Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Movin' on Up

Another streak bites the dust. It wasn't pretty, but if you said before the season that we'd break the MSU and BC streaks I would've signed up for it in a second. Of course I'd rather bury BC in the ground, but a small step in the right direction is better than the alternative. Let's hit ten things today.

10. Darius Fleming

During one of the many preseason discussions I had with my buddy Pat we came upon the topic of what number Notre Dame jersey we would buy if we got one before this season. I don’t remember who he decided on (though I’m sure now it would be Bobby Burger’s #86), but I wanted Fleming’s #45 jersey. I just thought he was a freak athlete with tremendous size, strength, speed, and an ability to get to the quarterback we hadn’t seen since Justin Tuck left after the 2004 campaign. Ethan Johnson got a little more publicity as a freshman last year so I figured #45 would be under the radar a bit before exploding onto the scene.

Then Tate Forcier’s ankle-breaking happened the second week of the season and I was convinced my opinion of him had changed forever. Since that day he’s done everything to win me back. Did anyone realize he already has 9.5 tackles for loss? Going into last week’s game he was top 20 in the nation for that statistic.

Perhaps an even bigger and no doubt overlooked contribution is the fact that his pressure caused two interceptions that iced games. The first was on the final defensive play of the Michigan State game where he blew by the tackle and forced Kirk Cousins to throw a duck which Kyle McCarthy snatched to seal the game. The second came this past weekend when his pass rush led to Dave Shinskie terrible decision to gift-wrap a turnover to Brian Smith. When he puts his hand on the ground and is told to go get the quarterback he’s deadly.

9. Dink and Dunk

In the week leading up to the game Weis essentially said the Irish were going to “dink and dunk” Boston College instead of taking a lot of shots down the field. I understand what he was thinking in terms of taking what the defense gives you and guarding against the disaster that occurred in Chestnut Hill last year, but this is an example of a time where I think Charlie outsmarts himself just a little.

(I preface my few couple sentences by saying that ultimately his strategy worked and it was effective—this is just a commentary on the attitude he took.)

We’re a more talented team than Boston College. We have the best quarterback in the country, a big offensive line that has been good in pass protection this year, one of the most explosive players in the nation split out wide, and one of the best tight ends in the country. Why wouldn’t we impose our will on the weaker team? This reminds me of when Avery Johnson switched up the starting lineup he’d used all year for the #1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs to adjust to the fact that the #8 seeded Golden State Warriors were going small. Why play into an inferior team’s hand by adjusting to what they do?

The counter-argument in defense of Charlie would be look at how BC played us and look at how perfectly our scheme picked it apart. They sagged off 8-10 yards every play (look at the last Tate touchdown—Haden brought up a graphic that pointed out the exact distance) and we ran successful stop routes with Kamara all day long for almost automatic nine yard gains. Jimmy did a great job of staying patient and sticking with the plan (showing another facet of his game that has really developed).

Sometimes coaches over think things and outsmart themselves. Sometimes you have to just go out there and flatten an inferior opponent regardless of what scheme they are executing. Upon further review that wasn’t exactly what happened here (although we did only put up 20 points), but I really do think it’s something Charlie needs to be careful of. If we’re going to be an upper-echelon team it’s time to start carrying ourselves like one.

8. Slam the Door

Last month I talked about our inability to slam the door shut when our offense had the chance to essentially end a game. Let’s look at the two BC drives after we took the lead in the fourth quarter and how our season totals stand at this point.

Drive #1: We took over with seven minutes to go. First play was a run with Armando that was stuffed for no gain. He was hurt on the play—which was a vivid and terrible replay in my mind of the Michigan/Michigan State games—meaning that Jonas Gray had to come in on second down. Jonas actually tore off a good six yard run on second down. On third down Jimmy couldn’t connect with Rudolph and we had to punt.
Drive Summary: 3 Plays (2 rush, 1 pass), 6 yards, 0:56

Drive #2: We took over with 4:23 left on the clock and Boston College had two timeouts remaining. Armando was stopped in the backfield for a three yard loss on first down. On second down Armando ran for five yards making it 3rd and 8. BC was forced to burn a timeout. On third down Jimmy threw an incomplete pass that was initially ruled an interception but overturned.
Drive Summary: 3 Plays (2 rush, 1 pass), 2 yards, 1:01

