On a weekend when the sports media bubbled over with Veteran’s Day references, Notre Dame’s offense, in whole and in part, was simply overrun by Arizona State’s blitz package. It involved as much shock, awe, cost and casualty, discounting for the fact that football remains a delightful, but essentially, extracurricular, activity, as North Viet Nam’s Tet Offensive did in ’68 in the real life and death struggle of combat. Todd Graham, simply, was the better man, playing the role of General Vo Nguyen Giap to Kelly’s befuddled Westmoreland.
With 3:46 remaining in the first quarter, the Sun Devils kicked a field goal to tie the Irish at 3-3. In the next 4:26 of game action, which seemed like an eternity in the watching, Arizona State scored 21 points from three Irish turnovers, combining two drives totaling 36 yards with a Pick 6 to move to a roaring, daunting 24-3 lead. The Sun Devils smelled blood in the water, and the Irish never regained the lead.
The ASU blitz ripped the heart and rhythm out of the Notre Dame offense:
(1) Eliminated the running attack
(2) Lessened the passes to the running backs, a maturing weapon for the Irish
(3) Sacks-a shameful SEVEN
(4) Ten tackles for loss
(5) Turnovers-FIVE of them
(6) Red zone inefficiency.
If the bad snap on the field goal was not enough, the final explosive cherry on top of Graham’s percussive Molotov Cocktail was when the elegant one, Corey Robinson, he who enjoys the legacy of his Dad’s hands, bobbled a ball that Sundevilishly bounced into the hands of Lloyd Carrington for a 48-31 ASU lead with under four minutes left.
Yeah, the Irish fought back. They did not quit. But this “thing of ours” is not about spunk and honor in defeat. It mandates and feeds on victory.
WHERE DOES THE OFFENSE GO FROM HERE?
Consider two meetings.
The first is Brian Kelly with himself, perhaps looking in the mirror while shaving. The most dangerous lies are the lies we tell to ourselves. And Kelly must ask himself “How did I, Brian Kelly, not see this coming, how did I let it happen?” And please answer honestly!
The second is with the offensive staff, and maybe even Golson. Denbrock must answer with Kelly as to how the whole offense was overrun. Alford must answer how Folston, 18 months into his Notre Dame career is so completely incompetent at blitz pickup. Hiestand must be asked what went wrong with 7 sacks, ten lost yardage plays and how we fix it, and Matt LaFleur must answer questions about Golson. “What are we as a staff doing now that we must STOP doing?” “What are we as an offensive staff now doing that we must improve or correct?” “What are we as an offensive staff NOT doing that we must START doing?”
And Golson must be asked, calmly, paternally, rehabilitatively, what we can do to help him and what he will do to help us. “Fix the problems, not the blame.”
22 plays. That is the total aggregate of turnovers committed, sacks allowed and plays for loss allowed.
That just won’t do.
WHAT’S AT STAKE NOW?
Certainly not a playoff birth. But suddenly, the rest of the season now becomes as important for 2015 and beyond as it does for successfully concluding 2014. This is a tricky time, as the playoff bubble has burst. The coaches and players have to decide RIGHT NOW how they’re going to respond against Northwestern, Louisville and USC and in a bowl game. That response, that level of dedication, focus and accountability, or its absence, will materialy impact 2015. With four games left, the coaches and team can commit to have the best four game stretch since 2012. Anything less…….
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST NORTHWESTERN?
(1) A second tier program in a decaying conference. The Wildcats are 3-6 and several notches below Fitzgerald’s best squads.
(2) 50 years later, a fond memory of Ara Raoul Parseghian. Bum Phillips used to say that the mark of a great coach was “he can take your’n and beat his’n and take his’n and beat your’n”. Ara was the head coach for 13 Northwestern-Notre Dame games. Ara was 13-0, ND 9-4 and Northwestern 4-9 in those same 13 games. Somewhere, Bum Phillips smiled.
(3) Northwestern scores 18 points per game, yields 23 points per game. They gain 324 yards per game, yield 373 per game. Their best win was against Wisconsin, their worst loss against Northern Illinois.
(4) Last chance for the Irish to play a lot of reserves, as two solid teams complete the regular season for the Irish: Louisville and USC.
For those who want the Irish to fight back and respond to the embarrassment in Tempe, it makes sense, and moral and emotional symmetry, to get all in and root hard for the squad.