Monday, October 12, 2009

Irish Blogger Gathering: The Quest for a Signature Win

Welcome to the USC-week edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering, hosted right here at OC Domer in a nod to the fact that I have to live my life surrounded by Trojan alumni & fans. Having grown up in California, and living in So Cal for the past 16 years, the USC game annually is the "Big One" at OC Domer HQ. Win this game, and you get a full year of smack-talk satisfaction out of it. Lose this game and you're in for a full year of crap at every cocktail party and other social function you attend for 12 long months. It's funny how many more USC fans you meet when they're winning than when they're losing.

Added to the usual stakes surrounding a USC-ND game this year is the Quest for the Signature Win. Charlie Weis is in his fifth season as Notre Dame's head football coach. He rolled up a lot of wins in 2005 and 2006, but lost the Bowl game following each season. 2007 & 2008 were unequivocal disasters with the exception of the Hawaii Bowl win last Christmas Eve. Can you name Coach Weis' biggest win to date? Neither could I, so I looked it up. The candidates for "signature win" are:

  • Unranked ND beats #23 Pittsburgh, 42-21. (2005)
  • #20 ND beats #3 Michigan, 17-10. (2005)
  • #13 ND beats #22 Purdue, 49-28. (2005)
  • #4 ND beats #19 Penn State, 41-17. (2006)
Those are Coach Weis' only wins over ranked opponents, and the last one was more than three full years ago (September 9, 2006 over the Nittany Lions). It's nice to win games over weaker teams (which itself has been pretty uncertain for the last three years), but WE ARE ND! We should be competing with and beating highly ranked opponents our fair share of the time. And it needs to start now.

This week's IBG Questions:

1. The weather forecast for Saturday's game (as of this writing) has the high temperature in the mid 40's with some chance of rain (or snow?). What weather would give Notre Dame the best chance to beat USC? Why?

Think snow. Better yet, think sleet and wind chill. Snow can be beautiful, and it might be novel enough that the Trojans find it amusing to play in. But cold, near-frozen rain in a driving wind would be ideal playing conditions. USC's players, as talented as they are, traditionally have not adapted well to poor weather in South Bend. Frankly, if it gets cold enough, you quickly get the sense that they'd just as soon be anywhere else but playing football in Notre Dame stadium. Our guys don't really like it either, but they're more used to it and can gut it out better. The worse the weather is on Saturday, the more I like our chances.

2. Irresistable Force or Immovable Object? Notre Dame's offense is ranked #10 in yards (470 per game) and #27 in points (32.6 per game). USC's defense is ranked #6 in yards allowed (238.6 per game) and #4 in scoring allowed (just 8.6 points per game). In 2008 Notre Dame had just 91 total yards against USC. Will the Notre Dame offense be able to move the ball on Saturday? If so, how?

To me, this is the key question in the game. USC graduated most of the players off their 2008 defense (you can watch them playing on Sundays now), but the guys they have plugged in this season are playing very well. Notre Dame returns most of the players who were completely bottled up in 2008. What has changed?

Without Michael Floyd in the lineup, Coach Weis has been much more creative this year with how he creates favorable match-ups and tries to get the ball in Golden Tate's hands. Thus, it will be more difficult for the Trojan defense to double Golden and take him out of the game. Also, in contrast to late 2008, Coach Weis has some more weapons in his arsenal. Kyle Rudolph is a real match-up problem, and Coach Weis has been creative in moving him around and in stretching the defense vertically with Rudolph. Mix in a little bit of Robby Parris and Shaq Evans and Jimmy should be able to find an open receiver. The offensive line has matured in both pass protection and run blocking, so I think we'll be able to move the ball some. Last year the Irish had some success running straight at the Trojan defense with James Aldridge, who will be back for this game. Rather than trying to get Armando Allen to the edge (a losing proposition), I'd like to see Robert Hughes and James Aldridge running inside the tackles, with some play action passes mixed in. I think the Irish will be able to move the ball, but I don't think we'll be able to sustain 80-yard drives. In order to score points, we'll need some big plays on defense and special teams to set up scoring opportunities.

3. USC's offense is #22 in yards (430.6 per game) and #53 in scoring (28.8 points per game). Notre Dame's defense is #100 in total defense (403.2 yards per game) and #59 in scoring defense (allowing 23.8 points per game). Will the Notre Dame defense be able to slow down the USC offense? If so, how?

USC's offense is a very balanced attack, averaging just slightly more passing yards per game than rushing yards. I'm hanging my hat on two factors. One is the fact that USC quarterback Matt Barkley is a freshman. I am hoping that at some critical moment in the game a combination of environment, moment, confusing Jon Tenuta defense, and inexperience will coalesce into a major mistake or two by the young QB. I am also hoping that the defensive stat sheet for Notre Dame against Washington is the beginning of a trend. I have been lamenting for a very long time that the leading tacklers in ND's defense are the defensive backs. The safeties have almost always been the leading tacklers, way ahead of any linebacker, and the defensive linemen were statistical ghosts. There was a sharp turnaround in that pattern against UW. Kyle McCarthy was still the leading tackler. But linebacker Manti Te'o was second, and several other members of the front seven stepped up in a big way to dislodge the defensive backs from their normal spots atop the stat sheet. In other words, the defensive front seven finally started making plays against the Huskies. If that continues, it will allow the defensive backs to concentrate on down field coverage and hopefully eliminate big plays in the passing game.

