Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A New Beginning

While I realize that this post is comes a bit after the fact, I wanted to announce to my readers (thanks to both of you...you've been wonderful), that I am moving on from my cozy, little blog here at Brawling Hibernian and into the big time with Subway Domer.  For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Subway Domer has been providing ass-kickingly solid coverage of Notre Dame football for several years now and has graciously asked me to be a contributor to his blog.  I have to admit, I feel a little bit like Ringo Starr falling assbackwards into an amazing situation (though, I'm not sure who Pete Best is in this analogy).  Anyway, I just want to thank all of you for your support and thoughtful consideration of Brawling Hibernian over the last few seasons and hope you'll continue following me over at Subway Domer.  Take a look, my first post went up today.  Thanks again and I'll see you all soon!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Of Tea Leaves and Coaching Searches

"Contradictions do not exist.  Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises.  You will find that one of them is wrong." (Hugh Akston, 'Atlas Shrugged')

Back in July, I decided to take my best crack at predicting the type of season Notre Dame would have in 2009.  After taking a look at the returning talent (very good), the coaching staff (a big question mark ) and the schedule (challenging, but not oppressive), I came up with my answer.  I said 6-6.  Why, you may ask, in spite of what would appear to be relatively favorable circumstances, might I think the Irish would have the same disappointing record as they did in 2008?  Simple - history didn't support an improvement.  Yes, they had been very impressive against Hawaii, but what had they done prior to that?  Was it a team that, on the whole, got better as the season wore on?  Never mind wins and losses, were there any areas of the team which seemed better in November than they had in September?  Not from where I was sitting.  Improvement is not about a game, it's about steady, incremental progress, and Notre Dame hadn't had any.  That, coupled with the aforementioned coaching question marks, led me to believe 2009 would be, in so many ways, nothing more than 2008 redux. 
After a few days of thinking it over, I did what every SAT-taker is advised to avoid - I changed my original answer.  I decided I was being far too dour and there was no way this monstrously talented team could be as average as they had been the season before.  While I did restate some of the concerns from the previous post, I used rationalization instead of actual reason to guide me to a revised prediction of 9-3.  In other words, I goofed.
With all this in mind, is it possible to use the same type of rational deductions to determine the next Irish head coach?  No.  Unlike prognostications relating to a game or season, in a coaching search, there are far too many variables and unknowns at play:  Who's available?  Who's interested?  How much might one option cost versus another?  Who has attributes the administration favors and who has those which are frowned upon?  Is the administration willing to make concessions or are they being conservative?  You get the idea.  Without being on the inside of this process, no one can answer any of those questions with real certainty.  So, while Stoops, Kelly and yes, even Urban have all been mentioned prominently; it's also entirely possible that the new ND head coach is someone who has not been on or near the radar of most fans. 
At this point, if you want to get a sense as to what the future holds, you take a look what we can say with certainty.  For my money, there are two things: 1) Charlie is gone, and 2) Jack Swarbrick is exactly the right person to find his replacement.  On the first point, entirely too much has been said.  We all know Charlie's a lame duck heading into Stanford.  In fact, I actually think Charlie's already been told he's gone, but they've refrained from going public with the declaration in order to give further cover to the search for his replacement.  That leaves us with #2.
What we know about Swarbrick is that he is an exceptionally savvy fellow.  He has an undergrad from ND and JD from Stanford. He was a partner at big-time law firm, Baker & Daniels. The Big 12 had him as a candidate for commissioner, the NCAA had him as a finalist for president and he was a leading member of the group that brought the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. Take a look at that last factoid for a minute. The man was compelling enough to bring the Super Bowl to Indy for the first time and a cold weather venue for just the fourth (Detroit - 1982, 2006 and Minneapolis - 1992). This is clearly a very impressive individual. 
Given his C.V., I think it's fair to assume Swarbrick is going to make a splash with this pick.  In Weis, he is living with a decision made by his predecessor after an embarrasing and, ultimately, misguided search process.  Whether he opts to stay on as AD or, as some have suggested, move on to the post of NCAA president, this hire will become a massive part of Swarbrick's legacy.  To that end, Jack Swarbrick will want to make this pick count and, I have every confidence, will come up with a choice that, in the end, will thrill Irish fans.  As to whom that will be, I can't say.  My gut says Kelly is most likely with Stoops in second place but, as mentioned previously, I don't have nearly enough information upon which I can offer anything more than an uneducated guess.
Nevertheless, the most important thing for Notre Dame fans to reflect on as this season comes to an end, is that the future is bright.  This is not just some lame bromide akin to "wait 'til next year."  In this instance, in this moment, Notre Dame has a chance to finally get it right.  The proper AD and president are in place to assure this happens.  The proper mix of talent and depth are in place to both attract and bring success to a new coach.  If 2009 was a lost season, 2010 will be the rediscovery of a program.  Not another "return to glory", but the actual first step in a climb back to the pinnacle.  How do I know?  I've checked my premises.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Curtain Closes

And there it is.  Anyone looking for reasons as to why Charlie Weis must be replaced as head coach of Notre Dame need only watch what took place in South Bend today for their answers.  This was precisely the type of game which has plagued the Irish throughout Weis' tenure; particularly the last two seasons.  In spite of jumping out to a big lead and dominating many of the game stats, Notre Dame found a way to lose.  All of the old issues were there: horrendous tackling, stupid penalties, poor special teams play, ineffectiveness in the red zone, etc.  If the Irish wanted to pay tribute to their beleagured coach, they could scarcely have done better than playing a game which highlighted so many of his coaching deficiencies.
At this point, there's no use going over the actual events in the game.  The reasons for this loss are the same as the losses which preceeded it.  Instead, a few quick hitters on bigger pictures items:

  • First off, congratulations to the UConn Huskies.  This has been an incredibly difficult season for them both on the field (five losses by a total of 15 points) and, more importantly, off with the tragic murder of their teammate, Jasper Howard.  In spite of all that, the Huskies never got down, kept motivated and continued to play hard.  They are to be congratulated.
  • A big thanks to the Notre Dame seniors who played their final home game today.  This game, much like so much of their time with the program, was frustrating.  Still, it was these guys who enabled a program with incredibly thin ranks to slowly build itself back up.  Whomever replaces Charlie will have them to thank for believing in the school and helping to, once again, bring top-flight talent back to South Bend.
  • Speaking of Charlie, a special thanks to him as well.  Obviously, on the field, his teams never became that for which we'd all hoped.  It wasn't for lack of effort, however.  I think it's fair to say that Weis gave his all for this program and his results in recruiting, player academics and overall human decency are laudable.  Unfortunately, those are only a few of the things expected of Notre Dame's head football coach.  While winning eluded him, seeing Weis walk onto the field, arm-in-arm, with his players, a tear falling from his eye showed just how much this team and program mean to him.  All the best, Charlie; sorry things couldn't have been different.
  • For whatever it's worth, Oklahoma got pummeled, 41-13, by Texas Tech today.  I would have to imagine in light of his loss and Notre Dame's impending opening, the Irish might look like a pretty solid option to Bob Stoops. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

IBG: "Killing Productivity One Post At A Time" Edition

Sarah over at Bad Trade bravely picks us up out of the ashes of the Pitt loss and into UConn week:

1. The Pitt loss: give me something good about it, something bad about it, and something ugly about it.

The "bad" and "ugly" portions of this answer are easy - take basically any moment Notre Dame had, from kickoff to final gun, and you can probably apply either. "Good", conversely, is not as easy. With that prelude, here are my choices:

Good: Golden Tate's 87-yard punt return for a touchdown proved, yet again, why he's one of the most electric players in all of college football and, in a more just world, would be the leading Heisman candidate.

Bad: A dynamic Notre Dame offense with one of the best quarterbacks and two of the best receivers in the country managing just three points in the first half and 15 points all game.

Ugly: Notre Dame's porous, awful defense allowing 6 yards-per-carry against Pitt. Since they've sucked against freshman QBs this year, I suppose it's only appropriate they suck against freshman RBs, too. Just terrible.

2. UConn this week. Does the sellout streak end? Do you care if it does end? And if it does, does this have any meaning beyond it being the end of yet another ND streak during the Charlie Weis era?

Ok, a few questions here, so let me take them one at a time:

A) No, the streak doesn't end. ND still manages a sell-out at home.

B) It wouldn't ruin my weekend or anything, but I would be a little bothered that Notre Dame fans would care so little about this year's seniors that they'd avoid their last home game and moment of recognition.

C) If ND does fail to sell-out this weekend, I think it's further evidence that Weis has lost the Irish fanbase. It's one thing for all of us to bitch and gripe online, but voting with your feet (and wallet) represents much more tangible evidence of dissatisfaction.

3. UConn is coming off of a bye week, with three losses just before that, including close losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati. The last time they won was just before cornerback Jaspar Howard was killed. These factors - along with ND's sorry performances recently - suggest to me that UConn is a dangerous team for a Notre Dame team that could really use a win going into Stanford. Should I be worried about this game? And what should I be worried about?

