Football takes back seat to bigger things in life
Fox Sports ... Almost
Saturday was a special day in Notre Dame Stadium. For anyone that was there, you don't need me to tell you that.
It started with a ceremony to honor and pray for the victims and families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of two weeks ago.
A collection was taken from all the fans in attendance, and while no numbers are yet available, it will be amazing to see how generous 80,795 people can be.
Maybe the most moving display of all came at halftime, when two rival bands stood shoulder to shoulder, playing Amazing Grace.
By these accounts alone, the Notre Dame-Michigan State game was a success. As a Marian High School mom told me a week and a half ago, while she watched her son play again, football helps bring back a sense of normalcy to all our lives.
As we've been shown these last two weeks, football takes a back seat to the bigger things in life.
But in terms of football, in terms of the game played on the field, most people in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday walked away confused.
The Irish dropped their fifth straight to Michigan State. Notre Dame hasn't beaten the Spartans since Sept. 17th, 1994, when all of us, players and fans alike, were still stoked about drivers' ed.
The offense did improve since that Nebraska game. It produced 280 yards and a 100-yard rusher in senior Tony Fisher, who outperformed MSU Heisman candidate T.J. Duckett.
Senior split end Javin Hunter continued to impress everyone, reeling in any balls thrown within a few feet of him, highlighted by a Charles Woodson-esque one-handed grab for the only Irish touchdown.
But despite the improvement, the last half of that last sentence remains the offensive Rubiks cube still waiting to be solved:
The Irish only scored one touchdown.
The season touchdown tally now stands at two, with the longest "drive" being LoVecchio's six-yard scoring pass to Hunter on Saturday.
The Notre Dame offense has only converted six of 29 third downs this year, a rate of 20.6 percent.
And as long as I'm going to get statistical, I might as well go nuts and give voice to what a lot of Irish fans are wondering.
Consider the following numbers: in the Michigan State game, Notre Dame faced "first and 10" 31 times.
They ran the ball on 26 of those occasions, including the first 15 in the first half (streak only broken by the six-yard touchdown toss), and the first eight first downs in the second half. Notre Dame didn't pass on third down in the second half until they trailed 17-10 in the fourth.
Conversely, Notre Dame faced 14 third downs in this game, and passed on 12 of them. They converted two of these 12 passing third downs.
In fairness to the Irish: out of their 13 possessions, they only went three and out (or worse) four times. They also operated in Michigan State territory six times.
Bob Davie is definitely right when he says his team needs to execute better. They were minus two on turnovers this week, and losing the ball once again probably made the crown on the field seem a little steeper.
At his post game press conference, he said: "When you're not real explosive, you really have to execute. There's no margin for error. And that's the kind of team we are right now."
David Givens and Arnaz Battle were both injured, and they are a big part of that potential Irish offensive eruption. Still, I know this Irish offense can be a heck of a lot more explosive than it has been. Why?
The players are too good for it not to be.
Let's be honest. The only people on this campus who are true scholars of the game are the blue and gold and their coaches. They know more about the game and its nuances than any of us could ever hope to.
But it's hard to deny that the offense is very predictable right now, and despite its marked improvement from game one to two, the points still aren't coming.
At that same press conference, I stood inside an ever-tightening wall of reporters around quarterback Matt LoVecchio. I didn't ask any questions. I could hardly move or make out any faces.
I can't imagine what it must have felt like for him or the players who thought post game boos were being directed at them.
I hope that no one involved in Notre Dame football has to feel that again soon.
There's just too many good people in the program for that to happen.
Contact Ted Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, September 25, 2001