I don't expect the Irish defense to stop USC. They haven't stopped anyone else. But I think they can slow them down enough, and make enough plays, to keep Notre Dame in the game.

4. In 2008, with Michael Floyd unable to play due to injury, Golden Tate had 2 catches against USC for a team-high 15 receiving yards. How do you expect Golden Tate to play against USC this year?

I expect Golden to play much better. As noted above, Charlie is working much harder to find creative ways to get the ball into Tate's hands. It reminds me of the way Lou Holtz made sure that Tim Brown got his touches, or even the way USC always found a way to get Reggie Bush the ball.

However, I don't expect Golden to put up the clown numbers he has for past few weeks. I think he'll have perhaps 120 total yards. But he won't be able to carry the team on his back. In order for the Irish to win, somebody else is going to have to break some big plays. Who will be the hero?

5. Jimmy Clausen has started to get some Heisman buzz. In your opinion, which Notre Dame player is the most deserving of Heisman attention, Jimmy or Golden Tate? Why?

Jimmy is playing well. But in Floyd's absence Golden Tate has been ridiculous. His highlight reel is absolutely sick. If he continues to play the rest of the season the way he has the past few weeks, I think Golden is more Heisman-worthy than Jimmy. But Jimmy could change my mind on Saturday. In fact, I hope he does.

6. Overrated or Underrated. Notre Dame cracked into the AP Poll at #25 this week. Are they overrated or underrated at #25? Where would you put them in your poll?

The Irish are underrated at #25. I'd put Notre Dame at about #20. As I look at the AP poll I see about 5 teams that in my view should be below the Irish.

7. USC Song Girls: Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill or Anachronism from a bygone era of oppressive sexist stereotypes?

I'm gonna have to come down pretty firmly on the side of "Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill."

8. Green Jerseys? There's a lot of "green" talk coming from campus this week, and it raises the question of whether the team will be wearing green on Saturday. Do you want to see the green jerseys or not? Why?

Unless the team is begging Coach Weis for the chance to wear the green because they think it will really fire them up, I don't want to see the green jerseys for a while. Lately the green jerseys have not been "lucky" and they certainly haven't been associated with big wins. To me, the wearing O' the green has been a bit of contrived emotion tried by coaches who have run out of ways to motivate the team.

That said, if we're winning at halftime (or even keeping it really close at half time), coming out in green for the second half might be just what the doctor ordered.

9. Name the next number in this sequence: -3, -20, -38, -35, _______. Explain.

The next number in the sequence is +3. There is no way this game doesn't get decided in the final moments. I see a tie game at the end of regulation. USC gets the ball first, but we hold them to a field goal. Notre Dame gets the ball and scores a touchdown, and doesn't need to kick the extra point. Irish win by 3.


The Domer Law Blog IBG Contribution for this week is HERE.

The Brawling Hibernian's post is HERE.

OneFootDown checks in for this week HERE.

Subway Domer is in the house.

And Sarah at Bad Trade goes on the record.

Charlie's Nasties aren't feeling it. Yet.


Titus said...

"Green Jerseys?"

Gah! I actually love the green jerseys. But they've been a major letdown in recent times. They need to take a ten-year hiatus to let people forget all the games we've blown in them.

Jim said...

Agree about the green jerseys. Let's just keep a business as usual attitude and maintain an aire of confidence. We don't need to focus on luck, just fundamentals. We have a good chance this year. Let's believe in us, not some external aura.

Brian said...

A friend of mine is a die-hard USC fan. He grew up with it, but he's also an ND sympathetic (his grandpa played for Rockne) and he told me that when he was growing up they would always host some ND fans for the ND v USC game here in So Cal. Every year for 8 years this one guy would tell him the same joke at the tailgate. It went something like this:

Guy walks into a bar and sees this Dog on the floor watching intently at the Notre Dame v USC game on the TV. Around the end of the third quarter Notre Dame kicked a field goal to go ahead. The dog raised it's head and barked "Irish!". About 2 minutes left the Irish scored a touchdown and the dog started doing pushups. Finally as the last few seconds ticked off for the Irish win the dog got up and barked the entire Notre Dame Victory March. Two verses. The man just stared in astonishment and looked up at the bartender. He said.. "that's amazing! What does he do when USC wins?" They bartender shrugged and said "I don't know.. I've only had 'em for 11 years." (1983 - 1995)

Last year he told me the joke in reverse.. the dog's age was 6 years. This week.. I'd like to put that poodle to sleep.

Physical Ed said...

Sounds like you could live on Balboa Island, the place is draped in cardinal and gold. Makes me want to puke every time I go there.
I agree re the green jerseys. Have we won a qame in green since 1977?
Anyway, something is brewing this year. I have a good feeling, could go on and on about why, but I won't. But I think Manti has a lot to do with it. He plays his first "full" game against Washington and they put on a goal line show. He brings something that will make the whole defense play better. That was a huge team building victory on the goal line. I live in L.A., am getting on a plane tomorrow. All in. Go Irish

rakeback said...

I have been a lifelong Notre Dame fan and its really disappointing to see how far they have dropped in recent years. They need to hire a top-tier coach and get this thing turned around. Weiss has had enough time to put his stamp on the program and aside from 1 good year they have been very mediocre.