Those are the margins of loss for the Fighting Irish against USC over the past four seasons. Those numbers are not trending in the right direction. USC is a very good team. Losing to the Trojans is not a reason for despair. But getting embarrassed on national television year after year is a situation which calls for correction. And it has become clear to me that Charlie Weis cannot be relied upon to make that correction.
I just got back from the game. Beautiful evening. Found a nice parking spot that only cost $30. Went to the IrishFest event put on by the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles, and was totally stoked that the Band of the Fighting Irish made the trip to L.A. and put on a great show.
But the game stunk. Again. I have been to the last three Notre Dame games against USC, and have been disappointed almost to the point of humiliation the past two years. Who would have thought in 2005 that in 2008 I'd be wistfully remembering the days when we only lost to USC by 20?
Just a few quick thoughts on tonight's game.
1. The defense played a great game. They really did. Only a few breakdowns, usually after the offense left them in very untenable positions. If the offense had shown any competence at all, the defense played well enough to compete for a win tonight. Unfortunately for Charlie Weis, he has almost nothing to do with the defense.
2. The team actually played with some pride tonight. Starting with a pre-game near-brawl, it was clear that the Irish were not going to be intimidated and were not going to back down from anyone. You don't want to encourage fighting or thuggery, but I was actually very glad to see the Irish players giving every bit as good as they got all night. Where the hell has that kind of confidence been?
3. The offense was pathetic. No first downs in the first half. No first downs until the very end of the third quarter. It was so fun to sit in the Coliseum surrounded by USC fans who cheered and mocked the Irish when they finally got a first down. Good times. Too bad Notre Dame doesn't have an offensive guru for a head coach. Oh, wait a minute ... we do! Or do we? USC was begging Notre Dame to run the ball all night, dropping guys back in coverage and playing with 7 or fewer in the box. Why did it take the offensive brain trust 3 1/2 quarters to test the middle of the defense with James Aldridge?
4. Jimmy Clausen is killing us. Normally this is the part of the post where I criticize the offensive line. But I'm giving them a break this week. Clausen badly hurt the team again tonight by throwing the ball to guys who were blanketed in coverage. Do I have to explain this? INTs cost the team the chance to score points or, at the very least, to manage the field position battle. They put the defense in a nearly impossible spot, practically gift-wrapping scoring chances for a USC offense that doesn't need any more encouragement. Memo to Jimmy: Kyle Rudolph is still NOT open. Duval Kamara is open, but he isn't 8-feet tall.
The only question in my mind is whether Charlie should coach the team in whatever lame bowl game actually invites us.
Classy moment of the evening in the Coliseum: The USC fans chanting "Ten more years! Ten more years!" when Charlie Weis came out of the tunnel and onto the field before the game.
Top two rumors in the Coliseum men's room at half-time:
1. John Gruden to Notre Dame.
2. Pete Carroll to the San Francisco 49ers.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Irish Blogger Gathering returns to its roots this week as Subway Domer is the host. I apologize for not participating in the IBG last week, but I was in poor humor and I just wasn't feeling it on last week's questions. I've got company coming in just a few hours for Thanksgiving, so I don't have time for lengthy answers this week, but I did want to throw in my two cents' worth. And here we go:
1. Regardless of what you may have heard and what may happen, what do you think should be the fate of Charlie Weis? Please give an explanation in detail along with a possible replacement if you said... FIRED. No Urban Meyer bullshit here. He's not coming. Get over it.
As I just wrote in my last post, I'm done defending Charlie Weis. The loss to Syracuse on top of the blown games at North Carolina and against Pitt tossed me right out the back of the CW Bandwagon and into the mud. I'm not calling for Charlie's head, and if it was up to me I'd give him one more season because we really are very close to being a 9-2 team right now. But changes have to be made on his staff.
I'm a big fan of Colin Cowherd and I get at least 90 minutes of him every morning on my drive to work. But he's wrong on this one. The kids Notre Dame is getting are already rated 4 and 5 stars long before they commit to Notre Dame. Cowherd has never cited a single case of a 3-star kid becoming a 4-star overnight after committing to ND. In fact, my perception has been that in the past the services have downgraded Notre Dame recruits after the Irish sign them. In my view, the problem is that Charlie Weis gives too much credence to Scouts Inc. and Rivals. He chases after their 4- and 5-star players because he wants to have a highly rated recruiting class, and I think he isn't doing a good enough job evaluating the rated kids to see who really are the most talented players and who would do best in the Irish system. Not every 4-star player will fit our scheme. Maybe a 3-star is really underrated by everyone else and would be a great fit at Notre Dame? A lot of the Scouts Inc. and Rivals stuff is just hype and B.S. created by overzealous dads and high school coaches sending out highlight videos to every program and media outlet in the country. My solution is to concentrate harder on bringing into the program guys who play the game like Mike Anello. Highly rated guys who don't play with enough passion for the game are useless.
I'm going to have to agree with the part where Subway said "I generally don't like doing comparisons to other years."
4. Is Michael Floyd the Notre Dame team MVP? Why? If not, who then?
This gives me a great opportunity to solicit nominations for the OC Domer Player of the Year Award for 2008! I have a couple of ideas about who I like as the possible winner this season, but I want to give my readers a chance to provide input before I make a final decision. If you have any ideas about who should win the award this season, you can e-mail me or leave a comment to this post.
Last year's winner was, of course David Bruton, who has justified my faith in him with a tremendous season in 2008. Runners-Up in 2007 were Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz. Honorable Mentions went to Robby Parris and Duval Kamara.
