Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Quick fixes

Somehow (well, not "somehow" - they do this all the time), EDSBS managed to get it exactly right with regards to the can't-look-away-it's-so-bad San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl tonight:

What to watch for: A methodical TCU attack hogs the ball, scores on long, heart-rending drives. A gimpy Wolfe has run his legs dead after a 1,900 yard season, and goes nowhere against TCU’s superbly coached defense. NIU’s backup Dan Nicholson earns a miserable postgame bender by getting sacked a few times, throwing a few picks, and trying to hurl the Huskies back into the game singlehandedly in what could be an excruciating third quarter to watch.

Which you will, you desperate sick person, you, since it’s been sixteen days or so since football-related content last lashed your eyeballs. Damn you, sweet Poinsettia Bowl!!! Your poisonous leaves still taste sweet to our starved tongue! This might actually reveal the sick logic behind the name, after all: it’s bad, it’ll make you sick (allegedly!), but when starving you’ll down it like Doritos.

That's pretty much exactly what happened ... after being in college football withdrawal for a couple of weeks, I had to watch. Yikes. Bring on more bowl games ... we need more satisfying meals than this!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Post-mortem

I haven't been reading much analysis of the game last Saturday, just thinking. And thinking some more. So, for what it's worth, and belatedly, here's a few of the thoughts:

- Haven't we been here before? Yes and no. Yes, the score in the loss to Southern Cal looked uncomfortably like the score in the losses to Ohio State and Michigan. This seems to indicate that we just aren't capable of playing on the same level as the most elite teams so far. But on the other hand, you can pull any number of stats to show that we aren't that far off from any of these teams. Charlie Weis was quoted as saying "stats are for losers" last Saturday night, but if you're not using them as a consolation prize, they can tell you useful information. For instance, as magnified as it sometimes seems in retrospect, the margin in the OSU game was only two scores, and it was within 7 in the fourth quarter until we gave up the last big play in the final minutes. We gave up a hideous number of yards in that game, but on the other hand, Michigan (supposedly much more elite than us, with a much higher ranked defense) also gave up over 500 yards to the Buckeye offense last week.

Looking at our Michigan game this year, we had 5 turnovers -- a far from ordinary event with us, which thereby makes a real comparison of the two teams more difficult. We did move the ball on their defense, and absent the turnovers (which led directly to 14 points and indirectly to more), the teams were more probably closely matched than it appeared. That game was probably the worst of the four being discussed here. We just laid an egg.

But now come to the USC games -- last year we came within one second of beating SC, and this year, while we clearly didn't have the cover defense, we kept a slight edge on time of possession, a plus turnover margin, and dead even number of yards (404). In other words, USC was certainly beatable by us. Where the real difference comes in, I suppose, and I think others have probably pointed this out, is that we had to play a perfect game (read: no stupid penalties, no dropped balls, no missed opportunities off turnovers) to win, while SC had a higher margin for error. That's where the talent differential starts to come in, and in this you just have to shake your head in admiration of OSU and USC, in particular -- losing seven or more starters on defense this year, OSU actually improved; losing two Heisman winners on offense and several people to injury this season, USC plugged in a new quarterback and various assorted offensive backs, and continued to cruise. We can't do that yet.

In all of these games, we lost outright -- no doubt. Badly, in the two games this year. I don't feel good about any of them -- just pointing out that the statistical gap isn't as big as it might sometimes appear. There's clearly still a level we need to catch up to, where we've always got great backups ready to go at multiple positions, but at some point we will. Looking at both sides of the ball individually . . .

- So we're 10th in the BCS now, which sounds about right to me, and has sounded right most of the year. As discussed, we're evidently not a top-five team overall, and primarily because we're not a top-five, or even top-twenty, defense. So, thoughts on the defense: Right now, it seems as though the talent differential is just too big when we run up against a truly elite program. We make average opposing quarterbacks look great, and good wide receivers look like Heisman candidates. (See, e.g., Manningham and Jarrett.) A lot of this, as better analyzed elsewhere by people who understand the positional breakdowns better, is just because recruiting suffered so fatally under Ty. Apparently we have something like 5 juniors on the team right now who will play next year. Total! Travis Thomas did a nice job stepping up this year at LB, but he was a running back until this spring. Zbikowski and Ndukwe both play incredibly hard, but they aren't the kind of instinctive safeties that the best teams have. Lambert has improved tremendously since he first came on, and played pretty well overall, but our corners just haven't been able to clamp down on some of the top WR's we come up against. And while I'm always happy to watch Abiamiri, Crum, and Landri play hard, we usually don't generate the kind of pass rush - or strike any kind of the fear into opposing offenses - that the elite teams are able to. Seeing us lined up against the SC offense, I wouldn't be that concerned if I was an SC fan. Seeing the SC defense on the line against us, I was always afraid Brady was going to get squashed. Which leads to the next thoughts.

- Are we a top-five offense? Except for our offensive line, I'd say we're much closer here than defensively - we do have the high-quality players here that can make us competitive with anyone in the country. Under Weis, Brady Quinn has developed pro skills and shown tremendous ability under pressure. This kid can direct comebacks, manage drives, scramble if needed, make smart decisions, check down, be accurate, minimize mistakes, and be tough enough to get right back up after every hit (of which there are many). He's set dozens of records at ND, and despite the fact he won't have a national championship or the Heisman, he has been an incredible Irish quarterback and should have few problems in the NFL. We've also had a good continuation in Carlson, our blocking/receiving tight end, from Fasano last year; improved blocking and receiving from Darius Walker, who while not the biggest RB out there has through his tough play given the offense more options; and pretty impressive receivers. McKnight might have been a slight step down from Stovall last year, but he played well pretty much all year and came down with some great catches. And Samardzija is Samardzija. These guys have all shown they can score on anyone (although not quite at will, like the higher-ranked teams we're comparing to), including top defenses, by marathon drives or quick strikes. The main recurring issue, unfortunately, has been an offensive line that didn't improve as much as it could have this year. It was inconsistent in generating the kind of push off the line that would have let us establish a reliable running game, and it couldn't match up against even lesser defensive lines. How many times did Quinn get sacked this year - 28? Close to that. He ended up in the dirt more times than that, too. It's going to take some time to build up the line again - Sam Young will surely continue to develop over time - too late for Quinn & Co., unfortunately, but even so this group still helped land us at 10-2.

- But the "top five" thoughts are just general musings - we don't belong there right now. Particular to Saturday's game, what a total disappointment. What a terrible time for our great receivers to start dropping balls, for the o-line to let stupid penalties kill our drives (like the opening one), for us to fail to capitalize on the hugely fortunate second-quarter turnovers, and for the defense to really let the game get away from us, particularly with regard to Jarrett. I think Sunday Morning Quarterback predicted before the game last week that if we were going to win, one important thing would have to be, as it has been all season, conversion of our fourth down attempts (pursuant to the "death by paper cuts" strategy). When we missed a few of these early in the game - particularly due to flat-out dropped passes -I had a sour feeling as to the ultimate outcome of the game. I really thought we'd come out sharper for this one, and that opening completion to Rhema seemed so promising - but we made too many mistakes, and got outplayed by a strong team. I thought Quinn played a strong, tough game, and it's a shame he will never have beaten SC. Disappointing night.

But in the end, we are 10-2. It may not be good enough for Charlie (I'll watch his press conference later today), and it is a disappointment to the extent that I do think we were capable of finishing 11-1, but could you even imagine being here two years ago? This is a great group of guys, and a team to make Irish faithful proud in many ways. I'll take it (and a BCS bowl, please).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A little motivation

Pat at Blue-Gray Sky has a good post on why the Irish should have no problems getting motivated for Saturday's game against USC. Three of Charlie Weis's four losses have come against top-ranked teams, and if Notre Dame wants to cement its recovered credibility, we need to get this win, this Saturday, against this team. Weis said last Saturday that he'd seen every single play of USC's this season, and that two-thirds of last week's practice plays were - unbeknownst to the team - for Southern Cal. After three years of losing by 31 points, and then last year under Weis the gut-wrenching last-second loss (so, a four-game losing streak), and given USC's absurdly long home winning streak, well, it's about time for both streaks to end. The Irish players seem determined to walk away with a win, and they're not concerned about merely staying close to SC, or merely trying to play a spoiler role:

Travis Thomas: "I think that's [the losing streak] something you can use as motivation. I mean, if you haven't beaten a team in so many years, you obviously want to end that streak. It's something hard to go against knowing that the team sort of owns you. Yeah, it's definitely something we use."

Zibby: "It's very big. Last game of the season. Stakes are high. College football in November - every game is pretty much big. When it's USC week, you definitely feel it earlier in the week and are ready to go earlier. . . . Still got a little bitter taste in my mouth from last year. You know, when you watch film, you watch a little bit of the game from last year, you replay that ending a thousand different ways. Definitely gets to you a little bit. . .

"We don't have the belief that we can hang with them. We want to play to be beating them."

Brady Quinn: "We're not going to play - we're not going to look at it playing as a spoiler. We're going to look at it as an individual game. The way Coach Weis has talked about it, it's a playoff series. This is really our third game of a playoff. In order to advance, you got to get a win. That's the only thing we're worried about right now, is just getting a win. . . . My goal right now is beating USC. Nothing else really other than that."

