We saw a gritty Notre Dame that is better at winning games than looking pretty.
We saw an Irish team that plays better outside of Indiana (Navy, Michigan State, Miami, Oklahoma) than it does where the St. Joe River takes its southward bend (Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU, Pitt).
We saw an Irish team whose defense can carry its offense for a whole game, but whose offense cannot return the favor. YET (but that offense is very, very, very close.)
We saw, a few days after Halloween, the ghost of 2011, with two turnovers in the end zone, Golson’s interception and Wood’s leaping fumble.
We saw the burden of the schedule, in which every team gets WAY up for the Irish, and all 9 opponents, at the time of the game, present some threat to the Irish.
We saw a quarterback who at his focused and best, is a maddening challenge to opposing defenses and defensive coordinators. Please, go back and look at the internals of the touchdown pass to Riddick and the ensuing run for two points. Everett Golson, riverboat gambler, semi-retired point guard is at his most focused, ALIVE, in fluid chaos, making and executing great decisions.
We saw, for the first time in 20 autumns, before we knew what “Google” meant, when Mark Zuckerberg was 9 years old, a 9-0 Irish team.
The contest began with Kelly trying to establish the passing game, with passes on four of the first six first downs. In a nearly eerie reversal of the Oklahoma script, the Irish, in the first two drives, possessed the ball for 32 plays for 149 yards in 16 minutes, while the Panthers had just seven plays for 52 yards in 3.5 minutes. The contraindicator was that the Irish only led 6-3.
Pitt was game. This Pitt team started the season with two ugly double-digit losses, but then coalesced under Chryst, upsetting Virginia Tech on the way to a 4-2 record in the next six games. This was not the team that lost to the mighty Penguins of Youngstown State in the season opener.
In the second quarter, the Irish offense paraffined, and the hitherto impregnable defense played its worst two quarters of the season. The scoreboard at the end of the third quarter was ominous: Pittsburgh 20-Notre Dame 6. Gulp. Well, fans did, but this gritty Irish team never gulped; they never do.
The defense stiffened, and then some, allowing a piddling 18 yards to Pitt’s offense in the 4th quarter. They were daunting, intimidating in the fourth quarter and OT.
The Irish offense came alive, thrice thrusting into the end zone, once ending by interception twice scoring two touchdowns, and a grand and needed total of two extra points, hard way.
The team moved to 9-0, the best start since the nearly-magical season of 1993. In 1993 the Irish won the first ten. (yes, I know this was covered above, but redundancy never applies to mention of a 9-0 record. 9-0, 9-0! See?) The ’93 Irish did not win the 11th.
HOW GOOD ARE THE IRISH?
We return to rating the units:
BCS Bowl Level
Riddle me this: When has a unit of a Notre Dame team improved as much over the prior season as the 2012 front seven has? Led by the uncanny Te’o each of the seven starters is significantly, demonstrably better than the prior year. And they are deep. Even with Hounshell’s injury, and the year being saved for the large Jarron Jones, the subs are excellent. They have yielded 11.7 points per game, second only to mighty Alabama.
THANK YOU!- This Notre Dame team is going to be NotreDamely successful for years to come,
and while I can’t speak for you, I will be ever grateful to this front seven, for they were the
first to reach the mountaintop. And they, gleefully, have been pulling the rest of the team up there
Small minds think disjunctively (either/or) great minds think abundantly, conjunctively (both/and). Kelly and Martin are too wise and seasoned to think of Wood versus Riddick. It is Wood AND Riddick, and they will ever think and act thus, while the madding crowd pathetically slouches toward disjunctive thinking. Mr. Atkinson has improved some this season. Wood, Riddick and Atkinson each have a run of 55 yards or more. The eyeball test says they’re not “explosive;” the facts suggest otherwise.
Tyler Eifert is dangerous when he catches the ball, and when he gets double teamed, it shifts the fulcrum of the offensive/defensive balance. The threesome blocks well enough (we talk here about Niklas’ pass-blocking disaster against Stanford for the last time) to allow liberal use of the Stanfordesque multiple TE groupings.
While the 4 sacks against Stanford were unsettling, the unit allowed only two other sacks in October, and played three solid defenses in Stanford, BYU and Oklahoma. But the reason for the bump (provisional) to BCS Bowl Level is they averaged over 250 yards a game rushing against the four October opponents, and that would have ranked the Irish 8th in America (behind such as the 3 academies and Georgia Tech, inter alii). They stay here if they keep protecting the passers, but we may face a terrifying pass rush in the BCS bowl game.
QB-first, we have the most effective and productive backup quarterback in America in Tommy Rees. He requires neither adulation, nor advance notice, nor warmup time. He only needs two things: an opportunity and relief from the burden of starting.
The starter, Ev Golson, has improved. He is guilty until proven innocent on ball security while running, but he has, mostly, been judicious when passing the ball, and has heeded Kelly’s admonitions about throwing the ball away.
He is accurate and has decent range. KELLY IS STARTING TO TURN HIM LOOSE ON INTERMEDIATE TO LONG PASSES. We will see in the next three weeks if the bomb he threw to Brown in Norman was luck or skill. One other note: Kelly and Martin have done a marvelous job with the quarterbacks and with Golson particularly. He has never been set up for failure, and he is growing before our eyes. Now if he can locate all of the wide open receivers…….
