Sweet, sweet Jobu, as much as I was appalled by the performance of the Notre Dame football team against SDSU, I’m even more appalled at the cognitive underachievement of the vocal minority on so many ND fan sites. Shame on them. Shame on them for grasping at straws and saying any thing that comes to mind that they consider profound only because they haven’t seen it said before. Never mind if what they say makes any sense if you investigate it beyond 2 of its onion-like layers of “logic.” Some of these people are about one failed synapse away from trying to actually blame that game on displeasing the Aztec gods and looking for a virgin in the student section for sacrifice [insert obvious joke here].
Onto the game…
Beyond, or, rather, within, all the stupidity that has been textually blurted out onto the internet over this game, I noticed one really interesting trend: A lot of people were asking a lot of other people if they were watching the same game. And that was occurring because these people were unable to agree on any sort of causation responsible for Notre Dame needing a 4th quarter comeback to beat one of the worst college football programs in the country. When I see something like this, where disaster strikes (or almost strikes) in my professional, romantic, or athletic (?) life, and there seem to be too many variables to count, I always step back and look for the simplest possible answer. Occam’s been my loyal friend and guide through many a difficult situation, and I rely on him again here when I say that the only reason SDSU even had a prayer against ND is because of the 4 turnovers handed to the Aztecs.
That’s it. It had nothing to do with whether or not Weis really ever intended to “pound the ball.” It had nothing to do with Haywood’s play calling. It had nothing to do with Jimmy Clausens hair. Okay, it might have had something to do with Clausen’s hair, and Haywood’s playcalling, but the ratio-of-causation, if you will, is so overwhelmingly in favor of the turnovers versus any other variable, even if you added up all the other variables into one giant variable of football hell, that so long as we keep this simple, the explanation for this gridiron debauchery becomes pretty simple too.
So yeah, it was the turnovers. And it’s a shame really, as, at least for the running backs, I don’t think I’ve seen a single cut of practice film in which Coach Haywood isn’t yelling at someone about ball security. It’s also a shame because, really, the two running backs that dropped the ball weren’t doing anything wrong from a fundamentals standpoint. Robert Hughes a) never actually fumbled the ball and was ripped off by a horrible call, and b) never actually fumbled the ball and was ripped off by a horrible call, and c) will need to learn that he, particularly against “inferior” teams, is going to be both the beneficiary and the victim of some very slow whistles. Refs are human, and they, just like us, have already come to expect Hughes to spend a good 10-15 seconds after each snap simply carrying defenders around the football field. When that happens, whistles don’t call plays dead for a long time, and then a guy like Hughes can get his ankle/knee nearly popped out of socked (while it’s on the ground) before the play ends. Now Armando Allen’s fumble was a slightly different story. You’ve probably seen or heard a ton of people say that “anyone would fumble the ball after that hit.” Yeah. So don’t take that hit. I love Allen. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but that chip seems to be making him forget that he’s faster than nearly everyone on the field with him and that he needs to run around some people, particularly after breaking passed the linebackers, and stop seeking momentum crushing contact.
I’m not even going to start on Kamara. I don’t know what the kid’s deal is. Jimmy shouldn’t have thrown the second pick in his direction, but Kamara should never have been beaten for that ball. And he wasn’t beaten because he didn’t even compete for that ball. He just flailed around like a Notre Dame defensive back from the late ’90s.
Anyway, take away the turnovers, and the game is probably a 30-0 affair after which we’d all still find a lot to dissect, but at least we’d not feel ill. Get back the Hughes fumble, and ND goes up 7-0 in all likelihood. Right before that fumble, the Irish had sort of found their stride, going 72 yards in 9 plays. That drive had started at the 14:16 mark in the second quarter. So, in a way, the Irish had sort of figured things out a bit after a shaky first quarter of the season. Take away the 1st Kamara interception, and you take away 7 SDSU points. Take away the second Kamara interception, and you take away 6 more of SDSU’s points. It’s tough to win a game with 0 points. Anyway, I know some will argue that SDSU had turnovers too, and that’s true, but the “temporal value,” or the value of the turnovers relative to at what point in time the turnovers occurred was greater for SDSU. They essentially allowed SDSU to cling to life and “shorten the game.” And as has been demonstrated ad nauseum, a shorter game makes it more likely that the inferior team can prevail. I’m also just going to have to argue that turnovers will only ever help an inferior team compete against a superior team. And that’s why coaches go so nuts over turnovers. Turnovers kill momentum. They kill preparation. They kill talent advantages. Essentially, turnovers kill everything for which coaches work so hard to achieve.