The criteria for the OC Domer Player of the Year Award are as follows:
The OC Domer Player of the Year Award is intended to recognize the Notre Dame football player or players who played the best when it mattered the most. I want to recognize the guys who showed up and gave quality efforts against the best teams we faced, not the rest of the teams we faced. The award is based on a horrendously complex and intricate scoring system that would take too long to explain and that you wouldn't understand anyway. Suffice it to say that the primary criterion was a consistently high level of play, with significant bonus points awarded for exceeding expectations.I look forward to hearing from readers with nominations. Of course, my answer to this IBG question will have to wait until the formal announcement of the OCDPOY Award winner.
Schematically, our biggest problem is that our big guys get tossed around like rag dolls by our opponents' big guys. Both our offensive line and our defensive front seven play like they are on roller skates. The O-line can't win the battle on 3rd-and-2, and our defensive front seven can't take on a blocker and stuff a running back in the hole, preferring instead to run around blocks, leaving seams in the defensive front big enough to drive trucks through. Our two safeties shouldn't be leading the team in tackles - especially on running plays.
The good news is that, as of right now, the weather in Los Angeles is supposed to be good on Saturday night. So I won't have to stand in the rain while watching my team get pummeled by USC. Hopefully.
My thoughts on the game? If Michael Floyd were playing I would have given the Irish a puncher's chance against USC. The Trojans have been vulnerable at times this year, and Stanford (who lost to the Irish) gave USC all they wanted for three quarters. But without Floyd in the game, USC will double up on Golden Tate and force the Irish to run the ball, which we will not be able to do against the Trojans. I was at last year's game back in South Bend, and my lasting memory of that game was of how pathetic the Irish pass rush was against USC. Here's a picture I took of it:
And that wasn't a fluke example. I have a bunch of these pictures that show 7, 8, or 9 yards between Mark Sanchez in the pocket and the nearest Irish defender. Will the vaunted Jon Tenuta "pressure" show up this week? I expect Sanchez to be under a little more duress this Saturday, but our defense hasn't exactly struck fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks this season, and we haven't seen an offensive line of USC's caliber yet this season.
I expect the game to be ugly, again. But I'll be there, and I'll be cheering, and I'll be hoping for a miracle.
But here's the problem. Let's say that the Fighting Irish show up on Saturday, play out of their minds, and shock the world with a win over USC. Woo-hoo!! I would be totally pumped and it would be a day I would remember forever.
But once the stadium quiets down and the elation eases, I'd be left with this question: How in the world does a team with the talent to beat USC lose to North Carolina, Boston College, Pitt, and Syracuse? And the answer would have to be: bad coaching. So even a win over USC wouldn't be a cure-all, and it might actually raise more questions than it answers.
Regular OC Domer readers know that I have been a supporter of Coach Weis. I have applauded his recruiting, and made excuses for last year's 3-9 embarrassment. I've gone to numerous dinner parties full of USC alumni and I've talked about how young this team is and how they're going to do great things in the future. And I believed it.
But I'm not sure I believe it anymore.
Coming into this 2008 season I looked at the schedule and I genuinely felt that the Irish were capable of beating 11 of 12 teams on the schedule. Accounting for some youth and inexperience I allowed that this team would probably lose a couple of games it should win, putting us around 9-3, give or take a game. Looking back over the schedule today I still feel that going into this week's contest against USC the Irish could be, in fact probably should be, 9-2 or 10-1.
Notre Dame has lost five games to the following teams: Michigan State, North Carolina, Pitt, Boston College, and Syracuse.
In three of those games (UNC, Pitt, SU), the Irish had the lead and control of the game at halftime (or later), and then vomited all over themselves. Does anyone really dispute that Notre Dame should have won those games?
Clearly Michigan State was a better team than Notre Dame. And we were never really in the Boston College game due to numerous costly turnovers, although I still cling to the belief that we should have found a way to win that game.
But if this team had only won the games where they had significant second-half leads they'd be 9-2 today.
What the heck happened? Why were the Irish badly outplayed in the second half of each of those games? What the heck is going on the Notre Dame locker room at half-time? Are they all taking a nap? Stuffing themselves full of pizza and warm milk? Or are we just getting seriously out-coached?
When we lost to North Carolina and Pitt, I was deluded enough that I could eventually console myself with the thought that although the losses were total nightmares, at least we were competing and losing very close games to pretty good football teams. But then 2-8 Syracuse came to town.
Just to be clear: Yes, the loss to Syracuse does supplant the loss to Pitt as the worst loss of the Charlie Weis era. I don't care how young this team is, or how cold it was, or how close were were to hitting a late field goal to win the game. There is no way a Notre Dame football coach in his fourth year at the University should bring to Notre Dame stadium a team and a game plan incapable of beating a 2-8 Syracuse squad.
When Notre Dame is playing freakin' Syracuse, Coach Weis should be able to win the game with Nate Montana at quarterback leading our scout team against the Orange. There is no way that Notre Dame offensive linemen should be pushed around by players from Syracuse. Yet that is exactly what happened.
After the Michigan State loss I had thoughts about the Irish running game that I think are still relevant today:
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.Our starting five offensive line consists of three juniors, one senior, and one freshman. That isn't really a very young unit. If they can't win the battle at the point of attack against Syracuse, we have a serious, serious problem. What I don't know is (1) Is Coach Weis' scheme just totally neglectful of the power running game? (2) Is offensive line coach John Latina simply incapable of teaching our players how to run block? or (3) Are our players really just less talented than the players at schools like Michigan State, Boston College, and Syracuse?
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.
What is clear is that something has to change. Either the scheme and offensive philosophy has to change to place more value on the power running game so that we can control the ball and the clock to protect a lead, or we need to find a coach or coaches that have proven themselves capable of teaching large young men how to run block. I called for John Latina to be fired last season after the Irish lost to Boston College, when I wrote:
Well, unlike Coach Weis, I am not an offensive guru. But I can see pretty clearly that our offensive line can't block. Run blocking or pass blocking we are playing very, very poorly. Often our guys are just getting beat. But it seems that just as often our guys are missing assignments and letting defenders go completely unblocked. True, there are some young guys on the line getting their feet wet. But Sullivan, Duncan, and Turkovich are veterans of the system and Sam Young now has roughly twenty starts under his belt. If those guys can't figure out who to block by now and at least put a helmet on them, then they are not being coached very well. And this is not a new problem. Under Coaches Weis and Latina the Irish have NEVER been able to run the ball with authority. Our best short-yardage play for two years has been the QB sneak. Even when our running game has worked, it has usually been Darius Walker running draw plays. [...] Coach Weis certainly bears his share of the blame, but so does offensive line coach John Latina. Notre Dame may not have the best talent along the offensive line, especially in the upper classes, but there are MANY, MANY teams across the country who are getting far better play from lesser talent than Notre Dame has. The difference is coaching. If for no other reason than to show he takes the problem seriously, Coach Weis has got to give John Latina his walking papers. A new offensive line coach is certainly not going to make matters worse.I was right in 2007 that Coach Weis needed to find a new O-line coach, and it's painfully obvious that I'm still right. Only now, Coach Weis needs to make that change (and probably other changes) if he is to have any chance to save his job. I don't envy Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. He's been on the job for all of four months and he has a very tough decision on his hands. He will either cut Charlie loose and be faced with the job of finding a suitable upgrade, or he'll keep CW and spend the next year having to defend the poor performance of his predecessor's hire. But that's why he gets paid the big bucks.
If it was my call, I'd give him another year, provided he could present a serious plan for addressing the team's glaring deficiencies (i.e., at the very least getting a new offensive line coach). After all, as ugly as it is, this team really is close to being 9-2 right now.
If Swarbrick decides to keep Weis I'll support him, if Charlie is let go I'd be okay with that too. However it goes, the Irish are my team, Notre Dame is my University, and I'll be sending in my Sorin Society donation at Christmas time.
But I'm done defending Charlie Weis. How can you defend the indefensible?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Yes, very light posting this week. My Mom taught me that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I figured that rule applied after the Navy game.
The Irish actually did some nice things against Navy, especially on defense. But for me, all the good was washed out by the way in the Coach Weis and the team nearly gave the game away at the end. Let's just hope that Charlie learned a valuable lesson from that experience. It's a 60-minute game. I'm, sure he and the rest of the coaching staff constantly preach to the team about playing hard for a full 60 minutes. Maybe now Coach Weis will realize that as head coach he needs to coach hard for the full game, and not take his foot off the gas with a 20-point lead. A 20 point lead, as we learned last Saturday, can be erased in just 3 fluke plays. I know Coach Weis wants to respect the service academies when we play them and not run up the score. But 20 points is not running it up. 30 points is not running it up. Over 40 may be running it up. Those midshipmen and cadets are not going to quit! They are serious about playing a full 60 minutes and trying to beat you. Respect them Charlie, but leave NO DOUBT about the fact that Notre Dame is (or should be) in an entirely different class of football programs. Those games should not be close either in reality or in perception.
Syracuse comes to town today. This just in: They're not very good at 2-8 and are 20-point underdogs to the Irish, and their coach Greg Robinson is a terminated lame duck. But Notre Dame better not look past them. The Orange has played the 28th toughest schedule in the country (compared to #40 for ND), and one of their two wins came over Louisville (28-21). They haven't won many games, but they haven't been blown out much either. Be sure that they will come into South Bend looking to prove something on national T.V. And the brisk weather in Michiana won't bother the team from upstate New York much - they're used to worse.
But it's Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium for the newly Bowl Eligible Fighting Irish, and I expect all the players to play hard in front of the home crowd for the departing upperclassmen. It will be cold (forecast high is 31 degrees) so I don't expect anything fancy from either team. Should be a smash-mouth, ball control game - which favors the Irish. What we should see is a relatively vanilla display of dominance by the Irish, and hopefully no on-side kicks by the Orange.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Last week I called the loss to Pitt the worst loss of the Weis era, so I had a few comments on the blog after the Boston College loss wondering how I would categorize that disaster.
Fair question. Was the loss to BC "worse" than the loss to Pitt?
It certainly felt every bit as bad, but ultimately I say "no." The Pitt loss was worse because the Irish gave away a game they had sewn up by half-time. The team came to play, had a good game-plan, played well enough to get a comfortable lead, and then folded up their tents and turned a "W" into an "L" in their home stadium.
At Chestnut Hill, the team didn't really show up. They fought and they scrapped, but the offense never got anything going. It was a road game in poor weather. The defense actually played a very good game. It was perhaps the ugliest game of the Weis era, and watching it gave me a stomach ache. But it wasn't as bad as losing a big lead at home to a team we should have beaten that was led by a back-up QB. But it was almost as bad.
I absolutely could not stomach watching the game for a second time, so I haven't gone back and done any in-depth analysis of the game. But I do have just a few thoughts/impressions that I wanted to throw out here.
1. Kyle Rudolph is not open. Jimmy, did you hear me? I said "Kyle Rudolph is not open." Jimmy Clausen is still growing as a quarterback, and one of the flaws in his game is that he will occasionally lock onto a receiver and force a ball into places it has no business going. Clausen threw four interceptions last week. Mostly they were caused by JC forcing the ball to receivers who were covered by multiple defenders. If Kyle Rudolph is surrounded by three defenders, then Michael Floyd, or Golden Tate, or Duval Kamara must be open somewhere.
2. Can I get quick slant, a hook, or a crossing pattern please? Clearly the Irish offensive game plan was to throw the ball deep and often. But equally as clearly the Boston College defensive game plan was "There is no way you are going to beat us with the deep ball." Coach Haywood, and QB Clausen need to make faster adjustments to the game plan in those situations and start dinking and dunking. Take what the defense is giving. Hit some shorter and intermediate throws and force the defensive backs to creep up. Get the ball into Tate's and Floyd's hands on a short route and let them make a play. More on this point in a moment.
