Monday, September 14, 2009

Parting The Clouds

Thank God for Mondays. While yesterday was one of the worst days of my Notre Dame fandom (and there've been some beauties over the years), today felt a lot better. With the benefit of a little extra time, some insight from other Irish fans (foremeost among them, my esteemed colleague, Subway Domer) and, frankly, a desire not to give up on a season that's just two weeks old, I've turned a corner. The Michigan game is dead, let's move forward. As readers know, I am no pollyanna when it comes to this team. In fact, in the past, I have even been excused of being, ahem, too negative. Against that backdrop, I am issuing the following request/directive to my fellow Irish fans: Do not lose heart. Do not give up. In this, our darkest hour, I put to you reasons for optimism.

  • The offense is frighteningly good: As has been widely discussed, this offense is, quite possibly, the best in school history. How good are they? On one of his worst days, Golden Tate still led the team in catches (9) for over 100 yards and two scores. More important, though, is the fact that, in a pass-first offense, Notre Dame has a better running game than at any point in the last three years. Yes, there were some problems against Michigan, but this team has now gone over 150 yards on the ground in each of its first two games in spite of the run being largely an afterthought in this offense. Now with a balanced attack, the potential for this offense is off the charts. That fact alone gives this team more than a chance in every single game this year.
  • The defense will improve: Coming into this season, we all knew that the defensive line was an area of concern, but we also knew that it had a great deal of young talent. The good news is, this defense will only improve as the season goes on. As the younger players get reps and become acclimated to the college game, their abilities will start to take over and the results will be better. Think of it another way, would you rather have the defenses of 2005 and 2006 or this one? In terms of pure talent and potential, there is no question as to the answer. The 2005 and 2006 teams had very marginal defenses whose shortcomings were glossed over because of a prolific offense. The 2009 team has a much more talented core of defensive players around which to build and a phenomenal offense to carry them through the growing pains (see above). Plus, in Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta, the Irish have two outstanding defensive minds (not to mention guys like Bryant Young and Randy Hart) which is something they did not have in the past either (uh, Rick Minter, anyone?). I know it may not seem it right now, but all of the tools are there for this to be a very, very good defense in 2009.
  • The schedule improves: While it obviously remains to be seen as to how difficult the schedule will ultimately be, what is undeniable is that Notre Dame will be at home for four of the next five games. And, of those away from Notre Dame Stadium, one is against a rebuilding Purdue team and one is in San Antonio against a still bad Washington State team. The best thing for a team coming off a tough loss on the road is the comfort and support of a home crowd. If the fans that show up on Saturday are raucous, supportive and get the place rocking, the Michigan game will be a distant memory for Irish players.
  • Stuff happens: On the same day that Notre Dame was losing to Michigan, the fifth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys were losing at home to an unranked Houston team. Earlier in the day, a Michigan State team that was supposed to be a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title lost to Central Michigan. In both cases, the better team lost...and that's just one Saturday. Yes, it always sucks when it's your team that loses and, yes, it's even worse when the loss comes to a rival but, unfortunately, sometimes upsets do happen. Obviously, if this loss begets others, it's a problem; but what if it doesn't? What if this is an isolated incident, one of those early season upsets I briefly discussed in last week's IBG. Is 11-1, 10-2 or, even 9-3 not a good season? I know, at Notre Dame the goal is a national championship every year, but let's face it, that was probably a long-shot at best in 2009. What's more, in past years, the reason a 9-3 record wasn't considered "good enough" was because it was more anomaly than trend. It was because at some point, in the subsequent two years, Notre Dame would drop to 6-6 or worse. At this point, though, recruiting is great, depth has improved and there's every reason to think that, with a good season in 2009, the Irish will be heading for even brighter seasons down the road. Consider this, while most Notre Dame fans (myself included) remember the Holtz era as "the good old days"; even then the team routinely lost a handful of games. In '87 they lost four games, they lost three in '90 (including a brutal upset at home to Stanford while the Irish were #1...the Cardinal ended the year 5-6, by the way), another three in '91 (including a loss at Michigan in their second game and a heartbreaking loss at home to Tennessee late in the year...ND was up 31-7 at the half and lost 35-34), then they lost five games plus a tie in '94 and three in both'95 and '96. So, yes, Lou had '88 (12-0) and '89 (12-1) and he had '92 (10-1-1) and '93 (11-1), but he had an awful lot of three loss seasons, too. If a three-loss 2009 were the start of a Lou-like run, would anyone complain?

My point in bringing all this up is, while spirits may be low right now, as fans, we really need to lift up our chins, grit our teeth and root like hell for this team come Saturday. Being a fan, a real fan, can be both the most exhilirating and nauseating experience imagineable. In good times, we celebrate, in bad we mourn, but we always come back...that's the deal. Indeed, Saturday was a very bad time but, as I've hopefully shown above, there's an awful lot to get excited about with this team. More importantly, even if you're fed up with Charlie or think Tenuta's overrated or whatever, there's a team full of kids who came to this school and who've worked their asses off to be a part of this program and to help it regain its prominence - they deserve both our respect and wholehearted support. With that, I say to you, my fellow Irish fans, quit your bitching, quit your moaning and let's kick some Spartan ass on Saturday. Go Irish, beat Spartans!

1 comment:

Craig said...

You asked about whether we'd rather have the defense from 2005 or this one... man, if we could just put the front seven from 2005 together with our secondary right now, I think we'd have a national championship contender on our hands. The amount of talent in the front seven in '05 (and on the DL in '06) was top notch.