Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Five Stars from The Fall of Troy

After eight torturous losses in a row at the hands of an archrival, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally found a way to defeat the Southern Cal Trojans last Saturday night in the LA Coliseum. In heart-stopping fashion the Irish pieced together a beautiful drive to reclaim the lead with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter and then held on for dear life, clinching the victory with an interception at their own goal line with under a minute to play.

There are numerous players and coaches who deserve praise and credit for the Fall of Troy, but we're going to narrow it down to the five that shone the brightest. For a slideshow of this article head over here to Bleacher Report.

Let's get to it!

#5: HARRISON SMITH

One Shining Moment: Smith intercepts a Mitch Mustain pass with 36 seconds left to play to ensure a Notre Dame victory.

The Irish defense stepped up in a big way to stymie the Trojans' numerous highly-touted offensive weapons and #22 Harrison Smith played a huge role in that success. Smith entered the season as one of the biggest question marks, saddled with the mental scars of a disastrous '09 campaign where he shuttled between two positions and all but shredded his confidence.

The fine game he played against Southern Cal shows just how far he's come from the ruins of last season.

On the very first play of the game he almost came up with an interception. The opportunity slipped through his fingers, but it set the tone for the entire evening. Smith anchored a secondary that allowed just one explosive play all game (a 34-yard throw to Robert Woods) and limited Southern Cal to just 177 yards through the air.

Fortunately for Irish fans, Harrison chose the right pass to drop and the right pass to secure as he made completely certain that he caught Mitch Mustain's pass to the endzone on the last Trojan drive. His interception set off raucous celebrations across Notre Dame Nation and finally locked down a victory over the Irish's hated rival.

#4: MICHAEL FLOYD

One Shining Moment: Floyd catches a touchdown on 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line in the second quarter to cap a 16 play drive that gave Notre Dame its first lead against SC since 2005.

More than half of Tommy Rees' completed passes found the hands of Michael Floyd. When the final gun sounded he'd accumulated 11 receptions, 86 yards, and a key touchdown on third and goal. While his statline isn't as gaudy as some of the other spectacular performances he's put on over the course of career, what's lost in the numbers is just how vital every one of those yards were.

The Irish offense sputtered for most of the game, but on the few drives where ND started moving Michael Floyd played a prominent role. On the first touchdown drive, Floyd carried defenders and willed himself over the first down marker on two different occasions to convert third down plays. Floyd had five catches for 34 yards, 3 first downs, and a touchdown on that Irish possession alone.

When Southern Cal had taken the lead late in the fourth quarter #3 kickstarted the drive with an 11-yard completion on the first play, which accounted for Notre Dame's second first down of the entire half to that point.

Michael Floyd responded as a superstar and leader should when his team needs him: he picked them up and carried them not only with supreme talent, but sheer will power as well.

#3: BRIAN SMITH

One Shining Moment: On back-to-back plays on SC's last drive in the second quarter Smith stuffs a 3rd and short in the backfield and then breaks up the pass on 4th down, halting the Trojans' drive and allowing ND an opportunity to extend its lead before the half.

Few players have been more maligned than Brian Smith over the course of the last four years. After starting his career with a boom, he sputtered over the next three and gained a reputation for producing more with his mouth than his play on the field.

On the biggest stage against Notre Dame's biggest rival he earned a bit of redemption. He played perhaps the most inspired ball of his entire career against the Trojans Saturday night. He did a great job dropping into pass coverage, provided toughness and support for a stout rush defense, and helped keep pressure on Southern Cal quarterback Mitch Mustain every time he dropped back to pass. Smith's leadership with his actions demonstrated just how far he'd come over the course of the year.

A key play that probably is long forgotten by many Irish fans at this point came on the final Trojan drive. Southern Cal ripped off back-to-back gains of 14 and 16 yards to drive deep into Irish territory. At the 23 yard-line a suddenly in rhythm and hot Mitch Mustain dropped back to pass and eyed the endzone. Brian Smith came storming in from the left side on a blitz and delivered a huge hit as Mustain released the ball. The pass was harmlessly broken up and Mustain's groove was interrupted.

On the very next play Harrison Smith intercepted the Trojans' last gasp attempt and the game was over. Brian Smith deserves all the credit in the world for greatly contributing to one of the best defensive performances in years, for the things that will be remembered (like the back-to-back plays in the second quarter), and the things that many will forget (the pressure he got on Mustain on the final drive).

Congratulations to the senior for stepping up in a huge situation and having his best game on the biggest stage.

#2: ROBERT HUGHES

One Shining Moment: Hughes bullies into the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:23 to play in the fourth quarter, barreling over Trojans in the process.

Here's another senior who came up with huge plays down the stretch to help secure an Irish victory. Like Brian Smith, Robert Hughes burst on to the scene as a freshman and seemed destined for great things after his strong efforts against Duke and Stanford ended the season on a strong note. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned as Hughes seemed to get caught between being a power back and a finesse runner.

There was no debating what style he adopted in the slop Saturday night.

Brian Kelly called Hughes' number five times on Notre Dame's go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter and the senior responded with bulldozing runs every time. On three consecutive plays he ripped off runs of 6, 12, and 13 yards while leaving scores of Trojans flattened in his wake.

When Notre Dame had just five yards left to paydirt Kelly went to his bellcow one last time. Hughes would not be denied; he carried two Trojans on his back and into the endzone for what proved to be the winning score.

Robert Hughes will leave Notre Dame as one of the most popular players in this graduating class. He overcame personal tragedy his freshman year, turmoil on the coaching staff, scores of heartbreaking losses, and weekly rises and falls on the depth chart. But through it all he he faced every bit of adversity with the class. He's proven to be a great leader and teammate and through it all made Notre Dame fans proud to call him one of their own.

It's only appropriate that the game ball for the final regular season contest would find its way into the hands of #33. Congratulations, Robert Hughes.

#1: LADY LUCK

One Shining Moment: Ronald Johnson drops a sure touchdown after his defender had fallen down and he got behind the Irish secondary.

Some times it just takes a little luck to finally get over the hump and for the first time it what seemed like an eternity, Lady Luck was wearing Blue and Gold instead of the opposing team's colors. Over the course of the game there were multiple times where Trojan receivers bumbled catches that could've turned into huge, deflating third down conversions. As any Irish fan will attest, these good breaks have not been very common since Lou left town in 1996. Notre Dame Football seemed to be completely governed by Murphy's Law.

But there's no clearer evidence that Lady Luck finally was an Irish fan again than Ronald Johnson's drop. He took off on a post to the middle of the field and the Irish defender (Harrison Smith) slipped on the wet turf, allowing Johnson to run free for what appeared to be the back-breaking touchdown Notre Dame fans have become so accustomed to seeing. Mitch Mustain delivered a pass right on the money, the Trojan fans rose to their feet ready to explode...and then a funny thing happened.

The ball hit the turf.

It was as if God had delivered a divine mandate that Notre Dame had experienced enough heartache and enough bad luck and their penance for whatever they'd done to tick him off was complete. Lady Luck reached out, tipped the ball out of Johnson's hands, and the Irish Faithful collectively exhaled.

Notre Dame Nation had been through a decade plus of bad breaks. From Jarious Jackson's freak injury against LSU in '98 to Ron Israel slipping and falling on the Michigan State logo in 2000 to Matt Leinart's perfect pass, a terrible spotting of the ball, and an illegal push in '05 to Duval Kamara slipping on the ultimate play of last year's contest. As Brian Kelly deadpanned in the post-game press conference, "It's about time we caught a break."

Make no mistake, this victory was not one based on luck. Notre Dame's defense completely dominated Southern Cal's offense the entire game and when the offense needed to it delivered a drive for the ages to emerge victorious. This was a victory the Fighting Irish earned through grit, determination, and execution.

But too many times over the last fifteen years Notre Dame performances that deserved victories didn't ultimately get rewarded with one (see: Nebraska in 2000, Southern Cal in 2005, etc.). Saturday night Lady Luck was finally in Notre Dame's corner again and on what should have been the dagger that devastated the Irish Faithful, she smiled and gave a little wink as that Mitch Mustain pass to Ronald Johnson harmlessly fell incomplete.

A tip of the cap to you, my lady. It's good to have you back in the fold.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dear Diary...Notre Dame - Southern Cal

Welcome to the final running diary of the 2010 regular season! Today we come to you live from Casa del Blomstrom in McLean, VA. Mr. Balls has graciously opened his home up to hopefully watch and celebrate the Fall of Troy. As I said in the brief pregame preview, I'm not too optimistic, but of course I'd love nothing more than to be completely wrong.

Let's get too it!

8:00 Pretty weak montage to start the broadcast, surprisingly mediocre production value. It was essentially a slideshow of pictures with music behind it, might’ve been done in Microsoft PowerPoint.

8:03 Mitch Mustain gets the nod at QB. I’m sure a lot of people are happy about this, but let’s not forget he’s not exactly a slouch. He was a huge recruit and won a boatload of games in the SEC as a freshman. Did he have Darren McFadden and Felix Jones lining up behind him that year? Yes, but still. He’s a threat.

8:10 Lukewarm reception for the Trojans as they come in to the stadium. They have such a terrible fan base.

8:12 You know, we’re all jacked up for the game and fired up for the kickoff and ABC plays a “The Beatles are now on iTunes” commercial. It’s 30 seconds of “Yesterday,” what a downer. They couldn’t have chosen any other Beatles song for a commercial right before kickoff of a football game? The Beatles weren’t a depressing band, give me some “Can’t Buy Me Love” or “Hard Day’s Night” or anything that doesn’t make the audience depressed. Back to the game—the Trojans will receive the opening kickoff.

8:14 Harrison Smith drops a sure interception on the first play when Mustain overthrows his receiver on the first play. Hit him right in the hands—you HAVE to come up with that if you want to pull an upset on the road.

8:14 HUGE play by Gary Gray to stuff a quick throw out to the left flat. He did a great job shedding a block and blowing up what could’ve been a big play.

8:15 Three and out for the Trojans, great start for the Irish defense. Mustain doesn’t look very good out of the gate. COME ON IRISH, LET’S GO. ND will get the ball at their own 30 to start the drive.

8:18 Quick three and out after Cierre Wood gets stoned on 3rd and 1. Turk actually gets off a great 49-yard punt and pins SC back at the 12.

8:23 The Irish force a 3rd and 6 but Stanley Havili catches a pass out of the backfield for a 19-yard gain up the middle. Damn.

8:27 Manti PLANTS Robert Woods so deep on a 3rd down screen pass that Woods may grow and bear fruit on the field come spring. Another good stand by the defense and the Trojans are forced to punt again. Couldn’t be more thrilled with how the defense has started this game. Southern Cal punt gets to the endzone and ND will take over at the 20.

8:31 Rees is picked off on a short pass to Toma by Chris Galippo. Trojans ball at the 30. Shit.

8:33 ND holds on 3rd down. I wonder aloud, “Will they go for it?” Brad quickly responds, “What do you think Kiffin will do.” I need to remember who’s on the opposing sideline before asking dumb questions like that—of course they’re going for it.

