Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Christmas (Losing Streak Is Over)

Finally, a decent Christmas present. Since Christmas usually consists of exchanges of poorly wrapped socks, monumental efforts to suppress disappointment and awkward silences punctuated by drunken outbursts; Notre Dame's 49-21 throttling of Hawaii was a welcome addition to the lineup. For one night, at least, the Irish looked like the team we'd all hoped they'd be this year. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the game, the future and all other miscellany concerning ND football.

  • As mentioned in the title of this post (with apologies to John Lennon), Notre Dame's nine-game, 15-year exercise in bowl futility has finally come to an end. Many have opined that getting this monkey off their back will provide a boost for the Irish program. I have absolutely no idea if that's true or not, but I can say that, as a fan, it feels terrific. How long was this streak? Well, when ND last won a bowl game, I was a senior in high school. I am now 32. So, for those of you keeping score at home, I have essentially waited half my life for Notre Dame to, once again, win in the post-season. And yes, reading that last sentence does make the term "existential crisis" come to mind, thank you.
  • Jimmy Clausen was amazing. 22-26, 401 yards, 5 TDs. I don't care on what level of football you're playing or against whom, those are phenomenal statistics. For anyone who may doubt the brilliance of this performance (and I know there are still many Jimmy haters out there), grab a friend and try to complete 22 of 26 passes to them in your backyard. This was, unquestionably, the best performance by a Notre Dame quarterback I've ever seen.
  • Speaking of amazing, Golden Tate is the most exciting and fun Notre Dame player to watch since, at least, Reggie Brooks. On every play, he gives the Irish a chance to score, regardless of where they are on the field. To really see how terrific he is, watch his 69-yard TD reception. The separation he gets from his defender is mind-boggling. And how about his production - half of his six catches went for touchdowns.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't mention Michael Floyd. While he only had two catches for 17 yards, his mere presence opened up opportunities for other receivers. It's impossible to overstate this young man's importance to the Irish offense.

  • Between Clausen and Tate's record-breaking performances, it's easy to overlook the day Kyle Rudolph had - 4 catches, and a career-best 78-yards. In just one season, Rudolph has already established himself as "the next great Notre Dame tight end". If he stays healthy, we may one day be referring to him as the greatest there ever was.
  • The running game, unfortunately, is still a complete disaster. Notre Dame running backs had 27 carries for a grand total of 77 yards (2.9 ypc) against a defense that was giving up 148 per game coming into the contest. The lack of production was not for lack of trying. To put it in perspective, the Irish threw the ball 28 times during the course of the day. ND probably did not need 148 yards on the ground but, given the number of carries, somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 -120 (a 4.0 -4.5 ypc average) should have been a given. For those that would argue that the running game was irrelevant, I would counter the following: A) the number of running plays ND called would suggest the coaches don't necessarily agree, B) Jimmy isn't going to throw for 400 yards every game and C) not being able to run puts A TON of pressure on the defense and gives opponents more opportunities and more clock than they otherwise would have. Lack of a running game is precisely the reason ND was such a lousy second half team this year. By the second half of games, the defense had worn down and opponents had plenty of time to overtake the Irish. Moreover, since Notre Dame's offensive line was not wearing down defensive lines, it created a significant challenge for offensive production as well. If this problem is not fixed, I guarantee, 2009 will be as disappointing as 2008.

  • The defense looked very good. Eight sacks, two turnovers and consistent stops were great to see from a defense which had trouble generating any of the above this season. Granted, Hawaii's offensive line is nearly as sieve-like as the 2007 Notre Dame version (giving up 57 sacks this season, one short of ND's NCAA record) but, eight sacks is eight sacks. As with the offense, this was the defense we all expected when Tenuta signed on. Given the returning starters (including Darrin Walls), experience gained by underclassmen as well as comfort and familiarity with the system; 2009 should be a banner year for this unit (assuming Kuntz and Bruton can be replaced).
  • Armando Allen's 96-yard kickoff return score was a great step forward for Notre Dame's special teams as it ended a six-year drought for the Irish (Vontez Duff had the last one in 2002 against Navy). Quietly and deliberately, Notre Dame has made significant strides in special teams. Their kick coverage unit was the nation's best this season and, after a disastrous start, Brandon Walker became a consistently solid field goal kicker. If Allen's TD signifies a similar improvement in the return area, that will go a long way towards success for ND in 2009.

  • I have to admit, I hated the names on the back of the players' jerseys. For one thing, I was in attendance the last time they had them (the 1988 Cotton Bowl) and the sting of that 35-10 beatdown has never really left me. For another, I kind of like the "team first" concept that not having names on jerseys embodies. That having been said, if something as simple as that provides enough of a spark to generate outcomes like this, I can certainly get over my objection.

Having now ended the bowl losing streak, finished with a winning record and played easily their best game in over two years; what does this do for Notre Dame's chances in 2009? Certainly, Notre Dame should go into the offseason feeling very good about themselves. Hawaii may not be a great team, but they're not terrible either and the Irish thoroughly dismantled them at home. Still, how much this will mean when the Irish kick off against Nevada next September still remains to be seen. Can the momentum from this game last nearly ten months? Probably not. What can happen, though, is that Notre Dame can have yet another offseason where they continue to improve. Bear in mind, as disappointing as the 2008 team may have been, they were leaps and bounds better than the 2007 squad. The pass blocking was better, the offense could actually score and the defense did a much better job of stopping opponents. This offseason, run blocking will need to be the top priority with defensive line play right behind. Assuming those areas are no longer liabilities, 2009 may become something very special, indeed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Mele Kalikimaka Edition

With Notre Dame gearing up for its most recent attempt to end the nation's longest streak of bowl suckitude, the venerable Domer Law Blog was gracious enough to provide the questions for this week's Irish Blogger Gathering.

1) Hele mei hoohiwahiwa. There has been some controversy about the Irish accepting a Christmas Eve bowl bid, as we are a Catholic institution, and many feel that the bowl game will get in the way of celebrating Christmas. Give me your thoughts.

Of all the arguments for Notre Dame not taking part in this game, the "it's Christmas Eve" line seems by far the most lame. Let's face it, what we're really talking about here is attending Mass and, if memory serves, Mass is still offered on, you know, Christmas Day so, I'm not quite sure why the Irish playing the day before would prevent attendance. Even if your particular family tradition centers on Christmas Eve services, just hit Midnight Mass instead of one of the earlier ones. Either way, the religious objection to this game is complete bunk. The "we suck so bad, we shouldn't be in a bowl game" argument, however...

Roughly the echelon of lameness the Christmas Eve argument falls into
2) 'Onipa'a. The Notre Dame administration has decided to stand by their man and bring Coach Weis back as head coach next year. What specific changes (a) do you think ought to be made in the offseason? (b) do you think will be made in the offseason?
I'm glad Domer Law broke this question out in this way because I think there will be a world of difference between what should be done and what actually will be done. On the what needs to happen now, now, now side of the ledger are - fire Latina and Haywood, bring in a real, honest-to-goodness offensive coordinator, let Powlus go hang out with Beano Cook while Charlie attends to the QBs and, for the love of God, prepare an offseason regimen that is completely draconian so that this team is no longer the bunch of limp-dicked, pinky-out, tea-sipping crybabies they've been the last couple of years. This team needs to discover anger and toughnesss immediately. As for what will happen? Charlie will make one or two sacrificial firings, hire the wrong people, make a bunch of assertions which will not match reality, become consumed with minutiae and lead a largely unprepared team into the 2009 season.
A Notre Dame player showing the team's customary tenacity
3) Pupukahi i holomua. What are your expectations for next season?
Next season will likely be a 12-game version of Bergman's The Seventh Seal with Charlie as Antonius Block engaged in a chess game with Death for the future of Irish football. I anticipate that, in spite of a favorable schedule and a great deal of talent, Notre Dame will still disappoint. They'll likely lose five games with, at least, two of those losses being mind-boggling.

Can we try this again with Chutes and Ladders?

4) O ka makapo wale no ka mea hapapa i ka pouli. Also, if we start looking for a new coach next year, who do you think we (a) can get, and (b) would be the best possible hire? (i.e., is all of this Urban Meyer talk hot air or substance?)

While I do believe it will become necessary to begin a coaching search in earnest next year, I have absolutely no confidence that any top-flight college coach will be coming to South Bend any time soon. With it already being reported that Bob Stoops was contacted by ND and opted not to respond; one can only imagine Urban would follow suit. Notre Dame is his "dream job" in much the same way that the hottest girl in your high school was looking for a smart and funny guy who treated her well, yet always seemed to date vapid, but handsome, bastards.
With this in mind, I think the Irish may as well cast their lot with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. He loves ridiculous hyperbole, is equivocating and often contradictory, is useless in spite of a reputation for brilliance and has helped to oversee the demise of a once august institution. In short, he's Charlie Weis. Sure, it's not technically an upgrade, but he'll likely be available shortly.

