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 . . .