Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Spring Football - De Omnibus Dubitandum

The boys at Her Loyal Sons have thrown down the second series of questions of the spring for the Irish Blogger Gathering. The Subway Domer threw up his responses and I felt obliged to do the same.

1) Given the stat-lines of Brian Kelly’s first Blue and Gold Sprint Spring Game, it seems obvious to me that the media will be shark-feeding from now until the first game of the 2010 season over our new-found “quarterback controversy.” I mean, didjya see MONTANA SON of MONTANA throw those TD PASSES!? HE LOOKED JUST LIKE MONTANA! So let’s all do the responsible thing as “Notre Dame Blogs: Protectors of the Realm” and come to full agreeance about this so-called controversy and put it to rest right now: Nate Montana should be the starter, right?

See, I'm all aboard the glorification of backups that never play and turning them into almost mythical figures capable of unleashing the dragon on command (I'm looking at you Sexy Rexy)...provided they never end up playing. The groundswell of sarcastic worship directed at the seed of Montana is a great thing that should spawn at least one worthwhile t-shirt (Joe Who?). If he remains nothing more than Dayne's sideline caddy then his legend will grow, perhaps to monumental proportions after tossing a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a blowout against Tulsa. However, if he is thrust into duty then Irish fans will soon be pining for the days of Pat Dillingham. That's a filthy lie, I'd live in Ann Arbor before I pined for Dillingham.

Honestly, I'm glad to see he's making strides and if he continues to develop into a viable backup then that's great, but I'm hoping the biggest contribution he's asked to makes this fall is modeling a headset (and the aforementioned student t-shirt). You won't win many games if you have to rely on the former third-string quarterback from Pasadena Community College to run the show.

2) One of the over-arching themes of the 2010 Spring session of Notre Dame football was that Brian Kelly has been spending a lot of time trying to change the overall attitude of the Notre Dame team. To quote Kelly, “What I want them talking about is, ‘It’s me that gets that first national championship,’ not ‘I want to be the No. 1 draft pick.’ That’s what we’re reshaping.” Do you think that unexpectedly long wait-time this weekend for Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen to receive that magical phone call from some NFL team will go noticed by any of the Irish footballers who, until this weekend, weren’t getting the message from Kelly? Was there anything this spring that you noticed that made you think that most of the team was already on board the Good Ship Greater Good and that the transformation in that regard was complete?

I don't think the wallet slaps Jimmy and Golden received have any relevance when it comes to the current team. If they would've struck gold in round one it wouldn't have either because whether or not players buy into the philosophy has more to do with their character than the fortunes of former teammates who have moved on. There wasn't anything this spring that specifically made me say "dam, this team is truly about 'team' and not 'me' anymore," but one thing that's being underestimated is the shift in leadership from Jimmy to Dayne.

You could make a very strong case that last year Jimmy Clausen had the best season of any Notre Dame quarterback in history. Week in and week out fans had the privilege of watching a veritable virtuoso go to work dissecting secondaries and tag-teaming with Golden to keep a team with no defense whatsoever competitive. People questioned his leadership in the months leading up to the NFL Draft, but the reality is the guy won the respect of his teammates over time simply by how good he was. It truly was a process though. He arrived on campus with a very clear message: he was at Notre Dame because ND provided him the most exposure and the opportunity to work with Charlie Weis who could prepare him for the NFL better than anyone else. His goals and aspirations were clearly set on the next level; college football was merely a vehicle to take him there.

Sure, by the time he was a junior guys followed and respected him, but there's no doubt his attitude rubbed off on others. By the end of last season I found myself getting angry when I saw him yucking it up and laughing with opponents at the end of losses like Pitt and Connecticut. The expression on his face said "I'm over this" and it seemed the loss that had happened minutes before had already rolled off his back.

Dayne Crist on the other hand is incredibly charismatic, natural leader. There were stories about him from the Army All-American game about recruits just flocking to him. Perhaps the most telling quote was the one from a player last August about how the team looked up to Jimmy and Dayne equally in spite of the fact that Crist had never taken a snap. When he committed--in spite of the fact that Jimmy had committed in the previous class-- he made it very clear that he chose Notre Dame for all the things fans would call "the right reasons." The guy was on the Good Ship Greater Good the moment he set foot on campus. Dayne's exactly the type of guy you need leading the attitude transformation Brian Kelly is trying to take on. It's a process that will take time, but honestly it's one I'm glad Dayne with the reins instead of Jimmy.

