Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dear Diary...Notre Dame - Utah

Ladies and Gents, welcome to the final home running diary of 2010! It’s been a pretty brutal season to date and a win today would be a great way to shift a tide of momentum that’s been going the wrong way since the Navy game.

Today’s opponent is #14 ranked Utah, who is fresh off a colossal beatdown at the hands of TCU. I’d suspected all year that they were frauds (especially judging off of what I saw in the opener against Pitt) and I was hoping ND would be the ones to undress them, but oh well. This is still going to be a stern test for a mentally and physically bruised and battered Irish squad and I’m not overly optimistic that Notre Dame can pull the upset. As always though, nothing would make me happier than ND proving me wrong.

Today we come to you live from college football headquarters in Arlington, VA accompanied by my girlfriend, my roommate C-Loss, and a doozy of a birthday hangover brought about by two Penn Staters—thank you Ross and Aggon—who did everything they could to blowtorch whatever brain cells I had left at the Clarendon Grill last night. I feel like a vegetable. Let’s hope the Irish come out with a little more life than I’m showing this afternoon. This program needs a lift, this senior class needs a lift, and damnit my throbbing head needs a lift. COME ON IRISH!

On with the show!

2:37 The weather looks pretty crappy. Maybe that’ll make BK lean a little harder on the run?

2:38 Utah comes on to the field flashing the Miami “U” sign. I don’t really understand why Notre Dame comes on the field before the opponent.

2:40 Dr. Flanagan gets the early nod today and interviews Kelly on the sideline. Basically he says that Rees doesn’t have to do too much and that the coaches will manage the game a lot for him. That says “conservative passing game and heavy dose of the run game” to me. Is our line up to the task? Is Cierre up to it? There certainly haven’t been many signs that would point to yes thus far in the season.

2:41 Notre Dame has lost 11 straight games to ranked opponents and six straight games in November including the last two Senior Days. Gag.

2:42 The Irish get the ball to start the game and get a nice return out of Bennett Jackson. He got to the corner and takes it up to the 44. Come on boys, let’s get off to a good start.

2:47 Three runs by Cierre Wood net only seven yards. The Irish are going to line up and go for it.

2:48 Cierre Wood is stuffed a yard short of the first down. Damnit to hell. That wasn’t very good vision on Wood’s part, he tried to bull ahead through a blocker and a tackler and had his legs taken out from under him. It’s going to be an early test here for the defense.

2:49 Utah picks up a 3rd and 10 when KLM can’t quite get his mitts on Jordan Wynn, which allows Wynn all day to roll to his left and find an open receiver for 11 yards.

2:51 The Irish defense holds and forces a 46-yard field goal attempt which the Utes sneak in the left upright to take a 3-0 lead. Not bad by the defense but we can’t put ourselves in a deep hole and expect Tommy Rees to dig us out of it.

3:00 The Irish go three and out after Rees tries to force a ball into Duval Kamara. Michael Floyd was wide-open about six steps to Kamara’s right. Turk gets off a decent punt and the Irish have absolutely outstanding coverage on a dangerous returner—Shaky Smithson. Utah will take over at their own 19.

3:06 INTERCEPTION HARRISON SMITH!!!!! WHAT AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL PLAY, HE CUTS UNDERNEATH THE RECEIVER AT THE LAST SECOND AND LAYS OUT TO MAKE THE PICK. He actually started the play on the right hash and ended up all the way on the opposite sideline as he picked up a crossing pattern. What a huge, HUGE play. COME ON BOYS, LET’S GET SOME MOMENTUM GOING HERE!

3:07 Tommy Rees is forced to burn ND’s second timeout because he’s slow getting the play called. Brian Kelly looks like he’s using every last ounce of restraint not to go Woody Hayes on him, but much to BK’s credit he’s 1000x more patient than he has been with Dayne.

3:10 Three and out for Notre Dame. Boy oh boy, we look horrendous on offense. Zero first downs thus far.

3:15 Notre Dame allows one Ute first down but then buckles down to force a punt. The defense looks great, please tell me we’re not going to let their effort got to waste.

3:16 ROBERT BLANTON BLOCKS THE PUNT AND TAKES IT TO THE HOUSE FOR SIX!!!!!!! TOOOOOOOUUUUUCCCCCHHHDDDDOOOOOWWWNNNNN IIIIIRRRRRIIIISSSHHHHH!!!!!!!! Utah just totally ignored him coming the right edge and he all but took it off the punter’s foot. Ruffer tacks on the extra point and the Irish have taken the lead. Notre Dame 7, Utah 3.

