Post Mortem: ND/Michigan

While the picture is somewhat in jest, it more or less describes my thoughts as soon as I saw Clausen throw to Tate and then later throw to Evans. It was one of those things that just gave me a sinking feeling that somehow those two over-aggressive calls would come back and bite us.

And bite us they did.

However, that is not the only reason the Irish lost Saturday’s game. There were several miscues by the whole team, questionable coaching decisions (outside of the final drive), and a few other odds and ends that make me worry about this team a bit. Notice, I said nothing about the referees (and yes, I, like Weis, do believe it was simply awful). As I said before, great teams don’t worry about miscues from the referee, they find ways to overcome them.

Before I go much further, as this post isn’t going to be very bright and sunshiny, let’s get one more point very clear. This is only the second game of the season. While this loss is a huge gut-punch/kick to the nether region, the Irish still have a very favorable schedule remaining, including the all-important showdown with USC. It is not out of the question for this team to rebound and, with this schedule, go 10-2 or 11-1.

With all that being said, it is time to break this mess of a game down, lay it to rest, and get ready to beat the tar out of Michigan State.

The Force is Strong with This One

What? Don’t look at me like that, it isn’t like I’m the only one making up ridiculous puns with Forcier’s name.

Anyways, you simply can’t break this game down without giving Forcier some major recognition for the work he did against Notre Dame: 23-33, 240 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT as well as 70 rushing yards on 13 attempts and a rushing TD. And of course one of those rushes includes a 4th down conversion that went for 31 yards and a TD.

To say the kid was good is an understatement.

One of my biggest wonders was why the defense continually did not respect his running ability. It seemed (especially on the aforementioned 4th down play) that we never had a true “spy” on him the whole game. Even if we did have someone ready to tackle him, it looked like no one was prepared for him to have any juking ability at all as well.

ND definitely did not respect Forcier at all in this one and it cost them big.

More Reasons for Running the Ball

I promise I won’t dwell on the “why in the hell are we passing now” aspect of the end of the game for too long. One of the things I neglected to mention in my previous post though was that ND had 155 yards rushing in the game and Allen had 139 of those yards on 21 carries — that would be 6.6 yards/carry.

In fact on the first play of the now infamous drive, Allen had a run for 13 yards, then was pulled, and Hughes came in and went nowhere fast on his only carry of the game. Then came the passing attempts.

Now, I’m sure the 13 yard run didn’t completely gas Allen…so why were we not running him again? If they are selling out in the box, throw a pitch, have Allen stretch the play as far to the sideline as he can and kill some clock and make Michigan use timeouts. Even if you can’t get the first down, you kill about 10 seconds and make Michigan use both timeouts.

Those 10 seconds would’ve been huge considering Michigan scored with 11 seconds left…I’m pretty sure a field goal would’ve been attempted in that time instead.

Special Issues

As if the ending drive didn’t have awful play calling, Maust sure didn’t help issues with his 28 yard punt. His previous three punts all go for 40+ and in the most crucial part of the game you choke and shank the one that really matters. Simply awful.

But it doesn’t stop there. After Allen’s TD got overturned and the Irish come out of the drive with a FG, the kickoff coverage, which was the best in the nation last year, completely broke down and gives up a TD return. That entire sequence was an 11 point swing in about a minute. Those are the kind of mistakes that come back and bite you square in the rear.

Tausch also got a case of the freshmen jitters in his first FG attempt as well. While at the time it was easy to shake off, those 3 points sure would’ve helped late in the game.

No Focus?

Probably the most disturbing thing that came out of this game though occurred via post-game comments by Eric Olsen:

Center Eric Olsen said he saw problems as early as last Tuesday, and told the team that after the game.

“I told them, ‘Reflect back on practice.’ We had a little bit of a sloppy practice on Tuesday and even on Wednesday. I think that translates into the game. We had a bunch of penalties that really hurt us in key moments. I think it just goes right back to early practice,” he said.

The team wasn’t focused enough at practice last week, Olsen said.

“I think guys kind of ease their mind, trying to survive practice, just get through it. It’s just another practice. But we’ve got to use every rep in practice as a way to get better. Obviously it translates directly into the game,” he said. “It’s painful because we know what we can do this year.”

Which really begs two questions: First, was everyone getting big heads and a bad case of overconfidence? And second, why in the world does no team leader step up and say something before the game and instead light a fire under everyone during practice?

I would like to think such a problem would be readily noticeable to the team leaders, but apparently that wasn’t the case at all. To extend on this point, where were the coaches crawling all over the team when focus wasn’t being had?

There are times getting a slice of humble pie can be good for a team, but there are also times when you can very much avoid ever having a slice served to you. From Olsen’s quotes, it seems like this issue could’ve been readily avoided.

The lack of focus most definitely showed throughout the game though. 18 penalties for 150 yards is absolutely inexcusable no matter how bad you think the refs are (just as reference Michigan had 10 for 90 yards, they were getting flagged as well). Mental lapses like that is what causes you to lose a football game in which you win the time of possession and overall yardage battles.

Seeing ND’s first turnover in their first drive in the second half wasn’t such a great sight either. That shoots yourself completely in the foot and the Irish seemed to have loads of trouble recovering as the third quarter was simply awful.

Tate also seemed to leave his hands on the sidelines on quite a few crucial passes as well.

Some Bright Spots

I need to attempt to end this entry on a somewhat positive note as there were some things that the Irish did very well.

First off, let’s start with the O-Line. Another solid performance allowing ND to have their first 100 yard rushing game by a RB since the Duke game in 2007. They also allowed zero sacks.

While the defense didn’t have their best performance in the world, they still managed to get two sacks in the game. Despite the fact Michigan adjusted well to Tenuta’s schemes in the second half, at least we are actually seeing blitzes hit home unlike last season. I have a feeling that against more traditional offenses, we will see much better results.

Even though Clausen had a couple of passes here and there that were awful decisions (often in the face of a blitz), he still passed for over 300 yards and had 3 TDs. He is far from perfect, but the progression is definitely there. If he can continue to make smart decisions with the football, he will still be a major force to recon with this season.

Looking Ahead

While my preview for the ND/MSU game will come in another day or so, I do think one point needs to be made. The Irish must use this game to rebound and rebound big. MSU has had far too much success when playing at ND and that needs to stop — especially since they are coming off of a loss to freakin’ Central Michigan. Of course if this past week isn’t enough motivation for ND to destroy MSU, this should be: