HAPPY BELATED NEW YEAR TO ALL!!! Here we go - Irish Shu is here with a look back at the now-completed Fighting Irish football season. In the last edition I recapped the first 6 games, so now I'll review the last 7 including their bowl game.
USC: This was a game that had me concerned. So-Cal had owned the Irish in recent years and was looking for a big win to continue the era of interim Coach Ed Orgeron who had replaced the fired Lane Kiffin. It did turn out to be an ugly game during which ND’s QB Tommy Rees and S.C’s stud receiver Marquise Lee both left the game with injuries (Lee has hurting to begin with) but the Irish D toughed it out and held on for a gutty 14-10 Irish win. It was the first home win over the Trojans since 2001 and only the third night game played in South Bend in the past 2 decades.
In addition to the relentless pressure from the Irish D, USC also killed themselves with nearly 100 yards in penalties. The win came in spite of a very poor effort from backup QB Andrew Hendrix in the wake of the injury to Rees. I was among the many who had been calling for Hendrix to have a chance to play and prove himself…well, he blew that chance. He looked very uncomfortable, failed to complete any passes and mustered only 27 yards of offense in the second half….that makes it all the more impressive that the Irish won this one.
AIR FORCE: This would turn out to be one of the best played games of the year for the Irish…but when it comes against a Falcon team that was on their 4th quarterback of the season and would finish 2-10, I would have been disappointed with anything less. Rees had a career day going 17-22 for 284 yards and touchdown throws to 5 different ND receivers in a 45-10 rout.
The feat of completing TD throws to 5 men was the first time that had ever happened in Irish football. The Air Force option attack did gash the Irish D for 290 yards, but the inability of the Falcons to finish drives and their turnovers proved costly to them, as well.
NAVY: The Midshipmen came to play and played one of their best offensive games of the year. They gutted the Irish D for 331 rushing yards, finished with a 15-minute advantage in time-of-possession, and committed NO penalties and NO turnovers to 2 for the Irish…but in spite of all that, the Irish still won 38-34. WHEW! Why did this happen? Because the Navy D was not able to stop the Irish O, which finished with over 500 yards and very impressive balance between the run and the pass. Freshman Irish running back Tarean Folston had his breakout game with a 140-yard rushing day and the game ended with a sensational play on D when safety Eliar Hardy and frosh linebacker Jaylon Smith snuffed-out a Navy end-around on 4th and 4 and stopped the receiver for no gain to preserve the win.
It would be the last loss Navy would suffer this season as they would go on to post a 9 and 4 record to match that of the Irish…however, this win and the prior win over Air Force would prove costly to the health of the Irish D-front. Having consecutive games with the 2 service academies which both employ the option and cut-blocking took out several players including lineman Kona Schwenke and Sheldon Day, and linebacker Ishaq Williams. The Irish D was already missing starters Louis Nix and Jarret Grace to leg injuries prior to this, and it made a bad situation worse. The Irish D would go forward dipping further into the reserves from here.
PITT: As well as the Irish had played in their 2 games prior to this one, that’s how poorly they played against the Panthers at Heinz Field. Pitt capitalized on 3 Irish turnovers to their none, including 2 very costly “Turnover Tommy” interceptions (one in the Pitt end zone to prevent a touchdown) and the Panthers avenged last year’s triple-OT loss with a 28-21 win that would knock the Irish out of BCS Bowl contention. In addition to the turnovers, including one Pitt fumble caused by a QB sack in the fourth quarter which the Irish did not pounce on, penalties also proved costly. They didn’t have many penalties, but the ones they committed were big. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt was ejected in the first half for targeting the Pitt QB (and I’ll agree with my pal, the Beeze, when I say that was a BULLSHIT call – Tuitt was lowering his head to try to get UNDER the QB’s head and the QB lowered his head, as well),
and a pass interference penalty on a 4th down play would extend a drive that Pitt would score on. The overall-sloppy play in this game, in-particular, baffles me to this day…but shit does happen, and with all due respect to Pitt, that was shit.
BYU: The Irish had a bye week to shake-off the loss to Pitt and hopefully bounce back against a good BYU team with one of the country’s best running quarterbacks in Taysom Hill.
Despite cold and snowy conditions, the Irish D contained Hill well-enough and won their last home game on senior day 23-13. This time, it was running back Cam McDaniel who had a career day with 117 rushing yards. Folston added 78 yards and a score. Rees’ last home game was an adequate performance for him as he went 15-28 for 235 yards and a score. It was a good tune-up for what would be one of their toughest opponents of the year (of which they had several, as always) in…
STANFORD: The Irish were game in this one and made it close, but still lost to the eventual Pac-12 Champion 27-20. Stanford Senior RB Tyler Gaffney tore the Irish D for 189 yards and a score and the Cardinal D held the Irish O in-check by allowing them only 263 total yards…and yet the Irish STILL had their chances to pull-off the win. Rees threw for 2 touchdowns in the 3rd quarter to help bring the Irish back. Then they had 2 final drives in the fourth quarter to try to tie the game but, alas, both ended in Rees interceptions and the Cardinal held-on.
