Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dear Diary...Notre Dame-Stanford

The final regular season diary of 2009 comes to you live from the Lehigh Valley. I’ve dusted off the old Charlie’s Army shirt for one last hurrah. Tonight has a somber and depressing feel. I hope against hopes that the Irish can pull off the upset and send Charlie out on a winning note…let’s fire it up.

8:00 Jimmy is walking in with Elton John glasses minus the sequins…talk about fodder for opposing fans. They finally reveal his blackened eye as he’s warming up on the field. Whoever hit him landed a pretty good punch.

8:01 They’re showing Charlie’s opening press conference and his last Sunday press conference. I cannot believe almost exactly five years later we’ve arrived at this point.

8:12 Stanford wins the toss and chooses to take the ball. Jim Harbaugh always takes the ball when he wins the toss. Remember when we did that? God, what the HELL happened?!?! This is like a bad dream.

8:13 Stanford returns the opening kickoff to the 46 yard line. Another fine start from the Irish special teams. Ugh.

8:14 I love Herbstreit and I’m one of the few people who still likes Musberger…but if they spend the entire evening gushing about Luck and Gerhart at the pace they are now I’m going to crush the mute button.

8:15 Manti Te’o comes in and stuffs a defender short of the first down on second down. Great, sound tackle. 3rd and 2, come on Irish.

8:16 Gerhart is STUFFED off the left tackle. Manti Te’o in on the play again. Stanford is forced to punt. Great start for the defense, great start for #5. Let’s go boys!

8:17 Fumble on the first offensive play from scrimmage by Theo Riddick. Wasn’t a big hit or anything—in fact he wasn’t even close to being knocked down—he just didn’t secure the ball well and let it slip out of his hands. All you can do is shake your head at this point. Few players outside of Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Kyle McCarthy have done much to save Charlie Weis this season. Mental errors galore.

8:18 Manti Te’o makes a tackle short of the first down bringing up another 3rd and 2.

8:19 Touchdown Stanford. Toby Gerhart breaks an ankle tackle that almost trips him up, but he gets his hand on the ground to keep his balance and dives into the endzone. Great second effort there. Stanford 7, Notre Dame 0 less than four minutes into the game.

8:25 Duval Kamara is flagged for an illegal procedure call on first down. Two plays, one fumble, one illegal procedure. It’s declined by the Cardinal because Hughes got thrown for a loss. The size of the brain tumor this season has given me could be placed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

8:25 Musberger comments on how the sloppy play could be attributed to the fact that assistant coaches are looking for other jobs and not coaching as hard so the players’ focus suffers. Brent, you obviously haven’t watched many of our games this season.

8:26 Irish are forced to punt. Is this headed down the path of the Pitt game?

8:27 TURK BOOMS ONE AND IT’S A FUUUUUUUMBLLLLLLLLLLE! THE IRISH RECOVER! SERGIO BROWN RIPS THE BALL FREE AND WE’LL TAKE OVER AT THE 16 YARD LINE. That was a great punt by Ben Turk—maybe he’s finally getting it. See, good things happen when you unload bombs like that.

8:28 Jimmy tries to get Golden in the endzone and it just slips through Tate’s fingers. Would’ve been a ridiculous catch but we’ve reached the point where when he doesn’t come down with it—no matter how tough it is—you’re shocked.

8:29 Robert Hughes on 3rd and 2 busts through the line for a gain of three. Good job there by the offensive line.

8:30 TOUCHDOWN IRISH. GOLDEN TATE IN THE FRONT CORNER OF THE ENDZONE. Sharpley bobbles the snap on the extra point but Ruffer finds a way to get it through the uprights. COME ON BOYS, LET’S GET’EM. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 7.

