Notre Dame Football: Are the 2012 Irish for Real?
Tis’ good to be Irish these days. From the gaudy 5-0 record to the No. 7 AP national ranking, there’s a heady warmth debatably rivaled only by a warm hearth, a good Irish whiskey and a mother’s love.
In my case, throw in a mother’s love of good whiskey, hearth be damned.
Yes, with the course of events so far this blessed season, GEICO is considering making one of its asinine “As happy as…” commercials centered around the Notre Dame alumni.
But the question remains: Just how good is this year's version of the Fighting Irish?
Case No. 1: The 2012 Irish Success Is a Product of Poor Competition
Even with all the fantabulous success so far, this year’s squad still has many doubters, primarily because all of our opponents have hit some serious snags.
Preseason No. 8 Michigan was head-stomped and schooled by Alabama, while a 4-1 Miami was bone-crushed and spit out by Kansas State before getting pantsed by ND at Soldier Field.
Brian Kelly’s “signature” dominating defensive win at MSU looks much less impressive after Sparty got nipped by the Buckeyes and registered pedestrian performances against the likes of graduation-ravaged Boise State and perennial conference doormat Indiana.
What was thought to be a much tougher Purdue team just laid a 44-13 stink-egg at home against Michigan.
And the doubting won’t end next week if ND takes down a 4-1 17th ranked Stanford team.
Yes, the Cardinal beat USC and boasts a front seven almost as impressive as the team GPA.
Unfortunately, a Stanford team that is still rugged but newly Luck-less barely squeaked by mighty San Jose State in the opener, before losing to the a Washington Less-Than-Husky team that was simply helpless in a 41-3 loss to LSU.
It didn’t help that Stanford had to come from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter at home to hand RichRod’s mediocre Arizona team its third Pac-12 loss in three tries.
And no, it doesn’t end there. Mighty Oklahoma with Heisman hopeful QB Landry Jones and their lofty No. 4 preseason rank got kicked to the curb by Kansas State at home.
USC’s multi-layer stack of store-bought 5-star athletes, early Heisman front-runner QB Matt Barkley and their preseason No. 2 ranking crashed earthward with a close loss at Stanford in Week 3.
If ND goes undefeated for the regular season, there will still be a big portion of college football and media pundits that will say that the Irish got lucky against a bunch of bums.
Case No. 2: In an Era of Big Time Offense, ND Isn't Offensive Enough
West Virginia and QB Geno Smith are putting up numbers that are insane. Oregon's and Oklahoma's offenses look more like track meets. Alabama's offense looks like the world's fastest meat grinder.
Notre Dame's offense often looks like it has trouble calling timeouts.
More often than not, the brand new Irish offense with their brand new QB has looked shaky at times, with EG looking down right shell-shocked against UM and Tommy Rees filling in with his best imitation of Tommy Rees, but without flinging it at a crowded secondary every fourth throw.
Notre Dame has won, but has shown some predictable inconsistency on offense with a freshman QB, lots of new receivers and an O-Line that has had good days and bad days.
The Irish offense struggled with sacks, limited accuracy and a tepid running game against Purdue and their interior linemen that weighed in at well over 300 cheeseburgers apiece.
The Irish barely scratched out 300 yards against a Spartan defense that has more headlines than actual hits.
A subsequent pseudo-QB platoon system labored to move the chains against a very vulnerable Michigan group that was helpless against Alabama's massive line.
Style points are not there either.
In the process of getting plays in, the Irish typically try to burn all of our timeouts in the first quarter to get them out of the way.
I think Kelly took one time out in pre-game warm-ups just to jump start the process.
From game to game, redshirt freshman Everett Golson looked good, looked OK, looked not OK, looked very not OK, then looked awful damn good.
Along the way, the untested defensive secondary gave up big plays through the air against a very limited Navy team, and at times has done full circles on simple out patterns.
Miami started the game with consecutive wide open deep balls that my fat uncle Frank with stubby fingers could catch but were dropped by an over-excited 18-year-old.
Some writers point out that when you sub in Miami for a last year’s Maryland and give Denard a last minute drive instead of a Tommy Rees to Tyler Eifert fourth-quarter first down, this is the same set of teams ND beat a year ago on the way to an ugly 8-5 season.
If you’re a talking head inclined to pop Irish Nation’s balloon, there’s plenty of pins out there.
Case No. 3: The 2012 Irish Are One of the Better Teams in the Country
Whether the haters like it or not, the Fighting Irish are 5-0, crushing an outmanned Navy squad and outlasting Purdue, with dominating defensive wins against the much hated toga-covered rivals from Sparta and the overly intellectual Weasel denizens of the Ann Arbor coffee shops.
They wiped the floor with The U.
While the offense has struggled at times, it’s still averaging 28.8 points a contest against four scoring defenses that are ranked 15th, 38th, 51st and 60th in the country.
I openly admit whatever Miami was doing was not defense, but four out of five ain’t bad.