In fairness, he has as much head coaching experience as Charlie did
5) 'A 'ohe lokomaika 'i i nele i ke pana 'i. 'Tis the season, so tell me: what is the best gift you are giving someone this holiday season?
Given my overall food consumption this holiday season, the best gift I'll be giving is that of job security to my primary care physician. In these dire economic times, it feels good to know that the various cholesterol-related afflictions from which I'll be suffering will provide at least one family with a warm home and bright future.
Pictured here: the author in his doctor's waiting room

6) Mahalo nui loa na ho'olaule'a me la kaua. What are your predictions for the game? Will the Irish be celebrating on the long plane ride home, or will this be another long offseason of listening to the chatter about our decades-long bowl losing streak?

The Gallic name should have been a clue - Notre Dame has become the French Army of football teams. In spite of (largely undeserved) prominence, Notre Dame, like their etymological forebears, has been failing magnificently in the clutch for as long as anyone can remember. Given this history, I believe ND will, somehow find a way to lose on Wednesday. Whether it's Jimmy Clausen eating rotten poi, Michael Floyd being sacrificed at a volcano, David Bruton uncovering a cursed Tiki relic, or the team just sucking as they're wont to do; the Irish will leave Honolulu as losers.

Notre Dame prepares for the Hawaii Bowl

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Brawling Hibernian Presents The Notre Dame Fans' Guide to Hawaii

As Notre Dame prepares to play Sanger Rainsford to Hawaii's General Zaroff in this bowl season's version of The Most Dangerous Game, I thought I would provide a much-needed service to Irish fans everywhere who find themselves wondering, "Why the hell are we going to Hawaii on Christmas Eve?"

Welcome to the island, Irish...start running.
While the real answers, of course, are desperation and malaise; I chose to keep my focus on the similarities between the University of Notre Dame and The Aloha State.

Hawaii Fact: In 1893, Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani attempted to impose a new constitution claiming more authority for native Hawaiians, but opposition leaders occupied the government office in Honolulu and overthrew the monarchy.
Notre Dame Corollary: Monk Malloy. Sadly, for Irish fans, Monk was able, at least partially, to impose his concept of a world where Notre Dame football was castrated and hamstrung upon the faithful of ND Nation. To this day, we are living through the "Brave New World", old Eddie conceived. If only Irish partisans had shown the same pluck as their Hawaiian counterparts, we might have deposed this tyrant before he had done so much damage.
As every Hawaiian schoolboy knows, 'Liliuokalani' literally translates to "pretentious douche". Coincidence?
Hawaii Fact: When measured from east to west, Hawaii is the widest state in the United States.
Notre Dame Corollary: Charlie Weis. Combine a failed gastric bypass surgery with a love of empty carbs and you get the NCAA equivalent of Jiminy Glick. While nowhere near as delightfully tropical as Hawaii, Weis' breadth is of a similarly epic level.

Hawaii Fact: The island of Kahoolawe was once used as a target by the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
Notre Dame Corollary: Notre Dame football program. In 2007, after 43 consecutive wins, Notre Dame lost, at home, to Navy 46-44. Not to be outdone, the following week, Air Force flew into South Bend and strafed the Irish, 41-24. This season, both Air Force and Navy finished with better records than Notre Dame (8-4 to ND's 6-6) and Navy fell just short of a second-straight upset. To put this all in context, it is now safer to pull up a beach chair and bottle of Coppertone on Kahoolawe than it is to be an Irish player lining up against either the Middies or Falcons.

Hawaii Fact: Hawaii is considered the nation's endangered species capitol.
Notre Dame Corollary: Notre Dame head football coach. Once considered the premier job in all of coaching, Notre Dame has now burned through 3 coaches in 11 years and is on the verge of placing an ad in the classifieds for yet another. Worse, as precarious as the job is, the list of candidates lobbying to fill it is depressingly small.
Much like his human counterpart, Charlie Weis, the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat faces an uncertain future.

Hawaii Fact: Hawaii has its own time zone.
Notre Dame corollary: NBC. While it may not be as impressive as having its own time zone, Notre Dame is still the only NCAA program to have its own exclusive television deal with a major network. Though, in fairness, any network that trots out Pat Haden and Tom Hammond really shouldn't be considered "major" by any sane mind.
Hawaii Fact: Hawaii's Iolani Palace is the only royal residence in the United States.
Notre Dame Corollary: The Golden Dome. In spite of the recent downturn in Notre Dame's football fortunes, the Golden Dome remains not only the most recognizable administration building in America, but also the royal palace of collegiate sport.

Meh...without the gold and religious iconography, it just falls flat.

Hawaii Fact: Kalaaupapa, on the island of Molokai, was once a leper colony administered by Father Damien.

Notre Dame Corollary: Once again, Notre Dame football program. This time, administered by Father Jenkins; the program has become a vast wasteland where the affirmed come to await death at the hands of terminal contagions like Syracuse.

Hawaii Fact: James Cook, the first European to land in Hawaii, was clubbed over the head and then stabbed to death by Hawaiian natives in the surf of Kealakekua Bay in 1779.

Notre Dame Corollary: The future of Irish football. Substitute Aloha Stadium for Kealakekua Bay, and the Irish may be looking at their own murder at the hands of a pack of angry Hawaiians come December 24th.

Artist's depiction of the 2008 Hawaii Bowl

Monday, December 1, 2008

Death of a Program?

The Backstory
Empires fall. Egypt gave way to the Persians. The Persians gave way to the Macedonian Greeks. The Macedonian Greeks gave way to the Romans. For their part, the Romans allowed their empire to rot and decay from the inside until hordes of barbarians kicked in its walls and brought it to an end. Which brings us to Notre Dame football.
For the better part of the twentieth century (1913-1996, to be precise), Notre Dame was the crown jewel of college football. During that time, the Irish amassed 11 national championships, 7 Heisman Trophy winners, legions of All-Americans and a combination of success and mythology unparalled in college athletics. In just 83 years, a small Catholic school in northern Indiana became known the world over; almost entirely thanks to its accomplishments on the gridiron. And then, after an excrutiating procession of failure, it was all over.
ND fans know the story well enough - Lou Holtz leaves in 1996 and is followed by a carousel of unworthy heirs who proceed to steer the Notre Dame franchise further and further toward the abyss of irrelevance. Then, every few seasons, fans (and t-shirt manufacturers) declare a "Return to Glory" after a rather pedestrian accomplishment leads to false hopes which are dashed by the following season's failures. So, how bad have the last 11 seasons been? By any objective measure, the worst in school history.

The Comparison
Most Irish fans would consider the Gerry Faust era (1981-1985) to be the low-water mark for ineptitude in the program. While Faust's 30-26-1 record was pitiful, it lasted only five seasons and, ultimately, was followed by the dominance of the Holtz era. In reality, the only comparable period to the current one in the history of Notre Dame football came in the ten years (1954-1963) between Frank Leahy's retirement and Ara Parseghian's hiring.
From the time Terry Brennan's first team set foot on the field in 1954 to the day Hugh Devore stepped aside in 1963, Notre Dame went a combined 68-48 (.586) as three different coaches (Brennan Devore and Joe Kuharich) tried desperately to bring the program back to the prominence it once enjoyed. From 1997 through the end of the 2008 regular season, Notre Dame has gone 84-62 (.575) while, again, three consecutive coaches have failed to return the Irish to the lofty position to which fans and alums had become accustomed.
With such a similar winning percentage, why is the current era worse than the post-Leahy (or pre-Parseghian, if you prefer) period? Well, for one thing, in spite of some bad or mediocre seasons mixed in, Notre Dame was still a highly ranked team roughly half the time. Between 1954 and 1963, the Irish finished in the the Top 5 once (1954 - #4), the Top 10 three times (1954, 1955 - #9 and 1957 - #10) and, overall, in the Top 20 five times (1954, 1955, 1957, 1958 - #17 and 1959 - #17). Conversely, from 1997-2008, ND has never finished in the Top 5, has finished in the Top 10 once (2005 - #9) and in the Top 20 four times (2000 - #15, 2002 - #17, 2005 and 2006 - #17). The only other season during this timeframe that a Notre Dame team ended the season ranked was in 1998-1999 when they were #22 after losing the Gator Bowl to Georgia Tech.
Beyond rankings, the Irish were also still able to produce historically significant moments for the program in the post-Leahy era. In 1956, in spite of playing on a team that finished 2-8, Paul Hornung became Notre Dame's fourth Heisman Trophy winner. Then, in 1957, the team scored one of the program's biggest victories when they went into Norman and snapped Oklahoma's record 47-game winning streak, 7-0. In the last decade, Brady Quinn's third-place finish in 2006 is the closest ND has come to the Heisman and, can anyone really name a significant win the school has had in that time? Really, the most memorable game during the period was the 2005 loss to USC. Moreover, ND has gone just 17-34 (.333) against ranked teams and have fared poorly against their rivals, going a combined 6-18 against USC and Michigan State and 3-7 against Boston College. To put things another way, the barbarians are in the foyer.

