Due to the fine work of Murtaugh and the rest of our illustrious staff you most likely didn't even notice that I wasn't around. That is as it should be. Regardless, all of you and a decent internet connection were missed by yours truly!
Before I set off on my latest adventure I joked with a few friends that my punishment for not being able to write for a couple of months would be that the Fighting Irish would be 8-0 by the time that I got back. I was wrong. They are 9-0. Oh yeah, and Manti Te'o is a legitimate factor in the Heisman race. I'll take it.
To this point in the season I have watched every game from assorted corners of the globe and have been the recipient of a ton of updates from the OFD staff, The Coach and a few good friends. Many thanks for that, especially to those that burned and mailed DVD's. I got all caught up in the last few days but to feel like I'm fully back in the groove I wanted to take a quick look back at the first nine games and share a few thoughts. Apologies in advance if the word count makes Murtaugh proud....
Notre Dame at Navy (Dublin)
Watching Notre Dame pound the Mids for the second consecutive year was a nice way to get the season started and almost made me forget about the defensive game plan from 2010, Evan Sharpley getting sacked by flying Ram Vela and Jimmy Clausen getting knocked out Debo style on the 5 yard line. Almost.
We got our first live action looks at he that we never slept on although CBK (Are we still going with this?) didn't ask him to do much in his debut. Theo Riddick and GA III carried the load and ripped off yardage in big chunks all afternoon. On defense the front 7 looked great which was highlighted by my new main man Stephon Tuitt out running the entire Navy offense 77 yards to the house on a scoop and score.
The secondary looked just suspect enough to cause a bit of concern about a few future opponents, but overall I was happy with the win. I did keep it in perspective though as these two programs are definitely headed in opposite directions at the moment.
Side note: David Feherty as the sideline reporter during the broadcast was a nice change of pace. Alex Flanagan is tough to beat but Feherty was pretty entertaining.
Notre Dame vs Purdue
Only two games in and the front seven looked even better than I had expected them to. Can you tell I'm pretty stoked about them? On offense the Irish struggled to run the football which was a bit concerning. At that point I was thinking that if we can't run the football against Purdue it might be a long season. To their credit the Boiler defensive front played a great game.
Golson played a pretty damn good game himself. Despite this Kelly decided to have Rees come in and run the 2 minute drill for the winning drive which did get in my loop a little bit. I got it, but at that point in the season I was a little worried about what that meant moving forward.
Side note: Did you guys melt the internet after that game?
Notre Dame at #10 Michigan State
This is where I felt like the season really turned the corner and put a lot of my initial concerns to rest. The defense was lights out, Golson took care of the football while showing flashes of greatness, and the Notre Dame defense turned in an overall dominant performance. How about that TD pass that Golson threw across his body to FC Goodman? Sick. To win a game like that against a good Michigan State squad under the lights in East Lansing gave Notre Dame a ton of momentum moving forward.
This was a big win with a ton of great storylines but the story of the day was Manti Te'o who had a huge game following a week filled with tremendous personal tragedy. Love you Five.
Side note: Sparty hasn't gotten much love since their loss to ND but their other 4 losses have come by a combined total of 10 points with the worst of those being a 28-24 loss to Nebraska. Bottom line, they still have a damn good football team and this win still carries a fair amount of weight with me. Damn the pollsters!
Notre Dame vs #18 Michigan
Boom, take that Denard! Give us all of the interceptions! The defense showed up big once again in week 4 and kept Denard and the Wolverines in check for all four quarters. After all the damage that Denard has done to Notre Dame over the last three seasons it was great to see him struggle under the lights in Notre Dame Stadium.
On the other side of the ball EG struggled early, threw a couple of bad interceptions and was replaced by Rees in the 2nd quarter. Uh oh! Despite the ultra-conservative version of CBK's Tommy Rees offense the Irish were able to pick up the win due to a stellar defensive performance that included 5 interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Side note: I was worried about the whole "under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium" thing after our experience with the USC game last season. That coupled with the previous struggles against Denard made this victory a huge monkey off the back for the Irish.
Notre Dame vs Miami (Soldier Field)
Rees got the start because Golson was rumored to be late to a team meeting and Tom Hammond mentioned this no less than 1,000 times during the broadcast. In reality this just meant that Rees went 3 and out before a roughing the kicker call brought EG out for a pretty fantastic first half under center. Progress!
The Canes dropped a couple of wide open deep balls early and it was all Notre Dame after that. The Irish were only up 13-3 going into the half but the second half turned into one of the better beat downs I can remember a Notre Dame team dishing out. It was just a slow, methodical pummeling from start to finish. Think Drago shape Rocky Balboa going back and wailing on Spider Rico. I only remember 1 pass in the second half and after that it was run, run, run and you can't stop it! Even Run CmC had like 15 straight carries that ended in six on the final drive. Da U!
The Irish racked up 587 total yards to include 376 yards rushing to include 100 yard performances from both Cierre Wood and GA III. Good stuff.
Side note: The Shamrock Series uniforms were significantly less heinous looking in action than I was expecting them to be. I suppose a great performance might have dulled the senses a bit. The San Miguel hangover probably dulled the senses a bit too.
Notre Dame vs. #17 Stanford
Win 20-13 (OT)
By the time this one rolled around I was pretty fired up. They like to talk about power football in the SEC but for me Stanford has personified power football like no other program in the last few years. I think of Stanford and I think of those big unbalanced formations with what looks like 10 offensive tackles on the field. They just line up and tell you we are going to run right there and you can't stop it.
The Cardinal pretty much ran right over Notre Dame in that exact fashion when they last visited Rock's House in 2010 and I knew going in that this was going to be a major test for the Notre Dame defense specifically. The defense passed that test and looked pretty awesome doing it. Are we there yet? The answer for the defense is a definitive yes.
The Irish were down 13-10 late in the 4th quarter when Everett Golson got knocked out of the game and was again relieved by one Thomas Rees. A few plays later Rees converted a 3rd down back shoulder toss to Theo Riddick who made a sick catch. The subsequent Kyle Brindza field goal knotted it up at 13 and sent the game into OT. In overtime T.J. Jones also made a sweet catch on a slant route to take a 20-13 lead before Stanford got their turn on offense.
Following a blown up screen the Cardinal quickly set themselves up with a 1st and goal from the 4. That heavy formation with 10 offensive tackles was on the field. This was going to be power on power. It was like the handshake in Predator.
1st and goal from the 4- Denied
2nd and goal from the 3- Denied
3rd and goal from the 1- Denied
4th and goal from the - Replay official says......Denied! Boom. 6-0.
Side note: Do you remember a more awesome goal line stand?
Notre Dame vs. BYU
Rees got the start as a precaution after Golson's bell ringing against Stanford and Tyler Eifert exploded with a huge 1st quarter.
The game was relatively pedestrian in every capacity with Rees under center but the Irish squeaked out a win in what had the potential to be a real trap game sandwiched in between Stanford and Oklahoma.
Side note: By the end of this game Stephon Tuitt had pretty much erased any memories of Aaron Lynch.
Notre Dame at #8 Oklahoma
Man it doesn't get any bigger or better than this. I don't even know what to say about this game. Awesome doesn't quite cut it. Biggest win in the last decade? Yeah, probably so. I'm still smiling. I sometimes hear people say that women glow. I might actually be glowing. Is that possible for a man? I should know these things. Fish a little help?
Side note: Brent Musburger is still the worst.
Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Win 29-26 (3 OT)
The trap game of all trap games. Notre Dame was coming down from their huge win over the Sooners and Pitt showed up and played out of their minds. You know what happened. It was scary.
Side note: Nine and Oh.
So what's left? A road trip to Chestnut Hill against a weak BC squad, Senior Day vs. Wake Forest and a big trip to Los Angeles to play the Trojans in a game that could have a National Title shot riding on it. The rest of November should be a great time.
Quarterbacks- I never slept on EG. He has the potential to be very, very special. He has great feet and a ridiculous arm. You can't put a price on the ability to move the chains with a QB scramble. One more body has to account for him at all times. He's still a little bit raw but I love having him out there as the starter and I couldn't be more excited about his future. I do wish he would take better care of the football when he takes off running with it though!
And that Rees kid, as limited as he is, he has been a pretty solid backup when called upon. He hasn't cost us. We've seen very little of ramblin' Andrew Hendrix and that will likely remain the case for the remainder of his time in South Bend.
Running Backs- I sincerely hope that Cierre Wood and his mouthpiece grace us for one more season. It would be great to get him back next year. Theo Riddick has been solid and remains a dual threat catching the football. On occasion GAIII does something pretty incredible but like many of the other youngsters, he still needs to continue to develop.
Tight Ends- Tyler Eifert can still catch anything and is much improved as a blocker. Troy Niklas has a ton of potential but needs to tighten up his blocking a bit. I think it could all come together for Niklas soon. I'd like to see Ben Koyak step it up a bit.
Receivers- Is there life after Michael Floyd? Collectively I think that these guys have done a really nice job. T.J. Jones has had a very solid season and DaVaris Daniels is starting to come into his own. Robby Toma is our little Wes Welker out there. Big fan of his. Dan Smith blocks well and I also like seeing him in the mix. Chris Brown might be the real deal very soon but at the moment he's also still pretty raw. Are we going to use DaVonte Neal or what? Overall I like this young receiving corps.
Front Seven- Even better than I expected them to be. Best front seven in the country? I'd argue that. Man I love watching these guys get after it. The down linemen have been beasts all season. KLM, Big Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt snack on double teams. Those three specimens are scary. Manti Te'o has grabbed all of the headlines for the linebackers but the rest of the crew has also played really well. The dogs, the cats and the Foxy/ I have people two headed monster have collectively played very well.
The secondary- Hat tip to Zeke Motta, who really stepped up after every other safety with experience got injured. Matthias Farley has also been a pleasant surprise. Bennett Jackson is a legit corner and KeiVarae Russell oh my. Tee who? I'm a big fan of six. For a true freshman KeiVarae is tough. This kid deserves a bad ass nickname. Do we have one for him yet?
Over 2,000 words. Murtaugh is proud. It's nice to be back.
What do you think about the 2012 season?