NBC Sports has some good coverage online here, as they have all season, so check out their preview and other pages before the game. Now, it's about time to head out for some turkey and NFL football, so have a happy Thanksgiving, and go Irish!

Vote for Brady

All the pundits have already as much as gift-wrapped and delivered to Troy Smith the Heisman this year, but the voting hasn't actually taken place yet, and I think if Brady Quinn has a great game against USC and wins, his stats (already better than Smith's, and with one fewer game) ought to count for a lot. In the meantime, we can at least vote for Brady to be Nissan's Heisman vote here. He's got 37% right now to Smith's 47%, but with enough Irish votes (ND Nation has already been beating this drum for awhile) we could at least get this one first place vote. Vote for Brady!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Conservative rock stars

If you're sitting in a room full of lawyers, the rock stars would have to include Justice Scalia, who last Thursday night received such sustained applause at the Federalist Society dinner it reminded me of President Bush's reception in Nationwide Arena in 2004. With the Society honoring his twenty years on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia brought up on stage his nine children, including Father Scalia and Major Scalia, and his wife, and joked that he was much more used to critical audiences, so he wasn't sure how to handle appreciation. Justice Alito, who of course is now a new favorite of the group, then gave the keynote address. He has a very mild manner of speaking, but with a few good lines about law school culture, Ronald Reagan, and the confirmation hearings, he had no problem keeping his audience. All in all it was a very nice event that I was happy to get to attend - as with the NRO anniversary dinner, these are the reasons to be in Washington, right?

Friday, November 17, 2006

There might be a few games tomorrow

First on everyone's mind, of course, is Ohio State-Michigan, and I'll be watching that game like everybody else. I can't say I'm sorry not to be in Columbus, though. I have lived through some pretty feverish Michigan weeks, but I can't even imagine what it's like this week. Others have no problems with this: EDSBS provides some funny imaginings of what might be happening as we speak. Michigan's alumni association offers visiting Michigan fans a cautious travel alert on how to stay safe, such as "don't drive with Michigan license plates" and "stay away from High Street." I would add, watch out for burning couches and people pelting your band with flying objects. Those have been known to occur . . .

But who does Notre Dame want to win? Ask Charlie Weis: "I root for Notre Dame. Whatever is best for Notre Dame, that's what I'm rooting for. Tell me what that is and that's what I'm rooting for." On the game itself, Weis allowed that "it should be an interesting matchup. We obviously played one of the teams this year and played one of the teams last year and we lost to both of them." Ahem. Well, no way to get around that. The amazing thing is, thanks to the great weekend of college football last week that resulted in four one-loss teams losing and ND moving up to #5 in the BCS, it is possible that we might have a shot at the winner of that game in the title game this year. Still remote, but not quite as remote as this time last week.

Of course, that all depends on us winning out, and the first order of business there is Army. It will be the seniors' last home game and as the players have pointed out, they've had multiple "trap games" already this year and haven't come out flat, so there should be plenty of preparedness and motivation to take care of business this weekend. I'm posting a picture sent by my parents from the last home game to get into the spirit of things. What a great time of year.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Irish links

Nice look by NBC at Notre Dame's team-record-setting pass offense here. Find Nevin O'Donnell's latest highlight video here - he had more fun with last week's offensive show than with some of our grind-it-out games earlier this year, and it shows. And here is Charlie's press conference from earlier this week, wherein he makes Air Force sound very dangerous again and talks about defensive tackling and why John Carlson is such a threat down the middle.

Knocked off in New Jersey

Great game in Piscataway last night - and who would ever think you'd be saying that about Rutgers and Louisville? Despite the perfect record, I wasn't taking Rutgers too seriously until last night, figuring that on their big test against a top-ranked team they'd come up short. (They hadn't beaten a ranked team in twenty years.) They had only been allowing 11 points per game, which looked good until you noticed that came against teams like Howard, UConn, and early-season Illinois. Still, watching them smother Louisville's explosive offense last night was impressive. The coverage was good, the pushback from the defensive line, the incredible pressure put on Louisville's Brohm (five sacks), and the strong tackling were fun to watch. I still have a really difficult time believing this team belongs up with Ohio State and Michigan, they of the even-more-smothering defenses, but they did pass their test last night. Kudos.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

That opponent sure is dangerous

Charlie Weis spent Tuesday's press conference talking a lot about how dangerous North Carolina is going to be this weekend. When Charlie talks this way, you don't hear it as an aw-shucks Lou Holtz type of disclaimer. It might have the same effect, but Charlie just sounds dead serious. UNC is 1-7. They've already fired their coach. We may not be a top-five team, but could Carolina really pose a threat?

You tell them [the players] it's a very dangerous opponent because they have nothing to lose. What do you have to lose? Seriously, you go out to play -- you go out there and it's 4th and 10 on the 40 yard line, if you want to go for it, you go for it. What's going to happen? You're going to let him go? That's already taken place.

I think it's a very dangerous situation to be in our spot right now. A team that the coach got let go, they played one of their best games for the entire year, very easily could have won the game. So obviously they played hard and they're coming up here trying to validate their season. It's a very dangerous game.

Well, that's a good point. I still think the Irish won't have much difficulty in this game, but of course this team can never afford to look past anyone.

Other good quotes from this presser . . . On Brady Quinn agreeing, in Sunday's 60 Minutes interview, that Weis can sometimes be a jerk: "He's right. That's my reaction. [But] you know what they say about pay back, Tom. As a matter of fact, he's already been paid back, I think. I don't think we have to wait on that one. He's gotten the worst end of that deal." On Aldridge and Prince: "James and Munir [are] really improving on a daily basis." On the way he swears a lot on the sidelines: "I can tell you this, that some of the things that you might have said or heard, you know, on the football field, are not tolerated in the Weis house by Maura Weis." Heh.

Maybe they are out to get us . . .

So we conservatives love to complain about liberal media bias, and we Domers like to complain about . . . anti-ND media bias. While there's a whole institute for keeping an eye on the former, Irish Round Table does a pretty convincing job of making the case for the latter here. The main point is well-taken: how in the world else can you explain the Irish being passed up in the rankings, after wins, by teams on their bye weeks? So we lost badly to Michigan. We're not as bad as that score - because we're not a five-turnover-per-game kind of team - and guess what, Michigan's really good. It was a bad loss. But as IRT points out, it ought to leave us at least at the same level as Texas, which also lost only to really-good-team Ohio State. Why the rankings disparity? The fix must be in.

Politics, Catholic stuff, and law (IL quick hits)

- Happy Anniversary, NRO. A few weeks ago I went to National Review Online's 10th anniversary party in D.C. (me and 400 other close, personal friends of the website). I wasn't going to pay to go, even though it was pretty convenient to my office downtown, but then my fiance reminded me that events like that are part the whole reason I moved to D.C. - they don't host their big parties in Columbus! So I went, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I got to say hi briefly to Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, and even NRO supporter Bill Bennett. Kathryn Lopez actually told me she'd read my blog before (!) which was pretty neat. And I talked a bit longer to Stanley Kurtz and Ed Whelan. Kurtz was very nice, and I thanked him for the work and research he has done on marriage and the damage that's been done to it in Europe in particular. He passed on the advice that to become a policy writer or work for a think tank someday (perhaps a long-term career goal), it's important to stay informed and write about one particular issue instead of many. I think, though I haven't done much of that lately, since my work at the Family Research Council in 2003 (which was right before this issue really started to take off) I've focused a lot of artificial reproductive technologies and embryonic vs. adult stem cell research, and at least for awhile wrote about that issue quite a bit. I've tried to stay fully informed on this issue and would like to make a point to keep focusing on it, so we'll see how that goes. Thanks to Kurtz for the advice. Ed Whelan was very gracious as well. As the principal contributor to NRO's Bench Memos blog, Whelan is invaluable for those following what's going on with the Senate judiciary committee or confirmations. (Of course there are other blawgs that follow this exclusively that are very helpful, but Bench Memos was particularly good during the SCOTUS hearings last year.) He had read Confirm Them, the nominations blog I contributed to last year, before, which was cool. Whelan talked to me a little about the work he does at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and I had to ask him about his clerkship for Justice Scalia.

At the end of the evening I started talking to a group of guys who looked closer to my age, and it turned they were mostly all lawyers, and one was a law student at Ohio State who would be interviewing the next day at two of the firms we represented. It was a fun conversation - I hope the Moritz guy wasn't too nervous about running into his possible interviewers at a party! - and very enjoyable evening overall, but I have to say, there are too many lawyers in this town.

- Pander to someone else, please. I'm not voting for Bob Ehrlich for governor next week. He was already questionable to me for multiple reasons, including firing a Metro board member earlier this year essentially for expressing his Catholic beliefs in comments outside of work and unrelated to his job. Now he's running ads promoting his intention to use lots of state funds for "stem cell research." Note the lack of clarification that would mean he would not fund embryonic stem cell research - no, if wanted to clarify that, he could, but he has no problems with using taxpayer money to fund research involving the intentional destruction of human embryos. As the governor's spokesman has put it for him before, "He's never been troubled by the ethical challenges of stem cell research." Good for you, Governor. I won't vote for your opponent (who also supports ESCR), but I certainly won't vote for you either. My current plan is to write in John Simmins, an independent, pro-life, pro-family candidate. I don't like his health care plan at all (though it looks like he's taken that off his platform), but on major issues affecting the state, I'd much rather have Simmins than Ehrlich. Count it as a protest vote.