8:34 Musberger is not exactly on fire tonight. He’s already mispronounced Ragone, called Sharpley “Shipley,” and called a pass incomplete and out of bounds when it was pretty clearly caught. Just blatantly screwing up what’s going on during the game and the total butchering of simple player names (I mean Sharpley isn’t showing up on the Scripps National Spelling Bee) must be added to the Brent Musberger Drinking Game. If you haven’t seen/played this game, you need to do both as soon as possible. We played this senior year, it makes the game so much more entertaining. Click the Musberger link.

8:35 Three plays and three first downs for the Cardinal. A great catch along the sideline for one, a huge run on a stretch to the left, and another one right up the gut. They’re just steamrolling us—HUGE holes opening each play.

8:36 Sergio Brown BURIES the quarterback on a second down safety blitz. Great timing on that play.

8:38 Stanford completes a pass on third and long but it’s short of the first down. Luck looks a little jumpy in the pocket; the Irish are actually got a pretty good push on the line there. Notre Dame transfer Nate Whitaker trots out and splits the uprights to put another three points on the board for the Cardinal. Stanford 10, Notre Dame 7 with 5:59 left in the first quarter.

8:43 GREAT job by Jimmy Clausen to step up in the pocket and shovel a pass to Robert Hughes on third and seven for a first down. That play highlights how far he’s come in terms of strength the past couple years. The guy is a gritty, gritty competitor.

8:45 Another first down by Jimmy on third down after delivering a bullet to Tate. Great throw and great catch. The replay shows exactly why Tate is a great prospect (unreal hands—brought it down even though he was probably being interfered with) and why he’s still got a ways to go (lazy route).

8:46 BRUISING run by Robert Hughes picks up eight. He carried three or four defenders for the last four yards. Good, hard-earned yards right there. When he runs with that sort of purpose we become a totally different team, especially in short yardage situations…like this one. It’s 3rd and 1.

8:47 THEO RIDDICK WITH A HUGE 24 YARD RUN ON 3RD AND 1. That’s a fantastic playcall right there by Weis. Everyone once in awhile he rolls out plays that remind you why he’s considered an offensive genius…it’s just been too few and far between lately. That just totally caught the Stanford with their pants down.

8:48 TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOOOOWN IRISH! JIMMY SCRAMBLES RIGHT AND FINDS MICHAEL FLOYD IN THE CORNER OF THE ENDZONE. PHENOMENAL CATCH BY FLOYD! What a great three play stretch. How the hell is this a 6-5 football team?!?! Braxton Cave is long-snapping like he’s got money on Stanford, but Sharpley gets it down and Ruffer sneaks the extra point inside the left upright. Notre Dame 14, Stanford 10.

8:52 David Ruffer kicks it out of bounds on the kickoff. It’s our first noteworthy “Gun-Foot-Fire” of the day. We just do so many little things wrong every game. One step forward, one step backward.

8:53 First down is an eight yard pass which was pretty easy because the receiver had a ten yard cushion. Just the same stuff different day. On the next play Gerhart easily picks up the first down as he carries defenders along the last few yards. Sergio Brown was working to try to strip him—Sergio, don’t fall in love with the strip just because it worked once, get the guy on the dam ground.

8:56 Luck hits a receiver with Brian Smith right in his grill. It seems like our blitzers are getting through with a much higher rate of success than normal today. Will this cause Tenuta to dial up “Gaps Fire” on 92% of our plays? Probably.

9:01 The defense holds and Mr. Whitaker draws one just inside the right upright from 47 yards. How did Brandon Walker and Carl Gioia beat out this kid? Notre Dame 14, Stanford 13. We might have a great, entertaining shootout on our hands here if both teams keep up this pace.

9:06 The Irish are on the march with Hughes running like a man possessed and leading the charge. He almost took the last one to the house—the last defender BARELY tripped him up on an 11 yard burst up the middle. The offensive line is really controlling the line of scrimmage right now.

9:08 The Irish face a 4th and 1. Jimmy sneaks it for the first down but Charlie called a timeout before the snap.

9:11 Robert Hughes BUSTS up the middle for 15 yards behind a devastating block from Chris Stewart that wiped out two defenders. First down Irish. If Stewart continues progressing and stays motivated he’s absolutely going to be playing on Sundays. He’s a phenomenal athlete for someone of his size and when he locks onto a defender that guy is like a bug on Matt Kenseth’s windshield.

9:12 Riddick picks up six on first down. Thus far it’s been a dominating performance from the boys up front.

9:13 Clausen fumbles the exchange but recovers. Same crap, different day.

9:13 Incomplete pass on third and four. Time to trot out David Ruffer for a 42 yard attempt.

9:14 Ruffer splits the uprights and the Irish increase their lead to four, 17-13. Disappointing that the drive didn’t end up in the endzone with how the line was blowing the defenders off the ball on the march down the field.

9:16 Stanford starts with a kickoff return to the 38. They’ve had unbelievable field position all day.

9:17 Toby Gerhart blows right up the middle for 18 yards, he wasn’t even touched until he was in the secondary. He’s a hard runner—he just lowers his head and keeps his legs going 100mph even as he’s going down.

9:19 The bald eagle John Ryan with a stop in the backfield! Who would’ve thought he’d actually show up and be somewhat productive and likeable his senior season.

9:20 They interview Gerhart’s dad who has the personality of a soup can. Musberger spends awhile talking about the fact that Toby and his dad communicate during the game through hand signals. Invigorating stuff. I’d watch one of the Twilight movies before I’d listen to this guy talk for another two minutes. That’s a lie…meanwhile the Irish hold and force a Stanford punt.

9:22 False start on Sam Young followed by a hold backs the Irish to the three. Goodness gracious.

9:25 2nd and 19 is a small gain by Theo Riddick on a draw but a late hit gives us an automatic first down. Moronic play by the defense, one I’m used to seeing the guys in gold helmets making.

9:26 TOUCHDOOOOOOWN IRISH!!!!!!!! GOLDEN TATE ON THE 78 YARD BOMB FROM CLAUSEN IN DOUBLE COVERAGE. UN-BE-LIEVABLE. GREAT THROW, GREAT CATCH. Notre Dame jumps out to a 24-13 lead. Thank you very much for that idiotic penalty to kick-start the drive. Someone get Jim Harbaugh a valium before his head explodes. Go yell at your player that laid the blatantly obvious hit you lunatic, not the ref who called it.

9:32 Stanford has rolled right down the field and a long Luck pass has them inside the five with a minute left. Brent Musberger says “get ready for Toby” before the first down play. Manti Te’o responds “NO SOUP FOR YOU TOBY” as he STUFFS Gerhart at the line of scrimmage.

9:34 Touchdown Stanford with the fullback off the right tackle. Dam. The extra point makes it 24-20 with just 11 seconds left in the half. I don’t know why we wouldn’t have used our timeouts there in an attempt to give us a chance to respond when we got the ball back.

9:37 Notre Dame just takes a knee and goes into halftime up 24-20. I’d have to say I’m very, very pleased with our performance thus far. As expected, Gerhart has been productive (73 yards and a TD at 5.2ypc) but the Irish offense has looked like the well-oiled machine we knew it was capable of being for the first time since the Washington State game. The team that wins this game will be the one who makes the necessary adjustments on defense. I’m just happy that it’s been a relatively relaxing and enjoyable 30 minutes of football. It hasn’t been flawless by any stretch (Theo’s fumble, Ruffer’s kick out of bounds, stupid penalties, etc), but on the whole that was a great half of football—specifically on offense. Let’s keep it going and gut out a W.

9:59 The Irish get the ball to start the second half and return it out to the 23. Whitaker’s kickoff lands at the 3 yard line. I don’t remember him ever kicking it that far. How in God’s name have we not had a kicker since Nick Setta that can reach the endzone consistently?

10:00 Golden Tate on the reverse goes for 15 yards on the first play from scrimmage, followed by Robert Hughes drilling up the middle for another eight yards. Offensive line gets the gameball in my book at this point in the game.

