I always like a good party, soiree, or get-together. So I was very excited when I was invited to this Gathering. Then I learned it was a test – not a figurative trick or trial, but literally a test in which I had to answer questions. I guess this is how it’s done these days. Lure students with the promise of something fun (like a week off school) and then hit them with the something truly sinister (like midterm exams).
Fortunately, the subject of the test was a particular favorite of mine, and one about which I know a fair amount: Notre Dame football. My examiner was a very bright gentleman named Mr. Flynt, who must be some sort of professor at the University, though his specialty is something called “digital media” which has nothing to do with either fingers or charlatans who pretend to commune with the spirit world. However, I learned that Mr. Flynt is very knowledgeable about Fighting Irish football, because he allowed me to test him. Quite a just and egalitarian system – I’m sure all professors do the same for their students, don’t they?
At any rate, Mr. Flynt has my answers, and below you can grade the essays he submitted in response to my questions. One word of caution: Be very wary of accepting invitations to Gatherings.
1) The teams considered the greatest in Notre Dame history, and among the greatest in the annals of college football, are the 1946 and 1966 Fighting Irish. In ’46, Leahy’s lads gave up just 24 points on the season; in ’66, Parseghian’s players gave up 38. The key to victory this season has been the defense, which hadn’t given up a touchdown in 16 quarters…prior to playing Brigham Young. The defense surrendered 14 points to an unranked BYU team. Was this careless play, as would be evidenced by BYU’s scoreless second half? Or did BYU find a chink in the defensive armor of the Irish – a chink upon which Oklahoma could capitalize? In either case, does the defense regain the whip hand against the Sooners, and if so, how?
Just because the Irish gave up a couple of scores, does not mean the “D-boys” have lost their mojo. Let’s not forget that on both BYU touchdowns, the Cougars were playing on a short field. The first drive started on their own 44, while the second began on the Notre Dame 30, following an interception (Not to mention, the defense had less than a minute’s rest before it was back on the field).
Through seven games, Bob Diaco’s defense has been one of the best in the country. It has shut down some solid offenses, but has yet to encounter a high-scoring squad with a great passing game like the one it will face on Saturday night. People have been expecting the young Irish secondary to slip up, and it hasn’t happened yet. Will it happen against the Sooners? I don’t know, but that’s one of the many reasons why this is such a highly anticipated game. Oklahoma provides the biggest test for the Irish so far – the opportunity for Notre Dame to cement itself as one of the nation’s best this season.
2) The ranked teams we have played, as well as one of the unranked ones for that matter, have possessed some special attribute, some powerful weapon. For Michigan it was their quarterback. For Stanford and Brigham Young is was their defense. Yet, the Irish have neutralized and surmounted each team’s supposed advantage. What is Oklahoma’s not-so-secret weapon, and how do the Irish meet and defeat it.
Denard Robinson is a playmaker, no doubt. But he doesn’t have nearly the passing ability of Landry Jones. This offense is unlike anything we’ve seen this season. The Sooners put up 677 yards of offense against Texas. The Longhorns defense is prone to give up a lot of points, but still, that type of offensive production doesn’t happen by accident.
And what’s different about Oklahoma is that the Sooners can beat you both on the ground and through the air. They’re averaging 288.5 passing yards (26th nationally) and 199.67 rushing yards (34th) per game.
The Irish probably do not have the offensive firepower to get into a Big 12-style shootout in Norman, but I think the strength of their defense can keep Notre Dame in every game. Everett Golson and Tommy Rees have already shown the ability to come from behind when the game is within striking distance. Again, the big question is how the secondary responds against a team with a great passing quarterback. I know Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks will have their guys prepared, so I’m excited to see how they respond to the challenges they’ll face on Saturday night.
3) From 1989 to 1998, Oklahoma cycled through three head coaches who accumulated a record of 61-50-3. In the same period Notre Dame went 91-29-2. Those positions have been somewhat relatively reversed since 2000. Since both teams were powerhouses of the 40s and 50s, it would seem that college football success is rather tidal, rising and falling regularly over the years. How, then, can any self-impressed pundit declare a particular program permanently incapacitated or…say…irrelevant? Shouldn’t Oklahoma have been consigned to the ash heap of irrelevance at least once? Is this the beginning of Notre Dame swelling again to the high-water mark of Championship-level football, as Oklahoma did; or is this merely an anomaly? Discuss.
I think there are two reasons why the irrelevance conversation did not happen with the Sooners. First, though Oklahoma is a top-tier college football program, it doesn’t share Notre Dame’s national following. Few in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are affected by the results of OU game. On the other hand, win or lose, Notre Dame has always been a story that sparks interest across the country.
Secondly, I think it’s gotten to the point where the media tries to fit “Notre Dame” and “irrelevant” in the same sentence as many times as possible because they know it irks Irish fans to no end. But to answer the second part of your question, no, I don’t believe this 7-0 start is an anomaly. Will Brian Kelly join Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz on the Mount Rushmore of Notre Dame coaching legends? I don’t know. But he and his staff are building a program and I think the future looks bright. From the strength program to training table to their tireless recruiting efforts, there are a lot of pieces coming together that are crucial to helping Notre Dame consistently compete with the nation’s best college football teams.
There hasn’t been a more exciting time to be an Irish fan since our favorite ESPN analyst was roaming the sidelines in the House That Rockne Built.