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.


Tony D. said...

I agree completely on Lambert. He just doesn't make plays and can't tackle. The Defense never comes across the line to make plays. McCoy ran the same direct snap play over and over for 10 yards a crack.

Chris said...

Thankfully, McCarthy has a 5th year available.

Craig said...

The schedule is not awful. It's very light at the top end (thanks in part to Michigan having an even more historically bad season than we had last year) that has a whole bunch of normally middle-level teams on it.