Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Another week, another exhilarating game, and most importantly another VICTORY. Let’s hit ten topics just like last week.

10. Kyle McCarthy

When the Irish need a play on the defensive side of the ball it is #28 who delivers. It started in the Big House when he picked off Tate Forcier to set up a touchdown to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. The next week he sealed the Michigan State win with a pick at the goal line. Then, in perhaps his finest hour, he came up with two huge plays at the end of the Washington game. First was his touchdown saving tackle on Washington fullback Paul Horner during the epic goal line stand in the fourth quarter; then he delivered a crushing blow to break up Locker’s last gasp on 4th and 19 (still no word if the receiver ever got off the turf…he looked like he was in the same happy place Tim Tebow was when he got his concussion).

Can we safely say he’s entered the Shane Walton Zone? In 2002 Walton always stepped up when we needed him and seemingly could will a turnover when he wanted to. I’ll always remember what he did at the 2002 Boston College game (the infamous kelly green jersey debacle). Notre Dame had just fumbled (one of SEVEN TIMES we put the ball on the turf that day) and the entire stadium was deflated. We were down 14-0, BC had the ball, and things were looking pretty grim. Walton came onto the field during the TV timeout before the BC possession and started jumping up and down pumping up the entire defense. Then he went over to the student section and started going nuts. The entire student section sprang to life and then the rest of the stadium followed suit. By the time BC approached the line of scrimmage the stadium was in a frenzy. First play: interception by Gerome Sapp. The place exploded, one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced in Notre Dame Stadium. Let’s just forget what happened the rest of the game for the sake of our collective mental/emotional health.

Kyle McCarthy isn’t the type of player who is going to flip out and try to get people fired up. He leads by action, by always being in the right place at the right time, and by coming up with the big play when presented with the opportunity. You can never have enough Kyle McCarthys.

9. Jimmy Clausen

This is becoming a broken record but it’d be a crime to leave him out. If the Purdue comeback placed him on the Heisman map and launched his campaign, this week’s 411 yard outburst put it into orbit. Let’s look at his stats this year in the 4th quarter when Notre Dame is trailing.

Michigan Game: Three Drives, Two TD’s*…9/15 113 yds TD
Michigan St Game: One Drive, One TD…4/5 59 yds TD
Purdue Game: One Drive, One TD…6/9 69 yds TD
Washington Game: Two Drives, One TD and One FG…6/8 97 yds TD
*Time expired on final drive

Overall he is 25 of 37 (67.5%) for 338 yards and four touchdowns. He’s led the team to a touchdown five out of seven times he’s taken the field and the only time they didn’t put points on the board was when he took over with under ten seconds left and 80 yards to go against Michigan. That’s about as clutch as it gets.

Is there another quarterback you’d want at the helm with the game on the line?

8. Harrison Smith

Hayseed, I had such high hopes for you. You run a 4.38 40, you’d shown a great nose for the ball when you played linebacker last year, you’re a freak athlete…what happened?

Harrison isn’t someone I’m ready to totally give up on, but he just seems totally out of sorts and a change needs to be made sooner rather than later if we hope to make a run for a BCS game. He’s missed a ton of tackles—against Washington I can remember three or four right off the top of my head that cost us BIG TIME—and always seems to be out of position whether it’s in coverage or on his angle into a ball carrier. I’d say it was the position change but Safety was his natural position to begin with. It really just seems like something is wrong—you don’t just go from good tackler to terrible tackler over the course of an offseason. I’d love to hear a breakdown from someone with defensive coaching experience about what the difference is this year and if there’s some plausible explanation for the dropoff.

Is it time to look for alternatives? Backup Ray Herring has gotten a good amount of playing time this year and can lay the wood, but he’s not nearly the athlete Hayseed is. Could we unleash a McCarthy-McCarthy safety duo? Spies close to the program say that Danny could have made a SERIOUS run at the starting position had he not gotten hurt and Kyle has been quoted saying that Danny is far more talented than he is. Here’s hoping Smith turns it around, but if he doesn’t do it quickly Charlie better be ready to go to Plan B.

7. Kerry Neal

Neal had a really rough start to the season—he lost his starting position and didn’t even register a tackle until last week. Give him all the credit in the world though for coming up big against Washington. There were a few different plays where he displayed unbelievable explosion and quickness off the ball. In the first half he blew up a running play in the backfield when he burned the left tackle to the inside and he also came up with one of the most important plays of the game when he buried Locker for a nine yard loss on second down in overtime. On that sack he was so quick off the ball that he had already blown by the tackle before he’d taken two steps back.

