Sunday, September 23, 2007

How I'm spending my football vacation

No, I'm not walking away. Now is the time, after all, for all good men to come to the aid of their football program, and far be it from me to not be a good man.

I'm simply choosing to alter the methods by which I watch. In this season of discontent, we're past the point of looking for the usual things, or even the usual suspects. So this is how I plan on spending my football time for the 2007 season.

First, I've pretty much stopped reading external media and am sticking with outlets like IE and BGI (although I'll continue to link headlines for everyone, never fear). I don't need to be reminded that we're 0-and-whatever or how it compares to other seasons / coaches / programs or what that allegedly "means" outside of this season being, as the grounds crew in Cleveland would say, shitty. I need to see what is needed long-term to get it turned around and how those needs are being met, and those writers will tell me that better than anyone. If I want the external perspective, Mike Rothstein's and Ben Ford's work will do quite nicely, with the periodic samplings of John Walters. I'll still read the Chicago Trib because blood is thicker than water and I'm interested to see how Brian Hamilton is working out. Outside that list, no one exists until basketball season. I'm guessing it'll help my blood pressure.

Second, I've stopped looking at this season in a historical context, preferring to put it in one more attuned to the 10,000-foot view. "ND has never been 0-4 before" is a meaningless stat to me. All that says is they've never lost their first four games in a season. They've had bad seasons before, and this is obviously one of them. The important thing is how what happens this season builds for seasons to come, because that's how history eventually will judge it. Is it the crucible that forges a high-quality program, or the furnace that eventually melts Charlie Weis' career? We won't know that for a while, so let's watch what happens.

Building on the second point, I'm going to spend the games looking for an upward trend in the areas that need work. I know, it's hardly a short list. But this is what I want to see, in order of importance:

1) Continued improvement on the offensive line. Whether it was a weaker DL for MSU or the result of the renewed focus on hitting, the OL looked, in the words of Emperor Caesar, nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice. Holes were there for the running game, and Aldridge and Hughes were able to take advantage of them. The more of the game put on the backs, the less of it is on the back of the frosh QB. But the pass-blocking is still terrible, and while they need to do that in game situations if they're ever going to improve, they also need heavy doses of what is currently, at least in a hamstrung sense, working.

2) An overhaul on special teams. Now that they've looked at the OL and things are at least moving there, it's time to address special teams, and the needs are glaring to say the least. In all four games so far this season, special teams performance has hurt us, whether by penalty or giving up a big return or shanking a punt or whatever. The blocking schemes look disorganized. Price has regressed alarmingly. Right now, it doesn't look like this ST-by-committee thing is working. That means it's time to put the responsibilities in the hands of just one person, and if that person is not already on the staff (which I don't believe he is), he should be hired quickly after the gun sounds at Stanford.

3) Evidence of flexibility on the part of Charlie, which I talked about last week. I suppose taking the ball against MSU wasn't necessarily a bad decision on its face, but as someone pointed out on NDN, it would have been great to get the ball in the second half and try to build on the momentum instead of punting it away to MSU. Charlie also needs to have the patience to stick with what's working (yesterday, the running game) over what he, in his gut, wants to do but wasn't working (pass the ball). If we're getting six yards at a crack with Aldridge and Hughes, we should hammer away at it as much as possible. That was MSU's game plan yesterday, and it was effective.

4) An influx of passion. Watching other games and programs, you see guys jumping around like they're ready to rip someone's head off. In college, that's an important aspect of a program. It's not as important, however, in the pros where a paycheck serves as the primary motivator, so this makes another area in which Charlie must try to adjust.

Trouble is, the passion and leadership usually is expected from the upperclassmen. Right now, our captains on offense and special teams are too busy executing poorly and getting penalties to lead anyone else. It also requires the proper temperament. Zibby would be a perfect candidate to spark that passion, but while he gives everything he has on every play, I'm led to understand he's kind of a soft-spoken guy in general. Yet another ingredient for this perfect storm of Murphy's Law this season has become.

