Some thoughts on the Notre Dame-USC game while I try to clear that USC Conquest song from my head:
14) One of the best things about being a sports fan is that you're always going to have certain moments where you'll remember where you were when it happened for the rest of your life. You'll remember where you were when Christian Laettner hit that turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky in the East Regional Final in 1992. You'll remember where you were when David Tyree caught that ball off his helmet to lead the Giants over the Pats in the 2008 Super Bowl. You'll remember where you were when Tiger knocked home that 12 footer on a balky knee to tie Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines and send one of the great US Opens of all time to a Monday playoff.
And if you were at The Backer on Friday night, you'll remember where you were when you heard DJ Drew play Miley Cyrus "Party in the U.S.A." four times IN A ROW. And the crowd was loving it!! People were literally passing around money to hand to DJ Drew to keep it going. Who knew?! That song just entered into Enrique Iglesias/Numa Numa/Big N Rich/Rocky Top/Lee Greenwood territory for songs that wouldn't work anywhere else but would bring the house down at a place like The Backer. I felt like I must have heard that song fifty times over the course of the weekend. It's like the perfect song for a place like the Backer: uber cheesy, very red state-ish, talks about the U.S.A. a lot, implores you to throw your hands in the air, and has a catchy refrain. I'm half convinced that Miley's people said "this song will kill at The Backer" when they wrote it for her.
So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It's a party in the USA
Yea, It's a party in the USA
That's gold! Easily the most well-received song of the night. Even bigger than the ND fight song. Good work Miley. You've got yourself your first big time hit.
13) I got home on Sunday evening from South Bend and watched the replay of the ND-USC game, and the tv feed really doesn't do justice to how good USC's front seven was in this game. USC's defensive line is unlike anything I've ever seen in person at Notre Dame Stadium. They completely dominated the game. Jurrell Casey can go through two blockers, Everson Griffen is unblockable on the edge, and Nick Perry is all power and speed. Everson Griffen ABUSED Sam Young the entire day. Just completely dominated him, and Sam Young had actually been having a decent year up until this point and was being talked about as a 2nd/3rd round NFL Draft pick. If Jimmy Clausen hadn't made some nifty scrambles to get away from pressure, Griffen would have had like six sacks on Saturday. Griffen is a spectacular talent. I thought he was the most dominant player on the field on either side of the ball for most of the game.
And the scary part is that they're ridiculously young! Look at their depth chart. Every guy on their two deep is an underclassmen. Horton-freshman, Casey-soph, Perry-freshman, Kennard-freshman, Tupou-junior, Griffen-true junior. That's absurd! If Griffen comes back next year, their defensive line will be one of the best in recent memory.
Their linebackers are all young and first year starters too. They'll all be back next year. USC is going to be SCARY GOOD next year. Like as good as they've ever been. With that defense and Barkley coming into his own, look out. Anyone in the building could see that we have ZERO SHOT to beat them next year in the Los Angeles Colisseum (I will definitely be there for that one, especially if Jimmy is back).
And that's why the general consensus outside the stadium after the game was along the lines of:
"hey, we made a game of it!"
"I'm just happy we didn't get blown out."
"We were playing with house money in that fourth quarter, so hard to get too broken up about the loss."
"Wait, we came back?? I went to Legends to watch Florida-Arkansas after USC went up 34-14 with 13 minutes to go."
Ok, that last line never came out, but it was close!! Did anyone attending the game on Saturday not have the "do you want to head over to Legends?" conversation with your buddy/spouse/girlfriend when Joe McKnight surged into the end zone to make it 34-14?? ANNNNNNNNNNNNYONE?? I'll admit that I did. How could you not?? The game was over. I was texting my brother with an opinion that USC was the best team in the country and wanting to find out the score of the Florida-Arkansas. There were people streaming for the exits when we fell down 34-14.
And yet we came back and made it interesting against a more talented team that has a higher ceiling than our program is capable of at the moment.
