Notre Dame Football: Are the No. 10 Irish the Next Alabama?

Dan StockrahmAnalyst ISeptember 25, 2012

TJ is givin' the high fives all around after UM went down.
TJ is givin' the high fives all around after UM went down.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s been a few days, but Touchdown Jesus is still high-fiving, and for good reason.

After three long and sometimes gruesome years, Notre Dame has finally beaten back the skunk-colored infestation of filthy Northern Weasels, holding the furry uber-liberals without a touchdown and less than 300 yards in total offense.

While not on par with the defensive beatdown Sparty took in Week 3, it was pretty sweet to watch another Michigan team fail to get in the end zone for the second week in a row.

In mourning for their season, the over 6,000 ultra-unique coffee shops in Ann Arbor are still serving lattes at half-froth.

To make matters better, He Who Shuns Laces for no known reason was held to 90 yards rushing and 138 passing after torching the Irish for 16,463 million yards per game in 2010 and 2011.

More importantly, to prove that the 2011 Irish are not the only ones that can hand out footballs like they’re Jehovah Witness flyers, He Whose Knots Are Inexplicably Lax also tossed four thoroughly horrible picks and rolled a fumble to us for good measure.

Brimming with confidence in the mighty right arm and superior field judgment of his starting QB, at one point offensive coordinator Al Borges had his running back take a shot at winging it blindly at our secondary.


After watching the rest of the game, the resulting interception was at least generally directed at his own player, making it one of the better throws of the night.

It was so bad Slimfast’s Poster Enemy No. 1 Brady Hoke called me at halftime and offered me a cool helmet and a QB scholarship if I could get to South Bend before the fourth quarter.

Due to complications from two shots of Jameson with Guinness chasers coupled with expertly hidden car keys, I didn’t bite on his traitorous offer.

As a consequence, for the first time in the recent Fighting Irish-Stink Bear rivalry, UM lost and Notre Dame’s defense didn’t launch a certain open-shoed Badger look-alike to the head of the Heisman Watch List.

In so doing, that leaves the Fighting Irish at 4-0 for the year and on a collision course with the Alabama Crimson Tide for the BCS championship, where we can finally show the country that we are as good as anything the SEC can throw out there.



Is Our Defense Really Alabama-Esque?

Technically, the Irish defense showed SEC-like ability against UM, at least the numbers say we did.


In the opening ceremonial mass human sacrifice of U of M this season, Alabama’s semi-pro football team gave up 200 yards passing and a TD to he who will be called Shoelaces (since he doesn’t tie them? What philosopher came up with, “You are what you do not tie"?). The Tide also grabbed three picks and produced a lot of panic.

Notre Dame’s defense held the confusingly named Shoelace to only 138 yards passing, picked him off no less than four times, forced a fumble, and generally did not give him adequate time to tie said laces should he have opted to change monikers.

What little pride the Big Ratniks had left coming out of the beating Alabama gave them was eviscerated in a debacle of UM miscues against a relatively solid Irish D—ending UM’s prospects for a big year and trouncing the last ounce of respect the Big Ten had left in 2012.

But does that defensive performance have the Notre Dame faithful yelling “Roll Irish Roll” all the way to the title game?

Well, no one put us at #2 in the polls, did they?

While the Irish D looked good in spots, it didn’t stone the Winged Helmets.

Remember, a bored Alabama defense that played its second string half the game held UM to 69 yards rushing and 2.4 yards per carry, including 27 very painful-looking rushing yards to the single non-laced opponent.

Notre Dame gave up 161 yards rushing to the same helmets, 90 to the QB we schemed against for two years.

Alabama stuffed Michigan’s offense, forcing four turnovers and six punts, making first downs a very big deal for the broadcast crew and their immediate families.

Against ND, the Big House Boys had six bad turnovers but punted to the Irish just once on Saturday.

While ND managed to control Michigan’s offense around a boatload of Wolverine turnovers, the Crimson Tide simply destroyed it.

The Tide didn't just scare the crap out of Michigan with a gaudy reputation and striking red outfits - they played like they were still National Champions, which, strangely enough, they are.

Forget that Alabama led the nation in almost every defensive statistical category last year, and forget that Alabama has slumped all the way down to second in the nation in scoring defense so far this year.

It’s not always what you do, but how you do it.

As my good friend George S. Pattonstein recently said, “Alabama ran through possibly the best offensive line in the Big Ten like crap through a goose.”

I am not demeaning another strong effort by a young Notre Dame defense, but if you watched both games, no one should be saying we are in the same league as Saban’s well-coached wrecking crew.

On paper we have similar size and speed.

On the field the Irish D is stout up front, solid at linebacker, and inexperienced but fast and athletic in the secondary.