Given the manner in which Notre Dame has played this year, I scarcely think there are many teams Irish fans shouldn't be worried about. UConn, in particular, is a much better team than their record would suggest. They are currently 4-5, but those five losses have come by a combined 15 points. Moreover, they've gone on the road and taken both Pitt and Cincinnati to the wire (losing by three and two points, respectively). In light of those factors, not to mention the continued motivation of playing for their tragically fallen teammate, the Huskies represent a real challenge to be overcome for the Irish. What most concerns me is the state of mind in which ND finds itself. Have the players given up? Are they rallying for their season and/or Weis? Does it even matter? I do think Notre Dame will find a way to prevail on Saturday, but I would not at all be surprised if this were yet another nailbiter.

4. Notre Dame will be seeing a familiar face in UConn quarterback Zach Frazer. Is there anyone who transferred out of Notre Dame, or who the Irish nearly got in the recruiting process, that you think would have made a significant difference on this year's team?
One of each that might have made some difference:

Transferred out: Joseph Fauria. With Kyle Rudolph going down against Navy, having another big, talented tight end to use would have been very helpful.

Missed out on: Given the struggles Notre Dame has had against the run in the last two weeks, I would say either Justin Trattou or Omar Hunter (assuming Hunter would have been healthier in South Bend than he's been in Gainesville).
I definitely think that, in both cases, these players would have made a difference, though I can't say that it would have been significant enough to change the trajectory of this season.

5. I, for one, was very optimistic at the beginning of the season. Now, at 6-4, I am nearly disgusted with this team, and I admit to some actions regarding Notre Dame football that I never thought I would engage in. I can't imagine I am alone. Have you done anything this season - turn off games at halftime, leave early, not watch at all, etc. - that smack of desperation and disgust with this team?

Over the last three years, specifically, and 15 years, generally, I have run the gamut of both emotions and rituals. This year, the one thing that I have re-implemented is watching games on mute. I find that listening to both the asinine banter and verbal fellating of the other team by whomever is announcing makes the games completely awful for me. I've debated turning on the Criqui/Pinkett radio broadcast while watching the muted game on TV but, for me, the silence tends to be better for my blood pressure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Case For Bob Stoops

My original idea for this post was to take the most prominent names currently being discussed as possible replacements for Charlie Weis and lay out the relative pros and cons of each. As I began to do that, however, it became patently obvious that one coach brought far more to the table than any other - Oklahoma head coach, Bob Stoops. Before I begin to lay out the case for Stoops, I should mention that this all hinges on the assumption that he's actually interested in the position. The Chicago Sun-Times reported as much this weekend and, for our purposes, we'll assume that's accurate.
With that, here's what makes Stoops such an intriguing choice:

  • He is young (49)

  • Stoops has successfully led a major college football program for over a decade winning a national championship (2000) and six conference championships (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008)

  • He has been equally adept at developing players (Tommie Harris, Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford) and assistants (Mark Mangino, Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin)

  • He has coached two Heisman Trophy winners (Sam Bradford, Jason White) and four others (Adrian Peterson - second in 2004, Jason White - third in 2004, Roy Williams - seventh in 2001 and Josh Heupel - second in 2000) who finished in the top seven

  • He is a tremendous recruiter. Since 2002, Oklahoma has six Top 10 recruiting classes and Scout currently has Oklahoma's 2010 class ranked #1

  • In 11 years, Stoops has just three more losses (28) than Weis has in five seasons

  • During his tenure, Stoops has enjoyed eight seasons of double-digit wins

  • Stoops enjoys a 33-12 (.733%) record against ranked competition and an overall record of 114-28 (.802)

  • Coaching at the school which owns the NCAA record for longest winning streak, Stoops has two of the seven longest streaks in program history. His 2000 and 2001 teams won 20 straight, while his 2002 and 2003 teams won 14 in a row. All of these wins came against Division IA opponents

  • Stoops is Catholic and attended the same high school (Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, OH) as current Notre Dame players, Kyle and Dan McCarthy
Beyond the accolades, there have been a few criticisms of Stoops. Among the most prominent are having been on the receiving end of NCAA sanctions and an unimpressive graduation rate for his players. While those do, and should, give reason for pause, one would assume that, at least some of these shortcomings are attributable to the environment at Oklahoma. There is good reason Notre Dame has been able to maintain its standards (both in and out of the classroom) through numerous coaching regimes - namely, an obsessive committment to these ideals. Oklahoma, conversely, has a history of scandal in its athletic department. Obviously, this is not to exonerate Stoops; rather, I think it suggests the degree to which institutional control matters. Because of this, the same behavior would neither be allowed nor tolerated at Notre Dame.
Of course, the question remains: would Bob Stoops leave his perch in Norman to come to South Bend?  The timing would certainly seem to support the decision.  With four losses in ten games, the Sooners are on pace for the school's worst record since the 2005 squad finished 8-4 (Stoop's worst record came with his first OU team in 1999 which went 7-5).  As a result of these struggles, the chorus of disocontented Sooner fans has grown both larger and more shrill over the course of the season.  Beyond that, though, the Irish also present a few intriguing possibilities. First, in spite of the program's struggles, Notre Dame still maintains a unique position in college football.  Restoring the program to its position among the elite, and the resulting accolades such an accomplishment would bring, makes for an enticing prospect.  Second, and perhaps more important, Stoops would be coming into a situation ripe for immediate success.  Unlike when Charlie Weis took over for Ty Willingham, the program is stocked with a bevy of talented and experienced players.  Assuming a coach with the prestige of a Bob Stoops could keep current players and recruits from bolting, Notre Dame would be in a position similar to that of Florida in 2005.  When Urban Meyer arrived from Utah, he immediately benefited from the recruiting abilities of his predecessor, Ron Zook.  While Zook's abilities as a head coach left much to be desired, his skill in recruiting is beyond doubt.  Similarly, Weis has been able to bring in a tremendous group for which the next Irish coach will benefit.  Will it be Stoops?  Only time will tell but, if Notre Dame is smart, they will put their best foot forward in trying to secure his services.  

Friday, November 13, 2009

IBG: "Spinning Newspapers With Topical Headlines" Edition

This week, IBG founder and emotional rock, Subway Domer, leads us into Pitt week with a "straight from the headlines" theme. 

1. After weeks and weeks of living on the edge, Notre Dame finally fell off of that edge into a pile of shit. Please describe your mental state since the Navy game. Are you hopeless or hopeful? Why?

Local Man Settles Into Booze-Induced Coma

Much like a bear plying himself with large amounts of food in order to make it through the winter, I intend to take part in a similar, yet boozier, ritual for the remainder of the Irish season. To put it in mild terms, I am not hopeful. During the course of the season, I have had several occasions to flirt with hope and optimism. Unfortunately, I've found both to be unfit suitors and now am back to my longtime paramour, despair. I have absolutely zero confidence in the "abilities" of Charlie Weis or his coordinators. They have proven to be erratic and deeply flawed. I fully expect them to beat Pitt by three touchdowns and then lose by four at home to UConn. I should be anxiously awaiting this game and, instead, it feels like the onset of some type of rote obligation. In other words, the name "Charlie Weis" has, for me, become a euphemism for "ennui."

The author enjoying yet another of Charlie's masterpieces

2. Given the sorry state of the Fighting Irish defense, are they capable of slowing down Pitt's offense, or will Stull, Baldwin, and Lewis have career days?

MENSA Elects Ignoramus to Board of Directors

Bill Stull is not a good quarterback. Yes, I realize he is fifth nationally in passing efficiency and is having a nice, little season for himself. I don't care. I repeat, Bill Stull is not a good quarterback. He has been able to mask that fact with a solid receiver (Baldwin) and dynamic runner (Lewis), but this is still the same guy who threw 9 TDs to 10 INTs a year ago while at the helm of Pitt's offense. I mention all this because, in spite of his limitations, Stull is about to look like one of the most explosive QBs in the country. The most yards Stull has had in a game this season is 268 in a win over UConn...if he doesn't hit 300 by mid-3rd quarter against the sieve-like ND secondary, I'll be shocked. I actually do think the Irish will find a way to slow down Dion Lewis; however, as we've seen them do in the past, it will be at the expense of stopping the pass. Therefore, Average Joe, Bill Stull, will become Joe Montana by game's end. If you don't believe me, allow me to introduce you to: Tate Forcier (for the freshman QB, the ND game represents 15% of his total passing yards for season and second-highest yardage output), Kirk Cousins (for the first-year starter, the ND game was one of only two he went over 300 yards passing...the other was Western Michigan), Joey Ellliot (the first-year starter had a cool 289 yards and three TDs against the Irish), Jake Locker (his second most passing yards in a game this season came against Notre Dame), Matt Barkley (the freshman had his most passing yards in a game by nearly 100 yards in South Bend) and David Shinskie (his most passing yards in a game came against Notre Dame).

