Monday, September 18, 2006

Upon Further Review - Week 3 | by Dylan

National Championships and Heisman Trophies are overrated anyway...

The typical UFR post is written after watching the weekly CFB wrap-up show on ESPN and scouring through the sports page of the L.A. Times. I’ll make some smart-alecky remarks about how poorly some of the teams on our schedule played, talk about creampuff scheduling, compare Joe Tiller to Wilford Brimley, you know the drill. Well, I watched three and a half hours of football yesterday, and that was enough. No SportsCenter, no L.A. Times. So this week’s UFR is devoted exclusively to the “Fighting” Irish. I have not re-watched the abomination, so I’ll beg your pardon in advance for any small factual errors. If you don’t like Notre Dame alums trashing their alma mater's football team, stop reading. If you’re thinking about filling up our comments box with notes about how I’m an ass and we have to be supportive of the players, don’t. Start your own blog and rip me there. I'm mad and I'm tired and I feel like I did on September 2, 1995 (which beats the numbness of November 1, 2003, I suppose), and you can take this for what it's worth.

In brief, our players got what they deserved.

In years past, particularly the Davieham years, one needed look no further than the head coach when the Irish were on the receiving end of humiliations like the one that happened on Saturday. You could tell that the game plan (or lack thereof) was the primary reason for our team getting pole-axed. Was Weis’ game plan to blame for last Saturday’s catastrophe? I don’t see how it could be. By the time the Irish ran their twelfth play, they were already down 20-7. Throw the script out the window. By the time they ran their twenty-third play, it was 34-7 and the game was over. In a non-Pearl Harbor type of game, ND’s twentieth play would have been when they began hitting their stride, taking advantage of adjustments made. For that reason, I don’t see the game as a strategic failure. However, Weis is responsible for the attitude and mental preparation of the team. For allowing this group of pre-season all-world prima donnas (on offense, at least) to show up for this game expecting to stroll out on to the field and beat Michigan, Weis earns an F-.

I also have a hard time finding too much fault with the defense, outside of the fact that Ty Willingham recruited a lot of guys who can’t play the linebacker position better than a backup running back and a 5th cornerback. While the corners did not play well, the defense gave up 150 yards passing if you take out the Ted Ginn…er, Mario Manningham bomb, and 340 yards overall to a skilled offense. The defense was not the problem in this game. They intercepted a pass on UM’s third play and forced a three-and-out on UM’s second possession. They gave up one big play and then had to defend a 27 yard long field after the fumbled kickoff. After ten minutes of play in which they forced a turnover, a punt, and allowed 36 non-bomb yards, they were down 20-7. Their reward? Another Irish three-play drive and being sent back out onto their own half of the field. In the first half, the offense let the defense rest by going on four epic three-and-out drives and one spectacular 5-play drive. The Irish mounted eight first half “drives.” The first seven were over in 22 plays. The result? The defense was made to take the field seven times, was forced to play twenty of the first thirty minutes, and gave up 242 yards and 27 points. Despite being hung out to dry by the offense, the defense gave up only two field goals in the second half.

(By the way, the Michigan game and the two games before it are that much more evidence -- call it "exhibit Z" -- that Kevin White needs to be fired. There is simply no excuse for allowing Big Ten officials to call a game between Notre Dame and Michigan. And let me be perfectly clear, the officiating had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the game (if the Irish had an ounce of heart on Saturday, it might have). However, either our opponents have been the best coached squads in the history of the universe, or there is something funky going on, particularly with the holding penalties. Notre Dame has been flagged about ten times so far this year (at least three of which were complete fabrications), while our opponents have not been called for holding once that I can remember. Officials from BCS conferences have an undeniable conflict of interest when it comes to Notre Dame. That White would allow not just BCS conference officials, but officials from our opponents’ conferences, is a demonstration of naivete at best and a negotiated surrender at worst. It’s an untenable situation that has to change, because it has, and will, cost us wins.)

Brady Quinn had the worst game of his life on Saturday. He’s picked a bad time to have a bad year. In addition to his 3 INTs and fumble on Saturday, he’s thrown about 5 balls that were flat dropped by opposing defenses. It’s a miracle that he doesn’t have more turnovers than touchdowns. We’ll have to hope that he begins playing better now that the Heisman is out of reach (the door-slamming counterargument to his candidacy is the replay of the ball flopping out of his hand and being run into the endzone by LaMarr Woodley, one of the most inept plays in the history of Irish football.). I don’t doubt he will, since he and Darius Walker are the only two players on the offense that I trust to show up every week. But he’s got to get the ball down, which might be difficult because...

This is the worst offensive line I’ve ever seen in my years of watching Notre Dame football. Before the season, when pundits were ooohing and ahhhing over the offense, I cringed when I would hear them talk about the “outstanding veteran offensive line.” A million combined starts doesn’t matter if you suck, and the seniors on the interior have been so very average for years now. It’s a testament to the absolute horribleness of Tyrone Willingham’s recruiting that these guys are playing. Morton whiffs more than Dave Kingman. He, Sullivan, and Santucci communicate about as well as Ali G and Pat Boo-Cannon, and they’re trying to get Quinn killed. Well, at least there are plenty of Juniors and Sophomores pushing them, ready to take their place when they screw up. Oh wait. @$%& YOU, TY!

Rhema McKnight has become Maurice Stovall…circa 2004. I don’t know if he expected to breeze through this season, racking up the yards and touchdowns that his backups did last year, but he’s just not there yet. I’m willing to chalk some of it up to the layoff, but he’s had more balls bounce off his hands than…well, I’ll keep this PG. But you get the picture. That’s a concentration issue, and it’s costing the team points. He has to do better if the Irish are going to beat good teams.

I don’t generally like getting into psychoanalyzing why players do stupid things, but I am completely bumfuzzled by Jeff Samardzija this year. I don’t want to say he’s dogging it, but he certainly seems less hungry (tired sports cliché alert) this year. He appeared to give up on Burgess’ second interception, running away from a blocker and leaving the dirty work for McKnight 10 yards down the field. It seemed out of character and I couldn’t help thinking about the Cubs and those seven million dollars. Shark (16 catches, 160 yards, 2 TDs, 1-2, 2.70 ERA, 17 SO through three games) needs to start playing like a backup again. Like Quinn, his dreams of postseason awards are over, and he needs to realize that he’s on the verge of becoming a footnote instead of a legend.

Here is the bottom line. Notre Dame has only once before lost a game that badly when ranked that highly (1945 versus Army). There have only been 19 worse margins of defeat in the past 50 years. It was the seventh worst home loss in history, putting Weis in the company of Brennan (2), Kuharich (2), and Willingham (3). Lou Holtz and Dan Devine never lost by more than 25 points in 202 games. Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian combined for 3 losses of more than 25 points in 223 games. I’m not pointing that out to say that Weis is applying for membership in one club or the other, but that beat-downs like we experienced on Saturday are historic occurrences. His players let him down, to be sure. But let’s not make a habit of it, alright Coach?

MSU is up next. You would think that between last year's game and last Saturday's debacle, Sparty is in for a long day. But, you'd never have thought that we'd go down 34-7 in the first twenty-eight minutes against Michigan. At this point, I'd say MSU is a 50/50 proposition. The good news? Win this one and it looks like a date with Southern Cal for a BCS bid is well within reach.

Hallelujah! Pass the Tylenol...

Go Irish.