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9.28 - Notre Dame Ranked #1, Twice

It seems to be lost on the synaptically challenged that the Irish have played the hardest schedule in the country to this point and will likely stay there after meeting Purdue, Notre Dame's fifth straight undefeated opponent. Only four teams in the top 20 crack the top 20 in schedule strength. The second closest good team is USC at number 9. The other 16 teams playing the toughest schedules aren't ranked. Competition matters and Notre Dame is 3-1 against the best schedule in the country. Notre Dame would likely be 4-0 with almost any other team's schedule and ranked number two in the country.

All this is not to say that Notre Dame hasn't looked out of sync and just plain bad at times, but it would seem most scribes and talking heads lost their perspective meters, if they ever had them. Give any team four tough games out of the gate and every wart is going to be exposed and letdowns experienced. Some are already downplaying Notre Dame's performance against its future schedule but not applying the same criteria to teams ranked in the top 20 right now.
Different standards. Where would other top teams be ranked after playing Notre Dame's schedule?

While we're talking numbers, Notre Dame also ranked number one in graduation rate out of every team in the top 25 team. Look below for the list of shame in the top 10.

1. Ohio State 55%
2. Auburn 63%
3. Southern Cal 55%
4. West Virginia 63%
7. Texas 40%
8. Louisville 53%
9. LSU 49%
10. Georgia 41%

12.Notre Dame 95%

One of these is not like the others.

Speaking of shame, I want to choke when I read anyone comparing Willingham's second year to Weis's. At this point in Chauncey's career he was in the middle of the worst stretch of ND football in its history.

In the history of ND football.

An odd time to compare the two.

Check this out:

11-30-02 at Southern Cal LOST 13-44
Gator Bowl - North Carolina State LOST 6-28
9-13-03 at Michigan LOST 0-38
9-27-03 at Purdue LOST 10-23
10-11-03 at Pittsburgh WON 20-14
10-18-03 SOUTHERN CAL LOST 14-45
10-25-03 at Boston College LOST 25-27

Worst stretch in the history of ND football.

Never forget. Never, ever forget.

At this point in Chauncey's second season he was 1-3. Meanwhile Weis has gone 3-1 against the toughest schedule in the country.

~ The Rock

9.25 - The Exorcism

Down by 17 points, it seemed even mother nature was conspiring to make Irish fans wait another year to end Michigan State's inexplicable spell over the Blue and Gold. The rain, already coming down in sheets, changed directions at the end of the third quarter driving the storm directly into the path of the Irish comeback. But fueled by big plays and Heisman throws from Brady Quinn, the Irish did the improbable and in the process changed pre-penned newspaper headlines and articles across the country. The morning Chicago Tribune even featured the "Dewey beats Trumanesque" headline, "Irish Are Own Worst Enemy."

Blame the wet field. Blame the driving rain. Blame the swirling winds. Blame the screaming Michigan State fans. And blame Notre Dame. Yes, mostly, blame the Irish. Exposed by the Spartans as slow defensively and erratic offensively, Notre Dame proved unable, for the second week in a row, to claim any traction on the football field. As the third quarter came to a soaked end, the Irish were well on their way to a second straight drubbing, trailing the Spartans 37-21. As the minutes ticked off, Notre Dame was eding what little footing it had in the national-title race. - Chicago Tribune

Then of course, everything changed.

In every successful coaching career there is a statement game, when a team rises above the Xs, Os and circumstance and wins on heart and determination. Weis may have found his defining moment on Saturday night. The often emotionless leader coaxed his team out of a two game funk and helped engineer a remarkable comeback that, unlike last year, did not fall short.

The win and the post game celebration made all the more sweet by Smith's juvenile attempt to "protect the S" as if it were a battle between the neighborhood toughies on The East Side Kids. Smith actually had three players stand at the 50 yard line for at least 20 minutes after the game ended, thinking Notre Dame players would even care to plant a flag at midfield. It's hard to imagine a leader of college age men directing such an innappropriate and immature act, but such is the character of John L. Smith.

Many Irish watchers have already compared Saturday's win to Lou Holtz's come from behind win over USC in 1986. Time, of course will tell the true importance of the game, but the facts point to this being a very good Irish team.

Notre Dame football,
according to Sagarin, has played the hardest schedule in the country so far and not a word of whining from the man at the top. In fact only two teams in the top 20 are in the top ten in schedule strength and four of the top are in the top 20 in SOS... which means 16 teams have a had a fairly easy go of it.

The comparisons to Willingham are absurd as omahadomer points out:

Here are the aggregate point differentials for coaches through 16 games. Their record is noted parenthetically.
Weis: +151 (12-4)
Holtz: +137 (9-7)
Willingham: +32 (11-5)
Davie: +12 (9-7)
Not quite the same is it? Weis deserved this sweet victory. This team has problems, as we'll cover later in the week, but the important thing is that Notre Dame faced adversity in hostile territory and exorcised the Davie curse that's been hanging over this program since Lou left.

~ The Rock

9.22 - The Empire Strikes Back

This is going to be quick. Yeah, ND got its Irish kicked by the skunks, but that was an anamoly game, not a tell-tale game.

Michigan ran for 2.9 yards a carry. Henne completed just over 50% of his passes. It wasn't the defense that lost last Saturday's game.

Here are five things that need to change.