3. Notre Dame has had serious Red-Zone issues this year. They can't score... why is that? What needs to be corrected and how can they do this?

Being An Unoriginal Pussy No Way To Go Through Life, Experts Warn

Stop running the friggin' fade route over and over and over! For the love of God, Charlie Weis is supposed to be a strategic genius, but when his team gets inside the redzone, suddenly he's Colonel Klink. Weis has a playsheet that's the size of a boogie board and yet, he calls the same five plays when the Irish get inside the twenty. Here's my advice to Charlie: Mix it up, try something different and stop being such a completely predictable d-bag your whole life.

4. Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstache started coaching their alma maters at the same time. They have both coached on crutches. They both seem to recruit fairly well. They are both considered disappointing in their respective 5 year campaigns. After reviewing their total body of work, who would you rather have coaching ND in 2010? Explain.

Citizens Asked To Choose Between Gang Rape By Meth-Fueled Grizzlies or Listening To 36 Consecutive Hours Of "Donny Osmond's Straight Outta Provo: A Hip-Hop History of Mormonism"

If these are my only two choices, I very reluctantly choose The Wannstache. Neither of these two are coaches I would put on my short list but, since "Option C: Any Other Sentient Being on the Planet" was not given, I will choose the only one of the two who actually seems to have his program moving in a positive direction. Take a look at the trajectory both schools have taken since these head coaches started at their alma maters. Weis' records: 9-3, 10-3, 3-9, 7-6, 6-3. Wannstedt's records: 5-6, 6-6, 5-7, 9-4, 8-1. Now, it's entirely possible that what Pitt is experiencing now is what the Irish did in 2005 and 2006 and, eventually, the Panthers will settle back to the median. Still, there's at least a sense that John Holmes-with-a-clipboard has Pitt moving in the right direction while the Irish are an inconsistent mess. For me, even a sense of forward progress would be a welcome improvement.

Yes, yes y'all

5. Prediction time. How does this game play out. Please include a score, an offensive MVP, a defensive MVP, and a sleeper.

ESPN Analyst Mark May Fired For "Lewd Behavior"

I kind of think this headline's a possibility regardless of the outcome. If the Irish win, I can see May directing a torrent of profanities towards a smiling Lou Holtz. If the Panthers win, I can see Markie Mark pleasuring himself to the box score on national television. So which one will it be? Since last week Notre Dame managed to drop a game most everyone thought they'd win, I think this week they flip the script. I should add that, at this point, any prediction as to Notre Dame's performance is guided more by own dumbfounded groping than logic, so take that into consideration.

Score: 27-17, Irish

Offensive MVP:Shaq Evans (why the hell not?)

Defensive MVP: Ethan Johnson

Sleeper: Notre Dame secondary...they may even be narcoleptic

I can't see his hands, but he does look like he's enjoying himself

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Goodbye, Charlie

First off, congrats to the Naval Academy's football team.  They're a fine group of young men and represent our country with unbelievable class, distinction and valor.  Now, on to the tough stuff...
Charlie Weis needs to go.  He seems like a nice guy, is a good recruiter and represents Notre Dame well; he's just a lousy coach.  Check that; a lousy head coach.  He can put together a solid offensive gameplan (though this week was not his finest hour), but he does not attend well to the myriad of things a college head coach must do.  From overall player development to putting a team strategy in place, Weis has been awful.  This squad, stocked with blue-chip players, just lost to Navy for the second time in three seasons.  To put this in some perspective, none of the previous six Irish coaches lost once to the Midshipmen.  Not Willingham, not Davie, not Faust.  None of them.  Beyond that, ND has still yet to beat a team of consequence during the Weis era.  I recognize this point has been beaten to death but, after five years, a signature win still eludes the man. 
For me, today was it.  I can no longer hope that somehow it all goes right and that Charlie becomes a good coach.  I've waited five years and have seen nothing in the way of improvement.  The program peaked during Weis' first two years in South Bend and has not been able to rise above those, albeit, mediocre standards since. 
I have no idea who should replace Weis.  Perhaps it's Brian Kelly, perhaps someone else.  All I know is, if this program is ever to return to glory, Weis must be shown the door.  In a perfect world, Weis, who obviously loves the school, would step down of his own volition.  Explain to his players it's to spend more time with his family, do charity work or something else plausible and just leave.  It would be clean, it would cut down attrition and it would be a gift to the school Charlie Weis loves.
With that out of the way, a few assorted game notes:
  • This defense is bad...real bad.  Yes, I know Navy's triple-option is complicated, but it wasn't even a contest out there.  A bunch of undersized, moderately-talented guys just kicked the asses of Notre Dame's defense all day long.  If Weis goes, Tenuta and Brown should follow.
  • Harrison Smith is a moron.  I'm beyond the point of having difficulty critiquing Irish players.  Smith is useless in pass coverage and does incredibly stupid things like hit the QB well after the ball is released.  Why is he on the field every week?  Where is this "depth" about which I keep hearing?
  • The offensive line was terrible.  After much ballyhoo over the progress they've made under Verducci this season, they took a huge step backwards.  They allowed a safety for the second time in three weeks and an undersized Navy defense harassed Clausen far too often.  Pitt has, arguably, the best defensive line on ND's schedule and will absolutely destroy Jimmy if this situation doesn't improve.
  • Why would you not defer to the second half?  Just when I thought he'd come around to seeing that the Lou Holtz deferral strategy was right, Charlie takes the opening kickoff.  I am sure he did it because he couldn't wait to get an offense with Michael Floyd back in the lineup on the field.  It was still stupid.  With a team that eats as much clock as Navy, you need to make sure you're getting the first crack at scoring in the second half, just in case.  Terrible decision.
  • Last week's concern: depth at quarterback.  This week's concerns: depth at quarterback AND tight end.  I have no idea how long the Irish will be without Kyle Rudolph, but it didn't look promising.  This does not bode well for the near term.  Outstanding work chasing Joseph Fauria out of town, you ass-sniffing layabouts in Res Life. 
  • Jimmy Clausen's knees were down when he "fumbled" near the goalline.  Add that to the pile of "we got jobbed by the refs" arguments for this season.
  • Incidentally, I officially hate coach's challenge/instant replay in college football (and not because it has been a thorn in ND's side this season).  The amount of time spent reviewing even the most pedestrian of occurrences is mind-boggling. 
  • How bad was this loss?  Consider the following: in their losses to Navy;  Western Kentucky and SMU both scored more points than did Notre Dame.  Also, Temple, freakin' Temple, managed to actually WIN their game against Navy (and, yes, I realize Dobbs wasn't playing...that certainly makes this loss better, doesn't it?).
  • What does this do for the potential of Clausen and/or Tate leaving early?  Looking at Clausen, the fact that he got banged up again might be a wake-up call/motivator to leave.  The fact that his stock likely dropped is reason to stay.  Tate, on the other hand, is probably in the same position as before the game. Of course, both may just want off of this sinking ship before it takes on any more water (forgive the naval punnery).
  • I feel badly for Michael Floyd.  Yes, he had two big drops on ND's second-to-last possession but, for a guy coming back from a serious injury, he played awfully well. 
  • Is Ram Vela in like his eighth year?  I swear the guy is Annapolis' answer to Van Wilder.  Graduate already!
  • I would rather not watch ND every week than have to put up with Haden and Hammond.  As it is, I have to watch the game on mute.  The two are intolerable jackholes and appear to have graduated from the Joe Buck School of Broadcast Mediocrity.  Does the Peter Principle apply to everyone in sportscasting?
  • I couldn't help realizing this is the second straight November (I'm willing to write-off all of 2007) the Irish have managed to blow a home game they should have won comfortably (Syracuse, quite obviously, being last year's debacle).  This is a further indictment of the coaching staff.  This late in the season, good teams are hitting on all cylinders and don't lose at home to double-digit underdogs.  You lose in the first week or two, and that can be forgiven.  Upsets in September happen.  In November, losses like this only happen to teams who don't deserve to be favored in the first place.  

IBG: Gold Helmets As Far As The Eye Can See...

This week, the Irish square off against the Middies and the good folks over at Charlie's Nasties dial up the IBG questions..

1. With all of the recent injuries, what scenario would you rather have? Option A: Dayne Crist out for the season, Trevor Robinson out indefinitely with an ankle sprain and Jimmy Clausen suffering week to week with turf toe OR Option B: All of the above players are 100% and Floyd is out for the year?

Well, obviously, I'd prefer Option C: Everyone's healthy but, if that's off the table, I'll go with A. Certainly, the situation at QB is tenuous right now, but Jimmy has proven himself to be exceptionally resilient and Sharpley is a solid back-up who has started in the past. As for T-Rob, while he's arguably Notre Dame's best offensive lineman, being able to bring in another former starter (Dan Wenger) isn't exactly a terrible option. With Floyd in the line-up, the offense goes from "very good" to "unstoppable."

2. After experiencing our first neutral site game at San Antonio this week, it got me thinking about our upcoming off site game against Navy. What are your thoughts on playing Navy in Ireland in 2012? Should the 7-4-1 model take us abroad?