Lots of stuff I can’t put together coherently, but will probably dispute something I saw or heard in the last 24-48 hours…
- The offense wasn’t “pass happy.” It might not be as run-dominated as people would have liked, but the stats say the split was nearly 50/50. Biscuit made mention in a comment on his gameday thoughts post that he believes if you negated the drives in which the Irish were essentially killing clock with the lead, then about 75% of the Irish play calls were passes. While I’m sure Biscuit, being Biscuit, was using hyperbole to make a point, the numbers, if you negate the final 2 Irish drives are 43% rushing, 57% passing. Up until the Hughes fumble (where, as I said, I think the Irish were sort of “getting it”) it was 48% rushing, 52% passing. In the 1st half, the Irish were 44% rush, 56% pass, and that includes 2 attempts to run the 2-minute drill. Were the Irish really committed to “pounding it?” No, but they weren’t trying to imitate Texas Tech either. The only point in which ND’s playcalling was overwhelmingly in favor of the pass was the drive immediately after SDSU’s fumble which lead to an 80 yard drive to go ahead with a 38 yard pass to Golden Tate. That drive took the 2nd half’s playcalling split to 38% rush, 62% pass. Clausen went 5 for 5 in the drive. The next Irish drive, where ND was killing clock, but also probably needed a bit of a scoring buffer considering SDSU had already thrown the ball 55 times to that point, was almost exactly opposite – 64% rush, 36% pass – and gave the Irish some breathing room.
- No Sacks Allowed. Not insignificant. I started to look back for the last game in which the Irish didn’t allow a sack. Obviously, ND allowed a sack in every game in 2007. But they also allowed a sack in every game in 2006. The NCAA website isn’t cooperating with me to look back on 2005. Anyone want to keep chasing this one? At any rate, it’s the first time in at least 2 years that ND hasn’t allowed a sack. Yeah, it’s SDSU, but we’ve been sacked by Army too – even when we didn’t suck.
- The offensive playcalling had some real up and some real downs. First, the real downs. I only really, really hated 2 calls, but then I didn’t have an official, regulation sized, Wilson branded boner over Weis’ “pound it” quote either. Bad call #1: The first pass call in the first series. Allen had just had 2 runs for 4 yards each. And each could have gone further had certain blockers done more on the “second level” to help spring him. The Irish are facing an undersized, patch-work defensive line, and they need 2 yards. Personally, I’d have kept calling rushing plays until I turned the ball over on downs. Haywood apparently scripts his plays, and I get that philosophy (though I’m not sure I like it), and apparently his script didn’t read, “shove it down their f-ing throats while screaming, ‘Who’s funny now!?'” Bad call #2: Going for the home run ball after Kerry Neal intercepted an SDSU pass and the Irish got to start a drive on the SDSU 17. What’s the rush? There are 28 minutes left in the game clock, you’re tied up, your defense has shown that they will hardly budge unless the opposition gets to take the ball off a turnover. Why not try rushing the ball once or twice, then passing if you don’t get the 1st down? Worst case, you still get it intercepted, but the D had a blow on the bench, and you got to see how the opposition reacted to 2 more of your plays. Now, the real ups: Watch the 2 plays preceding Floyd’s touchdown again. Trust me, SDSU’s defense was well aware that Floyd, one of the best receiver recruits in the country, was wearing number 3. Watch how the safety scoots further and further away from the right hash (and thus further and further from Floyd) after the previous 2 plays. SDSU’s defense was sort of saying, “Charlie, take what we’re giving you. Run left. Pass left.” I guess they were trying to “take away half the field” to slow ND down. But their safety crept left to help out in that “funnel,” leaving Floyd’s mark all alone. There are a few other examples of that. The TD pass to Grimes was sort of set up leading that same safety in for a few plays first. A lot of people hear Weis and now Haywood say “take what the defense gives you,” and they freak out because they think it’s passive. Sometimes taking what the defense gives you has nothing to do with taking what the defense intended to give you. Edit: Apparently the Floyd TD was an audible. So I can’t really credit Haywood, but I’m pretty thrilled that Jimmy saw the opportunity and took it.