I haven't included anything for the defense on the list because it's my belief the issues there are strictly talent-related. If that sounds like I'm throwing players under the bus, that's not my intention because I don't think anyone out there is dogging it. But when the players turning in the best plays are sophomores and freshmen, it is what it is. There's more intensity and ferocity, but they're still getting the horses into place.

If there's anything I want to see on D, it's continued playing time for the freshmen like Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. Next year, when the injured Gary Gray will join Darrin Walls at corner and have guys like Robert Blanton backing them up, the secondary will be much tougher, which will allow guys like Neal, Smith, and the array of four- and five-star frosh to wreak havoc in Corwin Brown's system.

There's still lots to do, and if you're going to be focused on record and history and where Michigan is in the all-time-whatevers list relative to us, this is going to be a bad season for you. We can't do anything about the first three games, which were awful in both coaching and execution. We can, however, do something about the future, and that's what I want to see these next few weeks.

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Anonymous dbdlomer7375 said...

I stopped reading MSM articles on ND for the most part because they were terrible and certainly not indicative of any knowledge of our school. I learned to listen to Charlie's pressers and found that listening to his words and reading NDNation, is all I need to know about the Irish.
I share your opinion on taking the long view of the program. It took Davieham about eight years to almost kill ND football. If Charlie takes 4 or 5 years to get the program back in shape, so be it. I think that we do need some help (changes) in the lower levels of the coaching staff to help the young men learn sufficient techniques to be able to execute Charlie's game plans.

9/23/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually looked like football team in the first half. Hughes is going to be a good one. He refuses to go down. I'm not sure if Clausen is the answer. I thought he was a little quicker on tape. A couple plays during this season, he's basically handed the ball to the other team. Anyway, they'll never win anything without a defense and 31 plus a game and 200 plus rushing a game makes for a long year. Irish in 2010.

9/23/2007 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have basically stopped watching ESPN out of pure ND frustration. ND has received more attention at many media outlets for losing than if they were undefeated. NDnation is my favorite way to get ND news. The constant comparison of CW to TW is getting way out of hand and way to racial for me. I do believe CW is the right man to lead ND back to the top but my beliefs are being tested this season for sure.

9/23/2007 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick Davis said...

I'm glad that I'm not the only one taking this approach this season. I spent the first three weeks in panic-mode, searching and finding everything that has been said and/or written by the media about our fall from grace this year. The media loves to attack open wounds like infection. They serve no better purpose than to raise blood pressure and keep us from staying focused with other areas of our lives. Ignore them.

This season is what it is - a collosal re-building year. There is nothing we can expect to see now but gradual progress. Rome wasn't built in one day and you can't change everything around for the better after 16 hours of practice in one week of training camp. Although slight and brief, there was improvement yesterday. If Weis keeps going on this path, I expect to see a little more next week. Note I said little.

So we're 0-4 for the first time in 119 years. There will be a time (And I hope I'm long gone 70 years from now before this happens) when we'll be 0-12. That'll be the same season when my alma mater, NMSU, will be national champs.

9/23/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'll follow your advice and shut everything else out. Get my scores, and scores only, from ESPN. Let NDNation do the rest.

9/23/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Win or lose...I love to watch ND. I am a fan....period. And I don't think there is anything wrong with being critical. Frankly, I am a little sick and tired of hearing how terrible Davie and Willingham were. Enough is enough. Charlie hasn't exactly lit it up yet either. That is being honest. Great recruiter it seems, but I am not so sure about preparing a team week in and week out. I am just not seeing it....and I hate it because I am really pulling for the man like I did the ones before him. This is a team that is severely lacking in "basics" and you don't figure this out after the season begins. My opinion is he needs to surround himself "asap" with some emotional, motivated, demanding and "fire-eating coaches. Hopefully in time, we will see vast improvement but this year.....I think most of us know now it is time to just batten down the hatches until the storm passes. What else can we do.