WRS-Good patterns, good blockers (the uppereclassmen are, the kids are trying and will get better), aggressive going after the ball, good hands, reliable in the clutch. Playmakers, not gamebreakers. who may be challenged getting separation against the secondary of the BCS game opponent. Future star in Daniels.
DBS-survived their first stern test in Norman. Will receive pop quizzes against Rettig and Skinner, but then the unforgiving moment in the Coliseum arrives. Marquise Lee, Robert Woods, Algohlor, who may have arrived last night, their TES and Matt Barkley. Our secondary still has depth issues due to the absences of Wood, Slaughter and Collinsworth. Farley, a good tackler normally, could not wrap up Graham on the TD run. With that injured arm, he might not have started or played as much on a team with true depth.
WILL THIS TEAM KEEP IMPROVING?
There are at LEAST 8 weeks before the BCS Bowl game. We could see against Navy that the team had improved from 2011. Yet, they’ve improved quite a bit in September and October, with the 30-13 crescendo in Norman. We don’t know if they’ll continue improving apace in November and December, but you have to like our chances. Areas of focus: reducing sacks, medium range and long passing including better recognition and finding secondary and tertiary receivers, nickel and dime packages (Hi, Elijah, you’re ALMOST there) and opportunistic blitzes. And QB ball security while running.
NOTRE DAME AND ITS OPPONENTS
(1) NOTRE Dame-unbeaten, has taken on all comers. No other team on this list has fewer than 2 losses.
(2) Oklahoma-explosive offensively (at least against mortals!) quick defensively, and playing in America’s most balanced conference. At least 8 Big XII teams should make bowl games, with
only the Rock Chalkers and Waco staying home.
(3) Stanford-though soon to face their most annoying matchup, the Quack Attack, are tough and would probably beat SC again in the same type of game.
(4) Michigan-as Nebraska loss showed, they can’t beat a good team without Denard. Still have a good shot at BCS game.
(5) SC-Best roster of offensive players and NFL offensive prospects in America. But coaching, team
unity and effort matters. Kiffin has squandered the magnificent defensive legacy that Carroll left. Before we meet them on the 24th they play ASU and UCLA, and those are not gimmes for this grossly underachieving band of Trojans.
(6) Miami-quietly, and patiently, Golden improves them. Probably on target for a rematch with the ‘Noles for the BCS berth.
(7) MSU-they are determined and steady If SC performed every Saturday with MSU’s determination, focus and effort…….
(8) BYU-three patsies to finish the season. a bowl team.
(9) Pitt-Chryst can coach a little. Can he recruit as well as the unappreciated and underrated Wanny?
(10) Wake-gritty under Grobe, will probably finish one win shy of bowl eligibility.
(11) Purdue-if Boilers can’t get it done with this level of experience, then they are probably in a long, irreversible secular decline.
(12) BC-nice knowing you Spaz, we’ll let you know if any defensive jobs come open.
(13) Navy-What? They’re Bowl Eligible. Tough coach. Tough players. Anchors Aweigh!
Next week, for variety, we’ll rate the 2013 opponents on our schedule.
ACC -DID YOU KNOW?
As we are in the middle of the three game ACC segment of our schedule, we must note the national championship history of the teams that will be in the 2013 ACC. From 1976-1999, the last quarter of the 20th century, 2013 ACC teams won 9 of the 25 championships, just shy of 40%. They were Pitt, ’76 (Dorsett), Clemson ’81 (Danny Ford) , Miami, ’83, 87, ’89, Georgia Tech ’90 (Bobby Ross), Miami ’91 and FSU ’93 (ahem!!) and ’99 (Weinke and Warrick). With the SEC dominance in this century, only the Miami superteam of 2001, formed by Butch Davis, but coached by current UTSA coach Larry Coker, won a National Championship.
WHAT WILL SEE AGAINST BC IN Chestnut Hill?
(1) The team, the school, that, when we were unbeaten at 8-0 in 2002, right after a big road win in Doak, beat the Irish in South Bend, 14-7. The team, the school, that, when (here’s to ya Kevin McDougal and our four great captains, Tim Ruddy, Aaron Taylor, Bryant Young and Jeff Burris) we were unbeaten at 10-0 after the stirring win over top ranked FSU (how many times did Derrick Brooks hobble off the field?!!!) defeated us 41-39. In South Bend.
(2) The Eagles have fallen on hard times, with its only wins over Maine’s Black Bears and a Maryland team that was on its fifth string QB. Just for a reference point, that would be as if our fighting Irish were playing Luke Massa or Nicky Baratti at QB.
(3) The great BC rush defenses, assembled and coached by Spaziani, led by players like Toal, Raji, Kiwanuka, Herzlich and Kuechly, have vaporized. The Eagles allow over 250 yards per game on the ground.
(4) Rettig is OK and had a passer rating of over 130 heading into Saturday’s game against Wake. His throws will test our secondary. Good. We need it.
(5) Can the Irish maintain the high level achieved OUTSIDE of South Bend?
(6) Will Kelly keep putting pressure on Golson and the receivers to extend, expand and sharpen the passing game? We will need to pass against SC and in the BCS game.
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