frustration is that our opponents look like they think they are playing in the Rose Bowl--and we do not. They may be having their best game of the season against us--but we do not look like we are having our best game of the season against them. And while I'll certainly take a win, no matter the form, it'd be nice to see us, you know, not stumble. (Or fumble.)

I am all for a good, tough, head-to-head matchup. I can even handle a close game EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE--if both teams are battling hard and only fail to score because they keep thwarting one another.

But just once, guys--JUST ONCE--I would like to go through an entire season without having more questions about our team than answers.

Because staring the season with 2 solid wins, followed by a rocky first half (but a reasonable pull-together in the second half) against Purdue, followed by a bye week (during which you think, "Okay, all that nonsense against Purdue will have worked itself out by now") followed by a trip to the Meadowlands involving five turnovers and more mental mistakes than we've seen in out first three games combined? WAY MORE QUESTIONS. NOT ENOUGH ANSWERS.

It was too easy, in the wake of 31-0 shutout glory, to get carried away with visions of a dominant season. Which we may yet have. If we can get our act together.

And it would be easy, too, to blame a lot of these recent errors on the youth of our team. Particularly the defense.

But that's unfair because most of these errors were perpetrated--and then fixed by--Golson. Who, I am now vividly recalling, has always needed a bit of time to settle in and get his head on straight before he really starts executing at a high level. So you end up with a game that includes five turnovers and five scoring drives (if I'm remembering that right). 31-15.


What a victory.

On the one hand--Syracuse is not exactly a dominant powerhouse threat; any good team should make you pay for turning the ball over 5 times.

On the other hand--holy crap, we turned the ball over five times and managed to score 31 points. And I think rack up 500 yards of offense? (I have not checked the statistics. Don't listen to me.)

So that's kind of astonishing.

But provides no decent theories about the rest of the season.

Alive or dead?

So we're left once again with Schrodinger's cat-in-the-box conundrum. Is it alive or dead? There's no way to know until we open the box. And I think most Irish fans are counting on this game against the Cardinal to tell us whether the rest of this season will be alive one--or one more deadly and fraught with self-immolation.

I'm really counting on it not being the latter.

There's so much uncertainty still hanging over our heads--the pending, ridiculously drawn-out investigation of four players for academic dishonesty (seriously, how can it be taking this long?); injuries; the mental state of QB1; Van Gorder's youthful defense--particularly the secondary--yet to be tested against a truly dominant passing attack.

I look out on the rest of the season and see only a box.

But I am ready for some answers.

It's gray. It's cold. It's dripping. But there are going to be like a thousand band members in the stadium today, so that should help.

Let's play this like it's the freaking Rose Bowl.


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