Monday, November 5, 2007

Notre Dame - Navy: The Aftermath

Another Monday morning coming off another Notre Dame loss. I have lots of thoughts and lots to say, especially after watching the game a second time on tape. I suspect that many of my thoughts this week will spark some serious questions and debate, which is good. I look forward to reading your comments, questions, and opinions. With that said, here are my thoughts:

1. Charlie Weis is the head coach of this football team. He is also the guy who runs the offense. Neither one of those statements are likely to change any time soon, and that is a good thing. I have read several message boards this weekend and have read lots of comments about how Charlie needs to give up the offense or hire a new offensive coordinator. In my view, this is ridiculous. Folks, this is the same guy who created an all-time explosive offense in his first year, and who led us to BCS bowls in both of his first 2 years. Like everyone else, I scratched my head at some of the play calls on Saturday. We did not lose this game because of playcalling. Not by a long stretch. Are there changes that need to be made in the offseason? Absolutely. I suspect they will certainly be made. One of those changes will not be, nor should it be, a change in the offensive playcaller.

2. Before I talk about individual positions and components in this game, my overriding thought when watching the tape was, "These guys simply do not know how to put a team away." We can talk all we want about breakdowns and playcalls, etc. To me, one of the biggest missed opportunities of the game occurred right at the beginning. ND had a lead. Navy turned the ball over. ND had a GOLDEN opportunity to score again and go up 2 scores. Navy was reeling, taking uncharacteristic penalties. We did not take advantage. A veteran team that knows how to win would have put their foot on the opponent's throat there and found a way to score. We didn't, and the reactions I saw from our players suggested they did not realize how important that score would be. They looked happy to be leading in the game, not pissed off that they could have buried a team early. That is the difference between a veteran, winning team and a team dominated by young guys who are just hoping not to screw up.

3. Evan Sharpley: I hate to come off like an "I told you so." That is not my intention at all. Evan did not lose this game for the Irish, but he also did not play winning football. I like Evan -- I like his leadership, his tenacity, and his never give up attitude. But as I have said before, Evan is a flawed QB. It is why he will likely always be a solid backup college QB. The accuracy issues I have discussed previously were pronounced on Sat. There were several opportunities to make plays in the passing game on Sat. and the kid just couldn't put the ball where it needed to be. His inability to instinctively feel the rush and protect the football really hurt on the fumble and subsequent TD. I like Evan, but he is simply not the guy who is going to lead ND where we need to go. I will say it again -- when Jimmy gets healthy, when Jimmy gets stronger, and when Jimmy gets a line that can protect and open holes in the running game, Jimmy will take that job and he will not give it up.

4. Hats off to Armando Allen and James Aldridge. They ran hard, and protected the football. I have read a lot of comments about how Armando needs to be the starter. I disagree. Just because James is not as fast or as likely to take it to the house does not mean he is not valuable. Armando is perfect in the role he was used in on Saturday. I strongly suspect Armando would lose a great deal of his effectiveness, not to mention get beaten up physically, if you tried to turn him into a 30-35 carry back in this offense. I am a big James Aldridge fan, and I think the distribution of work Sat. gave a nice glimpse into the future. Next, I would love to see Armando become more of a weapon in the passing game. That will come.

5. Our receivers are a microcosm of the team -- talented, inexperienced, and maddeningly inconsistent. Duval Kamara is going to be a great one. The guy who frustrated me on Saturday was Robbie Parris. As has been the case all year, his concentration just seems to come and go. Some games, some series, he is phenomenal. Other games, like Saturday, you wonder where his head is at. This game was ripe for Robbie Parris to break out. He was matched up against a 5 foot something 3rd string CB. Granted there were not many passes called, but even when he got a chance, he just seemed to float through the play rather than grasping the brass ring that was right in front of him. The jump ball in the end zone is a perfect example. The ball was catchable, he had a huge size advantage, but he just didn't make the play. Frustrating.

