Sunday, October 23, 2011

Turnovers Haunt the Irish... AGAIN.

First home night game in 21 years. Major rivalry game. Must-win game. Biggest recruiting weekend in years. So how did Brian Kelly and the Irish come out so disinterested, flat, and lacking discipline?? Last night's loss was ugly. Beyond ugly. Both the coaches and players should be embarrassed.

Pretty Much Sums it Up From Last Night
Let's start with the defense. Matt Barkley guided the Trojans up and down the field at will, with the supposedly stout Irish defense getting gouged through the air, which was somewhat expected, and on the ground, which was definitely not expected. I've grown used to the crappy defense under the Charlie Weis era, but Brian Kelly has built a tough run defense that got embarrassed last night. Did they not prepare enough? And what about the players on defense? They lacked intensity for nearly the entire game, until maybe USC got into the red zone. So many missed assignments, missed tackles, bad discipline, and bad angles taken. And that includes you, Manti T'eo; not only did you play terrible, but you're supposed to be a leader. Can't have the entire defense as sluggish as they were last night.

Not that the offense was much better. For the first few series the Irish couldn't get anything going, but when they did in the first half, something would happen, like a penalty, to do them in. Where was Michael Floyd?? Somehow, they kept the game at 17-10 at the end of the first half, but when Tommy Rees got hurt in the first half, Dayne Crist came in and reminded us all why he doesn't start anymore, with an unreal fumble at the 1 yard line that was eventually returned 80 yards from a touchdown. Talk about a momentum killer.

Even worse, while Tommy was hurt on the sidelines, he was sneakily replaced by the old Turnover Tommy we've grown to know so well this season. First came the inexcusable turnover on the pass to the flat to Cierre Wood (which is on Cierre... seriously, what a ridiculous bonehead play. Have fun on the bench buddy), and then the ultimate game killer with a stupid interception forcing the ball into double coverage instead of checking down to Jonas Gray in the 4th Quarter.

This game exposed Notre Dame's weaknesses at the worst time. They should have beat USC. The coaches had two weeks to prepare the Irish for a game with huge implications, and they looked bad. The fact that USC and Lane Kiffin have the ability to be such douchebags, only underscores the importance of winning this rivalry game. But, more importantly, were the amount of recruits at the game.

With such a huge recruiting weekend, the last thing the Irish wanted was a result like this. Granted, the atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium was nuts, and the recruits certainly saw opportunities for playing time. But you have to wonder what kind of impact this game will have on the recruits otherwise. For defensive recruits, wouldn't they notice the lack of intensity or discipline and wonder if that was on the players they seek to replace, or simply a result of bad coaching? When they later take official visits to see a defense like LSU or Alabama, what reason would they have to come back to ND?

Keith Marshall (white)
But for offense, regardless of all the other recruits that were there, the most important was Keith Marshall, one of the top running backs in the class that fills a definite position of need. With the limited action that Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray saw last night (besides Gray's 25 yard touchdown run), what does Marshall think? If ND is down then he won't be a factor? This guy is a MUST GET, and with offers from close-to-home SEC schools like Georgia and Florida, the chances could be slim after a game like that for ND to pluck him out of the south. It will take some serious spin and recovery work by the Notre Dame coaching staff (and recruiting extraordinaire Bob Diaco) to hopefully gain some ground here.

Finally, where does this leave us? With such huge momentum riding on a 4 game winning streak coming into the game, the season has been completely twisted by the loss. The Irish have games left at home against Navy, at Wake Forest, a home game (granted, its in Maryland at FedEx Field) against Maryland, at home against Boston College, and the last game of the season at Stanford. I don't feel that any of those games are easy, as much as Lane Kiffin might disagree (and don't you get to play Minnesota, Cal, Colorado, and UCLA this year Lane?). Navy has given Notre Dame problems for the past few years and their option attack is an awful rebound game to have after this loss. Wake Forest has played much better this year, as has Maryland, and Boston College always play the Irish tough. And Stanford, who just moved up to number 3 in the BCS rankings, could absolutely destroy Notre Dame. Andrew Luck is simply a machine. Regardless of how they finish, whether it's 8-4 (best case) or worse, no doubt that Brian Kelly and the Irish have to already be disappointed about how the season has gone, and there's still 5 games left.