Notre Dame-Connecticut: A Microcosm of the 2009 Irish Season
Suffice it to say that Saturday’s loss stung. However, given the performance of the two games prior, I can’t say it was shocking.
Lou Holtz said at the beginning of the season that all Notre Dame had to do was be the best team in the stadium every Saturday afternoon. At times, they did this. Most of the time, however, they have come up a bit short and have no one to blame but themselves (and perhaps an official or two).
When the team came out of the tunnel, captains arm-in-arm with the embattled head coach, I was optimistic. I thought to myself that they had finally come together as a team and would battle hard for a full 60 minutes in an attempt to right the ship and possibly save their coach’s job.
Watching the game from the south end zone, the Irish came out like a team possessed. They executed well, played solid defense and forced UConn to punt on its first possession. They promptly marched down the field and scored a TD. After adding another touchdown two possessions later, this team looked like they would blow the Huskies out of the water.
It was the most complete this team looked since the Nevada game.
Until Sergio Brown got flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting a receiver on a pass that was thrown 15 yards out of bounds—and so began the unraveling.
During the rest of regulation, Notre Dame got outscored 20-6. This included a 93-yard kickoff return for a TD. Does that remind anyone of the Michigan game?
Ultimately, this game was a reflection of the entire season for the Irish. They showed flashes of brilliance, which validated (to an extent) the high expectations this team carried into the season.
Costly penalties ended drives, too many tackles were missed, there were blown assignments on defense and special teams, and for the fifth time in a once promising season, the Irish self destructed and beat themselves.
The only adjustments made were to abandon a solid ground attack during the second and third quarters for airing the ball out.
On defense, Connecticut ran the same zone stretch read play over and over and over again. How is it that everyone in the stands knew exactly what they were going to do but the defense couldn’t (or wouldn’t) adjust? Every time I closed my eyes on Saturday night, I saw that same play executed by the UConn offense, with the linebacker getting cut-blocked on the edge. Any rational person would think you would make a few changes to stop this play. So much for rational.
Listening to the radio on my way home, I was flipping through the channels and came across a national college football post-game show. They were talking about the games of the day and predictably came to the Notre Dame loss.
While talking about another loss and the seemingly inevitable ending to the Weis era, the host pointed out a few irrefutable facts about the last three seasons. In a nutshell, he pointed out that the reason why Notre Dame continues to struggle beating fundamentally sound teams with inferior talent (Navy and UConn, to name a few) is that the Weis era has abandoned fundamentals (blocking, tackling, etc) for schemes. He attributed this to CW’s desire to show his offensive genius. I find it hard to argue with any of that and to be completely honest, it was the most succinct and accurate analysis I have heard to date.
In the spirit of the senior’s final home game, there are three I would like to recognize:
Mr. Dependable again played a pretty good game, but missed on a few key plays (including the first TD in OT). He leads the team in tackles with 90 on the year and is on pace to have a second straight year with 100+ tackles. Does anyone else see the problem with having one of your safeties lead the team in tackling?
After the conclusion of the first and third quarters, Olsen ran from one end of the field to the other while the rest of the team walked to the sidelines. Leading by example, I sure hope that the underclassmen on the line took note and that the Irish can get more guys like him in the future.
When asked during the week what was left to play for, he simply pointed to the ND monogram in the practice facility. I think that says it all.
Aldridge came in to Notre Dame as a high profile, five star recruit. He struggled to regain his high school form after a knee injury his senior year, he openly embraced the move to fullback in the preseason.
Here is another guy I hope the underclassmen take notice of, because that never say die, team first mentality is something displayed by all top teams and is almost always missing in the average ones.
One other thought
Perhaps after the LSU clock mismanagement, the most surprising game on Saturday was Oklahoma’s beat down by Texas Tech. I sure didn’t see that one coming. Combine the disgruntled fans in Norman with the rumored movement of the AD to Michigan, and perhaps Bob Stoops is more interested in a new job than previously thought.
In all honesty, he is probably one of the few guys that can keep the existing Irish recruiting class intact and add more talent between now and signing day. Then again, he is one of the highest paid coaches in college football, which might make him a bit cost-prohibitive.
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