It’s about damn time special teams provided a lift! When the hell was the last time we’d blocked a punt? And when’s the last time we returned it for a score? That used to be something we did regularly under Davie and the last one I can remember was Carlos Pierre-Antoine in the first half against Southern Cal in ’02. COME ON DEFENSE, LET’S KEEP THE HEAT ON THEM!

3:19 Utah is going to start their drive all the way back at the 10-yard line thanks to a penalty on the return. They’ve been very, very sloppy out of the gate, which has certainly helped the Irish cause. COME ON BOYS, LET’S BURRRRRY THEM!

3:25 We’re into the second quarter and while Utah picked up one first down, their drive stalls when Jordan Wynn’s scramble on third down comes up a yard short. As HD Gremlin Tom Hammond points out, it was due to a “premature slide.” This sets off an entire round of comments and texts about the perils of premature sliding and how the young sophomore will learn how to avoid premature sliding with more experience. We can all agree that it’s embarrassing when you slide prematurely. A bad punt gives the Irish good field position at their own 39. Let’s see if the offense can pick it up a bit.

3:27 Jonas Gray is in the game and has a nice run on first down! I didn’t even realize he was back in action today. Seven yards right up the middle for #25 puts us in prime position to capture first down numero uno on the day. The next play is a defensive holding call against the Utes—which may be their 34th penalty of the day—gives us that first down and the Irish are over midfield.

3:29 JONAS GRAY WITH A HUGE RUN DOWN THE LEFT SIDELINE, 36 YARDS DOWN INSIDE THE 10 YARD-LINE!!! He started up the middle, was stoned, and then bounced it out to the left where he found plenty of real estate thanks to a couple devastating blocks. HERE WE GO BABY!

3:30 Utah is flagged for pass interference as they try to stop Michael Floyd on a terribly thrown fade. That was an absolute duck by Rees but the defender was so concerned with the man coverage on Floyd that he got tangled up and drew the flag. Come on Tommy, none of that. Irish ball, first and goal at the 3.


3:34 Ruffer drills the kickoff out of bounds giving the Utes great field position. Come on boys, let’s not give them a chance to come up for air. One play and Utah’s in to Irish territory.

3:36 The Utes get down to the 36 buuuuut back’em up five yards thanks to a false start.

3:37 ANOTHER FALSE START ON UTAH! That’s nine penalties for 60 yards so far and a promising drive now faces 1st and 20 and a rejuvenated Irish defense. Freshman Kona Schwenke gets some great pressure on first down to force an incompletion.

3:38 The Irish hold and force a punt. Great stand there by the defense and an even better job by the Utes to do everything in their power to sabotage themselves. John Goodman fair catches the punt and Notre Dame takes over at their own 17.

3:43 Notre Dame is employing an Oregon-esque poster board with different pictures to help Tommy Rees with relaying in the plays. On one board has Double Mint Gum, Gatorade, the monkey Curious George, and a tree. On another has Rex Ryan, the Golden Dome, the Notre Dame logo, and a Turkey. I’ll take a stab at them: the first one means pass and the second one means pass. I kid, I kid…but seriously, that’s probably what they mean. Dayne had cards too but they just had numbers on them to let him know how many postgame lashes he’d earned from Brian Kelly’s belt on the previous play.

3:44 Nice little slip screen by Cierre Wood picks up a first down. He’s running hard today.

3:45 Dr. Flanagan talks about how Brian Kelly is 1000x more patient and understanding with Rees than he was with Crist. Do you think that Crist resents it a bit? I truly and honestly think that Crist would’ve progressed more had Kelly taken on that sort of patient and nurturing attitude

3:46 The Irish drive stalls and they’re forced to punt. Ben Turk avoids disaster by reeling in a bad snap but then gets off a bad punt. I’ll let it slide since he made such a great save on the catch. Utah ball at their own 33 with 6:32 left in the half.

3:49 NBC shows a time-lapse video of the preparation of the football field in Yankee Stadium, including the finished product. It looks pretty awesome, I don’t understand why there’s a pocket of people hating on it. It’s pretty cool to be the first game in the new Yankee Stadium and it’s a neat event period. I’ll be in attendance and couldn’t be more excited.