- Reverence and awe. Last weekend I was able to attend possibly one of the most beautiful Masses I've ever attended in my life, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. I had been inside the Basilica before, so I knew it was a beautiful church with gorgeous Byzantine art and architecture, but hadn't been to Mass here. This was a high Mass, with incense, bold pipe organ music, a full choir set down and behind the altar - without microphones, just letting their voices carry throughout the space - and the ordinaries and propers sung beautifully by the priest, Fr. Eugene Morris. Fr. Morris, who is a friend of my brother's at SLU, also gave an amazing - challenging, topical - homily on the subject of what it means to give of ourselves and be servants, even slaves (despite the terrible connotations this word has for us), to one another out of reverence for Christ, in response to Mark 10:45 ("For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many"). I walked out of Mass a bit stunned at the experience, which might be the first time that's ever happened. In all the music and liturgy wars that go on around St. Blog's all the time, this was one of the first times I felt like I wanted to join in with everyone clamoring for good liturgical music and reverent Mass. More like this, please! (Actually I'm pretty fortunate to be at a wonderful parish here in Maryland too, with full Masses and a talented organist who sticks to traditional hymns and settings - this was just on a different level.)

- Work? Oh, right. Last week I got to draft my first purchase and sale agreement and an opinion letter on a mortgage loan. I'm fortunate to have a great mentor who doesn't mind giving me lots of feedback on these attempts since I'm a rookie, but it's still pretty challenging stuff. I'm also just trying to learn some of the terminology I need to have to understand the real estate biz - in the past month I've learned about cap rates, cap rate compression, NOI, triple net leases, title policies, and ROFOs. It's much more interesting to me than litigation would have been, but definitely a steep learning curve. Anyway, speaking of work, I better take off now. Ciao!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Shipshape

Saturday I got to go to the first Irish game I've been to in two years. Things have changed *just* a bit since two years ago, of course, so it was a lot of fun to make it to this one. (Thanks to the parental units for the tickets.) We drove up to Baltimore in the morning, saw my friend Gerry who had driven down from Long Island with his family to play Irish music and tailgate (thanks for hosting, Gerry!), and made it inside the stadium in time to see the Midshipmen march onto the field and two jets do a flyover. I think every Notre Dame fan has tremendous respect for Navy and our team traditions, so even though the stadium was probably 75-25 Irish-Navy supporters, everyone cheered for the Academy.

But then again, part of this tradition, for the last 43 years or so, is Notre Dame winning, and though we've had some close calls in recent years, the streak is not going to be broken under Charlie Weis. So it was nice to be able to thoroughly enjoy this 38-14 showing by the Irish, who had their best offensive output all season at 471 yards. The defense showed up nicely, too . . . at least, after the first half, when they seemed to have no answer for Navy's option pitches to the outside. After surrending 211 yards rushing in the first half, the defense finally got a stop right before halftime and proceeded to give up just 60 yards rushing and zero points after that. Question to Minter: could we start making adjustments before halftime next game, please?

Lots of things to like in this game, but I'll just go with the main one that struck me:

- Brady Quinn. It was fun to watch him in person moving around in and out of the pocket, taking off when he needed to (38 yards, 1 TD) but also airing it out to the tune of 295 yards and 3 TDs. All three of the scores looked good for different reasons. The first long pass to Grimes, thrown across his body and to the pylon where only Grimes could catch it (even though it was a somewhat tough catch to make) -- why, heck, it was almost Troy-Smithian. (Lack of spin moves notwithstanding.) The second TD to McKnight was perfectly thrown downfield into single coverage, allowing Rhema to come back a step for an easy reception. The final pass to McKnight, also thrown on the run, was just a rope to the back of the end zone. During the game, Quinn spread the ball around to five different receivers, including all three WR's, the tight end and Walker. In the third quarter he missed a wide open Samardzija on one play in our corner of the endzone, but otherwise he was efficient and accurate all day. Brady Quinn's just a great Irish quarterback.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Updates

I've been out of town a lot over the last few weeks, which is why I haven't posted much. Right now I'm in Missouri, where I've been since last week, but I should get to go home tonight and maybe post some stuff from the past few weeks. In the meantime, read EDSBS for some Southerners' visit north last weekend here and here. I will second the complaints about the stadium ushers.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Drew Bledsoe is an idiot

Theoretically, I could blame the offensive line for him getting sacked so much, but I choose to blame his complete lack of mobility. And I definitely blame him for throwing stupid interceptions at the goal line when the game-changing lead is within reach after his defense has created big turnovers and chances for him (see, e.g., Philadelphia and New York). I don't know why I should care, mind you, but I would like to see Julius Jones have a more successful team. And not to see Bill Parcell's disgusted looks all game. The Cowboys might win this one, and they might even do it with Bledsoe. But I still think he's not the right guy if the Cowboys want to go anywhere.

EDIT: Ah, they yanked Bledsoe. That should have an impact.

EDITED EDIT: Re: Romo - Maybe that's why they haven't pulled Bledsoe up till now.

35 seconds to save the season

Well, that was an improbable win on Saturday. I liked Charlie Weis's consistency in initially saying that while there isn't any such thing as a good loss, there also any such thing as a bad win. I don't always buy that, but the point was well-taken in that of course we'd rather be 6-1 than 4-3. If you can win, even though you had to come from behind against a team you should have been able to score more on, and you happen to win by using your great QB-WR combo in a spectacular game-winning 45-yard reception and run, then yep, it's going to be a good win.

But Charlie changed his tune a little bit yesterday. At his press conference, though he said he was generally satisfied with the defense, he made clear his unhappiness with the offense:

First of all, I thought we got off to a horrendous start. . . . We were 4 and 19 on 3rd down, which was horrendous. We got into the red zone three times, scored one touchdown. That's horrendous. Gave up five sacks and nine pressures. That's horrendous. Had double digit mental errors. That's not good either.

I wanted to fire the offensive line for most of the game, although to be fair to them -- given UCLA's defensive line was as good as it looked yesterday, the play-calling had to be somewhat at fault. I didn't see but a couple of screens or designed roll-outs to give Quinn more time to find receivers or even to have a chance to take off. We got stuck in all the third-and-long situations that Charlie keeps saying he wants to avoid. But there were still many positives from the game:

- Good coverage and tackling (minus a select couple of plays in the first half) from the defense. Lambert, the guy Charlie was afraid to put on the field when he first arrived at ND, continues to develop and I thought his coverage was good all day. It was good to see Crum, Landri and Abiamiri making tackles in the backfield and bringing pressure at the times it counted.

- The team was extremely well-prepared in terms of time management. They were on the field at the end of the game as soon as the clock started, and they didn't waste time getting plays called at the line of scrimmage. It would be great if the offense could look that sharp and good the entire game, but as Charlie said, the start was horrendous. We've started flat a lot this season and it might be time to start shaking things up from the beginning, instead on the second quarter or second half as has become custom. Still, nice to see we weren't going to lose the game because we couldn't get a play off as time ran out at the end of the game (*cough*Washington*cough*).

- David Grimes finally emerged a bit as the team's third receiver, with 8 receptions, including the second key play on the game's final drive. And speaking of that drive - three plays in 35 seconds to cover 80 yards for the go-ahead score? This caused almost as much of an adrenaline rush as the entire fourth quarter of the Michigan State game. Maybe because it was more concentrated.

- Charlie Weis continues to fundamentally change the way Notre Dame plays the game. SMQ, which has dubbed us the death-by-paper-cuts team, summarized the evidence so far when it comes to going for it on fourth down:

The Irish were a perfect 4 of 4 on fourth downs against Penn State, and scored 20 points on or immediately following the conversions; they were 2 of 3 against Michigan State and scored 14 points on or after the conversions in a game where every point mattered; they were 2 of 2 against Purdue, including a fake field goal for touchdown, and took six crucial minutes off the clock with a lead by converting a fourth down in its own territory despite missing a field goal in the third quarter; and Saturday, Notre Dame was 4 of 5 on fourth downs and went touchdown, field goal, field goal following conversions - 13 points in a game ultimately decided by three. On the final possession of the first half, Brady O'Quinn took the offense on a 19-play, 7-plus-minute trail of tears that included two fourth down conversions - how many coaches do you know who would go for it twice on the same possession in the first half? - and in the third quarter, got another field goal at the end of a 14-play, six-minute drive.

That is grinding it out, and it is a large part of the reason our season has turned out so well to this point. We're not a top five team by any stretch right now (having lost decisively to the current numbers one and two this year!) but this is part of the reason we do deserve to be top ten. Once we figure out how to replay last year's quick starts, we should continue to be fun to watch.

