On Oct. 8, the Fighting Irish were preparing for a trip to Chapel Hill with only one loss to their name. Irish fans were ready to finally crack the Top 25, something that hadn't been accomplished since Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left.
On Nov. 8, the team left the stadium in Chestnut Hill with only one win to their name in the month that had passed. Irish fans sat either speechless or screaming, a dichotomy that hadn't been accomplished since the most forgettable of seasons last year.
This season was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Irish. They were widely regarded as having a soft schedule.
Even with the poor showing in 2007, people didn't expect to see another game of this type until the end of November when the Irish travel to Los Angeles.
I’m sure that I am not alone when I ask: What exactly is going on here? All I know is that I have no idea and, apparently, neither do the Irish.
The Incident At Alumni Stadium (Offense)
The running game was highly inconsistent, although they did rack up 66 yards.
Armando Allen was the leading rusher with 24 yards on six carries, but 12 of those yards came on one play. Robert Hughes ran for 18 yards on three carries, but nine of those came on one play.
Jimmy Clausen had 19 yards on six carries, but 10 of those came on one play. And James Aldridge had a very nice five yard run which paved the way to his grand total of three yards on five carries.
But nobody has expected much from the run lately. After all, the passing game had been good enough to carry the offense in every game except the one in East Lansing.
Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph have shown that they are great targets and Clausen was shaping up to be the quarterback that so many people thought he could be.
On Saturday, Clausen completed 26 passes for 226 yards while spreading the ball around to Tate, Floyd, Rudolph, and Allen (six, five, four, and nine receptions, respectively).
He also threw four interceptions: the result of not looking off his receivers, throwing over their heads much too frequently, and forcing passes into coverage.
It isn’t entirely Clausen’s fault, though.
The play calling was less than stellar, as it has been for most of the season. Before Saturday, I was willing to give Mike Haywood time to acclimate himself to his new role as the offensive play caller. Now, I find his play calling offensive.
He consistently calls plays in fourth-down or third-and-long situations that either air it out much farther than necessary or can’t reach a first down. Now that Clausen has lost his ability to spot the ball on his receiver’s shoulder, teams know what’s coming.
Third and 27? Screen pass.
Fourth and 41? Draw play.
It’s bad enough that the Irish find themselves in these situations as much as they do. Let’s not compound the situation by becoming predictable, especially with such low percentage plays.
But it isn’t just the plays he calls when possession is on the line.
I’m sure that all of Notre Dame’s opponents realize the struggles they are having with the ground game. So why run the ball early in the game?
While it is fairly common practice to use the run to set up the pass, there is nothing keeping a play caller from doing the exact opposite. Just line up in the shotgun with an empty backfield and air it out.
Allen has shown that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, so why not line him up at receiver and leave open the option of an end-around?
That allows the offense to do what it does best right out of the gate.
Once Clausen has sufficiently picked apart the defense, start sending Allen in motion and back into the backfield. From there, slowly work in more running plays and different formations.
Hopefully, by the time the running game gets going, the passing game will have put up enough points to make clock management the main concern.
The Incident At Alumni Stadium (Special Teams and Defense)
Special teams had their own problems in this game. Thankfully, the offensive woes for the Irish limited the extent to which we saw these problems.
Jonas Gray was penalized twice on kick returns. The Irish were already having trouble blocking for their returners. Penalties simply don’t help matters.
Golden Tate’s indecisiveness on an attempted punt return cost the Irish a possession and led to Boston College’s only offensive touchdown.
His attempt to remedy the situation was ended much too early when Leonard Gordon accidentally pushed Tate out of bounds near midfield, preventing a possible touchdown.
Then, a punt was blocked. That gave the Eagles good enough field position to attempt a field goal at drive’s end. Luckily, they missed.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the usually good punt and kick coverage was unusually lacking in pressure created.
At least the defense didn’t look too bad. Perhaps it was only by comparison, but I know Irish fans would like to find something positive to take from this game (other than the fact that it is over).
Yes, the defense allowed 167 yards rushing (120 by Montel Harris), but they only allowed 79 yards passing.
Harrison Smith, Brian Smith, and Kyle McCarthy showed their ball-hawking skills as they each recorded eight or more tackles.
Raeshon McNeil, despite his early struggles, came back to have a decent game with three pass breakups and Sergio Brown, in another strong game at nickelback, recorded two.
Until the offense gets fixed (or overhauled), the defense is going to have to carry the load. And since people are claiming that the Irish aren’t nasty enough, it might be a good idea for the defense to set the tone.
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