Saturday, October 6, 2007

Right Now, A Win is a Win

Well, it wasn't elegant, but the Fighting Irish dug down deep tonight and found a way to beat the UCLA Bruins, 20-6. I was at the game with my son in the North end zone (not far from Jimmy Clausen's mom), my daughter was sitting four rows behind the Notre Dame bench with her good friend, and we all saw an important victory for the Notre Dame football program. Despite offensive "production" that bordered on pathetic for much of the game, the team avoided the huge offensive mistakes that have plagued them all year and played an effective field position game which ultimately allowed the Irish defense to take control and win the game. I know we were playing against a redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback, but I don't care. I am not too proud to capitalize on those breaks when we get them. The story of this game was an opportunistic defense that played the run reasonably well, pressured he quarterback very well, and made the most of the mistakes they forced UCLA to make.

I plan to write a longer post tomorrow describing our full day at the Rose Bowl, from the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles' "Irishfest" and pep rally, to meeting Aaron Taylor of, to the foul-mouthed UCLA student section which ran out of vulgar chants as the Irish pulled away in the second half, to the amazing crowd of Notre Dame fans that filled the stadium, to the victorious Irish football team coming over to celebrate with the Notre Dame fans at the end of the game, to the UCLA Band performing in front of an empty stadium after the game, to the buzz that built in the stadium as the crowd began to get word via cell their cell phones that USC was going to lose to Stanford! I took a lot of pictures and that full post is going to take a while to compose, and it will have to wait until I get back from the playoff game between the Angels and the Red Sox. Look for it tomorrow night.

But I do want to post a few quick thoughts gleaned from my seats in Section 10, Row 7, before I crash for the evening.

I don't know if you read my pre-game UCLA post, but I'm feeling pretty good right now about how I analyzed this game. To re-cap, I predicted the Irish would win based on the following factors:

1. I said it was practically a home game for the Irish. There was a huge Notre Dame presence in that stadium. Irish fans filled the stands in both end zones, corner to corner. And they were loud! Several times when UCLA had the ball at one end of the field or the other, the Notre Dame crowd got loud enough (I believe) to rattle the UCLA offense and it's inexperienced quarterback. I refuse to accept more than my share of credit for winning the game, but I do believe the fans helped the team tonight.

2. I noted that UCLA seemed to be prone to turnovers, and that if Notre Dame could force the action a little bit there would be some opportunities for game-changing plays. Well, UCLA had five fumbles on the night, and Notre Dame recovered three of them, including one that Maurice Crum returned for a touchdown. Their back-up quarterback added four interceptions. It's safe to say that turnovers played a key role in the win. It should be noted that Notre Dame did not turn the ball over tonight. That's a huge deal.

3. I mentioned that UCLA has not been a team that "starts fast", allowing teams to keep games close until the fourth quarter. I felt that if UCLA allowed Notre Dame to keep it close into the fourth the Irish would find a way to win. That's exactly how it played out. Despite the fact that UCLA moved the ball well and dominated time of possession in the first half (17:13 to 12:47), they only managed two field goals and took a three-point lead into half-time. They allowed the Irish to hang around long enough to figure out how to exploit UCLA's quarterback situation, and the Irish made them pay.

4. I explained that 4-1 UCLA was a good team, but not great, as they were not dominating anyone. At 4-2, UCLA fans on the post-game radio shows are now wondering if UCLA is even "good" at this point.

5. Finally I mentioned that UCLA is a run-first team, somewhat banged up. I felt that if we could get them out of their run-first comfort zone and force the QB to make plays, it would work to our benefit. It didn't go the way I figured it would, but UCLA was forced to go away from the run when they got behind, and it worked in our favor because they were playing a back-up QB by then who made a lot of mistakes (while being pressured).

So, the OC Domer had a pretty good bead on this game. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

I will have to watch the game later to see how the offense looked from a better angle, but I can't believe we weren't able to work the ball down the field. Clausen had all day to throw at times and could find nobody to throw to. We kept throwing the horizontal passes for no-gain or 1 yard, which was driving me nuts because UCLA was basically doubling our outside receivers much of the night and inviting us to run the ball. Although it didn't net much yardage, I was glad that Coach Weis showed more of a commitment to running the ball tonight. James Aldridge had 22 carries. He only averaged 2.4 yards per carry, but he was actually more effective than those numbers show. By getting positive yards with the run, instead of going backwards via the sack, we were able to punt the ball away and remain competitive in the field position battle. In the fourth quarter, we were actually pounding on the UCLA defense, controlling the ball, the tempo, and the clock. Again, even though the yards weren't big, it was an effective use of the run.

All in all, a perfect day. USC lost in humiliating fashion, and I got to be there to see the Irish get their first win of the year.

Overheard on the walk back to the car after the game -

UCLA fan taunting Notre Dame fan: "1 and 5! 1 and 5! 1 and 5!"

Notre Dame fan: "You know what's worse than being 1 and 5? Getting beat by Notre Dame!"

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