8:34 False start blows up that thought but they split the uprights on the field goal and stake a 3-0 lead. We can’t afford to gift them points. Hopefully our offense can wake up a la the Utah game.

8:39 Robert Hughes bulls ahead for an 8-yard carry and the first ND first down of the game. If he’s running like that all day then Cierre better be ready to ride the pine.

8:42 Drive stalls and Turk evens out his average with a horrendous 22-yard punt so the Trojans will start at the 39. Turk is just so bad, I’m already excited for his graduation. Is there a way to replace him with a walk-on FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?!?

8:45 First quarter ends with SC driving into ND territory. Good start for the defense (68 yards allowed even though SC’s had the ball for 10 of the 15 minutes), disastrous start for the offense. Kelly needs to find a way to jumpstart the offensive attack or we’ll have no chance.

8:51 Southern Cal drops a ball right over the middle on third down and are forced to punt. Another good stand by the defense. Great punt pins ND at the Notre Dame 6. We need to respond here, we can’t expect the defense to continue like this the entire game. The offense needs to relieve a bit of pressure and piece together a drive that gives Manti and the boys a breather.

8:56 Not happening—another three and out. McDonough points out that every 3rd down ND has had has been short and manageable, which is a very good point. We’re not putting ourselves in impossible situations (which is a good sign), we just need to man up and will our way over the marker to get some sustained drives going. Decent Turk punt gets over midfield to the SC 42. Come on defense, keep it up.

9:01 Irish force another three and out. How BOUT that Bobby Diaco defense!?!?

9:02 First play of the drive is a nifty little 9-yard run on first down by Cierre Wood. He picks up the first down on the next carry.

9:04 Another first down on the ground for Cierre Wood and ND is out to the 43-yard line. Looking like we’re establishing a little rhythm.

9:06 Michael Floyd picks up a first down on 3rd and 7, great job of bulldozing forward for an extra six yards after he caught the ball. ND’s over midfield for the first time today.

9:09 Floyd converts another third down by willing his way to an extra two yards over the first down line. That’s what we need, way to pick us up #3! ND is on the 20.

9:10 TYLER EIFERT PICKS UP A FIRST DOWN AT THE ONE YARD LINE, RUNNING OVER A DEFENDER IN THE PROCESS. COME ON BABY, LET’S PUNCH IT IN!!!!

9:12 Two plays, two passes, two incompletions. I can hear CLoss screaming all the way from Chicago. Can’t say I disagree with him in this instance—would’ve rather seen some Hughes on at least one play. Of course all will be forgiven if we punch it in on third down. ND calls timeout to weigh options and get their giant picture cards in order. Pumpkin-Duck-Erin Andrews-Yogi Bear (which is code for the Wildcat Formation) was mixed up with Chipotle-Blood-Stool-Frowny Face (which is code for Chipotle causes bloody stool).

9:16 TOUCHDOOOOOOWN IRISH!!!! MICHAEL FLOYD BABY! QUICK LITTLE STICK ROUTE IN THE RIGHT SLOT FOR AN EASY PITCH AND CATCH. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIVE YEARS NOTRE DAME HAS TAKEN THE LEAD. LET’S GO BABY!!!!!!!!!! Notre Dame 7, Southern Cal 3.

9:21 Southern Cal gets a great return out to midfield and is moving with some purpose into ND territory.

9:22 Brian Smith STONES Havili on 3rd down bringing up 4th and 3. COME ON IRISH, STUFF’EM.

9:22 BRIAN SMITH BREAKS UP THE PASS AND NOTRE DAME WILL TAKE OVER ON DOWNS. ATTA BOY BRIAN, WAY TO SHOW UP!!!! ND ball at their own 38-yard line with 44 seconds left. Will BK be content to go into the halftime up 7-3 or will he be aggressive?

9:26 CIERRE WOOD TAKES A DRAW PLAY UP THE GUT FOR 28 YARDS ON THE FIRST PLAY. WHAT A GREAT PLAY CALL. Tommy Rees burns the final timeout, which was a dumb, panicked move caused by pure shock that the previous play worked so well.

9:27 Michael Floyd 19 yards down to the Southern Cal 15. Come on baby, find a way into the endzone, don’t settle for three.

9:28 Tyler Eifert down to the SC 7. PUNCH IT IN.

9:29 FLOYD TO THE ONE-INCH LINE AND THE CLOCK KEEPS MOVING, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH THIS CLOCK. THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IT’S CONTINUED MOVING ON THIS DRIVE WHEN IT SHOULD’VE STOPPED FOR THE FIRST DOWN. WHAT A GODDAMN HOMER JOB.

9:31 TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWNNNNN IIIIRRRRRIIIISSSSHHHH!!!!! THE BARD OF BERGEN COUNTY, DUVAL KAMARA WITH A 1-YARD TOUCHDOWN CATCH. HOW YOU LIKE THEM APPLES LANE!?!??!?!?! I LOVE IT BABY, I LOVE IT!!!!

9:34 Ruffer biffs the extra point. Goddamnit to hell, please say that doesn’t come back to haunt us. Well, I guess it beats 7-3 or 10-3. Notre Dame 13, Southern Cal 3.

9:47 The half comes to a close and for the first time in about a decade we can say the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are manhandling Southern Cal. Take a look at these stats:

Time of Possession: ND – 15:09…SC – 14:51 (AND WE KICKED OFF!)
Rushing Yards: ND – 66…SC – 44
First Down: ND – 10…SC – 6

Kelly made the necessary adjustments, had the brilliant play call that kick-started the final drive, and once again found a way to get everything he could out of a freshman quarterback that’s about 330 days removed from his high school homecoming dance.