Neal is not an effective every down player and there are plenty of times where he just gets flattened on run plays (especially by good tackles), but he can be a very valuable contributor if he plays with the confidence he displayed against Washington. I think that’s pretty much the story of the entire defense though.

Perhaps the best example is someone who was the bane of my existence the past few years: John Ryan. He’s had an outstanding year. Why? Because it finally looks like he’s comfortable and confident in his role. He stays at home when he’s supposed to and aggressive when he’s supposed to be. He never looks like he’s on his heels. I can honestly say that if you told me during my senior year that in 2009 I would be devoting three sentences to praising John Ryan I would’ve slapped you and said that’s not funny.

Kerry Neal just may have come of age last week. Does that mean he’s headed for superstardom? No, it just means the light bulb may have gone on. If the rest of the defense starts to click we may be in a position to cause some serious damage down the stretch.

6. The New Kids on the Block

There have been a few players who have really emerged and provided valuable contributions to the defense, especially against Washington. First is the already legendary Manti Te’o, who racked up ten tackles against the Huskies. He’s still learning and will make the occasional mistake, but he’s already one of our best tacklers and has explosion that’s unparalleled by anyone on the team. When he takes off after a runner he looks like a scud missile. Give Charlie credit for finally pulling the trigger on getting him in for extended time over Toryan Smith. I don’t dislike Toryan, but Te’o is a monster and having him on the bench is wasting one of our greatest assets. Credit Toryan for being a good soldier through this transition.

The other person worth singling out is Gary Gray. I would argue that aside from Kyle McCarthy, Gray has been the best player in the secondary this year. There have been two or three deep balls he’s broken up with picture perfect coverage. He was a very highly touted high school prospect and—just like Kerry Neal—it finally seems like his confidence and comfort level have caught up with his ability and talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if his playing time increases more and more over the course of the season. I can’t tell you how happy I am that he stuck out his leave of absence and returned.

5. Golden Tate

So Michael Floyd goes out and people fret over whether Golden will be able to perform without #3 out there to keep teams from loading up to stop him. Well, he answered with 128 all-purpose yards from just about everywhere against Purdue. What does he do for an encore? Catches nine balls for 244 yards and tacks on a 31 yard run on a reverse. It’s too early to break out hyperbole like “one of the best receivers in school history,” but it’s not too early to acknowledge he’s one of the most electrifying players to ever don the blue and gold.

The offensive gameplan centered around getting the ball in his hands against Purdue was a stroke of brilliance by Weis and Golden delivered, but his performance against Washington was a much bigger deal. It signified him taking the next step as a wide receiver—something Rocket Ismail never really did. Golden does far more than just run go routes, screens, and reverses; he and Jimmy have a fantastic rapport and when plays break down Golden does a great job of finding spots in the zone where Jimmy can hit him.

Go back and look at the his touchdown catch in the second quarter. The pass rush forced Jimmy to scramble so Golden settled down right in a crease in the defensive zone. Jimmy found him and delivered a strike. Then the playmaking skills and elusiveness we all know took over and he broke three tackles before strutting into the endzone for six.

Seems like little by little the pieces of this team are subtly coming of age, doesn’t it?

4. Defensive Heart

Every Irish fan has been encouraged with the progress of the offense over the course of the season. The same cannot be said about the defense. Well Saturday they finally gave everyone something to cheer about. Twice they faced the Huskies inside their own five and twice they turned them away. The pair of goal line stands—including the epic nine plays inside the 10 yard line stand in the fourth quarter—showed grit, determination, and resolve.

Who saved the day on both stands? Kyle McCarthy, of course. Everyone remember the hit on the fullback to save a touchdown on the fourth quarter stand, but he also was the savior on the third quarter stand too. On third down it was McCarthy that buried Locker on the one inch line of his quarterback sneak.

Looking back at the tape there are two others that deserve credit on that third quarter stand: Harrison Smith and Kerry Neal. The two of them stuck and wrapped up Locker on fourth down, keeping him out of the endzone as he tried keep his legs churning to do his best Robert Hughes impression.

Could this be a turning point for the Irish defense? I think it’d be naïve to just flatly say yes, but we have plenty of playmakers and an aggressive scheme. I would say that we have improved over the course of the year but we still have a ways to go. Turning the corner will come down to the confidence and execution—if those stands helped increase the former then we’re getting close.