10:02 TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOOOOOWN IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CLAUSEN ON A WILDCAT REVERSE BOMBS IT TO A WIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE OPEN MICHAEL FLOYD. BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED PLAY, BEAUTIFUL EXECUTION. IRISH GO UP 31-20. We’d only been setting up the Clausen throwing from the receiver position of the Wildcat play since the first game of the year. This is the Charlie Weis that we thought would show up this season. We’re absolutely clowning their defense right now—there have been multiple times where they’ve been caught with their pants down, almost reminiscent of the 2005 Pitt game. Unfortunately, he needed this game to happen against Pitt. Too little, too late but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

10:03 This text from Dip sums it up pretty well: “I’m glad Charlie waited until his fate was sealed to unleash a flurry of well-thought out, schematic advantage-type plays that have us whipping a good team.” Totally agree. I still don’t understand what happened—he did this for an entire year in 2005, don’t tell me that coaches “figured him out” to such a thorough degree.

10:08 Crummy field position for Stanford because of a bobbled catch on the kick is quickly reversed thanks to some big runs by Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor. They’re dominating the line of scrimmage just like we are on the other side of the ball. Their running backs have a whole lot of real estate to work with when they get the ball. The difference between the teams right now is that they’re moving the ball at will on the ground and we’re doing it through the air. Odds are much better they can keep it up than we can.

10:11 Andrew Luck scrambles to the right for a 17 yard rush inside 15 yard line. Odds of us making a stop right now are about 5%.

10:12 Touchdown Stanford, Gerhart takes the pitch and bulls into the left side of the endzone. This is a shootout. Right now we’ve got the upperhand; we really can’t afford to slip up though because I don’t see us stopping their bruising attack. That being said, there’s a 99% chance Charlie is coaching his last game and it’s quite evident he’s pulling out every stop with the plays he’s calling. No reason we can’t just keep rolling, right? Right? Anybody?

10:17 Beautifully executed screen on first down to Robert Hughes goes for 23 yards down the left sideline. That was without a doubt the best execution on a screen play since Darius Walker was in the backfield.

10:18 Theo Riddick gets lit up on a screen…by his blocker Chris Stewart. Facepalm. 3rd and 9 coming up here. Come on Irish.

10:19 The Irish are forced to punt as Jimmy overthrows Golden who had his man beat deep. Dam. Stanford will take over at the 13.

10:22 Harrison Smith DESTROYS Gerhart in the flat just as the ball hits Toby’s hands. Toby’s having a good day but he’s taken some big hits. I’ll give Harrison credit for playing a lot better since his transition back to linebacker. That doesn’t mean I forgive him for the rest of the season. Not even an iota.

10:23 Andrew Luck scrambles on third and long for a huge gain after he eluded a heavy rush by ND, but it’s coming back for a hold. It’s going to be 3rd and 11. COME ON IRISH, HOLD.

10:25 Gerhart takes a ball wide open in the flat and rumbles for a 33 yard gain. Jeez almighty, we couldn’t stop a pee wee offense right now.

10:26 Another 21 yard gain on a flea flicker. The receiver goes out of bounds right in front of Clausen, who gives him an earful. Apparently it’s his old high school teammate. Adorable.

10:28 Another third down conversion for the Cardinal on a great catch by the tight end.

10:29 Sergio Brown takes Taylor down in the backfield on a blitz and starts celebrating half way through his tackle. Great play Sergio, now settle down.

10:30 Darrin Walls comes up and makes a great stop on third down for another loss of yardage, bringing up a 4th and 7 as the third quarter comes to a close. Come on Charlie, don’t take the foot off the gas. You’re calling a great game so far, don’t go into a shell and leave it up to the defense.

10:34 Stanford splits the uprights and it’s 31-30.

10:37 Touchback on the kickoff. What the hell Nate Whitaker?!?!