And for all the grief Diaco deserved for the Navy debacle he deserves equal praise for how the defense has responded in the games since then. It’s been a defensive masterpiece to this point. And by the way, I was completely wrong on Mustain—among other things. He’s a bum and the SC coaching staff is completely reluctant to try to take shots down the field. That seems really stupid when you have Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods on the outside, doesn’t it? In any case, it’s so fun to be wrong in situations like this.

Thirty minutes to go boys, let’s find a way to finish this game off.

Thirty. Minutes.

9:59 Irish receive the second half kickoff and get a good return out to the 29.

10:01 Interception by Tommy Rees. He missed a wide-open Cierre Wood on the left side and tried to force it to Kamara. SHIT. The Trojans take over at the Irish 21. COME ON DEFENSE, BAIL US OUT.

10:03 Trojan first down inside the 10-yard line. Come on defense, step up.

10:05 The Irish hold, another great stand by the defense. The Trojans bang home a chip shot and ND’s lead is cut to a touchdown. Notre Dame 13, Southern Cal 6.

10:11 Three and out for the Irish. I just got whiplash from the momentum shift that’s occurred over the last ten minutes. Rees does not look good—the second play of this drive should’ve been picked as well. Let’s go BK, get his head on straight. Southern Cal gets more good field position at their own 37.

10:15 One play and the Trojans are over midfield. Good throw on the rollout by Mustain.

10:17 The Irish hold again, Brian Smith broke up the pass on third down. Mustain’s throw was absolutely terrible, he looked terrified to get hit. Welcome back to the reality of playing games and not just preening on the sidelines Pretty Boy.

10:19 The offense looks completely lost. Rees looks terrible. This does not bode well.

10:20 Rees is sacked and fumbles. Southern Cal ball at the Irish 2-yard line. Robert Hughes whiffed on a cut block. There’s an unprintable string of expletives flying around right now and that horrible, sinking feeling that’s overwhelmed the room.

10:22 Notre Dame forces 4th and inches but Mustain sneaks it in to tie the game. Our offense has been a complete disaster—we’ve moved the ball FOR the Trojans. Sickening—two turnovers inside our own red zone. Tommy Rees better wake the hell up and realize the second half started. Notre Dame 13, Southern Cal 13 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

10:26 Southern Cal student body is batting beach balls around. I don’t know why this makes me angry but it does in the worst way. I guess at this point you could probably show me a picture of the Pope wearing maroon and gold garb and I’d be angry.

10:28 Two plays, two draws, two yards. Big third down coming up for Notre Dame.

10:29 Michael Floyd comes up inches short on third down and the Irish have to punt again. Ben Turk punts it to the 42 and we’ll ask the defense to come up big for the 50th time tonight. They’re playing with a lot of confidence but you have to wonder at what point are you just asking too much.

10:32 Well we haven’t asked too much yet—the defense stones them for yet another three and out. The Irish will take over at the 10 after another good punt. It is pouring rain and has been for probably 10 minutes.

10:33 Robert Hughes rumbles for five yards on first down and four on second down. Big 3rd and 1 coming up here. Come on boys, pick this up.

10:34 HUUUUGHES right up the gut for seven yards and a first down.

10:35 The third quarter comes to a close after Hughes gashes the Trojans for another four yards.

What a disastrous quarter for ND. Rees has looked completely overwhelmed and did the one thing that we couldn’t afford: turnovers in our own territory. We handed them all 13 of their points on our three turnovers. The good news is that we’re still tied despite a -3 TO Differential. Please for the love of God find a way to win this game.

10:39 Hughes goes for another three yards and brings up a 3rd and 3. Come on Irish.

10:39 Rees almost throws another pick but thankfully it’s dropped because that would’ve been six in the bad guys’ direction. Notre Dame will have to punt but at least the field position battle will swing in our favor…that is if Turk gets off a decent punt. My faith in that is about 4%.

10:42 Decent punt is made better by a block in the back. Southern Cal will take over at the 21.

10:46 Another block in the back wipes out a big gain at the beginning of the drive, pushing it back to the 18-yard line. Tack on another five yards thanks to a false start.

10:47 It’s time to interview former ND announcer and current Southern Cal AD Pat Haden! I was one of the seemingly few people who thought Haden did a very nice job as the color guy. He seems like a great guy and I thought he was pretty sharp…and then he uttered, “Lane has been sensational, I think he’ll be here a long time—the perception and reality of Lane Kiffin are completely different.” You mean he’s an even BIGGER jackass than we think?!? How is that possible? Pat will be singing a different tune when the next batch of violations come out.

10:48 Great pass by Mustain for 38 yards on second and a mile. Damnit to hell.

10:49 Notre Dame defense responds again and forces another punt. ND will take over at the 16 with a little over ten minutes to go. We need a drive here. Come on Tommy, dig deep.

10:53 Interception on the first play. Rees throws into triple coverage and SC will take over at the 38. DAMNIT TO HELL TOMMY, WAKE THE HELL UP, YOU ARE GIFT-WRAPPING THESE IDIOTS THE GAME.

10:54 First down Southern Cal inside the 30-yard line. We need a turnover in the worst way. Really it appears that in order to have a shot at winning this game we need a pick-six. If the defense finds a way to do so then they’ll instantly be launched into 2002 Return to Glory Defense territory for clutchness (at least for this game).

10:57 The Southern Cal drive stalls and they’re going to have to try a 37-yard field goal in a driving rain storm. MISS IT NOONAN, MISS. NNNNNOONAN, NNNNNNOONAN.

