Thursday, October 23, 2008

We Are Purdue? (UNC Post-Mortem)

I've got a real numbers-crunch of a post coming up to recap the first six games of the 2008 football season, but for the sake of having a complete blog record for the 2008 season I wanted to put down just a few quick hitters on the very disappointing 29-24 loss to North Carolina.

What team does this sound like? They amass nearly 500 yards of total offense, out-gain their opponent by 150 yards, but rush for less than 100 yards, turn the ball over 5 times and lose a close game they clearly should have won. If you said "Purdue" you are either on the same wavelength as me or you read the title of this post. It hit me earlier tonight that in the loss to the Tar Heels the Irish managed to end up looking like a Joe Tiller Boilermakers squad. Basketball on grass, throwing the ball all over the yard, but when it came to crunch time unable to control the ball and the clock and prone to making stupid mistakes that cost them the game. I'm not sure exactly what the point of this analogy is, but I think it means that if you want to rise above the Purdues of the football world you better figure out how to run the ball when you need to, and you better quit coughing up the football while you're nursing an 8-point lead.

Bottom line on the North Carolina game: The offense looked great passing the ball, and mediocre running the ball. The defense looked okay, but not great, allowing 5.0 yards per play, forcing zero turnovers and bagging just one sack. Certainly the defense was good enough to win if the offense doesn't turn the ball over 5 times (2 INT, 3 lost fumbles). Frankly, no team deserves to win after coughing it up 5 times.

The lesson to be taken away is that the team has evolved to the point where there is a whole lot riding on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The defense and the players around Clausen on offense are good enough that the Irish stand a very good chance of winning most weeks if Jimmy plays well. By the same token, if Clausen has a bad game, or makes crucial mistakes, the team is probably going to lose. That's a big burden to carry. That's life as the quarterback at Notre Dame. In Chapel Hill Jimmy Clausen let his teammates down by not taking care of the football, and it cost his team the game despite all the other great plays he made on the day. And the turnovers were not a fluke. Jimmy has been prone to the occasional really bad throw this season, while UNC has had a knack for forcing turnovers. The situation called for being extra careful with the ball, and instead we self-destructed. The Carolina game was truly one that got away. A road win against a ranked opponent would have been a very big step forward for this team. Hopefully they take the lessons of that game to heart and bring home the big in next time.

It should be noted that Notre Dame's Average Starting Field Position (ASFP) was the 22 yard line, North Carolina's ASFP was the 33. Once again, the team that won the field position battle won the game.

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