Add those drives in with our previous potential “Slam the Door” drives and our season averages come to:

3.6 plays…7.4 yards…1:16 run off the clock

That’s pretty terrible and shows that in spite of the fact that we have a pretty octane and clutch offense there is plenty of room to grow. That being said, if I had to choose I’d much rather have a team that fights back and performs under pressure but doesn’t know how to step on a bad team’s throat than a team that blows out the teams it should but doesn’t know how to come back and win a tight game. There’s no reason they should be mutually exclusive—and if we want to be elite they can’t be—but that would be my glass half-full view.

7. Punting Woes

I sat here the first month of the season and harped on how we needed to bench Eric Maust because there was no way freshman Ben Turk could be worse. I was wrong. He was abhorrently terrible against BC and made a huge contribution to the substantial field position advantage the Eagles enjoyed all day. It is beyond me how we cannot find a person who can consistently punt the ball over 40 yards.

We’re giving you a scholarship to kick a ball a couple times a game. You should be out in McGlinn Field punting balls at the bookstore until either: A. you learn how to kick it 43 yards every time or B. your leg falls off in an attempt to do so.

I understand we aren’t always going to have someone capable of booming 60 yard kicks every time he walks on the field, but to have punter be such a glaring weakness (to the point where it affects other aspects of the game) is unacceptable. Often times it is looked upon as an insignificant position that teams almost don’t want to waste a scholarship filling, but all you have to do is look at the this year to see the subtle effects it has on games. When a punter goes out there and unleashes a long punt to swing field position it takes a little wind out of the sails of the opponent getting the ball. When he goes out and lays a 30 yard egg it galvanizes the opposing team. We’ve had far too much of the latter this year.

I have no idea what the answer is on how to fix it but it needs to be done. If that means letting Golden Tate punt so be it.

6. Golden Tate

There needs to start being some legitimate talk about Heisman consideration. He’s averaging 121ypg, over one touchdown per game, and over six yards per carry when he gets the ball in the backfield. He has the highlight reel catches (that first touchdown against Southern Cal could win an ESPY), he has the important plays in big moments (first down catch over his head on the final USC drive, game-winning catch against BC), and he has one of the best and most recognizable names in sports.

Jimmy has been amazing and in reality there is no chance of Golden because he’s not even the most deserving on his team. The only plausible scenario would be if Jimmy gets hurt and Golden keeps going like this which is (KNOCK ON WOOD—please God take note of this parenthetical sentence) highly unlikely. Still, his play over the course of the year absolutely deserves attention and acclaim at the national level. If any writer out there puts together an All-American team at the midway point and leaves him off it’s a travesty.

5. Defensive Line

Another fantastic performance for the defensive line against the run this week. I—like many fans—was very concerned about how we’d be able to handle Montel Harris, but they bottled him up (38 yards on 22 carries). A big part of the progress since the bye week is due to the fact that tackling up front has improved leaps and bounds. I was ready to pull my hair out during the Washington game when it looked like Polk was covered in grease as we tried to take him down in the backfield.

I was especially impressed with how we handled their Wildcat formation. Harris ripped off a 14 yard run out of it in the second half, but other than that we stymied it the few times they chose to run it. I was surprised BC didn’t utilize it more against such a young line and after finding such success with it against a great rush defense the week before (NC State was ranked #15 in the country), though I’m certainly not complaining. Instead they did what most other teams have done—unleashed a young and experienced quarterback on our Swiss Cheese secondary.

The great news about the maturation of the defensive line (and the front seven in general) is the fact that every single person is back next year—and all but Ian Williams and Brian Smith will be back the year after that. Our front seven could be absolutely RIDICULOUS if a few chips fall the right way in recruiting and the young studs like Fleming, Te’o, and KLM continue improving at the rate they are right now. RIDICULOOOOOUS.

4. Quote of the Week

“I don’t know how else to say it, but I always used to like linebackers that would run through somebody’s face. That's what Manti does.” –Charlie Weis on Manti Te’o

Can anyone remember someone who lived up to such enormous hype so quickly? The guy is an absolute monster and is already our biggest, fastest, and most explosive linebacker.

