Friday, December 26, 2008

Joy to the World

The. Best. Christmas. EVER!

How awesome was it to see this Notre Dame football team play the way we all expect Notre Dame football teams to play? When faced with a 7-6 team from the Western Athletic Conference, the Irish did what Notre Dame should do to teams from the WAC - they crushed 'em.

I had a lot of questions and an uneasy feeling in my stomach going into the game. In my pre-game post I wanted to know if the team would be their traditional bowl-game slow, sluggish and sloppy or if they would show up focused, fast, and physical. I guess those questions were answered. Granted, we weren't playing a top-tier team in a BCS bowl, but after watching the Irish lose at home to Syracuse and fritter away games against Pitt and UNC this season, the key questions were about team morale and whether these players still wanted to play for Coach Weis. Clearly, the team is still behind Charlie, and just as clearly Coach Weis and his staff figured something out about how to prep for a bowl game, because the team was dominant. They totally out-classed, out-played, and out-coached Hawaii. Memo to U of H coaching staff: Nobody in the WAC can cover Golden Tate one-on-one.

The preparation and focus is all the more impressive when you consider that the team was taking semester final exams through Friday of last week, and had to deal with the long (and delayed) flight from South Bend to Hawaii to play the Warriors on their home field.

Jimmy Clausen had all his weapons available and looked as good as he has ever looked as Notre Dame's quarterback. He was throwing the ball with impressive zip and pinpoint accuracy. He was calling the game perfectly at the line, changing the play calls to take advantage of poor judgment by the Hawaii coaches whenever they had single coverage on Golden Tate. Boy did he make them pay for that. The offensive line gave Jimmy plenty of time to throw, and was just effective enough in the running game to keep the Hawaii defense honest.

It was great to see Michael Floyd back in the lineup, although I wonder if he's okay since he wasn't much of a factor after three Hawaii players went helmet-to-helmet with him on a 15-yard catch over the middle on Notre Dame's first drive of the game. TE Kyle Rudolph was excellent in the middle of the field with 4 catches for 78 yards. Three of his four catches were for gains of over 20 yards and an Irish first down. And of course Golden Tate was sick. He had just six catches on the day, but made them count for 177 yards and three touchdowns. And his best play of the day may have been his amazing punt return for a touchdown that was called back on a questionable roughing the punter call.

It was also great to see Armando Allen finally get loose on a 41-yard catch-and-run, a nice 18-yard TD touchdown reception, and a 96-yard kick return for a TD. We've been waiting for AA to break out, and I hope we see a lot more of that #5 in the future.

The defense was aggressive and opportunistic, harassing the U of H QB all day, deflecting a bunch of passes and forcing a couple of turnovers.

All-in-all, a great day to be Irish.

I want to congratulate coach Mike Haywood on being named the new Head Football Coach at Miami University of Ohio. Good luck Coach Haywood.

Which opens up the discussion heading into 2009 of what changes we will see in the Irish coaching staff moving forward. Jack Swarbrick and Coach Weis made it clear that some "obvious" changes would be made in the program in the very near future. Replacing Coach Haywood is obvious enough. Charlie hinted in talking to reporters that he had a pretty good idea who he wanted to bring in to fill that position. The question is: Who?

Will he be grabbing a coach from the stockpile that is created by coaching changes in the NFL and college at the end of each season? Will he be poaching a coach from a position on a stable NFL or college staff by offering a nice promotion to OC?

I would really prefer that Coach Weis find a seasoned, successful coordinator and play-caller. Charlie really caught a bad break when David Cutliffe developed heart trouble and left the staff. That was actually a brilliant hire by CW that I hope will be the template for hiring a new coordinator. Charlie needs somebody he can trust with game-planning and play-calling so that he can worry about being head coach, not an OC. He can't spend another four years mentoring a young coach to be an OC and eventually a head coach somewhere else.

What other "obvious" changes will we see?

I have been hoping for a new O-line coach for years now. John Latina may be a heck of a guy, but his linemen can't run-block. Even in a dominant win over Hawaii two days ago, Notre Dame had a net 65 rushing yards on 34 attempts, for an average per rush of just 1.9 yards. Not good enough. (Our best rusher, Robert Hughes, averaged just 3.2 ypc versus Hawaii).

Ron Powlus is another guy who is a development project as a coach. We need a QB coach who has proven ability at developing top QBs, especially as Charlie moves away from full-time devotion to the offensive side of the all. If CW wants to be more head coach than OC, he needs a proven commodity developing his young, talented quarterbacks. This is also important for recruiting future QBs as well.

I can't get out of my head the image of one of our offensive linemen in the Boston College game literally being tossed backwards into an Irish running back like a rag doll. Coupled with our generally woeful power running game, that play told me that our strength and conditioning coach Reuben Mendoza needs to be replaced. Our big guys are constantly being pushed around by our opponents' big guys, even when our our big guys are bigger. That has to change.

Coach Weis was able to bite the bullet and re-make the defensive coaching staff when it was clear that changes were necessary. Hopefully the Christmas glow of a great bowl win won't obscure the fact that he needs a similar makeover on the offensive side of the ball this off-season.

The pictures in this post are from the (Click on the pics for terrific larger views). The Smoking Camera belongs to Joe Marquez, a photographer who lives in Hawaii. He went to the Hawaii Bowl and has a gallery of 144 images from the game on his site. If you like these pictures, go check out his site. (You might also like his gallery of NFL cheerleader pictures).


Jim said...

OC, I am as happy as you. Couple of points, but first TATE IS GOLDEN!!! Now I feel better.

I have been watching the line and do not believe that Mendoza is the problem. I can not speak in absolutes but I have seen specifically in the BC game the lineman were being overpowered because of pad level. That is mechanics, not conditioning.

Second and most important. It will be difficult to find a successful OC. They are up for HC jobs. Not saying it is impossible but very difficult. And if Charlie wants to retain play calling, what highly successful OC would be interested in the job. Think we are headed for a "rising star" position coach. Great post. What a Christmas present. Hope this win carries forward.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you do know they were playing a Colt Brennan-less Hawaii, right?

OC Domer said...

Dear Anonymous (It's always "anonymous" with the snipe-and-run comments):

Yes, it was Hawaii. I noted as much in the second paragraph of my post. And nowhere do I assert that this game vaults the Irish back into the Pantheon of top football powers. Changes still need to be made. But it was nonetheless an important win in the context of the current ND football program.

1. It was a win in a bowl game. I don't care who we beat, we finally end that bowl losing streak that every knucklehead at ESPN loves to trot out as "insightful" commentary when bashing the Irish. Never mind that the streak was seven games old when Charlie got to ND.

2. It was a win over a decent opponent. Not a great opponent, but a decent opponent. Hawaii was 7-6 coming into the game, and ND has been getting hounded all season about only beating one team (Navy) with a winning record. Hawaii was also the 2nd-place finisher in the WAC conference. The winner of the WAC was Boise State, a team that many felt should have been invited to a BCS bowl. I'll also point out that many of the pundits in the media picked Notre Dame to lose this game.

3. There was a significant question going into this game about whether Coach Weis had "lost" his team. The play of the team in Hawaii showed that they still want to play for Charlie, which makes me feel a lot better about the decision to bring CW back next year.

So yes, it was Hawaii. But given where ND is as a team, it was still a very significant step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Best thing that could have happened going into 2009. I wonder if T'eo was there. I agree with Latina, however I would like to see Polian gone as well.

Jim said...

OC, THe comment by anonymous is best ignored. You can see he does not understand the game. Not only the media pundits (who know no more than you or I-maybe less) but the vegas line was +1.5. I think even the oddsmakers have been caught up in the anti-ND hype.

Anon. #2 Teo was there. I disagree on Polian. Good recruiter, special teams improved in all phases. For example: Polian was directly responsible for Brandon Walker getting out of his funk and becomming reliable. he was 76% on FG's after the problem with 2 that were 50+ yard misses into the wid. These were out of his range. If you look at his performance after the problem, in his range, he had an 88% completion accuracy. Kickoff and punt coverage was very good all year. And more recently we are seeing better returns. Finally he is a stellar recruiter. Can not see a reason to fire him at all. I'd give him a raise!

The Smoking Camera said...

OC Domer, thanks for the plug to my photo website - The Smoking Camera. Hope everyone is enjoying the photographs from the Hawaii Bowl (and of course the NFL cheerleaders). Oh, by the way, please beat SC next year! said...

Having good assistant coaches is an often over-looked yet vital component to the success of a team.

I wonder who Charlie can bring in for oc? It certainly won't be a known name, unless Charlie is willing to give up play calling duties and be a little more hands off with the offense.

Jack said...

Watching the Sheridan Hawai'i Bowl lifted the ND ~ # 0 team to a BCS contender...yeah ! The UTES should be # 1 & will be @ ND NOV 2010 !

Jack said...

The more I look at ND at Hawai'i, I see the Warriors as the best 'team ' ND played.. Yeeah USC had potential: all pro 1st round draft choices... & lets hope they're drafted... PS.....
I saw a lot of NFL teams FOLD ¡
ND never folded that bad.... ¡

I'M going to say ND ALL THE WAY ¡

!!!!!! CHARLIE ¡¡¡¡
USC is not the best 'TEAM'. PERIOD ! ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻

the Big Fella .....

You're ***THE MAN***