I remember when Notre Dame played Navy in Dublin in 1996, and I thought it was pretty awesome. I mean, it's one thing for an NFL team to go overseas for a game, but how many college teams could plausibly pull that off? So, yes, I definitely support the going abroad thing. It's a fantastic bit of global marketing and really unique opportunity which ND affords its student-athletes.

3. Navy's unique offense and personnel always seem to test the Irish in some ways that other opponents don't. What position matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?

I'm actual looking forward to seeing a match-up of two players: Darius Fleming versus Navy FB, Vince Murray. Murray is a beast who's averaging 4.7 ypc and who has only been stopped for loss once this season. Fleming, conversely, has really become a force since the Michigan game and now is eighth nationally with 11.5 tackles for loss. To me, this match-up is the microcosm that will define what type of day it's going to be for ND. If Fleming is getting penetration and stuffing Murray, then the defense is likely playing well and Navy's offense is stalling. If, however, Murray continues apace, it's going to be a long afternoon in South Bend.

4. The Navy football stereotype is generally that the players are undersized and have less star power, but by emphasizing the fundamentals, minimizing mental errors, and playing as a team, they are always able to put up a fight. What position or player on Notre Dame's roster do you think could benefit from approaching games with this attitude?

Harrison Smith. I don't relish calling out ND players, but Smith has been a little, shall we say, 'confused' this season. He's unquestionably got a ton of talent, but it's the mental part of his game that's lacking. I do think that some work cleaning up the mental flubs and focusing on solid fundamentals would go a long way towards making him the type of player we all expect to see out there.

5. Everyone in the country saw that Navy took #6 Ohio State down to the wire in the opening week; how will the Midshipmen fare against the Irish? Predictions please.

You can go ahead and disregard the Ohio State game for two reasons: 1) First games of the season are notoriously bad as a gauge of how good or bad a team is because of how many variables come into play (i.e., who's already gelled as a team vs. who's coming together, who's more excited, who's more focused, etc.), 2) Navy's triple-option was a new wrinkle for the Buckeyes, whereas the Irish see it every year. With that out of the way, I really don't think Saturday's game is going to be all that close. ND's defense has really improved against the run and, if they're able to slow down Navy's rushing attack, the Midshipmen are sunk (annnnnd there's your obligatory naval pun). On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame gets Michael Floyd back in the line-up and he is going to be quite fired up. While Navy has a tough defense, one look at their schedule tells you they have not faced anything close to the caliber of the Irish offense this season. I'm going to with ND, 41 - Navy, 17.

Friday, October 30, 2009

IBG: Halloween At The Alamo Edition

With Notre Dame stepping into primetime to play the Cougars of Washington State, One Foot Down steps up with this week's questions:

1. The 7-4-1 scheduling model has been the subject of much heated debate amongst Irish fans since it was first announced back in 2006. This week the Fighting Irish will play the first neutral site “barnstorming game” in said model so now is as good of a time as any to weigh in on the controversial subject. What do you think about a) 7-4-1 as a whole, b) the neutral site/ barnstorming game in general and c) specifically playing Washington State in San Antonio.

A) I know this is a minority opinion among Irish fans, but I'm fine with it. The primary argument against the 7-4-1, as best I can tell, is that it makes it makes it difficult to schedule games against better competition. Well, boo-fucking-hoo. First of all, Notre Dame will continue to play games against programs like Michigan, Michigan State and Southern Cal every year. Second, and here's the important part, since when is a brutal schedule the key to a national championship? I grew up watching the Notre Dame teams of the late '80's and early '90's. They were immensely talented, yet only won one national championship while getting screwed out of two others. The Irish took great pride in consistently playing either the toughest or, at the very least, one of the toughest schedules in the country every year. In the meantime, the teams that were winning national championships were mostly feasting on cupcakes (take a look at Florida State and Miami's schedules from those eras). Even now, the top teams don't exactly kill themselves. This season, Florida has Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International on their non-conference schedule. For their part, Texas will be playing Louisiana-Monroe, UTEP and UCF this year. Tell me again why Notre Dame must be different? If you take the position that the Irish need to play an exceptionally difficult schedule every year, that's fine, but don't complain when a battered and weary Irish team drops a game it shouldn't or when some team that's played no one is hoisting the crystal football in January because they have a better record than ND.

B) I like the neutral site game. The Irish recruit nationally and, as such, it's great to actually be able to take the field in as much of the country as possible. Plus, since the NCAA allows programs to provide tickets to recruits for these games, it's a nice way to further reach out to blue chippers.

C) It's fine. It's good to have a game in Texas and, if the Irish can light up an inferior team in the process, all the better.

2. I have personally had this game circled on the schedule for quite some time as the one “sure thing.” After the last few games I have really been looking forward to a drama free victory. As luck would have it I started looking at the Cougars more closely this morning and it appears that freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel went 28 of 42 for 354 yards and 2 TD’s in a losing effort against Cal over the weekend. With the Irish secondary still struggling to get it together what are the chances that yet another freshman signal caller makes this one way more interesting than it should be on Saturday night in San Antonio?

I think there's a pretty good chance this game ends up being more interesting than it should, but that's only because it probably should be a 63-3 drubbing. Tuel will definitely get his yards (everybody does against the Irish secondary), but that doesn't mean this game will actually be in doubt. I see Notre Dame winning in a manner reminiscent of last year's game against the Washington Huskies in Seattle...one where, in the end, the Irish win by a much smaller margin than they could have done.

3. Assuming that the Fighting Irish are able to take care of business and put this one away early what non-starters would you most like to see get some reps this week? Why?

1) Dayne Crist: Because, frankly I'm not sure Jimmy will be here in 2010 and, even if he is, it's always good to get your back-up QB some reps.

2) Any Reserve Offensive Linemen: While there is, of course, concern over the prospect of Clausen leaving early for the NFL, I think the bigger issue for 2010 is the offensive line. Assuming Chris Stewart doesn't return for a fifth-year, the Irish will need to replace four starters. The possibility of Dan Wenger coming back for a fifth helps, but as ND fans have learned in recent years, experience in the trenches is too important to take lightly.

4. With the game being played on Halloween Night chances are that if you are not traveling to San Antonio you most likely have a scheduling conflict. Whether you are supposed to be at a party dressed as Fat Elvis, taking your kids trick-or-treating or just dealing with your doorbell ringing nonstop how do you plan to watch the game? If you are going what are you most looking forward to?

We will be heading out in Boston with my wife's family so, unfortunately, I'll be watching in snippets as we head into bars or getting updates on my Blackberry when I can. Not a great way to catch a game, but I'll be DVRing it to watch later. Because of all this, ND/WSU will likely end up being "The Game of the Century" and my DVR will choose Saturday night to die.

5. Trick or Treat? Predictions please.

Treat. I predict that, by the end of Saturday night, I'll have had waaaaaay too much to drink, offended hordes of innocent bystanders and be quite contented with a tidy and comfortable Irish victory: ND, 38 - WSU, 13.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

BC Fans Enjoy Whining, Dislike Thinking

There are certain immutable laws of nature: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the orbit of planets is elliptical and, after each of their losses, some douchebag BC fan will pen a completely illogical screed which only serves to highlight their own mental limitations. This week, our offending author is from BC's Scout.com site and, apparently, is a big girl who can use the computer all by herself. The results are predictable....let's mock them.

Notre Dame and Boston College clashed in what might be the last battle of the "Holy Wars" in South Bend this weekend. Well, technically, in the unincorporated community of Notre Dame, which is just southeast of South Bend and is home to the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College, and Holy Cross College, but we will just let that slide.

Which part of this are we letting slide? The unincorporated community? If that's the case, it's worth pointing out that our friends in Chestnut Hill haven't gotten around to "incorporating" either.

Many thought the game was over when BC found itself facing needing 16 yards on fourth down from its own 26-yard line. However, Shinskie, who had not completed many longer passes in the game, channeled the students singing “Living on a Prayer."

Two points here: 1) while true that Shinskie had not completed many longer passes in the game; of his 17 completions, 10 were 20 yards or more which pretty much makes the one described incredibly consistent with his effort to that point, and 2) um, the game was at Notre Dame, which students would our boy Shinskie have been channeling exactly?

In the end, the Eagles and their fans were disappointed and watched Jimmy Clausen (arguably the NCAA’s least-liked successful player) kneel three times to end the game.

While I realize the qualifier "arguably" was thrown in, doesn't that allow any statement to follow without any factual basis? For example, I could say that Rich Gunnell is, arguably the college player most likely to enjoy being sodomized by vagrants while dressed as Rainbow Brite, but that hardly makes it accurate....likely, but not necessarily accurate.

Clausen made himself even less-likable by shoving Gunnell after the game. The Irish quarterback claims he intended to congratulate the senior captain on his career game, but the receiver was not interested in the “phony” sportsmanship. Gunnell must have said something Clausen did not like, because he gave him a shove and spun away.

