In the year’s worst performance, the chickens came home to roost as five critical Irish errors enabled a 35-21 Oklahoma victory. Since the bowl game against FSU, the Notre Dame program and team had honored the first rule of winning college football games: DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF. While the Irish had not been perfect, they had been a smart football team and forced the opponent to make the first and most costly mistake. Not yesterday. And, while football games have random occurences and odd bounces of balls, occasionally the game is ruthlessly efficient, exacting a big price proportionate to the fatality of the error. Like yesterday.
Oddly, each of the three captains was complicit in one of the errors.
(1) Corey Nelson’s interception return for the 7-0 OU lead. The Blind Side. A popular movie, but yesterday a reality. Zach Martin leaned inside, leaving the outside (speed) rusher unimpeded, and he blindsided Rees, the ball fluttering to Corey Nelson who ran past the startled Irish.
(2) Rees throws an interception on the slant pattern. The target was TJ Jones, the ball, technically, was on the target but a less than pristine throw and a less than pristine grab by the normally reliable Jones deflected the ball
into the air for one of the wating, always swift Oklahoma defenders who returned it to the Notre Dame 32. After the short drive, OU was up 14-0 with less than 3 minutes gone
(3) Rees’ interception to Julian Wilson. This was entirely on Rees, but, after the Irish had clawed back, was most devastating in terms of time, momentum and field position. Julian Wilson interrupted the Irish drive on a ball that Rees, simply, should not have thrown, and what might have been the tying Irish drive ended on the OU 12.
(4) Captain Bennett Jackson pirouettes in end zone while Bester floats freely to catch a slow arching pass from Bell. Shortly after the Wilson interception the defense surrendered its only “pure” touchdown drive of the day, allowing OU, despite Bell’s limitations, to march downfield. Channeling his inner Clifford Jefferson, Captain Jackson was inexplicably turned around in the end zone allowing an easy pitch and catch for the 21-7 OU halftime lead.
(5) Grace and the safeties allowing a dink pass to Sterling Shepard to go 54 yards for a 35-21 OU lead. Again, the Irish had FOUGHT and were at a 27-21 deficit when Shepard ran in front of Grace, caught a mini-pass, went around Grace and then split the safeties who could not close. This was two chickens coming to roost. Grace hits hard, is aggressive and stops the run better than Fox. Collinoworth and Farley are more experienced, but slower and with less closing speed than Shumate and Redfield.
Bell and Shepard were able to take advantage of an aggressive substitution at linebacker and leverage that with a conservative substitution at safety to turn a first down into a touchdown.
This Notre Dame team is not the 2012 team. But it shares one thing with that team. Notre Dame does not have the quickness, athleticism and explosiveness to overcome a deficit in errors and mistakes. If they cut down the mistakes, they can win any game played before Thanksgiving weekend. If they make more mistakes than the opponent then they are in peril.
Now, to a few Gorillas. 800 pounds each, and they are in the room.
THE GORILLA THAT AIN’T LEAVING
Our quarterback can not run with the ball, and that deficiency is multiplied when the other QB is mobile. So far this year, the opposing QBs have rushed for 244 yards, the Irish QBs for -17 yards. It’s not changing, Everett Golson is not walking through that door.
THE GORILLA THAT TIME WILL ELIMINATE
The defensive line is not deep, and the absence of Sheldon Day was much more noticeable yesterday. Schwenke, Rochell and Jones are “merely” adequate, and while Rochell will be better next year, we need Day to heal.
THE GORILLA THE COACHING STAFF SHOULD AND WILL DISMISS
Remember, last year how much fun it was to talk about how the Irish had not trailed in a game for all those weeks? That allowed the defense to stay basic and conservative and the coaching staff to coddle Golson, and eke out narrow early wins over Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and BYU.
Consider this data from 2013:
First quarter, 9:25 gone, Michigan 10-Notre Dame 0
Second quarter, 4:56 gone, Purdue 10-Notre Dame 0
First quarter 2:45 gone, Oklahoma 14-Notre Dame 0
This team will play hard when they are behind, but cannot easily come from behind. The coaches, will, however, fix this.
Find of the game
George Atkinson-who has, if you watch your eyes rather than your emotions, been running much harder in 2013 than in 2012. He needs to catch the ball better, but he is an asset.
Inconvenient truth of the game:
Ever wonder why Kelly and Martin kept going to the sidelines in the first four games rather than slants, crossing patterns, and such in the middle? Could it be that Rees was less likely to make a bad decision when surveying and choosing the middle?
We will once again rate the Units
BCS BOWL CALIBER
Wide receivers – Davaris Daniels and TJ Jones are stars (at Wide Receiver, TJ, not so much as a punt returner), Chris Brown is growing before our eyes, and Corey Robinson is on some kind of upward trajectory. Daniel Smith, CJ Prosise and Will Fuller have contributed, and James Onwualu is on the verge. This kind of sneaked up on some of us, but it looks like we’ll have the wide receiver corps who can pressure secondaries for now and for years to come.