That's really what it all comes down to when you look at it from a big picture standpoint. The problem for Notre Dame football isn't Charlie Weis. I don't think there's any coach out there for ND that could put us into the USC stratosphere right now. USC has personnel that we don't have on our roster, and there isn't any coach out there who could get that personnel. Urban Meyer couldn't get Jurrell Casey into ND. Nick Saban couldn't get a guy with 15 tattoos like Everson Griffen into ND. Bob Stoops couldn't suddenly make Nick Perry academically eligible to get him into ND. And if you can't get those guys on your roster, you can't play consistently with the big boys. Period.
The biggest difference between USC and ND is that they have DOMINANT personnel on their lines, and we just don't. We have some great skill players, but our lines just don't stack up in terms of size and athleticism. There aren't many 315 DT wrecking balls out there to choose from or 260 pound athletic freaks who can get to the pass rusher with reckless abandon, and we can only go after 2-3 a year due to academics or cultural issues. There is no margin for error. Recruiting the front seven at ND is like the small market Major League Baseball team that has zero margin for error for a bad draft pick or a bad free agent signing in order to win. If we miss on the one elite guy we're after (who is also getting recruited by Texas/Florida/USC/OU/Bama), we don't have any other options for an elite guy.
Look around at Alabama and Florida and USC and LSU. They have elite front sevens. We have a typical Big Ten/Midwestern type front seven that might be able to hold up ok when it gets more experience, but could never dominate a game against the USCs/Bamas/LSUs of the world.
When I watched the game on Saturday, I didn't feel like coaching was the problem. Talent was the problem. USC has better overall talent and probably by a pretty large margin. And that's not Charlie Weis' fault. I think he has maxed out our recruiting potential. He has brought in elite QBs, elite WRs, elite TEs, good RBs, good offensive linemen, and he has a stable of younger defensive linemen that could turn out to be pretty good by next year. But when it comes to bringing in the five star all-world defensive guys, there's only so much he can do. He can't get these guys into school out of high school, and he can't take on the JUCOs types or prep school types. A lot of these stud d-linemen end up at JUCOs or one year prep schools to get their grades up, and we aren't touching those guys.
So if you want ND to be back into the Bama/USC/Florida territory, look higher than Charlie Weis. The issues holding up ND football's path back to greatness go higher than the head coach. We aren't a football factory, and that makes things tough on the coaches. I don't think you can evaluate Charlie Weis against the big boys until he has the same freedom that those schools have. If Charlie Weis could recruit anyone with a pulse, stash players in prep schools until they became NCAA eligible, and if his players could practice all they want, not worry at all about class and spend all their time working out or loading up on HGH, take briefcases full of cash from boosters, and Weis STILL couldn't win consistently against the USCs of the world, then I'd say that he's a failure and that he needs to go. But that's not the deck he has been dealt.
I would like to see how Charlie would do if he had all that stuff in place. Could he win a national title?? I think he probably could. I don't think Charlie Weis is the greatest coach or anything by any means, but I also think he's working at a program that has a much bigger image of itself than in reality. Face the facts. We're a midmajor type program right now. We have the name and all that, but we're really more like a "rich man's Stanford" than a USC. You can see it out there on the field. We have some OUTSTANDING players on this team. Clausen, Tate, Rudolph, etc, but look at our two deep and tell me how many guys would be starting/playing significant minutes for USC. You're talking about a handful of guys.
The only guy in our front seven who is a USC type player is Manti Te'o. Te'o makes USC type tackles. He hits guys and they go down immediately. He knifes in and wraps guys up when those guys would break a Brian Smith tackle or an Ian Williams tackle. When I watch our defense, the only "WOW" guy is Manti Te'o. Every guy on USC's defense is a "WOW" guy.
13) Here's the defining example of where Notre Dame football is at in 2009. Immediately after the last pass to Kamara fell incomplete, the entire student section gave the team a spontaneous standing ovation. That quickly spilled into other sections of the stadium, and suddenly we all found ourselves clapping for the team as a sign of our appreciation for their effort.
That's how far we've fallen in the last 15 years. We were legitimately PROUD of the fact that we even hung around with USC and gave them a game. I'll be the first to admit that I was clapping and genuinely felt like it was the right thing to do in that moment.
