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Irish loss is another good chapter in last year’s rewrite

Bill Brink | Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija graduated, they helped close the book on a two-year span where the Irish lost six games in two years and made two BCS bowls.

The sequel, which started last season, got off to a dark and gloomy start. Main characters underperformed, the author went back to training camp after the third week of the season and the promising cast of new names fell short of expectations.

This year, with Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and a host of others at the keyboard, Notre Dame has turned the plot around and pulled the team from the depths of last year’s despair to becoming a viable football team once again.

Saturday’s loss, in the grand scheme of things, was another chapter in the right direction.

The Irish have earned the right to escape comparison to last year’s squad. They are a completely different group of players, and any attempt to contrast 2007 and 2008 is like comparing apples to rotten apples. They have set a new standard against which fans, writers and the team itself can judge performance against. So in that sense, consider this season Part II of the ongoing novel.

In the short run, Notre Dame lost a close game on the road against a ranked team. It committed five turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown during the first play of the second half. On the seesaw that is the balance of momentum in a football game, that play was like the fat kid jumping on one end of the seesaw, sending Notre Dame reeling through the air unable to right itself. Not a great showing for the Irish, especially in a big statement game away from home.

That being said, let’s look at it in the context of this ongoing story. Since we can’t compare it to last season, let’s compare it to the most analogous game we have – Michigan State, the only other away game and only other loss so far this season.

How did Notre Dame do against the star players?

Against the Spartans, it allowed running back Javon Ringer to rush for 201 yards and two touchdowns – on 39 carries. Against the Tar Heels, little big guy Mike Anello took receiver/special teams stud Brandon Tate out of the game early with a hit on a punt return, but it did allow receiver Hakeem Nicks to get 141 yards

How about scoring? Notre Dame couldn’t crack the goose egg until the fourth quarter in East Lansing, and then only scored seven points. It scored on its first drive five minutes into the game in Chapel Hill and had 17 points in the first half.

When the Irish needed a spark near the end of the game, they got it. Jimmy Clausen led the offense 75 yards down the field and went 4-for-7. He also converted a third-and-two with a quarterback sneak. The mess that was the final play of the game notwithstanding, the Irish could have a shot at first-and-goal from the seven yard-line with three seconds on the clock. In a close game like that one, they’ll take that any day.

Against Michigan State, down 16-7 in the fourth quarter with a chance to come back, they could only reach the 23 yard-line, which was just close enough for a missed field goal. After another Michigan State touchdown, they couldn’t muster anything and walked off the field after a turnover on downs.

The book is far from over, but it’s a page turner. Clausen keeps upping the ante by breaking his personal passing record every week, Floyd and Tate continue to come down with balls they have no business catching and, in the most shocking plot twist yet, Brandon Walker made every field goal he attempted (one).

It’s a different book from two years ago, but the characters persevered through the tough times. The antagonists won this one, but the team has improved, and will continue to do so as the chapters unfold.

The views in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Bill Brink at wbrink@nd.edu.