After making my first trek to South Bend for a Notre Dame home game since the Irish played Stanford in 2002, I can say that it is official (and totally biased)—the best college football experience anyone can hope for is at Notre Dame. End of discussion.
This was the first time my Michigan-born wife went to a Notre Dame game. Now she understands, utterly and completely, why I feel so passionately about a team and a school I never attended.
It is somewhat ironic that the last two games I went to featured Notre Dame opponents coached the year prior by one-time Irish coach Tyrone Willingham.
Also, it is the last time that "roughing the snapper" had been called in a game to my recollection. I am still trying to figure that out. The last position I would ever want to play in football would be the snapper, simply because you know you are going get blown up every time.
I have stopped complaining about officiating.
There were plenty of bad calls both ways. One actually favored the Irish by overturning a would-be Washington touchdown based on some not-so-indisputable visual evidence.
The rest, as they say, is history after not one, but two goal-line stands by a rapidly improving Irish line.
Here are some points that I have been pondering since the game:
1. Defensive Line
The defensive line is growing up right before our eyes. Since they implemented a substitution philosophy, these guys aren’t gassed in the fourth quarter. Kapron Lewis-Moore is a diamond in the rough and the back-side pursuit was phenomenal. John Ryan has been making plays and Kerry Neal seems more comfortable in his new role. Thank you, Randy Hart and Bryant Young. This group seems really be responding to your coaching.
In the preseason, everyone agreed that the secondary was the strength of this defense. I would like to formally retract that assessment. Raeshon McNeil and Gary Gray seem to be the better two. I can’t remember seeing a single cornerback get their head around on the deep pass when they have the inside position to make a play. Where is the inside position and press coverage to take away the short inside passes? Harrison Smith seems to be playing more like a strong safety instead of a free safety and has been out of position on a few too many play actions. Sergio Brown has been awful as the nickelback. Allowing nearly 60 percent completions and 260-plus yards per game is not acceptable. I expect a huge improvement moving forward.
That being said, Kyle McCarthy absolutely blew up the Washington receiver on the final play of overtime. Thank goodness for Kyle McCarthy.
Manti Te’o is the real deal. The defense was much more active and dynamic with him in the game. While he was out of position a few times, mostly due to of over-pursuit, it’s hard to believe he won't get better. Sorry Toryan Smith, you lost your starting job, but there is no shame in it. You are still pretty good against the run and played well in the goal line situations.
The tackling has been absolutely atrocious. There is no other way to put it. I think the coaching staff needs to bring in a local PAL team to teach these guys fundamentals. Between trying to wrap up too high and not knocking guys over, every opposing runner looks like Jim Brown. Get off the field on third down, please. Seriously. You are going to give some unknowing and unwilling fan a heart attack.
I think that John Tenuta is gone after this year. He will probably move on to greener pastures. I know if I were in coach Charlie Weis' shoes, I probably wouldn’t keep the guy around unless there is a drastic improvement over the rest of the season. The blitzing has been vanilla and ineffective. There have been little to no half-time adjustments.
I will vehemently disagree with anyone who doesn’t think Jimmy Clausen is a special player and a legitimate Heisman candidate. Irish fans have been waiting for this since his arrival on campus and are now enjoying the fruits of their patience. Would you want another quarterback with the game on the line late?
2. Running Backs
Robert Hughes has played himself into the backup tailback role for his performance over the last six quarters. He looks like he has finally figured out that as a big back, he needs to run north and south. I will give all the credit to new running backs coach Tony Alford. Armando Allen has a few weeks to get healthy for the USC game, and I think he will have a big one. James Aldridge should be healthy as well, which should open things up a bit more against the Trojans.
3. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Is there a better tight end in college football than Kyle Rudolph? I submit that there is not. Robby Parris and Shaquelle Evans did a nice job versus Washington filling in for the injured Michael Floyd. Parris is clutch and Evans is still learning, but look for him to have a breakout game soon. Kamara had his shot at filling in and will probably see diminished playing time moving forward. He remains a good red-zone option that may be exploited against USC.
4. Offensive Line
Three words for you: two-point conversion. You have to give credit to Hughes for not going down, but Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen willed and muscled him into the end zone. I love the fire and passion these guys play with and while I could go without the holding calls negating big plays, they are playing better than the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Romine get more time at left tackle. Duncan gets beat a little too often.
It is clear to me that the only team that can stop the Irish on offense is the Irish. I don’t know what the numbers look like, but I would guess that on over 80 percent of their stalled drives, a penalty was called on the offense.
Weis is showing why he was hired in the first place. Averaging 470 yards and 32.6 points per game is impressive. I haven’t liked his predictable red-zone play calling so far. They left a lot of points on the field Saturday and turned what should have been a lopsided victory into another barn-burner. Also, I don’t want to see the Wildcat (wild leprechaun/leprecat as others have called it) anymore. It could work near the goal line, but it takes away from the momentum of drives.
Moving forward, this team is most effective in the three-receiver set with Rudolph and a single back. The power sets don’t seem to work well due to the predictable play-calling and inevitable double coverage on the Tate. The three-receiver set allows maximum flexibility in the pass-first, questions-later offense. Also, I think we will see a lot of no-huddle in the USC game to wear down the defense and exploit mismatches.
Washington was a better team than 0-12 one of last year. After Jake Locker broke his thumb, they gave up on the second half of their season.
A new coach brought new energy. They may actually go to a bowl game if they can stay healthy.
Locker is a pretty good college quarterback. By the time Sarkisian is done with this kid, he will be a polished (probable first-round) NFL draft pick.
Hats off to the Husky team and fans that braved the weather on Saturday. It was the loudest I have heard the opposing 7,500 fans be at Notre Dame Stadium. The future is bright for this team and looking forward, I am sure glad that ND doesn’t have them on the schedule again anytime soon.