In a magnificent performance against the best football team on its regular season schedule, the Irish moved to a glistening 8-0. As if heeding the call of Jim Morrison, the Irish did, indeed, “Break on through to the other side” in the 30-13 win over Oklahoma’s proud Sooners. As the Irish flew home, they left behind not only a humbled Sooner team, but also doubt, irrelevance, mediocrity and skepticism.
Psst!! Lads, We’re back!!
As suggested here last week, the Irish had to survive the opening salvo. The Sooners attacked the Irish secondary from the opening snap with the best bevy of receivers the Irish have seen, with veteran Landry Jones at the top of his game. Jones used quick huddles, quick snaps, quick reads and quick throws with frightening accuracy. On the first two drives (wrapped around a Notre Dame three-and-out) Jones completed 9 of 12 passes for 109 yards to four different receivers. In the game’s first seven minutes! Yet, the Irish defense of Bob Diaco, aided by a haste-maketh-waste bad snap and a tipped pass by our dancing Irish Chocolate Bear, Louis Nix, did not break. Diaco, fiery on the outside is polar icecap cold, wrapped in Hattori Honzo steel, on the inside, had held OU to a “mere” 3-0 lead.
That lead lasted for 41 seconds, as Cierre Wood shot up the middle, bursting past the upcreeping Sooner secondary, bursting into the endzone 62 yards later, and bursting the hyperoptimism bubble of the OU fans. The game then settled in.
To start the second half the Irish offense scrapped and clawed to take control of the game. In two drives, they held the ball for 26 plays for 130 yards and over 12 minutes. The tone, the sweet IRISH tone, was set.
Even after the best Sooner drive resulted in a Belldozer touchdown to tie the game, the Irish millstones kept grinding the Sooners down, grinding slow, but grinding exceeding small.
The Irish defense was like a python. In the first quarter it observed its prey. In the second quarter, it made contact with its prey. In the third quarter it encircled and put pressure on its prey. In the fourth quarter it strangled, suffocated and killed its prey.
Persistence award-Kyle Brindza- the “next man in” after Tausch’s injury, he missed a field goal in the third quarter but then made two big ones in the fourth quarter.
Freshman of the match-Chris Brown-sure it was one play, but he fulfilled the prophecy: he took the top off the defense.
He’s a freshman? award-KeiVarae Russell
Best game of his career award-Ev Golson-did no harm (ball security when running!!) AND made plays.
HOW GOOD ARE THE IRISH?
Notre Dame plays football at a BCS Game level. This is independent of opinion polling and electoral preferences, which the parasitic BCS, preying on the college football host, was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.
This is an outstanding football team. Here’s a “Scouting Report.”
Notre Dame is led by a top-caliber defense, built on the foundation of a massive, quick, physical, hard-tackling front seven. The Irish secondary, purportedly young and vulnerable, has, emboldened by the front seven, come together, now ranking 11th in Passing Efficiency Defense. The novice Irish corners are not yet lock-down corners (but might be that in 2013) and are protected by a buffet of zone coverages.
Manti Te’o and Stephon Tuitt are worthy of being First Team All-Americas. The maturing Louis Nix at Nose Guard, and the fierce Prince Shembo at “Cat” (outside) linebacker are worthy of All-America honorable mention.
How do you attack this defense?
(1)-Neutralize (you can not overpower) the Front Seven
(2)-Attack the secondary early.
(3)-Mix the run in later. (a mobile QB helps you here)
The Irish offense is competent, but in big games, still rides on the shoulders of the defense.
Everett Golson, in his first year at quarterback, is no threat before the ball is snapped. But he has command presence, has an accurate arm to middle distance and is mobile enough to get running yards. He has an uncanny ability to keep his eyes downfield and complete passes after he’s rolled, moved or scrambled. He has an Achilles heel, ball security when he runs. He just does not throw interceptions.
The Irish have playmakers, but not gamebreakers at the receiver position. TE Tyler Eifert is the best pass-catching tight end in America. The wide receiver corps of Riddick, Jones, Toma and Daniels are sure handed vets, but none can rip the lid off the defense.