3. Third down needs to get a little more respect. It seemed to me that the play calling on third down was careless. On third down your only goal should be a first down and moving the chains. It seemed to me that the Irish wasted a lot of third down plays with calls that were low-percentage to move the chains. The long fade route down the sideline on 3rd-and-medium is a low percentage call. I need to have the OC Domer interns do some real research on the 3rd down plays, as I'm really going off my impressions here. But the team was just 5 of 15 in 3rd down conversions (and 0 for 2 on 4th down).
4. Do we have any roll-out passes in this offense? Although he was only sacked once, Jimmy was getting a lot of pass rush in his face and I think it was contributing to his poor decisions on where to throw the ball. The Eagles had an M-1 tank playing in the middle of their D-line, and he was dominating the middle of our O-line, including one play where he rather unceremoniously tossed one of our guards into our backfield like Godzilla tossing city buses around Tokyo. I think we should have just conceded the middle and focused on getting some yards on the edges. On the few occasions where Jimmy left the pocket and scrambled left or right, he bought time to find a receiver or he gained a few yards running. I kept asking my wife (rhetorically, of course), "Why aren't they rolling Jimmy out?" Clausen is not a great runner, but but he does do a good job on the move of buying time and throwing the ball. Plus, a QB on the move puts some pressure on the defense to come up and stop him (usually opening up a receiver) or give up a five-yard run. Roll him out!
5. It's really all about taking care of the ball. Once you get over the shock of getting shut out by BC (which takes several days) and look at the stats, you see that it's not quite as bleak as it seemed on Saturday. ND had more first downs than BC (16-13), and outgained them on offense (292-246). The Irish averaged 4.4 yards per play to BC's 3.9. Notre Dame was penalized 6 times for 58 yards, but BC had 9 penalties for 90 yards. But what killed the Irish on Saturday was failure to take care of the football, and failure to win the field position battle. Of course, those two points are very closely linked. Notre Dame lost the Average Starting Field Position metric by 12 yards (ND: 23, BC:35). Most of that differential was due to losing the turnover battle 5-0. Golden Tate fumbled a punt that cost the Irish the chance to begin their first drive of the second half near mid-field when the score was just 10-0. Instead BC got the ball back at the Irish 48 and went 48 yards in 7 plays to make the score 17-0. And of course Jimmy Clausen had four INTs. Not there is ever a really good time to throw an interception (maybe late in the game with a big lead on 3rd and long and you throw an INT way down the field that is better than a punt), but Clausen's timing was especially lousy on Saturday.
- The first INT came on a 3rd-and-6 play at the BC 49 yard line, when Clausen threw the ball 25 yards down the field and it was intercepted at the BC 24 and returned for a BC touchdown. This play illustrates two of the points I made above: Being careless with 3rd down calls that cost us the chance to sustain drives, and forcing balls down the field rather than taking what the defense is giving. The INT ended an 8-play, 31 yard drive.
- The second INT came on a 1st-and-20 play at the BC 35 yard line after a holding penalty. On 1st-and-20 Clausen threw the ball 24 yards down the field where it was intercepted at the BC 11 yard line. That play ended an 8-play, 37 yard drive.
- The third INT was on a 1st-and-10 play at the BC 27 yard-line, when Clausen threw into the BC end zone for an INT, killing another scoring opportunity. That interception ended a 6-play, 63 yard drive.
- The final INT came on a 1st-and-10 play at the BC 26 yard-line when Clausen was picked off at the BC 9. That INT came ended an 8-play, 47 yard drive on Notre Dame's last possession.
After looking at the above analysis, I realize that the loss to Boston College brought home the same lessons that this team (and this quarterback) should have learned in Chapel Hill. After the loss to North Carolina I wrote:
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.Against BC, the defense and the rest of the team played well enough (not great, but well enough) to win the game if their quarterback had taken better care of the ball. There is no reason to force the ball into a double-covered receiver on 1st-and-10. Take the check-down or throw it away. Run for a few yards and get out of bounds. Preserve the chance for a field goal or a punt. Supposedly Jimmy's ankle hurts and he had the flu last Saturday. Good to him for gutting it out. But there is no excusing the poor decisions he is making with the ball right now, and the team can't win games unless he gets that fixed ASAP.
Go Irish! Beat Navy!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Irish Blogger Gathering is hosted this week by the Brawling Hibernian. Follow the link to see TBH's original post as well as to find the links to other Irish bloggers' responses. Yes, I've been pretty quiet this week, still left speechless by the "Debacle at Chestnut Hill." I'll probably address that tomorrow. But for now, enjoy this week's IBG.
1) In the parlance of DJs, a "deep cut" is a song that wasn't released as a single and, generally, is not well-known. Oftentimes, these end up being the best songs on the album. What Notre Dame victory is your favorite "deep-cut" from the Irish catalog? In other words, what is your favorite victory that is not widely celebrated (i.e., not the "Snow Bowl" or the 1988 Miami game, etc.). Explain in much detail.
I don't think I'm going to be answering any of this week's questions in "much detail." I'm just not in the mood.
But for me the answer to this question would have to be the 1982 home game against Michigan. It was my freshman year at Notre Dame, and it was the first Notre Dame football game I had ever attended, anywhere. Adding to the electricity surrounding the game was that it was the first night game ever at Notre Dame Stadium, courtesy of the good folks at MUSCO lighting. The Fighting Irish were ranked #20 in the polls, and the Wolverines came into the game ranked #10.
It was awesome! I actually remember very little about the game itself, except for the taunting chant that the student body had for Michigan star receiver / kick returner Anthony Carter. All together the students chanted "An-tho-ny, come out to pla-ay! An-tho-ny, come out to pla-ay!" Very cool. The Irish scored the upset and beat UM 23-17. The game was voted as the 14th greatest game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium as part of the Stadium's 75th Anniversary celebration in 2005.
2) As much fun as it is rooting for our heroes, it can be just as enjoyable to trash those we consider villains. A few years ago, the great Irish blog, Blue-Gray Sky, wrote a post discussing the biggest villains in Irish history. That post focused on external villains. Today's question is, of those associated with the program, who is the biggest villain? This individual must have been a player, coach or administrator at ND who, through reckless acts of cowardice, stupidity or malice, damaged the football program. (Note: Ty Willingham is off the board)
Okay, I can't find the exact person responsible, and I can only spend so much time on Google trying to figure it out. But the answer to this question is: Whoever in the Notre Dame family pressured/allowed Dan Devine to resign as head football coach and then hired Gerry Faust to replace him. Frankly, I trace all of today's sorrows back to that fateful series of events. Dan Devine was the Irish head coach for six seasons, compiling a 53-16-1 record. He was 3-1 in Bowl games (back when going to a Bowl game meant something), and won a National Championship in 1977. In his last season (1980) the Irish went 9-2-1, losing in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to Herschel Walker's Georgia Bulldogs.
But that wasn't good enough. Coach Devine had a hard time stepping out of Ara Parseghian's shadow, and the Notre Dame faithful never let him forget that Ara was better. Much like today's fans compare every coach to Lou Holtz.
Coach Devine was a serious, successful, proven head football coach. But he was forced out and Notre Dame turned to a high school coach from Ohio. Gerry Faust is a saint. You'll never meet a nicer man, or one who loves Our Lady's University more. But he was not qualified to lead the most storied college football program in the country. Frankly, it's a miracle that he did as well as he did (30-26-1) as head coach.
The departure of Devine and the arrival of Faust to me signaled the moment when Notre Dame football jumped the shark. The fans were unreasonable in their expectations that winning a National Championship and going to 3 "BCS" Bowls in 6 six years wasn't good enough. In hiring Faust, the Administration signaled a great deal of hubris and/or disrespect for the game and for the coaching profession. Clearly, the Administration felt that "We Are ND" and that we can/should win games with anybody as coach - even a high school coach. Prior to that time Notre Dame had been most successful hiring proven head coaches - Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine. We were very fortunate with Lou Holtz, but Faust, Bob Davie and Ty Willingham were mistakes borne of that misguided attitude. Right now we have another coach who is not a proven head coach and who is trying like hell to not end up in the corner with Faust, Davie, and Willingham.
3) Falling in love is a wonderful thing. As Lt. Frank Drebin once noted, "you begin to notice things you never knew were there before; birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights." Describe the moment you knew that there would be no other; you were in love with Notre Dame.
Well, it was a pretty gradual process for me as I grew up with the Sunday morning Notre Dame Highlights shows. But if I could point to one game, it would be the 1979 Cotton Bowl game against the Houston Cougars, when Joe Montana, after staying in the locker room at halftime due to a dangerous drop in his body temperature, led a miraculous 4th quarter comeback that overcame a hopeless 34-12 deficit to secure a 35-34 Irish win. That game is now known as the "Chicken Soup Game" and I blogged about it in a lot more detail in July of 2007.
4) Regrets, we've had a few but, then again, too few to ever let go of any of them. What game or specific play in Irish history turns your dreams into nightmares and haunts your every waking moment? Describe this torment and why you wish ND could have another crack at it?
The 1974 game against USC. In a previous edition of the IBG, I wrote:
In 1974. Notre Dame was leading the USC Trojans 24-0 as the first half was coming to a close, a great day to be an Irish fan watching the game on TV. USC scored with just seconds remaining in the half, to make it 24-7. USC's Anthony Davis (Booooo! Boooooo!) returned the second half kick-off for a TD, and the Trojans scored a total of 35 points in the 3rd quarter on the way to scoring 55 straight points in less than 17 minutes of playing time. USC beat the Irish that day 55-24, breaking my ten year old Irish heart and making me cry. I know it isn't completely rational, but it's because of that day that I still hate the Trojans. Hate 'em. I should probably get help.Even now, the name "Anthony Davis" sends shivers up my spine.
5) With 79 consensus All-Americans and 48 inductees in the College Football Hall of Fame, it is clear that there have been many great players in the history of Notre Dame football. What was the greatest single season from a player that you ever witnessed during your Irish fandom? Be specific. Use adjectives.
I'm going to fudge on this one just a bit. Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy in 1987 after an amazing year, but it's possible that 1986 was an even better season for him. So I'm going to say that Tim Brown's 1986 and 1987 seasons combined as the most impressive extended performance by a Notre Dame player in my "fandom". According to an article on Brown on the Notre Dame web site:
Utilizing Brown in the backfield, at wideout and as both a kick and punt returner, Holtz maximized Brown's skills and saw him produce, to this day, the two most all-purpose yards gained in a season at Notre Dame - first with 1,937 (1986) and then 1,847 (1987).(Note that "all-purpose yards" are rushing, receiving, and return yards).
Here's a link to a great 2006 article at Blue & Gold Illustrated surveying Brown's illustrious Irish career. The best bits:
And of course, Tim went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL and is one of the classiest representatives Notre Dame has ever had. Thanks for the memories, Tim!
In the spring of 1986, one of Holtz’s first comments was, “the only way our opponents are going to keep the ball out of Tim Brown’s hands is if they intercept the snap from center.” Brown nearly doubled his receiving output and also carried 59 times as a running back to complement his return skills. Despite Notre Dame’s 5-6 mark against a brutal schedule, there was not a better player in the country at the end of the season than Brown.
In the final three games, the Irish played national champ Penn State, SEC champion LSU and at archrival USC. Against the Nittany Lions, Brown snatched a career-high eight passes (two for touchdowns) and returned a kickoff 97 yards before it was called back because of a penalty. The Irish lost that heartbreaker to the Nittany Lions, 24-19. The following week at LSU, Brown tallied on a 96-yard kickoff return, but the Irish lost again, 21-19.
