Hawaii Bowl Aftermath

Well now that football season is now officially over for me (thanks Dallas…), it is time to finally start breaking down the last games of personal interest to me. And I’m going to start with the good news because a post about the Cowboys will involve too many four-letter words. So with that in mind, it is time to take a look on the Irish blowout over Hawaii this past week.

Keys to the Game – Results

If you scroll to the bottom of my ridiculously huge pre-game post, you will see the five keys that I felt would be important to Irish victory. Here are the results:

  1. Protect Clausen – Wow, look what happens when we aren’t getting our O-Line pushed back 5 yards every play. Clausen was only sacked once and had very little pressure on him for the majority of the game. When someone did apply pressure, it was light and Clausen was able to easily avoid it and not worry about rolling out into another defender. Clausen’s TD pass to Grimes was a great example of this.
  2. Win the Turnover Battle – Yeah, I know it is cliche to have this as a key, but for these two turnover-happy teams, this could’ve been a huge factor in the game. The Irish played a clean game and didn’t turn the ball over once. Not shooting ourselves in the foot allowed the ND offense to continue to apply the pressure and stack up the points. Clausen was very smart and accurate with his throws and didn’t force things (with one exception on a jump-ball to Floyd). If there is one thing I want to see carried over into 2009, this is it.
  3. Blitzes Must Hit Home – This was simply huge for the Irish. Alexander was lit up all game long as the Irish totaled seven sacks (I could’ve sworn ESPN showed eight during the game though…in stats I only see seven…go figure) in the game. Alexander was never settled and that made life much, much easier for the Irish secondary. We finally for the first time saw our blitzing really pay off. Granted Hawaii has a weak line, but the Irish did exactly what they should do against such a line — stay in the QB’s face all game long.
  4. Pray to St. Michael – OK, so I was off here a bit. Floyd did get the ball early, but really his two receptions for seventeen yards wasn’t exactly a game breaking factor. However, his presence on the field took a lot of double coverage off of Tate whom I’m sure was thinking life was a lot easier trying to burn only one guy on field than two every play. The only thing that Floyd proved this game was that it is important he is, at the very least, on the field as he is no doubt a threat other teams respect. Also, on what I will call Clausen’s only really bad pass all game, Floyd damn near made an impossible jump ball catch — most imporantly though, he didn’t allow the defender to grab the ball and kept an INT from showing up on the stat sheet. It must be nice to have that kind of trust in a receiver that just chucking the ball up for grabs will likely at worst be an incomplete pass.
  5. Win the Hidden Yardage Battle – Wow, did the Irish ever pull this off. The Irish coverage held together for the most part, but the battle was completely over when Allen returned a kickoff for a TD. Had we not also roughed a punter, Tate would be showing off a punt return for a TD as well. ND also partially blocked a punt in the game as well and Walker wasn’t even needed for a FG.

Other “Key” Notes

One of the biggest things that jumped out during the game was that the Irish running game was actually useful (even though the overall rushing average still ended up being horrid). Before Clausen went off, our first TD was on the ground from Hughes. Hawaii didn’t have a choice but respect the fact that we would attempt to run on them at any time. This lead to the huge play action passes throughout the game that we really haven’t been able to utilize.

The next big observation, was that it finally looked like we had the “nasty” football team out on the field that was promised to us years ago. ND/Hawaii isn’t a rivalry of any kind yet there were several occasions in which trash talking and some post play shoving made an appearance. We finally looked like we had a chip on our shoulder about our performance and also had the attitude of “Can win? Screw that, we will be winning this game.” I haven’t seen an Irish team have that kind of swagger in quite a while.

That attitude definitely pissed some Hawaii players off as well throughout the game. Whoever #62 is on Hawaii will likely be constantly reminded that he cost his team 30 yards all on his own with two late hits. ND was able to avoid such penalties with the exception of one taunting penalty that made no sense at all. But hey, I guess gesturing to your own teammates is just totally out of line.

Doing this in the direction of your teammates = 15 yard penalty.

What’s Your Name?

