Oct 28, 2010

Beyond A "Bad Day"


October 24, 2010

Beyond A ‘Bad Day’


by LOU SOMOGYI
Senior Editor

All that was missing from Navy’s football gear was the scrubs that medical personnel don.

What the Midshipmen performed on Notre Dame during the 35-17 victory was masterful surgery with its triple option that romped for 367 yards and six yards per carry. 

     

 

 

Category: General
Posted by: Frank
October 24, 2010

Beyond A ‘Bad Day’


by LOU SOMOGYI
Senior Editor

All that was missing from Navy’s football gear was the scrubs that medical personnel don.

What the Midshipmen performed on Notre Dame during the 35-17 victory was masterful surgery with its triple option that romped for 367 yards and six yards per carry. 

Kelly and the Irish had few answers for Navy en route to an demoralizing 35-17 loss.

For the record, it wasn’t the most yards ever given up on the ground by Notre Dame. Michigan State in 1962 and Pitt in 1975 romped for 411 apiece. The latter came against an Irish defensive line that featured future first-round picks such as Steve Niehaus and Ross Browner, plus Willie Fry and Jeff Weston. Bad days can and do happen to everyone.

But this Navy outcome went beyond a “bad day.” It was a yet another referendum on how the “bad-decade-and-a-half” continues to linger and fester.

From a tactical standpoint, one story of this game was flawless execution on Navy’s part. The fullback dive, the heart and soul of the option, was inexplicably open all afternoon while Alexander Teich — the reserve behind an injured Vince Murray — romped for 54 yards on Navy’s third play from scrimmage and finished with 210 yards rushing.

A year earlier, Murray carved up the Irish defense with 158 yards on 14 carries (11.3 yards per pop) while backup Teich added 52 yards on five carries — helping the Navy fullbacks amass the same 210 yards in 2009 that Teich alone achieved in 2010.

From there, the other derivatives of the triple option easily opened up: quarterback Ricky Dobbs added 90 yards rushing and three touchdowns, slot back Gee Gee Greene averaged his typical seven yards per carry on toss sweeps and pitchouts, and Dobb’s lone two pass attempts resulted in 1) a 31-yard touchdown and 2) a 40-yard floater to set up another touchdown.

Notre Dame setting aside a little practice time each of the last several weeks, and even the spring, to prepare for the triple option proved to be a fruitless endeavor. Offensively, the Irish getting stopped at the one-yard line on the opening series was a propitious moment for Navy. The Midshipmen controlled the next 56 minutes in every facet while the reeling Irish appeared punch drunk on both offense and defense.

“I have great trust in my staff,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly after the game. “Defensively, we didn’t have a great answer today. We’ve had answers all year defensively. We didn’t have the answers today. We’ll have to look back on the film and find out.

“I have smart coaches. I’ve got dedicated coaches … I don’t have a bunch of dummies on my staff. We know that. My guys didn’t have the plan today.”

Although one story of this game was execution — in more ways than one — it may have been even more about the intangibles. Notre Dame seemed extremely unprepared to play despite having the past week off from school while enjoying mid-term break.

Navy’s greatest advantage was in the intangibles such as spirit, attitude and effort. It wasn’t the worst performance on the field or the coaching along the Notre Dame sidelines the past 50 years, but it was one of the more demoralizing ones under a new regime because of the helpless way there seemed to be no answers.

Make no mistake about it, Navy has become a quality football program the past eight years and can be competitive with anyone. Did you see Missouri topple No. 1 Oklahoma last night? That same Missouri program got stomped by Navy, 35-13, in last December’s Texas Bowl. Perennial BCS and national-title contender Ohio State was taken to the wall by Navy last year in The Horseshow before prevailing.

This is my 40th year of following Notre Dame football. I remember as a 10-year-old crying myself to sleep before halftime during the 40-6 Irish debacle in the 1973 Orange Bowl against Nebraska … the vitriol I spewed against head coach Dan Devine after the 1977 loss at Ole Miss … the disbelief in watching the Irish finish 5-6 under first-year head coach Gerry Faust after concluding with a 37-15 loss at Miami … how Lou Holtz looked like a frail 112-year-old-man after the 35-10 loss to Texas A&M in the 1988 Cotton Bowl … the utter shock of losing to Northwestern at home in the 1995 opener … and of course, the Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis eras.

My biggest fear is the Navy game didn’t really stun or anger me. By halftime, I accepted Notre Dame wasn’t going to win. The psychological term “learned helplessness” has permeated the crevices of my soul the past decade.

After the heart-wrenching 20-17 loss at USC to end the perfect 9-0 start in 1964, Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh wrote, “I’m too old to cry, but not too old to hurt.” Lately, the problem is Notre Dame has been so far off the national radar as a bona fide “player,” it doesn’t really hurt much anymore — and that’s maybe the greatest pain of all.

The worst Notre Dame performance I ever saw was the 38-0 loss at Michigan in 2007. Weis even had the team scrimmage the next day as a lesson that such a performance was unacceptable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly pulled a similar move.

The most head-scratching, demoralizing loss was the 24-23 defeat at home to 2-8 Syracuse in 2008. After that game, I wrote a column on how the Weis era at Notre Dame had reached Walter Cronkite’s 1968 “this war in Vietnam is unwinnable” moment. Deep down, we knew it was over for Weis then, even though he would be given one more year to try to right the ship.

Brian Kelly and Co. have the advantage of receiving the benefit of the doubt during a first-year reconstruction phase. Even a Nick Saban lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe in his first year at Alabama, and he also lost at home to UAB in his first season at LSU.

We’re not comparing Kelly to Saban. We’re not comparing him to Weis, either. All we are saying is he too needs a fair shot of putting together a program, and by the third year we’ll have a pretty good idea of what Notre Dame football has — which brings me to my next point: 2012, the third year.

That schedule, released earlier this week, not only has Navy as the opener at Ireland, but adds road trips against Oklahoma and Miami (in Chicago) to go with the usual fare of Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Pitt, Stanford, Boston College … in other words, Notre Dame could be a pretty darn good team that year, but still finish only 9-3.

Remember, in 1990 the Irish had an unprecedented four straight No. 1 recruiting classes (1987-90) and a Hall-of-Fame leader and master motivator in Lou Holtz, but still finished 9-2 in the regular season while playing the likes of Michigan, Michigan, State, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State, USC (the last three consecutively). In between it got clipped by a 5-6 Stanford team at home. There are only so many weeks out of a season you can be truly “up” for a game, and the margin for error in college football’s championship run can be extremely unforgiving.

Now, I find myself seriously pondering if that Cronkite moment in Syracuse 2008 applies to the Notre Dame football program — the one legions of faithful grew up with in the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, 1988-93 — in general.