In the finale at USC, Brown put on a scintillating show as the Irish rallied from a 37-20 deficit. In that watershed 38-37 victory for Holtz’s program, Brown returned a kickoff 57 yards to set up one touchdown, caught a 49-yard pass for to propel a second TD march and returned a punt (only the second of his career) 56 yards to position John Carney’s 19-yard field goal as time expired.
As the front-runner for the 1987 Heisman, Brown thrust Notre Dame into college football’s spotlight once again under Holtz, and he virtually clinched the coveted award in the first two weeks during 26-7 and 31-8 victories against Michigan and Michigan State, with the latter going on to become the Rose Bowl champs that season.
Of Brown’s 137 career receptions at Notre Dame, his most spectacular was the 11-yard score at No. 9 Michigan to open his senior year. Quarterback Terry Andrysiak floated a pass deep into the corner of the end zone where the heavily-covered Brown out-leaped two defenders and managed to stay in-bounds while hanging on to the ball and enduring a heavy fall.
The ensuing week saw his signature moment. A Notre Dame player hadn’t returned a punt for a score in 14 years, but in a span of 2:01 against the Spartans, Brown returned consecutive punts 71 and 66 yards for touchdowns to ignite a blowout.
More important was the fact that Brown made Notre Dame relevant again on the national scene with an 8-1 start, the first eight-win campaign for the Irish in seven years. He excelled in a 26-15 victory against Pac 10 champ USC, produced a career high 294 all-purpose yards in a 32-25 comeback win versus Boston College, and added 225 more in a 37-6 drubbing of Top 10-ranked Alabama.
Although the Irish imploded at the end of the year with losses at Penn State (21-20), Miami (24-0) and in the Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M (35-10), Brown was the runaway Heisman pick with 1,442 points, easily out-distancing Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (831), Holy Cross’ two-way player Gordie Lockbaum (657) and Michigan State running back Lorenzo White (632).
When asked at the ceremony whether Notre Dame’s name helped him win the award, Brown replied: “I’m not going to apologize for going to Notre Dame. I did it to better myself as a person.”
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I don't know about you - but I have had an awful week. Yes, the election results were annoying. Hey Barack, if you could get that plan for world peace and an economic turnaround on my desk by the end of next week, that'd be great. Thanks. But what has really made me miserable these past seven days was the Notre Dame loss to Pitt last Saturday. Arrrrggghhhh! For me, that loss was the worst of the Charlie Weis era.
It was worse than losing to a quality USC in 2005 after an epic struggle. It was worse than getting pasted 38-0 by USC or Michigan. It's worse than losing to Navy. It was certainly worse than the two bowl losses to superior opponents.
Last Saturday hurt so much because the team lost a game, at home, that they needed to win, that they should have won, that they pretty much had in the bag, and that they just simply gave away. The Fighting Irish lost an important game to a lesser foe (yes, I do believe a one-dimensional Pittsburgh playing with a back-up QB is a lesser team than the Irish) simply because Pittsburgh wanted the game more than our guys did. It was more important to the Panthers to keep fighting and to come back and win one on the road than it was to our guys to come out in the third quarter and put the game away.
I have been a 100% supporter of coach Weis since the day he was hired, and I still believe he'll get the job done. I have excused bad losses to better teams as he rebuilds the program. I have excused close losses to mediocre opponents based upon our youth and inexperience. But last Saturday was the second time this season that the Fighting Irish had a game well in hand, were outplaying the opponent and had victory in sight, and then allowed the game to slip through their fingers. Coincidentally, both losses were triggered by coming out after half-time and getting whipped in the third quarter. What the heck is going on in the locker room at half-time?
Charlie, just in case nobody has explained it to you: At Notre Dame you are expected to win all the games you play against lesser opponents, and you are also expected to win your fair share of games against better teams. A typical schedule will have about 8 games on it that you "should" win and will have about 4 games that are "toss-ups." A "tossup" in Irish parlance is a game in which you are a decided underdog but which your fans expect you to win anyway. To get to 10 wins you need to win all the "gimmes" and half the tossups. So far, your teams have been losing far too many of the "should wins" and haven't won any of the "tossups," let alone winning any upsets.
Today, Notre Dame is in Boston to take on the BC Eagles. Odds makers have the Irish as a 3.5 pt underdog. That is an insult. Both teams are 5-3. Notre Dame has played a significantly tougher schedule than BC. The two teams have one common opponent - North Carolina. Notre Dame played at UNC and lost by 5 points. The Eagles played at Chapel Hill and got beat by 21 points. That point spread isn't based on the talent of the players on these two squads. That point spread is based on coaching and on heart. The odds makers look at the Fighting Irish and they see a team that still hasn't figured out how winners play football. They look at our coaches and see a group that hasn't yet figured out how to push the right buttons with this team. And who can blame them? Two of our three losses came in games where we had control of the contest at halftime, but managed to lose the game with a combination of lackluster play, poor execution, and bad play-calling.
How bad was it against Pitt? The Pitt game started coming off the rails in the third quarter, when the came roaring out of the tunnel with 14 point lead and managed to possess the ball in the 3rd quarter for 4:09, and had ZERO first downs on ZERO net rushing yards and 7 passing yards. The Irish were 0 for 3 on third down conversions and 0 for 1 converting 4th down. Meanwhile Pitt had one drive that went 8 plays and 71 yards for a TD and another than went 15 plays and 70 yards for a TD (that drive carried into the 4th quarter).
One of those teams made productive use of their time at the half, and one didn't.
The overtime periods were as woeful for the Irish offense as the 3rd quarter. In four OT periods, the Irish managed just 2 first downs, converting only 1 of 5 third downs.