In light of how far the program's fallen, Notre Dame football has, essentially, just two cards left to play - one with Charlie, one without.
With the administration having now decided to bring Charlie Weis back in 2009, what needs to happen in order for him to be the program's savior? The short answer - Tom Coughlin. While Irish fans will always remember Tom Coughlin as the coach who led BC to victory and denied Notre Dame a national championship in 1993, his recent record with the New York Giants should give them something to pin their hopes on as it is a classic tale of coaching redemption.
In Coughlin's first season with the Giants (2004), the team raced out to a 5-2 start before faltering, down the stretch, to a disappointing 6-10 finish. Along the way, Coughlin opted to play for the future and replaced veteran QB Kurt Warner with highly-touted rookie, Eli Manning (shades of ND 2007). The following season, the Manning-led Giants won the NFC East with an impressive 11-5 record before being thumped at home, 23-0, by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the playoffs (shades of Notre Dame's 2005 and 2006 seasons). 2006 began much like 2004. The Giants began the season 6-2 before injuries and inconsistency forced them to a 2-6 finish (shades of ND 2008). Of those six losses, the most disheartening was a 24-21 collapse to the Tennessee Titans in a game the Giants led 21-0 in the fourth quarter. After eeking out a win against the Washington Redskins in the season finale (in a game which ended up being much closer than it should have...much like Notre Dame-Navy this year), the Giants snuck into the playoffs where they lost in the wild card round to the Philadelphia Eagles. Following the playoffs, it was widely assumed that Coughlin would be fired. Fans and NY sports writers all clamored for him to be sacked. Then a funny thing happened - in a surprise move, the Giants gave him a one-year contract extension. 2007 would be the make or break year for Coughlin (does this sound at all familiar?). As everyone now knows, in 2007 Tom Coughlin was able to guide his team past injuries, low-expectations and the continual role of underdog to win the Super Bowl in one of the biggest upsets in the history of sport. Charlie Weis needs to somehow undergo a Tom Coughlin-like transformation this offseason. Clearly, it can be done. Giants fan (and former assistant) Charlie just needs to figure out how.
Assuming Weis doesn't manage to summon his inner-Coughlin and is forced out after the 2009 season, what needs to happen? There can be absolutely no doubt - the Irish must somehow secure the services of a proven, top-flight, college head coach. They can no longer afford to settle for an assistant taking the reins for the first time, head coach of a mid-level program or someone whose primary experience is in the NFL. Simply put, they need someone in the league of an Urban Meyer or a Bob Stoops. It doesn't necessarily have to be either of those two, specifically, but it would have to be someone of their caliber. This is a tall order. For one thing, Notre Dame no longer commands the same level of prestige it once did and getting a coach is in a comfortable position at a perennial winner to come to South Bend would take quite a lot. For another, this individual would have to deal both with a massive and ravenous fanbase clamoring for instant gratification as well as the pressure of knowing that failure would relegate Notre Dame football to the ash heap of history. This strategy is not a silver bullet, it's a Hail Mary.

Whither the Irish
The future of Notre Dame football now comes down to scenarios akin to the miraculous. Can a seemingly mediocre coach somehow achieve greatness? Would a proven champion agree to lead the Irish into the future? At this moment in time, neither seems particularly likely. Sadly, for Irish fans and, really, all of college football, it is beginning to appear that Notre Dame football, as we've come to know it, is dead. Sure, the Irish will still line up on Saturdays - the stadium will fill, the band will play and the fans will cheer; but they will do so largely out of reverence for the past, rather than excitement over the present and future. Notre Dame football will become like a Civil War re-enactment or a '50's themed diner - an anachronistic piece of nostalgia played out against the backdrop of a new world. I hope I'm wrong. I hope that a solitary candle burning in the Grotto somehow brings the blessings of providence down upon Irish football. I hope that future generations can grow up as I did; watching Notre Dame contend for college football supremacy year in and year out. Mostly, though, I hope that the barbarians can be pushed back and the empire rise again.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: "Are We There Yet?" Edition

For the second consecutive year, I am anxiously awaiting the end of Notre Dame's season. At this point, I am ready to passively accept the seven-touchdown throttling that the Irish will receive on Saturday and get on with my life. This season has sucked. With that in mind, the great Subway Domer hosts this week's Irish Blogger Gathering.

1. Regardless of what you may have heard and what may happen, what do you think should be the fate of Charlie Weis? Please give an explanation in detail along with a possible replacement if you said...FIRED. No Urban Meyer bullshit here. He's not coming. Get over it.

I am sure this isn't a totally original position, but I think you give Charlie one more year. If, with a veteran group of top-flight athletes at his disposal, Weis can't get the Irish to a Top-10 finish, he needs to go. Who replaces him? While, certainly, the Urban Meyers of the world aren't coming to South Bend, there should be a solid enough nucleus of talent in place to entice a decent up-and-comer. Here's my top three (assuming they're all still available):
  • Skip Holtz (East Carolina): When East Carolina got off to a hot start, ND Nation was abuzz with the prospect of Holtz coming to Notre Dame. Then, after a tough three-game stretch, that buzz wore off. Why? He's young (44). He's a Notre Dame alum (not that that's been a big help with Charlie, but whatever). And, he's currently 7-4 coaching a team with a ton less talent than the Irish have. To me, this should be a no-brainer. Holtz would be a welcome shot-in-the-arm and, I think, a worthy successor to his father's legacy at the school.
  • Jim Grobe (Wake Forest): He has managed to make a perennial winner out of Wake Forest. Let that thought sink in for a second. Plus, it would appear that Grobe is ready for his next step. He started at Ohio U., then stepped up to Wake Forest and now, after seven seasons, it may be time to him to jump to the big-time.
  • Jim Leavitt (South Florida): Another guy who may be ready for a bigger opportunity. During his time at USF, Leavitt has literally created a program out of nothing and compiled a 79-47 record over 11 seasons. While he has turned down offers from schools like Alabama, Kansas State and Miami in the past, the time could be right for the Irish.
Is Notre Dame ready to win one for the Skipper?

2. Recruiting. Colin Cowherd has been murdering the recruiting services and Notre Dame. He thinks that the recruiting services rank Irish recruits higher than what they should be because of a marketing plan. Everyone else on the outside is falling in line with this thought. What are your opinions? Please explain and provide a solution.
Colin Cowherd is, in my humble opinion, yet another of ESPN's no-talent, infotainment talking heads who enjoys nothing more than prattling on about topics he doesn't remotely understand. How's this for marketing? ESPN also has a recruiting service and, lo and behold, of all the national services, they ranked Notre Dame's 2008 class the lowest. What Colin is really saying here is, "I am a bland corporate shill who is denigrating other recruiting services so that the rankings put out by my home office overlords are given maximum exposure and respect." Here's my solution - turn the dial and save yourself a few brain cells.
3. I made a comparison in a poorly written post about this team mirroring the 2004 team. I generally don't like doing comparisons to other years, but I felt it was valid. What is your take? Is the 2008 version of ND like the 2004 team, and do you think the 2009 team could have similar results to the team in 2005?
I actually read Subway Domer's post about the similarities between the 2004 and 2008 teams and, far from being poorly written, I thought it was pretty insightful. The post is here. If you haven't already done so, give it a read. I'll wait. As for my opinion, I actually think this team is, in a lot of ways, better than the 2004 team. Keep in mind, the 2003 team had gone 5-7 (the 2004 squad finished 6-6), so there wasn't a whole lot of improvement from one year to the next. They were basically the same team both years. Say what you will, this team has shown that it absolutely has the ability to significantly improve during an offseason. What's more, I think, Jimmy and his receivers are, developmentally, in a much better spot than Brady and Co. were in 2004. On the defensive side, the coaching is much better and, I think, the potential exists for this unit to be dominant in ways the 2005 team never was. Of course, we will have to wait until next season to see if any of this actually plays out on the field, but it is, at least, some cause for optimism.
4. Is Michael Floyd the Notre Dame team MVP? Why? If not, who then?
I have to admit, I've decided to take some liberties with my answer. Frankly, I don't believe that any of the players are this season's MVP. I think it's the Irish fanbase. We have been through a tremendous amount over the last decade, but never have things been more bleak than these past two seasons. As Notre Dame fans, we have endured awful, heartbreaking, soul-crushing games and have kept coming back. In spite of snarky comments, calls for coach's heads and the occasional thrown snowball, this is a committed group who love their team and desperately want to see them win. While the team may have quit, the fans haven't. That deserves something.

C'mon, does anyone have better fans?

5. What is Notre Dame's biggest problem schematically and mentally?

Lack of killer instinct. While there will always be questionable calls during the course of the year, on the whole, the schemes employed by the coaches are fine. Were they executed properly, Notre Dame would probably be somewhere between 9-2 and undefeated right now. No, the problem is this team lacks killer instinct. They don't want to kick the everliving shit out of their opponent. Players should absolutely want to destroy the team they're playing. Sadly, this team is lazy, complacent and, frankly, pussified. They need to find some balls during the offseason or 2009 is going to be just as miserable as the last two years.
The cat gets it, why can't Notre Dame?
6. Notre Dame is a 30-point underdog to U$C. It's safe to say that none of us thought that ND would ever be that big of an underdog in this rivalry game. Your thoughts and please include a prediction for the game.
Here's the scary part - I don't think USC will have a problem covering. Pete and the Trojans are going to make their last, desperate attempt to be part of the BCS discussion and, there's no better way to do that, than by laying waste to a hated rival. This game is going to get ugly, very quickly. Like, the firebombing of Dresden ugly. I say, 52-3, Trojans. There was already a gap in talent and experience, and now Notre Dame is also playing without any heart or emotion. This has all the makings of the worst loss in series history. God, I hate this season.
A survivor surveys the wreckage of the Golden Dome as the 2008 season draws to a close.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Orange Alert Edition

This week's IBG is brought to you by the fine folks over at TGIAB. Stop by and give them a read when you have chance.

1. If you had the choice, which professional athlete would you rather be: A golfer on the PGA tour that hovers around 125-150 on the money list, a solid middle reliever in the MLB, a #4 starter on an MLB team, a 10th man on an NBA roster, or a punter in the NFL?

No question about it - 10th man on an NBA roster. First off, you don't have to play a lot, so there's not much pressure. Really, the most important thing for a 10th man during a game is to not be caught picking your nose or scratching your crotch when the TNT cameras pan by the bench. Second, the NBA league minimum this season is around $440K so, in essence, you'd have the pleasure of hitting a new tax bracket without breaking a sweat (unless you count that night with the triplets in Milwaukee). Lastly, Marko Jaric. Don't know who Marko Jaric is, do you? Not to worry, not many people do. He's a relatively obscure role player on the Memphis Grizzlies who has never once averaged so much as 10 ppg in his six-year NBA career. Why, then, would I pick Jaric? Easy - Marko managed to get himself engaged to Victoria Secret model and world-class hottie, Adriana Lima. I have no idea how he did it, but if this is what life on an NBA bench is all about, sign me up.

The boards aren't the only thing I'm banging, if you know what I mean...huh, huh?

2. If the made a movie about Notre Dame football from 1997-2008, what actors would you cast as Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, George O'Leary and Charlie Weis? Picture comparisons will be helpful.

While I loved the question, I admit two things - 1) I kind of suck at the "separated at birth" thing and 2) I took some liberties with my choices. BTW, if this movie were to be made, it would probably rival German porn for the most objectionable cinema ever created. Anyway, here are my choices:

  • Bob Davie (Billy Bob Thornton): Yeah, I know, they don't look A TON alike but, I'm pretty sure old Billy Bob could pull off the "Aw, shucks" dopeyness of Davie and pronounce "footbaw" with the same irritatating twang.

Having already played Slingblade, this might seem a bit like typecasting...

  • Tyrone Willingham (Tim Meadows): Since Willingham was essentially a walking SNL character anyway, I think it would be appropriate for "Ladies Man" Tim Meadows to take a crack at "Ty Willingham: Molder of Men, Loser of Games." As an added bonus, Meadows might be the only person whose career since 2000 has been more disappointing than Willingham's.

Bigger bomb - The Ladies Man movie or 2003 Notre Dame season?

  • Peter Graves (George O'Leary): This selection is based entirely on hair.
For years, George O'Leary erroneously claimed to have originated this hairstyle.
  • Art Donovan (Charlie Weis): Let's forget for a second that NFL Hall-of-Famer, Art Donovan is 31 years older than Weis and, you know, not an actor. The beefy (let's face it, fat) physique, the gruff demeanor, the crew cut...this guy IS Charlie Weis!
They don't look EXACTLY alike...Charlie's a D-cup, Donovan, more of a full C
3. We at tgiab.com (see Joe G) love the drink Sparks , which comes in Orange cans. While I can't truly relate that to any type of question, I figured I'd mention that because we are playing the Orange this weekend. I guess if I had to tie it in, I would say that I associate Sparks with football tailgates (and my subsequent lack of recollection of the game). Do you have a favorite product that comes in the color Orange? And, if so, do you relate it to football in any way shape or form?

When I really thought about it, I could only think of one orange thing, remotely associated with football, that I truly loved - Hooters shorts. There is really nothing better than drinking some beers, eating some wings (also, kind of orange) and awkwardly eye-banging the elementary ed. major working your section. In spite of having all the unseemly discomfort of strip clubs with none of the unclothed payoff; Hooters rates high on the list of places to watch a game and the shorts are a huge reason why.

She's working double shifts to pay for her last three credits, you're just hoping for some camel toe. Ah, the human drama that is Hooters...
4. This last weekend, one of the more die-hard Notre Dame fans I know told me that he has twice rooted against Notre Dame. Is there any scenario where you would root against Notre Dame? Or should we make this friend (and guest columnist) be the next Ice-T in Surviving the Game?
No. Your friend is an apostate and should be banned from Irish fandom. Would it be cool to root against America twice? Would it be ok to hope the terrorists pull off a couple 'W's here and again? Absolutely not! Being a fan is like being a gangmember - you live and die by your colors and the only way out is feet first.
Yes, banned, monkey! BANNED!!!
5. tgiab.com will host (in allegiance with jupmode.com and thesubwayalumnishow.com) a tailgate for the USC game. First off, you are all cordially invited. Secondly, and more importantly, we are looking for necessities to have at a tailgate. The following is what we will have:
  • Kegs and cases of beer
  • Liquor
  • Mixers (including bloody mary mix)
  • Grill
  • Meat
  • Watermelons
  • Condiments
  • A banner
  • A beer pong table
  • The Greatest Playlist of All Time

What else do we need? What else would you bring? How can we make this tailgate any better?

19th Century New York street gang. For one thing, they'd be bring you street cred and authenticity as they are, in so many ways, the original Fighting Irish. Beyond that, though, there would be practical benefits. Tell me if you have ever had this situation play out at a tailgate. You show up a few hours before the game, find a prime piece of real estate, set up your gear and start enjoying the day. You're grilling, drinking beers, maybe throwing a ball around and then, suddenly, one row over, fans of your team's rival pull in. It immediately gets a little uncomfortable for everyone but, you play it cool and decide to see what happens. About an hour later, they've had enough booze to start chanting for their team or yelling "(your team) sucks!" You're pissed. You want to retaliate violently, but you don't want to spend the day in jail and, more importantly, miss the game. What do you do? You unleash a ragged gang of cleaver and bottle-wielding psychos from the Five Points to sack their tailgate like it was Rome, that's what! Clearly, this has appeal beyond tailgating - the driver that takes your spot at the mall, the guy at work that keeps coming over to ask you questions, the drunk couple at the table next to you when you're out to dinner - there would literally be hundreds of uses for a 19th century NY street gang, but I think tailgating would be the best. Bring plenty of booze, though; those bastards can drink.

Take that ya Trojan mongrel!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Unbearable Triteness of Being Teddy Greenstein

I'm officially surly. With Notre Dame's season having somehow gone from rebuilding year to existential struggle in the eyes of fans, bloggers and, of course, the ubiquitous critics of the program, I have felt more than a little cranky lately. So, what to do about it? Well, I decided that perhaps the best option would be to kick the proverbial dog. (Note: kicking actual dogs in no way endorsed by Brawling Hibernian.)
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune is a terrible writer. His columns are vapid, pointless and notable only for their animus towards Notre Dame. Also, he's a grown man who actually goes by "Teddy". This past week, Greenstein wrote a hit piece on Charlie Weis which is just begging to be thoroughly shredded. That day has come.

The guy who once boasted he could get "hoodlums and thugs and win tomorrow" strolled into Jeannette High School in the spring of 2007 to recruit superstar quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

We are exactly one sentence in and Greenstein has already misrepresented a Charlie Weis quote. The quote by Weis came during a speech he gave to an alumni group in PA. The point he was making was that he was looking for players who were good people and good athletes. This is obvious if you read the complete quote, "I could get hoodlums and thugs and win tomorrow. I won't do it that way." Of course, the other interesting (libelous?) point here is that, one could almost draw the conclusion that Greenstein was accusing Pryor of being a "hoodlum" or "thug" by tying these two completely disconnected topics together. Well done, Ted.

Jeannette coach Ray Reitz knew a bit about Charlie Weis and his reputation. Still, he was stunned by what he described as a level of conceit he never had seen from the dozens of college coaches he had visited with over the years. Weis certainly made a lasting impression. "Arrogant as hell," Reitz said.

First of all, the title of Greenstein's article is "Charlie Weis Alienates Irish Supporters." Since when is Ray Reitz an Irish supporter? Has Jeannette High School ever been a Notre Dame pipeline? Since there are currently no Jeannette alums on the ND roster, I'm guessing the answer to both is "no." As for "arrogant as hell," I suppose Reitz might know something about that. In spite of being a freshman who has played in exactly 11 collegiate games, his former player, Terrelle Pryor already has his own website up and running. Remind me again, did "prima donna" Jimmy Clausen do the same?

When Reitz told Weis that Pryor might attend a USC quarterbacks camp, he remembers Weis replying: "Why send him there? If he's with me for one day he'll be good, two days he'll be great and three days he'll be incredible."

So, what do you suppose Jim Tressel's reaction might have been had Reitz said something like, "Terrelle Pryor might be attending a Michigan quarterbacks camp." Do you suspect he would have sung the praises of his rival and encouraged Pryor to head up to Ann Arbor? I somehow doubt it. What Weis was doing is known in the business as "recruiting." Judging by his articles, Greenstein doesn't know a lot about sports, so I'll have to explain this concept to him. You see, when "recruiting a player," coaches try to sell themselves, their programs and their schools as being superior to others that player may be considering. Now, Teddy, you might want to sit down for this next part. Because of how lucrative the business of college football is, coaches are often rather cutthroat in their pursuit of top talent and engage in "hyperbole" and "rhetoric" in order to try and make the sale. You find me a coach who doesn't do this sort of thing and I'll show you Ty Willingham.

Later, unprompted, Weis asked the Jeannette coaches if they wanted to take a picture of his Super Bowl ring. "I did it, just to be polite, and then gave (the picture) to one of the kids," Reitz recalled.

How nice of Reitz to be so polite. As Emily Post would no doubt agree, it's considered the height of good manners to be agreeable to someone's face and then rip them unmercifully to the first hack writer who asks you a question.

Everyone who comes in contact with Weis, it seems, has a story - and they're rarely complimentary.

This is just lazy writing. Exactly how many people make up the sample size here? So far we've heard one anecdotal story that casts Weis in an unflattering light; should we assume we've reached consensus on that basis?

Many former players and alums are down on him for what they perceive as his arrogance, but they're reluctant to speak for the record.

So, let me get this straight, there are "many" disgruntled former players and alums and NONE of them were willing to speak on the record? You would think that if Greenstein's assertion of "many" were even remotely accurate some brave soul might have stepped out of the shadows to speak truth to the power of Weis; wouldn't you?

Why? As one prominent alum explained it, "A lot of things at Notre Dame hinge on your being a friend of the university." Alumni are fearful that if they speak out against Weis, they might lose their football tickets or their parking spots, or hinder their kids' chances for admission to the school.

I'm not sure I know what's more laughable here, the idea that Notre Dame is currently undergoing its own version of the Night of the Long Knives or that Greenstein keeps asking us to believe these unsourced assertions. If these people actually exist, they also no doubt believe that black helicopters are patrolling the skies over their neighborhoods, the moon landing was staged and a group known only as "The Pentaverate" runs the world.

Yet they paint a picture consistent with a coach who referred to himself as "an obnoxious, sarcastic guy from New Jersey" in a "60 Minutes" profile that aired in 2006. In the story, Weis screamed at a referee for a "bull----" call and yelled at one of his coaches to get the "(expletive)" off the field.

Hey, slow down a second here, Teddy; are you telling me that a football coach might strenuously object to what he perceives to be a bad call or express concern that another coach being on the field might result in a penalty? It's like I don't even know this sport anymore.

If Weis were arrogant, foul-mouthed and winning, few Notre Dame fans would grumble.

If Teddy Greenstein were lucid, talented and thought-provoking, his columns might actually rise to the level of readable.

But his record is 27-19. Gerry Faust went 25-20-1 through 46 games against tougher opponents. "And at least he was a good guy," one alum noted.

The mystery alum strikes again! This anoymous sourcing thing is terrific. That reminds me, I wanted to let you guys know that an unnamed blogger recently wrote, "Brawling Hibernian is a complete genius. Compared to Hibernian, the works of men like Faulkner, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald seem like the crayon-scribbled ramblings of four-year-olds." Anyway, back to the article. As for the Faust comparison, if Greenstein wants to compare the relative difficulties of schedule, then he'll no doubt also want to look at the talent both coaches had at their disposal. Faust inherited a program that had gone 9-2-1 the season before his arrival and was stocked with blue-chip talent. Weis inherited a program that had just finished 6-6 and were thin in both depth and talent. Oh, and Weis still has the higher winning percentage of the two.

Notre Dame is a special place, with a mix of football tradition and academic excellence matched perhaps only by Michigan and USC.

Hmm...this seems vaguely like a compliment. For some reason, I'm reminded of the expression, "giving with one hand and..."

But Weis is not a special coach and certainly hasn't seemed worthy of walking in the footsteps of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz.

"...taking with the other." Is Weis a special coach? Well, as recently as 2006, the conventional wisdom seemed to be 'yes.' Now, one bad season and one difficult rebuilding year and the zeitgeist turns completely on its head. This is simply "finger-in-the-wind" journalism. There is absolutely no depth of thought or insight here.

The sooner Notre Dame admits its colossal mistake and sends Weis back to Jersey, the better.

For whom would this be better? Is it considered an institutional success when you're hiring your third (fourth, if you count O'Leary) coach in six years? Would that make ND a more attractive option to potential coaches? How would this be a better outcome?

Weis is incredibly lucky. In his first season, using Tyrone Willingham's players, he parlayed a hot start - plus real or contrived interest from NFL teams - into a contract extension through 2015.

Actually, no. Weis took players that, under Willingham, had managed to be a part of such "Greatest Hits of Irish Football" as "Purdue, 41 - Notre Dame, 16", "Florida State, 37 - Notre Dame, 0" and, my personal favorite, "Syracuse, 38 - Notre Dame, 12" and got them to two straight BCS bowls. This is not "lucky"; this requires a reasonable degree of skill.

Months earlier Weis had said he "didn't come here to take a job in the NFL in three years." But Irish officials, desperate after the George O'Leary and Willingham flops, threw at least $30 million and six more seasons his way.

Could someone please explain how it's Weis' fault that the school gave him this contract? Let's assume that Weis blatantly lied and said NFL teams were giving him offers. Was Notre Dame required to offer him a long-term deal? Also, if Weis were truly just "lucky" in having had the success he did, it would be Notre Dame, not Weis, that was negligent in the making of this deal.

Although some believe that fat contract is serving as Weis' shield, a source with Notre Dame ties insists a costly buyout would play no role in whether the school keeps him.

Another phantom source, yet more specious reasoning. Have the Irish been offered some type of government bailout? If not, I can't imagine any situation where this type of large, financial committment would not, somehow, be a factor in whether or not Weis should be fired. I can only guess whatever fictional character Greenstein imagines is providing him this information, did not come equipped with a background in finance. A contract like this is a huge investment. The only way it would not impact the decision to fire Weis would be if the bottom completely fell out of the Irish program or if Charlie stripped naked, covered himself in Crisco and dry-humped Father Jenkins in the middle of Sunday mass. In other words, don't hold your breath, Teddy.

Other coaches should be so fortunate. Kansas State pulled the plug on Ron Prince after only 2 1/2 seasons, and Prince's Wildcats beat then-No. 4 Texas in 2006. What is Weis' signature win? His program peaked in 2005 when the Notre Dame clock hit triple zeros with the Irish leading USC 31-28. But seven seconds remained and Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into end zone on the next play.

So, now Notre Dame and Charlie Weis are also responsible for the way in which other schools treat their coaches? How is it relevant that Kansas State ditched their coach after 2 1/2 seasons? Furthermore, if what a team was ranked at the time they were beaten matters, then Charlie's "signature" win was beating then-No. 3 Michigan, at home, in 2005.

Notre Dame beat a bunch of mediocre teams in 2006, arguably had its worst season in history last year and its five wins in 2008 are against teams that are a combined 12-37.

Of Notre Dame's ten wins in 2006, five were against bowl teams. What's more, their three losses were to teams that finished with a combined record of 33-6. To put the "Notre Dame beat a bunch of mediocre teams in 2006" comment in yet another context; BCS-title runners-up, Ohio State, beat just one more bowl team than the Irish that season and played one less. As for 2007, it was no doubt a brutal season, but it also featured a completely green team playing a schedule which featured nine bowl teams and four of the first six games on the road. This season, Notre Dame's schedule is currently ranked by Sagarin as tougher than that of Texas Tech, Alabama, Penn State and Missouri, among others. Granted, they have had some disappointing finishes but, to suggest the schedule is lousy, is incredibly misleading.

First-year athletic director Jack Swarbrick said this week that he sees "progress." Really? Weis' supporters point to his extensive charity work with his daughter's foundation and his supposedly stellar recruiting.

Let's forget for a second that the line about "extensive charity work" is probably the non-sequiter of the year. Whether or not you think the Irish should be better this year, how can you not see progress from 2007? For one thing, ten games into the season, they already have twice as many wins as all of last year and are bowl-eligible. If you want to look purely at statistics, in 2007, Notre Dame was dead last nationally in total offense and 39th in total defense. This season, they are 51st in total offense (an improvement of 68 spots) and 31st in total defense. So, yeah, "really." And, "supposedly stellar recruiting?" Rivals ranked the 2006 and 2007 classes as eighth in the country and the 2008 class as second. If Teddy thinks they're overrated, he should really take it up with Rivals, not Weis.

Rivals.com ranked his 2006 class eighth nationally. The 28-man class does not have one great player. Seven are no longer on the roster, including last season's original starting quarterback, Demetrious Jones. An eighth, tight end Will Yeatman, has been shelved by legal issues.

Obviously, the converse argument to this is that the 2007 and 2008 classes are chock full of great players who have played meaningful roles right out of the gate and have Notre Dame poised for an amazing next several seasons. As for the transfers, would any of them be starting over people currently on the team? The answer, of course, is no. While you always hate to see kids leave the program, it's hardly catastrophic if players who are likely to be buried on the depth chart seek greener pastures elsewhere.

What has Weis accomplished? He earned three Super Bowl rings - maybe he will let you take a picture of them - with the Patriots, but New England's success from 2000-2006 is forever clouded by "Spygate." How did Bill Belichick's tactic of videotaping defensive coaches' signals help Weis call plays and make second-half adjustments? We don't know because Weis won't say.

Wow. Where to begin? While it's true that Weis has three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, he actually has four overall (one came with the Giants). I'm not sure exactly why "New England's success from 2000-2006" is relevant as Weis left in early 2005. Regarding "Spygate", perhaps the reason Weis won't comment on the topic is because it is nothing to do with him. The incident which led to the coining of the phrase happened in 2007 while Weis was entering his third year at Notre Dame. Could Greenstein at least get the simplest of facts straight before asserting paranoid conspiracy theories?

How have the Patriots fared without Weis? In 2007 they arguably had the most dominant regular season in NFL history.

Of course, they followed that up by face-planting in the only game that mattered - the Super Bowl. How have the Patriots done since Weis left? I know they won three Super Bowls while he was there; how many have they won since he left for South Bend?

When Weis visited Pryor's school in 2007, Reitz recalled, he said that if Pryor couldn't cut it at quarterback, "we'll use him on the outside." No other school introduced the idea that Pryor might play receiver. "Here's the best part," Reitz recalled, "He says to Terrelle: 'Call me tomorrow at 6. I'll be watching where Brady Quinn gets drafted.' " Pryor never called. He chose Ohio State.

Actually, HERE'S the best part, if Pryor wishes to be drafted one day, he may have been better off moving to receiver. Where is the last Ohio State spread-offense quarterback these days? Last he was seen, Troy Smith (a fifth-round pick) was riding the pines in Baltimore behind rookie Joe Flacco. As for Brady Quinn, he did, ultimately, get drafted (in the first round) and is now starting in Cleveland. Looks like Charlie may know a little bit more than Greenstein, Reitz or Pryor gave him credit for.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Through the Past Darkly Edition

With the current state of Irish football being, oh what's the expression, vomit-inducing; I thought I would look back fondly to times when the simple act of watching a Notre Dame game didn't make me want to hurl my TV out the window like a strung-out drummer.
With that in mind, we go Through the Past Darkly in this week's edition of the IBG.

1. In the parlance of DJs, a "deep cut" is a song that wasn't released as a single and, generally, is not well-known. What Notre Dame victory is your favorite "deep cut" from the Irish catalog? In other words, what is your favorite victory that is not widely celebrated (i.e., not the "Snow Bowl" or the 1988 Miami game, etc.). Explain in much detail.

There are quite a few games that fit this description for me. For whatever reason, I just have fond memories of a bunch of Irish wins that, though inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, brought me a lot of joy when they happened. Amazingly enough, my choice was actually a Bob Davie-coached gem from his second season (seriously). Notre Dame began 1998 ranked #22 after going 7-6 with a loss to LSU in the Independence Bowl in 1997. After starting the season with stunning home win over defending national champion, Michigan, the Irish rolled to an 8-1 start. For their 10th game, Notre Dame took on a dangerous LSU team. Though they were just 4-5, they had begun the season #9 in the country and had lost four games by a total of 16 points.
This game was tremendous right from the outset. Less than two minutes into the game, LSU jumped on the board first after a Jarious Jackson pass was returned 53 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame responded just three minutes later with a 22-yard David Givens TD run. After the two teams exchanged 2nd quarter TDs, LSU ended up going into halftime with a 21-14 lead on an 88-yard kickoff return for TD by Kevin Faulk. In spite of scoring quickly in the second half, Notre Dame still trailed after Jim Sanson missed the extra point attempt. LSU added two more TDS to take a, seemingly, comfortable 34-20 lead with 8:04 left in the 3rd. What happened next was remarkable. A Jarious Jackson TD pass to Malcolm Johnson and an 89-yard interception return for TD by Bobbie Howard brought ND to within one as Sanson missed another extra point (this time it was blocked). After the majority of the fourth quarter had gone by in a stalemate, with a minute and a half left, Notre Dame finally took the lead for the first time all game when Jackson hit Raki Nelson with a 10-yard TD pass to make the score 39-34, Irish. LSU then moved the ball to the Irish 31-yard line where, on 4th down, rather than attempt a long field goal, went for it and failed on an incomplete pass, turning the ball over on downs. If it had ended there, it would have been a great game, but not a Bob Davie game. No, instead, after a series of penalties and negative yardage plays, ND ended up with the ball on their own 10-yard line with under a minute to go. On 4th down, rather than risk a punt being blocked in the endzone, Bob Davie called for Jarious Jackson to take a safety. He did. Of course, he also tore his MCL after being tackled in the endzone and would miss the remainder of the season (two Irish losses, incidentally). After the kick, LSU had one last shot, but a desperation heave from Notre Dame's 47-yard line with no time remaining was knocked down. This was an absolutely great game. Plenty of big plays, excitement and down-to-the-wire thrills. I suspect that, had Jackson not been injured and Notre Dame won its final game against USC and then bowl game, this win might be remembered more fondly. Instead, it's now a "deep cut" that only grizzled old ND fans like me remember.

A classic Notre Dame win coached by Bob Davie? Hey, I was shocked, too.

2. As much fun as it is rooting for our heroes, it can be just as enjoyable to trash those we consider to be villains. A few years ago, the great Irish blog, Blue Gray Sky, wrote a post discussing the biggest villains in Notre Dame history. That post focused on external villains. Today's question is, of those associated with the program, who is the biggest villain? This individual must have been a player, coach or administrator at ND who, through reckless acts of cowardice, stupidity or malice, damaged the football program. (Note: Ty Willingham is off the board)

Let's all play junior detective for a moment, shall we? Since 2000, Notre Dame has:

- Extended the contract of a coach only to fire him the next season,
- Hired his replacement, only to discover he hadn't been properly vetted, leading to his scandal-plagued resignation five days later.
- Followed this up by hiring a man who, by all objective standards, was the worst head football coach in the history of the program.

What do all these things have in common? If you said, "Kevin White", give yourself a nice pat on the back. Hiring Willingham alone would be grounds for White to be branded a villain; but when you consider his other monumentally stupid moves as AD, he achieves a level of super-villainy unmatched by anyone not named "Dr. Evil." To be sure, the Notre Dame football program had seen its share of difficulties since Lou Holtz left in 1996, but the degree to which it's fallen over the last eight seasons is appalling. For all the apologists who might argue that, "over that time, they've gone to three BCS bowl games", I would counter the following - they've won none of them, been blown out in two and interspersed those seasons with three losing seasons, one .500 season and just one other winning season. In addition, there have been the aforementioned coaching moves. I'm also being charitable in not including the hiring of Charlie Weis in here. It's probably still too soon to render a judgment on that decision but, as of this writing, it's looking fairly consistent with White's history. With any luck, Notre Dame will someday break out of this decade-long malaise but, if somehow they don't, if the Notre Dame program that has been college football's gold standard for decades never again rises to its former heights, you can thank Dr. Kevin White for delivering the fatal blows.