10:58 The field goal is good. Notre Dame 13, Tommy Rees DBA Southern California 16. There’s 6:25 left in the game and we’ll need Rees to somehow rebound and lead a drive in the pouring rain. Not feeling particularly confident at this juncture. It would be a travesty to waste such a great defensive performance.

11:01 Notre Dame ball at the 23. We’ve got 77 yards to paydirt.

11:02 First play is a rollout pass to Michael Floyd for 11 yards. We go to him for the first time in what seems like an eternity (though who knows, maybe a couple of those passes that were batted down at the line were intended for #3) and we get a first down. Imagine that.

11:03 Huge run by Cierre is almost completely ruined by a fumble. Eifert jumps on it. My heart stopped for approximately four seconds. ND ball at the SC 40 with 5:20 left.

11:04 Good run by Hughes picks up six. He’s running with some purpose right now which is a great sign.

11:04 HUUUUUUUUUUUUGHHHHHEEES for another 13 yards. First down at the Southern Cal 23. COME ON BOYS, LET’S GET SIX.

11:05 HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGHHEEEESSSSS FOR ANOTHER BULLDOZING 12 YARD RUN. FIRST AND GOAL AT THE 10.

11:06 Floyd for five. 2nd and goal. DON’T SETTLE FOR THREE, FINISH THEM!

11:07 HUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! TOUCHDOOOOOOOOWNNNN IRIIIIIISSSSSSSSHHHHH!!!!!!! BULL-EFFING-DOZER, THE IRISH HAVE STORMED BACK TO TAKE THE LEAD!!!!!!!!!! HEROES 20, VILLAINS 16 WITH 2:23 TO GO.

11:10 Southern Cal has the ball at the 31 with three timeouts and 2:16 to go. For the first time in God knows how long I’m actually confident our defense can come up with a stop. Could this be the ND fan base’s Dave Roberts Moment?

11:11 Robert Blanton baaaaaaaarely tips a ball and the receiver drops it. Had he caught it he had the entire state in front of him, he could’ve gone for miles. Not a good start defense, COME ON, DON’T BREAK NOW.

11:12 Notre Dame sniffs out a second down screen pass and brings up 3rd and 7 with 1:24 left. KILLLLLLLLL!!!

11:13 Sweet Baby Jesus. Harrison Smith falls down and Ronald Johnson—who is WIIIIIIIIIIIDDDDEEEE OPEN for a touchdown, so open he could’ve crab-walked his way in—just flatout drops it. Holy shit, what a gift. Someone upstairs has decided that this streak ends tonight. I need a new pair of pants. It’s 4th and 7—REDEEM YOURSELF FOR 4TH AND 9 IN ‘05. KILLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!

11:15 First down Trojans. Next play is another first down. Southern Cal ball at the 23, under a minute left. I want to throw up.

11:16 Brian Smith comes in and hits Mustain as he throws, incomplete. He’s playing a great game. I am so nauseous I can barely type. 44 seconds left. Please stop them. Please.

11:17 INTERCEPTION NOTRE DAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HARRISON SMITH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WE DID IT!!!!!!!!! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSIIIIIRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!

11:19 AHHHHHHHHHHHH I CAN’T BELIEVE!!!! UN-FREAKING-BELIEVABLE. ND is forced to sneak it out from underneath the uprights, which is perilous and something I should probably be worried about but I couldn’t care less right now. If God wanted us to lose he wouldn’t have reached down from heaven and tipped that ball away from Ronald Johnson on the final drive, am I right?!?!

11:20 WEEEE ARRRREEE NNNNNN DDDDDDD!!!!!!!

11:22 IT’S OVER!!!!!!!! THE GAME IS OVER, THE STREAK IS OVER, POP THE CHAMPAGNE BABYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!

NOTRE DAME 20
SOUTHERN CAL 16

Quick Hits

1 – I can’t believe it finally happened.
2 – HOW ABOUT THAT IRISH DEFENSE!?!?!?!? What an effort, best showing in eight years. Borderline dominant.
3 – Robert Hughes, what an unbelievable performance on the last drive.
4 – If someone told you that we were going lose the turnover battle 4-1, that each of our four turnovers would come in our own territory, and the Trojans would score after each one of them…what would you have predicted the final would’ve been?
5 – Get used to it Lane—there’s a new sheriff in town.

People will debate whether this qualifies as a “signature win” for Brian Kelly. The answer is: who the hell cares?

We just traveled across the country with a backup, freshman quarterback, a backup running back, without our best defensive lineman and our potential all-american tight end, and punched the bully that had tormented us for eight years square in the mouth. We came back in a driving rainstorm and pounded the ball down Southern Cal’s throat for a go-ahead touchdown in a way we haven’t seen since 1995.

This was a great win, a “turn the corner” win. As Brian Kelly said post-game, “Today we put the Fight back in the Fighting Irish.”

Damn it feels good.

GO IRISH!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

THANK YOU GOD...




GAMEDAY: IRISH vs LANE - EPISODE I

The Southern Cal game has finally arrived. Eight long years we've been throttled time and time again by the Trojans from the Left Coast. Is today the day the streak finally ends? The Irish are on an upswing and Southern Cal is fresh off a spanking at the hands of the Oregon State Beavers which has plenty of ND fans optimistic and Vegas thinking ND's ready to put up a legitimate fight (a mere 3 point spread, the tightest line since '02).

