Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lackluster

Well, after an exciting day with Michigan last week, where everything seemed to come together great - offensive effectiveness, solid and opportunistic defense, and great special teams work, especially from Mike Anello - nothing's working that well at Michigan State. I'll change my tune if we break a few big plays here in the fourth, but in a game where we're only down two scores but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers, the offense is decidedly blah today. Clausen has made some uncharacteristically bad throws, and despite the protection not being too bad - the spread worked to beat the pressure several times up till now - he's been pressured far more than in the first two games and not done a great job of evading it. Two intentional grounding penalties and a couple of sacks shows that. He's still mostly accurate, and the spread is working well enough, but it's got to kick into gear here. We don't look like a team that should be shut out here. Come on, Irish!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sloppy, sloppy

Well, Saturday's game wasn't much fun to watch, and the end feeling was not so much of confidence but of uncertain relief. In retrospect, I feel a bit better about things, but of course it will all be contingent upon fixing the easy errors that so managed to kill our momentum that we scraped by with an 8-point win instead of skating with a 22-point win. An easy 15 points were left on the field by two red zone turnovers and one botched hold. So - what I didn't like is obvious:

- Turnovers and penalties. I'll grant that I thought this was one of the more poorly officiated games I've ever seen (put me in mind of the infamous Grimes catch at Stanford last year). Replay standards mean nothing if the refs won't implement them correctly, but when you can see, Phelps-winning-the-gold-like, in freeze frame, Hughes's knee down at the goal line while the ball is still in his hand, how is that not indisputable video evidence he's down? That was at the end of a solid, extended drive that would have changed the tone of the game for good. But setting that (and some phantom penalties - on both sides, I admit) aside, there's no doubt our other three turnovers were of the plain-stupid variety - bouncing a missed catch high up in the air, total miscommunication on an out route, and not wrapping up the ball before a hit. The botched hold also ruined another trip to the red zone. Combined with a relatively high number of penalties, this game was too sloppily played to have allowed us to emerge with a win against any other team. It made me afraid that even against wholly-depleted opponents with no quarterbacks, lots of injuries, new coaches, etc. (see, e.g., Michigan), we could still manage to make them look like geniuses.

But - there were many things to be pleased about in the game as well. A few, briefly:

- We have a quarterback. He may look like a Viking or some Euro-thug from a standard-issue action movie (i.e., he needs a haircut), but Clausen can play and seems to be validating the positive signs we were starting to see last year. (It helps to have no sacks - a definite plus.) I only counted two or three passes where I would say he was really flat off on, including a miss to a pretty wide open Tate in the end zone in the second quarter, but other than that he had a good touch on threading-the-needle type slants, fades, long balls, and sideline routes. He apparently audibled the first touchdown to Floyd. (Go Floyd!) He stares down his receivers too much still, but moves around pretty well and I saw him look off receivers a few times as well. He led the team on a couple of long drives, and as Charlie pointed out:

Jimmy finished that 8 of 9 stretch for about 100 yards, a couple touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and he completed over 60 percent of his passes. . . . I think that with a game under duress or with him being under duress, for him to calmly march us down the field in six plays for 80 yards for a touchdown and then come and follow right back with a 14-play drive for another touchdown I think showed a lot about the ability of the kid to lead the team when things aren't looking so good.

- Receivers were hit or miss. Golden Tate looked much improved over last year in his ability to run routes, and he made some great catches down the stretch. It was nice (great!) to see Michael Floyd make that fantastic touchdown reception in his first game as a freshman. Kamara made one or two good catches in the beginning, but made some poor decisions. Hopefully he'll start remembering to catch with his hands and look more for the ball.

- Defense played pretty strong, especially in the first half. They didn't record many sacks at all, but were in the backfield quite a bit, and only let a couple of long plays (shovel pass?!) by them. Otherwise, they kept the SDSU third down percentage low (5 for 16) and held down the score. Tackling was pretty good overall, and there weren't too many passes where the corners and safeties were out of position.

I don't know how to evaluate Michigan at all, except to feel confident we'll score more points than last year (UGH). A win? Oh, I hope so. But this team mentally has a long way to go yet....

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hope springs eternal

For everyone else the college football season kicked off last weekend, but the Irish have had to wait one more week. I've seen some of the practice videos and read the press conference transcripts from the past month and believe there is plenty of reason to be optimistic that this season will be a definite improvement over last season - maybe even a success by the Irish faithfuls' exacting, always-high standards :) We certainly have the talent, and now a lot of it should be seasoned by, basically, a year of getting pounded into the ground. The biggest keys to improvement this year will be the offensive line - creating some push off the line to allow the running game to get established, and giving protection to Clausen so he can continue to develop as the sharp passer we saw flashes of last fall.

The Irish don't usually play softer openers along the lines of Kent State or Louisiana-Lafayette, which I usually take some pride in, but I can't help thinking if we ever needed a year with a confidence-booster as the first game, this one's it. We should be able to beat San Diego State no problem with the talent and coaching we have - even NDN, which with clear-eyed assessments last year accurately predicted us losing most games, thinks this one should be straightforward. That's not to say there isn't a lot to be looking for in this game - we need to see all that improvement in the offensive and defensive lines, running game, receiving game, etc. and also, ideally, see some consistency in the performance of all these units. But hopefully having this team as a softer opponent, opening at home, will give the Irish a chance to come out and show everything they've learned from the tough times of last season. (If they don't, my husband is already worried the severe distress would induce early labor. So come on, Irish - help me hold out till the Boston College due date!)

Heading out to the Dallas club game watch soon. GO IRISH.