6. O Line - They were decent. That is the best way to describe their performance. They had probably 2-3 breakdowns from my notes, but they were costly breakdowns. This game, unlike some others, was not lost because of O line play. The usual suspects continued to struggle, but let me single out Eric Olsen. I know he had a costly penalty, but if you want a nasty O line, it starts with him. He is probably the least physically gifted of any lineman we are starting this year. However, he makes up for it by just getting after guys. I love his attitude. I can't tell you how many times I saw him on running plays downfield pounding on people. Now if only we had a few more guys who were joining him. Mike Turkovich also played really hard. What Sat. showed me is that Turk is a man blocker. Give him the job to get after the guy in front of him and he will maul the guy all day long. Where he really struggles is when he is asked to zone block or read and pick up a blitzer.

7. While this was a team loss, I am placing heavy blame on our defensive performance. The D line was devastated by the loss of Pat Kuntz. Ian Williams played admirably, but asking him to play that many snaps and get cut blocked all day long was too much. The defense also missed Kuntz's fire and his passion on the field.

8. The LB play in this game was abysmal. There is no other way to describe it. It was awful and painful to watch. Brian Smith is one of my favorite players, and I am not singling him out by any means, but he had a tough day at the office. I suspect he has never seen the triple option run as fast and as efficiently as Navy runs it. He really struggled. All of our LBs just could not shed blocks. How does that happen???? When they did shed blocks, man did they look slow getting to the outside. They could not get to the edge on the pitch and got beaten outside all day long. This had a domino effect. Because Charlie and Corwin could not depend on the LBs getting to the outside on the pitch, they had to take gambles and fire a CB like Darrin Walls in to take the pitch. The domino effect is that this leaves the Navy WR running free with only safety coverage. A smart offensive mind like Paul Johnson realized this and made the Irish pay.

9. Playcalling - A lot of people have complained about a few play calls this week. Let me weigh in with my thoughts:
4th and 15 fake field goal (1st quarter) - I have read Charlie's explanation and I am still scratching my head. Evan Sharpley is on the ground as the holder. Asking a guy to take the snap as a holder, get up, and scramble 15 yards seems bizarre.

Not kicking the field goal (4th quarter) - This is the biggie that has people up in arms. I understand exactly why Charlie didn't kick it. It doesn't mean I agree. I think you need to give your team a chance in that spot. Going to OT with a Navy team whose offense only has to go 25 yards puts you at a distinct disadvantage. I think you have to go for the win. Actually, I might have even considered going for 2 instead of 1 when we scored the tying TD in regulation.

Going away from the run/2 pt conversion call - I have to admit I don't understand this criticism. Several people have complained that Charlie abandoned the run in the 4th quarter and tried to get cute and pass it. My response: watch the film. Navy CLEARLY made a strategic shift in the 4th quarter and loaded everything they had into stopping the run. You saw it with James getting stuffed a few times in the 4th quarter. Just as Paul Johnson adjusted when ND did this, Charlie was doing the same thing. The difference? Navy protected the QB, ran a great route, had a QB deliver the ball accurately and on time, and caught the ball. ND didn't do any of these things. There was nothing wrong with the playcalling. The execution was the problem here. On the 2 point conversion, what play would you have liked Charlie to call???? That run with Travis was open all day. Navy just made a play and guessed right.

10. This football team is at a crossroads. For some reason, this loss feels different. While getting throttled by USC hurts, players can keep going 110% because they know USC is more talented and they have to keep working hard to get to that level. However, after the Navy game, I saw a group of guys that were emotionally drained. I just wonder how much more they have left in the tank. Like all of us, I suspect they are questioning everything, including themselves. This is not an excuse. I still want to see who has the pride, the enthusiasm, and the leadership ability to overcome this loss and play their hearts out against Air Force.

Sorry for the long post today and thank you for indulging me. I am interested to hear your thoughts.


John said...

This is a really great post. Thanks for it.

IrishGlory said...

John - thank you, I appreciate folks like you taking time to read my thoughts and share your own

Anonymous said...

