Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Post Mortem: Notre Dame 33, Washington 7

Dueling thoughts that came to me while wondering if Game 5 of the World Series was ever going to be completed...

- One of the key questions for me after wrapping up Notre Dame's "first quarter" of the season was how (and if) the tailback pecking order would appear. The grab-bag approach simply wasn't going to translate into a solid running attack. After wrapping up Game 7 in Seattle, the answer appears to be that while the Irish don't need to turn one player into a Javon Ringer-eqsue 35 carries per game back, they do know where they stand alongside Jimmy Clausen in the backfield. Namely: when the Irish come out in what is essentially the "base" offense at this point with a spread-the-field, no-huddle attack, Armando Allen is the best option with his vision improving every week and his status as (by a wide margin) the best pass-catching back. Meanwhile, after duking it out with Robert Hughes for awhile, James Aldridge has emerged as a reliable option for the Irish in the short yardage/goalline package. Throw in Hughes and the rapidly developing frosh Jonas Gray, it makes an imposing package.

After winning Mike Haywood's open competition for such chores, Aldridge picked up a couple key third-and-shorts as well as his first career touchdown against North Carolina two weeks ago, and he continued to hammer away this week with 84 yards and two more touchdowns from close range against the Huskies. It's good that the arrow is pointing up and that the Irish appear settled on who'll be doing what for them going forward in the final five games, since the dominating game against UW (252 yards on the ground, second best in the Weis era behind his '05 debut against Pitt) bumped the Irish all the way up to...91st in the country running the ball. Work remains to be done in this department.

- I would say that the only thing proven with conclusiveness on Saturday was the answer to the riddle, "Exactly how good do you have to be to thoroughly dominate Washington?" And the answer was, "Really, honestly...not all that good." Which is not to say the Irish played poorly, but it seemed pretty clear by their body language in the second quarter (which Golden Tate pretty much confirmed after the game) that once they'd established a quick 14-0 lead, they went into sleep mode on offense. Clausen played the part, tossing two interceptions - one was called back due to pass interference - and misfiring a number of throws that wouldn't be described as easy but which Irish fans have quickly grown used to seeing him make. The statline was the definition of pedestrian: 14/26 for 201 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The Irish basically played on Saturday like it was going to be a game only as long as they allowed it to be, so it was great that they lived up to their vow for a fast start which snuffed any shred of hope their awful opponent might've had. Here's hoping they pivot the focus back to "4 full quarters" this week as they'll now take on 2 good teams and 1 great one over this closing stretch.

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