That works particularly well when the Irish are second in the United States of America in scoring defense at 7.8 ppg, giving up only three touchdowns all year.
To give the Irish faithful some needed perspective, so far we’ve given up a total of three TDs to five different teams this year. Twenty quarters…three touchdowns.
We gave up four touchdowns to Michigan last year in the fourth quarter.
The Irish have also improved their defensive play in other key areas.
After finishing third from crappiest in the country in turnover margin last year, the Irish are up a mere 110 spots to eighth in the country. The Irish already have eight interceptions in five games, the same total they had in 13 games in 2011.
And they haven’t been doing it against the Arthritic Sisters of the Blind.
Say what you will about the Big Ten, and they probably deserve it. But the Irish have beaten two of their best teams and another that will be in the middle of the pack, giving up a total of two touchdowns to the entire conference.
A 2012 Miami Hurricane offense put up video game numbers against a good Georgia Tech team and an NC State squad that just pasted a big fat “L” on third-ranked Florida State.
Coming into the game, Miami QB Stephen Morris was slipping into the early Heisman tweets.
The same Hurricane O was more of a gentle breeze against the Irish D, checking in with less than 300 yards in offense and a single field goal to light up their side of the scoreboard like a damp road flare.
Ironically, our best linebacker is playing like U-Miami Alum Ray Lewis in his prime, albeit with an IQ, and our offense against the U looked like something as perfect as Jimmy Johnson’s hair.
The numbers, the competition and the results say ND deserves to be where they are.
Case No. 4: The Irish Are the 7th-Best Team in the Country
So we're good, but are we the seventh-best team in the nation?
Fact of the matter, win a few in a row and the pollsters go gaga until somebody proves them wrong.
Case in point, on the road to 5-0 start last year the Michigan Weaselines had taken down such mighty programs as 3-9 Western Michigan, 6-6 Eastern Michigan and a 3-9 Minnesota Golden Gopher team that may have actually had real gophers on their roster at several key positions.
Of course, for their signature win, UM rode five Irish turnovers to beat ND at night at home in the last two seconds after giving up 513 yards and looking generally horrible all game.
No one said that the 2011 UM BCS team was over-hyped despite a QB that threw punts, and a No. 19 ranking that held up through a beat down by MSU, a loss at 7-6 Iowa and one of the softest schedules in UM history.
After not winning their conference and getting pounded by two of the three quality opponents they played all year, there was only one obvious penalty: A BCS Bowl.
If that Michigan team deserved a BCS game, this year’s ND team should be in the National Championship game if it loses the last seven.
At least so far, this team has earned every pollster's respect.
We've done exactly what No. 6 Kansas State did to Miami, plus we beat a No. 18 Michigan (now No. 25) and a then No. 10 MSU on the road at their hell-hole.
Notre Dame is not the 2012 Houston Cougars and a high school schedule.
We are ND.
The 2012 Irish deserve to be right where they are until somebody proves otherwise.
Forget the talking heads and believe what you see.
Fact is, no matter what the Irish do, detractors will say, “Sure, you’re undefeated, but you haven’t played anybody.”
To Mr. Detractor, I say, “Shut your piehole.”
Unlike the deeply flawed UM squad of last year, or the Boise State’s in any year of their FBS existence, this year’s Irish have performed admirably against good competition—not SEC good, but pretty damn good.
Although we are not yet back to spanking the nation’s elite on a regular basis, those of us that were there in the late '70s know this feeling…expecting to win instead of hoping not to lose.
Better yet, it’s actually fun to watch Notre Dame play football again. Players tackle. Lots of them block. Interceptions are back in vogue, and we’re not even the ones throwing them.
Gone are last year's 12 thousand turnovers a game and bone-headed penalties you rarely see outside of youth football or the Oakland Raiders.
Special teams look like they may have practiced once or twice in the same week as the game.
Our running backs run to the edge faster than the D's linebackers. Receivers catch and some even create space—our first-year QB is slowly becoming a weapon instead of a liability.
It’s unmitigated craziness in South Bend this year.
The Irish offense is actually starting to require the other side to game plan for once, and lots of players throughout the roster are flashing more talent than a sorority full of plastered coeds at a wet T-shirt contest.
The ND defense is so stout my dear old mom has resumed brawling with hobos to keep in shape now that she’s been bounced from the three deep for a violation of team rules.
All of them.
Even sans my 91-year-old mother’s cat-like quickness, legendary aggressiveness and punishing punch off the edge, the Irish defense is holding up well, and an equally young offense is showing more promise each week.
We’re not perfect, we make mistakes, but even the harshest Irish critics can see this team is getting better week-by-week, often even play-by-play.
This team still has huge hurdles against an excellent Stanford defense, an elite Oklahoma offense and a USC team that has more talent in its third string than anybody ND has played to date.
We’ll see just what this team is really made of soon enough, starting with a Stanford front seven that completely dismantled our offense last year.
If Golson and the Irish O-Line can handle Stanford's front seven, they can handle anybody.
Bring ‘em on, let’s see what they’re made of.
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