3. Good Call/Bad Call

Good Call of the Week: “If there was a way to short Houston stock right now I’d have unloaded my bank account already.” –Column from last Monday

Oh those tricky, tricky UTEP Miners…

Bad Call of the Week: “Washington State (+35) over Oregon …Too many points to be giving to the Spunky Cougs”

They were down 42-0 at halftime. Really spunky there Cougs, reaaaaally spunky.

2. Across the Country (rapid fire reactions to the weekend)

There will never again be situations like the ones Penn State and Florida State are facing with their aging coaches. Both Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are responsible for putting their respective schools on the college football map and the “powers that be” at both institutions have a responsibility to let them leave on their own terms...but the coaches have a mutual responsibility to put the best interests of the programs they built ahead of their own egos. It’s wildly obvious that neither Bowden nor Paterno is anything more than a figurehead. That hasn’t hurt Penn State and therefore I see no reason to make Paterno leave if he doesn’t want to leave. However, things seem to be crumbling at Florida State. What exactly could Bowden do to turn things around? Is he going to come up with a new innovative scheme? It’s sad and it’s difficult, but it’s time that Bobby stepped down. That being said, the board of trustees at Florida State could not be handling this situation any more poorly. Herbstreit chastised them on ESPN today and he was spot on. It’s a borderline embarrassment.

Hey Arrelious—any regrets?

Georgia is flagged for a questionable excessive celebration call and Pat Forde acts like it’s a complete travesty…yet Notre Dame’s excessive celebration call where Armando put his finger up to his mouth to go “shhh” gets exactly ZERO mention despite the fact that it changed the course of the game. Hmmm…I do think officials are getting ridiculous in their enforcement of the rule. College football is an emotional game where some times 100,000 people are screaming their lungs out for or against you. To expect a bunch of college kids to not get swept up in it after a huge play is unreasonable and stupid. Taunting and grandstanding are unacceptable, but spontaneous celebrations (like AJ Green’s last weekend and the Jake Locker one in the BYU-Washington game last year) are just part of the game. This is a perfect example of enforcing the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the law.

Al Groh, I just don’t think you can do enough to save your job this time.

I don’t care how sorry LaGarrette Blount is, there is no way he should be able to play this year…and it has nothing to do with the punch and everything to do with the fact that he acted like a crazy person and charged the stands. I’m all for second chances but his actions deserved the punishment he received.

Man, Gene Chizik…who would’ve thought that’d turn out to be the best hire of the year? Lane Kiffin came in to the SEC with a lot of bark but no bite. Chizik quietly took the job as the nation—including Auburn’s most vocal alumnus Charles Barkley—berated him and the University’s decision. Now his high powered offense and suffocating defense have War Eagle shooting up the rankings. Kudos to him and to the University for making the right choice even though it wasn’t the popular one.

Ron Zook and Dan Hawkins, please quietly pack your things.

1. Final Countdown

It was a much different feel after the Washington game than it was after the Purdue game. With Purdue I was almost perturbed that we had to sweat things out against an inferior opponent. After Washington I was just absolutely elated. What was the difference?

I think one thing was the fact that there were so many memorable plays. There were the goal line stands, the drive to take the lead, Robert Hughes pushing a pile four yards to find the endzone on the two point conversion, Kyle McCarthy lighting up the receiver to seal the game…it was just a roller coaster of emotions and for once we found ourselves ending on the highest of highs instead of the lowest of lows.

The bigger thing though, was the fact that we watched the season head to the brink of being over only to have so many players step up and make plays to save it. It wasn’t just Jimmy; it was Golden going for over 270 all purpose yards. It was Kyle McCarthy coming up with the hits we needed when there was no room for error. It was a freshman kicker doing his job perfectly. It was the weak link of the team—the defensive line—rising up and providing both the physical and emotional lift to push us over the edge to victory.

I’ve been looking forward to the Southern Cal game on October 17th since the Trojans ripped my heart out in 2005. If we would have lost that Washington game it would’ve deflated me to a point where I don’t know if I could have gotten myself up off the mat. It would’ve splintered what is already a somewhat divided fan base and destroyed any momentum we had built up over the first part of the season. Winning that game was huge on so many different levels.

Now we find ourselves riding high going into one of the program’s most important games in the last thirty years. Over the next ten days I will do everything I can to whip everyone I know into a frenzy for that game. I couldn’t be more jacked up and if you’re a Notre Dame fan, I hope that if you aren’t there yet you’ll be there by next week.

The countdown begins my friends.



  1. awesome summary -- thx

  2. 911 E. Elm Street

    A********, ** *****

    Ill be expecting my check....GO TROY