Incidentally, Gaffney getting close to 200 yards against ND isn’t really a shame when you consider the year he had – he finished his season with over 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, so he was tough for most teams to handle. Stanford would go on to win their second consecutive Pac-12 title and go on to the Rose Bowl to lose a close one to Michigan State – a team whose only loss this year was to – guess who? NOTRE DAME!
Pinstripe Bowl vs. RUTGERS: The season ended with a bowl win over a .500 Rutgers team that was a sloppy game for both teams. Sloppy because the Irish were missing about a dozen players with the flu. Sloppy because the field at Yankee Stadium was in poor shape with a lot of torn turf and divots that skill players on BOTH sides slipped and tripped on. Sloppy because both teams had to settle for more field goals than they would have liked in-part due to said field conditions. When all was said and done, though, Tommy Rees ended his career with a 319-yard effort against one of the poorest pass defenses in the country and the Irish did win 29-16 in a game that, with all due respect to the Scarlet Knights, was closer than it should have been. The REALLY cool thing about this game? The MVP award. It went to outgoing senior tackle Zack Martin – the first time an O-lineman received a Bowl MVP trophy in 54 years, and it was very well deserved.
The Irish running game really took over in the second half by repeatedly running to Zack’s side and they had success doing so. Martin will head into the NFL as one of the best Irish linemen to ever play, having never missed a game in his Irish career with a school record 52 career starts…and his leadership will be missed, for sure.
So to wrap it up the Irish football season was overall-disappointing, but not bad when one considers that, of the 12 regular season opponents the Irish faced, 9 went to bowl games, 3 played in BCS bowls and the Irish beat one of those 3 (Michigan State)…still, if the Irish can beat Michigan State and the Pac-12 runner-up in Arizona State, and play Stanford as close as they did, then why, WHY did they choke against Michigan and Pitt???...yeah, I know the answer. Turnover Tommy.
Speaking of Tommy Rees, in spite of his several costly mistakes and lack of natural athleticism and the ability to run, I will give him this pat-on-the-back; statistically he actually did very well in spite of all that. True, throwing 37 interceptions in a 4-year career is not good, but he did finish with 7,670 yards and 61 touchdowns. The yardage put him in 3rd place in ND school history in that category behind only Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. With the Pinstripe Bowl victory, Rees joined Tom Clements, Joe Montana, Tony Rice and Rick Mirer as the only Notre Dame quarterbacks with two bowl game victories as a starter…it does make me wonder how much more impressive his career would have been if only he could RUN.
So, farewell to Tommy, thank you, and I’m REALLY looking forward to next year’s quarterback battle between Malik Zaire and the now-reinstated and supposedly-improved Everett Golson…assuming Golson doesn’t f-up and get himself kicked out of school again.
Other concerns as we head to next year: replacing lost starters.
Thankfully the Offense returns largely-intact; Rees will be replaced by a better running QB and while the O-line loses the awesome Zack Martin and Chris Watt, they get just about everyone else back. TJ Jones and his over-1,100 receiving yards will be missed, but a whole ton of very good receivers come back, including DaVaris Daniels. There is talk that their best tight end in Troy Niklas might declare for the draft, but hopefully he’ll stay. ALL the best Irish running backs will be back next year. The offensive coordinator in Chuck Martin did leave for the head coaching job at Miami of Ohio, so whoever replaces him will have some great athletes to work with.
On defense, though, the losses are more notable. Along the front the Irish lose Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt to the NFL – OUCH! - and a couple linebackers, too, including Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox who was very good. The secondary also loses a couple. Another big loss is that of the D-coordinator in Bob Diaco who left for the head coaching gig at U-Conn. Hopefully his replacement can get the D to reload rather than rebuild…the losses of Nix and Tuitt, in-particular, will make that challenging. I do look forward to the continued rise of sensational frosh LB Jaylon Smith. That guy made some impressive stops and should only get better.
As for how my other teams fared:
MONTANA GRIZZLIES: Had a good bounce-back year as they went 10-3 and made it back to the FCS playoffs which they do regularly. They did lose in the first round to Coastal Carolina, which became cannon fodder for eventual FCS champion North Dakota State (their third in a row). Oh well, a good year nonetheless.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Had a pretty good year as they finished 9-4 and beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl, but they are far-removed from the clock-controlling ground game and Blackshirt D that made them champions. Coach Bo Pelini and his sideline tirades didn’t help the program’s image, either…nor did a lot of the buzz that he should be canned. Next year for the Huskers should be interesting given all of that.