- In OT1 the offense managed to get to 1st and Goal at the 10 yard line but couldn't score a TD.
- In OT2 the offense got to 1st and 10 at the 11, and couldn't score a TD.
- In OT3 the offense went backwards (-4 yards) and ended up kicking a field goal from the 29.
- In OT4 the offense gained 6 yards on 4 plays and had to settle for a FG attempt from the 19 on 4th and 4.
To be fair, the defense was outstanding in overtime, playing much better than they had during the 3rd quarter.
The bottom line for this team is that they need to learn how to play HARD for 60 minutes. You can't take a play off, or a series off, or a quarter off and expect to win a game. Your opponent is not going to give up, or roll over just because you played a good first half. They want to beat your brains in and you have to return the sentiment. You have to play every down as though the guy across from you just groped your girlfriend at a party and then called her a dirty name when she rejected him. Every down. The goal has to be to score 20, then 40 then 60 points until the coaches call off the dogs and empty the benches.
And that goes for the coaches too. Quit easing off the gas pedal and trying to nurse a 2 TD lead for 30 minutes. It's a prescription for disaster. Go with what has been working until you are up by 40 points, then worry about offensive balance or running out the clock.
I've been so fixated on the loss to Pitt that I haven't taken much of a look ahead to Boston College. Point spreads aside, the teams are pretty evenly matched on paper. The Irish are just a few spots above BC in the Sagarin rankings. Points scored and points allowed per game are pretty even (slight edge BC). Notre Dame's offense averages about 50 yards per game more than BC's offense. Notre Dame's defense allows about 60 yards per game more than BC's defense. Notre Dame's strengths are in the passing game, both offensively and defensively. The Eagles' strength is in the ground game, both offensively and defensively.
Thus, when the Irish have the ball, I expect to see a lot of the spread offense again. Not only has it been most effective for the team this season, it matches up better against the BC defense which is very good defending the run. The wild card here is that the weather in Chestnut Hill is expected to be cool and possibly rainy (50% chance of showers), which could make it harder to throw and catch the football.
When BC has the ball, expect a lot of what Pittsburgh did. The Eagles' passing game is very modest, with more INTs than TD passes. To win this game, Boston College will need to run the ball effectively and often. If they get behind and have to throw the ball to play catch-up, it should work into Notre Dame's hands.
The game is being played on an artificial surface, which I think gives a big advantage to Notre Dame. Hard enough covering Golden Tate and Michael Floyd on a slow grass surface. Put those two and Armando Allen on turf and I think the Irish offense will be dynamic. Plus, playing on turf lessens the impact of the potentially wet weather (no mud).
The Irish actually made a game of it against BC last season and might have had a chance to win it but for some bad officiating. Since that game Notre Dame has gotten much better, and BC lost their first round draft pick QB to the NFL and are not as good as they were during their Cinderella run. But statistics and game plans aside, for me this game will boil down to whether the Notre Dame players are as disgusted and embarrassed by last week's loss as I am. If they come out looking to make the Eagles pay for all that frustration, if they are aggressive and angry, and determined and focused for 60 minutes they should beat BC handily.
Come on guys - show us some nasty!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Domer.mq at Her Loyal Sons is hosting this week's IBG, and I actually shortened his original title a bit from Irish Blogger Gathering: The “Saying A Lot By Asking Obtuse Questions” Edition. In any case, click on the link to see the original post from Domer.mq as well as links to the responses from other bloggers participating in the IBG this week. While you're over there, be sure to give Domer.mq grief over the fact that he "passed" on the IBG last week, but now that it's his turn he comes up with "obtuse" questions that give the rest of us headaches. Here we go.
1. What photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something, anything at all, really, says all 1,000 words that need to be said about this team? OR, which photo of some member of the 2008 Irish squad doing something would tell 1,000 lies about this team if you only saw the photo and didn’t know better? (Double-secret word score bonus for answering both mutations of the same question).
My first thought in considering this question was to find a great photo of Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum really stuffing a hole and putting a thumping on an opposing running back, and then answering the "1,000 lies" question by pointing out that Mo Crum stuffing a hole and making a tackle is such a rare occurrence that I was surprised to find a good photo of such a play. But it turns out that Mo Crum stuffing a running play is so rare that I actually couldn't find a photo of it at all! So, in this case, it's the lack of a photo that says 1,00 words.
Instead we have this terrific photo of Notre Dame safety David Bruton and Irish cornerback Raeshon McNeil making a touchdown-saving goal-line tackle on Michigan State running back Javon Ringer.
What does this photo say about the 2008 Fighting Irish? It says that David Bruton is a heck of a safety, a tough guy willing to make a physical play to help the team. But it also says, unfortunately, that Notre Dame's defensive backs are making goal-line tackles on opposing running backs instead of our linebackers. Where are our linebackers?
2. Some of you may know that I (domer.mq) am a football stat geek. Which statistic do you think geeks like myself should really be paying attention to this season and why? (Can pertain to ND or CFB in general.)
Earlier in the season I would have said Average Starting Field Position (ASFP). But I'm starting to feel like I have beaten that one to death. By the way, do you know which team won the battle of ASFP last Saturday? EXCELLENT!! Pitt did! The Panthers had an ASFP of the 34-yard line, while the Irish ASFP was the 30. Can you guess the other two games this season when the Irish lost the ASFP battle? Wow - you're good! The Irish have lost ASFP in their three losses this season, and have won that stat in each of their five victories.
But to tie this question back to question #1, above, the statistic that is driving me crazy this season is: Team leaders in tackles. By far, the top two tacklers on the Notre Dame defense are safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton. McCarthy has 44 solo tackles, 32 assists, for 76 total tackles. Bruton has 43 solos, 30 assists, for 73 total tackles. Third in tackles for the team is interior linebacker Mo Crum, who has just 24 solos, 25 assists, and 49 total tackles. Linebacker Brian Smith's numbers are 22/21/43. So our two safeties have combined for 87 solo tackles, while our top two linebackers have 46 solo tackles, combined. I think I am beginning to understand why we're having trouble stopping the run. These numbers should be reversed! Our LBs are getting owned at the line of scrimmage and opposing running backs are not being tackled until they get to the third level of the defense. Mo Crum's picture should be plastered on the side of a milk carton.
