Call it a never-say-die attitude. Call in maturity. Call it making plays. Call it clutch. The Irish were all those things on Saturday when it counted and advanced their record to 6-1. Time to take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly, and there was plenty of all three in Saturday's game.
Heart: This team plays with the heart of a champion. There is no deficit too large, no path too long, no fire too hot for this Irish team. They simply believe, and you can win a lot of games with that attitude. Unfortunately, they don't play that way all of the time. If they could ever put it all together…..what a sight that would be.
Got Nasty?: I'm not sure if Irish fans have noticed, but they're starting to witness the "nasty" Weis talked about during his initial press conference. The Irish defense was simply superb most the game. The Notre Dame defense has allowed just 23 points (5.75 per game) in the second half of the last four football games. They clearly are carrying this football team even though many Irish fans don't want to admit it. Rick Minter has this unit playing very well despite some obvious weaknesses.
Winning the Big One: Much has been said about Brady Quinn's lack of a big win in his career. While he hasn't beat USC (and that certainly wasn't his fault last year), he has been the engineer of a lot of impressive "little" wins. Quinn has stepped up and put this team on his back many, many times and delivered in clutch. Folks, this was a big win. It saved Notre Dame's season. So was the Michigan State victory. I hope Irish fans will give credit where credit is due.
Running game: 41 rushing yards. 1.2 yards per carry. We have to give UCLA's defense some credit, and I firmly believe their front four can play with anyone, but this simply isn't acceptable. When you have one of the most experienced offensive lines in Notre Dame history, and you can only muster 1.2 yards per carry, something is wrong. Notre Dame won't be a great offensive team until they can consistently run the football.
Big Plays: The Irish played outstanding on defense, but they did surrender two big plays that amounted for 14 of the Bruin points. The Irish surrendered a 54-yard touchdown pass and a 36-yard touchdown pass that amounted for 90 of the Bruin's 243 total yards. Limiting big plays has been a goal all season and continues to be a concern, but those two plays seemed to be the only two bad plays the Irish had all game on defense. If the Irish had just made two tackles on these two plays, I'd say the Irish defense played about perfect.
Third Down: 4-of-19 is terrible and Weis will certainly mention that today. What's even more alarming is Notre Dame was in a third-and-five or greater situation 12 out of those 19 times. They were in a third-and-eight or greater 10 out of those 19 chances. And, they were in a third-and-10 or more situation nine out of those 19 opportunities. You won't be very successful given those circumstances. The lack of a running game is stifling the Irish offense.
Pass protection: The Bruins put considerable pressure on Brady Quinn all day including five sacks, but it was how they pressured that was more alarming. In more than one situation the Bruins were able to sack or pressure Quinn while only rushing three players. And, the Irish sometimes had six or seven protecting Quinn. Again, much of the credit has to go to the Bruin's front four, but as I mentioned earlier, this is probably the most experienced offensive line in Irish history. The Irish have to do a better job protecting Quinn and giving him time to throw.
In the end, the Irish did pull out the victory. The offense and Quinn finally put a drive together and made the plays necessary to win the game.
"Let me tell you something, I'm not going to feel miserable about this win. You want to feel miserable? Fine," Weis said after Saturday's game.
Weis is correct, he shouldn't feel miserable about the win. Anytime a team can win a hard-fought football game, they should be excited. Especially with the way they won it in the end.
But Weis should feel miserable about the way the offense played most of the game, and I'm going to guess when he watches the replay, he will.
"I felt like our offense came out lethargic," Weis added. "I don't think that was the case on defense at all."
But why is that? The Irish had two weeks to prepare for this game and the entire week this week to focus specifically on UCLA. There was no class for the players to attend. There were no distractions to get in the way. I'm just not sure why this offense continues to sputter out of the gate.
I will suggest Notre Dame and Weis will have to find the answer soon if they want to beat the great teams.
Weis is correct in that the great teams find a way to win. But what happens when you're also playing a great team? You better be efficient and ready to play out of the gate, and the Irish were neither on offense on Saturday.
Derek Landri and Trevor Laws: These two are playing about as well as anyone could've hoped for. They have been a constant in the backfield for the past four games. This defense went from average to good and they're a large part of the reason why.
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