Konichiwa fellow You Gabbers!...what the hell happened to the first half of college football season? Half-over already??? You gotta be shittin me! Irish Shu is a bit late with his mid-season review as he made a rare trip to Japan during the last 2 weekends and needed time to settle back in, but now that that’s done I will present my look back at how things have gone thus far for my beloved Fighting Irish of Notre Dame…and I’ll digress here and there as I share a couple pix I took in The land of The Rising Sun along the way, such as this one:
The short version?...Well, they’re undefeated at 7 games with 5 to go. How can I bitch? Well, I still can, but I am pleased with the record, at least. I had predicted they’d be at 2 losses by now but they just keep winning. Their defense is doing most of the work with as strong a front 7 as any team has and a young, but surprisingly-good secondary…but it is working so far. The question is: how much longer can they keep this up? The offense is great at the line, but struggling with consistency behind it. In 5 of the first 7 games the Irish have scored 20 points or less. A BCS-or-better win will only be possible if the O makes some bigger jumps in the last 5 games and starts putting-up more points. They’re working on it, I know.
Looking at it game by game:
NAVY: Considering that Notre Dame was breaking-in a new quarterback, missing 4 players (including 3 starters) due to suspensions, playing against a triple-option football team that has been tough for them to deal with in recent years, and enduring a long trip to Dublin, Ireland, to open against a pesky Navy team at Aviva Stadium where a different kind of football game is played, this opener could not have gone much better. The Fighting Irish eased in Everett Golson to his QB role as he went 12 of 18 for 144 yards and a touchdown. He got help from the big O-line as well as the running back tandem of Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III who combined for over 200 yards and 4 touchdowns as they whipped the undersized Midshipmen 50-10. The defense, of course, dominated. They even got a 77-yard fumble recovery for another score from 300-pound Defensive End Stephon Tuitt for good measure. Good start!
Here’s the Tokyo Dome where I saw my first and only Japanese baseball game:
PURDUE: A lot of buzz was made about the Boilermakers having the strongest D front 7 in the Big 10 going-in to this one. It proved true as the Irish struggled to score much, but still won 20-17 in a game that should not have been that close when one considers the statistical domination the Irish had over the Boilers. So why was it close? Because it was a sloppy game. Golson was sacked 5 times, both teams committed 8 penalties and the Irish D allowed Purdue to go 3-3 on 4th down conversions. The cool thing about this game – besides it being a win – was the Irish revelation of the “relief pitcher” approach. Subbing late for a banged-up Golson who was having trouble gripping the ball towards game’s end, Tommy Rees stepped-in and drove ND to the game winning field goal with 7 seconds left as the Irish survived Purdue’s own 2-headed QB tandem of Caleb Turbush and Robert Marve. Marve sustained yet another ACL injury of which he’s had many.
MICHIGAN STATE: This game was called Notre Dame’s first “real test” on the road against a top-10 opponent that had beaten Boise State in their opener (yes, the Broncos are over rated, but still). Final score was 20-3 Irish. I’d say they passed. The Irish D started to show just how dominating they are as they held Spartan running back Le’Veon Bell to 77 yards…by the way; Bell is one of the best in the Big 10 as he now has 8 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards for the season. Mich. State also had not been held to 3 points since facing Nebraska in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. Anyway, the story line to this game was that, just a couple days prior, All American Irish linebacker Manti Te’o lost his grandmother to natural causes and his girlfriend to leukemia. Rather than go home to Hawaii to mourn right away (and I would not have faulted him at all if he had), he stayed with his team, gathered comfort from his teammates, coaches and fans, and played a helluva game as he made 12 tackles (1 for a loss) and broke-up 2 passes in the win…
…More spectacular than the baseball game itself, which was pretty good, was the spectacle that was the Japanese beer girls. They were constantly running up and down the aisles all game long selling their wares while carrying 10-gallon kegs on their backs and smiling all the way through. WHAT STAMINA they have!!! And so pretty to boot! Here’s one of them:
MICHIGAN: Defense prevailed again and the Denard Robinson monkey was shaken from the Irish back as ND prevailed 13-6 in a somewhat bizarre game. Last year, the Irish dominated statistically, but lost. This year, it was the opposite. Michigan led in total yards, first downs, rushing yards and time of possession…and also in turnovers 6 to 2 which was the difference. The Irish D rose to the occasion with relentless pressure on Robinson which resulted in 4 interceptions and a fumble to key the win. The Irish O was not pretty as Golson was benched after 2 first half interceptions. The relief pitcher in Rees did just enough to win and protected the football. The defense did the rest featuring Te’o’s 8 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. Since then, Michigan has not lost and has quietly crept back into the top 25….
…Here’s another beer girl…if this one were to have gotten on her knee like this in front of me I’d buy whatever she’s selling:
MIAMI: The Offense looked like it finally came alive and Golson looked like he finally started to realize his potential in a 41-3 win that might have been closer had the ‘Canes not choked on their first drive. On the game’s first play, Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett got behind ND’s secondary and was wide-open for a long bomb touchdown…but he dropped it. Then he dropped a second TD pass later in the same drive and it went downhill for the ‘Canes from there. Golson and company shredded a weak Miami D with a 17 for 22 passing effort and a dominating running game that saw Wood and Atkinson III have over 100 yards each and 3 touchdowns between them. Both time of possession and total yards went to Notre Dame by nearly 2 to 1…but those “Shamrock
Series” uniforms still sucked, okay? Overall, though, this was probably the best-played game the Irish have had thus far. Another interesting fact: neither team had any turnovers…strange that it
wasn’t a factor…
…This beer girl was actually selling whisky on the rocks…nonetheless a pretty lady:
STANFORD: It was the toughest opponent the Irish have faced thus far. It was expected to be a hard-hitting, smash-mouth, toe-to-toe battle to the end and this game, indeed, lived up to that. With both starting quarterbacks struggling to pass against tough defenses and turning to their running games, it was the Irish who had the better day and prevailed 20 to 13 in overtime. 2 weeks later we are still hearing some grumbles that “Stepfan Taylor was IN!!!” on that last 4th down run…no, he wasn’t. His forward progress had stopped and the whistle was blown before he stretched over the bodies on the second effort. The play was reviewed and even the national coordinator of NCAA football officials backed the call as correct after reviewing it himself. So to those Stanford/anti-Irish fans who are still grumbling about it: let it go and move-on. It’s over. It’s not as though N.D. always gets the breaks, either (the “Bush push comes to mind as an example). It may not have seemed so, but this game really was dominated by the Irish statistically. They led in total yards, first downs, passing, rushing and time of possession against a Stanford team that has beaten USC and is currently ranked #17. It was a signature win that made a statement about how good the Irish can be…too bad I didn’t get to see it live.
BYU (a.k.a. Boy You Ugly!): Many of the so-called experts had this down as a trap game. Understandable because N.D. was: coming-off a big win over Stanford, had another big game upcoming at Oklahoma they might get caught looking ahead to, and had just finished a break week from classes that might deter their focus. In addition, Golson was benched with a concussion from the previous week and the less-versatile Rees played at QB instead. Maybe all of this was true as they did struggle against a BYU team what was solid defensively, but The Irish overcame a deficit for the second week in a row, gutting one of the nations’ best rushing defenses with a 270-yard effort and won 17-14. Theo Riddick had a career day with his 143-yard effort in a game that was closer than it needed to be. Afterwards, it was reported that the Irish were rather quiet in the locker room and not in a mood to celebrate the win…I’d take that as a good sign that they know they could have played better in spite of the win. Let’s hope that today in Norman against the Sooners, they do.
So, now that the first 7 games are in the books we now look ahead to the remaining 5 games. I am certainly pleased that the Irish have surpassed my prediction that they would be 5-2 at this point (I had Michigan State and Stanford down as losses) and from here I do feel a 10-win season and BCS bowl is the worst case scenario. I am optimistic that an undefeated season is possible, but to do so the Irish have to win at Oklahoma today and at USC for the season finale…that’s a lot to ask of a team that struggles offensively with a rookie quarterback who has not attained his full potential. With that defense, though, they CAN do it…the question is: will they? We shall see. Strange and wonderful things happen in college football every weekend.
My big concern is with Everett Golson. He has so much potential he will only realize as he gains more experience. Right now, though, he tends to have problems with the following fundamentals: panicking too soon in the packet when the pressure starts to get to him and making poor throws; cradling the ball in the wrong arm when re rolls-out on a run – he’s been bitten a couple times carrying the ball in the INSIDE arm when he should switch to the OUTSIDE arm. Opposing defenses have forced fumbles when he has done that; and Everett, for God’s sake SLIDE DOWN OR GO OUT OF BOUNDS when the defense gets to you on a run!!! Don’t duck your head and take a hit! That is how the Stanford player gave you the concussion. Hopefully he improves with these fundamentals sooner rather than later, but I know we all need to be patient with him.
Manti Te’o – what more can one ask of this man? That guy is an incredible athlete, has played very inspired football following his personal losses and is a Heisman candidate because of it. He, Kapron Lewis-Moore , Zeke Motta and others have been the rocks in that incredible defense…but they have a job to finish.
Team health is not bad, either. The Irish did get snake-bitten early as a couple defensive secondary starters suffered ruptured Achilles tendons and a couple others had concussions they have recovered from, but other than that, overall team health seems good for the final stretch of the season…let’s hope it stays that way. We’ll see how the rest of the season plays-out. GO IRISH!!!