3:50 Great stop by Darrin Walls to sniff out a screen and make a stop for a five yard loss on second down. COME ON IRISH!

3:50 Prince Shembo chases Jordan Wynn back 15 yards before Wynn just throws it away. Another three and out for Utah, what a fantastic performance by the Notre Dame Defense thus far. ND will get the ball at the 34-yard line—let’s step on their throats before the half.

3:55 Cierre Wood drops a wiiiiiiidddeee-opennnnn pass down the left sideline. The ball was a little high but you HAVE to come down with that. That brings up a 3rd and 10. The rain is really coming down now.

3:56 Tommy Rees lasers one in to Tyler Eifert for a first down on a hot route. Rees is fired up as he should be, that was a great throw. Irish ball over midfield.

4:00 The drive stalls but Turk does a great job pinning the Utes deep at their own 11. They’ve got a little more than two minutes to try to get some points on the board.

4:02 I can’t believe Brian Johnson is an assistant coach. He kind of bailed on trying to make it in the pros pretty early didn't he? That being said he’s two years younger than I am and already a D-I quarterback coach. Not too shabby.

4:03 A HUGE hit from Jamoris Slaughter stops Utah short on third down which means it’s another three and out for the visitors. This is the best defensive performance in YEARS for Notre Dame.

4:06 Brian Kelly decides that 14-3 is good enough and he’s not going to test fate so after one run the Irish are headed to the locker room with their lead.

Wow, what a great half. Special teams provided the initial boost and the momentum changing play, but the story thus far is a dominant defensive effort from Bob Diaco’s unit. Utah has the 9th-ranked offense in the country and the Irish have completely smothered it, allowing just 118 total yards and a field goal that only happened because we handed the Utes a short field out of the gate.

Tommy Rees has done a great job in managing the game and not making any huge mistakes. The second half is an opportunity for this team to come of age and really bury a quality opponent. I don’t want to let them get off the mat, I want to hit them in the mouth early and often. Let’s get a TKO here, not a decision.



4:34 Notre Dame forces a third down but then gives up a huge 25-yard gain over the middle. Damnit, come on boys.

4:35 Prince Shembo with a sack on first down, just overpowering the running back that attempted to block him.

4:37 The Irish defense tightens up and forces another punt. The short punt bounces up and hits Blanton, but he very alertly picks it up to avoid disaster. Irish ball with good field position.

4:40 Good run by Cierre Wood on first down for 8 yards. Let’s just punch them in the mouth with the running game, I would absolutely love to see us just dominate the line. Wood breaks off another nice chunk of yardage on second down—an 18-yard gain that was sprung by a great Michael Floyd block on the left side.

4:41 Michael Floyd takes a crossing pattern and rumbles for 24 yards inside the Utah 15. We’re rollllllin’ baby!

4:42 TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOWN IRISH!!!! AGAIN IT’S THE BARD OF BERGEN, DUVAL KAMARA WITH HIS SECOND TOUCHDOWN ON SENIOR DAY! Great throw by Tommy Rees, great catch by Duval. That’s just awesome, couldn’t be happier for the kid. Ruffer tacks on the extra point and the Irish are just pouring it on. Irish 28, Utah 3.

4:50 Utah has started to piece together a drive. Their last six possessions have ended with a punt—I couldn’t be happier about our defense, they’re playing with such great passion and energy.

4:54 Utah picks up a 4th down conversion when Gary Gray can’t quite wrangle down Shaky Smithson. Shaky slips free and gets all the way down inside the 10-yard line. This is their first trip inside the redzone all day, which is pretty remarkable.

4:57 The Irish hold! Back-to-back great plays by Gary Gray to snuff the drive out and keep Utah from cutting into the deficit.

5:03 A heavy dose of Cierre Wood on this drive, the last run a great 20-yard pickup right down the throat of the defense where he made a quick cut and hit the hole hard. The third quarter comes to a close and this game appears to be comfortably in hand. I have too many scars to chalk this up as a W just yet, but we’re definitely in a good place.

5:12 Unfortunately the drive stalls and is capped off by a terrible Ben Turk punt, but it did chew 5:23 off the clock. There’s 12:41 left on the clock which means this is most likely Utah’s last gasp—if they don’t get six here you can pretty much put this one in the books.

