Sunday, October 07, 2007

Odds & Sods - Rose Parade Edition | by Mike

Due to my viewing circumstances and inability to record the game, there may be some mistakes here. Please chime in with any corrections.

Pick up the Change. Throughout the 0-5 start, penalties and turnovers left the Irish on the losing end of field position exchanges. Once again, the Irish committed costly penalties. The trademark penalty-on-a-punt-return-that-would-have-given-ND-good field-position (POAPRTWHGNDGFP) occurred not once, but twice. Notre Dame was penalized 8 times for 61 yards, and gave the Bruins three first downs by penalty. Fortunately, the Irish finally ran into a team that was even more penalty-prone. UCLA was penalized 11 times for 93 yards, and gave the Irish a like number of first downs by penalty. While the Irish held even on penalties, they enjoyed a monstrous advantage in turnover margin. The Irish won the turnover battle 7-0, resulting in a two-score victory over a team that produced twice the amount of total offense. Obviously, several of these turnovers resulted from UCLA playing a walk-on QB. However, Ben Olson and Kahlil Bell did account for two of the turnovers. More importantly, the Irish enjoyed the seven turnover margin because they did not turn the ball over once against Dewayne Walker's attacking defense. Hopefully this ball security will continue.

Rushed and Rushed and Attacked. For most of the game, the Irish played an attacking defense that thoroughly disrupted UCLA's offense. The Irish may have been able to stick with this because they were facing the inexperienced McLeod Bethel-Thompson (who, I believe, is our first immediate induction to the BGS All-Name Team since Jamoris Slaughter back in June), but the Irish were aggressive on defense from the outset. Even before Olson left, the Irish brought pressure like we hadn't seen this season. In fact, the snakebitten Olson suffered his knee injury when he was sandwiched by Laws and a blitzing Zbikowski. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal continued to show impressive pass rush ability for two guys that were in high school a few months ago. Smith shows how Corwin Brown's hire has had instant impact on the defense.

You Talk Way Too Much. A frequent complaint of Irish fans over the past few years is that, aside from notable exceptions like the 2005 USC game, the team has not seemed to play with a lot of emotion. Several times we have seen opposing players have give the Irish bulletin board material, only to see the other team come out fired up, as if they were the ones who had been called out. Against UCLA, it looks like the Irish finally responded to trash talk. The Irish played with the abandon fans have been dying to see. The defense, in particular, seemed to be looking to make plays in any way possible. When they didn't actually sack the quarterback, they made a final lunge to hit the QB's arm as he released the ball or to deflect the ball at the line of scrimmage. Maurice Crum ripped the ball out of Kahlil Bell's hands. These are the effort plays that can make up for youth and inexperience throughout the depth chart. Davis may have had the best game by a Bruin, including key sacks on Notre Dame's first plays following turnovers, but if his words and actions (taking Tate to the ground by the facemask) are what fired up the Irish, then Davis was a net gain for Notre Dame. From Brian Dohn's UCLA blog:

"Number 44 (Davis) helped them out," Weis said. "You don’t think they noticed when someone says you’re a pile of crap?"
Run Run Run. When the score was 6-3, I remember thinking to myself that the first team to commit to the running game would win the game. The Irish did eventually end up focusing on the run, though this appeared to be largely a reaction to the big plays the defense produced. Whatever the reason, it proved to be an effective strategy, as Notre Dame almost doubled UCLA in second half time of possession (19:15 to 10:45) and the Irish were content to eat clock in the fourth quarter.

Suddenly Everything Has Changed. The turning point in the game (aside from Olson's injury) was the fourth-down stop on the first possession of the second half. On their last drive of the first half, Bethel-Thompson drove the UCLA offense forty yards for a go-ahead field goal. On their next possession, Bethel-Thompson had taken the UCLA offense over thirty yards, down to the Notre Dame 32. The UCLA players were on the verge of gaining confidence in their ability to move the ball with Bethel-Thompson at quarterback. Then on 4th-and-1, UCLA attempted to pass and the Irish defense was all over the play. Maurice Crum sacked Bethel-Thompson for an eight-yard loss and the Irish offense had the ball in excellent field position. The Irish offense then responded with a field goal and the floodgates opened shortly thereafter. All the momentum would remain on Notre Dame's side until the Irish were themselves stopped on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

Today's Special. Against Purdue, the Irish misfired on five points in the kicking game. Against MSU, they allowed a huge return to start the second half. I didn't see how ND could win a game until special teams were fixed. Against UCLA, the Irish finally played well on special teams, even considering the two penalties on punt returns. The gains produced by the defense easily could have been surrendered by poor special teams play, but the Irish special teams came through. In the decisive third quarter, there were two key special teams plays. First, Walker's 48-yard field goal salvaged a drive that looked as if it may have been killed by a personal foul penalty. Walker's career long kept momentum on Notre Dame's side. Tying the game also let UCLA know that if they were going to win, their offense would have to put points on the board. They were not going to be able to win this game with a baseball score, and the pressure on their walk-on QB mounted. A couple minutes later, beleaguered punter Geoff Price dropped a punt at the 1-yardline, setting up the David Bruton interception that led to the go-ahead score.

I Fought The Law. And the Laws won. Maurice Crum had an incredible stat line against UCLA - seven tackles, including a sack on fourth down, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. Crum became the first Irish player ever to record four turnovers. As impressive as Crum's line was, the player that stood out the most to me, once again, was Trevor Laws. Laws contributed five tackles from his defensive end position, a sack, and two deflections. He also hit Bethel-Thompson's arm on one of Crum's interceptions. Despite the trying season, the fifth-year senior never takes plays off.