How about that game?? by Exclusive Guest Blogger Matt Roberts
Alright Irish Fans! How about that game?!? I had to read the next day how long it had been since we dropped 59 on a team! (1996 for those interested in a 62-0 win over Rutgers). We couldn’t have asked for a better day and game.
I have to admit up front that Saturday was a pretty great experience for me and as such, I need to focus a little time on some of the extracurricular activities leading up to the game. I got the opportunity to bring along not only a lifelong ND fan, but my slowly converting ND fan of a wife (COOLEST WIFE ON THE PLANET!) and our Exchange Student from Japan to her first major sporting event. Figured go big or go home! We got to campus around 10 or so in hopes of catching the sites and do some tailgating of course. I can’t remember when I actually took in the entire campus! We were able to go into the Basilica, hit the Grotto, Golden Dome, Hesburgh Library, JACC, Eck Center, the lakes, etc. If you haven’t been to campus on game day in the middle of leaf-changing season in autumn, you really need to figure out a way to make a trip. It was just gorgeous. We were also able to take a break from the sun and watch the ND Band Trumpets play in the Dome and that always take your breath away. It was certainly an exciting morning!
Guys and Gals, I have to admit it, for the last few years I am always waiting for our boys to figure out a way to lose a game no matter how much of a lead we have. Back in the Holtz days, I can’t ever remember being worried about an opponent, because I always knew our boys and coaching staff could/would make adjustments and pull it out in the end. I’m starting to get that feeling again, even though I’m cautiously beating it back! We aren’t there yet, but I think we are heading that direction. I’ve been saying it all year and I’ll say it again, WE HAVE NOT GOTTEN BEAT YET THIS YEAR! WE HAVE BEATEN OURSELVES! Now that those mistakes are getting fewer and farther between, it’s on us!
Now onto the game! I have enormous respect for all of the men and women serving our country and I hope all this talk of joining a conference we never lose sight of how important these games are. These kids have some of the toughest schedules you will ever hear about, they actually enjoy practice because it is the easiest part of their day! They are disciplined and never give up in a game. Great competitors! I’ve watched Air Force a couple times this year and with this type of offense, you cannot even hope to contain a triple-option, and they can pass the ball! All you can even hope for is creating a couple of turnovers and holding them to field goals. Our defense was excellent minus a couple of missed tackles. And Gary, please, I’m begging you, turn your head around when the guy you are covering does the same? Please! It was obvious from the start that we have MUCH better athletes than AF and our athleticism played a huge role. Conditioning is always key against the academies and we matched them step for step. It was an excellent defensive effort by our whole team. Nix was awesome plugging up the middle of the line, Tuitt is now capable of holding his own on the inside or outside of the line, and is certainly more versatile than most of the other freshman on the line. It was also nice seeing some of the younger guys not named Lynch and Tuitt getting some experience. Josh Atkinson and Chase Hounshell burned their “red-shirts”, but we need to continue to build depth at all positions. You can’t say enough about Blanton and Manti, Blanton is slowly working his way into one of the best CB’s I’ve seen since Todd Lyght/ Pat Terrell era. I also have to mention that Jamoris Slaughter had a great game! I can’t wait to get the opportunity to watch it on television to see our DB’s flying sideline to sideline to stretch the play! If it weren’t for the physical play on the edge (Smith, Blanton, Gray, Filer, Fleming, Spond, etc), we would have been smoked. It took some time to get it down, but we handled the pitch out relatively well. Let’s see Barkley run the spread!
Our offense, for two straight weeks now, has looked better than I’ve seen them since playing Washington or Hawaii in the past couple of years. Theo Riddick finally had the breakout game we’ve been expecting all season. If you listen to the coaches, they blame coverage’s; I think the guy just needed some confidence back from the weight on his shoulders in game one. Expectations were extremely high, and that’s a lot to ask a kid in the first game of the year against a good opponent. Great job Theo! Tommy is looking better each week (and he keeps winning!) and is now somewhat capable of looking off a receiver before sending the ball down field! There were still a couple of throws that make me shake my head. What I really am impressed with is the ability to spread the ball around. Our running game is on track, with Wood tracking to get 1,200+ yards this year and Gray is on pace for 750. The passing game is starting to be unstoppable; we have so many guys that can take over a game if they take away one receiver. I’m just waiting on TJ to get his 100-yard game! Great to see Tommy spreading the ball around. What is really exciting is seeing Hendrix get in the game. I’ve been thinking that it just makes sense allowing Golson to preserve his year of eligibility and start building for the future. I’m extremely happy that we had some success with Hendrix other than a couple of runs here and passes there. He accounted for 111 yards rushing, which was the most since Holiday, and provides one more level of offense that USC will have to deal with. Hard to dial up a blitz package knowing that BK could put in a running QB and torch them. BRING IT ON TROJANS! The only other observation would be regarding Dayne Crist. He is still listed as 2nd on the depth chart, and I think that’s a good idea right now in the event of a Rees’ injury in the next few games, but I honestly think there is a good possibility we never see him in on the field again. I think he is a great kid that doesn’t fit well in this system.
Our special teams are a mess, and I hope we start to settle in a bit during the second half of the year, or that is going to someday cost us a game! Not sure how I feel about Floyd returning punts, our punt coverage is horrible and I think it may be just setting him up to get hammered back there. Unless we can learn to hold a block, we might as well fair catch them all. If we do learn to block, look out! Ruffer got lucky and bounced one in, Brindza boots one out of bounds, just can’t seem to get right in any phase of the kicking game.
Lastly, but not least, and I’m not sure if they played it on the television broadcast, but after the playing of the Alma Mater at the end of the game, the ND players ran all the way across the stadium to participate in singing theirs. It was pretty neat to see the respect both teams have for one another. Oh, and the B-2 flyover was amazing! I’m sure glad those boys are on our side!
Article by Matt Roberts