Did anyone else notice that Sparty was wearing some sort of flamenco dancer outfit last Saturday? Am I the only one who was disturbed by this? I'd put a picture up if I had one, but fortunately for all of you, I haven't been able to find one on the web.
My performance on last week's predictions was a mixed bag. My analysis of the match-up between the MSU offense and the Irish defense was pretty accurate, but my expectation that Notre Dame would be able to control the game with its rushing attack was woefully off the mark. I was right however about my key to the game:
[T]he key to the game will be taking care of the football, and winning the field position game. Crucial to that battle will be the ability of the Notre Dame offense to consistently move the chains and keep possession of the ball. I don't expect Sparty to turn the ball over six times. For the Irish to score, we'll need to sustain drives and finish them when we get the chance. If we have a bunch of 3-and-outs tomorrow, or if we're kicking field goals in the red zone instead of PATs, we're in trouble.So how did the Irish do with respect to the above goals? We lost the turnover battle, throwing two interceptions and losing one fumble, versus MSU's single lost fumble. And we were awful at sustaining and finishing drives. While Sparty was a very impressive 4 for 4 in the Red Zone (two touchdowns and two field goals), the Irish were 0 for 2.
Notre Dame had 12 offensive possessions. Here were the results of Notre Dame's best four drives (in diminishing order of success):
- 75 yards on 8 plays: Touchdown. (Whoo-hoo!)
- 57 yards on 10 plays: Missed FG attempt.
- 56 yards on 6 plays: INT.
- 51 yards on 7 plays: Fumble.
- 3 plays for minus-8 yards (punt)
- 3 plays for 3 yards (punt)
- 6 plays for 10 yards (punt)
- 6 plays for 34 yards (missed FG attempt)
- 2 plays for 0 yards (INT)
- 7 plays for 19 yards (punt)
- 3 plays for minus-13 yards (punt)
- 4 plays for 7 yards (turned over on downs)
I am a big Charlie Weis defender. I really believe that as a Notre Dame alumnus he "gets" Notre Dame like few others, and I think that is important. I think he's a good NFL coach who is learning the college coaching ropes and has been hampered by a Ty Willingham talent deficiency that he has been working very effectively to address. I think he's the right man for the job.
But I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get WHY THE FIGHTING IRISH OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME STILL CAN'T RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!!?????? I just don't understand it. I'm not going to analyze match-ups and videotape and break down the X's and O's of why. That shouldn't be necessary because I hold it as an article of faith that NOTRE DAME SHOULD BE ABLE TO RUN THE FOOTBALL!! We should be able to recruit talented, large, smart football players and teach them to consistently push around the smaller, less talented, less smart players from other schools. That our offensive linemen can't consistently win the battle at the point of attack is a FAILURE.
And this is not new for 2007 and 2008. Even when the Irish were having great offensive success and winning a lot of games in 2005 and 2006, they could not consistently run the ball. I've been saying since the Brady Quinn era that if your best short yardage play is the quarterback sneak you have a real problem. Even when Darius Walker was putting up decent numbers, he wasn't doing it via the power run game. It was mostly draw plays, and it was mostly on his own after dodging defenders in the backfield.
I don't know if it's Coach Weis' system, or offensive line coach John Latina's ineffectiveness, or the players we've brought into the program - but Notre Dame football will not be a credible Top-10 team until we can line up and reliably run the ball for 3 or 4 yards even when the opposition and everyone in the stadium knows it's coming.
But I digress. The loss to Michigan State was very disappointing. In 2007 MSU beat Notre Dame by 17 points. Last Saturday they beat us by 16 points. That's not quite the progress I was looking for. The defense actually did a fine job of mostly containing Javon Ringer until he broke off a long run late in the game against a tired defense. Jimmy Clausen and the passing game is getting better and better - but Jimmy has to quit with the interceptions. NOW. They are drive killers and momentum changers no matter where on the field they occur. The MSU game was typical in that Notre Dame had just 12 possessions. You have to make the most of your chances and throwing the ball to the other team does not maximize return on investment.
For what it's worth, Notre Dame lost the field position battle against MSU. Average starting field position for the Irish was the 29 yard line. ASFP for Sparty was the 32. Coincidence? I think not.