3. Seeing as how Boston College is nothing but an up-jumped program enjoying the luxury and soft Corinthian leather of an ACC schedule, which team from the current top 25 would you love to see this year’s Irish play this weekend in Fredo’s stead? Why? Do you think the Irish would win? Describe the game. Paint us a picture! I’ll get the popcorn!
Okay, so I head over to USATODAY.com to check out the polls to see what's what, and BALL-FREAKING-STATE jumps off the page at me. The Cardinals are 8-0 and sitting at #17 in the BCS polls (and is in similar position in most other major polls).
I know that playing Ball State doesn't have much cachet, but we have to get this whole thing straightened out. Indiana may not be much of a state, but it's all Notre Dame has, and "we must protect this house." The Irish can't let Ball State fans walk around chirping about being the "best team in the state." We need to invite the Cardinals to Notre Dame Stadium and open up a can of whoop-ass on 'em. Ball State has amassed their remarkable 8-0 record against the 121st toughest schedule in Division I, made up of the following opponents (with scores):
- Northeastern (48-14)
- Navy (35-23)
- Akron (41-24)
- Indiana (42-20)
- Kent St. (41-20)
- Toledo (31-0)
- Western Kentucky (24-7)
- Eastern Michigan (38-16)
4. Let’s dispose of the gradient colors and subtle vagaries of college football for a moment and answer this question with one of the supplied, absolute answers and a blurb defending your pick. No waffling! The Question: Why is Notre Dame unable to put away games when leading going into half time? The possible answers: 1) ND Players all have a soft, nougat center 2) The Coaches don’t want to tick off potential future employers 3) God doesn’t think it’s classy to blow a team out 4) The ND Fanbase can’t really stomach blowouts any more than they could stomach a protracted land war in Asia. Remember, you must pick one and you must defend it with great vigor!
Notre Dame's players have a soft, nougat center. I have been worried about the lack of a killer instinct in this Irish team for a while, but had allowed myself to believe that my worries were overblown after the Washington win. Wrong! When Coach Weis came to Notre Dame he famously promised us a football team that would play with a nasty streak.
Um, still waiting ...
This team needs to realize that it is a 60-minute game (or longer) and that the other team is usually going to fight you tooth and nail to the bitter end to win the game. They are not going to roll over just because "we are ND" and we have a nice half-time lead. Beating the Fighting Irish is a big deal, and beating the Fighting Irish in a comeback win is even better! This team needs to develop some ruthlessness and make it their goal to dominate the opposition on every play. They need to adopt the attitude of Conan the Barbarian that what is best in life is "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
Our players need to realize that once they have a 14-point lead their goal needs to be to get a 21-point lead, not to run out the clock for an entire half. And once they have a 21-point lead they need to challenge themselves to make it a 30-point lead.
And that goes double for the coaches who are calling the offensive plays. No lead is safe!
5. Tennessee just began celebrating the career of Phil Fulmer
Well, I would think the Athletic Directors at Syracuse and Arizona State would be just about ready to accept the voluntary resignations of head football coaches Greg Robinson and Dennis Erickson.
And I would bet the short list for a replacement at most BCS programs would include Skip Holtz of Eastern Carolina. Others I'd be interested in looking at would be Todd Graham at Tulsa and Fresno State's Pat Hill. And don't be shy about looking into successful coaches in Division I-AA, at places like Appalachian State. If I were Michigan I would have hired the Appy State coach instead of Rich Rodriguez. Don't forget where Ohio State pulled Jim Tressel from - those guys in the big time I-AA programs an coach.
I am of course disappointed that my guy lost the Presidential election yesterday. But I think it is very important today to recognize the significance of Barack Obama's election in the context of America's social history. The election of an African-American to the Presidency is a huge step - not the first step, not the last step, but a big step - towards realizing Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of a nation where we are all judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.
I wish our new President well, and I pray that he will be blessed with the wisdom he will need to lead our nation in the years ahead. I will be watching with great interest as he makes the very difficult transition from campaign mode to governing mode. A campaign can succeed on vague promises, but government requires specificity. It's easy to criticize a President after the fact for every decision he makes. It's much harder to sit in that round room and make the difficult decisions that have to be made and that you know will be loudly criticized by others. I hope Barack Obama is up to it.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
My belly still aches from Saturday's putrid performance against the Pitt Panthers, so I'm having a hard time digesting exactly what the Hell happened. Hopefully I'll have something insightful to write tomorrow about Notre Dame's failure to show up in the third quarter and their hapless inability to score a single touchdown in four overtime periods. Right now my angst seems to be focused on offensive play-calling and on the linebackers. Why is it that our safeties, Bruton and McCarthy, have to make so many tackles? On running plays?
But I did want to shout out to Brandon Walker, who played the game of his life and who deserves to be recognized for single-handedly keeping the Irish in a game through three overtime periods when the offense was completely inept. After struggling mightily at the beginning of the year and being on the verge of losing his job to a walk-on player straight off the interhall football fields, Brandon was 3 of 3 in PATs and hit his first 4 field goal attempts on the day, including one in each of the first three overtime periods to extend the game three times. On the day Walker hit 7 of 8 tries on PATs and FGs and I sure hope that NOBODY is giving him grief for the one he missed. The last person who needs to blame himself for Saturday's result is BW. Quarterbacks missed open receivers, defenders missed tackles, linemen missed blocks. They all need to share the blame. But BW should be singled out for praise.
He gets my game ball.