As Ryan Lindley plunged for a one-yard touchdown with 5:32 left in the second quarter to put San Diego State up 7-0, I thought to myself, "this reminds me a lot of the Duke game last season." Notre Dame struggled in that game against the Blue Devils, an inferior team, and looked to be sleep-walking through much of the first half. In fact, it took until 1:17 left in the second quarter before the Irish could penetrate the end zone against a team that had just one win on the season.
Fast forward to Saturday's game and the situation looked eerily similar. The Irish played solid defense in the half, but Notre Dame's explosive offensive weapons couldn't seem to get loose against a below average team. This time the Irish held off the scoring until 1:14 on the clock in the second quarter.
So much for getting off to a fast start…..
And that's the problem with this game. Is it the "same old, same old" for the Irish this season? Have they not improved at all? Is that possible? Or is it still a team trying to find some confidence?
More importantly, why can't this team seem to find any confidence?
It wasn't just lack of belief in one self. Turnovers, four, botched field goals, penalties, dropped passes, missed blocks, they're all part of first game jitters, but the Irish had way too many of them on Saturday. I doubt they'd beat anyone left on their schedule, other than Syracuse, if they play like they did on Saturday, so this team will have to improve fast.
However, I did see hope on Saturday, amongst all the inefficiency, and my guess is Charlie Weis saw it too. Some very key players are starting to develop, and if/when that happens, Irish fans should see the explosive offense they've been waiting for. The question is: Will it come soon enough for Weis and the Irish to have a good season?
Jimmy Clausen looked like the player many thought he'd develop into on Saturday. The Irish look to have found a go-to guy at the receiver position in Golden Tate, and a budding star in freshmen Michael Floyd. Armando Allen and Robert Hughes look to be a great one-two punch at half back. The Irish pass protected very well. And, and this is an important and, players stepped up and made plays when they had to. Last year, they just didn't. Yes, it was San Diego State, but it was also a very confident San Diego State that they were playing at that point, and confidence is everything in college football. Hopefully the Irish found theirs after Saturday's win.
They're going to need to be confident to win the remaining games on their schedule, and they're going to need to be efficient. They were neither on Saturday, until the very end. Next time, waiting until the end, won't be soon enough as their competition will be a lot better than San Diego State.
One thing that continues to puzzle me is the lack of commitment to the running game. I just don't believe that you can be a good football team if you can't run the football. The Irish averaged just 3.1 yards per attempt against a team that surrendered 5.1 the previous week against a weaker Cal Poly team. That same team rushed for 263 yards against the Aztec defense while the Irish managed just 122.
I understand that coverages dictate what you try to do against a team. I understand that it's very hard to run the football when you've got 8 or 9 men in the box. I understand you take what you're given. But when does Notre Dame become a good rushing football team under these circumstances? Is it when they make teams pay for their scheming like they did when Clausen hit Golden Tate for 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter? That will certainly help.
However, when your team is physically bigger and stronger, and the opposition is banged up and void of depth at defensive line, wouldn't that be a good time to try to develop the running game attitude? Many great rushing teams wear down their opponents. They might not get seven or eight yards per carry the first few series or even the first half, but eventually a team like San Diego State wears down, and you've got to develop that physical mentality so you can be physical when you need it the most, like next week against a good Michigan defensive line.
Overall this was an ugly win. There are many things to point out that went wrong on Saturday, but there were also signs of things starting to go right. Next Saturday's game is another opportunity for the Irish to get it right. They won't "get it right" if they don't have confidence, and they're going to lose if they wait until the fourth quarter to execute.
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