Apparently, someone in WSU athletics has done something to seriously anger the football gods, because now they are twisting the knife, sticking us with another 29-26 overtime loss on national TV. That sucks. This was not a moral victory. WSU went to South Bend to win a football game and didn't. However, the game was not without its positive elements, so please humor me as I try to make chicken salad out of other chicken by-products.
First of all, allow me to extend my thanks to the gracious hosts at Notre Dame. They were genuinely nice people, if a little patronizing of our "little" program, and could give lessons to virtually every school (ours included) on how to treat guests at your university. Several parents of Notre Dame students spent time talking to my group of Cougars on Friday night, and were some of the nicest people I've met on the road.
The events leading up to the game were fairly routine. We did the tourist thing, seeing all the sights on campus (Touchdown Jesus, We're Number One Moses, and Fair-Catch Corby, to name a few) and attending the pep rally. The sights were pretty cool—ND has a beautiful campus—and the pep rally was incredible. We were packed into the basketball facility like sardines as the speakers roared and the fans were whipped into a frenzy in a series of fast-paced and well-organized presentations. In my opinion, the most impressive moment came when they turned off the lights and a young woman sang the epic "Here Come the Irish." That was indescribably cool; it gave me chills. It's also hard not to mention the entrance of the marching band, playing the fight song. Also impressive. Courtney Watson's "Weapons of mass disruption" speech? Not impressive, and I'd like to give that stupid leprechaun a wedgie.
One of the funnier moments of the trip came on Saturday, in the line for the men's room at the ND bookstore, when a fan decked out in green and gold regalia asked (former ND captain and NFL star) Bob Golic if he had played football for the Irish. It seems that the Huskies aren't the only program with hangers-on. Who knew? To his credit, Golic simply answered ‘yes' and continued with the conversation. One of my Cougar compatriots had to stifle the urge to ask Golic, who in his spare time has starred in a "Saved by the Bell" spinoff, if he'd spoken with Screech lately and if he had Tiffany Thiessen's phone number.
As we joined the throng of people headed toward the stadium, the thing that really struck me is how involved everyone is in Irish football Saturdays. The campus lends itself to involvement and interaction with its open spaces and there were plenty of examples of student-run food and snack stands. Upon entering the stadium, I noticed one thing: Notre Dame stadium is surprisingly plain. Not nearly as intimidating as Ohio Stadium, at least from an architectural standpoint. It also lacks some of the typical items found in major-college stadiums: a video board and stat boards were the most glaring. Heck, the referee didn't even have a microphone. It's old-school, and to be honest, kind of refreshing.
The game itself was a lot of fun, aside from the outcome. Will Derting was arguably the best player on the field, and the hit he laid on Carlyle Holiday was bone-crushing. Derting was such a terror that the stadium announcer began adding "again" every time he mentioned Derting's name on a tackle. I've been to a lot of practices this year, and I was still surprised by how fast our front seven is. They took it to the Irish for most of the game, and only faltered when they had been on the field for way too long. Holiday took a horrific beating, and to his credit, kept getting up.
I'm not going to say a word about the officiating, I'm just going to sit here and tear the arms off my referee doll (what, you don't have one?) in silence. Well, I may mumble a little, but nothing intelligible will pass my lips.
Matt Kegel played very well, considering the pressure he was under all day, and really only made one serious mental mistake. I'm still disappointed in some of our fans, who continue to berate Kegel every time he throws an incompletion. Lighten up, people. He sucked it up and made plays and got a score when we desperately needed someone to step up. He's the man, and he proved it on Saturday. He's fortunate in that he has a ton of talented receivers to throw to, and he found most of them on Saturday. It's a good sign to see a QB spreading the ball around and not relying on one guy as a security blanket.
Kyle Basler is an absolute stud. In the scrimmages and games I've been to, he's failed to drop a ball inside the ten (when in range) exactly once. This guy is going to be the difference in a game or two this year.
That pretty much wraps it up for my vacation to South Bend. The Cougars didn't come away with a win, but they played hard and have nothing to be ashamed of. A couple of questions were answered, and the team now knows that they can play with anyone in the country. Bring on Colorado, New Mexico, and the Pac-10. The Cougars are going to make some noise this year.