There is video of this incident. It is patently clear that Jimmy Clausen was coming up to Gunnell in a show of sportsmanship, phony or otherwise. It is also clear that Gunnell stuck his finger in Clausen's face and began mouthing off. While neither I, nor the author of this putrid article, can testify to precisely what was said, let's not act as though there isn't any type of documentary evidence as to what transpired. "Gee, I guess Gunnell must have said something Clausen didn't like." Yup, I tend to be a little put off too when people begin an exchange by pointing their finger in my face...funny, that?

Clausen was not the only Notre Dame football player to give off a bad impression. Before the game a friend of my father’s watched the Irish’s version of the Eagle Walk, when the players parade into the stadium. An unidentified player looked at the man’s BC hat, looked around, and spat on his chest. Yes, you read that right: a Notre Dame player SPAT on a BC fan. Well aren't they just a friendly bunch?

Ok, I'm calling "bullshit." Let me see if I get this straight, a vaguely identified BC fan ("my father's friend") claims that an "unidentified" ND player spat on him and we just uncritically accept this information? First, since the rest of the incident is so clearly remembered (the player "looked at the man's BC hat, looked around and spat on his chest"), wouldn't you kind of notice who it was? We're expected to believe that this person remembered everything, but the most important detail? ("Yup, so I was really taking in everything but then, wouldn't you know it, I forgot to take a look at the the guy's face and then see who it was in the game program.") Then of course, we have the claim that "he looked around." For what exactly? To make sure no one else saw? In attendance would have have been all of this player's teammates and coaches plus, Oh, I don't know, the throng of BC and ND fans standing there. Tell you what, if you believe it possible that no one else would have borne witness to this, try it for yourself. Next time you're walking through a crowd, try to discreetly spit on someone else's front torso while not being spotted by either that person or anyone else. I will guarantee you that, without even the benefit of a program that identifies you by name, someone will manage to point you out. Based on this risible claim, I think it's fair to say that not only are BC fans stupid, but mendacious and gullible as well.

Luckily for BC fans, there was more to the trip to Notre Dame then the game. True, we would not have a reason to assemble at Notre Dame without the game, but it is as much about the experience. When else are nine college kids going to squeeze into a four-person RV, navigated by three rotating drivers while the others party in the back? That may not have been my experience, but many BC students do it that way. Others drive normal-sized cars or fly, staying in local hotels or with friends on campus.

This gets my vote for being the single worst piece of writing I've read in a column not written by Peter King. Though it nearly defies parody, let me try:

"Sure, without the game, it would have been completely pointless for us to trek out to northern Indiana, but hey...wait, where was I going with this? Oh, right; so, a whole bunch of college kids can squeeze into a clown car and drive cross-country, partying and enjoying themselves along the way....or not, you know, whatever. Actually, there are lots of ways to travel, let me catalog them for you here in this column that is ostensibly dedicated to sports. In my next piece, I'll talk about a number of other things I didn't do and then rattle off a list of other options I could have chosen to, you know, not do."

The cold rainy weather may not have been conducive to campus tours, but Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome are unavoidable. As the only two buildings, besides a water tower, visible above the walls of the stadium, you cannot miss the two sights Domers love the most. Personally, I do not find either one that impressive. They were kind of cool the first time I saw them, two years ago, but the mystique quickly faded. To be honest, the idea of Jesus celebrating a touchdown strikes me as a bit odd – doesn’t he have bigger concerns?

In most cases, I would assume this last sentence to be very poor sarcasm but, in the case of our lobotomized authoress, who the hell knows. In case it's not, allow me to point out that the mural does not depict Jesus celebrating a touchdown; rather it shows him throwing up His hands in exasperated disgust at the remarkable stupidity of BC fans.

Whether or not you loved the well-known structures of Notre Dame’s campus, celebrated the outcome of the game, or enjoyed the weather (not many BC fans did any of these), the experience of going out to Notre Dame is a special one. The student section seems to come together more than at home even; maybe it’s the subtraction of those who do not actually care. BC was serenaded with its fight song after every score without the band to lead the chorus, a feat rarely managed in Alumni Stadium. The trip was a blast, right up until that last 1:48 when Gunnell and Shinskie read the play differently and the ball ended up in the wrong hands. Even still, the experience will be sorely missed if the rivalry does in fact end after next year.

This is stream of consciousness writing that would make William S. Burroughs scratch his head. There is not a linear thought expressed in this entire paragraph. Worse, it contradicts most of the bitching that preceeds it. A perfect end to a perfectly awful column. Could any piece of writing more perfectly summarize the paranoid, incoherent and obtuse mindset of the BC faithful? I'll guess we'll have to wait until next year to find out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

IBG: Fredo is Weak and Stupid Edition

It's been a lousy week. Losing to a rival is bad. Losing in the final seconds to a rival who has beaten you eight straight times is worse. Losing in the final seconds to a rival who has beaten you eight straight times and whose players and coaches have the collective intellect of a one-celled organism and all the class of a common street walker urinating in the bushes...well, you get the idea. This week provides a chance for redemption, though. Sure, it's not USC, but it's a rival who has had ND's number recently and the Irish can exorcise a particularly vexing demon with a win. So, without further adieu, I present this week's IBG:

1. Coming off a very difficult loss to a rival that has now beaten them eight straight times, Notre Dame faces another that's beaten them six straight. Can Notre Dame end the losing streak against BC or will the combined weight of the USC loss and recent history against the Eagles be too much to overcome? Explain.

While the possibility certainly exists that an emotionally drained and physically beaten ND team takes the field against BC on Saturday, I don't think that will be the case. After having lost to Michigan this season, in another hard-fought and tough rivalry loss, the Irish bounced back with a win over a Michigan State team which is looking increasingly solid as the year moves along. So prepared was Notre Dame that they actually jumped on top of the Spartans for a quick 13-3 lead, that actually might have been worse. I would expect the same type of effort this week against the Eagles for two reasons: 1) while Charlie can be maddening as a coach, he has done a good job in keeping the team focused on the game this week and letting go of the last one and, 2) there is going to be a huge, noticeable drop-off in talent between USC and Boston College. Don't get me wrong, BC is a good team and the Irish should not take them lightly; but after taking one of the premier teams in the country to the wire just a week ago, I imagine the Eagles are not going to be nearly as daunting.

2. Not unlike Notre Dame's defense, BC's offense has been pretty erratic this season. While in their most recent win, they rolled up 480 total yards and scored 52 points; in their two losses, they've averaged 109 yards and 11 points. Which BC offense and which ND defense show up on Saturday? Why?

Let's start with the Irish. At this point in the season, I think it's fair to say, Notre Dame's defense is not going to become formidable all of a sudden. While it's nice to think that the combination of talent on both the coaching staff and roster will suddenly gel; after six games, I'm just not buying it. As a result, I see this week's defensive performance being flawed, aggravating and beneath a Pop Warner team comprised of children with rickets. That leaves us with the BC offense. While they have had moments where they've looked, dare I say, 'dominant'; their talent and experience level would suggest something else entirely. I see BC playing better than they have in their previous losses (see: Notre Dame's defense, shittiness of), but still making enough stupid mistakes to allow the Irish to win without any last-second heroics.

3. Does anyone seem primed to have a Robby Parris-like breakout moment against the Eagles? If so, who is it and why?

Shaq Evans. Heading into the USC game, all signs were pointing to him being on the verge of a breakout. Unfortunately, illness prevented him from playing last week against the Trojans. This week, he'll be in there and, since the Irish will likely be without Parris, Evans will get a chance to shine against a team allowing over 200 yards passing per game.

4. It's been an and up-and-down year for Boston sports. After a strong start, the Red Sox folded in the second half of the year. The Patriots, meanwhile, seem to be on the upswing after a 59-0 dismantling of Tennessee. For their part, Boston College has seemed as though their season could go either way. Ultimately, will the Eagles be the Sox or the Pats?

Were it not for the fact that they play in the abysmally bad ACC, it would definitely be Sox. However, since the post-ND portion of the Eagles' schedule looks like a big, fat helping of meh, I would have to default to the Pats (who play in the NFL's version of the ACC, the AFC East). If BC doesn't win eight games against the rogues gallery of suck they play this season, I'll be shocked.

5. While most Irish fans refer to BC as "Fredo", tell me to which other cinematic character you would compare the Eagles.

Sling Blade. Lumbering and mentally deficient, the Eagles are also a team that has proven capable of inflicting great harm if one is not careful with them.

Yeah...it's like that.


Her Loyal Sons get into the brawling spirit!

Charlie's Nasties are screaming for vengeance.

Domer Law is looking for a beatdown of BC.

One Foot Down looks forward to ND going beyond Thunderdome against the Eagles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spirit of '77?