Here are five big questions going into the game:

1. Can Tommy Rees decipher the Trojan defense?

Southern Cal's defense isn't as vaunted and chock full of future NFL stars like it used to be, but it's still far more talented and much, much faster than anything Rees has seen to this point in his young career. My unfortunate hunch is that the Trojans will expose the face that Rees just doesn't have the chops to take the Irish back into the nation's elite. Monte Kiffin is going to show him a variety of looks and I just don't think he'll be able to handle them.

2. Can the Irish establish the run?

Doing so would relieve a lot of pressure on Rees, but once again we've yet to show that we can do it with any sort of consistency. Southern Cal has a slew of four and five star talent along the defensive line so it'll be a stern test for the Irish offensive line.

3. Can the Irish defense continue its torrid streak and slow down Southern Cal?

The Trojans have serious weapons at their disposal, a lot more than Army and Utah. Diaco has done a fantastic job adjusting over the second half of the season but SC is a whole different animal.

4. Will a hobbled Barkley or a healthy Mustain be effective?

That is until Manti Te'o breaks both of them in half at the 4 minute mark of the second quarter.

5. Will Brian Kelly outcoach Lane Kiffin?

Kiffin provides the perfect face to the ultimate villain. Nothing would get the majority of Notre Dame Nation back in BK's corner like wiping the floor with Kiffin.

The Call: We're just not there yet. Southern Cal is too talented and too many key players are missing from the Notre Dame lineup to pull the upset. Next year will be a different story, but unfortunately we have to deal with one more beatdown.

Southern Cal 31
Notre Dame 13

Prove me wrong Irish.

BEAT SC

Friday, November 26, 2010

An Irish Uprising

Early this week ABC released the coverage map for the 8pm game and much to the chagrin of Irish fans, Notre Dame was nowhere to be found in 2/3 of the country.

Rivalry weekend has an entire slew of interesting games so unfortunately ESPN and ESPN2 were locked down with Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina. This eliminated the possibility of the "reverse mirror" that's become so common this year for the ABC primetime games this year (the reverse mirror means when an area has the regional game, the other primetime game will appear on ESPN or ESPN2...this happened with the ND-BC game this year).

By Wednesday it began to sink in that the entire East Coast was going to be forced to watch Oklahoma-Oklahoma State at home, meaning that in order to watch the Irish people would have to trudge to a bar that had ESPN GamePlan to catch the game.

And then something miraculous happened: Notre Dame Nation united and mobilized.

Rock's House on NDN and the Four Horseman Lounge on Rivals began campaigns to call local ABC affiliates in hopes of getting Notre Dame put on the air instead of Oklahoma. The poor interns who were charged with manning the phones for the stations in major metropolitan areas on the East Coast had no idea what they were in for when they sat down to start their shift.

Thousands of people began to call and suddenly the coverage map began to change. First, the ABC affiliate in New York City announced that due to a large number of requests they'd be showing the Notre Dame game instead. This emboldened fans up and down the East Coast and it was like watching the end of Independence Day when the alien ships were defeated around the world one by one.

Next Philadelphia fell. People from New York and Philly then began to help and call in to other affiliates to help ND fans get it changes.

Pittsburgh switched and then Washington DC. By the time they released an updated coverage map the ND game was on in 48% of the country. This all occurred in a span of 3-4 hours and all I could do was sit at my computer with a grin stapled to my face--one of surprise and giddy, unbridled happiness that probably rivaled George Bailey's at the end of It's a Wonderful Life.

What do the haters that say no one cares about Notre Dame have to say about this little Irish uprising?

This minor event just served as a reminder for just how powerful and far-reaching the Irish Nation is when it unifies. There hasn't been all that much unity over the last few years (including this year), but it just makes me smile that one day when things finally turn around there's going to be a nationwide celebration that's going to make House Party look like House Party 2.

So Irish Faithful, I raise my glass to you. It's Southern Cal week and due to the efforts of countless anonymous fans I'll enjoy it from the comfort of my big screen. There will be a day in the future when Notre Dame ascends to the top of the college football world once again and we'll all be on the same page popping bubbly and unified again. Hopefully it'll be soon, but until then I offer you this toast that was recited before many a drink in college:

Here's to you and here's to me
I pray that friends we'll always be
But if by chance we disagree
TO HELL WITH YOU AND USC

GO IRISH, BEAT TROJANS

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

THE BODOGS ARE BARKIN: WEEK #13

The boys are back at it and closing in on the finish line. Hinkle has what looks to be an insurmountable lead heading into the home stretch but you never know...


Can Chuck and Mattare make a charge? Will Hinkle falter? Will Mikey have all his fingers intact at Christmas after his bookie gets through with him? Stay tuned...


Week 12 Results

1. Mattare: $167…All-in weekend goes as planned on all fronts.

2. Hinkle: $26He's just looking to coast to victory.

3. Mikey: -$8Treading water--but not really.

4. Chuck: -$171Aloha means goodbye to Chuck's chances.


Week 12 Standings

1. Hinkle: $490.50…All he has to do is avoid something stupid.

2. Mattare: $131.10…He's back from the dead...but is it too late?

3. Chuck: -$94.37A crushing blow has Chuck back in the red.

4. Mikey: -$258Very cozy in the basement.


Week 13 Pick Summary

Hinkle: Bama > Aub, EM > NI, EM-NI (Over), Boise > Nev

Mattare: TCU > NM, BC > Syr, NCST > Mary, GT > Geo

Chuck: Tex > TAMU, Tul > SM, SC > ND, Clem > SC

Mikey: Tex > TAMU, Pitt > WV, Bama-Aub (Under), Neb > Colo


-----HINKLE-----


Josh, tell us why this week is/was pretty sweet. Ok I will.


