9.4 – Ugh-lee, But A W

Only way to describe last night’s gutted out win over Georgia Tech.

This is clear: The expectations for this Notre Dame team were too high and the struggle in Atlanta signaled the Irish are going to have to (cue the cliché machine) win some games on heart and determination this year.

Pop a Nexium. Chug a Pepto.

Hold me.

That’s enough.

This doesn’t mean Notre Dame can’t run the table, but the rose colored glasses many fans were sportin’ in August were hopefully left in The Victory parking lot with the crumpled beer cups or thrown across the living room in disgust. Or in Tim Kelly’s case, across the ‘Notre Dame Room’ in disgust.

I digress.

That’s the obvious. This is not a dominating Notre Dame team.

But…

There’s enough clay there to work with that expectations shouldn’t be dashed, just adjusted to reflect reality. I stated last week that I thought a tough game should be expected and would actually be good for this team. I still believe that. Teams usually make the most improvement of the season from the first to second week because the obvious kinks show themselves in week one.

But before all that, let’s deal with the ‘penalty controversy’ that sent Tech fans into a ‘Notre Dame gets all the calls’ frenzy: Helmet-to-helmet tackling is illegal regardless of intent. You do it to a quarterback and you’re going to get flagged. You do it to the most recognizable quarterback in the country and you’ve shown remarkably poor judgment. On replay, the smack of helmet on helmet is disturbing. He led with his helmet and cracked Quinn right in the ear hole.

As these pictures from igoforwarsd show, it was obvious and flagrant.

I would agree, not a call you want to see influence a big game, nevertheless there was no reason to headhunt and the blame falls on Tech’s Wheeler, not the officials. The language of the rule, as billyjeff points out, was actually changed to remove intent from the interpretation so any helmet-to-helmet tackling is illegal. It was a stupid play, no reason for it and he paid the price and so did Tech. The two immediate makeup calls (or was it three?) were a bit much. Notre Dame still scored. The most egregious penalty of the game was the inexplicable holding call on McKnight that stalled the first drive. The helmet-to-helmet hit is a clear rules violation.

Now let’s get back to the game. Yeah, it was ugly, but remember: Quinn threw for 246 yards and completed over 60% of his passes with no interceptions on an ‘off’ night. That was cause for a party in previous years. Notre Dame out-gained Georgia Tech by over a hundred yards, held the ball for ten minutes more, held a 3-2 advantage in first downs and outscored the Jackets (y-e-l-l-o-w—-j-a-ck-e-t-s is the lamest chant in football) 14-0 after spotting them a ten point lead. And, the most important stat: had zero turnovers, which are the real killers on the road.

He could have upped the game tempo, but he would have also increased volatility. Charlie plays the percentage game. Carroll02 ran the stats before and after Tech went up 10-0 and found that ND out-gained GT 293-67 after falling behind by ten. Notre Dame only struggled in comparison to lofty expectations. Otherwise they played a good game on the road and overcame a lot of mistakes, but showed a lot of weaknesses to work on.

Part of the reason Notre Dame didn’t look aggressive on defense is that it appeared our linemen were guarding against the big play and weren’t freelancing and getting caught in over pursuit or out of position. On the other hand, part of the reason Notre Dame’s defense looked good is the offense held the ball for so long in the second half. If ND had moved the ball more aggressively, it’s very likely Georgia Tech would have as well. We didn’t want a score war on the road. One thing to remember with Weis is that the defensive and offensive game plans are not separate entities; they are inter-related. Something Holtz used to do very effectively and never got proper credit for.

I believe Weis threw the ball too much in the first half, but many of the plays were there, the Irish just either weren’t catching or throwing the ball effectively. McKnight and Samardzjia certainly were not getting open at will as many had hoped. The coverage on both was much better than expected. And the run was there, as was the quarterback draw (all night). Once we ran the ball well, we sapped their defensive aggressiveness. The other thing to consider is that if you’re running quick hitters on offense, the defense is usually running all over the field and more vulnerable to a power running game when you switch gears. Those points made, I still believe (as I did against OSU) that Notre Dame could and should have used Darius Walker more in the first half. He’s the kind of back that frustrates defenses. He’s a frustrater. In the post-game press conference Weis mentioned that Quinn was checking out of runs in the first half, but in the second half ND stayed with the running game.

Expect to see more of the Georgia Tech-Ohio State defensive game plan against ND, for clearly it works, and until we adjust effectively, defenses will keep bringing it.

Still, Notre Dame clearly dominated this game from a statistical standpoint and mistakes (penalties and missed field goals) kept this closer than expected – mistakes that can be fixed.

Note again what didn’t happen: turnovers. As written last week, that’s the only way I saw Notre Dame losing this game. Part of that is purposeful conservative play-calling and judgment (remember Schwapp against MSU?) When you’re the more talented team on the road, less mistakes is usually the difference. I wanted to see Munir Prince as well, but it looked like Charlie took the Schwapp lesson to heart. Also, don’t believe for a second that the full playbook was in use.

Charlie going for it on fourth down while Davie whimpers on-air is so poetic. Charlie’s got brass one’s that clang when he walks and I’ll bet against the odds with a leader rather than throw my lot with a pleaser every time.

~ The Rock

Nuggets:

The 1993 season started out with a similarly unimpressive win.

Our kick return game was noticeably better, but I don’t think either West or Grimes have ‘go the distance’ speed.

How about that punter?

Schwapp looked good running the ball. Very good. Not Bettis good, because he doesn’t have the breakdown and direction change, but…

Lack of breakaway speed on offense limits what we can do.

Can we please use Zibby on offense for a few plays. He has the fastest football speed on the team, has moves and refuses to go down. Weis should use him on offense (assuming he can catch.) Zibby’s got the ‘anything could happen on this play’ ability we’ve been missing.

While Quinn’s completion percentage was good, his yards per attempt number was relatively… low.

Nedu and T2 both had good games. Nedu looks like a different player and his hit on CJ was the play of the game. The other Thomas did not look good.

Georgia Tech students personify geekness. Those were the losers yelling at women and throwing things.

Why was Wooden sittin’ on wood’n?

Freshmen played and played a lot. Walls and Young played the most (can someone give Walls a milkshake?) Prince and Mo Richardson played significant minutes. Next year, I expect to see ten freshmen playing early in the season, maybe more. Charlie is not a-scared to go with young talent. I’m imagining Walls and Gray at corner and it’s a good thing. Unfortunately, there are freshmen candidates to play at almost every position next year.

Did I mention this year is our best shot until 2008-2009?

A win on the road against a good team while most teams were playing patty cake. Take it.

First games are traditionally poor barometers for season performance. Do I have reservations? Hell yeah.

Note we came out of it with NO injuries. Take it and dial up Joe Pa. Embrace adversity. Adversity, for lack of a better word, is good. Adversity clarifies, cuts through and captures the essense o f the evolutionary spirit.

Finally, thanks for BarneyM for providing tickets in the middle of enemy territory. EBay is evil.

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