Why? All of those things are fixable, and I expect they will be fixed. What actually has me smiling this morning are two things—the play of the Irish defense, and the play of Jimmy Clausen.
Clausen finished the game just 17-for-32 for 144 yards and one interception, but he had a command, a pocket presence and a confidence way beyond his years. There is no "deer in the headlights" in Jimmy Clausen, and the ability to stay calm is of the utmost importance for a quarterback. Penn State was harassing him, they came after him with everything they had, but it didn't faze him one bit. More importantly, Clausen made excellent decisions all game and rarely made a poor one.
Folks, it's only one game, but I'm very high on this young freshman.
Now, if we can get Charlie Weis to take off the training wheels, we just might solve some of these offensive issues.
Yes, I fully understand why Weis played the game the way he did, especially the first half. But at some point, as even he admitted, you have to throw the ball in the middle of the field. You're going to have to let Jimmy do what Jimmy does best, throw the football.
I also understand the conservative play calling, but until a player actually makes a mistake, shouldn't we at least give him a chance to make plays? Weis knows his team and talent better than I, and protecting a young quarterback is a good thing, but the Irish team continues to lose games because of it. Would've it mattered had Weis taken off the handcuffs on Clausen? Probably not. But they lost anyway, and Clausen would've gained some valuable experience going into Michigan.
True, it might've hurt his confidence if he played very poorly in this game, but I don't think much fazes Clausen, and I don't think he'll play poorly too often in his career at ND. Why? Because he's highly accurate, he makes good decisions, and he stays calm on the football field. It's time to take off the training wheels, and I have to believe Weis is smiling inside, like me, despite all the problems he still has on offense.
I simply can't tell you how giddy I am over this Irish defense. Why? They're the underdog, and I love the underdog, especially when they play like they did last night. This is a unit I can get behind! They play their hearts out.
If you ever had any question as to if Corwin Brown was a good hire all you have to do is watch Saturday's game. Yes, the Irish gave up 165 yards on the ground, but they gave up very few rushing yards in the first three quarters. They simply played outstanding football for three quarters. Unfortunately, they ran out of gas.
What really had these Irish Eyes smiling? Watching Morelli stand in the pocket at times for up to seven seconds and finding nobody, zero, zip, players open to throw to. Yes, I should be alarmed that Morelli had seven seconds to throw, but I was thrilled that he had nobody to throw to, and that happened a number of times.
This defense will never be a great pass-rushing defense with the current personnel, but they can play sound, fundamental football, and that's what you've seen for essentially two weeks now.
Also, I think we're starting to see the future when both Kerry Neal and Morrice Richardson are in the game. Both players did a nice job getting to the quarterback.
For two straight games we've seen a struggling offensive line. How bad? ND is last, yes, dead last in rushing offense. As bad as that seems, they're also dead last in sacks allowed. Sit back and think about that. Dead last in both rushing and sacks allowed……how is that even possible?
It's not just the blown assignments that bother me though. It's the countless mental mistakes, and it's not just the first-time starters making these mistakes, I can assure you. Something has to change. Is it time for some new bodies in the game? Is it time for Weis to take over? Something has to change…..
Along those same lines, how is possible for the Irish to continue to have such awful special teams? Despite the Zbikowski return, they have been pretty much dreadful in all aspects of special teams except, get this, kicking! I'm pleased as punch with these kickers. At least they would have an excuse if they struggled. There simply is no excuse for continued poor special teams play. By the way, was that Eric Maust punting the last time for the Irish? Did ND lose their punter as well in this game?
Having said all of that, why am I smiling this morning? The two things we didn't know about, the quarterback and the defensive coordinator, both look to be home runs at this point, but it's early….very early.
The rest of this, we pretty much expected. We knew the Irish would struggle early on offense, but just not this much. We know Weis will eventually fix the offense, but I was worried about the defense and the quarterback situation because I didn't know what to expect. I'm not worried anymore.
All the rest of the futility can and likely will be fixed. I do wonder if this offensive line will ever get it together, but there's too much talent there not to.
These two games will make this team a mentally-tough football team. These two games, as embarrassing and frustrating as they were to watch, will give the Irish a chance when they face UCLA at their place, USC when they come to South Bend, and yes, Boston College, who looks to be pretty good as well. But first they need to win a game. In fact, they need to win three games. ND can win the next three games. They'll need to fix these problems in a hurry, but they can win these games.
It starts next Saturday. The Irish do have a chance to beat Michigan. This game will come down to who wants it more. Will the Irish want it more? Stay tuned….I don't know about you, but this is going to be fun to watch!