A. The first bachelor party of our friends is heading to Vegas thanks to Mattare's plunge.
B. I took in a game live at the Smurf Turf.
C. I am leaving today for a weekend at the beach for Thanksgiving.
D. Thanksgiving Football
E. Auburn vs Bama, Oregon vs Arizona, Boise vs Nevada BACK to BACK to BACK!!!!
F. One week closer to cashing in on my prize.

Game #1: Alabama (-4) over Auburn...$11 to win $10

I need them to win so so so so bad for Boise to get a shot at the title game. As a college football fan what more could you want. As a Bronco fan what more could I want. Christmas can come as early as 5pm Friday. Nick Saban and Co. will not allow the Tigers to come in and win this game. They give up too many points to get away with it this week vs Alabama on the road. Roll Tide Roll!!

Game #2: Eastern Michigan (+23.5) over Northern Illinois...$11 to win $10

98% of the public is on Northern Illinois. Ill go with Vegas. Plus, I had to sit with their women's basketball team on a plane from Salt Lake to Detroit Monday. For having to look at that sight I feel the football crew will give me this one.

Game #3: Eastern Michigan-Northern Illinois (UNDER 61)...$11 to win $10

UNI- 34 EMU- 23

Game #4: Boise State (-14) over Nevada...$110 win $99

Nevada beat Fresno two weeks ago by 1. Last week when I walked out of the stadium with 5 minutes left in the game Boise had 29 first downs and Fresno had 7 rushing yards. 51-0 Broncos. Looking for Auburn to fall and Boise to play beyond inspired. Their defense is super fast and they have 5-6 helmets on the ball each play. I know Nevada is good as I have rooted for them the entire year so this game would mean something for the Broncos in the polls and it certainly will if they win. Here is to beating Nevada, jumping TCU, and jumping Auburn.


-----MATTARE-----


Came up big last weekend but I'm still only about 1/4 of the way up the mountain. Can't control what Hinkle does so it's time to keep pushing for the big bucks.


Game #1: TCU (-43.5) over New Mexico...$130 to win $117


This is a monster line, but the Horned Frogs have one last chance to make a statement that they should be in the BCS Title Hunt ahead of Boise State. This is going to be an absolute bloodbath along the lines of 60-0.


Game #2: Boston College (+130) over Syracuse…$10 to win $13


How the HELL did BC get back into the bowl picture?!?!?!?!


Game #3: NC State (-2) over Maryland...$50 to win $45


The Terps' slide from legit bowl to crappy bowl to continues.


Game #4: Georgia Tech (+13.5) over Georgia...$10 to win $9


The Dawgs are just laying too many points for a rivalry game.


-----CHUCK-----


Is it time to pick some college hoops games yet?

Game #1: Texas (+3.5) over Texas A&M...$90 to win $81.82

I have to go with the home underdog here. The 'Horns need this one to gain bowl eligibility and salvage what's left of a disappointing season. Ryan Tannehill has been a nice story for the Aggies, but Texas will be plenty motivated and I believe they have the superior talent in this one. Hook 'Em!

Game #2: Tulsa (-3.5) over Southern Miss...$90 to win $81.82

I have to go with my homeboys here. GJ Kinne, Damaris Johnson, and company will provide plenty of points for Tulsa's much improved defense to work with. The Golden Hurricanes need a win here to have a shot at landing in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Game #3: The Real USC (-4) over Notre Dame...$10 to win $9

With or without Barkley, there is no way this spread should be less than 5. The Coliseum has been a house of horrors for the Irish as the Trojans have won the last 4 in LA by an average of 29 points. I really hope I'm wrong on this one...

Game #4: Clemson (+3) over
USuCk
...$10 to win $9

Yet another trip to the alma mater for this weekend, and strangely I couldn't be more excited. In what has been nothing short of a disappointing season for my Tigers, a win here is the only preseason goal they can still obtain. The 7 pm kickoff allows ample time for this, that, these, and those. Good luck Shamecocks!


-----MIKEY-----


Really wish I wasn't so far back because this is a great college football weekend. At least my misery is ending (all lines from covers.com):

Game #1: Texas (+3.5) over Texas A&M...$44 to win $40

Texas needs a positive end to the season and A&M can't be this consistent.

Game #2: Pitt (-3) over West Virginia...$44 to win $40

Pitt continues it's strong finish.

Game #3: The Iron Bowl (Under 58.5)...$44 to win $40

There will be more D in this game than any Auburn game this season.

Game #4: Nebraska (-16.5) over Colorado...$44 to win $40

Bo Pelini is one great motivator, ask Taylor Martinez.

Irish Blogger Gathering: Turkey, Stuffing, and Horse Meat Edition

It's Southern Cal week which means it's time for the OC Domer to supply the IBG with a slew of questions from the Left Coast. Head over there to see his answers and the other blogs' responses.

1. Notre Dame played perhaps its best game of the year in a win over the Utah Utes two weeks ago. Utah remains ranked at #23 in the Associated Press poll. Notre Dame likewise took Michigan State (AP #11) to overtime before losing on a fake field goal. Therefore the Irish should have no trouble with this unranked Trojan squad. Agree or disagree? Show your work.

Obviously I completely disagree. First of all, let's address Utah and Michigan State. The Utes a very good and well-coached team, but they're not even close to elite and their talent level doesn't measure up to the Irish. Sparty has had a great year but they've also been thoroughly unimpressive with one notable exception (beating Wisconsin handily). Their record and resume say they deserve their ranking, but I think that's more of a testament to the tremendous coaching job Mark Dantonio has done this season as opposed to how good and talented the team is.

