Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Fighting Irish

Two things needed to happen yesterday. The Irish needed to win and they needed to win big. They needed to sweep away the memories of last season with such an epic display of gridiron dominance that opponents from Ann Arbor to the Pacific Coast would shiver at the mention of their name and would soil themselves at the sound of the fight song. The Irish won, but they did not win big.

The Irish did not announce their presence with authority today. Instead it was announced with a whimper. This game was supposed to be a statement, but it left more questions than answers. The day began with the Irish winning the toss and deferring to San Diego State. It is encouraging to see that Charlie Weis can exhibit as much confidence in his defense as he has shown in the past for the offense. Corwin Brown's troops quickly proved him right when they came out of the tunnel fired up to punish the Aztecs for having the gall to travel to South Bend.

San Diego State Head Coach Chuck Long was smart enough to opt out of smash-mouth football and instead put the ball in the air. It was comforting to see the Irish linebackers go after the quarterback and the ball with such aggression. The Tenuta influence was in full effect as Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley was forced into multiple bad throws while the Irish defense showed expert timing in breaking up plays. Unfortunately, living on the edge means that you will sometimes fall off as evidenced by Maurice Crum's 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty. Still, it is preferable to lose fifteen yards because a D-back really wanted to hit somebody rather than losing the same fifteen yards because of weak-willed arm tackles we've seen in the past.

The offense seemed improved over last season, but is still not at the level we expect from Notre Dame players. The first three quarters of today's game were a hair-pulling redux of last season without the excuses of youth and inexperience. It seemed as though the players had forgotten that they owed the entire Notre Dame world an act of contrition in the form of an unequivocal blowout on opening day.

It may have been a mistake for Charlie Weis to bar all discussion of 2007 because the team needed to be reminded that they weren't just playing for the win today, but for a bit of redemption. Fortunately, for the Irish, the Aztecs took twenty-eight minutes out of their day to refresh their memories. Perhaps it was this bitter sting of old wounds that woke the team up in the final minutes of the first half.

While there were many negatives in yesterday's game it is important not to overlook the positives. It appears that Beamer ball may have been wrested out of the hands of Virginia Tech and brought to South Bend. Brown's blocked punt was only a highlight to excellent punt coverage and a couple of exciting returns by Armando Allen. The Irish appear to have a great quarterback in the making, and it should be mandated as law that Golden Tate and Michael Floyd should be on the field on every offensive play.

Even with last season as evidence, nothing about yesterday made a whole lot of sense. There is not one thing in the history of mankind that explains how it is possible that a team that lost to Cal Poly could even hang with the Fighting Irish, let alone lead for most of the game.

As befuddling as this game was to all who watched, let's not forget that it is far better to critique the mistakes made by the team after a win than a loss. Something important did happen today. The team came perilously close to the brink of disaster and mustered up the stones to pull out a win. That type of experience cannot be gained in practice. Notre Dame needed to make a profound statement with an even more profound blowout win. The blowout did not happen, but the Irish live to make the statement next week. And won't it be so much more satisfying when the statement is made against the Wolverines?


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