COLORADO STATE RAMS: Definitely improved this year! The Rams finished an 8-6 season with a thrilling come-from-behind New Mexico Bowl win over Wazzu 48-45. This is the best they’ve done in some time, so we’ll see if they can build on it.
CUSTER COUNTY COWBOYS: My hometown high school team is a regular participant in the playoffs and has won a few state championships. They did not make the playoffs last year, but did make it this year in spite of having a predominately young team again…however; they lost a heartbreaker in the first round by one point. Next year should be even better, I hope.
Fellow You Gabbers: It is always a pleasure!!! Have an awesome 2014! Take care, Irish Shu
Some opinions are undeniable fact...
I have been housing two such opinions, er facts, for a while now...
You are not allowed to disagree...
If you do...
It’s like two plus two equals five...
You will be wrong...
Because as much as I have hated his team over the years...
As much as they dismantled my Rams during their haydays...
Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all time...
If you even try do disagree with that, your keyboard won’t work...
Sorry, but your keyboard and I have an agreement...
You can only type facts...
And that’s a fact...
Not even close...
Rice is the best...
I feel better now...
But the next fact is starting to get a bit shaky...
It may have to get unfacted by the fact police of whom I am the Chief...
The greatest quarterback of all time is...
Spit it out, dvt...
At least that’s what I have been spouting for the last thirty-some years...
Didn’t think that would ever be on shaky ground...
Until this year...
He may never win as many Super Bowls...
But I have never seen a quarterback like Peyton Manning...
Actually, he isn’t a QB...
He’s the Owner...
He signs the checks...
He tells John Elway what to do...
“Yes sir, Mr. Manning...”
“Anything you say, Mr. Manning...”
Just watch the guy...
Like I said...
He’s not a quarterback...
He’s The Maestro conducting the symphony orchestra...
Just watch him as he waves his magic wand...
He’s Air Traffic Control...
Directing his 747s as he lines them up for the next play...
Definitely not a QB...
A multi-tracked Bohemian Rhapsody recording...
The defense could swear there’s a whole slew of him...
He’s the Magic Johnson of the NFL...
But you can’t even call him an athlete...
He’s a fine piece of art...
A genuine Pey-casso...
And the Smithsonian's waiting to hang HIM up when he hangs IT up...
At this point, it doesn’t matter if he only has one ring...
And if I can’t call him the greatest QB ever...
How about the greatest regular season QB ever???
I can live with that...
With all due respect to my Patriots’ friends...
And Tom Brady...
But since Peyton’s been with Denver...
He’s on a completely different level...
He's just like the commercial...
New and improved...
Just when we thought he couldn't get any more newer...
Or any more improve-der...
Whatever the case...
Peyton’s place in history is about as lofty one can go...
By now the Super Bowl's been beaten to death, so why write about that? Instead, in keeping with the historic spirit of the day, it's time for another All-Time-Best list. This time how about the all-time best NFL QB/coach combo? Silly, as are all superlative rankings, but ultimately isn't this sort of thing what all real sports fans live for? Besides, it lets me write something about the Patriots, though not exactly what I'd had in mind. And the Super Bowl notwithstanding, it's probably a little early to consider Flacco/Harbaugh or Kaepernick/Harbaugh anyway, so it's a topic that won't go stale in a day.
The game has changed over the years. The stats for quarterbacks have gone through the roof recently. It's not because they're better. It's largely because the rules let them be better. Rules dictate strategy to a high degree. When the blocking rules and the chuck rules changed some 35 years ago, it took a while for the league to catch on, but catch on it did. Why did Dan Marino throw for so many yards? He had more time and more open receivers than his predecessors of a decade earlier (plus, he was pretty good). Why do current quarterbacks outdo Marino on a weekly basis? Because they're better? You get the drift. These things can be taken into account.
We can name some of the combos that come to mind right off the bat, starting from when the quarterback was also a safety. Despite the presence of such 1920s supermen as Paddy Driscoll in Chicago (who once, in an age of multiple roles, drop-kicked a field goal from 55 yards), none went on a title tear in the league's first full decade. Even Paddy spent half his time with the Staleys/Bears, and half with the crosstown Cardinals. It was a turbulent formative decade without enough stability (or passing) to truly produce a QB/coach combo, despite three consecutive titles by the Canton-Canton-Cleveland Bulldogs of legend. They ran the ball. Our quest begins in the 1930s.
Arnie Herber/Curly Lambeau
Coming off a title in 1929, the Packers got two more right away with the arrival of Herber. It was still a running game, but he liked to throw. When Don Hutson joined the team in the mid-30s, he turned Herber loose and the Pack became the league's first bombs-away offense. Sharing time with the younger Cecil Isbell late in the decade, Arnie finally decided it was time to call it quits after 11 seasons. But before he did, the tandem of him and Lambeau (with help of course from Hutson) had produced unheard-of passing numbers, 6 trips to the championship game, and 4 titles. Not bad.
