Starting at the end of Saturday’s game, I have personally banned myself from future “big” games on ND’s schedule. I have now attended the following games over the past 5 (now almost 6) years.
- The 2001 Fiesta Bowl (Oregon St. 41 – Notre Dame 9)
- The 2005 Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State 34 – Notre Dame 20)
- The 2006 ND/USC Game
One thing that was strikingly clear in each of these games was the difference in speed between Notre Dame and its opponents. In 2001, Oregon State ran out onto the Sun Devil’s field for warmups looking like my high school baseball team. The difference in the number of suited up players alone between the Irish and the Beavers was quite a surprise to me. Not only that, but Notre Dame’s organization in warm ups, compared to the OSU’s street ball style pregame routine, had me convinced that this would be a blowout I wasn’t going to forget anytime soon.
I couldn’t have been more correct. Unfortunately it didn’t go in the direction I had anticipated.
I have been watching Notre Dame football, and football in general, for going on 20 years now. I don’t claim any special knowledge of the game. My own experiences included one year of high school football during which my 130 pound frame took more punishment than I care to recollect at this time. I don’t claim any extensive knowledge of schemes or strategy, other than at a very general level, so perhaps my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. However, in this situation, I think my amateurish view of the game makes the point of this article stronger; coming away from saturday’s game, anyone can see it. Notre Dame does not have the same athletes as the upper echelon of college football.
So how did we do it last year? How did Notre Dame so nearly steal a win from the #1 team in the country when they still had their two Heisman winning stars? Let me clarify my point. Notre Dame CAN compete with those teams, but to do so they must play a near perfect game to make up for the talent deficiency. Start throwing in mistakes, and bonehead plays, and the Irish get exposed for what they are. A team that is playing over their head. A team that is an overachiever. A team that gets exposed when it plays the very top tier of schools in college football (USC, Michigan, OSU). Minus the surprise factor that played to ND’s advantage a year ago, the Irish could not afford to make mistakes this past Saturday. They made them. USC made plenty of mistakes as well, but they were better equipped to endure their mistakes than the Irish.
This is not to say that Notre Dame did not have its chances. Passes were dropped. Passes were overthrown. JDB threw 2 interceptions and the offense did not capitalize. The Irish fumbled inside the 10 yard line, and consistently failed to capitalize in the red zone. Had they taken care of business when they needed to, things may have gone differently. Maybe with a few breaks, we’re sitting at #3 in the polls this week.
But that doesn’t change what was very obvious to me all night. USC had superior athletes, and they had a lot of them. Their receivers did not have problems getting open, and frankly, Dwayne Jarrett didn’t need to be open to make plays. Steve Smith was quiet for pretty much the entire game (Mike Richardson?), but Booty had plenty of time in the pocket to find just about everyone else. In order to get pressure on Booty, we had to bring the linebackers, which left the middle of the field wide open.
Quite in contrast, USC did not have to commit as many players to the rush in order to pressure Brady Quinn. It seemed like they could get decent pressure on the QB while dropping their linebackers into coverage. There were quite a few passes batted down not at the LOS, but by linebackers in coverage. Our receivers had a lot of problems getting open. The Trojan linebackers were fast, and their secondary was fast. Brady may have missed on a few passes and made some mistakes, but overall, I felt he played pretty well given the circumstances. I’m surprised he got through the night without throwing a pick or two.
Also in contrast was our offensive line. I hope some of the 6 guys that Charlie brought in last year are ready to contribute real soon, because we need help there. Darius may not have breakaway speed, but the problems with the running game fall on the line as far as I can tell. We need a gamebreaker, but even when we get him, he’s going to need a place to run. Not even the Rocket can run through a hole that isn’t there. As far as pass protection went, while Quinn was not sacked many times, he was constantly on the run or evading would be tacklers. You have to give your quarterback some time if you expect him to get into any type of a rhythm. Pass protection was inconsistent all night. Sometimes decent, sometimes nonexistent.
As far as playcalling goes, I can’t say I’m overly troubled by anything Charlie did. I like his super aggressive style, in contrast to the ultra-conservative Davie and TW’s of the world. It gets him burned occasionally, but it also keeps things dynamic and unpredictable. I believe when we have more talent across the board, it will make this team a lot of fun to watch. It’s tough to look like a great play caller if your running game is over matched and your wide receivers aren’t getting open.
I think the worst thing I took from this game is we’re a ways from being on USC’s talent level. That doesn’t mean we won’t be able to beat them in the near future, but it certainly means we’re going to need to play that “perfect” game to have a chance. In the meantime, I will refrain from choking myself while USC plays OSU in the title game… go Bruins…