1. McKnight has to quit bitching to the refs and just make plays. He's been playing like an excuse maker. Shark acts like he's already got his MLB paycheck. Neither has played as if they want a championship.

2. Quinn has been skittish, but he also has no running game and seems to have slower developing plays than last year. He did thread those Carlson passes against PSU, but I've seen better throws available on many plays. Yes, the interception to Carlson should have been a cactch, but it also was a yard behind. Last year Quiinn could get away with imprecise passes, not this year. Though McKnight has shown the ability to drop even precise passes.

3. Darius showed great 1-10 yard speed in his touchdown run against Georgia Tech, but he needs to just hit the damn hole with that kiind of speed on most plays. He'll pop loose on some, only go for three on others, but at least he won't be left dancing with the stars. The "vision play" has been played out. He's just not fast enough when the defense has studied this tendency.

4. On defense, I dont' get Talley. Tough kid, but he's been abused since SC last year. Don't leave Lambert on an island.


That's it. I expect ND to rebound. We don't need a major overhaul and there's no reason to lose to Michigan State and Notre Dame doesn't need huge corrections.

ND wins and will care less about planting a flag like a bunch of eight year olds. They'll walk off the field like they should win this game. Quinn will get throw for three touchdown passes. ND will win by at least seven.

Perhaps the most humorous aspect to this last weekend is pundits complaining that Notre Dame was overrated -- they of course were the ones doing the overrating. Suddenly Michigan is great, Notre Dame won't make a BCS and Quinn is out of the Heisman hunt.

Teams are never as good or as bad as they appear.

~ The Rock

9.20-Memo to Dr. White: An Official Mess

I was going pen a rant about officiating and the absurd situation Notre Dame is in using opponents' referees, but KLav and Andy Cross have done the job for me.

The bottom line is that Kevin White needs to show leadership and strength and address a situation that's not revenue producing.

Memo to White: referee screw jobs do affect long-term revenue production, perhaps even more than a jumbotron.

Notre Dame is the fifth most penalized team in the NCAA. The Irish have been flagged for ten holding calls this year. Our opponents: zero, goose egg, nada, the big 'O'. After watching offensive linemen do everything but check Abiamiri's prostate this year, it's impossible to conclude that zero is a fair number. Notre Dame lost and was beaten by Michigan regardless of officiating, BUT that does not excuse Notre Dame allowing an inequitable playing field.

From KLav:

I know from experience that there in no group of people from the Big 10
(or any conference for that matter) that will look at a tape of yesterdays game
and "grade" the officials unless Notre Dame or Michigan asks for a formal review
to take place, with detailed accounts of the perceived incompetence. Also, the
"results" of this fictional meeting would never be revealed to us. Do you really
think the head of Big 10 officials is going to call Kevin White or Charlie Weis
and say "Yep. You guys were right. My guys really @#$@$ up."

However, I just want to add that there is no memo sent out, or phone call
made to the officials that work our games directing a crew to see the game in
our opponents favor. It hasn't happened, and it will never happen. The
incompetence is far more subtle. The real source of the slanted field is born in
the FACT that these Big 10 crews might work one Notre Dame game every 2 years.
There is no "connection" made between our coaching staff and the officials. How
many Michigan games has that head linesman worked in his life? How many Notre
Dame games has he worked in his life? How many pre-game meetings has the Referee had with Joe Paterno? Joe Tiller? Lloyd Carr? How many has he had with Charlie Weis? Do you receive better service from a waitress that you see on a daily
basis, or one at the Highway Diner 100 miles out of town? If you are a CPA, do
you treat a client that you have known for 2 months the same that you treat a
20-year client? When the tire meets the road, and that official out there has to
make a snap decision as to whether or not he saw a hold, trust me, those things
instantaneously affect your decision-making. Hence, we all know exactly what the
term "homered" means in regards to officials in ANY sport.

I have witnessed this year alone, so many calls and non-calls that I could
make a video and show it to a group of first year officials. I would title that
video "Officiating Bloopers." The worst call of yesterdays game was the hold
called on Rhema on a completion to Smardzija. If that is a hold, then the entire
game of football as we know it is dead. The way Rhema was blocking is the exact
same way that every WR has been stalk blocking since the invention of the
forward pass. It made me sick to my stomach. The good news is that Kevin White
can solve this problem by setting up a relationship with two conferences.
Logically, these two conferences in my opinion, would be the MAC and the either
Conference USA or the Big 12. The bad news is that he won't do it. The worse
news is that none of us will ever know why. PS- We lost yesterday because
Michigan kicked our asses. If every call or non-call that we saw yesterday went
in our favor, we would have still lost. The bottom line is this... Someone
@#$@#$ up and thought the current situation would work out. Maybe the decision
was made when we sucked, and we just wanted to make sure we had officials from a
respected conference working our games.

The current situation regarding the officials we use is insane. It defies
logic. It is laughable, and it needs to change ASAP. As I detailed earlier in the year, there are many things about football officiating in general that are broken. However, this one falls on our shoulders. Fool me once... shame on you. Fool me for 5, 6, 7 years in a row... shame on me.

From Andy Cross:

I'd like anybody to articulate an argument against the use of neutral crews in all intersectional games.

I think that about a third of all games are intersectional, frontloaded to September contests. I think there are about 50-60 games a week involving D-1 games.

