60 Minutes

In the beginning of the year Head Coach Charlie Weis stated that the theme for the season would be ‘Dive Right In' and while this is an upbeat and catchy axiom it never really caught on with the fans. Those who loved the Irish from the stands stamped a different theme onto the 2008 season: redemption.

It had seemed that the baptismal waters of a sweet September rain during the Michigan game had washed the team clean of previous doubts left over from last season and the false start against San Diego State. The Michigan State game, however, made it clear that the team was headed in the right direction, but had not yet reached its destination. Then the near perfect play of the team in the second half against Purdue gave us a clue to its identity. Against Stanford the team needed a solid win that was born of steady game play from kick off to the final whistle. The pre-kick off routine that the special teams unit rolled out this week was both bemusing and heartening. One of the biggest problems of the Weis era has been coming out flat footed. While the defense gave up a lot of yards in that first drive they still came out ready to play. In fact David Bruton's interception on that drive was created out of pure athleticism and heads up play. The offense shared the enthusiasm and for the first time this year they marched down the length of the field and scored on the opening drive (the red zone starting position Michigan served up to us doesn't count).

Jimmy Clausen had another excellent game. He is becoming a confident leader and is starting to show a willingness to experiment and be creative. He showed some quick thinking when he flipped the ball to David Grimes to avoid a sack and keep the team in field goal position. It would have been even better if the field goal had been made.

It's encouraging to know that Clausen has a brain to go along with his arm, but what an arm it is. Clausen's deep ball passes have more than a bit of Hollywood magic to them. As he releases the ball the crowd's breathe was sucked away and the entire stadium was filled with a beatific silence until the ball falls to rest in Grimes' (or Tate's, or Floyd's) hands and you can almost hear a single guitar stroking a power chord in glorious celebration.

Armando Allen continues to confirm suspicions he it the sort of running back that fits perfectly into the Weis system. It has become apparent that whenever Clausen has a problem there is a little light in the corner of his eye that reads "THROW IT TO ALLEN!!!" After the game Weis described Clausen's newfound ability to check down as a "miracle."

Another emerging star in this offense is Kyle Rudolph. He has great hands and is able run crisp routes to get himself open. Weis has found another player to fit perfectly into his system. But there are 60 minutes in a football game and this Irish squad needs to play every one of them. They did not and they are not a good enough team to dilly dally for a quarter or two. The game was positive overall and no one should be disappointed with a win, but there were a number of glaring problems. There are three things this team does not do well, at least not on a consistent basis. Unfortunately these are the three things that are absolutely necessary in sustaining a lead in a game.

The first is the already much maligned running game. The Irish had a total of 83 rushing yards the entire game and most of these came in the fourth quarter. Instead of grinding out the clock after the being ahead by three touchdowns the team resorted to throwing the ball over and over again. Using the pass to set up the run is a legitimate way to run an offense, but not if the run is virtually non-existent. Knute Rockne warned about the problems with an offense that relies too much on the pass when he described it as ‘pass, pass, pray, punt.'

The second problem is the kicking game. There were six points left on the field today as a result of missed field goals. These are points that must be a given in close games. There is a host of stiff competition in the latter half of the schedule and they will be even tougher if Weis has to constantly go for it on fourth and long in the red zone.

The last major problem of the day was tackling and this may be the most damaging. The defense played an excellent mental game today. The schemes that were dialed up were well thought out and for the most part well executed. There were very few times that a defensive player was out of position or unable to be in on a play. The problem arose when it came time to bring down the ball carrier. The defense is having a very difficult time finishing the play. Yes, Toby Gerhart is one tough monkey, but that doesn't excuse the number of tackles that he broke.

The main point to take away from this game is that the team needs to learn composure. Sometimes it is harder to win with the lead than it is to win in the last seconds from behind. This team has shown that they can turn the jets on after lying down in the first half and they've shown they have enough heart not to give up when they are behind. Today they faltered a little bit in handling a blowout lead. Thankfully the two minute drill is what this team does best and when the game was in real danger they came alive again. Hopefully the lesson will be learned and they will keep their feet on the other team's neck when they are ahead by three possessions. Again this season is about the long road of redemption and these are problems that are expected in a team that has only just found its identity. The sky isn't falling and things are actually looking pretty sunny in South Bend. Next week the team will be playing a very good North Carolina team. It may be that winning this game against Stanford in this way is a blessing in disguise for the Irish. Charlie Weis is not a guy to rest on his laurels and this may just end up being the most difficult week of practice the team has seen. Hopefully there will be a big clock over the practice field with a speaker so the players can here every tick counting down a full 60 minutes.


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