3) A fair number of players made a pretty good splash in Spring Ball and in the Blue & Gold Game. Name one you didn’t notice belly flopping into the big pool of opportunity and explain why that disappoints you. Or, if you really want to be creative, explain why you’re glad that particular player didn’t win any belly flop competitions.

For me it's Zeke Motta. I've got high hopes for this kid and there is still an eternity of time for him to meet and surpass expectations, but his performance in the Blue-Gold Game was disheartening. On multiple occasions he was caught out of position coming up to make a tackle which led to a few "Ole's"--most notably on the Jonas Gray touchdown run in the second half--which led to terrible flashbacks from last fall. This kid was the only guy that could cover Bryce Brown in the Army All-American practices and has shown he can get after it on special teams, but we need consistent, reliable performers in the secondary. Coach Kelly had praised him over the course of the spring so I was really hoping he'd impress on Saturday. Unfortunately he fell short.

4) Pick one quotation from Spring Ball sourced by an Irish coach and parse the living hell out of it.

"I've got to be out here motivating a 19-year-old Notre Dame football player to come out here and get after it? That's where we aren't on the same page yet." --Brian Kelly

This just underscored a thousand times over one of the fatal flaws of the Charlie Weis regime. Each of the last two Novembers Notre Dame lost a slew of games to teams with no business competing on the same level as the Irish and it was due in large part to a blatantly unmotivated and uninspired squad that took the field. Kelly's soundbites all spring painted a picture of what vices had permeated the program under Weis: entitlement, complacency, selfishness, and a lack of focus on putting in the work necessary to achieve what should be the ultimate goal of every Irish team--winning a national championship. A soft, losing culture had developed and it's clear Kelly is attacking it head-on.

5) Select one stat from the 2009 season that either troubled you greatly or made you brag to all your coworkers who cheered for teams with sucky comparable stats, and explain why that particular stat will be vastly improved or ruined in 2010 based on what you’ve seen in the spring.

Six Losses. Let's cut the crap. It's been almost two decades since we've legitimately sniffed a national championship hunt, almost two decades since the last "Notre Dame Moment," and a decade and a half since we've been sure the right guy is captaining the ship. As Lou was being pushed out the door people were clamoring that they wanted a more pro-style offense (because winning just wasn't enough). When Davie left and Ty was brought aboard he got a standing ovation at an alumni association gathering when he announced the option would not be in the playbook (he conveniently left out the fact that the only two plays in it were the bubble screen and a checkdown to the running back). With Weis we oooo'd and aahhh'd as offensive records were shattered seemingly every week whether it by Quinn, Samardzija, Clausen, or Tate (this could be labeled the era of sexiness over substance). I've had enough of dissecting stats in an attempt to find answers.

I don't care about how many yards we gained per game last year, I don't care how inexcusably dreadful our redzone offense stats were, and I don't care about the fact Sam Young had more penalty yardage than Jonas Gray had rushing yardage. It's a new era, a new regime, and a fresh start. The only stat I still care about is last year's loss column. Why? Because as it's been said a thousand times over the course of the spring, Notre Dame is so far removed from it's great successes in the past that the winning culture that existed for generations has been replaced by an acceptance of mediocrity. Last year's team was loaded with more talent than any Irish squad in the last 15 years yet somehow found a way to lose six games. Six losses. It used to be that ND classes didn't graduate seeing more than six losses over the course of their four years, now we get to digest them all over the course of six months.

Based on what I've seen this spring the losses will start to melt away this fall. Kelly is going to work rebuilding the winning culture that used to define Notre Dame and while it will take more than a year, there's enough evidence that necessary strides are already being taken.

6) Bonus: Stick figures, collage, stolen work, hotlinked photo, professionally edited photoshopping, whatever… give us a visual that best represents everything you’ve seen from spring college football, Irish and/or otherwise, in 2010.

We'll go to this simple picture from Matt Cashore of the Great Dayne on the field of the Blue-Gold game. I was thoroughly convinced we were dead in the water in 2010 when he blew his knee out against Washington State so seeing him on the field in action couldn't make me happier. Brian Kelly is the new face of Notre Dame Football, but Crist will be the face on the field. I just have this feeling that in three years he's going to be one of the most beloved Irish players in recent memory. Saturday was the first small step in his physical comeback--a comeback that will go a long way in determining the speed of the entire program's comeback.


  1. Great post. It really captured how I feel about the change from the Weis regime to Brian Kelly's.

  2. Agree. Just Win Baby!

  3. That was beautiful. Truly real.

  4. Couldn't have said it better myself about Motta. Thought he would turn some heads this spring. Hopefully he gets back to basics and remembers how to lay a lick on someone.