Sunday, November 08, 2009

Indefensible | by Jay

(First off, I wanted to say I'm sorry I haven't been able to be more active on the blog this football season, but with work heating up it's harder and harder to find that quiet time you need to pull together something of substance and quality. The morning after last night's debacle I find myself with some of that quietude, so I thought I would spill some ink -- although I make no guarantees for substance or quality. I'm rusty. On a related note, thanks very much to my colleague Pat for keeping things rolling while I've been slumming it for the man.)

Losing to Navy is indefensible, and I'm not here to defend it. But winning a football game is about maximizing your possessions more than the other guy, and there are specific reasons we lost this game. On defense...

1. We were out-schemed on the option, with adjustments coming too little and too late. Our defensive staff assumed Navy would play the same reads and keys that we shut down so successfully last year, and when they didn't, we were caught flat-footed. This led to two touchdowns for Navy on their first two possessions of the game. Put this on Tenuta and Brown (and Weis) for not reacting quickly enough: our players were flailing to cover, alternately, the fullback and the pitchman, and by Navy's second drive we were already down 14.

Want some proof?

COACH NIUMATALOLO: "I think the one thing that helped us, and I really hope this doesn't come across wrong, but I think the thing that helped us this year was last year because we knew that they'd line up the same way. We didn't execute very well last year, and coming into this year they did a great job against us last year defensively, so we had a pretty good clue that they were going to come back and do the same things as they did last year, and we had a few things. We were expecting that same defense that we saw last year.

But it was still a grind. I mean, they're still a great defense, and we thought we had some alignments in some of our formations. But it was a grind to get yardage against them even though we thought we had some numbers advantages in certain formations."

Ian Williams: "They just played harder. They out-schemed us, and they just played harder. I know we played our hearts out, I played my heart out, but I guess they just had a better scheme than we did. They watched film and obviously did the right things and made the right changes [from last year's game]. They spotted a weakness in our defense, they knew what scheme we were going to come out in, and they put a great game plan together."

Greg Jones: "We had a different formation and they were keying on the inside receivers. It was a play we were working on all week and saving it for Notre Dame."
2. The third TD for Navy didn't come until late in the third quarter, after a couple of punts and a missed FG. It was a 3-play scoring drive -- very un-Navy-like -- finishing on a surprise pass to an uncovered receiver for 52 yards. Was it a scheme issue, or a player screw-up? Hard to tell. (Robert Blanton thought the Navy receiver was ineligible, but Charlie disagreed with him in the postgame. Either way, you have to cover a guy running free down the middle of the field, even if you think he's ineligible.)

And that was the sum total of Navy offensive scoring for the day. Yes, they ran for 350 yards. But overall yards for them wasn't much more than they usually gain.

On offense...

3. The Irish had 10 possessions in the game. We drove the field relatively easily on all of them; in fact, Clausen completed 73% of his passes. Astoundingly, we never once punted. Yet we scored only three times. On the other seven possessions:

4. On our first drive Parris fumbles at midfield and Navy scores easily on a short field on their first drive of the game. See #1.

5. Two missed field goals by Tausch. Each was within our kicker's range. Neither appeared to be a bad snap. The guy had made 15 in a row. Shit happens.

6. Turnover on downs inside the five. I questioned the call to go for it at that point, even though we were down 14 already. Furthermore, I don't know about the playcalling once we reached first and goal at the two; although we pounded Hughes twice, he had a net -1 loss for both runs. Regardless, Charlie should have found something that worked.

7. Jimmy fumbles on the one-foot line trying to score.

8. Jimmy bounces a pass off Floyd's back inside the 10 that pinballs right to a Navy defender.

9. Finally, there's the safety, a product of poor field position (13 yard line to start), a drop by Floyd, a sack, and then another sack.

In summary, I look at all this and I see serious issues with coaching on the defensive side of the ball. I also see squandered opportunities on offense mostly due not to scheme or playcalling, but player mistakes at critical junctures that were frankly quite surprising given the players involved. Jimmy has a career day; Jimmy fumbles on the one. Floyd had a career day; Floyd screws up a play in the redzone that leads to a TO. Tausch hits 15 straight; Tausch misses his next two badly. How did I put it up above? Oh, yeah: shit happens.

Now that we know how we lost, let the wild Charlie employment debate rumpus start-- err, continue.