Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Speed Kills

...or thrills, if your an Ohio State fan.

Plenty of it was on display in shades of red at the Fiesta Bowl Monday night. An Irish defense long maligned for its suspect ability to contain "the big play" was exploited by an unusually aggressive Buckeye team. Half of OSU's record-setting 617 yards came on just FIVE plays. OSU's SHORTEST scoring play was a 56-yard pass.

Clearly, as was the case when the season started, the biggest issue for the Irish remains the defense, in particular the secondary. Of course, though it's no consolation to Notre Dame, when Jim Tressel has actually decided to use Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn to their maximum, no team has been able to contain them. And in an unsually bold move, Tressel called pass plays on both of OSU's final two third downs, rather than his traditional run-clock-and-win-with-defense mode.

Whether we won or lost this game, Charlie Weis wasn't going to call the season a success because it featured two losses. A 9-3 Notre Dame team did give away the Michigan State game, but its other two losses came to two teams that will finish in the top four, both of those losses featuring good performances and competitive games.

I'm not going to bother trying to convince the ND haters out there of anything. Ohio State could have won this game 31-30 on a last second hail mary, and there would be those who said, "HA! Told you so! Notre Dame sucks! They got dominated! They don't deserve the BCS!!!" Nothing about how the Irish performed, except perhaps (a very big perhaps) had they won convincingly, was going to change their minds.

Notre Dame played a good game. But against Ohio State, to win requires a great game. The Irish didn't have one. Even so, the difference between the 2001 Fiesta Bowl and the 2006 Fiesta Bowl ought to be obvious.

Here in 2006, to a certain extent, the haters were right: on paper, the game should not have even been close. It might not have been had Ohio State not fumbled in the red zone and allowed two field goals to be blocked, but mistakes like that are part of the game. No team should have to apologize for the opposition's f$#k-ups.

So even in a game where they possessed far less raw talent, where they certain to be beaten backwards and forwards all day by "a defense the likes of which you've never seen", where they were woefully out of their league, ND STILL made enough plays and had a good enough strategy to put the game at 27-20 with two minutes left. Unfortunately Troy Smith showed why he should have been OSU's starter from the get-go this season and finished Notre Dame off on those two third downs in the closing minutes. That's what great teams do.

The 2001 Fiesta Bowl showed just how little things had really changed with Notre Dame football. This year's game was a less-than-perfect performance, but it showed how much Weis has changed things for the better. In not one single game this season did the Irish come out with that lazy, play-not-to-lose mentality. Not one game this season was lopsided.

-- SIDENOTE: Yes, I completely agree Ohio State had the chances to lock up the game early. THEY DIDN'T. Piling up yards doesn't count for points. Reaching the endzone does. So rather than decide that Ohio State botched away the chance to blow out the Irish, why not offer up a little credit to the Irish for making some timely plays and showing the determination and competetive fire that prevents blowouts? --

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1 Comments:

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