Notre Dame Post Mortem
First off, the NYC alumni group is a great crowd and I had a blast getting to watch the game with fellow Tech fans (and a prof). I got to sing I'm a Ramblin Wreck at the top of my lungs for the first time in a while, that made it all worth it.
I thought it was a great game, and I thought Tech played very well - and looked very well coached. It's not all sunshine and roses, but there was a heck of a lot of good in the game to work off for the rest of the season. For that reason, I'll break this up into two parts - the "good" part, and the "bad" part.
#1 - The crowd, College Gameday and the national attention all weekend. What a tremendous showcase for a football program, overselling the stadium and the "bigtime" atmosphere that accompanied everything. The crowd was flatout nuts on TV, I can't remember a crowd like except for UGa games. You couldn't have asked for a better recruiting tool (for both players and fans) that what went on in Atlanta this weekend. Down to the final whistle, this was all good for Tech. And oh yeah - Calvin has been defeating Catholics since 1509.
#2 - The defense, and especially the young secondary. Yeah, the defensive line is frigging monsters, but we already knew that. We knew DRich (how good was it to watch him bulldozing through and then chasing Quinn around?) and Anoai were going to wreck people, and that Wheeler and K-Mike were big time behind them - but we didn't know what on earth the secondary would do. They made some young mistakes, but for the most part they played terrific. Pat Clark, in particular, looked pretty darn good in coverage, and he made a HUGE hit on Darius Walker that didn't look anything like a converted WR. Our secondary looked athletic and they tackled great, my biggest fear for the season seems unrealized.
#3 - Reggie. The playcalling was more bland than a bowl of cafeteria oatmeal, but Reggie showed off a strong arm and made good decisions with the football. He also ran the ball effectively out of the shotgun, something we hadn't seen before this year in large doses. Almost all his throws were still to the perimeter of the field, but he did a much better job of hitting Calvin in stride when the chance presented itself and I thought he made pretty solid decisions all night long. Reggie is never going to be a superstar, but if he can be a 50-55% passer and not throw INT's, we're going to win a lot of games. He did that Saturday night.
#4 - Special Teams are 1251934867% better than last year. We had a kickoff go into the endzone! We didn't give up huge punt returns!! We made a field goal!!! Yeah, kickoff coverage still sucks, but that's it to take away from the game. After last year's "special" teams unit that rode the shortbus to the game, Saturday was a breath of fresh air.
#5 - We held Notre Dame and their high flying offense and "sooper genius" coach to 14 points. 14. Brady Quinn in the first half looked like a boxer going into the 7th round after taking shot after shot, and his happy feet didn't stop for the whole game. That was an absolute clinic on how to disrupt an offense's timing and rythm. Tenuta's worth every single penny he's paid.
#6 - It goes without saying, but Calvin Johnson is ridiculous.
#1 - The playcalling still leaves something to be desired. I understand playing conservatively, letting your defense win the game and trying not to screw it up for them - but we've taken it to a new extreme. GT's offense literally never takes a chance, on anything. Even with the biggest freak this side of the sword swallowing fat lady trapeze artist in the circus, we still almost never try to stretch the field. More vexing to me though was the bizarre short yardage plays we saw a couple of times which got stuffed and ended up forcing punts. We've got to keep our offense on the field more than we did in the second half, as tremendous as that defense is, they've got to get a break now and then. If we want to win 9 games instead of 7, we're going to have to open the playbook just a tiny bit more.
#2 - Keying off of #1, I was dissapointed in our running game. We couldn't convert short yardage situations (with our o-line and Cox in the backfield, that shouldn't be a problem) and it just seemed to be a bizarre mishmash of blocking schemes and playcalling. I love watching the spread offense, but when it's truly successful it entails a great running game. Right now, we look worse running the ball than we did last year - and that needs to get fixed. Our inability to convert 3rd downs cost us this game, and we can't keep having that.
On 2-1 - 1 for 4
On 3-1 - 2 for 4
On 4-1 - 0 for 1
Yeah, that's broken. No reason we can't just line up and push people 1 yard off the ball. We lost the game right here.
#3 - Throwing the water bottle at the ref. Seriously, that's freaking bush league "georgia fan" type stuff. Hopefully whoever that is got kicked out immediately. That has no place at a Tech game.
#4 - The personal foul call that kept ND's second drive alive. There is no "helmet to helmet" rule in college football, and that type of hit happens on nearly every running play. Wheeler didn't lead with his helmet in a spearing manner, and Quinn had both feet in bounds and was trying to fight for the first down. It was a clean play, and should have forced ND into a FG attempt right there. Just a terrible call.
#5 - Linebacker depth still worries me a bit, our first 3 are awesome, but I don't know about anything after that. They looked worn down a bit (K-Mike missed two tackles he normally makes in his sleep) and we've got to get them some help as the season goes along.
All in all, I came away more impressed with ND than with anything else from this game. I didn't think they could win a game where someone came out and just punched them straight in the mouth and physically dominated them. When Anoai went WWF on Quinn and flying boddy slammed him to the turf, I thought we had a real good shot to win. To ND's credit, they came back from 10-0 in an incredibly hostile environment against a top 10 defense and stole a game away. National Championship teams have to be able to do that. We're not quite at that level yet. We are nearly there talent wise (tell me with a straight face there's a huge difference between ND and GT right now on the talent scale), but coaching, experience and just plain swagger we don't have at that level. Hopefully that's something we can learn over the course of the next two years. I think we'll go 9-3 or 8-4 this year and contend for the Coastal division title, and if CJ stays for his senior year this team is shaping up to be a big time national force. There's plenty to work on, but we're a far cry from 51-7 just a few years ago. ND will get my vote for #1 in the next blogpoll outside of FSU or Miami just blowing the other one out, I think they proved a lot to me Saturday night. That will be one of their 2-3 toughest games of the year in the end.
(pictures from the always excellent Jeff Gooley)