In the meantime, have fun watching Nevin O'Donnell's highlights video from this week.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Things not to do for law firm interviews

On the train to New York last week, I got to spend at least 15 minutes listening to a snazzily-dressed 2L -- I'm guessing from NYU or Columbia, given the circumstances and the law firm names she was dropping -- give interviewing tips to a friend of hers over the phone. These included: just pretend to be interested in specific firms, and ask interviewers questions about themselves because lawyers love to talk about themselves. The tone was along the lines of, "here's how you play the game," and the speaker indiscreetly mentioned the names of a couple of the half-dozen firms she'd just been at. What was the problem with this? First, I think a bit of discretion was definitely warranted given where this woman was talking -- on the express train on the DC-Philadelphia-New York route, I think there is a high probability of there being lawyers around, perhaps even ones from the firms she was mentioning. Second, whether or not this was the case, it seemed that her attitude reflected both boredom and insincerity with the whole interviewing process. Some people can send out resumes by the hundreds just for a couple of callbacks; this woman had at least a half-dozen and her attitude was pretty cavalier.

I'm probably reacting too strongly to this incident, but being relatively new to the interviewing process from an interviewer's perspective, I was not impressed. Even after only a few interviews, I could assure this woman that most interviewers are probably pretty good at spotting insincerity and false interest in their law firms. If you want to get the job, don't pretend to be interested in the firm, be interested in the firm. Ask questions that show you've done your research and have an interest in this particular firm as opposed to every other one that you've been visiting. I know it can be hard to pick out details that distinguish some firms from each other, and that if you're scheduling several interviews at once, it may be hard to keep track. But I can say that the people I've been able to recommend the most highly are the ones who, it was evident, liked my particular firm -- who weren't just making the rounds.

And sure, people in general like to talk about themselves and appreciate genuine interest, but genuineness is the key if you want to establish good rapport with an interviewer. I believe that loudly announcing your game plan to a train car that's probably half-full of your potential interviewers is not great strategy.

Maybe I'm not being cynical enough about the 2L interviewing rounds -- who has time to figure out all the distinguishing characteristics of 10 similar BigLaw firms? Who can really be that interested in all of the dozens of people they see in a given interview? Isn't it all just a game anyway? But I think there are plenty of people out there who really do want these jobs, and who will take the time to do their homework because it actually matters to them that they have a shot -- there's no sense of entitlement there. I hope as an interviewer that these are the kinds of people I can help out, because these are the kinds of people I'm more likely to want to have on my team. So much for cynicism.

A workmanlike win

Mike at BGS asks this week, "What does it mean when a 14-point victory over Purdue doesn't inspire particularly strong feelings in either direction?" I'm not sure. I was pretty happy watching the game and I got in my 35 pushups (the Weis era has been much better for Saturday exercise than previous years!), but when it was over, there wasn't much feeling either way. I think I'm pretty pleased. I'll definitely still take it.

Things I liked:

- Quinn finally figuring out the out routes. Last week in particular (and I think during Michigan as well), he seemed to be completely off in throwing to the left side, taking awful angles so as to make the balls uncatchable (or, in one case, catchable by the defense. Ugh.) Saturday, however, Quinn hit these passes repeatedly and to nice effect.

- The running game and Samardzija's fake field goal. It was great to see the return of our running game, even if it did come against a terrible defense instead of against the good ones we faced in the last few weeks. As has been pointed out, though, it's hard to focus on the run when you spot the opposing team 17 points in the first quarter. Still, I was surprised by how much Weis pushed the run this week by going to Darius Walker on pretty much every play of the first drive. Walker ended up with over 100 yards on the ground and more through the air. I also liked that Samardzija scored his first rushing touchdown of the year, running in the fake field goal attempt before the half. At the time it seemed like a possibly unnecessary bit of trickery - even if Carl Gioia can't make a 48-yarder, he almost certainly would have hit from inside the 10 - but Samardzija's 7 points ended up being pretty important in maintaining our margin as Purdue racked up the big plays.

The things I didn't like are the things Charlie Weis was of course already pointing out 12 hours after the game. You think Irish fans can be tough, but no one's going to point out to Weis anything about areas for improvement that he doesn't already know:

I think that they [the defense] played hard. I don't know, as Rick would say, if you give up that many yards, if you're finding too many people that played what you consider well. . . . Oh, that one big play? Yeah, it was not pretty. That was not a pretty conversation. Like the week before, it's been well documented that I went in there and I was calm and mildly mannered and just questioned them, well this wasn't calm and mildly mannered. . .

You can say we've followed a bend-don't-break style of defensive play, and that's been true in many cases over the past two years, but we've also consistently given up big plays. Sometimes it seems like every quarterback in the country has their best game ever! against our defense each week. We make true freshmen look like geniuses. To be fair, we've got some young guys playing who will improve with time, and the injuries to Travis Thomas and Ambrose Wooden wouldn't have had as much of an impact if we had more depth. But the way the defense gave up big plays to Purdue only echoed the big plays given up to USC, OSU, Michigan, and so forth. Sometimes, Matt Leinart or Troy Smith just makes a perfect pass; other times, we just miss tackles. I don't how the coaches create a bend-less-and-also-don't-break scheme, but hopefully they're working on that. We're 4-1, so things are working well enough, but we're not elite in this regard, and there's undeniably a ways to go. Weis again:

Now, negatively, let's, there's a number of things. Before I get to big plays, which obviously every one could see, the fact that they threw it 46 times and we had no sacks and no interceptions, that's definitely a negative. We gave up six big plays in the past game for 238 yards. 39 yards, 23 yards, 26 yards, 88 yards, 40 yards, and 22 yards. That's 238.

I mean, that's not good.

Still, as long as we're not facing OSU again any time soon, I think things will improve.

- Speaking of Ohio State, can anyone stop them? I'm thinking not, until possibly the end of the season. If Michigan is for real, as they appear to be (unlike MSU, which is suffering through its traditional implosion), they're going to be the only ones who can really challenge the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball. But as demonstrated against Texas and Iowa, you may be able to stop Smith, Gonzalez, or Ginn, but you're not likely to stop all three, and if you do, the defense will likely be able to step up enough to make the difference. At this point in the season, I'm foreseeing another possible championship video for the Columbus airport Buckeye Corner to loop for years to come . . .

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Good thing I have a healthy heart

It got a workout last night. After an awful first quarter in all facets of the game, almost perfectly echoing last week, ND decided to pull itself together and salvage its season (mentally and objectively) by staging a great comeback in the pounding rain of East Lansing. And there was much rejoicing.

I don't want to go through things I liked and things I didn't this week, but maybe just make a few observations and highlight some of the key plays in the game.

- In games like this, the main number that is always at the front of my mind is turnover margin. In the second half, we were playing well enough to stage a comeback, but the nature of the game is such that it's almost impossible to win with a margin of -2 or more on turnovers (even -1 makes it much harder). I felt the defense needed to create a turnover for us to close the gap created by spotting MSU 14 points in the first half. It certainly seemed possible, because it was hard to understand in that kind of sheeting rain how we could have five or six fumbles (though only one lost) while MSU looked unfazed by the rain the entire game. We had to be able to capitalize on this at some point, right? Well, the turnaround did happen, although ultimately it wasn't attributable to the weather. When Ndukwe stepped up to the line with about six minutes to go in the fourth, spotting the option carry, I was concerned MSU would check out of the play and go to the left side he'd stepped off, but Ndukwe saw the play correctly and made a great strip, exactly the kind of play we needed to finally turn the game in our favor. The safety blitz on the following series pressuring Stanton to create the second turnover (that fantastic INT and runback by Lambert) clinched it on the scoreboard, of course - but as importantly it got that turnover margin back to even. At even turnovers, neutralizing MSU's advantage from our errors, I believed we absolutely had the players to win. It was sweet.

A few key plays in the making of the comeback:

- The first TD pass to McKnight in the second quarter was invaluable in helping Quinn start to regain confidence. It was a good pass, but a better reception by McKnight. As a first down play, we would have had more chances to advance the ball on that drive if either QB or receiver didn't make the play, but when it did work, the effect was, I think, critical. That's because there are two sides to the coin, right - it's not all about the quarterback, but also how well he's working with his receivers. Weis pointed out in his press conference today that sometimes passes look bad not because there was a bad throw, but because the receiver has run the wrong route to the wrong spot. So a combination of those plays and plays where Quinn is just flat missing open guys or taking the complete wrong angle on an out pass, means that it can be hard to get in sync. Making that first strong touchdown connection really helped Quinn to start to get back in a rhythm, putting a better touch on his passes (minus the stupid INT on the next drive) and leading to all the receivers stepping it up a notch on subsequent drives.

- On the second TD drive, the conversion on 4th-and-1 was perfectly played. Quinn did a great job selling the handoff and hiding the ball, waiting for two seconds, then making a good pass to Carlson - who made a solid reception despite getting hit pretty hard on the play. It not only kept the drive alive but was also important in Quinn getting to recover from the INT he'd just thrown.

- Moving to the third quarter and the third touchdown, Quinn demonstrated some of the good vision he showed more consistently last year when (as I recall) he spotted a blitz, checked out of the called play, and calmly hit Carlson for the 62-yard score. Nice decision-making.

