Frank Commentary

Saturday's loss to North Carolina was a painful one for Irish fans, but there's clearly light at the end of this tunnel. The Irish did almost everything right in the game on Saturday, but they forgot to protect the football, and a team will almost always lose a game against a good team when they lose badly in the turnover department.

The atmosphere in Chapel Hill was electric on Saturday….that was big-time football. The most impressive part of the game to me was the fact that the Irish showed up to play big-time football. They came out from the first whistle and played with inspiration and emotion. This, to me, has been Notre Dame's tallest hurdle each week. But we're starting to see the Irish show up every week to play, and that's the most important element to being a great team.

It also felt great to watch big-time football again out of the Irish. Just to be in it….that atmosphere, every play seems like life and death. The outcome was validation for the victor. North Carolina is definitely a good football team. But the Irish have nothing to hang their heads about. They are also a good football team, but one still making costly mistakes. Once they fix those mistakes, they'll find themselves back in the top 25 again.

The Irish have play-makers on offense, more than I can remember in awhile. While the Quinn, Walker, Stovall, Samardzija, Carlson combination was outstanding and broke almost every Irish offensive record, somehow I think the Clausen, Allen, Tate, Floyd, Kamara, Rudolph combination might end up being better. My guess is you feel it too.

The Irish defense has played with winning emotion and attitude under defensive coordinator Corwin Brown really since his arrival….that is a great sign for the future. Brown's unit plays very hard, and they show up every game to play for him. However, they just don't have the playmakers on defense at this point to be a great football team. They have some, and some budding younger players showing up each week, but they don't have enough and will need to add more to get back to the top.

The Irish have fixed so many things since their dismal 3-9 season last year, but the most important thing they've fixed is their attitude. Head coach Charlie Weis hit the nail on the head after Saturday's game when he said this:

"That's a different team (ND) than I've seen in the last year and change. That team (ND) today expected to win. They didn't come here hoping to win, they expected to win, and they didn't, and give credit to North Carolina. I'm not saying that to be disrespectful, but that team in that locker room today, it was the first time in a long time where I've looked in their faces against a good opponent and it was a team that really feels bad. And the reason they feel really bad is because they're starting to get it. They are starting to get it. This is not the same team that everyone saw at the beginning of the year. This team is starting to get it."

Weis is correct, this Irish team is starting to get it. They expect to win. They expect to beat anyone they face. They should have beaten North Carolina, but they didn't protect the football. Once they learn to protect the football, they can beat a lot of good teams, and many more left on their schedule.

While Saturday's loss was difficult to swallow, I haven't felt this good after a loss in a very long time. This team is so close to being a great team, and it's going to be fun to watch them finally get there, and they will get there. I'm convinced of that.

What was that?

The Irish defense came out with a game plan I felt we might actually see on Saturday. It appeared the Irish defense felt they'd try to force an inexperienced quarterback to make good decisions and drive the length of the field to score touchdowns. I understand the game plan. I understand why they'd choose to do such a thing. What I didn't understand is why they stuck with it for so long when it was clear that the Irish weren't slowing down Cameron Sexton and the Carolina offense.

North Carolina came out with a similar game plan on defense, but they quickly learned that Jimmy Clausen was too good to let sit in the pocket with all day to throw. They changed their game plan early, became aggressive on defense, and had some success slowing down the Irish in the second half. I'm not sure why it took so long for the Irish staff to make the same adjustment on defense. Once they did they had some success stopping Carolina, but it was too little too late at that point.

The decision seemed to take the Irish defense out of their element and they played tentative at times. Like the Irish offense, shouldn't ND stick with what they're good at and what they've practiced? I understand why they had such a game plan, but I don't think this unit is good enough to be switching mentalities week to week.

Is the new system working?

It seems Weis and offensive coordinator Michael Haywood have found a nice rhythm and working relationship thus far. Saturday's game was the first game in awhile where I had zero complaints as to what the Irish offense were doing on the field. I felt the game plan on offense was outstanding. I felt it made perfect sense, and more importantly, I felt the Irish offense executed the game plan very well. This was, by far, the best job the Irish offensive staff has done all season in preparation for a game in my opinion, and it came at a critical time in a very important game.

A tip of the hat

Irish offensive line coach John Latina has been under fire from a lot of Irish fans for the poor play of his offensive line last year and at times this year. This offensive line is still a work in progress at this point, but they've come miles and miles from where they were at this time last season. This is unit is starting to perform better and better each week. They did give up a few sacks this week, but some were coverage sacks, and they're starting to show some life in the running game.

Another tip of the hat

Once again, a tip of the hat to Jimmy Clausen. I love the way this kid plays. I love his attitude. I love his fire. I love the fact that he HATES to lose. Clausen was mad yesterday, but he wasn't mad at anyone other than himself. He knew he hurt his team with some bad decisions, but the Irish would not have been in this game without him. He's going to great. He'll take this experience and learn from it. What excites me the most is he was clutch on that last drive. He made the big plays, but once again, the Irish turned the ball over. That last throw was a frozen rope and a big-time throw in a clutch situation. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch this kid the rest of the way.

Another tip of the hat

Brandon Walker certainly deserves one. I can't imagine the emotions running through his head. It's the first one that's the hardest, and he finally got the first one. Hopefully that is the end of this bad stretch for him because the Irish are going to need him to win a game sometime later this year.

The second half

Nobody likes the sound of 4-2, including me, but I feel real good about where the Irish are right now. I see both sides of the football playing with emotion. I see an extremely explosive offense developing. I see a defense that will keep you in the game. I see solid special teams. I see all the makings of a very good football team at the end of this season.

The week off comes at a very good time for the Irish. Little bruises can heal, and more importantly, the pain of this loss can fester. If they can build upon what appears to be a budding running game, they're going to be a very tough team to beat down the stretch. Give Clausen a running game and watch out. Hopefully they'll spend a lot of time this week working on it and finding out how to protect the football. Top Stories