Monday, October 23, 2006

Post Mortem: Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17

Won on one.


For the second time in five weeks, Notre Dame saw its life flash before its eyes, and for the second time, they somehow managed to walk away still standing, now at 6-1 and in the hunt for one of the 10 lucrative BCS berths.

A lot was made of UCLA's remodeled defense having an artifically high ranking thanks to playing half of its games against teams that rank 92nd or worse in total offense. That might still prove to be the case, with the Bruins yet to face off with three Pac-10 units that rank in the Top 25 of total offense (USC, Cal, and Washington State), but Karl Dorrell's team certainly played like one of the ten best defenses in the country on Saturday. At least until the final 1:02.

Which leads to the real story of the day:
when can Notre Dame establish a legitimate rhythm on offense? They can look stuck in neutral for a whole game (Georgia Tech). They can look pretty well in-synch for a whole game (Penn State). They can perform atrociously for a half (Michigan, Michigan State). They can perform brilliantly for a half (Michigan State). They can look good on one drive, bad on the next (Purdue). And they can look like they honestly don't care and still hang 31 (Stanford). They even moved the ball effectively at times against the Bruins, none bigger than 80 yards, 3 plays, 35 seconds in the waning moments of the 4th quarter.

But 60 minutes of complete football evades the Irish from an offensive standpoint. Here were some of Coach Weis' comments at today's wrap-up press conference:
I've watched the tape, so I'm not good in a good mood anymore...

I thought we got off to a horrendous start. We turned the ball over on the second play and then we go three and out the next possession. That's just unacceptable. We really fumbled the ball twice, not once. We lose it on Darius's and then we're down in the red zone going in and we fumble the quarterback's center exchange. That ends up leading to costing you points, even though we didn't lose the ball...

We were 4 and 19 on 3rd down, which was horrendous. We got into the red zone three times, scored one touchdown. That's horrendous. Gave up five sacks and nine pressures. That's horrendous...

So basically you're saying there's still some work to do.The best news for the Irish is that they escape with the win and now basically have four glorified scrimmages - Navy, North Carolina, Air Force, and Army - to prepare themselves for the season-ending showdown in Los Angeles. Having endured three nailbiters (two on the road, one at home), three comfortable wins, and one awful blowout, the entire season has been boiled down to one game.

Elsewhere, there's a high probability of several others around them in the rankings suffering losses - Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn belong to the merciless SEC, and only one of that trio finishes with a single loss; either West Virginia or Louisville is certain to lose once, and both of them better be damn well ready to play Rutgers in November; USC still has to play Cal, Oregon, & UCLA; and, of course, Ohio State and Michigan play each other. There's room for the Irish to manuever in the rankings - high enough for the championship game? No. But certainly high enough to solidify their BCS credentials and maybe even benefit from a miraculous fall of dominoes should they defeat the Trojans.

But to entertain thoughts of a 5-0 finish, an 11-1 season, and a holiday visit to sunny Miami, vibrant New Orleans, pleasent Pasadena, or even wonderful Glendale, the overall effort the Irish had on Saturday won't cut it. Not even close.

Despite all the negative vibes you might want to take from the first 59 minutes, how sweet was that play?

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