It's been an interesting year for the Fighting Irish. Led by a blond quarterback with a reputation for comebacks, the team kicked off the year with an impressive win before dropping their second game in disappointing fashion. The loss has put ever more pressure on a head coach whose overall record with the program has considered disappointing by the Irish fan base. After pulling together to win their next three games, they are 4-1 and preparing for a home game against a tough USC team ranked in the nation's Top-10. The Trojans have also lost one game, a heartbreaker in the final seconds, but are widely expected to beat Notre Dame, as they've vanquished the Irish in six of the last seven seasons. Still, a certain confidence hangs over ND...
While this could be an assessment of Notre Dame 2009, it is actually where ND stood on the eve of the, now famous, "Green Jerseys Game" against USC in 1977. After throttling the Trojans, 49-19, the Joe Montana-led Irish would go on to win their last five regular season games before destroying the top-ranked Texas Longhorns, 38-10, in the Cotton Bowl. As a result of all this, Notre Dame secured the school's tenth national championship.
If you think the prospect of the Irish winning the national championship this season seems an impossible dream, just remember, it did in October of 1977, too.

IBG: Hatin' on Troy Edition

I hate USC. No, hate really doesn't cover it. I despise USC with an unbridled intensity. They are the unholy manifestation of every rancid thing I can conceive. Their coach is part hippie guru, part overly "friendly" gym teacher, their players are perfectly suited to be extras in "Grand Theft Auto: The Movie"and the student body is a douchier version of "Laguna Beach." If college football were a rug, USC would be the steaming pile of dog excrement sitting atop slowly manifesting itself into a big, brown stain. Yes, folks, I hate this program. With that as my prelude, I now turn to this week's IBG hosted by the awesome, OC Domer:

1. The weather forecast for Saturday's game (as of this writing) has the high temperature in the mid 40's with some chance of rain (or snow?). What weather would give Notre Dame the best chance to beat USC? Why?

I would have to say, cold and clear. The reason I would not like to see either rain or snow is that our offense hinges much more on the passing game than does USC's. With a rainy/snowy day, we would have to rely more heavily on pounding the ball against the Trojans. While our running game has improved significantly this season, I'm not sure we're quite at the point where we can count on it carrying us against a good defense. I'd much rather take my chances with Mr. Clausen being able to chuck it around the yard all afternoon. That said, a day that was unseasonably cold (think visible breath) might work out fine. That would probably be just enough to make the visitors a little uncomfortable with the conditions while still allowing the Irish offense to play its game.

Snow? Maybe with the '92 offense.

2. Irresistable Force or Immovable Object? Notre Dame's offense is ranked #10 in yards (470 per game) and #27 in points (32.6 per game). USC's defense is ranked #6 in yards allowed (238.6 per game) and #4 in scoring allowed (just 8.6 points per game). In 2008 Notre Dame had just 91 total yards against USC. Will the Notre Dame offense be able to move the ball on Saturday? If so, how?

Yes, I definitely think Notre Dame will be much, much better offensively than the last time they squared off against the Trojans. For one thing, Notre Dame seemed to come together as a team, particularly on offense, after their beatdown in LA. Second, USC's defensive numbers are a little inflated. Keep in mind, they haven't exactly faced a murderers' row of offenses. In order they've played:

San Jose State (115th in scoring offense, 118th in rushing offense, 73rd in passing offense and 117th in total offense),
Ohio State (46th in scoring offense, 41st in rushing offense, 108th in passing offense and 86th in total offense)
Washington (67th in scoring offense, 93rd in rushing offense, 42nd in passing offense and 74th in total offense)
Washington State (117th in scoring offense, 116th in rushing offense, 84th in passing offense and 120th...dead last...in total offense)
Cal (41st in scoring offense, 37th in rushing offense, 70th in passing offense and 49th in total offense)

In other words, they've had the benefit of playing, quite literally, two of the worst offenses in the country and several others who are case-studies in mediocrity. I certainly wish those who knock ND's schedule would keep things like this in mind when they heap praise upon the Trojans. Undoubtedly, USC has talent on defense, but they're also very green (8 new starters this year) and largely untested. Simply put, this defense has not faced an offense like Notre Dame's this season and, as a result, I think the Irish will be able to move the ball better than at any time in the last four years against SC.

3. USC's offense is #22 in yards (430.6 per game) and #53 in scoring (28.8 points per game). Notre Dame's defense is #100 in total defense (403.2 yards per game) and #59 in scoring defense (allowing 23.8 points per game). Will the Notre Dame defense be able to slow down the USC offense? If so, how?

Will the real Notre Dame defense please stand up. Because of how they've played this season, I have absolutely no idea which Notre Dame D will be on display against the Trojans. Will it be the ridiculously awful (giving up yards by the acre, missing tackles, blowing coverages), the remarkably good (three goal line stands against Washington, shutting out a potent Nevada offense) or some new wrinkle we've not yet seen? Who knows. With a defense that has as much youth and and as many moving parts as does Notre Dame's, I think calling it a work in progress is an understatement. Speaking of which, this game is going to be a great test of how just much progress has been made by Notre Dame's defense, particularly the front seven. USC's line is very good and very experienced, but if Tenuta can develop a scheme which enables the Irish to both slow the run (I'm not sure stopping the Trojans is a realistic goal) and bring some pressure, I think ND has a very good chance on Saturday.

4. In 2008, with Michael Floyd unable to play due to injury, Golden Tate had 2 catches against USC for a team-high 15 receiving yards. How do you expect Golden Tate to play against USC this year?

Much like Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate has developed immensely as a player since last year's game against the Trojans. More importantly, though, the coaching staff has figured out ways to use him that make GT a weapon all game long. While I definitely think SC will give Tate a ton of attention, I expect that he is still going to get a bunch of yards. I would expect a heavy dose of quick passes, like short slants and outs, that can keep the defense a little off guard and enable Tate to use his natural abilities after the catch.

5. Jimmy Clausen has started to get some Heisman buzz. In your opinion, which Notre Dame player is the most deserving of Heisman attention, Jimmy or Golden Tate? Why?

They're both great candidates, but I have to go with Clausen. Tate has proven to be an incredibly versatile player who can hurt defenses in a lot of ways, but Clausen is unquestionably the key to the offense. In spite of losing his top receiver and playing with a bum toe on his plant foot, Jimmy has continued to be absolutely brilliant and astoundingly accurate. This season, JC has established himself as the premier QB in America and one who gives his team a great chance to win just by being on the field. That type of presence is, obviously, very special and the kind of thing that Heisman's are made of.

His jersey say's '7', but he'll be number '8' on ND's Heisman list.

6. Overrated or Underrated. Notre Dame cracked into the AP Poll at #25 this week. Are they overrated or underrated at #25? Where would you put them in your poll?

Slightly underrated. Last week, Ryan O'Leary, over at Blue and Gold, did a great job analyzing how the Irish have done thus far relative to the rest of the Top-25. What you notice is, in spite of the voter's mindless "analysis"; on the field, not much separates the performances of the various ranked teams. Should ND be a Top-10 team? Not yet, but I think somewhere between 15 and 20 is justified.

7. USC Song Girls: Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill or Anachronism from a bygone era of oppressive sexist stereotypes?

There is virtually nothing any decent, normal human being can possibly like about the University of Southern California (see my intro). That said, the Song Girls are awesome. Sure, sometimes they cheer at the wrong time, but they are consistently hot and thoroughly enjoyable.

Yes, they're hot. No, MENSA will not be calling.

8. Green Jerseys? There's a lot of "green" talk coming from campus this week, and it raises the question of whether the team will be wearing green on Saturday. Do you want to see the green jerseys or not? Why?

No, no, no...for the love of God, no! For years, the wearing of the green jerseys was a special occasion and, perhaps coincidentally, tended to augur well for Irish victory. Since Charlie's been coach, however, they've been used pretty much every season and, with the exception of beating a terrible Army team in 2006, not with much success. So, no, please don't bring out the green jerseys, please don't put names on the backs (ala last year's Hawaii Bowl) and don't erect a giant wooden horse like in '77. Just go out and beat SC mano a mano with no gimmicks, surprises or homages to past success. This team doesn't need to be nostalgic, it needs to punch the Trojans in the mouth and create its own place in Irish lore.

Joe made it work, but this team needs their own mojo.

