Saturday, September 01, 2007

Well, it was a nice season of college football while it lasted. And then the Fighting Irish kicked off in South Bend today. Even with the score being as lopsided as it ended up being, I think there were some signs that this team has some potential. This season is going to be a long ordeal, but it is (with some notable exceptions like center John Sullivan, "tailback" Travis Thomas and safety Tom Zbikowsi) a fairly young team.

I thought the defense played very well until the abject horror show that was the Notre Dame offense abandoned them on the field and they collapsed from exhaustion. With the exception of the personal foul/ejection on number 94 extending a drive that should have been a 3 and out, the defense exceeded my expectations. This new 3-4 under the leadership of the incredibly surprisingly competent Corwin Brown was fast. They covered well, but their pressure on the QB left a bit to be desired. I think they played the run fairly well, but it's hard to gauge when they were on the field for 2/3 of the game.

I was deeply disappointed in the offense. I am not sure whether Demetrius Jones was unprepared for the game, unprepared for the stage, totally overmatched or some combination thereof. Either way, he sucked. I don't particularly enjoy being that harsh, but when you play for the better part of two quarters and you have 1/2 as many fumbles (2) as passing yards (4), then you might want to rethink playing quarterback.

Evan Shipley was better, at least as far as passing goes. But I don't think he's the long term answer either. As for Jimmy Clausen, the time and tide were against him. I don't know whether I'm prepared to see him start for ND. He didn't bring a lot to the table, but at least he didn't fumble. Alas, one of these three must start at quarterback as this team moves forward.

The biggest disappointment of the day was Coach Weis. I appreciate what he was trying to do by delaying the announcement of his starting quarterback to minimize the pressure on the sacrificial lamb. I do not appreciate his refusal to adjust his pass protection and pass routes to help his quarterbacks deal with the Georgia Tech blitz that was clearly more than his team could handle in the first half. I can see the logic in running deep drops and having receivers run routes that take a while to develop when the opponent is breaking through the offensive line as though it weren't even there. That's great stuff, unless of course you want to win.

They did make some adjustments in the second half and Shipley moved the ball effectively through the air on the first drive of the second half (the one where they got points). They ran quick slants, they got the ball out of the quarterback's hand quickly. And it worked. They got the ball into the red zone, and came tantalizingly close to scoring a TD. If only that counted for something, that would be good stuff.

I also hold Weis responsible for the team's inability to run the ball. I am aware that Notre Dame seems impressed with its stable of backs. That's nice. That does not, however, mean that it is a good idea to throw a half dozen different tailbacks into the action in the first half. Establishing momentum would have been better than trying to see what you have on hand.

And when Notre Dame did choose one back to stick with it was Travis Thomas, the tailback who became a linebacker who became a tailback again. Now if you're the general who became a slave who became a gladiator like Maximus, then you might be able to do some damage. But if you're a tailback who was dispensable enough to become a very average linebacker, maybe you might not be the best ball carrier on the squad.

I thought the slow, downhill stretch run to Travis Thomas played into Georgia Tech's hands. I thought that one play killed the opening drive of the second half. They ran it thrice and lost yards every time. Notre Dame had the ball 3 and less than a yard inside the five yard line the last time they called it. Georgia Tech shot the gap and blew it up. Actually, they didn't shoot the gap, there was no gap. Tech just blew it up, Thomas lost five yards and they kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 16. A TD would have been oh so much better.

I appreciate loyalty. Thomas took one for the team in changing positions. It's nice that Weis wanted to reward him for his sacrifice. But the time for rewarding a good soldier probably isn't a key game that could derail the entire season. This was just one more bad decision in a series of bad decisions that was this game on Notre Dame's part. Georgia Tech had a great game plan and they executed it very well. Notre Dame had a terrible game plan and they executed it incredibly poorly.

