Texans have long revered the Alamo as the battle that took place there was the turning point in the Texas Revolution. In March of 1836 a couple hundred brave Texians defended the Mission against 1500 Mexican soldiers led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. In the end all but two of the Texians were brutally slaughtered by Santa Anna’s troops but the battle became a rallying cry. The Texians quickly regrouped and a few months later General Sam Houston routed Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and independence was won. In 1850 they took to calling themselves Texans and on that note I’ll stop regurgitating all the Texas History that was beaten into me by the Texas Public School System as a kid.
It went a little better than that for the Fighting Irish on Saturday night in the Alamodome, and no rallying cry will be required. The Irish prevailed over Washington State 40-14 in the Alamodome on a "fast track" artificial surface that was painted up to resemble the grass in Notre Dame Stadium. The controversial "barnstorming" game was definitely a little different in many respects and after watching it there were things I liked about it and things I didn’t. The most important upside is that the Irish picked up a relatively easy win against the worst team on this season’s schedule. It also sounds like the Irish fans that went to the game found it to be a great experience. Feel free to weigh in on the comments section with your thoughts on that one. Lastly if there were any solid recruiting inroads made as a result it was probably worth it. We likely won’t know the answer to that one in the immediate future but it would be nice to see Notre Dame regain a notch in the talent rich Texas pipeline.
On the down side it was odd watching a Notre Dame game with so many empty seats and that’s on the powers that be. I know you can’t predict such conflicts that far out but playing a game in Texas on a night where the Longhorns are playing their biggest game of the regular season at the same time is going to eliminate a few thousand curious sports fans that might have otherwise come out to the game because they stayed home to watch the Horns. I’m sure the ratings were brutal as well with Texas vs. Okie State, USC vs Oregon and the World Series all on in the same time slot. The one thing that I thought ND and the Alamodome could have done to sort of pull it out of the fire would have been to give the unused tickets to the service members stationed in the area. The city of San Diego mastered this technique years ago. If the Chargers or Padres are having attendance issues they start giving big blocks of tickets to Camp Pendleton and Miramar. You want to top off the stadium with some loud fans that will buy more beer than the 50k that paid for their tickets get 10,000 Marines in the house. They do the same thing for the Poinsettia and Holiday Bowls as well. When the Padres do it they even wear those heinous camouflage uniforms. Donating several thousand tickets to the local servicemembers would have been solid PR for Notre Dame, a nice bonus for the local military, and a big boost in beer sales for the Alamodome. Just saying. With that onto my observations about the actual game. I watched it once last night while sitting in the garage handing out candy and again this afternoon. Here’s what I’ve got.
-Overall the Irish dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. For that matter they basically dominated the entire game. With 40 minutes TOP and out gaining Wazzu 592 to 206 the game was never at all in question.
-Clausen and Tate both continue to look incredible. Clausen’s accuracy is scary. He also does a great job of keeping plays alive by moving around in the pocket with his eyes down field. And that’s with a bad wheel. At this point you can pretty much count on Tate for 2-3 "wow" plays per game. His TD run out of the wildcat and that hail mary reception were both off the charts.
-The two drives that ended in field goals after having first and goal were disappointing. On the upside Tausch connected on both field goals to take his streak to 14 straight. It is such a nice change to see the Irish with a dependable kicker.
-The defensive line had great penetration all night. On almost every play some combination of KLM, Ethan Johnson, Darius Fleming, Kerry Neal and Ian Williams were in the backfield wreaking havoc. On the night the unit recorded 10 TFL’s, 5 sacks and Williams picked up the rare DL INT. Steve Filer also looked good when he got into the mix late in the game. Strong performances all around.
-Manti Te’o was also very active again. He continues to impress.
-Zeke Motta also keeps quietly showing up both on special teams and in a secondary role on defense. Hopefully he can continue to develop to take over for McCarthy next season.
-On that note where is Anello? He’s been very quiet thus far this season on the coverage units. It seems to me that Motta and the snapper Ben Turk tend to show up at the ball carrier most often. I’m not sure what’s up with that.
-The punting in general remains suspect. There is a lot of field position getting lost there.
-Robert Hughes had a great game. 24 carries for 131 yards and a TD plus another 51 yards receiving on 4 catches is a solid night at the office. I love watching Hughes now that he finally decided to "play big." He’s a bull.
-Theo Riddick continues to look very explosive. I keep expecting him to break a kick return for six. It will be very enjoyable watching Theo for the next few years.
-Jonas Gray still appears to put the ball on the ground too much. With Riddick coming on, Cierre Wood waiting in the wings and a couple of new recruits committed Jonas is going to have to fix that ASAP or he’ll get lost in the shuffle.
-I’d like to see some more wrinkles out of the Wildcat. I suppose they weren’t needed last night but after the BC comments about stopping Hughes on 4th down last week because they knew he was running the boys need to throw a couple more passes out of that formation to keep defenses honest. That said it did look like Tate originally intended to throw on one Wildcat play in the 2nd quarter. Something to keep an eye on.
-Great hustle by Mike Ragone chasing down the ball carrier after the blocked PAT in the 1st quarter. It was also nice to see Mike pick up a reception. There have been a few times this season I’ve seen him break open and he rarely gets thrown to. Perhaps he’s just always at the bottom of the progressions.
-Kamara had a nice game with three receptions and a TD. I have a soft spot for Duval. It was nice to see him have a solid night and he looked like he was having fun out there.
-Another APB goes out for James Aldridge. It seems like he got lost in the shuffle while he was hurt. I was looking forward to seeing some power dives and fullback screens this season and it has yet to materialize.
-It was great to see the two deep get some quality reps. Crist looked pretty nervous at first but settled in okay. His TD pass to Goodman was sweet on both ends but Crist obviously needs more reps before he takes over full time. His knee could potentially end up being the biggest downside of the whole contest. I sincerely hope it is a minor injury for several obvious reasons.
-On the Goodman note I keep wondering what the deal is with Walker and Evans. Goodman and Toma are in the mix and those two guys are MIA though Walker was out there for several plays in the 4th quarter. Interesting.
-Trevor Robinson’s injury could also have a pretty big impact. Wenger filled in ok but after that we venture into the re
alm of the unknown. Trevor is probably the best offensive lineman on the team and will be missed if he isn’t out there for this November stretch run.
-While the starting defense looked solid all night the second string missed a lot of tackles and generally got kind of cut up. They need work, but fortunately the vast majority of the defense will be back next year so there is plenty of time to continue that development.
-I was disappointed with the number of bonehead penalties. Though most of them seemed to be the sort that come from being a little too riled up, which I’ll take over being flat any time. I was also disappointed that the boys put the ball on the ground 4 times despite only losing 1 of those.
-I was most pleased with that emotional aspect of the game. The team came out pretty fired up and really played hard for four quarters. I was psyched to see Weis ripping them early in the 4th quarter to finish the game. That’s a nice change and for the most part it seems to be getting through.
-My final random observation was that just prior to the last play of the game the cameras cut to Wazzu Head Coach Paul Wulff taking his headset off and fiddling around with his hair. In the process it sure looked to me like he was wearing a toupee. I called the wife in for a ruling and ran it back about 10 times. She agreed that it was indeed a toupee. Like I said, it was random.
Offensive Game Ball- Clausen, Tate and Hughes. Great performances all around.
Defensive Game Ball- The whole defensive line. After a shaky start to the season that unit has really come on strong and it is very nice to see.
Random Game Ball- Nick Tausch, you can’t put a price on reliability like that.
Overall, this was a nice comfortable win that sets the Irish up to control their own destiny down the stretch. If Robinson and Crist come out okay it will have been a solid trip overall.