Just wanted to throw out some thoughts on the big ND victory in the Aloha Bowl:
1) Loose, relaxed, healthy, and motivated can go a long way
What a difference it makes for this team to actually play with some confidence. One of the problems that I've noticed with ND football over the last 10 years or so is that we are so uptight out there on the field. Maybe our guys get bogged down with the day to day stuff in South Bend and schoolwork and all that. For whatever reason, there are a ton of guys who are either disappointments or straight up busts at ND that suddenly break out when they get to the NFL. How does that happen?? Is there something in the water at ND that stifles these guys in college??
This team went to Hawaii, relaxed, focused on football, and what do you know. They go out and play their best game in probably 3 years (if not longer). They were flying around, everyone was making plays, and the special teams looked better than it has looked than at any time in the Weis era.
I know it was just Hawaii (who is not a very good team and lost to some bad teams at home this year), but we SMOKED them. Good teams beat bad teams like a drum, and that's exactly what we did in this game. All three phases of the game played well, and everyone contributed. How do we look like gangbusters in the Hawaii Bowl but struggle to beat similar teams (SDSU, Syracuse) during the regular season?? Why can't we replicate that type of performance during the regular season? It's not like this team had a ton of practice time to revamp their team. We had like half a dozen practices before this game, and yet we played our best game.
Maybe our guys have too much on their plate in South Bend. Maybe they have to spend too much time shake alumni hands and going to "functions" and studying and doing all the other non-football stuff (going to mass, etc) that they are worn out by gameday. I really think there might be something to that. For this Hawaii trip, our guys had fun, they bonded, they focused on football, they were isolated from all the South Bend/ND drama, and it worked.
There's always been something strange about ND bringing in all these top 10 players and then watching these guys underachieve. Maybe there is too much "other" stuff going on in South Bend that our players can't focus on football. That's not a Weis problem. It's an ND problem. Football should be about fun, especially in college. ND the school needs to make sure that the players are having fun and enjoying themselves. When the players are enjoying the game, they are more likely to play well.
2) ND looked healthy, but why did they look so unhealthy at the end of the year??
If you looked at Clausen during the Hawaii Bowl and went back and looked at him down the stretch against Navy, Syracuse, and BC, it was like watching a different player. He had zip on the ball, he was stepping into his throws, and he was playing with confidence. Same goes for the linemen. These guys were worn out at the end of the year, but they looked good against Hawaii.
I think a big priority for this team in 2009 is going to be to focus on team conditioining. We were completely gassed in November both mentally and physically. You can't be a winning team if you are sucking wind and breaking down at the end of the year. That has to change if this team is going to be a BCS-caliber team.
Clausen needs to get stronger and get himself in the best shape of his life going into next year. If he breaks down again in the second half of next year, we are going to lose to the Pitts and UConns and Stanfords of the world. The same thing will apply for all of our linemen. We can win the battles up front if we are mentally and physically tougher than our opponents. ND was a soft team this year, and that can't happen again next year if we are going to be good.
3) Should Weis coach from the press box??
Call me crazy, but I actually contemplated this idea for quite a bit during the game. It might not be the worst idea in the world. ND was JACKED UP on the sideline for this game, and guys like Corwin Brown and Haywood were down there firing people up. We need that on the sideline. ENERGY. When Weis is down there, the sideline looks like a morgue. Maybe the players are intimidated by Weis. Maybe he makes them nervous or something.
Word is starting to filter out that Corwin Brown gave the pregame speech of his life before the Hawaii Bowl. I guess Weis let him do the speech, and the players were ready to run through walls for this game. VERRRRRRRRRRRRRY interesting. The same source seems to indicate that the players have to stifle laughter when Weis tries to give a speech. I really think that we might be better off with Brown down there on the field and Weis up in the booth giving his insight.
Weis learned his trade in the booth. He might be more effective up there calling plays and observing things from above. He can leave the motivating and player interaction to Corwin Brown and whoever he brings in as the offensive coordinator. I'm not gonna lie, I like this idea a lot. Play to your strengths. Weis is not a motivator, but he knows schemes and things like that. Corwin Brown is a fiery guy who can handle the sideline stuff.
Just throwing that out there. Weis can still be the head coach in charge of recruiting and the staff and all that, but maybe he should let his staff take more of a role in handling the players. That is not Weis' strength, but it could be a strength for some other guys.
4) Are we the Arizona Cardinals of college football??
This analogy has come up, and I think there's probably a lot of truth to it. We are a pass-happy team that runs into trouble when teams get physical with us and wear us down. By the end of the season, the pass-happy stuff is less effective when the weather starts turning sour.
I hate playing like that, but that is basically who we are. If we could put together a dominant (and physical defense) to go with that offense, it can lead to a winning program.
This team will go as far as Clausen takes us. Let's be honest, Weis doesn't put a whole lot of focus on running the ball, so we are going to need to give Clausen time to throw and make sure that he is healthy enough to carry the offense for a 12 game season.
Weis has put us in position to become a steady 9-10 win team down the road, and I'm actually fine with that. It is certainly an upgrade over the past 10 years. If he continues to recruit well, he could emerge as the John Cooper of Notre Dame. And that's not a knock at all. Cooper had a good run at Ohio State and produced a lot of very good teams. They never got over the hump, but he recruited a lot of great players and increased the overall stature and profile of Ohio State football. They became a big time brand again under Cooper, and Weis may have a similar effect on ND's stature. If Weis continues to recruit well, he'll probably do enough to stay at ND and hopefully produce some really good football teams.
5) How much of a bounce will this win give us going into next year??
I'm not sure, but it certainly helps to go out on a high note. There have been no shortage of teams in recent history (Texas in the Holiday Bowl and Alabama in the Independence Bowl) that have used a bowl win as a springboard into a great offseason and a great season the following year. If guys like Clausen and Tate use this game as an opportunity to take the leadership roles on this team and motivate the guys to come together as a team, we may look back on the Hawaii Bowl as the turning point of this program under Weis.
It's going to be an interesting offseason, and I'm looking forward to seeing what changes are made. I think we'll see some assistant coach changes, and I think we'll see an improved attitude going into next year.
Go Irish. We'll have plenty of coverage of the ND football team in the offseason.