Having already decimated Notre Dame football , Kevin White sets his sights on the Duke basketball program.

3. Falling in love is a wonderful thing. As Lt. Frank Drebin once observed, "you begin to notice things you never knew were there before; birds sing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stop signs." Describe the moment that you knew that there would be no other; you were in love with Notre Dame.

For me, this can literally be traced back to a very specific point in time. November 21, 1987, 31 seconds remaining in the Notre Dame/Penn State game. It was, at that moment, as Tony Rice was being tackled short of the endzone on two-point conversion attempt that I knew I had fallen under the spell of Notre Dame. I had begun watching Irish games with my father the season before and, while I rooted for them, I didn't have a strong emotional investment. Then, as Rice hit the turf, and the realization that Notre Dame would lose suddenly hit home, I felt a twinge. It was an odd combination of despondency and anger that I had never experienced before (thanks to the last ten years of Notre Dame football, I now refer to this feeling as "Saturday"). It was actually a pretty awful, pit-of-your-stomach feeling and, for the life of me, I couldn't shake it. I actually cared about this team and this program.
Twenty-one years and 240 or so games later, I care more than ever. For twelve Saturdays each fall (and, God willing, one bowl game), the fortunes of Notre Dame football thrill me, sadden me, anger me and, yes, even amuse me. I have now watched several generations of young men pass through this amazing program. I've watched them develop into superstars and I've watched them fade into obscurity. I've watched incredible victories, depressing losses and all variety of contest in between. In that time, I've seen a lot of things concerning Notre Dame football and I wouldn't trade a second.

Like Jane and Frank, Hibernian and ND football are perfect for each other.

4. Regrets, we've had a few but, then again, too few to ever let go of any of them. What game, or specific play, in Irish history turns your dreams into nightmares and haunts your every waking moment? Describe this moment and why you wish ND could have another crack at it?
Having now said that I wouldn't trade a second of my time as a Notre Dame fan, there is one moment that I would love to have back again. Predictably, the moment came in the ultimate "what if?" game for Irish fans - the 1993 game against BC. Moments before Boston College would line up to kick the game-winning field goal, ND linebacker Pete Bercich had a Glenn Foley pass, that was intended for tight end Pete Mitchell, in his grasp and dropped it. If Bercich hangs on, ND wins and goes to the national championship game. Sadly, that's not the way it went. Bercich, who was an exceptional linebacker, just couldn't hang on and, ultimately, neither could ND. This is one of those plays that, as a fan, you play over in your mind ad nauseum. Would the Irish have been national champions that year? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, it would have denied BC a win that is second only to Flutie's Hail Mary in their program's history. That alone would have been worth it.
If it's alright with you, I think we'll be doing the one where Bercich drops the pick against BC again, ok?

5. With 79 consensus All-Americans and 48 inductees in the College Football Hall of Fame, it is clear that there have been many great players in the history of Notre Dame football. What was the greatest single season from a player that you ever witnessed during your Irish fandom? Be specific. Use adjectives.

No question about it; Reggie Brooks in 1992. His senior season, Brooks rushed for 1,343 yards on 167 carries (an astounding 8 ypc!!!) and 13 tds. He also managed to grab the game-winning two-point conversion pass in the famed "Snow Bowl" against Penn State. No statistic, though, could do justice to actually watching Brooks run. In my lifetime, the three best college running backs I've ever seen are Barry Sanders, Reggie Brooks and Reggie Bush. In that order. And yes, I'm basing my assessment of Brooks on one season but, if you didn't see it, you can't appreciate how totally dominating and jaw-dropping it really was. Keep in mind, too, Brooks was sharing a backfield that season with future NFL Hall-of-Famer, Jerome Bettis. Let that sink in for a second
So what made Reggie Brooks so good? He was an absolute artist. Using a combination of speed, strength and balance; Brooks could juke, cut and bounce off tackles at will. If you really want to get a flavor for how amazing Reggie Brooks was in 1992, go to YouTube and watch his touchdown run against Michigan and his highlights from the USC game (where he ran for 227 yards). You will not be disappointed.

You magnificent bastard...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Saying A Lot By Asking Obtuse Questions Edition

After the pain, heartache and shame of being taken for a Wannastache ride, it's time for a bit of levity. As the great Robert Plant once pondered, "Does anyone remember laughter?"
This week's set of IBG questions comes courtesy of the the fine folks over at Her Loyal Sons. Stop by and see them when you have a chance. Ladies drink for free.

1. What photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something, anything at all, really, says all 1,000 words that need to be said about this team? OR, which photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something would tell 1,000 lies about this team if you only saw the photo and didn't know better? (Double-secret word score bonus for answering both mutations of the same question).

They're gonna live forever...

Sign me up for the cherished double-secret word score bonus.

Truth: Unlike his My Super Sweet 16 introduction to the program at the College Football Hall of Fame, this picture shows Jimmy to be a regular guy; willing to hang with his teammates and have a few adult beverages (even if their ages aren't consistent with Indiana's definition of "adult"). In addition, it shows the closeness of this team (James Aldridge and Brian Smith are also pictured). Unlike 2007's exercise in cliques and bitchiness, the 2008 edition of the Irish seems to be a team that generally (shocking concept alert) likes each other! A big part of this year's relative success stems from this concept. Team cohesiveness is a key to success - look no further than the Beerlympics for evidence.

False: Were I a neophyte, unfamiliar with the program, I might think that this was either a poorly-staged homage to the 1979 film classic, The Warriors, or an exceptionally-talented group of street performers embarking upon a complex and moving dance set to "Hot Lunch Jam" from the soundtrack to Fame. Only one of these would be accurate.

2. Some of you may know that I (domer.mq) am a football stat geek. Which statistic do you think geeks like myself should really be paying attention to this season and why? (Can pertain to ND or CFB in general.)

I am, admittedly, not a huge stats guy. If ND is winning, I will certainly take a look at their stats and see what makes them so fundamentally awesome. When, as has been the case recently, ND is average or below, I am more consumed with the macro, rather than micro, picture. So, with the Irish once again in the throes of mediocrity, I turn my attention to the wider world of college football. In looking through the national statistics, I was stunned to discover that the Rice Owls have two of the Top-5 receivers in the country. Not Texas Tech, not USC, but Rice. That's right, Jarrett Dillard and James Casey (averaging 105.4 and 105.0 ypg, respectively) are numbers 4 and 5 nationally in receiving yards-per-game. We're not talking about a program with a rich and profound history. Rice has a grand total of 415 wins in the entire 96 year history of the school's football program (that's roughly 4 per year for you folks at home). What's more, in 2007, Rice was a grotesque 3-9 (remember how bad 3-9 sucked?). Now, in 2008, they are an offensive juggernaut. Impressive.

Hoo...the hell are these guys?

3. Seeing as how Boston College is nothing but an up-jumped program enjoying the luxury and soft Corinthian leather of an ACC schedule, which team from the current top 25 would you love to see this year's Irish play this weekend in Fredo's stead? Why? Do you think the Irish would win? Describe the game. Paint us a picture! I'll get the popcorn!

Ball State. First of all, it would be the Battle for Hoosier State Supremacy (each have already knocked off an Indiana school: Notre Dame defeated Purdue, Ball State defeated Indiana). Second, I actually think Notre Dame could win this one. Absent the aforementioned win over Indiana, Ball State's most impressive win this season has been over Navy (35-23). This seems a team ND could throttle. As a final reason I'd love to see this game, the list of genitalia-related jokes that would come along with playing this team would rival anything the Cocks or Trojans could muster.

Please don't leave me to play a school named after coglioni, Michael, PLEASE!!!

4. Let's dispose of the gradient colors and subtle vagaries of college football to answer this question with one of the supplied, absolute answers and a blurb defending your pick. No waffling! The Question: Why is Notre Dame unable to put away games when leading going into half time? The possible answers: 1) ND players have a soft, nougat center 2) The Coaches don't want to tick off potential future employers 3) God doesn't think it's classy to blow a team out 4) The ND Fanbase can't really stomach blowouts any more than they could stomach a protracted land war in Asia. Remember, you must pick one and you must defend it with much vigor!