Alabama’s defense is just flat out scary everywhere, and they have a coach that knows how to use fear to his advantage.

Notre Dame’s defense beat Michigan.

Alabama’s defense annihiliated them.


Is Our Offense Alabama-Esque?

I don’t think I’m giving away any government secrets when I say offensively the Irish are not that good right now, and not even in the same hemisphere as Alabama’s punishing O.

If the ‘Bama D is this year’s standard for college football’s Immovable Object, their offense is fast auditioning for the Irresistible Force award.

Just so you know, although justifiably reknowned for their defensive superiority, the 2012 version of the Reddish Colored Tide is currently 13th in the country in scoring offense, with a balanced mix of rushing for 201 a game and passing for another 221.

With all of the fancy schmancy college offenses around the country spreading out the field and putting up video game numbers, Alabama’s O is scoring 42 points a game doing the one thing defenses truly fear.

It runs you over. Again and again. Until you are flat like paper and wet from all the blood and crying.

For comparison’s sake, Notre Dame’s current offensive line is big, averaging 6’3” and 304 lbs.

Alabama’s  front five go 6’4” and 314 lbs across a good portion of southern Alabama, and any one of them would probably be our best lineman if he could make grades and had any curiosity about what snow looked like.


Any defensive coordinator will tell you that there is no scheme against five athletic mountain-sized Road Graders lining up side by side and looking for a fight every snap.

Alabama’s QB A. J. McCarron is very underrated and efficient, but nothing special. However, any QB in the country is going to look damn good when every D-Coordinator in his right mind has to put 8 men in the box every play and pray for a pass.

And yes, their running backs are studs, their receivers are fast and athletic, and their mamas and aunties could probably beat most JUCO teams on speed alone.

Frankly, none of that matters. If you gave Notre Dame ‘Bama’s current herd of big, fast mammoth O-Linemen, we would all be talking about what a stud Everett Golson is, and whether Cierre Wood is in line for his second Heisman.

They are that friggin’ good.

As it is, Notre Dame is again muddling along with an offense that is 86th  in scoring, 86th  in passing, and 89th  in rushing, and that’s after we pegged 50 on a hapless Navy squad.

Last weekend my 90-year-old mom and her older sister Helen put down their knitting needles long enough to hang 35 on Navy in two quarters of action before they got bored and went back to the bar to split a fifth of Wild Turkey and arm wrestle the locals.

The same UM D-Line that ‘Bama chewed up for 232 yards rushing and had pass protection measured with a calender stoned ND’s O-line to the tune of 94 yards rushing and harassed the Irish QBs all day long.

As we’ll all admit, Notre Dame’s QB situation, while promising, is still in the earliest stages of the “work-in-process” process.

Alabama’s offense, like its defense, has no real weaknesses, just slower poisons.

We have a number of issues on offense that can only be ironed out with more time and talent, and we have yet to have a breakout performance against a top 40 front seven in Kelly's tenure.

Phi Slamma ‘Bama we are not.



So where are we in the scheme of today’s college powerhouses?

We are not a threat to take the title, and though undefeated, we haven’t proven a lot to anyone other than our defense is coming along nicely despite the diapers in the secondary and our offense often still looks like Brian Kelly is in his first week, not his third year.

By anyone’s definition, we’re definitely not Alabama, but then, the only one with that package this year is Alabama.

The way our offense sputters and stalls against anybody that plays sound college defense, we’re not likely even Stanford or USC- ish either.

The AP poll says we’re the 10th-best team in the US, but the same poll said Michigan was the eighth-best team in the country just three short weeks ago, and we now know what that vote of confidence will buy you.

After coming down from two coolers of Kool-Aid, we have to admit we have three wins against teams we beat last year on the way to an 8-5 season, and we have the same QB issues with an offensive line that consistently schools the little boys and struggles against the grown ups.

The 2012 Irish looked extremely bad offensively in beating a pretty average Michigan squad that clipped us at the buzzer in 2011 and misfired just once too often to do it again in 2012.

So who are we?

We are a young team with a rising defense and some good talent at several skill positions.

We are a team in need of a seasoned quarterback that can also create plays with his arm or his legs to maximize Kelly's offense, and right now we have to pick between the former or the latter.

We are a team in desperate need of an offensive line that can consistently shove a good defense around and protect a QB that is still learning, not just pinball bottom 50 teams.

We are a team that is a long way from the Alabama’s of the world, but so is 95% of college football.

What we are is a team that can play with anybody if the mistakes are kept to a minimum.

We are ND.

For right now, we are undefeated, 10th-ranked ND.

It's good to be there, and it will take a lot of work to stay there.

But it's good to be back.


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