Sid Luckman/George Halas
Whether George Halas was more of a churl, more of an owner or more of a coach is a topic for conjecture, but nobody had a bigger influence on the NFL for many decades. Sid Luckman, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn and a graduate of Columbia, hardly seems to fit today's demographic mold for a football player, but the Ivy League was among the best in the 1930s and so was Sid. In the 7 seasons spanning 1940 through 1946, Luckman and Halas took the Bears to 5 title games, winning 4 times. Sid's service in the Merchant Marine likely had something to do with the Bears' absence in 1944 and 1945. And as for Halas' coaching, a little-known fact about the Bears' 1940 73-0 title game massacre of Sammy Baugh's Redskins is that Luckman threw only 6 times, the Skin defense being confounded by Halas' clever exploitation of the new man-in-motion rule.
Otto Graham/Paul Brown
With the end of WWII came big changes in football. Coaches, fresh from wartime think tanks for battle planning, brought new ideas to the game. The platoon system (separate offensive/defensive players) became established, and the football sprouted wings like never before. It was a new time, and the Browns were a new team in a new league, the AAFC. They dominated it for all 4 years, then went to the NFL and stunningly beat Norm Van Brocklin's mighty Rams to win the title. They would attend five more NFL title games and win two more, losing once to the Rams and twice to Bobby Layne's powerful Lions. In ten seasons, the pair of Graham and Brown redefined the way football was played and coached, winning 7 titles between their two leagues and attending every title game for 10 straight seasons. Graham was derided by some in his day for being the only QB not to call his own plays, with Brown using 'shuttling guards' to bring them in. Even that was a portent of things to come.
John Unitas/Weeb Ewbank
Despite having only two titles under their combined belt, the combo of Ewbank and Unitas won the first two "television titles" and shot football into a blaze of publicity previously unknown. Unitas was considered the best at his position for most of his career despite the presence of other greats, and the Colts contended each season, having the misfortune to play in the same division as the evenly-matched but somehow unbeatable Packers. Unitas would win another title at the end of his career, and Ewbank would famously coach the Jets to a Super Bowl win over Unitas' Colts in 1969.
Bart Starr/Vince Lombardi
The earliest combo most modern fans think of, Starr and Lombardi went to six title games in eight seasons, winning five of them (and the first two Super Bowls). Never considered the best at his position during his playing days, Starr was the ultimate 'system' quarterback nevertheless and never seemed to make a mistake. Lombardi, out of Jim Lee Howell's Giants system, became a near-instant success as a head coach. The Packers dominated the 1960s almost as much as the Browns dominated the decade following WWII and, significantly, did it all in the NFL. They had one more advantage --- with network tv established, everybody saw them.
Len Dawson/Hank Stram
They were in the AFL most of the time, but while there they won three titles and went 1-1 in the "true" Super Bowl era, when it was still an old-fashioned World Series between truly independent rival leagues. Stram's 'moving pocket' wasn't exactly scrambling, but a controlled relocation of the backfield that gave defenses fits. Dawson, the NFL reject, found his niche in Stram's potent offense. Despite their loss to Green Bay, history shows that all it proved was that nobody could beat Green Bay. Three years later the same team crushed the Vikings in the fourth (and last true) Super Bowl. Actually, in the 1967 preseason following the loss to Green Bay (which was taken quite seriously as it featured the only interleague games outside of the Super Bowl) they outclassed the Bears' first stringers 66-0. When it all was said and done they were the dominant team of the AFL in its decade of existence, edging out the Bills, Chargers, Raiders and Oilers, though they did it first as the Dallas Texans and then as the Kansas City Chiefs. When that decade and era ended, they were the best team in football, hands down.
Bob Griese/Don Shula
As a tandem their star burned briefly, but very brightly. The Fins were the first real AFL team to reach the Super Bowl following the merger, losing the first year to Dallas before winning two in a row, once with a perfect 17-0 mark. The irony of the perfect season is that Griese was injured for most of it, but still contributed by taking the reins from a faltering Earl Morrall in the playoffs and finishing the job Morrall had started.
Terry Bradshaw/Chuck Noll
The Steelers of the 1970s were seen as an NFL invader of the AFL (having recently morphed into the AFC), and as such were not popular with old AFL fandom. Nevertheless, their team's bloodline was almost pure AFC by the time they got untracked, and they proceeded to go to the Super Bowl four times in six seasons, winning every time. Bradshaw, never considered the best at his position, was easily the winningest of his age, and Noll, who never really superseded Lombardi as a legend either in the '70s or later, won Super Bowls at an unprecedented rate.