3. Stat of the Week

Notre Dame has scored ONE TOUCHDOWN when leading since the Nevada game (and that came in the first half of the Purdue game). That is a mind-blowing stat. Before the season if you would have told me that was the case through seven games I would’ve thought we’d be in full-throttle crisis mode.

2. Around the Country

That was an incredibly classy thing West Virginia fans did for UConn. I can honestly say I never thought I’d use the words “classy” and “West Virginia fans” in the same sentence. Kudos to them.

Speaking of classy fans…Michigan State got a nice kick in the groin with no time left from the Iowa Hawkeyes. Is Iowa for real? It depends on your definition of real I suppose. I think Iowa will slip up before the end of the regular season, probably against Ohio State. They deserve all the credit in the world for what they’ve done this year and they’ve certainly earned their ranking, but I think once they’re matched up against one of the other top teams from the SEC or Big 12 they’ll get their doors blown off much like the last time they were in the BCS (a 38-17 shellacking at the hands of USC).

Michigan, you better be ready to weather a serious storm down the stretch.

Terrelle Pryor—you should have just switched to wide receiver. You stink as a pro-style quarterback. I know that’s tough to hear since I’m sure your ego is bigger than Brutus Buckeye’s head, but it needs to be said over and over again until it gets through your thick skull.

Tim Tebow has not been one of the top ten quarterbacks in the country this year yet he’s still the front-runner for the Heisman in most polls. What a joke.

That Mark Ingram bandwagon filled reeeeeeeeally quickly. Can you believe ‘Bama’s never had a Heisman winner? He’s been great thus far but I’m going to venture a guess that Mr. Ingram won’t change that statistic this year. He’s being looked at just because no one else has really emerged and he’s played very well. Someone over the next month will have a game that vaults him to the top. Maybe it will be Jimmy on November 14th…

Being able to place money on a fast and athletic team to defeat BYU is the equivalent of being able to place money on how Stephen Hawking would do on a first grade addition test.

1. Boston College

When I make a list of the teams in college football that I really hate I always seem to forget Boston College; every time we play them though I’m reminded why they belong at the top of the list. First and foremost is the fact that they’ve beaten us in some huge games over the past two decades (namely ’93 when we were ranked #1 and ’02 when we were ranked #4). It’s so much more than that though.

They’re the only school that has students that come Friday night to disrupt the Notre Dame pep rallies. They have far and away the most obnoxious fans (this is judged not just by the actions I’ve witnessed, but the fact that more BC students are kicked out of Notre Dame Stadium than any other school’s students). They talk an inordinate amount of trash about how they’re actually the better team and school, yet get indignant whenever Notre Dame fans respond with their own barbs (which are many times rooted in truth). Their team trashed the Notre Dame visitor’s locker room and tore up pieces of turf, parading them around as trophies to mock the ND players and fans after a victory. One doesn’t have to look much farther than this paragraph to understand why Notre Dame fans assign a special place in their hearts for BC.

The thing that gets me the most though is the fact that every single year we field a team that is more talented and better than Boston College…yet somehow they more times than not find a way to beat us. Sometimes it’s fluky (’02 Dillingham handoff…I still want to jam a pencil in my eye when I think about that game), sometimes it’s because we shoot ourselves in the foot (’04 missed extra point), sometimes we just never get off the bus and don’t match their enthusiasm (’08 dud). Boston College always gives us their best effort and we never seem to answer it. It seemed that we were headed down the same road this year until the defense closed things out.

Losing to BC leaves a unique feeling of disgust and anger in your gut. It’s like losing a pickup basketball game to a terrible player who won’t stop talking trash in a thick Boston accent. You stare at your hands. You stare at the ball. You stare at the basket. And you stare at that knucklehead. Anger and disgust builds and you can’t explain how the hell he just beat you, but now you’re going to have to hear about it forever even though you’d beat him 99 times out of 100.

Because BC is looked upon by Notre Dame fans as sort of little brother, we almost don’t want to acknowledge that beating them means anything. We’re supposed to every year—we don’t look at the game as the Super Bowl like they do. I’m not going to lie though, this win tasted goooooooooood. Being able to just point to a scoreboard to silence the chatter for the first time 2000 was wonderful. Let’s make a habit of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment