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The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Oct 29, 2012, 12:15 PM EDT

Everett Golson

If it took a little longer to get this column up, it’s because I’m still trying to process the football game Notre Dame played. This is far from an original thought, but Brian Kelly‘s troops played as close to a perfect football game as you could have ever imagined, putting together near flawless execution in every segment of the game.

Even the head coach, a notoriously picky grader, had to acknowledge that this was the most complete performance his team has played by a longshot.

“In the four areas that we’ve asked our kids to play this game, it was on point,” Kelly said. “We wanted to be smart, disciplined physically, and mentally we wanted to be tougher than our opponent, and we hit all four of those. As it relates to what the message was and what we wanted to accomplish, it hit all four points for us.”

Let’s take one more look at No. 3 Notre Dame’s victory over Oklahoma, with plenty of good and not too much bad or ugly.

THE GOOD

Team Intelligence. Kelly’s quote above hits on this, but how refreshing was it to see the Irish as the team that wasn’t swallowed by the moment? Last year against USC and Stanford, Notre Dame shot themselves in the foot, started slow, and never had a chance to win. Against Oklahoma, it was the exact opposite. After weathering an early barrage by the Sooners, the Irish let the opponents implode.

The Irish committed only one penalty in the entire game, an innocuous five-yarder by Louis Nix, who bulldozed the Oklahoma offensive lineman for good measure. It was as close to perfect as a team performance, and the Irish offensive line cleaned up any problems they had over the past few weeks, which caused more than a few false start penalties.

Kelly and his staff work incredibly hard on the mental aspect of football. Saturday night, that effort was paid back in full.

The Run Defense. It’s a bit of a broken record at this point, but the Irish are playing historic run defense right now. Giving up just 15 yards on the ground to the Sooners is one of those stats that make you check for typos. Even if you take out the two gigantic negative plays that skew those stats in the Irish favor, Notre Dame held Oklahoma to 53 yards on 21 carries, with Sooner ball carriers getting only 2.5 yards per play. Perhaps more impressive is the long run of the day, a lowly seven yards, a shocking number against a team that wasn’t far from averaging that number heading into Saturday evening.

When asked Sunday if he can remember a stat sheet with as dominant of a running performance, Kelly came up empty.

“I can’t remember one that would have a stat like that,” Kelly said. “You would think the quarterback sometimes is going to scramble for seven yards. So, again, I think when you look at what we’re doing defensively, it starts up front. And the ability to control the line of scrimmage, and it just allows us to do so many things in the back end.”

The building blocks of Bob Diaco‘s defense is stopping the run. That Notre Dame was able to do that so completely helped set the tone for the passing game.

The Pass Defense. Sure, Landry Jones threw for 356 yards. But it took him 51 attempts to do it, and outside of Jalen Saunders 35 yard catch and run, it took until garbage time for the Sooners to hit on another long completion, when Kenny Stills was stopped just shy of the endzone and then the Irish defense kept them out.

In a game where just about everyone thought Notre Dame’s youthful secondary was going to be exposed as the weak link of the Irish D, the group played terrific football. With a game plan that gave Oklahoma the underneath throws, the secondary had an excellent night tackling, and played a huge role in limiting the Sooners to just 4 of 14 on third downs.

Kelly talked about the strategy going into limiting the Sooners’ offense to just 13 points.

“We wanted to keep the points down,” Kelly said. “We dropped 8 quite a bit in the coverage, so that’s going to match more with our three down. Our four down is our base nickel package, so we run coverages out of that front. So it’s really matching some fronts with some coverages that we wanted to run.”

Everett Golson. It was a heck of a night for the youngster. His 13 of 25 passing numbers aren’t terrific, but it sure was nice to watch Golson throw the ball away after escaping from the pocket and playing like a veteran when his team needed him. Kelly talked about his young quaterback’s reaction to the victory and what had him excited about his progress.

“I think what we were most pleased with was he was smart and he was disciplined,” Kelly said. “Some of the things that we were talking about between the art and science of the position. He threw the ball away when he was under duress made good decisions. So I think he’s feeling pretty good today.”

Just as important, Golson’s ability to run with the football and make plays with his legs was instrumental to the Irish offense being efficient. While his ball-carrying technique leaves plenty to be desired, his 64 yards of rushing, an impressive 5.8 yards a carry, was a difference maker. Even better, there were a few schematic wrinkles added to the game plan to take advantage of Golson’s legs, and the young quarterback helped the Irish be incredibly efficient on third down, converting 7 of 15.

“It allows us to do is to continue to be more balanced as an offense. We talked with some of the weaknesses we had on throwing the football, particularly on third down. We were much better in this game,” Kelly said. The mental development has been really good. If we continue to go that way, it’s going to give us an offense that’s going to be difficult to defend because we’ll have great balance. That’s what we’re trying to get with Everett in there. Not an offense that throws it 50 times, nor an offense that runs it 50 times. One that is really balanced and more difficult to defend.”

The offensive line. It’s hard to technically evaluate the play of the Irish front five, but the stats tell you all that you need to know. A terrific 5.5 yards a carry. 215 yards on the ground. Over 32 minutes in time of possession. Only one sack, a two-yard loss when Golson scrambled trying to get to the end zone. After struggling a bit as a unit earlier in the year, the Irish offensive line has galvanized, turning the rushing attack into a true weapon.

Hats off to Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, and Christian Lombard.

The wide receiver play. It’s time to start giving this group a little bit of credit. Lumping All-American Tyler Eifert into this group, the wide receivers made some huge plays Saturday night, with TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels and Robby Toma coming up big. This wasn’t a dink and dunk offense. And each guy made some big plays in one-on-one match-ups, situations many thought would favor the Sooners.  No catch was bigger than that of freshman Chris Brown, who went vertical on a 50-yard post that was the game’s biggest play.

It’s time to give Mike Denbrock some credit for what he’s done with another position group, and the veteran assistant coach has really helped turn one of the team’s biggest question marks into an asset.

KeiVarae Russell stepping up. The play of KeiVarae Russell was absolutely terrific as well. Russell had nine tackles on Saturday night, including half a tackle-for-loss. The Washington native is a terrific football player, and his switch from running back the day before fall camp is one of the best — if not the most under-discussed — stories of the year.

At this point, you should expect Freshman All-American accolades for Russell, who is holding down the field-side corner position on one of the nation’s best defenses, and putting up some impressive stats while he’s doing it.

***

Not to short change anybody’s performances, but let’s go rapid-fire through a few more.

Kyle Brindza: Heck of a response after looking shaky early. Those touchbacks were huge against a dangerous return team.

Cam McDaniel: Notre Dame’s ultimate Swiss Army Knife, McDaniel played in the secondary, returned kicks in place of George Atkinson, and earned the game ball after switching jerseys with Jalen Brown to honor a former teammate that drown. Gritty, emotional performance by one of the team’s unsung heroes.

Cierre Wood: At this point, he’s not going to become the feature back of the offense. But he certainly played like one Saturday night, bursting away from a team supposedly filled with elite speed and running for over 10 yards a carry.

Bennett Jackson: Gritty game by the team’s boundary corner, playing through a banged up shoulder. For those that wondered why the coaching staff wasn’t worried about Jackson sliding into the starting lineup, now you know.

Louis Nix & Stephon Tuitt: Their names might not be prevalent in the box score, but they both made huge impacts on the game. Nix chipped in four tackles and blew up the interior of the Sooners offensive line, while Tuitt constantly demanded double-teams.

Manti Te’o: For all the reasons we’ve discussed for weeks.

THE BAD

The Windows 8 Ads. That’s about all I can find that’s bad about Saturday night’s performance, the stupid yellow box advertisement that ESPN continued to put up in the corner of the screen, making you think there was a penalty on the play when really it was an add for Bill Gates’ newest operating system.

Yes, we noticed it. No, we’re not switching back from a Mac.

The Flu Bug. Kelly mentioned that the flu had hit the team pretty hard this week, with multiple guys battling through it during the week and George Atkinson kept off the team flight because of it. Time for a few doses of Vitamin C to be spread around the Gug.

THE UGLY

Nothing qualifies for ugly here, though it’ll be fun to listen to guys like Rick Reilly and Colin Cowherd today. I don’t imagine either back pedals very well at their age.

 

  1. jmfinsd - Oct 30, 2012 at 1:02 AM

    I GOTTA RANT!!

    Not feeling well so stayed home from work today. After watching all the shows, starting with Cowherd this morning to ESPNU BCS Countdown just now, I’m even more sick. I understand people have their opinions, and that’s fine, but (1) be consistent in your analysis and (2) don’t make factually incorrect statements.

    2 examples that really got to me:

    Strength of schedule: People question the strength of ND’s schedule. Admittedly, it looked more daunting before the season started, but some teams haven’t lived up to expectations (even if the loss to ND has something to do with that). I still think no one in the country would like to play ND’s schedule against so many different types of teams. But what really gets me is this: Don’t say matter-of-factly that ‘Bama, KSU and Oregon have more difficult schedules. ‘Bama – common opponent #? Michigan and 1 BCS ranked team left (LSU at #5) plus the SEC Championship game opponent. Oregon – a few lower tier AP ranked teams (i.e., 20 or above), but they do have 3 BCS ranked opponents coming up (#17 USC, #14 Standford and #11 Oregon State). KSU played #5 OU, #13 West Virgina and #14 Texas Tech and no BCS top 20 teams remaning. ND had #? Michigan, #10 Mich St., #17 Stanford, #8 OU and still have #17 USC. (I know I mixed up some AP and BCS rankings, but didn’t take the time to go back and thoroughly check all the info.) NCAA says ND has the 23rd actual toughest schedule based on records of past and future opponents, compared to Oregon (28), KSU (30) & ‘Bama (34). (see, http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/2012/Internet/toughest%20schedule/fbs_9games_cumm.pdf) Even with the down year for the opposition, 5 of ND’s 10 opponents were (or will be) ranked in top 20 when ND played/plays them. And the coup de gras, ESPNU’s Matt Stinchcomb (who???) downplays ND’s win against OU (but doesn’t mention KSU’s win v. OU) and says, “Oklahoma is not as good a team as we all thought they were.”

    Mike Belotti on ESPNU BCS Countdown talking about the Heisman race and comparing Manti T’eo and KSU’s Klein – “His (T’eo’s) stats just aren’t that good.” Huh? Captain and leader of one of best defenses in FBS, and individually has 5 INTs (tied for 2nd in nation), 2 fumble recoveries, 80 tackles (10 per game) with 39 solo, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack from middle linebacker position.

    If you think a defensive player shouldn’t wim Heisman, fine. You like flashy, high scoring offenses, fine. If you think a team’s schedule is weak, fine. But you’re an analyst. Give some factual support for your opinion and use something other than a subcutaneous dislike for ND – you’re supposed to be a professional and bias shouldn’t play a role. I know, we don’t live in a perfect world, or even one where we question the “experts.” I just demand from them the same performance they claim they demand from ND before they can consider ND a contender.

    If there’s anyone out there who who works nights and watches these shows during the day, or is retired and watches these shows during the day, or heaven forbid records all these shows so they could watch them later for “pleasure,” please tell me how you put up with these phony insufferable pr**ks.

    Sorry for the rant!

    • papadec - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:18 AM

      jmfin – couldn’t have said it better myself. Even with Mike Golic on the espn payroll, there is a definite bias against ND @ espn. (Because of the NBC contract?) The computer rankings really expose the human bias in favor of the SEC, and against ND in the AP & coaches polls.

      • nudeman - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:41 AM

        I’ve never detected an ESPN bias but maybe it’s because:
        1) I don’t watch that much of it;
        2) I don’t care; or
        3) It doesn’t exist

        Or of course “all of the above”. I see constant talk of this supposed bias here, but why does anyone care? If you poll 100 sports fans randomly from around the country, probably 25-30% will be ND haters. It’s like global warming. It clearly exists. Get over it.

        By contrast, how many Clemson haters do you know? Probably not many, because they’re a borderline under the radar irrelevant regional program.

    • dudeacow - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      I was wondering when people were going to start saying OU was overrated.

    • J Gran - Oct 30, 2012 at 10:07 AM

      You guys have to realize how TV works. Hosts and CFB “experts” need to sell ad time. ND is a magnet for people. The more people that tune in, the higher ESPN can sell ad space.

      The whole Riley VS Golic thing was a concocted drama that ESPN executives thought up when the NBC Sports Network was beginning. No better way to take attention away from your competition than an inner office argument over the nations (and NBC’s) most polarizing team. I can just see the ESPN writers sitting in a room (a-la 30 Rock) saying, “OK, how can we get better ratings and ruin NBC’s welcome party.” And a guy with a funny trucker hat says, “Well, NBC has ND, why not go that route. How about we have Golic and Rick argue about ND.” They then go to Rick and pitch the idea. He looks at his resume and realizes he no longer produces quality work, and he says sure… why not. And ratings go up due to ND’s national appeal.

      You are not getting actual opinions. You are getting written drama that sells. And the reality is… it works. Look at all of you (and me) who were glued to the Heard Monday to hear what he had to say. We’re eating out of ESPN’s hand.

      ESPN has 4 networks now with 24 hour a day programming. There’s no way to produce any quality there. They’ve spread themselves to far and have lost any depth. Don’t even get me started on their NFL breakdowns (I’m looking at you Hasselbeck).

      It’s why networks like the BTN, NFLN, SECN, and yes even NBC Sports Network, are having such success. They are narrowing in on one thing and excelling at their analysis.

      If you are really fed up with all the talking head non-expert actors at ESPN, quit watching.

      Until then. Go Irish, we got an incredible team, just ask Kieth.

      • nudeman - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM

        J Gran
        EXACTLY.
        Who cares? Stop watching.

      • 1notredamefan - Oct 30, 2012 at 1:21 PM

        I have felt for a long time that we as ND Nation should boycott ESPN all together and see how that affects there ratings… I would put money on it! They would suffer!