So, I would guess there are an average of between 30 early season and 10 mid and late season intersectional games per week. It seems that this need for refs for intersectional would be best addressed by crews of unaffiliated refs - hired, trained, paid and snactioned by the NCAA (through per game contributions of teams requiring such refs).

In the short term, Kevin White could and should inform all opponents that henceforth, all ND games, home and away, will use neutral refs.

Sure, some AD's would balk, but they couldn't articulate any reasonable argument in favor of using captive ref crews. This truly is an area where White could negotiate from a righteous position of strength.

From thegonzo:

Disclaimer: by no means to I want to complain about the UM loss - but an earlier post on the seemingly biased officials made me want to take a look at ND's penalty performance. First, let's point out some simple facts:

NCAA average (per game):penalties: 6.1yards: 51.5
ND average:penalties: 9.3yards: 76

So, ND is getting flagged much more than average. For a team that I think most would consider to be highly disciplined (last year we had few penalties 6.5/56 - about average), it's surprising that we'd be so high - particularly since we're a veteran team.

If we then look at our opponents, on a whole, they average:penalties: 6yards: 49... or just about the league average. But when you look at their performances against ND, you'll see a clear story:

Against ND (game average):penalties: 4.7yards: 41
Against everyone elsepenalties: 6.7penalties: 53

Now, this is a small sample set, but from this, it is clear that ND is penalized a lot and that opponents are more error-free when playing ND. Particularly when considering that our opponent's penalties are often blatant, if not personal fouls - perhaps suggesting that players feel the right to push the rules since the refs let them get away with a lot.

I think an argument can be made that this is due to some level of bias in the refs. Assuming that ND fouls as much as other teams, we'd get another 3 plays back and 25 yards a game. In addition, if our opponents reverted back to there non-ND average, they'd lose another 2 plays and 10 yards.

Which creates a 5 play, 35 yard swing. Now 5 plays & 35 yards did not hurt us against UM, but may make games like GT closer than they should be.

A thorough film review is the only way to determine if this trend is a real concern. If it is, I hope ND takes some action - particularly now that OK has set the precedent that it's ok to demand fair treatment from the refs.

Oklahoma is taking action after losing to Oregon:

Oklahoma would consider canceling its game at Washington in 2008 if the
Pacific 10 Conference doesn't change its rule requiring league officials to be
used at its home stadiums, Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. The Sooners
lost 34-33 at Oregon on Saturday, and Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen has since
said that two incorrect calls by the league's officials on Oregon's behalf
changed the outcome of the game. On Monday, Oklahoma president David Boren sent a letter to Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg asking him to pursue having the
Pac-10 remove its officiating policy.

The bottom line here is that the current system is inequitable. And while change might negatively affect the income statement in the short-term, that cost is negligible compared to the dough ND could be losing in the long-term. Pressure should also be brought on the NCAA to standardize policy so that schools aren't left trying to cut deals to get a fair deal.

~ The Rock

9.18 - Napalm

Well it's no secret that I viewed this as the danger game. Nobody expected a 26 point debacle, but this one had too many factors moving against it in my opinion.

Schedule & Focus: Notre Dame was coming off two tough games against highly thought of opponents. Georgia Tech was a struggle and the Penn State game inexplicably became the hype game of the year for many. Meanwhile, Michigan was able to game plan for Notre Dame all summer. They opened up with Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. As I wrote last month, the odds were against Notre Dame going 3-0 to start the season.

One Game Motivation: This game actually reminded me of Notre Dame's 2004 win against UM. The Irish were drubbed the year before, pointed to that game all summer and were able to beat a pretty good Michigan football team before tanking the rest of the year.

Talented Depth: Michigan and Notre Dame both had experienced starters, but Notre Dame's black hole of recruiting from Ty's last year and Weis's first month leave the Irish with no margin for error. There simply aren't enough talented players on the field/pieces in the puzzle. We are paper thin with no one to push the starters to the next level. Our junior class has nine players left in it with exactly one starter. Not one player was a five star player and only one was, arguably, even a four star player. Our sophomore class has 14 players left and only three of those were highly recruited. None were elite players. In other words, COMBINED our sophomore and junior classes are far below almost any one class from another top program. We were one bad class away from a de facto death penalty.

The Hype: Normally I'm a fan of the hype, but it really seems to have affected Notre Dame. Some players appear complacent; others seem to be trying too hard. Something is off, we're not making plays.

All of those factors set the stage for a tough struggle against Michigan, but game time revealed a one dimensional Irish team not unlike the days of Diedrick. The Irish just can't run the ball and can't make teams pay for loading up against the pass and that is killing us. Contrary to popular belief, the defense didn't play that bad and Henne was perfect when he needed to be on two touchdown throws to the corner. If the offense had been able to move the ball at all, the defense would have looked much, much better. 14 of Michigan's points were scored by the defense. In other words, Notre Dame's offense outscored Michigan's defense by seven points. Turnovers are always key in a big game, but just like Penn State, some of ND's turnovers were dictated by Michigan dominance.

What this loss did do was burn off all of the overgrown expectations about this team that masked some realities most wanted to ignore.

  • McKnight is a significant drop-off from Stovall. Not sure what's up from shark, but he's not getting separation. Stovall was our best receiver last year.
  • Quinn is just off. That first interception was thrown high and behind. Mark this down. I think Clausen will be better than Quinn in this offense by his sophomore year. We have a nervous quarterback.
  • We have zero game-breaking ability... which means if you're not controlling the clock on offense, no one's going to bail you out. We have no game-changers. We have little downfield capability.
  • Our offensive line might be the weakest mentally that I've seen run-blocking. Here's where we desperately needed more numbers to knock the dead weight out of there. There isn't one OL in our junior classs. Not one. Top teams have sophomore and junior AA recruits as backups. We don't even have a junior OL recruit.
  • Darius Walker is a fine complementary back, but I watched USC's freshmen the other night. They're simply at a different level. I believe Walker is a good counter type back, but ND needs to land someone that causes defensive coordinators to change their game plans to control. No one respects our running game.
  • We need some shutdown players on defense. Hopefully Gray is a start.
  • As someone opined on Rock's House yesterday, the Willingham "it's okay" influence is still pervasive.
  • Why do we not try to block a punt? Zibby's a great threat, but we're not giving him adequate blocking. If we try to block a punt we might open something up. Neither West or Grimes is that fast... both are quick.
  • I see many people writing about Weis's demeanor, good or bad, as if it matters. I believe he's been trying to project an air of confidence whether or not there are talent deficiencies. He refuses to make excuses, but that doesn't mean he truly thinks we're world beaters.

Notre Dame still has the ability to beat anybody, but there is just no margin for error on this team. If Quinn is off, the receivers drop balls and we have turnovers we could also lose to anybody right now. Michigan was primed for the win and Notre Dame was primed to be beaten. Congrats to the skunkbears... as a prize you get to keep Lloyd for another year.

~ The Rock


Lou Holtz
From Chapter 11, Getting Rid of Excuses

Buy at Amazon.com
pp.199-201 – Getting the ND job

If I didn’t already understand the strict standards at the University of Notre Dame, I got a quick lesson in my first conversation with Father Joyce. After he offered me the job as head coach, he said: “Before you accept, there are a few things you need to consider. We have certain rules that might not apply at other universities, but that are nonnegotiable here at Notre Dame. First, we will not redshirt an athlete, and we will not accept a transfer from another school or junior college. The head football coach has nothing to do with admissions. In order for a student-athlete to be accepted at Notre Dame, he will have to have good college boards and solid grades with at least sixteen core curriculum credits. Our athletes live in the dorms on campus, and come under the sole jurisdiction of the dorm rector. Also, you will never be able to talk to a professor about a student’s academics. That is the job of the academic counseling office. Do you understand?”

“I do,” I said. This came as no surprise: I knew that the standards at Notre Dame were high and the rules were rigid; still, to hear them laid out in such cut-and-dried detail made me realize what an exacting and different place the university really was.

“That’s not all,” Father Joyce said. “We will always play a difficult schedule, the most difficult we can find. And we expect to win. Your players will miss or be late for practice if it conflicts with classes or labs. And finally, the head football coach will never make more than the president of the university.”

I gulped at that last one. The president of Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh, was a priest who had taken a vow of poverty.

“If you can accept those terms, we would love to have you join us at the University of Notre Dame,” he said.

I could certainly accept the terms. In fact, I looked forward to working in an environment where the rules were that clear and nonnegotiable. Father Joyce was right: the things he had outlined did not apply at many other universities, but very few universities could compare with Notre Dame. The rules he had just outlined were based on Christian teachings, Church doctrine, and standards of conduct that made Notre Dame one of the most highly respected institutions in the world. Notre Dame was not a place you attended to learn to do something; it was a place you attended to learn to be somebody. The rules reflected that. I couldn’t wait to get there. In addition, he did not mention a single thing that would keep us from winning. He didn’t say we must play with only eight players while the opponent could use eleven.

But I had to talk things over with my family. As much as I had always wanted to be the head football coach at Notre Dame, I still had a daughter in high school and a son who had enrolled at the University of Minnesota at our insistence. Kevin had been a diabetic
since age fifteen, and had to take insulin injections four times a day. We wanted him at Minnesota so we could be close in case he needed our help. We had to make sure he was mature enough to handle his own medical needs. Plus, accepting the job at Notre Dame meant moving a second time in just over two years. I had to make sure the family agreed to all of this before I accepted. I knew Skip would be excited, because he was a junior at Notre Dame.

Father Joyce understood completely. Notre Dame had one more game against Miami, and even though they were not going to renew Gerry Faust’s contract, they were in no rush to make any announcements. I took the call from Father Joyce on Monday morning, and
promised to call him back on Tuesday.

I could never have expected the kind of reaction I got at home. Liz was thrilled. Not only did she insist that I take the job, she said she couldn’t wait to finish her senior year of high school in South Bend. Beth was equally ecstatic. She knew this had been my lifelong dream, and she was overjoyed that it had finally come true. Kevin assured his mother and me that he would be fine, and that he could indeed handle his own health-care needs. With the decision made, I went back to the bedroom to make some notes about things I needed to do and people I needed to call.

pp.205-207 – Arriving in ND

Monday morning, I arrived in South Bend and got to work. The team sat in the meeting room, kicked back. I could tell they were either feeling sorry for themselves after their big loss, or taking a lackadaisical attitude toward my arrival. Both were unacceptable.

“Sit up, gentlemen!” My tone wasn’t quite a shout, but I got their attention.

Junior quarterback Steve Beuerlein looked stunned. He turned around and made eye contact with wide receiver Tim Brown. Both young men had “what’s this all about?” expressions on their faces.

One of the players who didn’t respond was center Chuck Lanza, a great young man who would go on to be an All-American and our team captain. He had his feet propped up, and was examining his fingernails. I stepped toward Chuck and said, “Young man, how
long have you been playing football?”

He looked up and said, “I don’t know . . . ten, eleven years.”

“Well, if you ever want to play another down, you will put your feet on the floor, sit up straight, and pay attention.”

Then I addressed the entire team. “That goes for every man in this room. I want you to sit up straight, put your feet on the floor, keep your heads up, your eyes forward, and get ready to talk about winning football games. As a team, we have two purposes for having
meetings: one is to gather information, and the second is to disseminate information.

While I’m not a particularly good speaker, I do expect your full, undivided attention for the duration of any meeting we might have.”

I could tell that it had been a while since these players had been talked to like this, if they ever had. But I had to make a statement early. The only player in the room who knew me at all was a junior fourth-string flanker named Skip Holtz, whose mother happened to
be my wife. The rest of those athletes knew of me—some might even have seen me telling jokes and doing magic tricks on television—but they had no relationship with me, and no idea what to expect. It was important that I set the tone of my relationship with the team from the outset. I cared about each of them deeply, but I was not going to be their friend. I wasn’t going to hang out and joke with them; I was going to be their coach. I would love them and treat them fairly, but I would also keep a professional distance. I would be there for them when they needed me, but as an authority figure, not as a pal. This team needed to know that there was a plan, my plan, and they could either get on board, or get off. Either way, the plan was going ahead with or without them.

After he’d hired me, Father Hesburgh had said, “Lou, I can name you the head coach, but I can’t name you the leader. Titles come from above. Leaders are selected by those under you. They will follow you if you have a vision and a plan.”

“I know you did not select me to be your football coach,” I said to the players. “In fact, if you had any say in the matter, I would be the last person you would select as your coach. That’s not important. What is important is that I selected you. I came here because of you. I want all of you to know that I did not come here to try to change Notre Dame, and Notre Dame did not bring me here to try to change me. This institution will not compromise, and neither will I.

“The standard has been set for us at Notre Dame by Knute Rockne, Moose Krause, Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy, Dan Devine, and all the other fine coaches and athletes who preceded you and me here. That standard is: We are going to play the best, and be committed to being the best we can be. We are going to do it the right way, with honesty, integrity, class, and togetherness, not only within the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law as well.”

I had their attention, so I talked about the direction we would be heading in the upcoming year, and what was expected out of each and every one of them. We would set the bar high. And I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that we would accept no excuses. The time for making excuses was over. The time to become a team, and perform as a team, had begun.

“I ask each of you to follow three basic rules: Do what is right. Do your very best. Treat others like you’d like to be treated. Those rules answer the three basic questions I’m going to ask of each of you, and I expect you to ask me and the other coaches. The questions are: Can I trust you? Are you committed? And do you care about me? This is what I believe and what I practice.
“These three rules are all you need, whether you are a coach, a player, a parent, a child, an employer, or an employee. Everyone you meet asks three questions mentally: Can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? Do you care about me? The three rules answer these three questions positively. If you can trust someone, know he is committed to excellence, and cares about you, hug him and never let him go, because he is a winner. It would behoove you to remember that these are the same three questions everyone asks about you. For this reason, it is imperative that you always follow these three rules also.

“We’re not going to win football games because I’m here any more than someone can fix a flat tire by changing the person driving the car. If we’re going to be successful, we have to get rid of excuses for why we can’t win.”

The foregoing is excerpted from Wins, Losses, and Lessons
by Lou Holtz. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

9.15 - Michigan's One Game Season

It's all on the line for Michigan this Saturday. Lloyd Carr knows that a loss to ND won't just upset the skunkbear faithful, it will shatter the confidence of a team coming off a five loss season. Absolutely no sane person believes Bo's whining assertion that the ND is not as important to Michigan as a Big Ten team. He sounds like the kid who lost the race and then claimed it didn't matter anyway. As covered before, a writer at GoBlueWolverine argued that NOTHING else matters:

If Michigan loses again to the Irish I will cease to care. It won't matter if it's the only loss of the year. It won't matter if the Wolverines go into Columbus and knock off a No. 1 Ohio State. If Michigan comes out of South Bend 3-0 and proceeds to tank the rest of the season, I will still smile and return next season for more. If they lose, I will find another activity for my fall Saturdays. Somehow I feel I'm not alone.

Michigan is getting hurt bad on the recruiting trail, it's alumni are anxious and openly talking about Carr's retirement and the all-time winning percentage in college football is at stake.

All of this makes Michigan incredibly dangerous. They're as talented a defense as Notre Dame will face this year, have a seasoned quarterback, two good receivers and an outstanding running
back in Grady. They've also had two warm-up games to get the kinks out and it hasn't gone unnoticed that Carr has copycatted Weis's dictum that his players drop weight to become faster and gain better stamina this season.

Privately we've heard that Michigan has been preparing for Notre Dame from day one. This is the game right now.

Said Jake Long, "This is why we come to Michigan… big games like this…to play against Notre Dame."

Notre Dame is going to get Michigan's best shot on Saturday. The key when playing an emotionally charged team is to make the game boring until the odds are in your favor. I expect Weis to methodically pick his spots tomorrow. If Notre Dame can avoid big turnovers (heard this before?), the Irish should be able to take the emotional blow and win this game, but teams focused on a one game season, as Michigan is, can dramatically change the paper balance of a contest. Much of college coaching is about motivation. If the Irish come out flat, they will lose.

~ The Rock

And here are the best of the NDNation predictions this weak:
ALUMNI79: Charlie's snappy Band of Brothers will defeat Voyd's 'Bro' band Snappers 21 to 17
THERC: Weis Defenders Of The Faith will defeat Meatchicken Fighting Hennes 31 to 17
QUINN4HEISMAN06: Charlie and his voo doo will defeat Llllloyd and his man boobs 23 to 17
WEISENHEIMER: Fighting Irish will defeat Low Life Lactating Loser Lloyd & the Wannabees 28 to 21
TONYBULLETS: Future All-Time Winning Percentage Leader will defeat Former All-Time Winning Percentage Leader 31 to 20
HOWARDROARK: All that is good and just in college football will defeat new OC, new DC, same choke artist HC 24 to 20
IRISHTHRASHER: Llllloyd couldn't beat Davie or Ty will defeat And Charlie's no Davie or Ty 35 to 13
93DILLONITE: Our coach doesn't need a bra will defeat Least classy postgame handshaker in all of footbaw 28 to 21
GORT: Charlie's fupa will defeat Lloyd's gynecomastia 30 to 21
NDDL99: Citizens for Heaven will defeat Bums from Hell 24 to 20
THEFLASH: The Messiah will defeat The AntiChrist, The Beast and The False Prophet 29 to 23
NDVET08: Tommy's mohawk will defeat Henne's mullet 33 to 24
DAKOTADOMER: We tune up against teams with a pulse...sort of will defeat When will we able to schedule Mount Union? 27 to 13
KELLEYCOOK: Sorry, guys Chauncey 's not here anymore will defeat LLoyd's annual autumn harvest of defeat 38 to 0
SEC21ATLANTA: Shining City on a Hill will defeat Ann's current boyfriend 38 to 17
MONOGRAMMAR: Team soon to be #1 in all time winning percentage will defeat team soon to be #2 in all time winning percentages 31 to 24
GO93: Weis guys will defeat Carr salesmen 38 to 10
BOMBERDRIVER04: Fighting Irish will defeat Al Qaeda 31 to 13
RYNO: Cholly will defeat 1981 Bluebonnet Bowl Champs 28 to 27
2SHEDSJACKSON: Man with Big Balls will defeat Man with Big Tits 34 to 20
CARTWRIGHT: Weis's four rings will defeat Jeter's four RINGS!!! 21 to 17
REDHOTFRO: Charlie's 2nd Season will defeat Lloyd's Final Season 30 to 15
OITLINEBACKER: Not in Our house will defeat LLLLLLoyd's Swan Song 38 to 17
BIGIRISH: Coach on the way Up will defeat Coach on the way out 27 to 24
FLANIGAN: Fighting Irish will defeat Skunky mini-bears 28 to 14
GRIRISH: Blue & Gold will defeat will defeat arrogant shade of yellow and blue 38 to 21
SONOFND: Our Holy Mother The Church will defeat Godless, Amoral, Utilitarian Scion of Yost 30 to 17
LOCOLOBO: Easy as Pie will defeat Smelly like horseradish 31 to 24
DBCOOPER: I suck at this prediction thing will defeat Ive already been eliminated from contention 31 to 20
WILDESILAS: Charlie and the Touchdown Factory will defeat Slack-jawed, weak-eyed, inbred scUM 37 to 20
CUZTEAHAN: All time winning percentage recovered will defeat All time excuse record maintained 34 to 17
HIPSTER: God's team will defeat Overblown legends of the Big 10 34 to 13
KEENAN02: It takes a big man to support these brass balls will defeat it takes a big shirt to cover these massive tattas 31 to 16
GOIRISHBEATTROJANS: Brass Ones will defeat Big 'Uns 27 to 20
NDTUBA: Citizens of Heaven will defeat Secular Humanists 34 to 17
SIMPLYIRISH: ND will defeat Robert Traylor was accepted into U of Michigan? 34 to 17
INIGOMONTOYA: Ari's Fighting Viking Questors will defeat Choke out Lloyd and his man servants 38 to 10
GREENMANORITE: Green and Gold will defeat Unamaizing Coach Yellow 24 to 14
VAULTDADOF2: Thank God we finally have a real coach again! will defeat Thank God they continue to employ Llllloyd 38 to 10
DENZEL: Real student athletes will defeat the kinesiologists 31 to 21
105MARQUETTE: Khaki pants, white shirt, red tie, and blue blazer will defeat Blade sunglasses, Desmond Howard jersey, and jorts 34 to 26
ENDUFF: We don't need no stinkin kinesiolgy majors will defeat the only coach more whiny than my 4 year old 31 to 24
GOND570: Robot Genius will use his laser beam will defeat to light Carr's hot seat into a total blaze 34 to 14
SHADYIRISH: Vita Dulcedo Spes will defeat Contra Bonos Mores 31 to 14
KARLHUNGUS: Irish will defeat Maize is just a more cowardly shade of yellow. 31 to 23

9.11 - Signs

There aren't five quarterbacks in the game who could make the two phenomenal passes Brady Quinn did to Carlson in traffic to keep key drives alive. Those were two Heisman throws, but two of the best plays he made in the 41-17 win over Penn State were losses. With the Irish up big in the third quarter Quinn came under heavy pressure and ate back-to-back sacks. Not a play you want to see your quarterback make, but these were two opportunities for turnovers that could have given Penn State life. Instead, Quinn tucked ball and grabbed some turf. Turnovers decide big games (see Texas) and Quinn showed great maturity with the ball.