Very thoughful post, unlike some of the imtemperate rants out there now. Many of the same ranters were saying a few weeks ago that Evan S. was the answer. I love reading the ND blogs, but some are a bit crazy. It hurts to lose, but simply ranting irrationally doesn't do anything other than demoralize everyone and potentially hurt recruiting.

I also am astonished that more folks haven't made your point about the linebackers and the defense's inability to stop Navy. It's as if it was a given that Navy should be able to run all over any team out there. I don't understand that at all. Too often the ND backers seemed to have "deer in the headlights" sydrome and just couldn't get to the ball carrier quickly.

As to play calling, the fake kick mystifies much more than the others, but when the play works, the coach is a genious, when it doesn't, suddenly every guy that played second-string high school football knows more about play calling than Charlie W. It's a bit much.

Yes, there are lots of things CW needs to do better at the college level, and I'm sure he's learning lots of lessons this year, but if Bill Belichick thinks CW is great at calling plays, and some ranting alum thinks CW is a football idiot, I know who's side I'm going to take in that debate.

IrishGlory said...

anonymous - great job. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Andy said...

Great post.

On going for it on 4th and 8, and just as importantly CW's presser comments afterwards, what the ND faithful and the players need to hear from Charlie is ACCOUNTABILITY.

There is so much for Charlie to gain by simply admitting that a field goal attempt in that situation was reasonable. Instead, given his commments, he's now going to have to work to get back the confidence of his players, particularly Brandon Walker.

What is going through Brandon's head right now? "I nail a 48 yarder in the Rose Bowl, and the coach decides I can't even attempt a game-winning 42 yarder"

Even with Charlie's bull-headedness, if he was going to go for it on 4th and 8, then he SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST LINED UP FOR A FIELDGOAL, AND RUN A FAKE THEN.

Everyone would have expected a kick in that situation.

Instead, knowing his 3rd down play blew up....he asks the offense to do it again. Predictably, they couldn't do it.

Strange, but again, what's most disconcerting is Charlie's complete lack of taking responsibility for this play call.

IrishGlory said...

Andy - I see what you are saying, but in his heart, I don't believe Charlie thinks this was a blown call. In the past, Charlie has admitted when he regrets a certain call. Here, I think he believes he made the right call. I may disagree and you may disagree, but I don't think you are going to hear him admit as a mistake something he doesn't feel was a mistake. I do agree that Brandon Walker's confidence is going to need some work. However, unlike some others, I do not absolve the player. Brandon has not been great and had already missed 1 big field goal in the game. Confidence is a 2 way street. If he wants Charlie to have confidence in him, then he should do something on the field in practice, warmups, and the game that gives the coach confidence.

SubwayDomer26 said...

Glory- could you give me an e-mail to contact you with?

IrishGlory said...

subway -

hedrock said...

RE: #8, according to the defensive stats at the official football site, #90 had no tackles...none. If I am not mistaken, he played quite a bit of the game.

IrishGlory said...

hedrock - good catch. I will go 1 step further. It is incomprehensible to me that we played a 3-4 alignment and we had a LB not register a single tackle against an option team. Incomprehensible. I also still have not figured out how we had 4 LBs on the field much of the day and still were NOWHERE CLOSE to the pitch man on the option. I don't absolve the safeties for that either by the way. It was a collective failure.

Face Mask said...

After reading some of the other blogs its nice to have a place to get in out of the weather.Its real ugly on some of the NDN blogs.At least at IG cooler heads prevale.You made the most sense of this loss that I have read.

IrishGlory said...

Facemask - Thank you. I just don't see what good it does to rant and rave. Fact is, there were some positives on Sat. Fact is, if we made 1 or 2 more plays in that game, we are talking about how our young team "really grew up and learned to win a close one" and how Navy always plays us close. However, as I pointed out, the fact is that there were some problems that I felt needed highlighting. I much prefer to come at things from a rational point of view. I am not seeing a whole lot of that on other boards and blogs.

Face Mask said...

Rodger that IG.I really don't care about the coaches or the admin.I care about the players.They all came to ND because the wanted to play for ND.This year they didn't get to feel what that is all about.That is the sad part really.