Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I Hope the Buckeyes Get Blown Out

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and that you're still enjoying some quality time with the family for the Holidays. There's nothing quite like Bowl Season to warm the heart of a football fan. So, I was looking over the schedule for the next couple of weeks and thinking about the BCS Championship game (January 7th). And I started to get really annoyed.

Is Ohio State really one of the best two teams in the nation? Of the 117 Div I-A teams that suited up this year, is Ohio State truly one of the two teams that are most deserving of the opportunity to play for a National Championship? I considered that question for a moment, then I started screaming "NOOOOOOOOooooooooo!!!!!!!"

Let's hop into the wayback machine and look at an excerpt of what was posted here at OC Domer back on May 29th of this year:

... Aw heck. You need to click on the link and read the whole thing. I can't pick out an excerpt, because I don't want to leave anything out, and I don't want to paste the entire post here.

The gist of the post (an OC Domer Classic) is that Ohio State's schedule was a freaking joke this year, and it was blindingly obvious back in May that their schedule was going to be a joke. No "elite" program playing that schedule deserves to win a championship.

Which is why I hope that LSU blows the doors off the Buckeyes. It's also why the Tigers will whip OSU. The Tigers are battle tested. The Buckeyes lost to the only good team they played.

Surely we can do better than this for a Championship game.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Card from OC Domer

If you're like me, Christmas is about kids. Your own kids, certainly. But also the kid in you. For me, Christmas is about memories of Christmases past; and my ideas about what Christmas is and how it should be celebrated are strongly influenced by the way we did Christmas when I was a kid. I suppose it says a lot about the times we live in (or grew up in), but two of my most cherished Christmas memories come from the world of television. I watched a lot of "Christmas Specials" as a kid, but two of them have really stuck with me through the years.

The first is Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. "Grinch" is excellent from start to finish, but two scenes are my particular favorites. The first scene is not as much about Christmas as it is about the nature of evil. I remember as a kid being amazed at how clever and quick the evil Grinch was, but also unnerved by how cold hearted he was. How could he do that to little Cindy-Lou Who?

Then he stuffed all the food up the chimney with glee.
"And NOW!" grinned the Grinch, "I will stuff up the tree!"

And the Grinch grabbed the tree, and he started to shove
When he heard a small sound like the coo of a dove.
He turned around fast, and he saw a small Who!
Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two.

The Grinch had been caught by this little Who daughter
Who'd got out of bed for a cup of cold water.
She stared at the Grinch and said, "Santy Claus, why,
"Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?"

But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!
"Why, my sweet little tot," the fake Santy Claus lied,
"There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side.
"So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear.
"I'll fix it up there. Then I'll bring it back here."

And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head
And he got her a drink and he sent he to bed.
And when Cindy-Lou Who went to bed with her cup,
HE went to the chimney and stuffed the tree up!
Man, anybody who could steal Little Cindy-Lou Who's Christmas tree after looking into those innocent eyes is a heartless bastard. And I'll never forget "that old Grinch was so smart and so slick - He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!"

But of course the message of "Grinch" is not that the Grinch was a bad guy (though he was), but that Christmas was more than trees and presents.

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!


Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

And what happened then...? Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he...


The Grinch ...

carved the roast beast!

The other classic Christmas special that has stayed with me is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even after all these years it's probably the best Christmas special ever done. Many speculate that given the sectarian political correctness that has overtaken our country, there is no way such a blatantly Christian Christmas special would be produced today. Happy non-denominational agnostic Winter holiday to all of you!

Charlie Brown Christmas did a wonderful job skewering the commercialization of Christmas before it became fashionable to do so. Nobody can forget Charlie Brown's pitiful little Christmas tree amidst the splendor of the multi-color aluminum trees on sale at the local lot.

But of course the highlight of the show was Linus explaining to a confused and depressed Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas.
And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid ... And the angel said unto them, "Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord."

"And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men."

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

No doubt there will be trees and presents and roast beast, but in the true spirit of the season OC Domer wishes all of our readers from near and far (I'm talking to you, Poland) a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Michigan Hires Wrong Mountaineer Coach!

As the 1963 football season drew to a close, the University of Notre Dame was badly in need of a new football coach. Hugh Devore had just led the Irish to a 2-7 record, following four years under Joe Kuharich (1959-1962) when the Irish were 17-23 and never posted a winning record. Following the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, hire away their coach" Notre Dame turned its storied program over to Coach Ara Parseghian. While head football coach at Northwestern University, Parseghian had gone 4-0 against the Irish over four straight years from 1959 through 1962. The rest, as they say, is history.

