Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Our Long National Nightmare is Over...

At last, Notre Dame is back in the win column.

With all the grace and offensive continuity of a Tyrone Willingham-coached team, Charlie Weis and the Irish sat patiently and waited for Karl Dorrell to heroically snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday night. Crazy like a fox, that Coach Weis is.

Now, obviously, no coach in America gameplans around the hope that the opponent will trip over themselves just badly enough to hand the game away (save perhaps Turner Gill and the Fighting Blue Bulls of Buffalo), but that's essentially what happened on Saturday night. I don't exactly want to heap praise on Weis for his throughly handcuffed strategy on offense, but he seemed to finally have hit the right notes in regard to what he's always proclaimed as his number 1 credo - "You don't put in more than the quarterback can handle." The Irish were squaring up against one of the toughest defenses in the nation, one that arm-wrestled Brady Quinn to the ground last year before he pulled a magic act in the final minute, so Weis had two choices - A) Force the issue with either Evan Sharpley or Jimmy Clausen at QB (really doesn't matter which one, as they both suffer from the same problems of lacking meaningful minutes prior to this season and holding the ball too damn long), which probably would've lead to game-changing mistakes as it did during the first half of the Purdue game or B) Play grind-out, dink-and-dunk ball, putting the onus on UCLA to seize a tight ball game rather than have opportunities to blow the Irish out early. Weis smartly chose Plan B.

On the flip side, his counterpart Karl Dorrell? "He chose...poorly." Even in the first quarter, with shaky Ben Olsen under center, the Bruins were throwing the ball more than they should have. I get one of UCLA's top two backs was injured and on the shelf, but over the course of the game it didn't matter who was touching the ball - the Bruins were gaining five yards per carry without even trying. Take away the negative rushing yards piled up by the two quarterbacks thanks to Irish sacks, and they were taking a healthy 4.3 yards per rush. And when Olsen twisted his knee on a Tom Zbikowski sack and strip, forcing walk-on third stringer MacLeod Bethel-Thompson into the game? Surely even Dorrell knew the time had come to just tote the rock on the ground for the rest of the game. I mean, on 4th and 1 from inside the Notre Dame 45 you pound it ahead for a new set of downs, not roll the untested, non-scholarship QB on a play-action bootleg...right?

It was a little shocking to be in the stands at the Rose Bowl (fantastic venue, by the way, far more charming and matched with the pageantry of college football than that abomination across town) and watch a win drop into Notre Dame's lap so easily. They accomplished almost nothing of substance on offense. They got saved from a long UCLA touchdown play by a holding penalty, and a big interception on one of the few deep passes attempted thanks to a pass interference call. The second-longest pass completion of the night was thrown by a freshman running back. And who knows what might've been had Karl Dorrell come to his senses and kept his third-stringer away from an energized pass rush led by Maurice Crum? Despite all that, the Irish pulled out the win. There's no point in analyzing all the ways Notre Dame did wrong (only to be saved by the fact that UCLA did worse in just about every way). You ask anybody on an 0-5 team if they'd rather play pretty and lose or play ugly and win, they take the latter every time. Fans of an 0-5 team can't be any different, particularly when the next two weeks will see two Top 10 opponents marching into Notre Dame Stadium.

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