Sunday, September 30, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007: Competing for the Faith—
Purdue subdues late Irish rally 33-19

Compete well for the Faith.
–1 Timothy 6:11

Head Coach Charlie Weis told his team they would have to play well for 60 minutes Saturday to beat the Boilermakers, and while they failed to accomplish this task, they did live up to St. Paul's above admonition from this Sunday's Second Reading as Notre Dame came back from 23 down at halftime to nearly tie the score before falling to Purdue 33-19.

The first half was the typical disaster 2007 Fighting Irish football has come to represent, and Purdue's 23-0 halftime lead could have been much worse. The Irish defense was a mixed bag, allowing the Boilermakers two quick scores (while inexplicably giving up a 40-yard pass play on 3rd and 29) to start the game before they stiffened.

In the second quarter, an interception by freshman Jimmy Clausen and a fumble by Armando Allen (at the Purdue 27 and 14 respectively) only produced Purdue field goals, and a late interception by the Irish's Kyle McCarthy foiled yet another Purdue touchdown. But Purdue's defense, keying the resurgent Irish rushing attack, stopped ND twice on 4th and short, and Jimmy Clausen couldn't sustain a drive until the Irish's new Golden Boy, Golden Tate (3 catches for 104 yds.) made a leaping 43-yard reception to the Boilermaker 18. But here, the incredibly crumby Irish kicking team, which also made only 1 of 3 PATs, had its field goal attempt blocked and very nearly returned the other way. Meanwhile, Allen Pickett, former Fighting Irish All-American running back and current Notre Dame radio analyst, summed up the situation like this:

"Converting on a 4th and one run is not about play-calling or personnel," the usually peaceful Pickett thundered, "It's about attitude and who wants it more, and these players don't deserve the name of Notre Dame if they can't do it."

Down 23-0 at the break, Weis' halftime speech certainly resembled Allen's rant more than the 23rd Psalm, and with this Coach's words, the echoes were finally awakened. Sparked first by a Tom Zbikowski interception, the defense started playing like demons, and the offense struck like lightning. Playing on the feast of the Archangels, it seemed no longer to be Clausen, Zbikowski and Golden Tate throwing and catching but Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, for between half way through the third quarter and midway through the fourth, the once-pathetic Irish passing attack roared back and scored three touchdowns through the air, and despite two missed Irish kicks and one Boilermaker gift field goal made possible by a home-field personal foul, the Irish suddenly trailed by only a touchdown at 26-19 with half a quarter still left to play.

But "competing" and "victories" are two far different histories, and the Irish could not complete the comeback. After containing Purdue's Heisman-hopeful, Curtis Painter, the entire second half, the colorful Boilermaker quarterback painted the Irish "D" blue, leading his team on a brilliant late fourth quarter TD drive, and when ND's Evan Sharpley, who up until now had been sharp (16-26, 208 yds. and 2 TDs) in relief of the dynamic Clausen (18-26, 169 yds., 1 TD) after Jimmy went out with a hip injury, threw an interception in the end zone with three minutes left, and the game was over.

Yes, the Irish did fall to 0-5. But unlike previous 2007 defeats, at least they were in position to truly take advantage of Notre Dame's secret weapon, the Suffering Irish. Whereas in past weeks the prayers of the SI could only join in the team's suffering, yesterday Mary's Men were in position where another Rosary or two could have spurred the team "onward to victory."

The choice is now clear. On the one side, there are the deserters, not only the three players (TE Konrad Reuland and guard Chris Stewart have joined Demetrius Jones in leaving the team) who have exited Notre Dame, but the fair-weather fans, represented by the nearly 700 negative weekend comments left on the once-strong Blue-Gray Sky.

On the other hand are those who support Notre Dame football in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, of which the Suffering Irish are now at the forefront. So if you are in the loyal latter category, please consider joining the SI soon! For the Bruins are ready to devour, the Eagles set to land, and the mighty Trojans are planning their invasion ...

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