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The Sun Bowl: Thoughts from Section 22

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Our own Eric Murtaugh just put together a great post game analysis but I feel obligated to give you my two cents as observed from Section 22.

The last 48 hours have been chock full of Sun Bowl mania for the Coach and I. Needless to say it turned out to be a great way to usher in the New Year. We had a great pre-party on the night of the 30ththen spent yesterday at the game itself. For a nightcap we even sat down and watched the CBS broadcast of the game that we attended in person. Hat tip to the wife for hanging with us through all of that.

With the 2010 Notre Dame football season now in the books I wanted be sure to take a minute to comment on the game before we jump into off season mode so here are my observations from Section 22

The Crowd
A Sun Bowl record crowd of 54,021 turned out for the game and they were heavily in favor of the Irish. As expected local Subway Alumni were out in force, and when mixed in with the Alumni and other Notre Dame regulars they made for a pretty lively crowd that was very anti Hurricanes.

The degree to which the crowd was in Notre Dame's favor was evident before kickoff. The Notre Dame Band finished off their pregame routine by performing "Deep in the Heart of Texas" while formed up in the image of the Lone Star State. That got the crowd good and fired up as evidenced by a very positive roar. The Miami band took the field moments later to a chorus of boos.

Shortly thereafter a member of the Army Golden Knights parachute team landed at mid field wearing a Notre Dame helmet prompting another positive roar from the crowd. When his counterpart landed moments later in Hurricane gear the boos returned. This cycle was repeated again when the two teams took the field to start the game.

Bottom line ND definitely had the crowd.

The Weather
It was abnormally cold and wet in El Paso the last couple of days and the stadium was covered with a nice dusting of snow before the game kicked off. The temperature hovered just above freezing throughout the game with steady snow flurries. It looked nice and clear on TV but in person the overcast was ominous and the snow flurries were steady throughout the game.

The cold weather didn't phase Notre Dame in the least. The vast majority of the Notre Dame players didn't even bother wearing long sleeves. Conversely the Hurricanes were obviously out of their element. The Miami players were all wearing long sleeves and ski masks. They were also constantly huddled around the heaters on their sideline. While it didn't appear to be as apparent on the TV broadcast from the stands it was obvious that the weather was a factor for Miami but not a factor at all for Notre Dame.

Athleticism
I mentioned in my preview post that I disagreed with the assessment that Miami was more athletic than ND. After watching the game in person I feel even more strongly that is the case. Notre Dame matched up well along the lines of scrimmage and at the skill positions.

The vaunted Hurricane secondary had absolutely no answer for Michael Floyd. I realize Floyd is a special case but watching him against the Miami secondary was like watching a grown man play against little kids. Floyd had a huge day and it could have been even bigger had he come down with a couple of near miss circus catches in the endzone and played any meaningful minutes in the second half.

Conversely the NotreDame secondary did a pretty good job of keeping the Miami receivers in check all day. The vast majority of Miami's success in the passing game came well after the outcome was decided. In addition the Fighting Irish picked off 4 passes to include an impressive 3 picks from Harrison Smith. Harrison remains one of the best turnaround stories of the season.

Coaching and Discipline
Notre Dame was obviously considerably better coached and much more disciplined than the Hurricanes. Penalties are the most obvious indicator of this and Miami had 10 for 106 yards while ND had 3 for 20. Not only were the Canes heavily penalized but the timeliness of those penalties was often terrible. They shot themselves in the foot at several key points of the game. Thanks!

Overall the Irish came out of the tunnel, took the game over and went up 7-0 before Miami ever had the football. From there the game was never in doubt. The vast majority of the Hurricane offensive production came on a two play drive at the end of the first half and in a fourth quarter that was almost totally mop up time. It was nice to be on that side of one of those games again.

Random musings
Give David Ruffer a 5th year and put him on scholarship please! The kid is money.

Hat tip to every senior on the roster. That group of players was part of one of the darker periods in Notre Dame football history, but they kept fighting, rolled through multiple assistant coaches and ultimately a head coaching change. Despite the losses and the turmoil they kept fighting and ultimately became a part of what I believe to be the early stages of a real program turnaround. They had every reason to cash in and never did. Thank you!

The 2010 season had its fair share of heartbreaking losses and frustrating moments and on Oct 30th things looked rather bleak. But Coach Kelly, the staff, and the players kept grinding and ultimately put together an extremely positive finish that gives the program a ton of momentum heading into the final stages of this recruiting cycle and the 2011 season. The future again looks bright in South Bend.

The vast majority of this team will return in 2011 and they know now how to win. Mix in a potentially strong signing day next month and the arrow is definitely pointing up. I can't wait. Go Irish!