Joe Montana/Bill Walsh
The modern standard for excellence, Walsh and Montana were together for three Super Bowl wins, Montana's fourth coming under Walsh protege/puppet George Siefert. Still Walsh, a Paul Brown protege himself and earlier a student of Sid Gillman and Al Davis, was the first to successfully comprehend how to best exploit football's changing rules governing pass protection and pass defense, and Montana was the perfect choice to execute the game plan. His West Coast Offense was a modification of the Gillman/Davis long-bomb approach, altered under Brown to a short-passing juggernaut for the Bengals, and the new rules provided a perfect backdrop for his system, which changed the game.
Jim Kelly/Marv Levy
Despite having never won the big one, they are the only combo ever to go to four Super Bowls in a row. If genial Marv Levy seemed a throwback to a bygone age when football was fun, it's because he was, and his players loved it. They may have loved it a shade too much, as they became so confident in their ability to utterly turn around any game at will that it bit them on some big occasions. But Levy was a master at turning his guys loose, and Kelly was the perfect field general for the Bills' dreaded no-huddle offense in an age without wired helmets. Buffalo's defense could rise up and take the ball away seemingly on cue, and the up-tempo offense could score points in a flash. Their plays were often impossible to defend because it seemed (and may have been) that they improvised most of what they were doing as it unfolded. It was a truly unique system, and terrifically fun to watch.
Tom Brady/Bill Belichick
The modern threat to the throne of Walsh and Montana, the tandem of Brady and Belichick have actually won as many Super Bowls (and faster), and appeared in more to date (five). They have gone to seven AFC title games together in twelve seasons, and have won the AFC East all but twice, both losses coming on tiebreakers. It is a success record unrivaled in what has been labeled the Salary Cap Era, the NFL's attempt at parity. Notable in this era is Belichick's ability to drive highly volatile rosters to high levels of success year after year. Brady is often cited as the reason, though the team managed an 11-5 record without him in 2008, stunningly missing the playoffs. Their short-pass-based game has proven so prolific that the Patriots have taken offensive production to a level not seen since Norm Van Brocklin's first few seasons. Belichick is the only head coach to win three Super Bowls in four years, all with Brady.
So what to do with these contenders? Maybe just grouping them a few ways will make some sense. Maybe not. Let's try a few categories.
Best of the Pre-War Era
Tough one, even with only two candidates. Herber and Lambeau reinvented the game of football to a large degree, but it was regarded as much a novelty then as a turning point. They were before their time. Halas' Bears, on the other hand, were more a power team, with names like Bronco Nagurski and Bulldog Turner. The Bears won as many titles, and in fewer years. They may have won another without the intervention of World War II. But as great as Luckman and the Bears were, this is a contest of quarterbacks and coaches. Lambeau was a revolutionary coach, and Herber a perfect quarterback for that revolution. It's no coincidence that the name most people recall from those teams is Don Hutson, who caught everything that came near him. They get the nod.
Best of the Postwar Pre-Merger Era
There are only two prime contenders in this long era also, and they are Graham/Brown and Starr/Lombardi. Which was the better team is a topic for conjecture. Which was the better coach/QB tandem may not be. Yes, of the Browns' seven titles four came in the AFCC, but they were no fluke. The Packers were the ultimate example of perseverance and execution, but outside of Lombardi's pulling guards they weren't innovators. Brown was the master innovator, the man who most changed the game of pro football following his stint in military planning during the war. Almost everything he did was adopted either immediately or much later by others. And his quarterback was a superstar, on a par with contemporary greats Van Brocklin and Layne. The success contest here is pretty much a draw. But Graham and Brown's influence on the game is vastly greater.
Best of the Post-Merger Pre-Salary-Cap Era
This pretty much pits Noll and Bradshaw against Walsh and Montana. Success-wise, it clearly goes to the Steelers. But you have to dig deep to find anything that Pittsburgh contributed to football besides their own legendary title streak. Walsh and Montana, on the other hand, not only won but also redefined football with the West Coast Offense. It's probably unfair to the Steelers that the rule changes which sprung loose the Niners' offensive strategy had just come around at the end of their success story. They were well-coached and well-led on the field, and that's what this is all about, isn't it? Yes, but the Niners were also well-coached and well-led, and they also managed to lay lasting foundations for the post-rules-changes game. So they get the nod.
Best of the Salary Cap Era
Despite the presence of Shanahan and Elway, Coughlin and Manning, Cowher and Roethlisberger, Dungy and Manning, there's really only one contestant here, and that's Belichick/Brady. They're the only duo to win three Super Bowls in four years. They're the only duo to go to five Super Bowls in eleven years --- separately as well as together. Their winning record is unmatched. All in all, they've been the antidote (or poison?) for parity in the NFL in an era when it was supposed to be almost guaranteed. And they aren't done yet. Belichick has shown the league how to continually prosper in an environment meant to throttle long-term success.