That was one of a few telling signs that we might have something good here. Admittedly, little things, but they're the type of plays the 1988 team made.

The Belt Buckle: Terrail Lambert's tackle on Derrick Williams after a monster punt by Price was a sign. Price launched an 60 yarder and Lambert (gunner) was the first one down the field. He broke down perfectly, kept his eye on William's belt buckle, didn't fall for the jukes and took Williams down for a four yard gain. That's the type of play championship teams make.

Hands Up: There has been a lot of criticism of our defensive line and defense in general, but they played very aware football on Saturday. On a key third down play, Morelli fired, but the ball was tipped away by Trevor Laws. A replay showed that all of our linemen were getting their hands up. Doesn't help every play, but the one that it does help on is usually an important one.

T2 and The Triple Team: The Lion taming play of the game was Zbikowski's fumble return for a touchdown, but that play was as much T2 as it was Zibby. Thomas came up field quick on the play, took on a block and then came back inside to wrap up, while Crum stripped the ball and Zibby grabbed some more rightful glory with a walk-in touchdown.

Chasing the Block: It was a nothing play with Walker heading to the sidelines, but I noticed Chase Anastacio locked up on a Lion dback and finishing to the sideline. Play didn't go for much and it certainly wasn't highlight worthy, but there will be a game that will turn on wide receiver blocking and having three wide receivers who can block is a little advantage that can mean a lot of yards.

Quintessential: Seldom used linebacker Steve Quinn on kick-off coverage duty broke through the Lion wedge and brought down AJ Wallace with a diving tackle. It's the type of play Notre Dame hasn't been making over the past decade. Notre Dame's special teams and defense tackled exceedingly well all game even drawing a mention from JoePa himself.

Joy To The Kicking Game: Who was that masked field goal kicker? After a rough opening game against Georgia Tech, Carlos Goia nailed two field goals that were meaningless to the overall score, but very important momentum kicks. Earlier in the week, Weis had said the problem was with his plant foot. It would appear that a huge question-mark is now a period.

Run Darius, Run: Darius Walker made it another game without a fumble. Say what you will about excessive dancing and lack of breakaway ability, but DWalk does not fumble. Also, note that Weis stayed with the run even when it wasn't working as well as he'd hoped, starting off the first second half possession by running wide. Penn State's pass rush was non-existent in the second half.

T2 and The Touchdown: In every championship run there are defining plays and Travis Thomas's collision touchdown at the pylon was the stuff championships are made of. Justin King was in great position to make the play, but Thomas simply outhit King and put the ball into the endzone.

Rhythm: Each game has a specific rhythm and Weis seemed to either gauge or dictate the rhythm of this game perfectly. I never felt as if Notre Dame would lose this game... I never felt that Weis didn't have complete control. He did pretty much what he planned on doing this in this game. Note what happens when a team is off rhythm: turnovers and big plays. Penn State was off rhythm. While many delusional Lion fans and even JoePa are complaining that they made mistakes, note that many of their mistakes came from trying too much, being out of sync or simply because the Irish made plays. Weis has shown a knack for understanding the tempo of each contest and where the intensity needs to be and his playcalling, taking the little the stuff and controlling the clock, kept the Penn State offense off the field and left them trying to do too much with too little time.

As I wrote earlier this year, even if the stars on the team play to their All-American potential, to beat the odds, Notre Dame needs every team member playing every play like a champion.

There appear to be some signs that such a mentality is taking hold, but right now they're just signs and there are plenty of weaknesses to work on.


Nice place to be, but the preseason is over.

The real season, IMO, starts next Saturday.

~ The Rock

9.4 - Ugh-lee, But A W

Only way to describe last night's gutted out win over Georgia Tech.

This is clear: The expectations for this Notre Dame team were too high and the struggle in Atlanta signaled the Irish are going to have to (cue the cliché machine) win some games on heart and determination this year.

Pop a Nexium. Chug a Pepto.

Hold me.

That's enough.

This doesn't mean Notre Dame can't run the table, but the rose colored glasses many fans were sportin' in August were hopefully left in The Victory parking lot with the crumpled beer cups or thrown across the living room in disgust. Or in Tim Kelly's case, across the 'Notre Dame Room' in disgust.

I digress.

That's the obvious. This is not a dominating Notre Dame team.


There's enough clay there to work with that expectations shouldn't be dashed, just adjusted to reflect reality. I stated last week that I thought a tough game should be expected and would actually be good for this team. I still believe that. Teams usually make the most improvement of the season from the first to second week because the obvious kinks show themselves in week one.

But before all that, let's deal with the 'penalty controversy' that sent Tech fans into a 'Notre Dame gets all the calls' frenzy: Helmet-to-helmet tackling is illegal regardless of intent. You do it to a quarterback and you're going to get flagged. You do it to the most recognizable quarterback in the country and you've shown remarkably poor judgment. On replay, the smack of helmet on helmet is disturbing. He led with his helmet and cracked Quinn right in the ear hole.

As these pictures from igoforwarsd show, it was obvious and flagrant.

I would agree, not a call you want to see influence a big game, nevertheless there was no reason to headhunt and the blame falls on Tech's Wheeler, not the officials. The language of the rule, as billyjeff points out, was actually changed to remove intent from the interpretation so any helmet-to-helmet tackling is illegal. It was a stupid play, no reason for it and he paid the price and so did Tech. The two immediate makeup calls (or was it three?) were a bit much. Notre Dame still scored. The most egregious penalty of the game was the inexplicable holding call on McKnight that stalled the first drive. The helmet-to-helmet hit is a clear rules violation.

Now let's get back to the game. Yeah, it was ugly, but remember: Quinn threw for 246 yards and completed over 60% of his passes with no interceptions on an 'off' night. That was cause for a party in previous years. Notre Dame out-gained Georgia Tech by over a hundred yards, held the ball for ten minutes more, held a 3-2 advantage in first downs and outscored the Jackets (y-e-l-l-o-w----j-a-ck-e-t-s is the lamest chant in football) 14-0 after spotting them a ten point lead. And, the most important stat: had zero turnovers, which are the real killers on the road.

He could have upped the game tempo, but he would have also increased volatility. Charlie plays the percentage game. Carroll02 ran the stats before and after Tech went up 10-0 and found that ND out-gained GT 293-67 after falling behind by ten. Notre Dame only struggled in comparison to lofty expectations. Otherwise they played a good game on the road and overcame a lot of mistakes, but showed a lot of weaknesses to work on.

Part of the reason Notre Dame didn't look aggressive on defense is that it appeared our linemen were guarding against the big play and weren't freelancing and getting caught in over pursuit or out of position. On the other hand, part of the reason Notre Dame's defense looked good is the offense held the ball for so long in the second half. If ND had moved the ball more aggressively, it's very likely Georgia Tech would have as well. We didn’t want a score war on the road. One thing to remember with Weis is that the defensive and offensive game plans are not separate entities; they are inter-related. Something Holtz used to do very effectively and never got proper credit for.

I believe Weis threw the ball too much in the first half, but many of the plays were there, the Irish just either weren't catching or throwing the ball effectively. McKnight and Samardzjia certainly were not getting open at will as many had hoped. The coverage on both was much better than expected. And the run was there, as was the quarterback draw (all night). Once we ran the ball well, we sapped their defensive aggressiveness. The other thing to consider is that if you're running quick hitters on offense, the defense is usually running all over the field and more vulnerable to a power running game when you switch gears. Those points made, I still believe (as I did against OSU) that Notre Dame could and should have used Darius Walker more in the first half. He's the kind of back that frustrates defenses. He's a frustrater. In the post-game press conference Weis mentioned that Quinn was checking out of runs in the first half, but in the second half ND stayed with the running game.

Expect to see more of the Georgia Tech-Ohio State defensive game plan against ND, for clearly it works, and until we adjust effectively, defenses will keep bringing it.

Still, Notre Dame clearly dominated this game from a statistical standpoint and mistakes (penalties and missed field goals) kept this closer than expected – mistakes that can be fixed.

Note again what didn't happen: turnovers. As written last week, that's the only way I saw Notre Dame losing this game. Part of that is purposeful conservative play-calling and judgment (remember Schwapp against MSU?) When you're the more talented team on the road, less mistakes is usually the difference. I wanted to see Munir Prince as well, but it looked like Charlie took the Schwapp lesson to heart. Also, don't believe for a second that the full playbook was in use.

Charlie going for it on fourth down while Davie whimpers on-air is so poetic. Charlie's got brass one's that clang when he walks and I'll bet against the odds with a leader rather than throw my lot with a pleaser every time.

~ The Rock


The 1993 season started out with a similarly unimpressive win.

Our kick return game was noticeably better, but I don't think either West or Grimes have 'go the distance' speed.

How about that punter?

Schwapp looked good running the ball. Very good. Not Bettis good, because he doesn't have the breakdown and direction change, but…

Lack of breakaway speed on offense limits what we can do.

Can we please use Zibby on offense for a few plays. He has the fastest football speed on the team, has moves and refuses to go down. Weis should use him on offense (assuming he can catch.) Zibby's got the 'anything could happen on this play' ability we've been missing.

While Quinn's completion percentage was good, his yards per attempt number was relatively… low.

Nedu and T2 both had good games. Nedu looks like a different player and his hit on CJ was the play of the game. The other Thomas did not look good.

Georgia Tech students personify geekness. Those were the losers yelling at women and throwing things.

Why was Wooden sittin' on wood'n?

Freshmen played and played a lot. Walls and Young played the most (can someone give Walls a milkshake?) Prince and Mo Richardson played significant minutes. Next year, I expect to see ten freshmen playing early in the season, maybe more. Charlie is not a-scared to go with young talent. I'm imagining Walls and Gray at corner and it's a good thing. Unfortunately, there are freshmen candidates to play at almost every position next year.

Did I mention this year is our best shot until 2008-2009?

A win on the road against a good team while most teams were playing patty cake. Take it.

First games are traditionally poor barometers for season performance. Do I have reservations? Hell yeah.

Note we came out of it with NO injuries. Take it and dial up Joe Pa. Embrace adversity. Adversity, for lack of a better word, is good. Adversity clarifies, cuts through and captures the essense o f the evolutionary spirit.

Finally, thanks for BarneyM for providing tickets in the middle of enemy territory. EBay is evil.