Omaha Domer's look at first games

It is one of college football's axioms that teams improve the most between their 1st and 2nd games, because it's impossible to fully simulate game speed in practice. Notre Dame's defensive coordinator Kent Baer was quoted to this effect here on IE before the Washington State game.

Unfortunately, this tends to put teams that haven't played a game at a disadvantage, especially early in the contest, against teams that have played a game. Such was the situation for Notre Dame against Washington State.

To be sure, this is not a phenomenon limited to Notre Dame this year. Two years ago, for example, Notre Dame faced the miserable task of opening against a Nebraska squad that had played two games already. After huge N.D. errors staked the Huskers to a 17-0 lead (27-3 at halftime), N.D. found its footing to some degree and the game was 10-10 ("winning" the second half 7-0) for the rest of the contest.

Often it is offenses that have the most difficulty, proving another axiom, which is that defenses are generally ahead of offenses early on. Games with other teams in that situation proved this point.

Purdue, playing a Bowling Green team that had a game under its belt, had an offense described as "out-of-sync" and couldn't capitalize on good field position early and wound up being the victim of a huge upset, 27-26, at home. Even games that were mismatches looked like games early on.

Pittsburgh, playing a Kent State team that had played already, trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter before winning 43-3.

Stanford, facing a San Jose State team that had already played two games, trailed 10-0 before winning 31-10 (Stanford scored 63 points in its win last year).

UCLA, which was playing its first game, never could get its offense untracked and lost 16-14 to a Colorado team that had already played.

Of course, if a team plays a weak squad like San Jose State or Kent State, the disadvantage of not having played a game is more of a nuisance than anything else because the result is nearly assured anyway. But playing a team of some quality, like Washington State, Colorado or Bowling Green (a 9-win squad last year under Urban Meyer), it can result in a loss or a near loss.

To consider the W.S.U. game in more detail, after the game was 19-0 W.S.U., N.D. won the rest of the contest 29-7. Consider the following quarter-by-quarter breakdown of offensive performance (these totals won't quite match the game totals, because I took them from the play-by-play ticker).

First Quarter

6 rushes, 0 yards (0.0 per carry)

3 passes, 8 yards (2.7 per pass)

(Two lost fumbles)

Second Quarter

13 rushes, 6 yards (0.5 per carry)

14 passes, 69 yards (4.9 per pass)

(One lost fumble — returned for a T.D.)

Third Quarter

7 rushes, 27 yards (3.9 per carry)

8 passes, 16 yards (2.0 per pass)

(One interception)

Fourth Quarter and Overtime

17 rushes, 156 yards (9.2 per carry)

5 passes, 44 yards (8.8 per pass)

(No turnovers)

Clearly, of course, the 4th quarter was by far the best offensive football that N.D. played, but there was gradual improvement in the running game throughout the game and the passing game was considerably better late in the contest than it was early on.

We need to see the 4th quarter Irish next week, for the whole game. Top Stories