Once again, Greetings fellow You Gabbers!...and just like that, the 2011 college football season is now half-over.
It is now time for Irish Shu to look back and assess how things have gone thus far for my beloved Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
The short version?...they’re a step down from where I predicted they would be at this point as far as results are concerned, but they’re right about where I expected them to be as far as progress, execution and gelling-together. I had predicted they’d be at 1 loss right now and they’re at 2. They could just as easily be an undefeated team right now if only they’d had their shit together when they came-out of the gate….I know, I know, “and if the queen had balls she could just as easily be the king.” Whatever. The breaks happen as they do and it is what it is…okay, that’s enough clichés for now.
Looking at it game by game:
SOUTH FLORIDA: I was, indeed, nervous about this game…and for good reason, as it turned out. The Irish had a tough first test against Coach Skip Holtz (aka Lou Jr.) and a Bulls team that was a favorite to win the Big East crown. The game was twice interrupted by the stadium being evacuated due to lightening storms which was a bad omen in itself. On top of that the Irish struck their own thunder by committing 5 turnovers to South Florida’s 0 – the most costly of which came on ND’s opening drive when running back Jonas Gray fumbled while driving to the end zone and USF’s Kayvon Webster scooped up the loose ball and ran 96 yards for a score that would set the tone for the rest of the game which ended in a stunning 23-20 Irish loss. Ironically, Notre Dame finished the game with double the total yardage of South Florida…an advantage nullified by those costly turnovers as well as an inability to finish drives on offense. A quarterback switch from starter Dayne Crist to Tommy Rees did not help the outcome and it is still baffling, to me, that Crist lost the starting role after playing only one half and never got it back.
MICHIGAN: ACK!!! Notre Dame beat Michigan’s asses up and down the field nearly all game long and dominated in both time of possession and total yardage only to lose 35-31 to the honey badgers...er, I mean Wolverines because they just didn’t give a shit! (kidding – that reference is for the Beeze – he’ll get it!). No, it was because of the damn turnovers, again. The Irish had 5 in this game to Michigan’s 3…and they almost won, anyway, but the defense forgot to finish the damn game and let quarterback Denard Robinson drive for 80 yards in just 3 plays and 28 seconds to score the winning TD with just 2 seconds left in the game. Dipshits! FINISH THE DAMN GAME NEXT TIME! ASSHOLES!!! I hate losing to Meat Chicken, can you tell?
MICHIGAN STATE: The only thing that would have pissed me off more than losing to Meat Chicken would be losing to Sparty in the same season…fortunately, that didn’t happen. Notre Dame FINALLY got it together and beat the Spartans 31-13. NOT an easy team to have to bounce-back against but despite 3 turnovers and a pretty good day by State senior QB Kirk Cousins, they got it done. This time, it was Sparty who got snake bit as they had a better game than the Irish, statistically (except in the running game – they only had 29 yards which is well-short of what is typical for them), but were also done-in by penalties and 2 turnovers; the more costly of which was an interception by cornerback Robert Blanton who returned it 82 yards to the Michigan State 12 with under 4 minutes left to seal the win. Another helpful big play was an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from freshman running back George Atkinson III. Again, this was a much-needed win against a team which, at this writing, is ranked #15, is fresh-off a win over the same honey badgers that beat the Irish in Ann Arbor (and just didn't give a shit), and has not lost a game yet to anyone other than the Irish.
PITTSBURGH: This was another game I was nervous about because it was on the road against a pretty good Pitt team that I thought would go in very motivated to make a good showing for Tony Dorsett and John Majors – 2 Pitt icons who walked out of the tunnel with the team at the start of the game. Pitt did put-up a pretty solid fight, but lost 15-12 to an Irish team that really didn’t put it together until they needed to. A 4th quarter drive by Tommy Rees that saw him go 8 for 8 and finish with TD and 2-point throws, both to tight end Tyler Eifert was nearly the only successful drive he could put together against a Pitt defense that came-in with the nation’s 119th-ranked pass defense. Other than that, a second-quarter, 79-yard scoring run by Jonas Gray were the only big plays the Irish offense could muster…but as it turned-out, it was all they needed. The Irish defense did the rest as they kept Pitt running back Ray Graham in-check and held Pitt to just 12 points. Credit Rees for this much though; Pitt’s D keyed on the great Irish receiver Michael Floyd and double-teamed him throughout thus limiting him to 4 catches for the game, but Rees grew-up and managed to find his other receivers when he couldn’t find Floyd. The Irish win also came in spite of 2 turnovers to Pitt’s 0…it also peaked my interest that, 5 nights after this game, this same Pittsburgh team bounced-back and THROTTLED by a 44-17 score the same South Florida team that beat the Irish in their opener. College football is, indeed, strange sometimes.
PURDUE: Despite this game being at Ross-Aide, I didn’t think the Irish would have much trouble with Purdue and, indeed, they did not. Simply put, Notre Dame’s offense really started to peak in this game, the defense played as-usual, and they simply had too much talent for the Boilermakers as they dominated in a 38-10 rout that easily could have been even more lopsided than it turned out. The biggest improvement was that they FINALLY managed to finish a game without turning the ball over. Rees finished one of his better games 24 of 39 for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns as he picked-apart a Purdue D unit that couldn’t contain the Irish receivers.
AIR FORCE: The backs of the odd-numbered Air Force players’ jerseys say “service” above the numbers instead of the player’s last name. The backs of the even-numbered players say “freedom”. We certainly thank ALL of our military personnel for both their service and our freedom…but after this game, the backs of the Falcon’s asses had a huge footprint on them. 59 to 33 – the most combined points ever scored in a game at Notre Dame Stadium in a game that showed just what the Irish offense can do at full potential. 7 Irish players scored touchdowns in this game and, for the second game in a row, the Irish did not turn the ball over. There was some bad news despite the rout – the Irish defense let the Air Force option attack torch them for 363 rushing yards, most of those coming around the ends…something that future opponents will take note of. The Irish did throw-in a new wrinkle; that of sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix and his ability to run…and he did that for 111 yards and almost a touchdown in change-of-pace duty. The reason I originally predicted this game as a loss is because I thought the Irish D would not be up to the task of shutting down the option…well, they weren’t, but luckily the Irish O was clicking on all cylinders to more than pick up the slack.
So, now that the first 6 games are in the books we look ahead to the remaining games that come after the bye week. The 2 upcoming games against the Pac 12 opponents in USC and Stanford appear to be the toughest…not that there aren’t some other teams there that couldn’t bite them, too.
My big concern is with special teams. George Atkinson III has been a pleasant surprise on some kickoffs, but there has been little to celebrate other than him. Punt returns have been poorly handled if handled at all. Michael Floyd has stepped into the job, but hasn’t taken off with it yet. And what’s up with David Ruffer??? The guy came into the season as a Lou Groza Award semifinalist after going 18 for 19 on field goals last year and now he’s only made half of his attempts this year. We’ll see if he can right the ship.
Team health, however, has been a bright spot as injuries have been minimal – a sprain here, a bruise there and not much else. Let’s hope that keeps up.
We’ll see how the rest of the season plays-out. GO IRISH!!!
PS I gotta hand it to B.O.B. – on my last blog when I predicted how my Montana Grizzlies would do, he said “look out for Sacramento State!” He was right. The Hornets have handed the Griz their only Big Sky Conference loss so far and they may make more noise in that league yet. We shall see.