Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Anyone See This Coming?

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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: 

Clausen's 15.42 yards per pass attempt was an overall ND record (min. 20 pass attempts).  Carlyle Holiday had 12.95 vs. Navy in 2002.

*Clausen's 84.62 completion percentage was second best in college football history in a bowl game given minimum of 20 attempts.  Only better is Mike Bobo of Georgia vs. Wisconsin in 1998 Outback Bowl when he was 26-28.

*ND team completion percentage of .857 was best in NCAA history in a bowl game given min of 25 attempts.

*Clausen's pass efficiency was a career-high 277.63. That is a Notre Dame bowl game record and I'm checking to see how it ranks in overall school history as well as in college football's bowl history.

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any domer knows about the zoo at ND....charlie couldn't have coached the intramural team we had there in 66....if parseghian could have got the rugby players to quit drinking and play football he would have won three Nat'l championships in the 60' for favorite qb's at ND....coley o'brien without him no 66 nat'l championship and no meteoric rise of ara...give charlie some new video equipment and send him back to the pros...maybe they had that equipment in the coaches' box for him so he could do a better job with his superior advantage over all the other college coaches he brough to Nd from the pros...being smug is a pretty fatal drug

The mighty Irish beat Hawaii WOW!

...from "Mr. Half-Empty"...ND averaged 1.8 ypc rushing in the Hawai'i Bowl...when's the last good team that averaged under 2.0 ypc over a full season?...

Claussen has the talent, but still has to work on his "head and heart"; next season starting in the Spring, real competition pushing and chasing him, by Crist and others, will either push him up to the top elite level, or out of the way.

I think Charlie staying up stairs may be answer to what I perceived as one of his major weaknesses as HC; his relatively poor health and deminished mobility.
No reason a HC can't be upsatairs; let a relatively young, athletic type be the "side-line coach", taking directions from above, and defensive coaches,and all others, do what they do normally.
Between him and Paterno, they may start a new fad.

Neil, your assessment of the ND football situation is right on on all of your points:

-Maybe the Irish finally got it.
-Expect the young players to make that kind of statement every week.
-Hughes, thunder. Allen, lightning.
-Charlie! ... stay in the box.
-Clausen has the tools and weapons to go big time.

And if you are drinking on the job, keep it up as you're doing some very positive writing that way.

To Just a Fan..

Unfortunately your Best Case Scenario has 2 chances of happening..None and None..

Charlie Weis is a master offensive coordinator. He really doesn't have the personality to be a Head Coach.

The absolute best case scenario would be to bring in Johnson (Georgia Tech) or O'Brien (N.C. State) as head coach on the field while Charlie works his magic from above.

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This page contains a single entry by Neil Hayes published on December 26, 2008 9:41 AM.

Miami Release: Haywood to coach RedHawks was the previous entry in this blog.

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