October 15, 2011

Mid-Season Review: Seinfeld Observations on Notre Dame 2011

It’s no secret, the WeAreND posse are Seinfeld junkies. Don’t even bother debating the “Best Show Ever” argument – it’s all static for 2nd best. During those halcyon undergrad days, we regularly e-mailed WNDU for their monthly syndication episode schedule to fulfill our goal of a complete VHS library of the show. Yes, this was before DVR and at least 5 years before Jerry, Julia, Jason and Michael (always weird referring to their actual names) opened the vault on a DVD deal. About a dozen tapes full of nothing but Sein circulated Dillon Hall, all meticulously recorded sans commercial interruption. When episodes ran that were missing from the catalog, we took turns missing section dinner at the dining hall. Devotion at its finest. (Also devotion - skipping class when your game was up in a 4-man NCAA Football dynasty league).  
The bye week affords some reflection at the halfway mark.  According to the Bill Parcells “You Are What Your Record Says You Are” philosophy, the Irish are 4-2, trending upward, yet still trying to shake the sting of a faith-shaking 0-2 start.  The back-breaking manner of those losses still lingers like a stale fart, keeping our guard up for its next manifestation.  Beating USC would purify the air going forward, but before we look ahead, let’s review the first 6 games letting Seinfeld be our guide.
“The sea was angry that day, like an old man trying to send soup back at a deli.”
This quizzical comparison may as well describe the ridiculous circumstances conspiring to gift wrap the South Florida loss. It's still laughable thinking of the incredulous ways the team tortured themselves and the fans, as if the Spanish Inquisition hitched a ride in Bill and Ted's time-traveling telephone booth. 

Fumbling on the goal line on the game's first drive hurts, but it takes a masochistic turn of the screw to have that fumble returned for 7 the other way. Down 13-0 in the 2nd quarter, Crist leads the 2nd impressive drive of the day as Wood scampers to the USF 3 for what would be a 1st and Goal. Except our All-American (M. Floyd) is caught unnecessarily holding downfield. After TJ Jones drops a TD pass that hits him in the numbers, Crist inexplicably forces an ill-advised throw, intercepted in the endzone.  Two trips where we practically tasted pay dirt, but instead were dirty rotten teases. The teams traded possessions before Theo Riddick muffed a punt at his own 20. Digging a 16-0 hole in the season's first half never looked so easy. 

Then Mother Nature forced the Irish to think about what they'd done, like a petulant 9-year old with a 2 hour "go to your room" punishment. 

Did anything change in the 2nd half? If by change you mean the jersey number of the QB throwing an interception on 1st and Goal on the team's first possession, then yes, change most certainly happened. ND ultimately outscored USF 20-7 in the 2nd half, but it was for nought in this game that wasn't meant to be.

“No soup for you.”
Dayne Crist’s 2011 campaign lasted all of one miserable half before our Soup Nazi (BK) yanked him back into the kitchen (bench). On the menu (aka paper, figuratively), Crist sure looks tantalizing and appealing. His frame and technique pass the eyeball test.  But the maddening results on the field couldn’t get FDA approval.  

“Serenity Now!”
Pretty sure I heard this echoing in the concourse during South Florida’s Evacapalooza.  Nobody will soon forget that surreal scene – folks aimlessly wandering around not sure what to do, cell phones rendered useless without connectivity, enjoying an impromptu tailgate spread in the law school lounge, NBC stubbornly taking all of their TV timeouts, knowing full well more bad weather was on the way. Just a bizarre afternoon of football.

“Hello Newman.”
Our contemptible neighbor to the north, arch-nemesis Michigan, added another dastardly chapter of heartbreak to the fierce rivalry. That nerve-wracking ending was definitely a twisted turn of events that Newman would delight in at everyone else’s expense. I can't even stomach re-hashing this game's ups and downs. 

“I have been performing feats of strength all morning.”
The heart, soul, brain and brawn of a resilient defense – Manti Te’o plays like his hair is on fire. The team leader in tackles (59), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (4), Manti's motor knows no end.  He is ND Nation's Festivus gift that keeps on giving, a heralded recruit who has surpassed every word of hype. Wouldn’t be surprised if Te’o barks this quote in the locker room from time to time.  

“And you want to be my latex salesman.”
Gary Gray’s roller coaster career finds itself on the descent after great early promise. Gray might as well have been playing with his pants at his ankles trying to cover anyone in the Michigan game. With the front 7 playing stout, run-stopping D so far, the iffy secondary is a major question mark, especially with Barkley and Luck looming on the schedule.

“Why can’t you be more like Lloyd Braun?”
An A.P.B. has been out for the 2010 version of David Ruffer, the guy who nailed 18-19 FGs. Ruffer has looked shaky all year, managing 50% (4-8) on FG tries and clanking extra points off the uprights. Kelly should have a choke collar on #97 and not bat an eye giving freshman Kyle Brindza a chance.  Brindza's kickoffs prove he undoubtedly has the leg strength. At this rate, any semblance of accuracy will be an improvement.  

“Yo Yo Ma.”
The immediate impact and resonance of 5-star defensive linemen. As voted on by the people, the most popular highlight thus far was Aaron Lynch’s decapitation attempt of Kirk Cousins, announcing his presence with a huge momentum changer. After playing limited minutes in the first two games, Lynch looks unstoppable against non-option offenses. #19 leads the team in QB hits, twice as many as Ethan Johnson. His 3 sacks are one behind team leader Te'o. Tuitt and Lynch combined have 21 tackles, 10 solo, an impressive mark for down linemen still learning the intricacies of the college game. This catch phrase may take on a new life beyond syndication. Between Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, we might be uttering this exclamation of wonder, awe and brute force a good deal the next 30+ games. 

“I’m not sure, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I see…a nipple.”
Not hard to name the biggest flaw that's "slipped out" after 6 weeks - the glaring absence of any punt return game. Blame coverage, blame poor decision-making, blame the personnel – they’re all guilty. 10 returns for 3 yards with several muffed catches and costly turnovers falls somewhere between putrid and abject pathetic. For God sakes, cover up the exposed teet and fix this eye sore.
“It’s more like a full-body dry heave set to music.”
This quote, ironically from The Little Kicks, might be an optimist’s take on the struggles of punter Ben Turd, er…Turk.  He's not bad enough to bench, but rarely delivers any momentum-changing kicks. He's accepted for what he is, which is aggravating to no end. The field position game has been a lost art for 3 years with Turk’s penchant for pooch punts (when pooch wasn't the play call). Glimpses of improvement and regained confidence were apparent in the last two blowouts (Turk only kicked twice in each), but he needs to deliver against tougher opponent to win back the trust of Irish fans. No excuse this position should be so mediocre. Good teams (certainly championship caliber teams) don’t have glaring weaknesses at essential positions.

“Giddy up!”
Following the promising, but completely underwhelming careers of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, Brian Kelly has restored faith in the RB position. Go figure that ground success comes courtesy of the shotgun spread. With Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, ND has two workhorses in the backfield both capable of shouldering the load, but more effective sharing duties. Wood could join the list of the program's illustrious RB greats when it's all said and done.

"Here's to feeling good, all the time."
A nod to the day long bacchanal of next week's 7:30pm start. An intimidating roar might actually cascade from all parts of the stadium all game long. It may not be schematic, but it may prove a decided advantage in making Matt Barkley's night one to forget.

(The first person to reply in the comments with all the correct credits to each quote wins the immense satisfaction of winning as much as George believes the show should be about.  If you can also name the episodes, you win unlimited fist bumps for life. )

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