There is hardly any reason for a ND fan to be optimistic going forward. Quarterback play is a huge problem, and it's probably going to be worse before it gets better. I said it was discouraging at the time, and now it's downright terrifying. But this offseason, the school brought distinguished alumnus Ron Powlus back to be the quarterbacks coach. It's kind of like bringing Michael Myers back to the nuthouse to lead group therapy. Powlus was horrendous. How does he help these guys get better? If he could have done it, he would have done it. Not to get all biblical here, but this is a textbook physician heal thyself situation here.

Statistically, this was the worst season opening loss in Notre Dame history. And now Penn State is looming on the horizon. And Notre Dame ran up the score on Penn State last year. I wouldn't be a very good Catholic (and I'm probably not a very good Catholic, but for other reasons) if I didn't believe in miracles. But I am downright terrified to think of this team going into Happy Valley. Who knows, though? Maybe this loss will awaken some measure of pride in the Fighting Irish. Or maybe Georgia Tech is much better than I think they are. But we'll see.

And after Penn State, ND plays Michigan, who comes off one of the more improbable upsets of all time, losing at home to Appalachian State this afternoon. That could be a good sign, but I doubt it. Even with the immortal Lloyd Carr at the helm, the Wolverines are going to be pissed. I could see them coming off this loss with a vengeance.

But there is some small measure of good news today. Rodney Harrison was suspended for using human growth hormone. I understand that there is a new emphasis on punishing players who have used illicit performance enhancing substances thanks to the corrupt bargain baseball made with chemically enhanced hitters. But that doesn't mean a great gentleman like Rodney Harrison should lose a portion of his season merely because a paper trails documents his foray into the wonderland of banned substances. What a world we live in.

Apparantly, Roger Goddell and his minions did not read this heartfelt, impassioned apology to the fans of New England which Rodney Harrison published in the Boston press today. If the commissioner had read it, surely he would have issued a special dispensation. After all, it wasn't to enhance his performance that Harrison took this substance. No, he took growth hormone to bounce back from injury.

Not being much of a fan of this style of speaking and writing which has become the default for celebrities who get themselves in trouble, I hate it when some one tries to give their actions a dishonest sheen. Of course he took growth hormone to get a competitive advantage. Getting back on the field after an injury more quickly than you would have naturally seems to be a competitive advantage to me. But I guess I'm just old fashioned that way.

With any luck, this is the beginning of bad things to come for the Patriots. The team was already thin in the secondary, with Chad Scott hurt and Samuel only being in camp for a few days. Now there's even more pressure on rookie Brandon Merriweather to step in a contribute. And if that weren't enough, FX is showing the Bridget Moynahan vehicle I Robot tonight. That's got to be a good omen for those who dislike the Patriots.

And from the weird, wild stuff file... Cowboys quarterback coach Wade Wilson is also being suspended by the NFL. Like Harrison, he's going for growth hormone, but he gets five games as opposed to the four games for the Pats safety. This surprised the hell out of me when I saw it on the ESPN ticker. If a coach is taking performance enhancing drugs, that's just strange. If he's distributing them to his players or any players then he ought to be fired outright.

The other thing that troubles me is I recently acquired (or reacquired) Tony Romo to quarterback my fantasy team. I don't know whether losing his QB coach is a good thing or a bad thing. Wade Wilson wasn't exactly Joe Montana in his playing days. But he wasn't horrendous like Ron Powlus. I haven't been overwhelmed by the players he's coached to date, but I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. We'll see how this works out, but I'm thinking Big Ben might be my starting QB before long.

I'm not too worried, though. I have LJ, Cedric Benson, Travis Henry and Deuce McAllister on my team, so my running back production should carry me. Plus I'm far and away the smartest guy in my league, so I'll manage. Unless people start weaseling kick returners into the lineup. Even if Bill Simmons, the arbiter of NFL history, thinks that the recent trend in production falling off for the last few guys who set the career carries record will claim LJ before his time, I have faith in him. It seems to me that a guy like Jim Brown must have set the record a time or two in his day for the 12 game schedule and he had a nice career. But I'll have more on this story as the season progresses.

1 comment:

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