Anyone See This Coming?
The last blog entry dealt with what ND had to do to make you feel better about the team heading into the offseason and the 2009 season. Well, the team's performance in the Hawaii Bowl was an best-case scenario across the board. The Irish almost looked like a different team. Virtually every concern I (we) had seemed to evaporate into the warm, tropical air. Body language, enthusiasm and intensity seemed to turn 180 degrees.
It seems as if a light went on. Maybe this was the game where players finally got it, finally realized the kind of effort and attitude required to succeed at this level.
The bar has definitely been raised. If I were Charlie Weis, I'd have a tape of that game playing on a loop in the locker room until next year's season opener because that performance is now the standard that everyone in the program should strive for each and ever week. That kind of dominance shouldn't just raise the expectations of fans and the media. The key is that the players themselves now know what they are capable of and expect to make that kind of statement every week.
I've said it before and I'll say it again because I believe this wholeheartedly: It can't be just about winning and losing. I'm not stupid. Winning is the bottom line. This is big business. I understand that. But I believe that it's more important to establish a style of play, a level of intensity. This is who we are and this is what we do. Once the players themselves start holding each other accountable for maintaining that level of play, winning just happens. It becomes a byproduct of all the other things you're doing. That's when you know a program is has arrived. And the Irish appear to have taken a major step in that direction.
A couple notes/observations in the wake of ND's first bowl victory since 1994.
I like the idea of using Robert Hughes as the lead back and Armando Allen as the change-of-pace. Problems with the running game can't all be blamed on the running backs, obviously. Allen hasn't broken a lot of long runs. I think his career-long was 21 yards before he had a couple longer runs against Navy. ND needs more big plays from their running game. Maybe the best way to accomplish that (while also getting the more physical Hughes more involved) is to have Allen be the lightning to Hughes' thunder.
It's easy to call plays when everything seems to work. That said, I would love to talk to Charlie Weis about the difference between calling plays upstairs --- as he did against the Warriors --- as opposed to the sideline. He seemed to be in a rhythm from the first drive. If he's that much more effective up there he should think about staying in the box. I know it's highly unusual for a head coach not to be on the sideline, but, hey, whatever works. What's more important, after all, than play-calling?
Not much you can say about Clausen's performance. Wow. It isn't like we didn't think he was capable of it. When I wrote at midseason that he could be a Heisman Trophy candidate next season I got a lot of e-mails accusing me of drinking on the job. I just thought about it like this: He's got all the tools, a pass-happy coach and some terrific playmakers at receiver and tight end. (How refreshing was it to see Kyle Rudolph catch so many deep passes over the middle?) It also doesn't hurt that he's on network TV every week. I'm not making any predictions here. But he has the tools and the weapons to put up some big numbers next season. When the quarterback at Notre Dame is putting up big numbers he's usually going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Here are a couple postgame notes from Brian Hardin, ND's football sports information director:
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