Monday, October 29, 2007

A nicer weekend

At least we didn't lose to BYE, like some pundits predicted. Heh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At least there's a bye

Ouch. I haven't reached this level of disgust with the Irish offense since 2004, but Saturday was so unpleasant I also did something I haven't done since 2004 - "turned off" the game in the fourth quarter by leaving early. Beforehand, I had joked that I would be there until the end if the score was anything better than 38-0. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.

So what to say? I was extremely encouraged by the play of the defense, particularly in the first half, as they surrendered only 10 points on long drives (7 came on the 10-yard field) and forced six punts. On the game, USC was held to 5-14 on third downs, with even a fourth-and-short hold in the third. I didn't see too many people out of place -- Darrin Walls made some nice tackles, Laws and Kuntz were making their presence felt on the line, and the whole stadium loved that apparently our defensive looks were good enough on SC's first drive to cause them to take two timeouts (before failing to convert). Thus, for those looking for ongoing signs of improvement on the defense, I believe they were there to see.

The offense was an entirely different story. What a disaster - and how demoralizing must it have been for the defense, which were playing their hearts out, to repeatedly trot back on the field three plays after a fantastic stop? I had a few thoughts, some of which I admit were more frustrated than considered: One, do all the plays the team runs in practice end up in three-and-outs? Because to have under 25% third-down conversion rates, you pretty much have to be trying and well-practiced at it. Two, at least we don't have a quarterback controversy. Anyone thinking Sharpley would seize his chance to be permanent starter by beating the most beatable SC team in recent memory, was quickly disabused of the notion. If Clausen is healthy, he might as well start from here on out, since he is younger and provides at least as good, if not better, chance to move the ball. Three, when did Thomas and Schwapp earn starting RB/FB positions? When we have Allen and Hughes available? Really? As much as I may like Thomas personally, he just hasn't done much to show he should be a starting back, especially when Allen is putting up the averages he is and is running the way he is. It was a bit demoralizing from the beginning for fans not to see our more promising young backs starting. And finally, four: has there ever been better proof of the fact that everything offensive begins with the line? If you have zero push off the line, you won't establish a running game, you won't be able to set up the passing game, and so you'll pretty much go nowhere. There were no penalties on the line except one false start in the fourth, and the protection has improved slightly since Georgia Tech, but their lack of production has been the key to pretty much all of the offensive struggles this year. That's not to say inexperienced receivers, off-target QBs, etc. haven't caused their share of problems, but so much goes back to the line. I really hope that time and experience cause this group to improve. Maybe in time for us to beat Navy ... ?

The very good news is that Saturday's drubbing didn't deter two great new recruits from signing on to next year's class: RB Jonas Gray, a four-star player from Detroit, and WR Michael Floyd from Minnesota, one of the top-ranked players at his position in the country. Said Floyd: "I'm going to help them bring this back and I'm going to get a great degree." Now that's nice to hear! With a class currently ranked #1 for next fall, this Irish fan (along with everyone else!) can continue her ever-stubborn optimism looking forward.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Could this be the day?

Well, maybe not, but I hope the Irish give SC a heck of a run. And who knows? The opportunities are there if we want to take advantage of them. I'm not really sure how much of a jump start Sharpley will give the offense - as Weis accurately noted earlier this week, he really can be hot and cold, and only a few lucky breaks kept his INT total from looking like Clausen's last week. But he's not bad, and if he makes some good decisions and maybe a few inspired plays like the late pass to Carlson last week, you never know. In any event, after making it through an extremely hectic week, I am excited to get to go to my first home game in about three years. Should be on the road to South Bend shortly this morning . . . Go Irish!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When you're blaming the refs

... it means you didn't play well enough to win. Which is undeniably true tonight. And yet, it really sucks when the refs kill your comeback attempt by first taking away a first down, then taking away a touchdown on the fourth down. Thanks so much for that. Ugh.

Memos to Pat Haden

None of your viewing audience OF NOTRE DAME FANS thinks the "Push by Bush" was particularly cute, as you seem to think.

Additionally, since you are supposed to be calling NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL, the constant favoritism for our opponents gets old.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Middle of the field

Charlie's press conference transcript is up from yesterday here (I don't think there was a transcript of the post-game presser, though, and I haven't been able to watch that one yet). With regard to my earlier question of "where did the slants go?" it appears that it was a deliberate call:

Q. Can you be aggressive and not risky, or is it just inherently both?

COACH WEIS: Yeah, you just don't try to throw the ball -- last week we were either dinking and dunking or taking play action shots. Really there wasn't a prescribed intermediate passing game last week because it was kind of an all or nothing approach, which goes with a conservative nature approach that we were playing last week. When you're playing against a team like Boston College that is so good against the run, they might give up some extra yardage in the passing game because they're going to play a bend but don't break game. In that way they are very similar in mentality, not scheme wise, but mentality to Penn State. When Penn State plays, they just count on you not to have the patience and you mess it up.

I think that we're going to have to do a very good job and be consistent to put some drives together because if not all of a sudden it's 1st and 10, 2nd and 7, then it's 3rd and 7, and you're off the field and you're punting again.

