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 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 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.'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 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 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.