- 3rd-and-42?? Could have been 3rd-and-52 if we'd accepted another holding call - wow. Nice on Landri for his tackling and making a key sack of Stanton to push MSU back. This fourth-quarter drive by MSU had started at the Notre Dame 42. If Michigan State hadn't imploded and the Irish defense hadn't stepped up big, MSU could have really driven to put the game away on this drive. Instead, they backed up half the field, punted, and then our offense quickly went 80 yards for the next score.

- Sometimes you need a little luck. I think it was on this, the fourth touchdown drive, that one of Quinn's passes bounced off Walker's hands up and back in the air - causing millions of simultaneous heart attacks around the country as we all flashed back to the interception off Carlson's hands last week - but this pass bounced . . . to Carlson. Behind Walker, he lasered in on the ball, grabbed it with assurance, and not only saved the play but got a first down. (This might have been earlier in the game - I can't remember if it was here or in the first half, but the effect was the same regardless.) Whew.

Terrail Lambert's awesome efforts at the end of the game (in concert with the rest of the D) finally won it for us, and what a finish. Did everyone else catch Weis exhorting the D before the last play? Someone linked to it on NDNation as posted on YouTube. You think he was excited much? Ha.

I'm sure media people will try to minimize this win - see how Notre Dame struggled against an unranked team, they shouldn't have needed to work that hard, MSU wasn't really very good. Well, comments like that ignore the recent history of these teams and this series. As Bob Davie helpfully reminded us last night, for instance, he lost to Michigan State four years in row in his tenure. (Yep. I was there for all four. Thanks, Bob.) No matter how much MSU stumbles every year, they always get up for us, and they've had our number for years. Oh yes, this was a meaningful win. There is still a lot to work on - a win can't erase our problems with slow starts, poor third-down conversion rates, intermittent problems defending the run, or recent propensity to fumble on kickoffs. Weis is also concerned that the offense has yet to find its personality. But this team turned a major mental corner with this game, when it could have given up and died, and the end result is we're 3-1 after the toughest part of our schedule until November. Go Irish.

Wow

That is all for now.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Maryland Steele

RedState reports the latest polling in Maryland showing that Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele has a slight edge over Democrat Ben Cardin, and as importantly, he is currently getting about 33% of black voters and 22% of Democrats. Peeling off supporters from these constituencies is absolutely critical to Steele making headway in this strongly Democratic state, and I think it would be great if he's the one to replace Sarbanes.

Of course, Steele has no chance whatsoever in my county. When I went to vote in the primary elections last week (even though the Republican ballot was a pretty small one here), I waited for 20 minutes in line behind three women both commiserating grimly about how terrible President Bush is and also psychoanalyzing the kinds of people who actually liked the man. Oddly enough, they didn't tag my psychological profile very well, but I'm glad it made them feel better as they contemplated who in their right minds might actually have voted for Bush. I can't fault them too much for still thinking about the last election, though, as I confess I had thought about wearing my "Buckeyes for Bush" shirt to the polling place. It wouldn't have violated campaigning restrictions since I wasn't in Ohio and Bush wasn't on the ballot, and it might have been amusing. Then again, it might have gotten me killed from the laser death glares of everyone around me. Oh well. Steele won the Republican primary in a landslide, as expected, and I do hope he can keep up his momentum statewide. He's a strong candidate. And he even likes puppies.

Gameday jitters

Two weeks after saying that it felt like it might finally be time to get over the perennial apprehension of the Davieham years, since now we were really achieving consistency, Weis's team laid an egg and brought all of that rushing back. Weis himself said he was only "stirred, not shaken," but I think it's hard for fans so little removed from the last few years to brush things off that easily. That is to say, I'm apprehensive about tonight's game against Michigan State, since this was one of our losses last year and Drew Stanton poses a lot of challenges. On the other hand, Brady Quinn threw for 487 yards and 5 touchdowns against this defense last year, so if there's any game for the offense to explode again, this could be it. A key adjustment I think would be important this week for that to happen would be for Weis to call a few more designed roll-out plays or Quinn to step out on his own if the pressure in the pocket looks like last week against Michigan. Eliminate turnovers, and we already have a solid chance in this game. We're good enough to beat the Spartans - it's just a matter of execution.

Jay at BGS sums up the possibilities for the team as a whole here:

This team had more hype and more preseason attention than just about any Irish squad in recent memory, and that over-inflated balloon was rudely popped by the Wolverines. Not to get all Freud on you, but it seems to me this team can go one of two ways: they can curl up in a ball and write off the season, or they can process the beatdown, and use it as a springboard. We'll find out which direction they're heading tomorrow night.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Things fall apart

While I was more than a little ticked all weekend and it took me about 24 hours even to be able to read anything written online (and then only Charlie's press conference) my being upset is not the reason I haven't posted on the Michigan game. (Ahem.) I spent the weekend in Chicago, and watched the game in a random sports bar in Oak Park. The bar had the weirdest music I've ever heard, for a place which did have plasma TVs and an otherwise good setup: 70s light rock, e.g., the Carpenters. Huh? I had to leave the bar for awhile anyway, though, to wander around and not watch the game, so the elevator music was just an irritating cap to one of the most upsetting games I've watched in years. I am much calmer now, but I am helping on a few deals which are supposed to close this week so I've been at the office a lot since I got back. However, a trip to New York (to help on another deal closing soon) got pushed back until next week, so I will have time to blog later tonight. And perhaps discuss how, though ND still apparently does have a well-functioning two-minute offense, the team got kicked around all over the field last Saturday. We're not as bad as all that -- we're not usually a five-turnover team, and no one can win minus that many in the turnover margin -- but this "perfect storm," as some commenters have called it, of Michigan charging out of the gate and playing almost perfectly, while all facets of our game chose to break down at the exact same time, still exposed several weaknesses. I'm not really so mad at the defense, since they did a decent job with the exception of a few blown coverages. They were hampered by our usually-consistent offense reverting to 2004 form and going three-and-out all first half, something I really thought we'd gotten past. Even if the defense gave up 34 points, last year's offense (heck, last week's) would have been able to score more than that on an average day. The offense really needs to snap out of it and beat up on Michigan State.

I better get to work.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Select NFL thoughts

1: I know Chicago fans are happy for so many reasons about today's blanking of the Packers. I'll agree it's nice to see the improvement on this team, but I'm just happy Green Bay lost. Bob Costas said on the Sunday Night pregame show that highlights of the game might be "hard to see, because everybody loves Brett Favre" -- but no, no. Not everybody loves Brett Favre, Bob, and some of us have been holding grudges. So, go Bears!

2: I told myself I didn't care much about the Niners anymore, but I did catch the end of their game against the Cardinals and couldn't help it -- I was definitely pulling for them. Vernon Davis had a mixed, but overall still promising, debut, and Alex Smith seems improved on accuracy. A few offensive linemen were knocked out early, though, which is probably going to hurt.

3: Peyton seems to be getting the better of Eli so far, and it's a good game, but the focus on the brothers has been really overdone.

4: I think the Washington-Dallas game next week will be good.

The 84-second offense

Two things stuck out for me on yesterday's 41-17 win over Penn State. The first was the great, methodical nature of our offense. We used to have three-and-outs regularly; we used to never have any confidence we could move the ball in clutch (or heck, even regular) situations, starting deep in our own territory. Now, when the offense walks out, I believe they'll be able to do something. So do they, which is probably the difference. SMQ summarizes:

Witness, though, the maddening surgical precision of Notre Dame's offense and Manchurian Candidate Brady Quinn on the Irish's eight offensive possessions in the first three quarters . . . Ignore the one-play, "Fumble Return Touchdown," and you have eight possessions of at least six plays, and an average of just a little over five yards per play. More than half of the six Notre Dame scoring drives featured a fourth down conversion, including a tricky draw off a fake screen action and a 44-yard run up the gut on a fake punt. This is not even remotely dominance; this is an infuriating death by approximately 71 paper cuts of various degrees.

I think it's fantastic. When ND got the ball back on the ND 31 with 1:24 to go in the first half, the score 13-0, it quickly became clear we didn't need a full two minutes to run a two-minute drill. Seven plays, a couple of runs, five completions, working the sidelines -- and a line to Rhema McKnight in the back of the end zone. Boom.

The second thing I took particular note of was the team's preparation. In his halftime interview, Charlie Weis described the McKnight touchdown -- with Samardzija double-covered and McKnight finding the opening -- in these words (paraphrase): "We figured they'd show one of two coverages, and we got what we were looking for." That alone suggests some pretty good scouting. Of course, the rest of the game also demonstrated Charlie's outstanding preparation for whatever Penn State was going to try. The game plan went just about as well as it could possibly have gone.

A few other things to like about this game:

-John Carlson. I love offenses that make good use of tight ends, but after Anthony Fasano left for the NFL last year, there was a bit of a question how well Carlson would be able to fill his shoes. Yesterday he proved to be an excellent option for Quinn, as he had even more receiving yards than Samardzija and McKnight, including a few key receptions for first downs on the first drive alone. Quinn actually spread the ball around quite a bit yesterday, with at least five passes to each of four different receivers, but only two of those were the wide receivers, with the others being Walker (RB) and Carlson. As defenders key in on Samardzija and McKnight, it's great to have options.