Running backs Wood, Riddick and Atkinson have power and speed and are elusive. They also block. The offensive line is mature and skilled, just one-half notch short of dominant.
Notre Dame is conservative on special teams. The priority is to avoid the fake, the blocked kick, the long return, and they do all three well. Atkinson returns kicks and can break one. Neal is the punt returner, but he mostly just fair catches the ball. Turk, the punter, and Brindza, kickoff specialist and fill-in place kicker are adequate and fairly consistent. Neither is an NFL player.
To understand Notre Dame we must add one other observation, usually not included in these scouting reports because it is both an intangible and rare. But this Notre Dame team has extraordinary team trust and unity, horizontally among the players across the roster, and vertically between and among the coaches and players. While difficult to quantify, it gives Notre Dame an edge against certain, and most, teams.
This team is clearly a BCS caliber squad.
INTERLUDE: THE NEXT PHASE OF THE SEASON
It’s different this time.
The position on the battlefield and the mission, strategy and tactics change significantly for the rest of the season. Kelly’s task shifts. The first 8 opponents were real challenges, exhilirating enough to keep adrenaline pumping. This was especially true for a team scaling the escarpment from adequacy to glory. Tough challenges were confronted and overcome. Kelly’s job now is trickier, more subtle. “Success is more dangerous than failure; the ripples break over a wider coastline.” Graham Greene.
And the schedule is very quirky. There are the three ACC opponents, then Southern Cal, then a BCS game in which Notre Dame, in its thirteeenth game, should face its best opponent.
The next three foes, Pitt, BC and Wake are much weaker than it would have seemed when we saw the schedule. These frequent bowl teams, especially recently, are a combined 10-14, off their recent standards. So fighting overconfidence and lack of respect for an opponent is on Kelly’s checklist.
If you look at the five games, it seems like a hockey stick being held on a table with the blade up and to the right. The ACC three are the flat length of the stick. Then arrives USC, halfway up the blade, and the BCS opponent at the top of the blade.
CAUTIONARY NOTE: SC has a great roster. They do not have a great team. They are looking down the barrel of a green and yellow gun this week. SC might, MIGHT rally and come to Nov. 24th with a 9-2 record. Or not. Things could come unglued very quickly in Heritage Hall. The opponents after Oregon are ASU and UCLA. In the grand history of college football, we have seen many stranger occurences than a team like Southern Cal coming into our game at 6-5. Look closely at Kiffin, as his Adam’s apple jumps and beads of sweat dot his forehead. Again, they could be 9-2, or Kiffin could be fired after the Notre Dame game. Politically correct statements or not, Kiffin is not the cup of tea (remember, Mike Garrett hired Lane) of the very Catholic, the very moral, the very Rhodes-scholaresqu, the very Cardinal and Gold Pat Haden.
There are several areas where the Irish team can improve the next three games:
(1) Golson’s ball security when he runs.
(2) Boosting the intermediate to long passing game.
(3) Continued receiver improvement, including the backs and TES.
(4) Getting more DBS game ready for nickel and dime packages.
(5) Working on some blitz packages, just to have in the silo, even if seldom used.
WHAT SHOULD WE SEE AGAINST PITT?
(1) The good thing is that Pitt has a veteran quarterback in Tino Sunseri. He will be the first of three veterans in a row (Rettig at BC and Skinner for Wake) that will shoot at our secondary. Thank you. Throw us into that briar patch, please.
(2) Just enough Pitt running to keep our Front Seven sharp while they’re in, because…
(3) We should play a lot of depth on both sides of the ball. This is excellent for both morale and player development. Think lots of reps for Shumate, Brown, Atkinson, Baratti, Councell Grace, Moore.
(4) Golson, relative to recent weeks, passing more, more deeply, and running less. He seems frail and can’t take a lot of hits. Never the “Goldozer.”
(5) Diaco toying with some blitzes.
We conclude numerically: