Notre Dame Fightin' Irish 20
UCLA Bruins 6
With a defense like this, who needs an offense?
This defense, which has given up 30+ points in every one of our last 7 losses, stepped up this week.
We got consistent pressure on the quarterback, knocking Ben Olsen out early. Then this defense started to smell blood in the water, and absolutely dominated the Bruins. Sacks. Fumbles. Interceptions. Negative plays. Stuffing the run. And that was just Maurice Crum. I lost count of all the turnovers.
But most importantly, this team was playing with sustained passion and intensity.
This is the team I expected to see this year out of the gate. Not great, maybe not even good. But good enough.
We still have some glaring issues that need to be addressed.
We need a consistent rushing game. We were effective enough at the end of the game in the rushing game to run clock and survive. And despite struggling in the ground, we don't put the ball on the turf.
We need better protection on Clausen, and also need our receivers to work off of coverage and get open. Too many times open routes were missed because of pressure, or good protection was wasted because nobody could get open.
But there is plenty to hang our hats on.
Clausen is a great quarterback in the making. Far better than Brady Quinn at this point in their careers. And unlike the hype surrounding Powlus that quickly sputtered, Clausen has shown an ability to be consistent and improving. In a kind of backwards way, Powlus' first win was the worst thing that could have happened to him, while Jimmy's struggles and trials are exactly what this team needed long-term.
The 3-4 defense is disruptive to opposing offenses, and allows the players to use their athleticism to make plays.
We are also making huge strides in some of our other weaknesses as well.
We are getting better in the kicking game, and on special teams in general. (David Bruton, by the way, is a beast in space on defense and special teams)
Our offensive line is beginning to gel. We still give up too many sacks, but we also have given Clausen opportunities to stand in the pocket and pick apart the defense.
Our rush defense is improving somewhat, as the younger players learn to tackle and be aggressive. Like their leader Trevor Laws has been all day.
We are committing fewer penalties, and playing with more discipline across the board.
By getting the win today, the story swirling around the Irish is no longer going to be about the Irish descending into new levels of ineptitude. Now the story is about the progression of this young team, building chemistry and learning to compete.
And don't feed me a line about the Bruins only losing 'cause Olsen went down. We knocked his ass out of the game. It does not diminish the achievement of this Irish team.
Next week we face a red-hot Boston College team, ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
But we have some confidence and momentum.
And, suddenly, something to play for. With the win today, we are sitting at 1-5 with 6 games remaining. Four of those are against teams we should beat (although Stanford is suddenly scarier than I thought, after knocking off USC).
Which means that with one upset win over BC or SC, we could become bowl eligible and get another giant monkey off our back. Unlikely? Yes.
Ask Stanford if it's impossible. Ask Appalachian State. USC is beatable. Boston College is playing above themselves so far (I'll explain in my preview later this week).
We have the talent. We have the pride. And now we have some confidence and momentum.
Go Irish! Beat Fredo!