New Year’s Day Bowl Caliber
Defensive Line – Tuitt has returned to 2012 form, but we need to see a little more out of the substitutes before the expected grade bump. Know this: if we show up in Palo Alto with nobody to relieve the three starters, it may be like that fateful day, October 4, 1997, when Willingham’s Stanford team rushed for 330 yards against Davie’s Irish. Yep it happened: Willingham’s Stanford pound Davie’s Irish for 330 on the ground. Can Rochell improve in the off week and in October?
Running Backs – Not an All-American in the bunch. But not a dud in the bunch either. If you think Atkinson is not improved and running tougher, then start watching with your eyes rather than your emotions. McDaniel is channeling Jonas Gray, Carlisle is, for now, a poor man’s Theo Riddick, Folston is getting more comfortable, and Bryant will soon be heard from. This group needs to improve pass catching and their timing with Rees (he is not blameless here) to move up.
Intriguing to watch this group for the next 7 games.
Offensive Line – A much better unit than 2012 as the coaches are now comfortable running power over the right side as well as the left. Have allowed only four sacks in five games in a pass heavy offense, and they adjust well to blitzes. The Academies, Pitt and BYU provide an opportunity to develop some depth.
Linebackers – Vulnerable to the pass and could be more physical, but Grace may have arrived, despite the Shepard play, which is a correctable error. Great depth at OLB. If they survive against the underneath patterns of ASU, they will be bumped up. A word about Jaylon Smith. Sometimes he contributes the most when you do not notice him. His coverage skills are NFL-caliber TODAY!
You can’t always follow the ball and see Jaylon. But he simply removes a receiver from being a target.
Cornerbacks – KeiVarae Russell seemed to “arrive” during the Michigan State game. Earth Wind and Fire: “Do you remember the 21st night of September , Love (or KeiVarae) was changing the mind of pretenders.” He is confident and aggressive and that is much of the battle to play man-to-man. Probably our best cornerback. With the burgeoning depth, (Butler seems confident and athletic out there.) this unit may move up after the SC game. Hopefully, they’ll never repeat that Three Stooges head-knocker on that intermediate pass to Gallon that beame a long touchdown. For now, we’ll call Bennett Jackson’s coverage disaster against Bester an aberration, but with an asterisk.
Rees – limited but can still win games, except when called on to air it out when the Irish trail by 14. There is a reason the September 2012 decision went Golson’s way. Best area for immediate improvement is improved timing and touch with the running backs coming out of the backfield. We will need that against Stanford (we’ll need a lot of things against Stanford) and a bowl opponent.
Tight Ends – Dropped a notch because of lack of depth. Troy Niklas may be America’s most dangerous tight end, but Koyack can not seem to relax and settle in. Koyack may just be trying TOO hard. Where’s Welch? It looked like a three headed monster in Spring, but without the ability to deploy enough TES for the 2 tight end sets, this hurts. Particularly in the Shamrock Series game against ASU, when the two TE set might have been the base set.
Safety – the veterans are not imposing athletically, the great athletes are not yet experienced. But this area has some nice pieces to work with and Elliott and Cooks are not chumps. Remember there are still two open dates before we play Stanford. This, along with running back, is an area where we could see improved performance and productivity each and every week. Remember this, everybody’s back next year, and Baratti should be healthy.
What will we see in Arlington?
(1) Todd “Kiffin-Killer” Graham, who is 1-1 against Brian Kelly, having coached Tulsa to a victory in Notre Dame Stadium, and who kept Pitt close in Ketchup Stadium until Jonas Gray had the big run. He has stabilized and elevated the Sun Devil program. Of his 25 recruits for 2013, 12 were from California, 4 from Texas.
(2) Good hit, no field-the Sun Devils. Have allowed 38 points per game in their last three.
(3) Taylor Kelly, BY FAR the best quarterback we will have seen so far, and he might be better than Stanford’s Hogan. He runs on set plays, scrambles and can reset when he scrambles. The Devils like to run tempo, and release and hit their receivers quickly.
(4) Marion Grice is a good back, but probably a notch below the backs we faced against OU.
(5) The Sun Devil front seven can be muscled we should be able to move the ball on them.
(6) For the first time this year, a scheduling break. Arizona State is coming off three big games, Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. They are probably at least as much on fumes as we are.
(7) The chance for a completely useless collegiate football record. We can become the only team to ever win four games in a row in the Shamrock Series. Baby steps, lads, baby steps!
(8) Some light at the end of the tunnel. This Notre Dame team could use an off week, and this coaching staff has some interesting things to work on.
(9) An opportunity for the offense to bail out the defense. It hasn’t happened since 2011 Remember, ANY win will do on Saturday.