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 thesmokingcamera.com. (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).