In reviewing the options afforded me, the most reasonable conclusion I can reach is 1) ND players have a soft, nougat center. In fairness to candies everywhere, the wilting and melting exhibited by ND against UNC and Pitt was far worse than anything I've ever encountered with a piece of chocolate. From my experience, it takes something from Hershey's or Nestles', close to half an hour until it morphs into an amorphous blob of quasi-liquid flubber. Notre Dame, on the other hand, can achieve the same effect in under five minutes.

Me? Not like blowouts? Did you see the Spanish-American War?!

5) Tennessee just began celebrating the career of Phil Fulmer today as he announced that he'd been given the opportunity to make it look like resigning was his idea. Certainly, this is a clarion call to ADs across the country to begin worrying over their tea that, should their current HC not work out, they won't get a shot at #s 1-5 on their candidate list. Tell us about an AD who may be looking at this move Tennessee and acting a bit more aggressively towards a reduction in force of his current football staff now rather than later. And who might that AD be trying to seduce before Tennessee already has a "handshake agreement" with the guy?

Could there be an AD more desperately in need of relief than Daryl Gross at Syracuse? To begin, shortly after taking the reins, Gross fired Paul Pasqualoni; one of the winningest coaches in Orangemen history. Then, to compound the error, Gross hired Greg Robinson, one of the most cadaver-like coaches in NCAA history. To compare, Pasqualoni compliled 107-59-1 record (6-3 in bowls) at Syracuse over a 14-year period. Robinson, conversely, is 9-34 in nearly four seasons at the school. To put it mildly, Daryl needs to set this right.
So, in keeping with the spirit of redemption and "love conquers all", I say Gross needs to extend an olive branch (and lucrative multi-year contract) to Paul Pasqualoni. Sure, Pasqualoni is currently living the good life as defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins; but, does nailing coked-out lingerie models on South Beach compare at all with coaching football in the crime-ridden snow globe that is Syracuse, NY? I think not. No, I think Coach Pasq could be lured back at the right price. Daryl Gross better hope so.

Coach Robinson, could you step up here for your exit interview, please?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

No More Excuses

Please spare me the talk of silver linings. While we're at it, I also don't want to hear about "development", "improvement" or "unlike last year..." There are no upsides to losses. There is only defeat. For two years now, Irish fans (myself included) have desperately clung to whatever "glass-half-full" malarkey got them through their Saturday heartache. No more. This is a team filled with four and five-star players that has the good fortune of playing an AWFUL schedule. They are 5-3 against that rogue's gallery of mediocrity and have lost two games after enjoying two-score leads at halftime. That is beyond disappointing; that is unacceptable.

I can hear the apologists already - "But, Hibernian, look how young this team is." Really? Last I checked, Alabama had three freshman starting and were the #2 team in the country. Oh, and they play in the SEC. Try again. "Well, after the way Ty left the program, Charlie had to rebuild. It was the equivalent of having received the 'death penalty'." Fair enough. With that in mind, Charlie has now strung together three straight Top-10 recruiting classes and, in spite of their youth, most of the starters are fairly veteran thanks to having been pressed into service much earlier than they otherwise might have been. Where's the payoff? Sure, the statistics look better, but it's wins and losses, not gaudy statistics, that matter at the end of the day.
Here's my point - if Notre Dame coaches, players and yes, even fans, truly want to see a team that is both dominant and a perennial power, they need to set expectations higher and demand better results. That means treating losses like Saturday's debacle against Pitt with the kind of contempt they deserve. Notre Dame had that game won on two separate occasions and still found a way to lose. Up 14 at halftime, Pitt was stopped on its first possession until Harrison Smith's idiotic penalty gave Pitt a second chance. They used it to good effect, scoring on that drive and regaining momentum.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Irish scored with about five minutes left. A solid defensive stop probably ends the game. Instead, in under three minutes, the Panthers go the length of the field to tie the game. And, of course, there's the fact that all of this happened AT HOME. Unacceptable. Totally and completely unacceptable.

An artist's depiction of Notre Dame's 3rd quarter offensive effort against Pitt.

You want more evidence of how thoroughly disgusting this loss was? Ok, how about this - Notre Dame outgained Pitt, had more first downs, were +3 on turnovers and, in spite of Pitt's supposedly massive rushing advantage, had only 63 yards less on the ground. If I had only told you those things about the game, would anyone have guessed Notre Dame lost? I suppose it makes a little more sense when I add the Irish managed a grand total of 7 yards on 10 plays in the 3rd quarter. How great is it to have an offensive "genius" like Charlie leading the charge, huh? The schematic advantage he brings to every game is just remarkable!

"Hey, look, it's the myth of Charlie's genius."

So who were the heroes and villain's of this loss? Well, there were actually a fair number of heroes:

  • Michael Floyd was, once again, tremendous (10 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs). The only sad part about watching him play is, at this rate, there's no way he stays four years.
  • Golden Tate was also brilliant. His official stat line read: 6 catches, 111 yards and 1 TD but, what doesn't show up there, is his 2nd quarter circus catch on Notre Dame's first scoring drive. Just unreal.
  • Jimmy Clausen, in spite of his struggles in OT, did a helluva job. Under duress for much of the afternoon, Jimmy still managed to throw for 271 yards, 3 TDs, no picks and was sacked just once. He gave Notre Dame an excellent chance to win.
  • David Bruton did all anyone could have asked of him - 16 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass break-up. The guy left nothing on the field.
  • Neither did his safey-mate, Kyle McCarthy who had 15 tackles, including 2 for loss. It is going to be brutal replacing these two next season.
  • Ian Williams looked very good. He ended the day with 6 tackles, including 2 for loss and was disruptive the entire afternoon. After a solid freshman year, Williams has been quiet this season, but really did a nice job on Saturday.
  • And, finally, Brandon Walker. Yes, he missed a 38-yard field goal in the 4th OT, but it should absolutely never have come to that. Walker, for all the grief he's gotten this year, went out and hit 4 out of 5 field goals, including a monster from 48-yards in the 3rd OT that would have been good from 58. He has nothing to feel badly about.
Here's a picture of...ah, you get it, this loss was a disaster.

Now, on to yesterday's villains. While a smaller group they, sadly, had a bigger impact on the outcome:
  • Sam Young took a major step backwards against the Panthers. After having shown improvement most of the season, Young got knocked on his ass much of the afternoon. Sam Young is 6'8, 330 lbs. The players on Pitt he was facing were, generally, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 lbs lighter and he got dominated. That should be a motivator. That should light a fire. If it does not, Sam Young should not be playing this game.
  • Terrail Lambert has been playing NCAA football for five seasons now and still has absolutely no clue how to tackle (or cover a receiver, for that matter). His grasping, lame attempts at wrapping up yesterday were cringe-inducing. If the defensive coaches have any sense of the obvious, Lambert will not play another down for the Irish. Robert Blanton is a solid tackler, covers well and is a leader. Time to call it a career for Terrail.
  • Harrison Smith. Sorry, Hayseed but, as mentioned previously, your penalty was one of the turning points in the game. You played decently, otherwise, but that one hiccup was costly.
  • Weis/Haywood. While the offense certainly did some things well, it was a very uneven and inconsistent effort. How many times was ND going to run swings and screens when it was clear neither was working? Irish receivers had a huge height advantage over Pitt's cornerbacks, where were the plays that took advantage of that? How about some more slants? While we're at it, how about a little more of the no-huddle. Then, of course, there was the debacle at the end of the game. With a minute left, you're really throwing it on 4th and 1 at the 50? That whole series, from the penalties to the head-scratching calls, was a terrible flashback to the game mismanagement of the Davieham era.

So, where does this leave us? I wish I could be more optimistic, but I think this leaves us poised for a beatdown at the hands of BC next week. The Eagles have lost two straight and are going to be majorly pumped to play the Irish in Chestnut Hill. What's more, I can't imagine there's any way that Notre Dame can bounce back from a loss as physically and emotionally exhausing as this one in a week's time. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. Next week may get ugly.

On a non-football-related note, Tuesday is Election Day and, though Brawling Hibernian is an avowedly apolitical blog, I did want to make a point. No doubt, you have all been inundated with a continuing guilt trip from the media about getting out there to vote on Tuesday (MTV, I'm looking in your direction). I would like to make a slightly different request. If you have been following the issues and the candidates and actually have a solid understanding of both, you should absolutely go out and vote. However, if you don't follow politics closely and are only voting because the cast of Gossip Girl told you to, please stay home. Voting is a right, not an obligation and if you don't know what you're doing, you shouldn't be there. Let me put it another way, owning a gun is also a right, but I don't remember the last, "Everybody Get a Gun!" ad campaign. You know why? It would be irresponsible. Not everyone should own a gun. Same deal applies to voting. I'm Brawling Hibernian, and I approve this message.