Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random thoughts

1. When did Southwest Airlines stop being cheap?

2. My current daily read is the Housing Bubble Blog, which collects articles from various bubble areas around the country to marshal ever more evidence that the insanely easy access to credit and steep run-up in home prices over the last five years was simply unsustainable. When "starter homes" are $500,000, or one-bedroom condos are asking $350/sf, that's just crazy. This blog is also good for reminding you that homes should be looked at primarily as places to live, not ATMs or investments (unless you're good at timing and managing investments professionally) - since generally speaking, equity is illiquid and you can't count on appreciation like the last few years anyway. In any event, that's one of my favorite topics lately and I appreciate the blog.

3. Brent Musberger makes me want to tear my hair out. Or at least drink a lot (not usual for me). I can't even take two sentences in a row. I'll add "the gun" to the drinking game rules. Anytime Brent says the OSU or Michigan quarterback today is in "the gun," take a drink to shut out the folksy colloquialism. AAGH. You also feel bad for Kirk Herbstreit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dinner gala

One of my favorite things about being in D.C. these last few years has been getting to go to the Federalist Society national convention dinner each fall, since my firm usually buys two tables. (As a member, I could register for the convention panels, and they always sound really interesting, but I can't usually make it off of work.) A few years ago, Karl Rove spoke (this after the Harriet Miers incident - there was an interesting but gracious and polite reception) and last year Justice Alito spoke and Justice Scalia stepped up also (a hugely enthusiastic reception for them, naturally :). For this year's dinner we were a bit oversubscribed on the number of people interested in coming from my firm, but happily I made it on to the confirmed list of attendees. They just announced a couple of days ago that this year's featured speaker will be President Bush. What can I say, despite several policy disappointments over the past few years, I still like W. So I'm excited to attend. Should be fun!

An epic battle

...of one-win teams approaches this Saturday. We'll be barbequeing with a friend of ours (a Duke alum) and hoping to see the Irish take advantage of our last best chance to win this season. At least we don't have a quarterback controversy anymore! I enjoyed watching Clausen for the most part last weekend (except when he got leveled by unblocked defenders and receivers dropped ten separate passes - not his fault) and think it's evident he just has more a leadership presence on the field. It appears time off for his arm did him some good as well - beautiful over-the-shoulder pass on the second touchdown to Grimes really epitomized that. And yet, and yet. End result was yet another loss. Weis sounded as frustrated as he has all year with the lack of progress all around and said he needs to retool his teaching strategy:

COACH WEIS: ...So what he [Belichick] always used to teach us is that you had to find whoever the lowest level of football intelligence was in a classroom and try to gear all your teaching to him because if he could get it, then usually everyone else would be able to get it, too. So obviously part of the breakdown, to go back to answer the main part of your question, is the fact that we have to start gearing to make sure that everyone from the bottom up, whoever might end up playing in the game, is getting it, because if they're not, whether it's an experienced player or inexperienced player, then that's just not good enough.

Q. I guess the problem here at this point in the season is teaching that -- in the short amount of time left is a pretty big challenge?

COACH WEIS: Well, one of the problems is some of those breakdowns mentally were not from the younger players. You know, they were from experienced players. So it would be one thing if you had that cop out, well, it was just a freshman making a mistake. But when it's an older kid and making a mistakes or more experienced guy making a mistake, that goes back to the message that I was taught that, you know, you've got to find a way to get that done on a week to week basis. You've got to find a way to get that done so you're not dealing with the same issue next Sunday when we get together.

I do think we'll win Saturday. Same formula needed as always - cut down on mistakes, execute the plays called, improve third down conversion rates, etc. We haven't really been able to do that all at once this year. Hopefully the team will get it down this week.

ETA: If you can stand to read through the catalogue of mistakes that ND put together last weekend, BGS has the full recap. It is a pretty painful read. Of course, it was pretty painful to watch as well, since given the defense's play in the first half and the Irish opportunities, this really could have been winnable. We're just . . . not good. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Anchors aweigh

We all knew the season was a wash, and most of us were just looking for signs of improvement anymore. Nevertheless, the frustrating thing about Saturday's loss to Navy was that the Irish appeared quite capable of winning - i.e., the production from our running backs was strong enough to have produced a win - but didn't show enough improvement where it would have counted to actually win. I think it came down to three things, two of which I already had zeroed in on during the game itself:

- Evan Sharpley isn't really a good quarterback. If he had the skills to be the clear-cut starter, he would have built on his experience as a backup to Quinn and seized the opportunity last spring to beat out the competition - or seized the opportunity against USC, or seized it Saturday. But he doesn't, and he didn't. The positives were that he completed a few clutch passes, and some of the misses weren't his fault (receiver drops). But the negatives, which far outweighed these in my mind, were the mistakes. Sacks that did NOT need to be taken, general lack of mobility (the few scrambles were all right, but more like Drew Bledsoe than Steve Young), poor ball protection when it counted (the fumble was absolutely the gamebreaker - see #3 below), and passes that seemed to float a bit. I would rate Sharpley "competent" even for all that, since he was good enough at handing off the ball and he did make some plays happen, but overall I was so frustrated by his lack of vision (and did I mention the killer sacks?) that I wanted to yank him after the first half, much less after the fumble. At this point, I will be extremely disappointed if he is the starter this week, even though Weis has said several times about Clausen and Sharpley that "they're both in the running." Still, he does realize at this point that you have to start looking ahead:

I think the number one thing is who is going to play the best versus -- who's going to play the best for you down the stretch. I don't think what you want to be doing here is each week say, well, who's going to play the best for us against Air Force, who's going to play the best for us against Duke, who's going to play the best for us against Stanford.