    • kazmar619 - Oct 30, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      I agree. ESPNU’s hate for ND really came through yesterday, I couldn’t believe it. Even if ND wins all its games and Alabama, Oregon, and Kansas State all lose, ND may still not be in the Championship game. Their campaign to ruin Teo’s Heisman chances was also in full display.

  2. norcalirish - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:20 AM

    The only bad that I saw on Saturday was the missed field goal (GOT to make those) and my poor decision not to go to this game.

    • fitz79 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:22 PM

      Good point, after Brindza missed that chip shot I was asking myself is Tausch healthy again? Should he have his starting role back? But admittedly my fears were calmed when he made his next 2 kicks and kicked touchbacks consistently.

  3. halfwhitey - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:33 AM

    I just watched the new Oklahoma gameday ICON (the 9-min version) and, wow. Goosebumps. Very well done. Also, I’ve now watched the game in its entirety 4 times, and definitely will have a few more viewings this week.

    • mtndguy - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM

      Seriously?

  4. drdannddad - Oct 30, 2012 at 5:34 AM

    This was in the SBT last week, before the OU game: “Notre Dame is the 2012 national champion for graduating its student-athletes in all sports for the sixth straight year — in the process posting the top NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figure (99) for its student-athletes.

    The GSR number for all Notre Dame student-athletes rated the Irish first among the 120 football-playing institutions in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). The 2012 NCAA figures are based on entering classes from 2002 through 2005.

    Among teams in the latest AP Top 25 poll, ND (97 percent) and Saturday’s opponent Oklahoma fell at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The Sooners’ graduation rate for football was 47 percent.”

    I’m really glad we won.

    • Jennifer - Oct 30, 2012 at 8:42 AM

      This is the best stat in all of college football. Winners in the classroom, on the field, in the community, in their workplace, family values, faith, service, all sports. ND is tops, on and off the field. I wish your post was earlier in this series of comments so it could be seen more. Kelly always says “Next man in” and it’s kind of like that with Inside the Irish and a new entry from Keith. Thanks, drdanddad.

      • nudeman - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:47 AM

        Jen
        You’re too predictable. You need to get down in the dirt with us guys once in a while. Swear. Call someone out. Take a preposterous position on something. Tell us who you think has the best ass on the team.

        Now that ND is winning, we don’t have enough conflict here anymore. No better person than you to resurrect it.

      • fitz79 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:23 PM

        Te’o’s comment in the post game interview about “faith and family” was classic!

  5. fitz79 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    A comment for those who are getting caught up in the BCS hype and claiming that the Irish need to win big. I understand the allure of padding the stats, however, in my opinion, that is not what Notre Dame football is all about. ND football has always been about substance over style. A ND football team sets out to win, even win soundly, but not embarrass opponents. I remember when I was a kid watching a Lou Holtz era team and not understanding why in the 2nd half, when we had a decent lead, we’d simply run the ball and milk the clock, get the game over with as fast as can be. But looking back now I understand that respect and honor is a big aspect of Notre Dame football. We don’t need to play the hurry up spread in the 4th quarter and beat teams by 80 like Oregon. Maybe the kids today don’t fully comprehend this legacy that is Notre Dame football, but there’s no better time for them to start learning.

    • bernhtp - Oct 30, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      Nobody is talking about padding the stats. We are simply talking about avoiding the close games against lesser opponents as we saw against Purdue and BYU. We’re talking about doing them like we did Miami – get a lead and then run the ball the second half for a 41-3 victory.

    • 1historian - Oct 30, 2012 at 11:53 PM

      I remember a game in the 60s when ND played Pitt in SB and it was something like 49-0 at the half. Both coaches agreed to run on every play thru the 2nd half to get the game over.

      In November 1966 I was stationed in the mid-east and I listened to ND play SC on the radio. The final score was 51-0 ND. Legend has it that the SC coach at the time said “I’ll never lose to that Armenian s.o.b. (Parseghian) again. He was good to his word. He showed up in SB the next year with O.J. Simpson and it wasn’t even close.

      In 1992 ND played BC in South Bend. In the 3rd quarter (the score was something like 37-0 ND) the ND punter went back to kick on 4th down. It was a fake punt and he ran for a 3rd down. The camera later showed him having a laugh on the sideline with his buddies. Then the camera showed the BC players watching this. We all know what happened the next year and ND has never been the same since then.

      Hopefully the curse has been lifted. Beating the s..t out of a team happens, but when you rub their nose in it it ALWAYS comes back to haunt you. This holds true at all levels of competition.

      Notre Dame does a lot of things well, humble is not one of them.

      I love the place.

  6. dav71 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    I believe Kelly was yelling @ Booker when Niklas ran on/off the field and we almost got flagged

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