9/23/2007 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do agree with everyone who is tired with Ty and Davie comments.They are not the problem. Charlie is the guy for ND. He is definetely learning alot this year about college football.How to choose the right QB and how that could affect the program.Lets all agree on this,first half of MSU game was by far the best ND football this year.That was the running football I have been waiting for. All those running backs deserve an A in my book. I am not too sure about Clausen and Geoff price punts. Now that we are in this mess I wouldn't mind seeing Kamara, Tate and paris at wide receiver. I would say lets run the ball 70% and 30 % passing kind of like USC. The training camp mentality is the best. Someone please needs to tell these kids that nothing is lost, they really seem to not play together. " together as one". The game I saw on saturday with running backs mixed with new recievers we will definetely beat Purdue. Go Irish Jean

9/23/2007 09:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So maybe we lose but should we care? The kids are doing their best. What more should we expect or ask for? Does anyone think they aren't trying. So cut 'em some slack and enjoy the NBC telecasts!

9/23/2007 11:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one thing that really troubles me during the Weis era is there seems to be a lot of 'quit' out there. I witnessed it first hand at the Fiesta Bowl against OSU, again last year against USC and LSU -- we did come back vs. MSU last year, but where is the emotion week to week? Where is that Hotz fire to come right back in their faces? We haven't always been the most talented team on the field.

If Charlie doesn't learn how to inspire that he needs to step down (relax, I'm not saying this year) and return to the NFL. Someone suggested hiring assistants but I thnk it has to come from the top down. (See UM and PC, sorry guys, but they 'got' it.)

Still if we can hold onto our current crop of recruits and Weis can find that fire...

Hope springs eternal. Each Sat. I say I'm not going to subject myself (and my family) to the pain, but I'm always there, hoping this week will be the week!

Hang in there kids: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"

We will be back. Go Irish.

9/24/2007 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Look...We were suppose to stink this year. Fine...WE DO! Why do I have to hear it again from every media outlet. They predicted we were going to be 0-8. Then when we go 0-4 they are suprised? This is a young team that makes young team mistakes. I'll tell you what the farther we fall the sweeter it will be when we're back. One last thing...whats with all the questioning of Weiss. What? this guy wakes up one morning and forgets how to coach. Give me a break. The irish will be back and it will be sweeter than ever!!!!!

9/24/2007 08:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at the bright side. We're all taking a beating - the Irish on the field and in the media, and us fans at the hands of all the ND haters out there who are gleefully circling the program like so many loathsome buzzards. All this will only make it that much sweeter when the Irish rise from the ashes - and they will....sooner than later, too, just you watch - to reclaim their hard-earned spot atop the college football ladder of success.

I have faith in Charlie, who's learning as much each week about himself and how to make things better as his players are. I have faith in the players to do Our Lady proud, if not by winning, then by tirelessly striving to improve, by playing with class and dignity, and by holding their heads high when it is most difficult to do so. I have faith in the students - especially the seniors - to stick with their team when their loyalty and encouragement is needed most. I have faith in the commitment of the recruits and their resolve to band together and see their triumphant mission through. I have faith in the fans and the alumni to simply listen and smile knowingly whenever the buzzards come to call. And finally, I have faith in Notre Dame to weather this ugly storm and come out on the other side stronger, wiser, and more determined than ever for having done so.

Go Irish!

9/24/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

The rumor about Zibby is right, for what it's worth. Great guy on the field, but Charlie gave him the microphone at the GT pep rally and he kind of whispered a two-line self-deprecating joke and sat down. Don't suppose you can expect great athletes to be great public speakers too.

9/24/2007 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A team starting 8 freshman just can't compete with a team full of senior/fifth year players, regardless of their high school stardom. ND fans need to put this fact in their noggins and thereby imagine the future.

9/24/2007 07:25:00 PM  

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