I'm at the point right now where I want to win this game, and simultaneously, I want to start -- I want to start building some upward momentum. So they go together.

So the decision isn't as simple as, okay, over the last half dozen weeks who's done what better. It's who gives you the best chance to win this week and the next two weeks and moving forward.

- Back to Navy, the second critical thing was the playcalling that really just seemed indefensible on several plays, particularly given that Weis told everyone ahead of time what he was going to have to do to win this game: essentially, score on every drive because it will be so hard to get Navy's offense off the field. We scored on three of four first half drives, but the key miss was calling for a fake field goal on fourth-and-fifteen. More comprehensively, the play sequence was, after three successful runs following a critical turnover by Navy, a pass for a loss, then two incompletions, and THEN a fake field goal on fourth-and-fifteen at the twenty. Weis said after the game, in a way that made it all sound reasonable, that Navy had given a certain look on such field goals eight times previously so the play should have worked - but they gave a different look this time and were able to stop the fake. It still seemed wrong not to take advantage of a gift scoring opportunity first by going away from what was working (steady running plays), then losing yards, and then not trying for at least a field goal. Because if possessions were going to come few and far between, surely turnovers even fewer? I acknowledge the Irish also had a missed field goal later in the game, so maybe that's why Weis didn't want to try it at 37 yards early on and at the end of the game - but it seems that you want to give the kicker an attempt, especially where every point is going to matter. So: calling no attempts on field goals at the times Weis did, and calling passes at inopportune times, made for a frustrating game to watch.

- Leading back to the third point, turnovers. We didn't capitalize on their turnover, and they did capitalize on ours - 0 and 7, and setting aside everything else, you could mark that alone as the difference in the game in regulation. And ARRRGGGGHHHH, but that turnover was a killer. Absolutely inexcusable for Sharpley not only to have so little presence facing the rush but also not to protect the ball if he was going to take a sack. The one thing he just couldn't do in Irish territory is give up a fumble for a touchdown, especially when all he had to do was wrap up, but he did. It obviously didn't lose the game all by itself, but that play was about as critical as they come. Making fewer mistakes than the other guy, in a game as close as this, is going to be the edge needed to win. (Note that it's good to be in a position where the game is close enough that turnovers matter, as opposed to games that are so unbalanced that turnovers barely seem a factor. But still.) ND isn't good enough to win without playing error-free. We came closer this week and by all rights could have scraped out a win anyway, but we didn't, and we lost the game and the streak.

So now it's time for Air Force. I was pretty pleased with the running game last week, all things considered (although that was more a testament to the backs than to the line, which still doesn't get much of a push), so hopefully they'll do well again this week. The good news is the players are focused and determined to keep improving. I'll still be with them watching. Go Irish.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

$@#$&^!

Win or lose this game in overtime (I don't expect a win), there will be a lot to say. But I'll start with a few here:

Sharpley is not good.

Playcalling is indefensible (see, e.g., fake field goal, second drive; no field goal attempt, second-to-last drive).

Go Gameday

Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso just picked the Irish in today's game, as we try to make it 44 in a row against Navy. They even predicted we'd score a lot of points! Well, that would be fantastic, but we'll have to see whether the bye week helped this team out and whether they actually are able to turn this last part of the season into something to build on for next year.

Charlie is appropriately concerned with impressing on the team that three-and-outs won't do the job this week:

Like I said to the team yesterday, you're going to get fewer possessions. You're going to have to make the most of them. For example, last year we scored 38, and usually most games this year, 30s or 40s are regularity with them. And because the most touchdowns we've scored in a game offensively, let's be bottom line, we've only scored three touchdowns in a game offensively. This is a team that's scoring five, six touchdowns a game; it's definitely a concern about the production per possession because you're going to have fewer of them in the game.

Some good news comes with Aldridge: "He's back and ready to go." Also, I was wrong that Sharpley wouldn't necessarily keep the starting job, as he has been named the starter for this week - although Clausen is apparently still recovering some from being banged up the last several months. Hopefully the receivers will make the plays this week to help the team overall build confidence with Sharpley. Could this be the week we break out and score over 30? We can hope. Go Irish!

On a different note, yesterday many team members traveled to Chicago to attend the funeral of Robert Hughes's older brother, who was murdered earlier this week. It is good to see how much support everyone, including Weis, personally has given to their teammate at such a difficult time, though knowing how the Notre Dame family comes together at tough times, I wouldn't expect anything less. Prayers for the Hughes family.