Saturday, September 19, 2015

Notre Dame Football: The Sky Is Falling Edition

Sometimes I empathize with Chicken Little.

Watching our starting running back go down in week 1 and our starting quarterback topple in week 2--following a season in which almost every single starter on defense got injured or suspended--kind of makes it feel the sky is falling. Again.

The loss of Zaire, like a sharp thunk to the head, is enough to send any fan scurrying in panic. Most of our hype this season was predicated on having a fleet-footed, gunslinging beast in the pocket. Who are we without him? Who is this Kizer fellow, anyhow?

Toss Zaire's injury in the midst of an underwhelming performance against unranked Virginia, and it starts to feel like more than one acorn against the noggin. It's a whole hailstorm.

Because seriously:

-WHERE was the pressure from the D-line?
-HOW did we fail to convert a 4th down? And also go 0-of-10 on third downs?!
-WHY did we give up on the run game after Kizer went in?
-WHAT was with our secondary? Aren't they supposed to be one of our elite veteran units!?
-WHEN did we become so weak-ass in the red zone?!
-WHO do these Hoos think they are? Don't they know we're supposed to be playoff-worthy this year?!

I mean, seriously--I don't know how much more I can take of these teams playing us so hard it looks like they're fighting for the Superbowl and we're just fighting not to get injured before we start playing ranked opponents.


Obviously this is a terrible mentality. Because of course I want to give kudos to Virginia for a game well-played. And of course I think we should be dominating no matter who we're playing. And in the words of every decent coach ever: we should approach every game like it's the most important of the season, because let's be real--if you falter once in college football, you're more or less screwed out of getting a playoff spot unless everyone else takes an unexpected dive along the way .

Really, I think what I can't take anymore is my own thwarted expectations. I know that we aren't going to be amazing every year. (I do. I really do. I promise.) And even in the years we're supposed to be amazing...part of the joy and agony of sport is that you literally never know how a game is going to turn out until it's played. There's always the villainous upset lurking just around the corner; the unexpected blowout buoying you through the next week's nailbiter; the thrilling comeback that turns a thwarted dream into a tale of triumph. That's what makes our gridiron gladiators worth watching every week.

But I think there's a general consensus among those addicted to the action that truly elite teams tend to play as well on the field as the statistics on paper say they're supposed to. And they do so with consistency.

This is what I'm really hoping for, of course: that the team that plays to its own highest level of execution. That every week, they go out on the field and do pretty much exactly what you think they're going to do.

It's an unfair expectation to put on the 2015 squad, considering that even with Zaire at the helm, we didn't really know what the team would look like this year.

In 2012, when we ended up having a ridiculously dominant red zone defense, we didn't really see flashes of what the team would become until at least 2 or 3 games into the season.

So the team has to become what it is. It has to manifest its identity before you (aka: me--take a chill pill, Lisa) can start expecting it to perform a certain way with any kind of consistency.

Whatever our team (specifically our offense) was going to be this season is gone; that particular future fractured along with Zaire's ankle. We have a new team now. A new identity to mold.

The greater sports world is betting on that team being a weaker incarnation than the one we touted at the beginning of the season. Somehow we got bumped up to #8 in the polls this week, but obviously nobody believes it since everyone's picking 14th-ranked Georgia Tech to beat us.

It's hard not to see their point. Georgia Tech has averaged over 65 points per game the last two weeks. They run a fierce option (full of dubiously still-legal cut-blocking that ALWAYS RESULTS IN INJURY) that we won't be able to stop from entering the end zone. Without the threat of Zaire on the ground, we're going to have a much more limited playbook, and even with Can't-tackle-me-on-the-first-try Prosise at the helm, we're not going to be able to open up our run game in quite the same way.

But we mustn't give in to the panic.

Even if VanGorder's zealous blitz attacks against the Hoos resulted in precisely 1 sack (by KeiVarae Russell...y'know, the cornerback), 0 hurries, and several unpleasant flashbacks to the porously blitz-happy Weis defenses of olde.

Even if Prosise got 0 yards on 2 carries after Kizer went into the game and Notre Dame converted 0-of-10 third downs against the 109th-ranked Virginia defense.

That kind of thinking will lead you straight into Foxy Loxy's den to be devoured.

With less than an hour to go until game time, I know that these thoughts are too late to matter.

But for the sake of my own sanity, I had to spit some of this out. I have no idea how we're going to play against Georgia Tech. Despite DeShone Kizer's brilliant, Matt Saracen-esque moment of football glory to win the game last week, it's impossible to say how he'll handle the helm for an entire game. Hopefully with all the pomp and confidence of a German emperor (only, you know, without the disastrous political consequences and global warfare. Or turnovers. NO TURNOVERS).

I still think we have the personnel to take on anyone in the country. Today is our chance to prove it.

So in the hopes that we will make all the Ramblin' Wrecks from Georgia Tech feel like Sad Virginia Fan today:


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