It didn't hit me until a couple hours later that we had given a standing ovation after a loss. I'm not saying it was the wrong thing to do, but it's all you need to know about where we are as a program. We were "proud" after a loss!! In a game where we were down 34-14 in the fourth quarter, I was celebrating the fact that we were even competitive. That's how far Notre Dame football has fallen. If anyone out there thinks we aren't a midmajor, I don't know what to tell you. That's what we are. Maybe that will change over time, but right now that's our current status in the college football world. And by mid-major, I don't mean TCU or Tulsa. I mean a BC/Sparty second tier program that can occasionally win a big game and goes to bowl games and flirts with the back end of the top 25, but doesn't really pass the "smell" test when it comes to playing with the big boys. And I think deep down, all of us know that as Notre Dame fans. We were all there watching that game and saw how talented USC was compared to our team. The standing ovation wasn't some half-baked "Notre Dame spirit" thing. It was a genuine emotion where we felt like the team had been competitive with a far more talented team and that they deserved some recognition for their effort.
Compare that to the reaction from USC fans after the game. Here's how high expectations are at USC. Petros Papadakis has a radio show that for some reason airs in Columbus every day, so I tuned in to the show on the drive home from work to hear what he had to say about the USC-Notre Dame game. And he was upset!! He was legitimately hot and bothered by how "sloppy" USC had played with all the penalties and that the game ended up getting too close for comfort. He kept saying that he hoped that game was a "wake up call" for USC. That's how high expectations are at USC. They're bummed out about close wins, and we're giving standing ovations to our team for just making the game close at the end. It's a completely different level.
So if you want to blame Charlie Weis for what has happened to Notre Dame football, be my guest. But he's not the problem. If anything, he's doing everything he can to keep this program from circling the drain. He has recruited extremely well, the team is clearly better, and there's a chance that this team finishes strong and pulls in another very good recruiting class.
Maybe Weis will someday beat USC or put us on par with the Trojans, but that can't be the expectation for this program at the moment. Most people who previewed this season said that we would be a 9-10 win team that would lose to USC, and that's probably where we are headed. Now, it's like people have adjusted expectations. You can't have a moving target. If a loss to USC was viewed as a probability before the season, you can't say it's unacceptable after it happens.
Now, Weis might lose to BC and Pitt and the team will implode, but I think people need to let the season play out before jumping to any conclusions.
12) Honestly, I think the biggest problem people have with Charlie Weis is his physical appearance. I'm as guilty of this bias as anyone. He looks like a sloppy pig. If I ever looked into the mirror and saw anything close to Charlie's face and body shape looking back at me, I'd probably spend the next month on a treadmill. When I see that tub of goo waddling around on the sideline with his triple chin, D cup breasts, front butt, boogers running down his nose, bad haircut, and khaki pants running up to his nipples, I cringe. I cringe even more when I see him interviewed at half time and he's completely out of breath and using lines like "I'm just happy to be down 13-7." Of course it's hypocritical for me to say it since I spill coffee on my suit about once a week, wear ratty ties, usually have ketchup or mustard stains bracketing my lips at all times, and haven't combed my hair more than 2-3 times in the last five years, but I'm also not the face of the Notre Dame football program. When your head coach looks sloppy and weighs almost 400 pounds and just randomly says whatever comes into his head even if it comes off poorly, people have a tough time overcoming that. It's not the kind of image that we want associated with the program.
If Weis was a handsome guy like Pete Carroll and was running around on the sideline with tons of energy, our fans would LOVE him. He'd be viewed as an exciting coach who puts up offensive numbers and puts on an exciting show. Part of the appeal of Pete Carroll is that he just LOOKS like a guy who would inspire his team. We look at Charlie and can't help but wonder if he brings the team down with his demeanor and appearance.
It's out there whether people want to admit it or not. There's a subconscious bias against Weis partially because of his appearance. I'm not saying it's wrong because appearances can be important, but it's there.
--Some other random thoughts from the game weekend:
11) For those wondering about the 8:30 am Warren tee time, I'm happy to report that we all made it to Warren on time and walked 18 holes. The one hour "frost delay" helped out (I think they said it was 34 degrees when we showed up at 8:15am), but we got it done. Considering that one player has had multiple knee surgeries, one player was waddling around for 18 holes like Charlie Weis because of some "internal issues," and one player was still Anthony Kim "sideways" after a Saturday that must have included double digit Irish Bud Lights, two Bushmills, and about five 32 oz Tom Collins while closing down Between the Buns BY HIMSELF, I think it was one of the more heroic performances seen at Warren in many years. The loose cannons!!