5:15 The Utes are playing like a team who understands they’re running out of chances. Five straight completions from Wynn have Utah into the redzone again in a shade under two minutes. Come on defense, stand up again.

5:19 Mayock on Shaky Smithson: “He’s a thickly built kid from the waist down.” I mean how many different directions can we go with this one? None of them can be printed here.

5:20 The Irish hold again on 4th down! Gary Gray with another great pass defense in the endzone to halt the Utah drive inside the 15. ND went with Cover 0 on that play and I suddenly had terrible flashbacks to the first Stanford touchdown when Wynn lobbed the ball down the middle of the field, but this time it was Gray on the coverage instead of Brian Smith and the ball harmlessly fell to the turf for another Utah turnover on downs. Great job to stiffen up again in the redzone by the defense and the Irish will take over with 8:04 to play. Now let’s see some push on the offensive line and grind out some clock on the ground.

5:23 The latest card on the Irish sideline for Tommy Rees’s viewing pleasure has George Washington (1), a golf cart (2), the Golden Dome (3), and Alex Flanagan (4). This leads to a terribly awkward exchange between Hammond and Mayock where they try to make a reference to Flanagan being pretty but fail miserably. A stab at an interpretation of that card: George Washington (1) was wise and would never have hired Willingham (2) to coach under the Dome (3). Dr. Flanagan (4) will report this in her next bit of sideline airtime. Another interpretation: it’s a pass play.

I hope Rees enjoys these picture cards over the next five quarters because by the time they head to Los Angeles I have a feeling the Brian Kelly Lash Count Cards will return.

5:27 Cierre Wood has a nice run on third down for 11 yards but it ends up a bit short of the first down. The Irish run the clock down to 5:46 and they’ll punt the ball away. Kelly has really made a commitment to the run in the second half and even though we’ve stalled a bit it’s done enough damage to squeeze the life out of Utes.

5:34 Manti Te’o with a BIG hit on Utah’s backup quarterback—he lined him up from about 15 yards away and laid the boom. That brings up a third and long for Utah with 4:04 left to play.

5:36 Prince Shembo absolutely manhandles the left tackle on 3rd down to force a quick throw that nets only three years. This kid is going to be a stud; he’s been on-campus for only a few months and he’s already one of the most imposing physical specimens on the team. Just wait until he’s an upperclassman.

5:37 The Utes complete a short pass that’s not even close to picking up the necessary yardage and Notre Dame forces yet another turnover on downs. The defense gets an A+++++ for their effort today. God, I can’t stop smiling, this is just wonderful. This was even more dominating than the Nevada shutout last year—we’ve completely smoked them in every regard.

5:40 ROBERT HUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHEEEEESSSS rumbles for a 12-yard gain up the middle. He lowered his shoulder and ran over a safety on the last couple yards. On the whole his career has been a bit of a disappointment after a promising start, but he holds a place near and dear in many Irish fans’ hearts. His two-point conversion against Washington where he carried the pile for three yards last year was one of the most underrated moments of the past five years. I wish him all the best going forward.

5:42 This one is in the books. Notre Dame 28, Utah 3.

5:45 The students and team sing the Alma Mater together on the field. A lot of people don’t think it should be played after the game with the team on the field. Those people can go suck a lemon.

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Five Snap Judgments

1. What a defensive masterpiece. Notre Dame completely dominated one of the best offenses in the country. For all the (deserved) criticism Diaco received for the Navy performance he deserves equal praise for his unit’s execution today.

2. Brian Kelly called a great offensive game that leaned heavily on the running attack and conservative, manageable plays for his young quarterback. Tommy Rees executed beautifully and didn’t make any mistakes that would’ve allowed Utah back into the game. He’s going to be asked to do a bit more if ND wants to hang with Southern Cal, but for right now let’s just enjoy his progress and build on it.

3. This senior class has suffered so much, I’m glad they could go out with a dominating win like this.

4. Special teams! We haven’t had nearly enough impact plays on special teams since the ’06 season. I’d love to see us bring heat on punts more frequently since we don’t seem to have anyone that can break a long return. The two big plays by Blanton on the punt and Collinsworth on the kickoff proved to be the difference in the game.

5. Is this an aberration or the turning point? That will be the topic that’s intensely debated over the next week.

Just a great day, a great victory. Let’s make a habit of this shall we?


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