Best Innovators, All-Time
That's a toughie. Everybody stands on the shoulders of who came before. Even Einstein always had huge portraits of Euclid, Newton and Faraday on his walls because he knew that without them, he and his contemporaries wouldn't have existed. That's a big promo for Herber and Lambeau, who introduced the long pass as a consistent game-changer in the 1930s. But Walsh and Montana changed things again in the 1980s for a fresh set of rules. Belichick and Brady have done it again with yet more rules changes, these primarily of the roster-affecting sort. Levy and Kelly foreshadowed the no-huddle. But the duo who introduced the most influential and lasting innovations has to be Paul Brown and Otto Graham, who transformed the game most stunningly from its pre-war form to its postwar balance of rushing and passing, revamping player positions, exploiting the platoon system, and winning consistently in the process. I give them the nod.
Most Unbeatable, All-Time
It's tough to say that Brady and Belichick are 'beatable' in any reasonable sense. It's hard also to say that about Walsh and Montana. Tougher still to say it about Brown and Graham. Noll and Bradshaw were hard to deny. Likewise Halas and Luckman. In fact, all of our combos were hard to beat in their stretch. But this one goes to Starr and Lombardi, who dominated nearly a decade with championships, winning five in six tries spanning eight years. Does that trump Brown and Graham's seven in ten tries spanning ten years? Only if you believe that the AAFC dilutes their record. This is about the NFL, so the Pack-men get the nod, even if it seems to be on a technicality.
As we read this, the latest rule changes have begun to modify the sport again --- maybe. Rules intended to protect the quarterback have sprung open the door for experimentation with college-style running quarterbacks. Is this the next big thing, or is the 'athletic' quarterback doomed to extinction, either through constant injury or perhaps through being back-burnered in favor of a new era of hypersmart no-huddle field generals, running ability being consigned to the status of a nice value-added extra? Only time will tell, just as it has separated fads from formative trends throughout the history of football.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!..Albeit a bit late due to my beloved Fighting Irish playing their last game just a couple days ago…I’ll get to that game in a minute. Shut up.
Once again it's time for Irish Shu to look back at their season. In the last edition I recapped the first 7 games, so now I'll review the last 6 including the championship game.
OKLAHOMA: I, being the ever-pessimistic beaten-down Irish fan was preparing for the roof to fall in on what had thus-far been an excellent undefeated season. I thought that if any team was going to expose the weaknesses my team had, it would be then-#8 Oklahoma at Norman…how very wrong I was, and how happy I was to be so! The dominating Irish D held the Sooners to a measly 15 yards rushing, bent but did not break by allowing Landry Jones to pass for 356 yards, but no touchdowns, and ran away in the 4th quarter in a 30-13 win at Norman. The Irish D did yield their first rushing touchdown of the season, but the backs of Cierre Wood, Everett Golson and Theo Riddick ran for one apiece to more than make up for it…It was the signature win for the Irish and Coach Kelly and the remainder of the season was definitely looking bright after this one.
PITT: Almost every great team has a “let down” game at some point in the season. Even the eventual champions in Alabama had one against Texas A&M. You could say this was the “almost let down” for the Irish…but by golly, they escaped with an ugly 29-26 triple overtime win over the eager Panthers. The Irish overcame a mistake-filled day that included 3 turnovers and a 20-7 4th quarter deficit. Everett Golson found it in himself to take charge after being benched, and the Irish got DAMN lucky when Pitt missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the 2nd overtime on their way to the ugly win. WHEW!!!
BOSTON COLLEGE: The Irish went to Chestnut Hill to face an Eagle team that has given them problems in recent years and played an adequate, but unspectacular game on their way to a 21-6 win. Hapless B.C. was torched by Theo Riddick for 104 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards in a game that was not as close as the score made it seem, but still had a milquetoast feel to it when it was all said and done…perhaps the pre-game news that Alabama had just lost to A&M before the game deterred their focus? Who knows? Boston College would go on to a final record of 2-10 that ended with the firing of Coach Frank Spaziani after 4 seasons…ND D-Coach Bob Diaco was interviewed to take his place, but declined.
WAKE FOREST: The Irish showed a bit more of their true potential against the Demon Deacons as they routed them at home on Senior Day 38-0. The game featured touchdowns on their first 3 drives, offensive yardage output that was more than 2 to 1 over the Deacs and total domination…something the Irish had trouble showing in the 2 games prior to this one. The Irish then learned that they were in-control of their destination after both Oregon and Kansas State lost later that day…all they’d have to do now was go to the L.A. Coliseum and knock-off USC and the spot in the championship game was theirs!...uh-oh.
USC: A team does not make excuses. A team must play a game with the players they have…but to this day I still cannot help but wonder; would the outcome have been the same had Trojan QB Matt Barkley not suffered a separated shoulder the week before this one? We’ll never know, obviously, but it certainly didn’t help USC’s cause in the 22-13 Irish win that punched their ticket to the national championship game and ended a very disappointing season for a USC team that started-out ranked #1. Frosh QB Max Wittek gave his best in Barkley’s absence but still threw 2 interceptions and was flustered by the tough Irish D. The ND Offense, meanwhile, gutted USC for 439 yards including 146 rushing yards from Theo Riddick, but still left some points off the board and had to settle for 5 Kyle Brindza field goals in the win…still, though, it was a win that left the Irish as the only bowl-eligible team with an undefeated record. WOO-HOO!!!
National Championship game vs. ALABAMA: SIGH…outside of the Notre Dame fans themselves, nobody gave the Irish a chance in this one. Not to take anything away from the Tide, but the Irish defense that had been so dominant all season played nothing like they had been up until this game. They played a “matador defense” waving the ‘Bama ball carriers by and yelling “Ole’!” instead of wrapping-up and tackling, and the Irish O under-executed against a tough Tide D (something this O did a few times this year) on their way to the 42-14 ass kicking that gave ‘Bama their 3rd national championship in 4 years. The game was a pisser…and a disappointing end to the BEST season these Irish eyes have seen in over 20 years. Congratulations to Alabama. You came to play. That’s all there is.
So to wrap it up the Irish football season was awesome! Sure, it sucked to not win the championship and to get our asses kicked in said game…hey, I don’t deny that we did! But along the way the Irish:
- Flew to Ireland and trounced a pesky Navy team on a soccer pitch.
- Survived a strong defensive Purdue team while still trying to find an identity for their quarterback.
- Saw their Defensive leader in Manti Te’o come of age as he suffered the losses of his girlfriend and grandmother in a day, and play the game of his life against Michigan State that weekend on his way to becoming a Heisman finalist and winning a truckload of other individual awards.
- Shook the Denard Robinson monkey off their backs and beat Michigan for the first time in 4 years.
- Developed a good quarterback in Everett Golson, who went from a redshirt frosh with no experience at season’s start, to a MUCH improved leader and signal caller by season’s end…something that gives this team a good head-of-steam going-in to next year.
- Dominated a rivaled Miami team one week, and fight a tough Stanford team to an OT win the next…the same Stanford team that would eventually beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium and win both the Pac-12 Title and the Rose Bowl.
- Survived scares against a BYU team with a tough Defense (and the Irish playing without their starting QB) and an inspired Pitt team that really put everything out there to try to beat the Irish…and almost did.
- Survived their last “trap” game against a rival USC team on the road to get to the championship game in the first place.
- Put together their first undefeated regular season in over 2 decades.
This Irish fan says THANK YOU for an awesome season…and waits with concern to see what transpires in the off-season. The Irish don’t lose a ton of starters, although losing Te’o and All-American Tight End Tyler Eiffert among others will hurt, but they have an awesome recruiting class coming-in…
…However, as of this writing it is being reported that Coach Brian Kelly has interviewed for the head coaching job for the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco is also highly-coveted and may leave for a head coaching job of his own when it’s all said and done. We shall see what will become of all this.
Great season, nonetheless. THANK YOU! And GO IRISH!!!
As for my other teams and how they did:
MONTANA GRIZZLIES: My alma-mater was a program in-shambles this year after rape and assault allegations gutted the team and the coaching staff. It showed as the normally FCS championship-caliber Griz had a disappointing, but not surprising 5-6 season and didn’t even come close to making the playoffs…the good news? They can only go UP from here.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Finished with another 10-win season, which is good, but it ended with a THUD with ass-kickings at the hands of both Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship and to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl…not the way to go out. Obviously this team is not bad, but has pieces missing.
COLORADO STATE RAMS: Hate to say this, but my days as a Fort Collins resident and CSU Ram fan seem VERY long ago…as a result I’m not paying as much attention to them as I used to. Jim McElwain’s first year as coach was only barely improved from the previous 2 seasons the Rams had as his team finished 4-8…but in his defense, the Mountain West was more beefy this year with the addition of Boise State. We’ll see how they do next year.
CUSTER COUNTY COWBOYS: Yep, my hometown high school team. 2 years ago they won a State Championship. Last year, they made the State Semifinals. This year, they had a lot of underclassmen and rebuilt as they won some games, but just missed the playoffs…something they don’t do very often. Better luck next year.
Fellow You Gabbers: It is always a pleasure!!! Have an awesome 2013! I’ll keep reading your works. And still chip-in with a blog now and then.
PS BEEZE – thank you for encouraging me to contribute! Give lil Molls a kiss, ok?
Irish Shu is sitting back relaxing, wandering through the long college football off season while taking the "honey badger" approach on the baseball season which is only just underway.
...and I am NOT liking the goings-on right now.
The one blessing I can count is that my beloved Lady Fighting Irish basketball team did manage to make the NCAA women's basketball championship game for the second year in a row, which is certainly impressive!...the bad news is they lost the game for the second year in a row to a one-player team, again. Granted, losing to a 40-0 Baylor team which features, perhaps, the best player who ever lived in Brittney Griner is nothing to be ashamed of, but still - LOSING SUCKS! All in all, a great season for the Lady Irish, though, and I am proud.
Other than that, though, not many blessings to count.
Looking at the Irish Football team - the program has been in what feels like a downward spiral ever since that lousy performance vs. Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
As if failing to show up in that game wasn't enough, the recruiting class that followed was somewhat disappointing. A favorite running back recruit the Irish were hoping to get in David Perkins ditched them for Ohio State, leaving the team without much for incoming RB's to bolster the stable which does not have much in it. The Irish also lost their favorite receiver prospect in Deontay Greenberry, who bailed on them on signing day and went to Houston, instead...then Greenberry's cousin Tee Shepard, a highly-rated cornerback who had enrolled at ND early, left the program, as well.
The biggest bomb, though, was when the best D-lineman the Irish have seen in years in Aaron Lynch left the program last week after a very impressive freshman year - one that saw him shred the ND O-line in last years' Spring game, then go onto the regular season and record 5.5 sacks (team-leading), 14 quarterback hurries, 33 tackles including 7 for a loss, and a forced fumble on his way to being named a freshman All American. His departure, apparently, is due to homesickness...he wants to be back in Florida where he's from. Lynch is a phenomenal young athlete, and it's an understatement to call this loss a "blow"...I could certainly use one of those right now, but I digress.
The bright side is that The Irish DID manage to land a coveted quarterback recruit in Gunner Kiel. They managed to pluck him from LSU at the last minute, in fact. Right now, though, Kiel is practicing with a heavy heart...he lost his uncle, former ND quarterback Blair Kiel (who played in the NFL for 7 years) just last week. The death was reported as being from "natural causes", though results of an autopsy are still pending. Regarding the death, Gunner said "It’s really tough to lose an uncle who is so young. He died at the age of 50. It was so sudden. God has a plan for all of us, and that was his plan. Now I’m going to have a guardian angel who’s going to be here for me all the time."
I will add this about Kiel: I will be watching him...it would be one hell of an inspiring story if Gunner, fueled by the ghost of his Uncle Blair, managed to overtake an experienced, but average starting QB in Tommy Rees, as well as the high-potential backups of Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson and end-up having one hell of a career...one never knows, but we'll see.
With all of this happening within ND football, I'm having serious doubts about their coach in Brian Kelly. I certainly hope he proves me wrong and has a great third year to his career, but since he has arrived at ND some stuff has happened that has me questioning his ability to control and lead this program. In Kelly's first year, there was the Declan Sullivan tragedy, then a student allegedly raped by an ND football player ended-up committing suicide over it. Last year Kelly made the comment about his recruits vs. the players he did not recruit on the team which caused a stir among his players, and then, of course, you have all these defects going-on before AND after recruiting and Kelly does not seem to be making much effort at preventing them from happening...his upcoming third year will certainly tell all of us how legitimate that concern is.
Then there's the ND Hockey team - a program which has been pretty successful in recent years and made the Frozen 4 last year - did not even make the NCAA tournament this year...Beeze knows more about that than I do.
Notre Dame is not the only team that has me in angst, though. My beloved alma mater in the FCS, the Montana Grizzlies, are dealing with some turmoil of their own.
Recently, some of their football players got into trouble with the law, specifically with alleged sexual assault and rape charges. As a result of this, Griz Head Coach Robin Pflugrad and Athletic Director Jim O'Day were both fired. Among the accused are last years' starting QB in Jordan Johnson. Johnson is back with the team after a brief suspension when the woman who accused him got a restraining order on him, but he returned to practice when that order was converted to a "civil agreement"...it's not over for him yet, though. The police investigation is still continuing in the matter, so he could face charges depending on the outcome. If Johnson is then charged with the crime, he'll be off the team and then, guess who comes in? Yep, Mighty Joe's son Nate Montana who sucks! The Griz will definitely be up shit creek if that happens, if they are not already. The good news? Pflugrad was quickly replaced by longtime Griz assistant Mick Delaney who will see the team through the 2012 season. He's as good a replacement as there can be considering that he is very experienced, knows the system and the players, and does not plan on changing the system much at all. We'll see how it all plays out.
Okay...done venting now. Thank you for reading.