Somewhere Robert Allenby was shaking his head in shame though.
10) I've said this a few times now, but the worst player on our 22 man starting roster is Harrison Smith and it's not even close. Maybe he's a good athlete and all that, but he doesn't seem to like contact. Maybe he's just not cut out for defense or something. He's supposed to be a free safety!! Safeties are supposed to be hitters. They're supposed to be sure tacklers. Harrison Smith doesn't do either thing. He's not a playmaker, and he's not a security blanket. I don't know what he's doing on the field. He's either got to move to offense or start playing more aggressive football. I think I'd roll the dice with Sergio Brown or someone else. At least those guys might get in there and make a play.
9) The offensive line got abused in the first half, but they actually adjusted and held up well in the second half. I think we were just overwhelmed by them in the first half because we hadn't seen anything like that. It's not like Purdue or MSU could give us a preview of how to block a guy like Everson Griffen. There's just no way to simulate it. We had no answer for Everson Griffen.
8) Funniest and dumbest moment of the game was the Everson Griffen "flexing" penalty after he sacked Clausen and walked over to the USC band and did a muscle pose. What a hot dog!! Even when the ref told him to stop, he decided to keep on doing it knowing that he was drawing the flag. I thought it was one of the funniest things I've seen, but also completely warranted an excessive celebration penalty. Who does that?? Everson Griffen, that's who. He just completely handed us a first down and wiped out his own big play that would have put us in 2nd and long. And I don't think it even bothered him that he picked up a 15 yard penalty for that flex move.
Even better was Wes Horton's sack on the VERY NEXT SERIES when he was about to go into a celebration and Jurrell Casey practically tackled him to keep him from picking up an excessive celebration. If Casey hadn't held Horton's arms down, I'm convinced he would have posed or something like that and drawn another flag. Only at USC.
USC pretty much lived up to every bit of their reputations on Saturday. They are freakishly talented and deep, but also such a bunch of hot dogs and Hollywood types. They do a huge huddle dance before every kickoff, they pose and preen all the time, they dance and bob to their own band, and they sort of feed off this "we just hang loose" vibe. Anthony McCoy was literally waving his arms at the crowd trying to get them pumped up even though it was the Notre Dame crowd!! I'm not real big on that stuff at all, but it's sort of mesmerizing at the same time. How are they so loose?! There's kind of a rock star quality to USC football. It's unlike anything I've seen in college football since probably the late 80s/early 90s Miami teams.
7) Speaking of USC, I know they are flaky and probably will lose some head scratcher down the line, but part of me thinks that they are about to go on a roll over the next 6 games. When this USC team grows up a little bit and stops committing so many stupid penalties, they are going to be scary. I think they can beat any team in the country.
It is amazing to me that USC is probably just scratching the surface of what they might be able to do in the next couple years, especially if they don't have a bunch of early entry guys. They will lose their secondary, but most of that offense and front seven will be back. By this time next year, they could be unreal.
As for Matt Barkley, where do I buy stock in his 2010 Heisman campaign?? I think he made his first audition on Saturday, and I wouldn't be surprised if that game serves as a springboard for him for the rest of the year. I thought he played an outstanding game for a true freshman. He's a statue back there, but some of the throws he made were NFL type throws. Think about how much better he'll be by this time next year. If USC is undefeated heading into the Notre Dame game next year, he'll be looking at a Thanksgiving spotlight to make his case for the Heisman hardware.
I hate saying this as much as anyone, but we have ZERO shot to beat USC at USC next year. None, and that's even if Jimmy Clausen comes back. This was probably our best shot at home against a freshman QB and young defense. Probably the most depressing thing about the loss is that we're staring at losses in 2010 (at USC where we always lay down, Barkley coming into his own, loaded defense), 2011 (Barkley back as the prohibitive #1 NFL prospect, Clausen, Floyd, Tate, Allen, Hughes, Stewart, Wenger, possibly Rudolph all gone), and probably even 2012 since we never seem to even have a pulse when we go out to Los Angeles. Let's be honest, USC is probably never going to lose to Notre Dame at home as long as Pete Carroll is there.
6) One guy on the Trojans who I was not blown away by was Taylor Mays. Don't get me wrong, he's a very good player, but I think my expectations were too high for him. I was expecting to see a Polamalu/Ed Reed clone, but he's really more of a Roy Williams (the safety) type guy. A good player who likes to go for the big hit but isn't quite as athletic or dominant as I thought he would be. If an NFL team thinks they are getting Polamalu by drafting Taylor Mays, they're kidding themselves. Polamalu is a wrecking ball who is all over the field. Mays is nowhere near that class. I wouldn't touch him with a top 10 pick.
Plus, I thought Mays was surprisingly undisciplined for a senior. Golden Tate abused him on both those touchdown catches even though Mays was in position to break up those plays, and he had two costly personal fouls in the second half. It's almost as if he's so determined to lay the big hit that he forgets to play football and make the smart play. A guy who plays that recklessly will get exposed in the NFL.
5) As for Jimmy Clausen, I thought he looked shaky early, but he was OUTSTANDING for most of the game. When I went back and watched the game on tv, I realized how well he played on Saturday. He was literally running for his life back there, but he hung in there and made some fabulous throws on the run. And didn't throw any picks. He doesn't make mistakes, and he makes a ton of huge plays to keep drives alive or to put points on the board. Credit to Charlie Weis for developing him, but Clausen has really become a guy who can carry a team.
Clausen is the best QB I've seen in college football this year by far. If he wasn't on our team, we'd be like 2-4 right now. I felt really bad for him after the game because he played his heart out.
4) As for the pregame atmosphere and crowd noise, I think it was a little less ELECTRIC than I thought it would be. There were some pretty funny pregame things with the guy carrying around the giant OJ Simpson mugshot poster and the guys who dressed up as USC Song Girls, but it wasn't as crazy as I thought it would be. Couldn't put my finger on what it was, but the stadium was really not loud at all on Saturday. In fact, it was probably the quietest I've heard it out of the three home games I've been to this year. Not sure if it was just that everyone was nervous and wanted to watch the game instead of yelling, or if we were demoralized and expecting a loss or what, but the crowd didn't really get it going until the fourth quarter.
I think it was just nervousness/tension. It was hard to really let loose because it never really felt like we had a chance in this game until the end of the fourth quarter. If that Tate bomb play had happened earlier and given us the lead, I think people would have really cranked it up. But it was 20-7 when he made that play, and it felt like USC was still in control.
The fourth quarter was spectacular though. During every play, there were flash bulbs going off left and right. Definitely could feel the drama in the building.
Both bands were great as well. Dr. Kenneth Dye brought everything he had, and USC's band did what USC's band always does. They even brought that White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" song to the mix several times. I guess they must have liked it when the Buckeye band was playing it a month ago.
3) Some other college football thoughts from this weekend:
It's becoming more and more obvious as the season goes along that this is really not a very good year for college football. Once you get past Alabama, Florida, and USC, who is any good this year?? And I'm not even sure about Florida or USC at this point. There's just no real elite teams out there in any of these conferences.
ACC -- Miami, Virginia Tech and GT are top 20 type teams, but they've all been exposed as incomplete teams at some point in the season
Big East -- God bless em, but Cincy is a midmajor with two star talent masquerading as the 5th best team in the country
Big 10 -- HA! That's a good one. In all seriousness though, Iowa has taken care of business. They've beaten a pretty good Arizona team, won at Penn State, beat Michigan, and won at Wisconsin. If they get by Sparty, they are going to be 10-0 going into the game in Columbus against the Buckeyes. The rest of the league is crap though.
Big 12 -- Texas is the class of the league, but where is the quality?? OU is banged up, Texas Tech lost to Houston, Oklahoma State ALSO lost to Houston AT HOME, Kansas lost to freaking Colorado, and Nebraska got destroyed at home by Texas Tech. If your 2nd and 3rd best teams in the league lost back to back games to a CUSA school, your league doesn't have a ton of credibility.
SEC - It amazes me that LSU is sitting there as the 9th best team in the country even though we've all watched them and seen how flawed they are. That's a sad commentary on college football this year. After LSU, you've got teams like Auburn who lost to Kentucky at home, a solid but not spectacular South Carolina team, and mediocre Georgia and Ole Miss teams. The SEC is still extremely strong with a deeper pool of talent than anyone else, but the lack of credibility with programs like Georgia and Tennessee this year has hurt the league.
Pac 10 -- I think you could make an argument that the Pac 10 is the best conference in college football this year, but look at some of their OOC scores. Oregon State lost to Cincy at home, Arizona lost to Iowa, Oregon lost at home to Boise State, Stanford lost at Wake Forest, and Washington lost to ND. Those losses don't help the reputation of the league.
I laugh at these teams like Cincy and Boise State and TCU, but who the heck else is going to be in the top 10 right now?? There's just not a lot of quality out there. Georgia Tech is a flawed team, and they are #11. Oregon already lost to Boise. Penn State is #13 and hasn't beaten anyone with a pulse. Oklahoma State lost at home to Houston. Ohio State lost to a 1-4 Purdue team. How could you justify any of those teams in the top 10??
--As for Terrelle Pryor, I mentioned this last week, but Ohio State is really in a jam with this guy. They really have no other options. Pryor probably should be benched, but who are they going to turn to if they sit Pryor?? A walk on like Joe Bauserman?? How is he the answer?? Every recruit was so scared off by Pryor's presence on the roster that they have killed their depth at quarterback. They really don't even have a backup quarterback.
Even worse, there is no one pushing or threatening Terrelle Pryor. He knows as well as anyone that Tressel has no other option but to play him. So he can insist on playing a pro style offense and make as many demands as he wants, and there's nothing Tressel can do about it. Pryor has a gun to the head of the Ohio State program.
Tressel screwed up by not trying to find some 3 star Ohio kid who just wanted to be a Buckeye to come in this past year. Some Joe Germaine/Bobby Hoying/Craig Krenzel type guy. Not a star, but a guy who just wanted to play for OSU and would have happily sat the bench for a couple years to maybe have a chance to play as a junior or senior. Who knows, that guy could have found himself starting this week as a true freshman. I don't know if anyone was out there, but you gotta think there was somebody like that in the Midwest/Ohio.
Either way, Ohio State is an offensive mess. They either need to go all in with Terrelle Pryor and develop a completely new spread option offense for him with a new offensive coordinator, or they need to give it up and move him to wide receiver. If Pryor wants to play in the NFL, he probably needs to be thinking about another position anyway. He's certainly not going to be an NFL quarterback from what I've seen of him.
2) Week 8 Heisman ballot:
4) Tim Tebow
3) Matt Barkley
2) Jimmy Clausen
1) Mark Ingram
Whoa, where did that "Mark Ingram for Heisman" momentum come from?? I thought I was the only one making the case for him, and now he's suddenly the favorite. Best running back in the country, and it's not even close. He's singlehanded carrying my fantasy team this year.
I don't think Clausen did anything to hurt himself, and I think he's got a shot to make a move if ND can win out here. Tebow is going to win or lose this award based on how his team plays against Alabama, but I'm still waiting for him to play a monster game at some point. He hasn't done it so far.
And I'm putting Barkley at #3 because I'm predicting right now that he's winning the 2010 Heisman Trophy. Barkley is going to be an outstanding player. Heck, he's already pretty darn good.
1) Week 8 Power Poll:
I'm moving USC up to #2 this week because I think they can beat anyone in the country on a neutral field other than Alabama. If they continue to improve week in and week out, they have the highest ceiling of any team in the country. Maybe they'd lose to Florida if the game was played tomorrow, but USC has the most raw talent of any team I've seen. USC always plays better as the year goes along, and I have no doubt that they will look like gangbusters coming down the stretch.
I really want to see a USC vs. SEC Champ national title game. We've been wanting that game for years, and this year would be the perfect year to give the fans what we want. Heck, that should be the game EVERY YEAR until proven otherwise. Texas is a fraud, and no one else is even in the conversation. Give me USC-Bama in Pasadena, and I will be really excited for the title game.