- I don’t believe it. First, I don’t believe this notion that the offense was sandbagging the game to hide and save things for Michigan. C’mon. This was a 3-9 team last year with the worst offensive stats in the country. No way ND really holds anything back. Maybe ND didn’t use any of their “clever” plays, but they sure as heck didn’t hide much of their standard, bread-and-butter stuff. Second, I don’t believe for one second that a Corwin Brown defense with heavy influence from John Tenuta looks anything like what they looked like on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I think they looked quite good, and I think they’ll look even better, but that defense played SDSU about as straight up as either Brown or Tenuta could probably stand. It took a ton of play for me to even spot the first stunt run by a defensive lineman tandem. Upon reviewing the game, I could count only 2 times that our MLB didn’t blitz through the very same hole he aligned himself with pre-snap. Twice. Are you kidding me? Have you seen how many times a MIKE backer in Tenuta’s usual defense will not only run half-way across a formation for a blitz, but do it right through the middle of a stunt by the defensive linemen? NBC kept talking, at the start of the game, about how many different places Mo Crum kept lining up in the defense. Big deal. Every time he blitzed, he came right into the hole against which he’d aligned. Made it easy for the blockers to spot. Same with the Smiths. And yet we still managed to get some pressure on the QB. Sure, the QB did a nice job finding his hot read, but let’s not give him too much credit. It was easy to spot. This week. If the defense doesn’t look like a bad acid trip to the opposing offense next week, I’ll be shocked and wonder when Tenuta’s balls were replaced with Hostess Cupcakes – and not the real cupcakes, but those 100 Calorie Pack cupcakes. By the way, if you ever once commented on a lack of pressure on the QB by ND, then just start sucking beer through that pie hole and don’t stop until January. When, exactly, did that QB ever get to sit in a pocket? There may have been a few times. There were far, far more where he just dropped and threw quickly – for a completion rate of 49% on 59 passes – and 2 of those completions were shovel passes.
- This team needs to become a tribe of Night Elf Mohawks. That blonde babe, the one that gets you in even more trouble for watching the Irish every Saturday because you stupidly mention she had a baby last year (why would you mention that to your wife?) and looks pretty good, don’t she (again, what were you thinking here?), got an interesting piece of info from the Irish sideline during the game when she witnessed Weis say something to his players to the effect of, “You’re all waiting for something bad to happen. Stop waiting for that and start trying to make something good happen.” Unfortunately for the Irish, Mike Anello can’t play all 22 positions of the offense and defense, and so ND fans must wait for someone else to start over-achieving in ways that you usually only see in Michael Bay movies. Let’s just say that Anello probably knows the prom queen really, really well. That dude’s a freaking winner. Too bad he can only really play gunner on special teams, because he’s a Night Elf Mohawk. He knows what’s expected of him, and he says, “shut up, Foo!” and does whatever the hell he wants to do. Too many on this team hear the voice say, “you can’t do that,” or, “here we go again,” and don’t respond properly.
- Career Day: Clausen had a great day. And he made a good case for why ND need not be a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team. Clausen had a completion rate of 62% despite a few drops – one that became an INT. He also threw for 3 TDs and went 5 for 5 in a game winning drive. And possibly more importantly than anything else, he showed he can “make all the throws.” Quick outs to the far sideline, slants on a rope between defenders, and deep touch passes. He made some misreads to be sure. The 2nd Kamara INT should never have gone to the left. Weis has already said as much. But JC just lead the team down the field for a game winning TD with the pressure of monumental headlines of Irish failure looming over his head. He’s on his way to becoming a Night Elf Mohawk.
- We killed them. Finally, as BGS pointed out, ND slaughtered SDSU – in the last 10 minutes. The Irish gained 146 yards to the Aztecs 5. Maybe – hopefully – that was the light bulb turning on. It must have been one of those CFL bulbs that takes a while to warm up.
That’ll do. It’s after noon on the Monday after the game, which means you, Mr. ND Football Fan, have already read 45 other perspective pieces on this game. Suffice it to say I really do believe this would have been a rather blasÃ© “blowout” of SDSU had ND just protected the ball. And that’s certainly a lesson that the Irish players are capable of learning and correcting in just 1 week of practice, so, moving on, I’d just like to reuse an oldie but a goody to say…