10:38 Jimmy goes deep to Golden Tate but it falls incomplete. Fortunately we get a questionable pass interference call to go our way and it’s an automatic first down.

10:39 Hughes trucks for nine yards on first down, followed by Michael Floyd taking a quick pass in the flat for 12 yards. We’re rolling, come on baby!

10:40 Another interference call on Stanford on a deep pass to Michael Floyd. Charlie has quickly answered the question as to whether he’ll keep his foot on the gas. I like it—I like it a lot.


10:43 Tack on a personal foul penalty on Stanford. Jim Harbaugh’s blood pressure has to have reached the Mark Mangino range. The extra point is good and it’s 38-30 Irish.


10:47 Gerhart goes right to work right up the middle, a 28 yard run with a Sergio Brown “OLE” thrown in there for good measure. This is why you aren’t allowed to celebrate when you do your job Sergio. I find myself talking to him more than any other player in these diaries.

10:49 Stanford is already down inside the 25, but a holding penalty on first down is going to back them up to 1st and 20 at the 34.

10:51 Gerhart plows down for 12 yards to cut it to 3rd and 8. Harbaugh barks on the sidelines that they have two downs which means you can count on a run play here. Come on Irish, COME UP WITH A STOP HERE.

10:52 Taylor gets stopped after a four yard gain, bringing up a 4th and 4. Huge play here. COME ON BABY.

10:53 Toby Gerhart throws a halfback pass and Whalen makes a helluva catch in the endzone while being interfered with for a touchdown. Great, ballsy call there by Harbaugh and great execution by the team. Notre Dame 38, Stanford 36. Alright, big two point conversion play coming up here.

10:55 Two point conversion is good on a tight end drag along the back of the endzone behind Kyle McCarthy. We’re all tied up at 38 with 8:59 left. Instant Classic in the making, at the very least this has been an unbelievably entertaining game to watch…unlike Bob Davie’s “Dead Man Walking” trip to Palo Alto in 2001 (a 17-13 ugly, ugly loss in the mud to Ty Willingham).

10:58 Nate Whitaker bangs one into the endzone and Theo brings it out to the 16. Seeing other teams do so many subtle, little things well highlights how poorly we do them. They make a colossal difference in tight games—which, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re always involved in.

10:59 Great start with a bruising run up the middle by Robert Hughes for nine yards. Floyd picks up a first down on a pass to the flat on the next play. Alright, let’s keep rolling boys.

11:01 Paul Duncan takes a deflection and runs it for five yards…a text from Brad and/or Panzer is on the way, guaranteed.

11:01 Brad’s text: “Paul Duncan WIN”

11:02 Stanford stuffs Hughes on 3rd and 2 and forces a punt. Crap. That was essentially like they broke our serve in tennis. A mediocre 39 yard punt by Ben Turk gives the Cardinal the ball at the 29 yard line with 5:48 left. Well, it’s going to come down to the defense coming up with a stop to give Jimmy one more chance. Get ready for a huge dose of Toby Gerhart—Harbaugh doesn’t want to give the ball up again. I feel like every Irish fan can already see how this is going to play out…and it won’t leave any of us happy.

11:05 Two plays, two Gerhart runs, one first down. The second run was a Heisman highlight reel run where he ran over Gary Gray and then dragged some more defenders for even more yardage.

11:06 Musberger just informed us that Gerhart just passed Lendale White and Corey Dillon on the all-time rushing TD list during the game. Any time you can erase Lendale White’s name from the record books I’ll applaud. On the scale of life, I have White rating out somewhere between jock itch and a pile of dog feces.

11:07 Big 3rd and 6 here just over midfield…my faith that we’ll make the play is somewhere around zero. COME ON IRISH.

11:07 Completion over the middle for a big gain and a first down. We’re now creeping toward the two minute mark.

11:10 Notre Dame stops them and forces a 3rd and 1 with 1:44 remaining. Irish burn their first timeout…man, Nate Whitaker is going to beat us. Talk about a kick in the balls.

11:11 Toby Gerhart goes right up the middle for a huge gain inside the five yard line. Slaughter got flattened. Gerhart not scoring was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened—we’re not even going to get a shot to respond. Toby now has over 200 yards on the day.

11:13 Notre Dame allows Gerhart to go in untouched giving Clausen one last chance to work his magic in a gold helmet. Stanford 45, Notre Dame 38.

11:15 Hot Carl: “That should’ve been our strategy all year.” Touche.

11:16 Whitaker bangs another one into the endzone for a touchback. He has more touchbacks tonight than our kickers have had all season. That’s truth, not a joke.

11:17 Clausen is sacked on first down. Who was responsible? Our right tackle who is starting his 50th consecutive game: Sam Young. He never even sniffed the defensive end before he was on Clausen. Fitting to say the least.


11:18 Right back to Tate for another big gain, first down at the 30.

11:19 Another throw to Tate for six yards and he’s out of bounds at the 24. This would be epic.

11:20 Clausen is sacked and they’re forced to spike it with seven seconds left. GODDAMMIT PAUL DUNCAN, NOT THE OPPORTUNE TIME TO GET TOOLED ON.

11:21 A Hail Mary pass directed at Duval Kamara (?!?) and Michael Floyd (Golden Tate was on the other side of the field…someone explain the thinking behind that…not like he’s caught a Hail Mary this year or anything) hits the turf as time expires and Stanford wins, 45-38. A heartbreaking end to the Charlie Weis era. Fitting that a former player buried us with poor field position thanks to a great kickoff and our all-time leader for consecutive starts Sam Young screwed up to put us in a deep hole with the game on the line.

11:22 Stanford was a 10 point favorite over a 6-5 Notre Dame team and rushed the field when they beat us. You’re right, we’re definitely an irrelevant program. Bob Ryan, go chew on a stick of lead.

God, I wish they could’ve found a way to win this for Charlie. You could just see the pure exasperation he was experiencing on that final drive, especially when he was calling for the spike after the last sack. I know the guy deserves to be fired, that he’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and that he’ll cry his way to the bank with his buyout when he’s fired…but my heart just broke for him as I watched the last minute of the game. He poured everything he had into the program and came up short. I guarantee there are a lot of tears in that locker room right now and a lot of players who feel personally responsible in some way for how things turned out. I feel like the guy just couldn’t catch a break when he needed one.

It’d be pointless to break this game down at length like we normally do. Obviously there will be bigger and more important things to focus on, things that will shape the future of our program. Real quick though I’ll list what stuck out to me:

1. Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate are two of the best players in Notre Dame history. It’s unfortunate that their efforts didn’t translate to something great. I know Jimmy is 99% out the door, but Golden please for the love of God think about coming back.
2. On the whole the offensive line played a fantastic game. We really controlled the line of scrimmage for the entire night and both Hughes and Theo averaged 5.7+ yards per carry. Great running by Hughes as well.
3. My lasting memory of Sam Young will be that first down play on the final drive. It just sums up his entire career perfectly.
4. Special teams buried us again. Stanford’s were stellar and ours were mediocre-to-poor. Our former third string kicker had more touchbacks in this game than our kickers had the entire season. Terrible.
5. The next coach needs to teach the defense how to tackle. Immediately.

Thank you for everything, Charlie. If it was possible for me to will you to succeed I promise you we would’ve been national champions this year. I apologize for the personal attacks people have lobbed at you over the past few months. You certainly didn’t deserve the unadulterated hate alleged “Notre Dame fans” professed over the course of the season. Any rational person can see that the lack of success was not due to a lack of effort or desire. Please handle this transition gracefully so that with time people will remember you as the man who laid a sound foundation for a return to the top. I wish you all the luck and success in the world in your future endeavors.

Go Irish.

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