For the first time since 1987, the Irish had names on the back of their jerseys. At first I was rather taken back by this, and wasn’t even aware that this was an Ara Parseghian tradition for bowl games. Just another one of those little nuances from Weis that proves, despite any faults he has as a head coach, that he does “get” the ND tradition. This was a much better idea of doing something special for the players than pulling out the green jerseys again as I was fully expecting. This marks the first season in the Weis era that the green stayed under lock and key and hopefully he begins to start saving the green for only rare ocassions.

Rewriting the ND Bowl Record Book

Records broken during the Hawaii Bowl:

  1. Passing Yards – Jimmy Clausen, 401
  2. Passing TD – Jimmy Clausen, 5
  3. Completion Percentage – Jimmy Clausen, 84.6%
  4. Receiving Yards – Golden Tate, 177
  5. Longest Pass – Clausen to Tate, 69
  6. Total Offense – 478
  7. Points Scored – 49
  8. Longest Kick Return – Armando Allen, 96

Coaching Up Top

Weis, for the first time since the pre-Tom Brady era in New England, was coaching from the booth. According to ESPN, Weis told them if he was able to walk/stand without pain he’d be on the sidelines, otherwise, he’d stay in the booth. It seems the knees were hurting bad enough to keep him off the field. I wonder if the offense happens to sputter next season if everyone will start to say he needs to coach from the box.

Probably the bigger part of this equation was that Haywood returned to the sidelines in place of Weis. Thanks to this, he was able to receive a Gatorade bath as a final farewell from his players. Quite a nice ending for a man that had quite a lot happen to him personally this year as well as the critism that he faced from the fans and media.

So What Do We Take from This?

It was predictable what was going to happen after this game. If we lost, it would be “Holy crap, ND is absolutely horrid — they just lost to HAWAII!” If we won, it would (and has been) “This is nothing special, they beat a bad Hawaii team. They are now happy with mediocrity.”

However, both of those thoughts should not have really entered the head of any Irish fan. Yes, Hawaii is not a good team at all. In comparison, we are a far better and more talented team on paper. However, what has that meant all season? This is the same team that went up against Syracuse and lost. Nothing was definite.

I was looking for two things this game. First, the Irish come in and treat this game for what it was, taking care of buisness and beating an inferior team. Second, it was time for that bowl losing streak to DIE.

The elation coming from Irish fans stems mostly from the later. It is sickening to hear about the bowl streak year, after year, after year. We are just glad it is done. Go ahead and say the win “doesn’t count”, we don’t care. This win isn’t the bar we have set for the future. It is simply a bright spot amongst two abysmal seasons.

The fact that the Irish came out and absolutely blew the Warriors out was something that no one but the most optimistic (and drunkest) Irish fans thought possible. We were expecting to blow out Navy and we didn’t. We were expecting to blow out Syracuse and we didn’t. Why expect a blow out for Hawaii?

The Irish were able to show that they do indeed know how to win. Something that I was seriously wondering if they believed. It was almost as if, after the UNC game, the line of thought was “Now what is going to happen to make us lose this one?” There wasn’t even a hint of that in the Hawaii Bowl and for a very young team, that is very refreshing to see.

I hope that all fans and the team can appreciate the win for what it is this offseason. Once spring ball starts, I hope the team gets a mind set of going back to work for improvement and by the time fall camp opens, I hope all fans are ready to think about the future rather than our recent past.

The monkey is off our back now and is dead. For next season, it will be time to expect some other streaks to end. Losing to the top ten in the nation, horrible win/loss record against winning programs, not winning a January/BCS bowl game, losing to BC, losing to USC — this is the fuel for next year’s fire.

The win is nice. It is great to be similing going into 2009. However, 9-3 wasn’t good enough in Weis’ first year. When Weis came to ND, he clearly stated 6-6 wasn’t good enough. 7-6, bowl win or not, isn’t good enough. He knows it, the team knows it, and ND fans know it. Everyone will enjoy this, but everyone will be hungry for more.

This young team has landed its first jab in their fight. Now it is time to see if they have that knockout punch in them.