This Saturday we'll be facing the only team on our schedule with undeniably more talent up and down the roster. Southern Cal may not be having a season that measures up to the ones the Utes and Spartans are having, but they still provide a far sterner test than those current Top 25 teams.

What's the great equalizer of great talent? Great coaching with a great gameplan. While most would argue Kyle Whittingham and Mark Dantonio have done fantastic jobs maximizing the talent on their rosters, very few would assign that distinction to Lane Kiffin in his initial campaign in LA. This contest doesn't look impossible like it did after the Tulsa debacle but the Irish still have an uphill battle to emerge victorious.

2. It is almost time for the OC Domer Player of the Year to be named. This award is intended to recognize the Notre Dame football player or players who played the best when it mattered the most. Suffice it to say that the primary criterion is a consistently high level of play, with significant bonus points awarded for exceeding expectations. Injuries have taken many of the pre-season favorites for this prestigious award out of the running. Who is your nominee for this award, and why?

Injuries really have gutted a lot of the candidates--from Carlo Calabrese to Armando Allen to Theo Riddick. Ian Williams was the anchor of a much improved defensive line and blew away my expectations going into the year. He'd be the runaway winner had he stayed healthy, but since he's one of the walking wounded that's been out for 3+ games it's tough to hand him the honor. I'll choose Gary Gray.

I always liked Gray, but even his staunchest supporters would've had a hard time predicting that he'd emerge as the best Notre Dame cornerback since Shane Walton. He's been great in coverage and the most consistent tackler on the entire team. He said after the Utah game that he'd be back for a fifth lap in South Bend--great news for all Irish fans.

3. With a delicate flavor similar to beef, though slightly sweeter than other meats, horse meat can be used to replace beef, pork, mutton, and any other meat in virtually any recipe, though most aficionados prefer it in marinated or spicy dishes. Nutritionally, horse meat has around 40 percent fewer calories than the leanest beef, while supplying 50 percent more protein and as much as 30 percent more iron; and horse fat is considered an excellent health-conscious deep-frying alternative, especially for delicately-flavored foods that are easily overpowered by heavier oils. What is your favorite horse meat recipe?

Impale Traveler, marinate him in Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce, put him on a spittle, roast him over an open fire until he's medium-well, and then eat him like a viking.

4. Do you miss Pat Haden, who left the Notre Dame television broadcasts to become athletic director at USC?

Unlike a lot of people I thought Haden did a very good job providing level-headed and unbiased analysis during his time at NBC...but Mike Mayock has been absolutely fantastic and an undeniable upgrade. Sorry Pat, I don't miss you. Good luck cleaning up a program led by Lane Kiffin.

5. USC is the Notre Dame rival I love to hate. What Notre Dame rival do you most despise, and why?

It has to be Southern Cal and the basis comes from both history and personal experience. It starts with the screwjob Notre Dame got at the hands of the referees in the ultimate game of Ara Parseghian's magical 1964 season. It continues with the most arrogant, cocky, showboating Trojan of them all, Anthony Davis. This is a man whose best moment in his entire life was when a Notre Dame loving nun approached him and said he must be the devil because he did so well against the Irish. Glad to see his life has turned out well.

We move on to the final game of Lou Holtz's career at Notre Dame, when a Jim Sanson missed PAT opened the door for Southern Cal to storm back and send Lou out a loser in overtime. I guess we skipped over Keyshawn Johnson talking trash about how Notre Dame didn't belong on the same field as the Trojans...and then promptly went out and got his ass beat 38-10 in South Bend. His ignorance and stupidity is now on display every week on ESPN's NFL coverage and every once in awhile he chimes in about how Ty Willingham should be coach. Gag.

In 2002 they undressed and exposed Ty Willingham as a fraud, beginning a decade of complete dominance over Notre Dame. There were multiple embarrassing blowouts ('02, '03, '04, '07, '08) and heartbreaking defeats. Last year's Irish effort that came up less than 10 yards short was a punch to the gut, but nothing compares to the devastating game played on the Ides of October 2005.

On that day Southern Cal cemented itself as Public Enemy #1 in my eyes for all eternity. We played a perfect game, did everything necessary to emerge victorious and conquer the unconquerable foe...and with one illegal push in the blink of an eye they stole a Notre Dame Moment--what should've been my and the rest of the student body's Notre Dame Moment.

So Men of Troy, I'd like to raise my glass to you as winner of the title of most hated rival...and then I'd like to break that glass over your heads.

6. Reggie Bush got a car, his parents a house. Cam Newton's Dad was looking for $180,000 in straight cash homey. Can Notre Dame compete for athletic recruits in this environment? Or do you believe these incidents are the exceptions to an otherwise clean recruiting landscape?

Listen: it's naive to think that schools paying players and providing illegal benefits is a rare occurrence. However, it's equally naive to think this didn't happen in the 60's, 70's, and 80's as well--all decades in which Notre Dame won national championships. I'm sure a lot of people watched the 30 for 30 on Marcus Dupree, a wild and illegal recruitment that happened thirty years ago.

Notre Dame is certainly at a disadvantage to schools that are willing to pony up cheddar to reel in top level talent, but it's not a crippling one. The Irish have overcome it before (Free Shoes University anybody?) and they will do it again in the future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

GAMEDAY: CRUSHING AN ARMY OF ONE

The biggest thing to look for today is a statement from Bob Diaco. The Irish defense is either going to be shredded again by the option, leading the mob grabbing their pitchforks, or absolutely smother it.

I'm betting heavily that it's the latter. The Irish keep the momentum heading in the right direction today in The Stadium, setting up a showdown in LA next week when we'll find out whether they really have turned a corner...

IRISH 27
ARMY 13

GO IRISH