On September 1st of this year, the University of Michigan made college football history by losing, at home, to the eventual champions of NCAA Division I-AA football, the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The Mountaineers ran a newfangled spread offense that totally baffled the Wolverines and the U of M loss to a Div I-AA school ranks among the most humiliating defeats in the history of the NCAA. The 34-32 final score of that game is in no way indicative of how thoroughly the Mountaineers dominated the Wolverines that day.

So, when Llloyd Carr finally decided to step down as Michigan head coach, it was only natural, following the example set by Notre Dame 43 years ago, that the Wolverines would reach out for ... the head coach of the Mountaineers of the University of West Virginia. D'Oh!

Yes, the WVU Mountaineers are from the same general region of the country as the Appalachian State Mountaineers, and they also run one of those newfangled spread offenses (which will no doubt be a great fit for uber-freshman QB Ryan Mallet), and they of course share the same nickname (which no doubt accounts for much of the confusion), but Rich Rodriguez of the West Virginia Mountaineers is NOT the same coach that opened a can of whoop-ass on the Wolverines back in September. The West Virginia coach has never beaten Michigan, and is 0-2 lifetime against the Big 11. But he has absolutely owned Rutgers and Syracuse.

No, the Coach Michigan meant to hire is Jerry Moore of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, who in his 19 years there has amassed a 167-70 record (.705 winning %) and won three straight Div I-AA championships. But, as we all know, National Championships aren't really that important at Michigan, as long as you can lay claim to a share of the Big 11 title every few years. No doubt the U of M athletic director wanted a guy with experience at the Div I-A level. After all, look at how badly it turned out for Ohio State when they hired a head coach out of Div I-AA Youngstown State. Clearly the Wolverines didn't want to repeat that mistake.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Stanford Recap (finally)

I've been promising an expanded recap of the Stanford game since the day the game was played, and I apologize for being so slow to get it done. I admit that I am out of shape and was feeling very fatigued as the disastrous 2007 football season finally came to a merciful end. I experienced the 2007 campaign mostly from my sofa and my computer keyboard while 2,000 miles from campus (though I did catch one home game and one road game) and I was emotionally worn out by it. I can only imagine how hard it must have been on the players and coaches.

Since posting my very brief initial thoughts on the Stanford win, I've been second guessing myself a bit, wondering why my opinion of the game seemed so much more negative than everyone else's. After watching the game I was left with the strong impression that we played poorly, that we were lucky to win, and that the victory, while very much welcome, was not a step forward for the program (at least as far as level of play goes). Having finally reviewed the game stats in detail, I can see that, once again, I was 100% correct in my initial analysis. No need for applause.

Before I begin, let's recall that this game was played against STANFORD. They were 4 and 8 on the year, ranked 107th in total offense and 97th in total defense in the NCAA. They finished the year ranked #76 by Jeff Sagarin. So how'd we do?

Notre Dame had sixteen possessions in the game. Here is how we fared on offense on each of those sixteen possessions:

  • First Drive. 7 plays, 70 yards, lost fumble by Robert Hughes at the Stanford 8 yd line. (Key play, other than the drive-ending fumble, was a Hughes 45-yard run).
  • Second Drive. Clausen sacked and loses fumble on first play.
  • Third Drive. 6 plays, 18 yards, punt.
  • Fourth Drive. After a Zibby interception, 2 plays, 14 yards, Clausen runs 2 yds for TD.
  • Fifth Drive. 4 plays, 9 yards. Ball turned over on downs when Irish fail to convert on a 4th and 1 from our own 36.
  • Sixth Drive. 7 plays, 56 yards, Schwapp loses fumble at the Stanford 13 yard line.
  • Seventh Drive. 3 plays, minus-3 yards, punt.
  • Eighth Drive. 3 plays, 2 yards, punt.
  • Ninth Drive. 7 plays, 75 yards, Travis Thomas 1-yard TD run. Key play in the drive was a 44 catch and run by Junior Jabbie.
  • Tenth Drive. Kneel down to end the first half.
  • Eleventh Drive. 7 plays, 5 yards, missed 44 yard field goal attempt. (Note that this "drive" was aided by a roughing the punter personal foul penalty on Stanford after the first three plays went for minus-9, minus-1, and minus-6 yards.)
  • Twelfth Drive. 6 plays, 25 yards, punt.
  • Thirteenth Drive. 7 plays, 22 yards, punt. (This "drive" was aided by a personal foul face mask penalty on Stanford).
  • Fourteenth Drive. 3 plays, 0 yards, Clausen intercepted.
  • Fifteenth Drive. 6 plays, 68 yards, Robert Hughes 6-yard rushing TD. Key play was a 44-yard Hughes run.
  • Sixteenth Drive. Kneel down to end game.
Sixteen possessions. Throw out possessions 10 and 16, which were kneel downs. Of the remaining 14 possessions, three of them ended on lost fumbles, one ended on a Clausen INT, one ended on a failed 4th-and-1, and one ended on a missed (but very makable) FG attempt. That's 43% of the time that our offensive possessions ended in mistakes that either cost us crucial field position or a scoring opportunity (or both). We scored on three of the fourteen possessions (21% of the time), and punted 5 times (36%). All-in-all that is not very efficient offense.