9. Name the next number in this sequence: -3, -20, -38, -35, _______. Explain.

I'm not noted for my optimism but, screw it, I'm going with +24. This is based, not on some crazy, Phil Steele-like formulation, but rather two things I can't help thinking: 1) after four straight nail-biters, ND is due to come out and thoroughly kick someone's ass, and 2) this team has to be completely fed up with losing badly to the Trojans. No one on this team has ever beaten them and the closest the seniors have come is a 20-point loss in 2006. In my gut, I think the confluence of those two data points should result in a surprisingly lopsided ND win on Saturday.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Random Thoughts: Washington Edition

So, see any good college games lately? Hopefully, by now the pulses of Irish fans have stopped racing and blood pressures have returned to safer levels. It's a criminal understatement to call Saturday's battle against Washington "a good game" - it was amazing. Seven lead changes, three goallines stands, an OT decided by a devastating hit on 4th and 19...what more could you ask for? Should it have been as close? Probably not, but it was and the Irish won. And, with that, here are this week's random thoughts:

What was good:

Jimmy Clausen: A few times during the first half, I wondered whether this was destined to be an off week for Jimmy. It's not that he was playing badly, per se, it's just that some of his decisions (the backward pass to Allen, inability to punch it in from the red zone) seemed to suggest maybe he wasn't at the top of his game. Of course, his final stat line read, 23-31, 422 yards, 2 TDs, 1 int (which was not his fault), which just goes to show how foolish it is to underestimate the awesome ability of James Clausen. 422 yards...are you kidding me?! That's the fifth best total in a game for any Irish QB ever. Then, when you consider how masterful Clausen looked in directing the final drive in regulation (yet again) and on his pass to Tate in OT, you can't help but be amazed. Five games into this season, there is absolutely no question that Jimmy Clausen is the finest QB in America. No player has been more important to his team, no QB has shown the same level of composure or, frankly, ability. That he is not being mentioned as the leading candidate for the Heisman at this point is a far greater indictment of the writers who make those decisions than it is of Clausen.

Golden Tate: As amazing as Jimmy was on Saturday, it's possible he didn't even have the best offensive performance on his own team. That's because Golden Tate went out and had 9 catches for 244 yards (the second best one game total for a receiver in Irish history), 1 TD (very nearly 2), plus an additional 31 yards rushing on the first play of the game for Notre Dame. All up, his 275 total yards are the fourth best one game total in Notre Dame history. Not bad for a guy who was the focus of the defense's attention most of the afternoon. So, how did he do it? Afterall, when Michael Floyd went down, there was concern that defenses would largely take the threat of Tate away. One thing I noticed was that Jimmy moved around in the pocket very well and fairly often. Doing this took took defenders out of their normal coverage just enough for Tate to slip into the seams that then opened up. Since all it takes is a little room for a guy like Golden Tate, this ended up really hurting Washington. Beyond that, though, is the fact that Tate is an absolutely brilliant athlete with amazing instinct and phenomenal ability. I said it last week, I'll repeat it again, just as Jimmy should be at the top of the Heisman list, Tate should be on it very prominently.

The Front Seven: While the tackling still leaves a lot to be desired (more on that later), any time a group can manage three goalline stands in a game, credit must be given. In the many years I've been a fan, I have absolutely never seen an Irish team do that...hell, I don't remember seeing any team do that. What's more amazing to me is that it was accomplished against a big, athletic QB and a running back having a career day. I have had my doubts about the heart of the defense a few times this season but, there is no questioning how much of themselves they put into their efforts near the goalline. That was positively incredible and deserves to go into the annals of Irish lore. On an individual basis, Te'o (10 tackles) looked awesome in his first start. The guy has a nose for the ball and finds his way to it all day long. Kerry Neal was also tremendous chipping in with seven, with two for loss, including a sack. Kyle McCarthy, of course, was the player we all expect him to be - 12 tackles and a bone-jarring hit (along with Harrison Smith) on D'Andre Goodwin of Washington that knocked the ball loose and ended the game. Others who made important contributions: Kapron Lewis-Moore 7 tackles, two for loss, one sack), Ethan Johnson (five tackles, two for loss, one sack, one forced fumble) and Brian Smith (seven tackles). Of course, any time you allow 30 points and 457 total yards, all is not well, but, in the final summary, there were a lot of things to like from this group on Saturday.

Nick Tausch: As excited as Irish fans are, and should be, about the many star performances on both offense and defense Saturday, the one that may have been the most critical was that of Tausch. 5-5 on field goals, 2-2 on extra points and on none was there a doubt as to the outcome. His kickoffs were ok, but the rest of his game was awesome. Notre Dame has a real weapon in Nick Tausch - a confident, accurate scoring machine. The fact that he will be with the program for three more seasons is a huge benefit. Over the last, say, five seasons, how many missed field goals have their been? How different would ND's record look if it had a kicker in whom the coaches had confidence (think Navy 2007 for one)? The importance of a good kicker cannot be overstated and Tausch is absolutely that.

Charlie Weis: For all the complaints I have with Charlie Weis as head coach, I must give him credit for calling a very good game against the Huskies. There were none of the head-scratching calls which had been happening weekly and he largely called plays that exploited the weaknesses of the defense. When an offense puts up 530 total yards and 37 points, it's a good bet that the guy calling the offensive plays is doing something right. True, the red zone offense was a little spotty but, I think that's as much a function of the team as a whole still trying to find a replacement for Michael Floyd in those situations. If 6'5 Duval Kamara would remember how to catch, this problem would be solved but, without that, it will be an issue until someone else steps up. Kyle Rudolph has certainly looked the part with two big 4th quarter touchdown catches the last two weeks, but I'd expect the level of attention he'll be getting from defenses to also go up exponentially. Whether or not Charlie can develop a third option (beyond Tate and Rudolph) in the red zone will, ultimately, determine the fate of the team's offensive production but, this Saturday, he did a nice job.

Robert Hughes: For the second week in a row, Hughes ran like a man possessed. Hughes ran 8 times for 70 yards - an astounding 8.8 ypc. More than that, though, he bailed the Irish out when they needed it most. Be it moving them out of lousy field position or his run to get the Irish their two-point conversion (one of the guttiest I've seen in a long time), Hughes was a beast. Until a week ago, I assumed Hughes had become a forgotten man in the Irish offense. Now, he's one of the most indispensable parts. I've always really liked Hughes. Not only is he a big and powerful runner, but his resolve in coming back to the team in the wake of his brother's murder a few seasons ago was both touching and inspiring. Of all the players on this team, Hughes may be the one for whom I'm happiest. He continues to bounce back from difficulty to prove he's both an incredibly resilient athlete and person.

The Offensive Line: Yes, Clausen was sacked three times, but there's so much more to the story than that. First off, in spite of sacks (and frankly, at least one was Jimmy falling down untouched), the line kept Clausen upright long enough to throw for over 400 yards and, ultimately, Irish runners did pick up 159 yards on the ground while averaging over 5 ypc, minus sacks (29 carries, 159 yards, 5.5 per). What does not show up on the stat sheet, however, is that this unit, like their defensive counterparts, were at their best when they most needed to be. When push came to shove and the game was in the balance, the o-line opened holes and kept Jimmy upright. With each passing week, this is a group that is gaining in confidence and, so it would seem, results. I have no idea what Frank Verducci is doing that his predecessor, John Latina, did not, but I hope he keeps it up.
Notre Dame Fans: Here's to you, Irish faithful. So many times, Notre Dame Stadium seems not to live up to its potential as home field advantage for ND, but that was not the case Saturday. The fans were loud, ornery and involved. On a few occasions, it was clear Locker was really struggling in making calls to his team. I was pleasantly reminded of the 1988 Michigan game where Wolverine QB, Michael Taylor was totally disrupted by the home crowd. Sure, it wasn't quite that loud, but it was a good start. To paraphrase Lou Holtz after the 1988 Miami game, this was a win for the Notre Dame spirit. While the stakes may not have been as high as 21 years ago, the fan's passion nearly was...and that's saying quite a lot.

What, um, sucked:

The Defense: I realize I may seem to be a hypocrite for saying they were at once something that was good and that sucked, but this was an exceptionally schizophrenic group on Saturday. Take a look at the goalline stands - yes, it was amazing that the Irish stopped Washington on those three occasions, but one has to consider that it's this same defense that allowed Washington to get to the goalline in the first place. It's not as though the Huskies just stumbled upon it or a dopplelganger defense invited them there, Irish defenders flailed, blew assignments and missed tackles up and down the field for a huge part of the game. How bad were they at times? Washington came into the game with the nation's 94th ranked rushing offense and gained 176 yards on the ground, including Chris Polk's first 100-yard game. That's pretty bad. A better job was done by the secondary (finally!) in containing Jake Locker. Yes, he had 281 yards passing, but that's eight less than unheralded Joey Elliot had the previous week. Locker is a big-time QB who is capable of single-handedly taking a game into his hands and he wasn't able to do so, finishing with just a 55% completion rate (Jimmy's, conversely, was 74%). Still, things need to get better quickly in order for Notre Dame to have any hope of being a BCS team this season. Notre Dame's defense was particularly awful at the end of the half (allowing Washington a field goal to go ahead) and the end of the game (allowing the game-tying field goal). Also, while the Huskies were a relatively average 7-17 (41%) on 3rd down conversions, those seven always seemed to come at the worst time. The Irish really need to do a better job getting off the field when they've held up the offense for two downs. Eventually, the shortcomings of this defense are going to put the offense in a position from which they can't come back. Let's hope that Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown can find the right formula with their players prior to that happening.
Red Zone Offense*: Feel free to launch the charges of hypocrite yet again. In fairness, though, I'm listing this one with an asterisk. Undoubtedly, Notre Dame did a poor job in the red zone Saturday, including a 1st and goal from the one where they were forced to settle for a field goal. In spite of that, however, I do believe this is an area where we'll see significant improvement in coming games. Michael Floyd, a huge target/diversion in the red zone, went out against Michigan State. Then, against Purdue, Jimmy Clausen only played about half the game. So, basically, this was the first game since Floyd's injury where the starting offense was available to try and figure out life inside the 20 without him. They struggled mightily for a large part of the game, but between the final drive and OT, they improved tremendously. So long as that momentum or mojo or whatever keeps going, I think they'll be fine going forward. Still, it sucked pretty hard Saturday.

