Members of the media can dig up countless stats as to why the outcome of Saturday's game shouldn't have happened, but it did. The Irish losing eight starters from a……blah, blah, blah…
New Irish head coach Charlie Weis has said the right things since being hired—pretty much every Irish fan and member of the media would tell you that. But how can he turn one of the more disappointing offenses in the country into a dominating force in such a short period of time?
The turnaround was dramatic and it almost seemed as if Weis could just toy with his competition.
Who else can play the cat and mouse game like Weis? I know of only one guy, and he just left ND's biggest rival--USC. And I was just as impressed when former Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow was carving up every defense in his path. Chow seemed one of a kind at that point—supernatural if you like—but maybe it's not as uncommon as we thought?
Is Weis on Chow's level? Could he maybe be even a step above? He has a long way to go to prove that, but he certainly held court and won convincingly on Saturday night against a highly-respected defensive mind.
Weis reminds me of one of sports' best stories, and one player I admire a great deal—baseball great Greg Maddux.
Maddux, like Weis, is an unlikely candidate to be one the game's best. Much has been written about Weis' lack of college football experience as a player, and Maddux is hardly the prototypical staff ace that anyone would expect to log 300+ wins in a career.
Why are they successful? One might guess that both just are smarter than most of their peers, but that would discount their dedication. Maddux is known as "the professor" in baseball circles for his vast knowledge of opposing hitters, Weis has proven he's got the answer for almost any defensive scheme imaginable.
It's just obvious watching this team that Weis is a step above everyone in this game, and I feel comfortable saying that even from the first game. I can't wait to see what the offense can do when they get a few games under their belt.
Thoughts on the offense.
Saturday's showing was the best game I've seen the Irish offensive line play in a very long time. The Irish absolutely dominated Pitt's defensive line. But don't get carried away with this just yet, the Pitt front four was banged up coming into this game. However, the Irish were able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. You're not going to do that without some excellent offensive line play.
The list of players who had great games is far too long to list, but I will say that I was probably most impressed by the play of Brady Quinn. It's clearly obvious he's a better quarterback, but I also think he's really stepped up his level of leadership, and that's what this team really needed.
The best thing I can say about this game is that the Irish didn't have to do a whole lot in terms of plays. Weis had an excellent game plan that worked to perfection. The Irish built a big lead and Weis just pounded the Pitt defense with a good power running game. Weis played a few of his cards in the game with some wonderfully designed plays, but it's obvious he's still holding most of the deck for the future.
Thoughts on Defense
I was pleasantly surprised by the play by the defense. Weis made only one promise about his defense and that was that they'd fly to the ball. There was no question they did just that.
I think a number of people were concerned about Notre Dame's ability to stop the run, but I really felt they did an outstanding job minus the one big play. Pitt is hardly Michigan when running the football, and the Irish will likely find that out next Saturday, but the Irish were in the backfield the entire night disrupting running plays. The quickness of Notre Dame's defensive line should benefit them all season.
I was also encouraged by the play of the defensive backs. Yes, they gave up the big play. Yes, they gave up some yards, but they were also in position to make plays on the ball all evening, and they actually did make plays on the ball.
The secondary will be a work in progress all season, but we saw considerable progress in just one game.
If I had one complaint, I'd say I still saw too many missed tackles. They won't be able to get away with that and win at Michigan. I'm sure Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter will be expressing these same thoughts the entire week this week.
So what did we learn Saturday night?
I think we learned a number of things. One, the Irish clearly have one of the best offensive minds in football leading this team. Two, the Irish offense will likely be better than most people thought or even imagined. Three, the Irish defense, while still a work in progress, is progressing at a nice pace.
The key to this season will be the defense in my mind. If they can limit the big plays, and end most red zone situations with allowing three points instead of seven, this team is going to win a lot of football game this season.