The Irish converted just 4 of 13 third down opportunities (31%) and were 0 for 1 converting 4th downs. Clausen was sacked five times, and Stanford beat us in time of possession 34:15 to 25:45 (and actually held the time of possession margin for each of the four quarters).

Jimmy Clausen was 19 of 32 (59%) passing for 196 yards, no touchdowns and 1 INT. It's hard to evaluate his game. One the one hand, the game plan seemed to call for a lot of lower-percentage deep throws down the field. When you're being asked to make a lot of those throws, you have to figure you'll have a lower completion percentage. Yet, despite the felonious over-turning of the David Grimes TD, Clausen still had a good completion percentage. On the other hand, his percentage should have been lower. In my wrap-up of the Duke game I wrote:
Behind the stats, the biggest step forward I saw was Jimmy Clausen's progress in eliminating the big negative play. Certainly he has largely eliminated the fumbles and interceptions that plagued him early in the season. Yesterday I noticed that he has also eliminated the big, drive-killing sack. Early in the year, when pressured, Jimmy was prone to using a spin move to elude a tackler and then looping deep behind the line of scrimmage to buy time and/or escape the rush. Only he didn't escape anyone and instead we were routinely seeing sacks for losses of 10, 12, 14 and more yards. It seems that Clausen now understands that EVERYONE on the opposing defense is fast enough to chase him down from behind and that he has to move forward or laterally in the pocket before running toward the first down line or throwing the ball away.
Clausen took a step backward in this department against Stanford. He was sacked five times against the Cardinal, for losses of 8, 7, 9, 6, and 7 yards. Those aren't huge sacks for big yards, but the problem is that the sacks were mostly avoidable. Most of those sacks came with Clausen flushed from the pocket and moving toward the sideline looking for a receiver, then simply stepping out of bounds for a 6 or 7 yard loss rather than throwing the ball away. The right play there is to throw the ball away to keep you team in a manageable down-and-distance situation. 3rd and 7 is a lot easier to manage than 3rd and 14. So, while Clausen was 19 of 32, he should have thrown the ball away at least three times and been something more like 19 of 35 (54%).

A decent defensive day for the Irish combined with a snake-bit Stanford offense meant that Notre Dame was just able to squeeze one more game into the win column despite the sloppy offensive showing. Stanford converted just 6 of 17 times on third down, and they missed four field goal attempts. In the final 30 seconds, Stanford receivers dropped TWO touchdown passes that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime (assuming the PAT) or won the game (if they made a 2-pt conversion). So, while Irish fans are certainly happy to have won the game, you have to put this one in the "ugly win" category.