I guess I'm not a huge fan of the conservative approach taken last week with this team, because it certainly seemed as though it resulted in a lot of short drives by not stretching the field at all. The Cowboys got a lot of mileage out of their underneath routes on Monday against the Bills, but then their "dink and dunk" passes also resulted in sustained drives because you can do more with 8-yard passes than 3- or 4-yard passes. Also, Charlie seemed well aware that being up 13-6 in the third wasn't a guarantee of victory, so to go conservative at that time was a gamble in itself, even though UCLA was turning the ball over every other play. Well, it worked on Saturday, and I'm not a coach -- I guess it's just interesting how willing Weis is to go with completely different offensive schemes in different games (while the fans are perplexed). Conservative can be risky, too. A few other comments from the press conference:

On why Robert Hughes, who was fantastic a few weeks ago, didn't play against UCLA: "No, we didn't have a string of longer drives. It wasn't like we had a bunch of 13 play drives in there. He was listed right behind James (Aldridge) in all the pounding packages, we just weren't on the field that many consecutive plays to warrant James being that tired to have to go out. Robert is very much in the mix. I really think that the sky is the limit for Robert."

And then the laugh line: "Q. Can you talk also about the football aspect of it [the BC rivalry]? It seems like there's a history of one team ruining another season.

COACH WEIS: Well, they're not going to ruin our season. (laughter)"

But with more seriousness: "We'd love very much to put a damper on their season. But I think that we understand that they're playing very, very good football and they deserve a high ranking based off of their production. We're going to have to play a very good game to be able to win."

Here's hoping!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Well, that's a relief

The Irish finally put one in the win column at the Rose Bowl last night, and that felt pretty good. It was fairly ugly on offense, but a win's a win. Go Irish! A few thoughts:

- What a fantastic night for the defense. They gave up 282 yards, but forced seven turnovers and played smart and aggressive all night. Crum's stat summary (two INTs, two fumbles forced and fumbles recovered, one sack, seven tackles and two pass break-ups) was incredible, and won him a defensive player of the week award. Trevor Laws was in the backfield quite a bit and continued to play tough. Kerry Neal had a role in breaking up several passes. Generally, the defense seemed to be in good positions. There were still a few examples of poor tackling technique but overall the effort was strong. This should be a great confidence-builder for the next few weeks, which are going to present much tougher challenges.

- My impression has been that we had a power running game two weeks ago, an effective passing game against Purdue, and now a very strong defensive night. Against BC, can we put it all together? That would be great.

- What happened to the slant? Clausen played a conservative, generally mistake-free game (17-27, no TDs, no INTs), and it was nice to see the return of the QB sneak. But total passing yards were only 84. That helps explain the low total of 12 first downs in the game, and continued horrendous third down conversion rate (3/17). Last week against Purdue, Clausen and then Sharpley were able to stretch the field a bit and engineer longer drives by making better use of mid-range passing patterns. Maybe UCLA took away the slant options yesterday, but did they take away all mid-range pass options, or were these just not called? Or is it just that the slightly improved pass protection for Clausen in the first place is happening only because receivers are being held in the backfield for blocking purposes, and not running routes. I'll be interested to see if Charlie discusses this at all in his press conference tomorrow.

- Some have commented that this game felt a bit like 2002 victories, where the team scraped by largely on defensive opportunism that masked poor play-calling and inept offensive play. I think the situation is somewhat different given the players we have now, and also again the evidence of the past few weeks, with at least a couple of legitimately good offensive drives in each game.

- Penalties are still hurting the team: eight for 61 yards, leading to three first downs for UCLA and stalling or hurting at least a few ND drives (the penalties on punt returns are still killers with regard to field position). A couple of the penalties were questionable calls, and ultimately they evened out since ND also made three first downs off UCLA penalties, but there is still room for improved discipline here.

- This may have been the first time in years I was more critical of the team than the network announcers, who struck me as both fair and unobtrusive in calling the game (as opposed to normally, when they seem usually to be rooting for the opposing team). In talking this over today, the thought was that maybe the B-team announcers can actually be better in some respects because they aren't as tied to the storylines the network is pushing for the main games. We were an 0-5 team, 21-point underdogs, lots of young players, in a game showing in only 17% of the country. Might as well just call the game straight, minus any hype - this was refreshing. But as I said, the announcers were actually even more sympathetic to the Irish than I was at times - they kept saying how well Clausen was managing the offense, when I thought it seemed much less effective than last week. Not complaining, though!

While I'm still happy about the Irish this weekend, I have to add a few thoughts on the NFL. First: Trent Dilfer?! The Niners may be doomed for the season (or at least the next month, until the younger players who had been starting to show more promise return from injuries). Watching today's 9-7 loss to the Ravens would have been a better experience if the impressive defensive effort hadn't been spoiled by utter offensive ineptitude and failure to score more than once. Ouch. Second: Could the networks get over their worshipfulness of Brett Favre already? You'd think they would feel embarrassed after awhile to keep fawning over him every time he steps on the field (or stands on the sidelines, or isn't even on camera) - but the swooning for St. Brett only continues. Good grief. I hope the Bears pull this one out. [pause] 2:05, Bears have the go ahead TD. Cameraman dutifully cuts to Favre for reaction shots. What's that - he's grim? Oh, so sad. NBC is sad, too. Al Michaels actually just said, "A night that started out so beautifully and brilliantly has ended up with the Bears winning." (!?!) Well, that was funny. Good riddance.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Signs of progress

There was some actual excitement at McFadden's on Saturday afternoon for about 20 minutes. We had a drive? We had three drives? Excelente. I'll write more later - just wanted to say that for those who are taking a "football vacation" by watching not so much for wins, but just for marked signs of progress on a young squad, this was a pretty good day.