Tackling: This was so painfully bad throughout most of the game that I'm actually listing it as a separate category from the defense. Go back and watch the tape of that game. How many times on both run and pass plays did the Irish blow, not one, but multiple tackles? I have no idea who is teaching these guys that the shoulder is a tackling implement, but it is not. Yes, I know all about the last play of the game, it doesn't absolve the billion and one missed shoulder tackles from earlier. The goalline stands were nice, too, but I wouldn't suggest they're a strategy the Irish should count on all season. Furthermore, if you can get your hands on a ball-carrier, you must find a way to bring him down. Arm tackling is not acceptable, you must actually hit someone. This is not accomplished by standing there and catching them. You need to be in motion and moving towards them. I know I'm a broken record on this topic, but it doesn't go away and there seems to be no urgency in making corrections. If players continue utilizing the same failed techniques each week, I can only assume the coaches are not showing them how to do things properly or else they're being totally ignored. Were I Tenuta or Brown, I might think about implementing a "you miss a tackle, you run until you vomit" approach. It might get the players attention a little bit better than the current system of, "you miss a tackle, try the same thing again and, when it fails, keep doing it."
Playing Down to the Competition: Really, this has been the problem all season. Notre Dame has not yet played a team who they are not vastly superior to in terms of talent (including Michigan). Unfortunately, for some reason, rather than coming out and dominating these teams (except Nevada), the Irish seem to play to their level. Forget how much better teams might be than we thought in the preseason - can you honestly point to a team the Irish could not/should not have dominated (definining that concept as winning by two or more touchdowns)? I sure as hell can't. Now, maybe that means they'll play "up to" USC and find a way to win, as they're also more experienced than the Trojans. Still, it's a disconcerting trend and one that the Irish need to move past. The season is far too long to expect last-minute victories each week. Eventually, the law of averages catches up with you and flips the script. Much like tackling and improving the offense in the red zone, in order to have the type of season so many thought possible, Notre Dame needs to develop a killer instinct. Right now, what I'm seeing is a largely passive team that gets fired up when it's back is to the wall. It shouldn't take that, though. The Irish need to believe they're the superior team and then go out and prove to what extent. It needs to be viewed as a personal affront that any team should deign to challenge them. Get pissed and get nasty. Stop being the cat pawing at the mouse...kill the fucking thing already!
All in all, a great win. I do believe this is a game that ought to have been won more comfortably, but I'm still delighted with another 'W.' Just in terms of sheer gameplay, this was one of the best Notre Dame games I've seen in years. While I normally think the writers of College Football News.com are a bunch of anti-Notre Dame crap weasels, writer Aaron Calhoun did a really nice job summarizing how terrific a game this was for college football fans.
Now, it's a much-deserved week off for all of us - players, coaches and fans. After the high drama of the last four weeks, it couldn't come at a better time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Heart Needs The Bye Week...

More to say about tonight's game later but, for now, I think I'll go with, "wow."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

IBG: "Gettin' Grungy Wit It" Edition

With the most popular thing to come from Seattle since that guy who choked to death, that other guy that shot himself and, of course, that rancid, overpriced coffee coming to town on Saturday, IBG founder, Subway Domer, steps up to the plate with this week's questions.

1. Describe your worst nightmare coming true on Saturday. Can that nightmare become a reality?

Well, since my worst nightmare involves being chained in Pete Carroll's basement with him dressed as The Gimp, I pray to God this does not come true. As for the game itself, my biggest fears are that, A) Locker's elusiveness enables him to avoid being tackled and generating yards both on the ground and through the air and, B) the injury bug hits again and any combination of starters go down. In both cases, I do think they can happen and only time and, in the case of the former, good coaching, will determine whether or not they do.

Not shown in picture: a drugged Matt Leinart sans pants

2. Can we all agree that Jake Locker will be the best quarterback that we have/will face all season?

When the season began, I thought Locker would be one of the best we'd see but, to this point, I would have to put him in the top spot. Given the propensity for Notre Dame's defense to turn marginally talented (ahem, Joey Elliot) or completely inexperienced (Oh, I don't know...Tate Forcier and Kirk Cousins) quarterbacks into superstars, this is particularly alarming. ND's defense is going to have to play better against this offense than any they've faced to date, including Nevada, to avoid getting shredded. Think of it in these terms, if Joey Elliot of Purdue can go for nearly 300 yards, what could a guy like Locker do? If you'll excuse me, I'm now going to go rock back and forth while sobbing.

3. Replace two starters on both sides of the football for the Washington game. Who are they, who are they replacing, and why?

Since the defense has been the most inconsistent, I will start with them. First and foremost is Manti Te'o in for Toryan Smith. Washington's run game is not going to terrify many teams (94th nationally) but, as mentioned above, Jake Locker will. Te'o is quicker and more agile than Smith and, as a result, a much better fit to combat both Washington's passing game and Locker's scrambling. In the secondary, I am going to with Gary Gray for Darrin Walls. Walls has really seemed to struggle a bit this season and, based on his performance last game, Gray would appear to have the hot(ter) hand at the moment. Until that changes, I would go with Gray. On offense, I'd bump Robby Parris up past Duval Kamara. Kamara had a miserable game against Purdue with two illegal formation penalties and a few drops as well. Parris, conversely, seems to be a fundamentally solid player who catches what's thrown to him - that gets the nod from me every time. Other than that, it's a tough call. Most other players on offense have played pretty well, so I don't know that any warrant replacing. The only thing I might suggest is rotating in running backs with some regularity to A) ease Allen back into the line-up, B) keep fresh legs in the game and C) give Washington's poor rushing defense more to think about.

4. Ty Willingham enters the stadium in the second quarter. What happens?

Since Willingham is basically King Midas in reverse (to borrow a line from The Hollies), the only thing I can imagine happening is something approaching apocalyptic cataclysm. Both teams would likely contract the ebola virus immediately while the stadium's structural integrity would suddenly become unsound resulting in thousands of fan casualties. What's important to remember, though, is that the real cause of all this will have been racism.

Ty and the rest of his foursome

5. Are you impressed with the improvement in the run game in 2009, or is it a figment of our imagination?

Mostly impressed. While Notre Dame's four opponents don't exactly have the most stout of run defenses (MSU is 45th, UM is 69th, Nevada is 71st and Purdue 99th nationally against the run), ND has definitely asserted themselves on the ground in a manner which was not evident the last two seasons. The Irish are currently 54th in the nation averaging 158 ypg. They ended 2008 101st averaging a shade below 110 ypg and, in 2007, they were 115th averaging about 75 ypg. Clearly, improvements have been made. What's particularly impressive is that this is an offense that, at least until Purdue, really kept their focus on the passing game - the rushing yards have only been a, relatively, minor accompaniment to the pass. What's more, the offensive line proved in the second quarter last week that, if called upon to switch their attention from passing/balanced attack to rushing offense, they can do so. That too represents a step forward. USC will really be a good test of how far this aspect of the offense has come but, to date, they've made great strides.

6. Who's hotter, Wendi Nix or Erin Andrews? Why. Is your hottie a defensive or offensive player?

Erin Andrews. While I certainly think Wendi Nix is attractive, she strikes me as more reserved than does Andrews. Certainly, I can never picture Wendi Nix staging a nude video of herself in order to garner attention (that's right, Andrews, we all know). In addition to the video, Andrews seems, to me, the type that just oozes sex appeal. For one thing, she was on the dance team at Florida which, by virtue of stereotype, means she has the sexual appetite of a young Catherine the Great coupled with the intellect of a young Koko the ape (I kid, I kid...I have no idea if Andrews knows sign language). As to whether she is an offensive or defensive player, my hope would be for defense. Certainly, I can imagine no other sideline reporter whom I'd rather have tackle me.

Fortunately, the Mark May sex tape hasn't found a distributor

7. Predictions please...

While the Huskies have been impressive in the early part of the season, I have a hard time believing that a team which was incapable of winning a game last year has improved dramatically enough in the offseason that Notre Dame shouldn't still be able to beat them. Last year, in Seattle, Notre Dame won by 26 points while throttling the Husky offense. This year, in spite of the return of Jake Locker and arrival of Steve Sarkisian, the outcome should be the same. The game's in South Bend and, if anything, Notre Dame's offense is more versatile than they were a year ago. This combination should be enough to propel ND to another victory in this series. I'm going with, Notre Dame - 31, Washington - 17.