Some quick hits:
  • The field conditions were an embarrassment to Stanford University and its alumni around the world who contributed the money to build a brand new, modern football stadium. I wonder where all that money went?
  • The game officials were an abomination before God and shouldn't be allowed ever again to preside over a frosh-soph football game let alone a Division I game. I hope they were too ashamed to actually cash their game checks. Not that they need to cash those checks as I'm sure the Stanford boosters paid in cash. (Kidding!)
  • The ESPN announcers on the television broadcast need to go back to calling figure skating. I could not believe how much they whined about the shot the Stanford QB took on his noggin. Yes, it was a nasty looking hit. It's always dramatic when the QB's helmet flies off after he gets hammered. But you guys are not doctors! You have no idea if he has a concussion or any other injury! Do you not think Jim Harbaugh has just a little insight into how a QB feels and reacts after getting his clock cleaned? How about you guys quit crying and commend the young man for being tough enough to strap it on and get back out on the field. This is big-boy football, not synchronized swimming.
  • How about all those empty seats in the new (and very cozy) Stanford stadium? That was just a shame. Way to bring it Cardinal fan.
So, Notre Dame played a sloppy, ugly game against a weak opponent and came home with a "W". What are the good things to take away?
  • Despite all the adversity, the team held it together and found a way to win.
  • Duval Kamara had catches for 16, 12, 35, 8, 9, and 13 yards. He is going to be a star.
  • Robert Hughes could use just a little more top-end speed, but he has great instincts at the line of scrimmage. His footwork to get into and through the hole is fantastic. Good luck to anyone that tries to pry him out of the starting line-up.
  • David Bruton (OC Domer Player of the Year) led the team with 9 tackles, 8 of them solo. Can you say "pre-season All American"?
Whew. Glad to finally get that done. I've got some ideas for some post-season posts that you'll see in the coming weeks. And you might start seeing some political stuff here at OC Domer, as the 2008 election year gets into full swing. So be sure to check back occasionally.

Go Irish! Beat Aztecs!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Coach Weis 2007 Wrap-up Press Conference

Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis met with the media today for what he loosely termed a "wrap-up" of the 2007 season. Unfortunately, Coach Weis didn't really offer much in the way of a "wrap-up" and didn't have much to say of substance regarding the recently concluded 2007 season. Rather than the opening monologue that he typically opens a press conference with, he just threw it open to questions at the outset. I'm not going to summarize the entire press conference, but I did want to quickly relate what I thought were the key points.

1. Four Notre Dame players have been invited to and will attend the upcoming Senior Bowl to be played in Mobile, Alabama. They are John Sullivan (Center), John Carlson (Tight End), Trevor Laws (Defensive End) and Tom Zbikowski (Safety). Congratulations and good luck to those guys as they move on to the next phase of their football careers.

2. Coach Weis and the entire staff are locked in like laser beams on recruiting right now, and will be until December 17. They have been in the homes of every Notre Dame commit in the past week, as well as in the homes of a lot of other potential commits as well.

3. Coach Weis has been very pleased with the results (so far) of the new approach to recruiting and "commitment." Even through a very tough season, the kids that committed to the Irish early are still on board and are vested in the program and in each other already.

4. So you think you want to play football in a big-time college program? Where were you at 6:00 this morning? The members of the Notre Dame football team were in the weight room beginning their off-season strength and conditioning program.

5. Given his choice, Coach Weis would rather be practicing and preparing the team for a bowl game. But, he points out that the benefits of extra practices is the development of the young players who will be playing more minutes next season. In the case of this team, our young players have already been playing significant meaningful minutes in games. What those guys need most is the time in the weight room to transform their bodies from high school player to NCAA Div-I football player. Not practicing now means these young guys get a one month head start on that strength program. Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

6. Coach Weis expects at least one, and possibly two mid-year enrollees this year, but he couldn't say who they would be.

7. He voted Ohio State #1 and Georgia #2 on his poll ballot. He thought it was unfair for UGA to be penalized for not playing this weekend. OSU and UGA were #3 and #4 going into the weekend, and #1 and #2 both lost, so he felt #3 and #4 should move up.

8. Coach Weis admitted that the idea of coaching special teams by committee (that's my term) did not work this year. He would prefer to return to having a single coach in charge of special teams "If it's the right person." That sounded to me like a "Help Wanted" ad for a special teams coach.

9. Coach may be on his way to being named one of 21 members of a Presidential commission concerning persons with disabilities. He was recently in Washington D.C. and met with the "The Big Boss" about that possibility.

10. Coach was asked several times about what lessons he learned from this season, what mistakes he made, what he would have done differently, changes that might be made in the coaching staff, etc... These were great questions, and they were the type of questions one might reasonably expect to be addressed in a season "wrap-up" press conference. Charlie refused to answer any of them, instead reiterating point #2, above. Once the current phase of recruiting is over, Charlie and the staff will begin systematically addressing the "what went wrong" issue and the "how can we fix it" question. For some reason I do not expect that Coach Weis will be issuing a White Paper in the Spring detailing the results of that inquiry.

So that's today's news. I have been remiss in not posting my full Stanford game review. That will be written in the coming days, as well as some of my thoughts on the season as a whole.

Only 277 days until San Diego State.