-Continued good showing from special teams. Overall, good tackling, continued strong punts (including one for 62 yards) from Geoff Price, and this time, two made FGs by Gioia. The first one only sneaked through the uprights, but I think that helped calm Gioia down so the second kick was more sure. Hopefully he has put last week's misses out of mind. We didn't have many chances for returns yesterday, and Zbikowski had one fumble that fortunately wasn't lost, but overall it's nice to have this unit looking so solid.

-Defense. On Penn State's first drive, when Tony Hunt broke for a big run, Zbikowski took a great angle, accelerated, and slammed Hunt out of bounds inside the Notre Dame 20, saving the play. PSU subsequently turned the ball over on downs (I think after a botched snap on their field goal attempt). The defense made stops like that several times last year, validating the never-say-quit approach to tackling even after big plays, but it was gratifying to see that attitude is continuing this year. Zibby also looked great picking up Morelli's fumble for a touchdown. Ndukwe and Crum had some good tackles, Wooden seems much improved in this area over last year, Abiamiri had a sack, and while Penn State did get more yards than we did, the score was the best indicator of how the defense played all game.

I do have to note one bizarro quote that almost had me choking on my tortilla chips -- when the perpetually wacky-looking Tom Hammond pointed out a shot of "Brady Quinn the heartthrob." Um. Thanks, but maybe Hammond should eschew sharing observations like that with the rest of us. Anyway, to end with a nice Weis quote from a game that was a lot of fun to watch: "I guess we're not a fluke after all."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Commission this

So the new John Williams-composed football theme for NBC is not as good as MNF or Fox's (usually my favorite music, show, and coverage), but it's definitely an improvement over CBS's (wimpy) and NBC's (blah) usual sports themes. It sounds like Star Wars, which of course I don't mind at all. And compared to the travesty that is NBC's electric-guitar-riff Notre Dame football theme, well . . . why couldn't they get John Williams to play our fight song?

But I can't focus on that gripe now. It's football season, it's opening night in the NFL, it's in HD, and I just made popcorn. Nice.

Oh, yes: for some good previews of the Penn State game, check out Kanka and Michael at Blue-Gray Sky.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Saturday night gut check

I don't think anyone expected a defensive struggle in Saturday's Georgia Tech game, but that's what we got at 14-10. Since it's one we would certainly have lost in the Davieham era, there were a lot of positive things to take from the game. On the other hand, even though we knew the game would be tougher than the patsy lineups of OSU-Northern Illinois or UT-North Texas, I don't think our offense should have struggled as much as it did; there are a lot of things that need to be worked on as we look towards Penn State. I'll start with things I liked:

- Special teams. Senior Geoff Price boomed his punts and did a nice job backing up the Tech offense in the first half, in particular, when we couldn't get the offense moving. George West and David Grimes showed great speed in taking advantage of better kickoff return blocking, and even though the offense didn't take advantage of the great returns at first, the improvement was definitely an encouraging sign.

- Defensive adjustments. While Calvin Johnson did his damage in the first half, particularly in one ill-advised single coverage matchup with freshman DB Darrin Walls, the defense adjusted well enough that Tech didn't score at all in the second half, and (I believe) didn't convert a single third down after halftime (and only 2 of 10 the whole game). Charlie Weis also pointed out in his Sunday press conference that Walls was on the field a lot more than that one play, but the only one we saw was where he got beat; otherwise, he had a pretty solid game. I loved Ndukwe's noisy hit on Johnson across the middle, popping the ball out and ensuring that Reggie Ball didn't try any throws to that part of the field anymore. Travis Thomas had a decent start to his defensive career, and Crum had one nice sack of Ball in the second half helping stop a drive.

- McKnight's return and Walker's toughness. I said a few weeks ago that I was curious how Rhema McKnight would fare on his return from last year's injury, since with the dominating performance by Stovall and Samardzija last year it was hard to remember how strong McKnight had really been. Answer: except for one drop, McKnight looked great. Welcome back! Darius Walker also looked in great shape. Once we started using the running game more in the second half, he really exploded and was a large part of the reason we started functioning again offensively.

- 80-yard drives and clock management. What helped prove this game was won, not merely eked out, was the impressive ball control on display from the offense. I was pleased to see that this team still knows how to move the ball methodically, with a pair of 14-play scoring drives. ND had the ball for 18 minutes in the second half, and 10 in the fourth quarter.

Things I didn't:

- Penalties. In his Sunday press conference, Charlie called the mental errors "unbelieveable." I can't remember the last time ND had so many drive-killing penalties called in one game, but for awhile in the first half, every time we'd start to get something going, we'd move backwards. Even given one or two phantom calls, the sloppiness was surprising. I'm sure Weis will be focusing on this in particular this week.

- The way our lines got pushed around, and the spotty protection for Quinn. I understand "zone blitz" is harder to defend against, but in the first half in particular Quinn was knocked around too much for comfort (the fans' or his). I saw a few missed blocks in particular -- when we we backed up to the end zone in the first half and Quinn had to dump the ball, Carlson completely missed a blitzing Tech defender. I didn't know why we couldn't start doing more slants or other quick passes sooner in the game so Quinn didn't have to hold on to the ball so long and take losses, but I guess the Tech coverage was pretty good, too. On the other hand, there were enough flashes of the great offense of last year that, after some discussion with the experts (my fiance), I've been persuaded that every other team that doesn't run zone blitz, and so can't sustain it even as long as Tech did, won't be able to disrupt our offense as much as Tech did at first. I'm glad we got to see Samardzija and McKnight each make a few of the impressive, acrobatic catches we loved last year.

- The kicking game. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I feel bad for Carl Gioia, but he just makes me cringe every time he comes out now. I just hope none of our games this year come down to field goals.

Charlie said next week's home opener pep rally is going to be held in the stadium like last year's for USC, so I think he's looking forward to whipping the guys into better shape for Penn State. Several people have pointed out that there were a lot of offensive formations that we didn't see at all on Saturday, so there should be a lot more to come. I think with this first game marked down as a W, we're off to a decent start. Whew.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Game day!

Got ready over the past week by watching Nevin O'Donnell's game highlight videos from last year and then the 1989 championship game last night. BGS has a wiki page of other video clips through the years. This morning there has been much playing of the fight song. Can you wait until eight o'clock?? Go Irish!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Niner Non-Preview

In their NFL season preview, the Deadspin guys let editor Rick Chandler write a "preview" that's more of a requiem for the Niners who won't be playing this year:

You see, the 49ers have won five Super Bowls -- all during my prime football-watching years -- and I'm not greedy. When Steve Young retired after the 1999 season, so did I. Not that Young was the be-all and end-all of 49ers players (although he was my favorite quarterback, ever. Sorry, Joe). It's just that his passing marked the end of an era, and I knew that it was also time for me to go. The writing was on the wall. No longer would my imagination run wild with this team, like one of Young's frenetic, helmetless broken-field scrambles. From now on, I would admire the Niners only from afar. And the only reason I can afford to do this is because of Montana and Rice and Lott, et al.

This pretty much matches my experience exactly, although I stayed around a bit after Young had to retire. For years, I used to know all the team stats and almost every guy on the roster. Before stats were posted online within hours of the games, I used to scour the team stats printed weekly in the newspaper. I listened to the streaming audio of KGO every Sunday through college. I like Mike Nolan and hope he can start the team back on the right path, but right now it's not even a scrappy-but-likeable bunch of players, it just a bunch of poor, undistinguished players. I still watch out of habit, and can't stop myself from continuing to care what happens (I'm optimistic about Vernon Davis, haven't given up on Alex Smith, still admire BY, and of course always root for my ND guys like Arnaz Battle) . . . but all in all, the best era of the Niners, in more ways than one, is far behind us. Now, I just sit back and take my satisfactions from other places around the league, like the total collapse of Brett Favre and the Packers. Did anyone catch that preseason drubbing by the Bengals last night? That looked pretty. Keep on turning the ball over, Brett, and we'll have a nice season.

Morton

I wanted to link to this press conference video from last week of senior lineman Bob Morton, whose father died of stomach cancer last week after a brief battle. The young man speaks with a truly astonishing composure and strength during what can only be a terribly difficult time for his family. I don't know how he can even concentrate on football right now, but it sounds like Charlie Weis has been very flexible in allowing Morton to spend time with his family, and Morton says he is just comforted to believe that his father will still be here this year in spirit. God bless.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Preseason breakdowns

For those looking for a bit more in-depth analysis of this year's Irish team than the major preseason magazines can offer, I wanted to recommend this new publication from a dedicated group of Irish fans and observers, including some of the talented guys at BGS. The article I'm particularly looking forward to checking out is an explanation of why Domer optimism following Weis's first season really is different and more well-founded than that found after Willingham's first season or Davie's couple of good ones (you know, if fifty-place jumpings in offensive ranking don't suffice in themselves). The profile of Charlie is particularly good -- particularly the characterization of confidence (all right, sometimes arrogance) that he exudes himself and has also imparted to the players -- along with the knowledge and skills to back it up.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mythbusters

Nice column from Stewart Mandel debunking four myths that the Notre Dame haters have been insisting on since Charlie Weis arrived. In addressing No. 4, that "Notre Dame's coach isn't the genius he's cracked up to be," Mandel acknowledges that of course Weis gets more attention just because of the program he came from and the program he came to, but he also highlights one of the most impressive accomplishments we all noticed last year:

[Y]ou've got to be either blind or stubborn if you can't see the dramatic effect Weis has had on the ND program in just one season.

Last year's Irish offense ranked 10th in the country, producing 477.3 yards per game. A year earlier, with practically the same group of players, ND had finished 81st (345.5). Quinn, a 50.8 percent passer his first two seasons with 26 TD passes and 25 interceptions, jumped to 64.9 percent and threw for 32 TDs and just seven picks in '05. Samardzija, after barely getting on the field his first two seasons, morphed into an imposing deep threat who finished third in the country with 1,249 receiving yards. "They're much different," said Purdue's Spack, whose team beat the Irish 41-16 in '04 and got drilled 49-28 a year later. "[Weis] knows how to attack your weakness, and he'll keep going there until you prove you can stop it."

Business professional

An article and a blog post that struck me as related today were: this, from the Post, about how office workers can't really tell if it's hot or cold in the office, and this by Ann Althouse, supposing that the issue of how to dress for work in hot weather is a "nonproblem."

Actually, it is a minor problem if you're not a professor in Madison and you missed being "freed" by the Post's Robin Givhan when she tried to liberate women from nylons. Like the good Washington law firm we are, my office requires business professional attire all the time. That means suits. You can wear pants suits and get a lot of mileage by rotating shells and blouses, but women really should vary the routine at least occasionally. That means skirt suits. You can't wear formal skirt suits without hose unless you have fantastic, tanned legs (just IMO), and judging by the view on the Metro daily, most women do not have these kinds of legs. That means nylons. And the real problem with nylons and suits in general in the summer is that no matter how short a time you're outside and no matter how you try to dress lightly for the commute, you get sweaty in those blocks from the Metro to the office. That means at least 20-30 minutes at work in the morning before you can completely cool down (including the five it takes to redo hair and makeup). And after all that, once you cool off, the office keeps getting cooler.

Which brings us back to the Post, where we are informed that "psychological experiments show that people are not remotely as sensitive to the temperature as they think they are." I actually think it's probably true that a lot is psychological. But then why am I having to drink hot chocolate at my desk when it's 100 degrees outside?

All these temperature imbalances and work dress requirements are yet another reason -- as if football wasn't enough -- that fall is the best season of the year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eyes on the prize (or at least Georgia Tech)

Football season is almost here, and I know people who have their internal countdowns to kickoff already going (25 days, 21 hours...). I'm definitely starting to get excited, and I can't remember the last time I felt quite this way about the season. Four years of Bob Davie, followed by three post-grad years of Ty Willingham, can do deep, lasting damage to a Domer's psyche -- with anxiety, pessimism, fatalism, and despair all being common symptoms (you'd always be happy in a few given weeks, but knew it couldn't last, as it never did). One year of Charlie Weis has done wonders, though there are still occasional flashbacks. Healing comes in the little moments -- the surprise at first down plays with more creativity than your basic counterproductive run up the middle; the joy of a downfield throw caught in a spectacular grab instead of being typically out of the receiver's reach; the stunned awe at repeated 80+ yard drives instead of frequent three-and-outs; and the pride in the team's refusal to concede when down, even when down by a lot. I watched some of the highlight videos from last season the other day, and was impressed by the Michigan State one (and yes, even the USC one). Can anyone even remember the last time we had a great highlight reel in a loss? But last year's Irish merited pride in their performance even in defeats (okay, maybe not so much with OSU, but we won't talk about that one...). This year, I'm thinking I might be able to move past my post-traumatic ND football stress disorder once and for all. Are we ready for some football??

The team is back at practice, and Charlie Weis had some great comments at his opening press conference. One interesting note was the planned move of RB Travis Thomas to linebacker:

Last spring Travis and I got together and I told him I felt I was one of best 22 players on our team, and I wanted to know if he would be interested in trying to play linebacker on our team. Of course, anyone who looks at a possibility of starting when he's a backup behind Darius would love that opportunity. So last spring we started it and went through the summer, and what I'm going to do is give him an opportunity to be a starting linebacker on our team.

Now I would not let him play defense if it wasn't for the fact that I'm going to give him an opportunity to start. I told everyone we were getting more athletic on defense, he's one of the best tacklers we have on our special teams, played strong safety in high school, he's dying for an opportunity to get on the field on a full time basis and I'm going to give it to him.

Given the great depth we're developing at running back, it's good that Weis is willing to give Thomas a chance at more playing time by shifting position. Certainly it always helps to get strong tacklers on defense -- despite the return of standouts like Crum and Zbikowski, there is a bit more uncertainty here with newer guys coming in. Based on his comments, I think Charlie doesn't mind starting with less experienced players, as long as they're the best on the field -- maybe he likes being able to get them before they've been molded in other defensive styles.

Weis also mentioned that Rhema McKnight is in great shape as is Jeff Samardzija, but the freshmen should get chances to play at receiver since these are the only two set guys. I'm interested to see McKnight again, because it's honestly hard to remember how real his ability was a few years ago, so outstanding was the effort by Samardzija and Stovall last year (and so much improved the offense overall). How will he fit in? Weis gave a nice expression of confidence: "I hope they double team Jeff every day because Rhema will have a field day."

Charlie said he's had conversations with Brady Quinn about him being "the public sacrificial lamb" for the team this year, what with all the magazine covers, interviews, and over-the-top Heisman hype. I'm a little concerned about how he'll handle the pressure, only because it is so intense. Last year, at least there was Leinart, Bush, and Young to be the primary focuses of media attention, while Quinn could put up stellar numbers without attracting quite the same pressure. On the other hand, with the exception of a very few instances when he seemed rattled, he responded well under the considerable pressure that did exist last year. A few years ago when the team was down, he'd come out on the field and lead excruciating three-and-outs; last year, when the team was down, he led cool comebacks and made clutch throws. Once he makes it through the first series of the first game, he should be fine. Certainly Weis will be there to make sure his head doesn't ever get too big:

Every time that Quinn throws an incomplete pass, he already knows it's coming. You can ask him because he already knows it's coming. And I will say, "Yeah, there's my Heisman Trophy winner." Or every time Samardzija drops the ball, I'll say, "Yeah, you'd better get that fastball geared up." You just know that it's going it be a regular it is going to be a comedy act in training camp because, you know, I've been working on my lines here all summer.

Sounds about right, and Weis is keeping everyone, not just the offensive stars, as grounded as he can. You can set goals of national championships, but you have to do it one game at a time. And first up is Georgia Tech, when we'll get to see how effective it's all been. (Was that a hedge? That PTSD hasn't entirely gone away.)

25 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes ... :)

New date, same (liberal) storyline

Last December I commented on a Washington Post Magazine cover story about gay couples leaving Virginia because the state's intolerant and homophobic lawmakers "chased them across the Potomac." I promised to let you know if I ever saw a story of similar prominence and slant (namely, with minimal opposing perspectives) -- or even of lesser prominence, with balance -- run on families who might conversely be choosing to move to places like Virginia because of their stronger marriage laws. Checking in a few months on, I can now point out . . . a Metro page 1 story about gay couples leaving Virginia because of Virginia state legislators passing "hostile" legislation. The article does qualify the phrase by saying the legislation is "perceived" as hostile, not objectively is so. (Commenters on the article exercise no such restraint, calling the state hateful, backwards, Nazi-like, reminiscent of Jim Crow, etc. They also direct a lot of derision towards religion in general and Christianity in particular, though these are nowhere mentioned in the article.) Not that the article is a model of balance. It talks to four couples and cites a couple dozen who have made the move across the Potomac to more pleasant and tolerant locales -- but Virginia has grown by half a million people in the last five years, so some people must be finding Virginia an attractive place to live; what's drawing people to the state? Besides noteworthy economic growth, maybe four couples or a couple dozen out of that half-million found the presence of stronger marriage laws (and a less likely chance of court-imposed SSM) part of the draw. Some gay couples have certainly stayed in Virginia, and maybe, the article admits, some moved to the District just because "they want the excitement of city life." In other words, maybe there's no real trend here -- or if there is, certainly it's not the whole story. The Post has missed another opportunity to look critically at a story that has many more dimensions than just the liberal one that seems relatively standard at this paper.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sacraments on Saturdays

Sure, there are other big problems in the world today, but one that deserves its fair share of attention was recently addressed by Micah Hart in the Chicago Sports Review. Yep:

I am putting my foot down. There is an ever-growing crisis in this country, a problem of intolerance that gets stronger by the day. People are planning too many weddings without regard for the welfare of an important demographic -- the sports fan.

I know what you are going to say. You think a wedding should be about the happy couple, and they should choose the time that suits them best.

Wrong.

I am tired of having to miss my favorite games every year just because someone I know fell hopelessly in love in the preceding 12 months.

Heh. Hart gives three simple rules for engaged couples to follow: No getting married during college football season. No getting married during March Madness. No getting married during the Super Bowl. I have to say these are nice, common-sense rules, ones that I agree should be followed if at all possible. (Personally, I object less to March Madness weddings in theory, but given that's during Lent, Catholic weddings at least should usually not be happening then anyway.) In setting the date for our own wedding, my fiance and I originally were thinking to hold it this October 14 -- that being the date of Notre Dame's only bye week the whole fall. This is serious business. No games may be missed in ordinary times, still less during this new, great, Weis era. We did manage to persuade our priest of the importance of this date, and he was willing to politely humor us in our funny American football fanaticism (he's Swedish). In the event, we ended up having to push back until late winter -- but we're still avoiding playoffs and the Super Bowl. Well, my fiance is optimistic about da Bears this season . . .

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Experience over hope

Heather MacDonald has a very thought-provoking article in this quarter's City Journal, "Seeing Today's Immigrants Straight." The article offers a set of conservative principles to remind "open-border" conservatives (like the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal) why amnesty for today's mass of illegal immigrants would be a bad idea for America. In the course of setting these out, she presents a picture of the primarily Hispanic illegal immigrants that is harsher than the open-border advocates or immigration optimists (the latter of which I, like the President, might count myself among) like to admit to.

If someone proposed a program to boost the number of Americans who lack a high school diploma, have children out of wedlock, sell drugs, steal, or use welfare, he’d be deemed mad. Yet liberalized immigration rules would do just that. The illegitimacy rate among Hispanics is high and rising faster than that of other ethnic groups; their dropout rate is the highest in the country; Hispanic children are joining gangs at younger and younger ages. Academic achievement is abysmal.

Conservatives pride themselves on reality-based thinking that rejects utopian theories in favor of facts on the ground. Yet when it comes to immigration, they cling, against all contrary evidence, to the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue. Even more fanciful is the claim that it is immigrants’ children who constitute the real value to American society. The children of today’s Hispanic immigrants, in fact, are in considerable trouble.

The experience of people who don't want to follow the law, don't necessarily want to build lives here, don't have the types of family structures or values that really help keep their kids out of jail and in school, don't want to learn English, don't want to assimilate, is having negative effects on American society sociologically and economically. For some reason, it's a harder reality to acknowledge in light of my familiarity with other types of immigrant experiences, but what MacDonald points out is only too apparent. I find myself coming around to the view that the immigration laws (as convoluted and in need of reform as they can be) simply must be enforced as relates to illegal immigrants here. In particular for the Mexicans who have no intention of staying here except for being able to work freely, it seems the best place to start is with enforcement of the employment laws.

Sighs of relief

Congratulations to Anthony Rickey and all the other law graduates who have just survived the bar exam. That is definitely an accomplishment in itself! :)

Monday, July 03, 2006

The whole package

It's details like this that can make even pro-kid people like me (with four siblings, ten years of baby-sitting experience, and hopes to have multiple kids of my own) grimace:
Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has found that, on average, sibs between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict 3.5 times an hour. Kids in the 2-to-4 age group top out at 6.3--or more than one clash every 10 minutes, according to a Canadian study.

Even if you take the resolute stance of "Work it out yourselves -- I don't want to hear about it," which obviates a lot of issues, that still works out to a lot of whining, crying, and yelling. It's a good thing most kids can be cute.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ergo

Following the blog trail here ... I saw via Catholic convert Dawn Eden, at whose blog he sometimes posts, the Raving Atheist's dust-up with some fellow atheists recently. RA has rarely hesitated to mock religion, but (this requires a "but" for his audience) he is pro-life, believing that is the most rational position to hold on abortion. Recently, after receiving some strongly negative reactions to a friendly challenge he made to one woman to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, RA pledged not to speak badly of Christianity anymore (he also pledged to eschew sarcasm and contempt more generally on his blog). He made no representations whatsoever that he was changing his atheism, but nevertheless he has found himself being excoriated by atheists who apparently feel that if one is an atheist, one therefore must disparage or mock Christianity and any positions it happens to hold. Q.E.D. Mark Shea has some interesting comments about this reaction:

To the detached observer, it does look very much like RA's audience recognizes a link between an attempt to live a more moral life and theism. That's why they accuse RA of becoming a believer, despite the fact that he has simply been attempting to live out natural virtues that would have been no mystery to Aristotle. If you can be a good person and an atheist, why would they make this connection so automatically? And even more, why would they reflexively *hate* the attempt at virtue (an attempt made, so far as I can see, without any recourse to God)? This brings us to the next point: which is that hard atheism is *essentially* negative.

I believe one can be an atheist and a good person, of course (or a follower of a different religion than Christianity); as Mark points out, the classical virtues were propounded independently of religion. But Mark is also right to note that the suspicion with which many "hard" atheists view attempts at virtue is telling -- maybe there is something to the link between faith and virtue. That's certainly something that Christians believe, in any event. I hope RA doesn't let his commenters dissuade him from his aspirations to virtue, regardless of whether he does come to believe in God. (But I can't help but hope that also follows.)

Hey ya

Today is my birthday. Technically I'm still in my mid-20s now, but from here on out I guess I'll be wanting to hang on to this age! Anyway, I'm in a very happy mood right now because all of my family (that would be six people from all over the country!) called to say happy birthday, I got a couple of cards and a few other calls, and I get to go out to a nice dinner tonight. To share my good mood, I have to link to this cleverly-edited video that makes me laugh every time I see it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Billion dollar bonanza

I wish I could say it was hard to believe, but the news that almost a billion dollars of government-distributed hurricane relief payments were "improper and potentially fraudulent" doesn't shock like it should. The GAO has reported that FEMA debit cards went to Caribbean vacations, a sex-change operation, divorce attorneys, and season football tickets. It gave cards to prisoners and rental assistance to people for whom it was already also paying for hotel rooms. Sure, 85% percent of the money may have been used non-fraudulently, but that other 15% is, again, over a billion dollars. What a joke. One Congressman noted that all the abuse "is an affront to the American taxpayer," as it is . . . but I have little confidence in the ability of the government to fix the problem. FEMA actually was under a lot of pressure to distribute aid quickly; placing too much of a demand on people who just lost their homes to produce identification and other papers probably would have resulted in other outraged stories in the newspapers and statements from politicians. The media and government didn't exactly acquit themselves well as it was last fall. Still, apparently FEMA had the right procedures in place, it just didn't follow them. I say shame on FEMA; and I direct a few more choice sentiments towards the lowlifes buying "Girls Gone Wild" videos on my dime.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More lightsaber

I may have discovered You Tube a few months later than the college crowd, but now I am definitely a fan. As a new fan, and a certified dork, some of my first searches have been for "Jedi" and "lightsaber" - because you know fan videos on these subjects would be cool. One called "Art of the Saber" by the Ho brothers is pretty impressive, and this duel of "Ryan vs. Dorkman" is also entertaining:


Both of these I think were originally posted to TFN a few years ago, but now have a different forum and wider audience. (Ryan is now planning "Ryan vs. Dorkman 2," owing to the newfound popularity.) And the home video editing technology has only improved over the last few years, so some of the newer efforts are also impressive. As with the ten-years-ago version of fan efforts, though, (collages and slideshows), You Tube-type videos can be done well, or poorly. Which is why I think the meritocratic setup of the site works pretty well.

(Yes, I do realize You Tube has mostly non-fan clips on offer -- my fiance and my brothers have had me doubled over with some of the stuff they've found, such as the stuff by Improv Everywhere -- but the first stuff I searched for was Star Wars. So there you go.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Called to love, called to forgive

Last night I went to the last of the spring "Theology on Tap" nights for the archdiocese at Four Green Fields (I still want to call that place Four P's). The speaker, a local priest, talked about forgiveness in a way I hadn't thought about before: he emphasized that forgiveness is both a decision and a calling. I've heard many times that love is a decision, an act of will that can sustain even during emotional ebbs and flows (note this is especially important in marriage and with children!), but I hadn't thought that forgiveness can be the same act of will, even if one doesn't especially feel like forgiving.

Fr. Stack gave three types of forgiveness that we all need to exercise at times: First, 'forgiveness' of God, letting go of sometimes-crippling anger towards Him and having the humility to accept how we are made. Second, forgiveness of self -- Fr. Stack suggested that those who refuse to forgive themselves in spite of true repentance hold themselves in a higher position than God, who does show mercy and forgive. If God forgives us, we need to forgive ourselves as well, and also, particularly, seek the sacrament of penance and pray to the Holy Spirit for openness to his gifts to heal us. Finally, Fr. Stack said that forgiveness of others is of course one of the biggest components; forgiveness can free us from our anger, give us a starting place to heal and move on. Forgiveness doesn't mean we can't protect ourselves and doesn't mean we don't sometimes need to get away from hurtful or abusive people and situations for our own well-being. But forgiveness ensures that we will be set on the road to spiritual healing.

Christ commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But he's also pretty specific -- and challenging -- about forgiveness: forgive seventy times seven times, as the Lord forgives us. I was struck by the thought that in both cases, if we seek to be faithful and obedient, we will realize that we should exercise our free will to choose love and avoid hardening of hearts -- in other words, choose God, ultimately -- even when feelings can be transient. I suppose it is also important to remember that God doesn't call us to do anything without it being for our own good, or without giving us the ability to do it. I appreciated the reminder.