Sunday, October 07, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007: Irish "Crum-y"? N'D' defeats Bruins 20-6

How long, O Lord? I cry for help ...
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery? ...
Then the Lord answered me;
Write down the vision clearly on tablets,
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment , and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it ...
–Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-3 from Sunday's First Reading

I'm not sure if today's prophet was watching 2007 Notre Dame football when he wrote that passage, but in this most trying season for Fighting Irish football fans, it seemed the conditions had to be perfect for Coach Charlie Weis' prediction that his team's hard work would eventually lead to an Irish victory. Saturday night they were; between the Suffering Irish's prayers, the Irish defense's relentlessness—and the fact UCLA had to play a third-string walk-on quarterback, Notre Dame finally said U C "L" 'A-ter, as Our Lady's team broke its winless streak to beat the Bruins 20-6.

The first half threatened to bring a sixth straight 2007 Irish defeat except for one decisive omen. While Notre Dame did trail 6-3 at the intermission, a hit by Tom Zbikowski knocked out UCLA's stellar starting quarterback Ben Olson out of action, and with the Bruins' second-string quarterback already injured, the Bruins were forced to turn to third-string walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the rest of the game—with disastrous results. Still, this alone was no guarantee of an Irish victory, not this season anyway, for although Zbikowski's hit caused a fumble and Irish linebacker Kerry Neal returned it to the Bruin 1-yard line, the Irish "O" still couldn't score a touchdown. For on first and goal from the one, Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen was sacked back at the 8, and after a dropped touchdown by the usually sure-handed tight end John Carlson, the Irish had to settle for 3.

So with the Irish offense struggling as usual, it appeared the Notre Dame "D" would have to win this game by itself, and with the Bruins' Olson on the bench, they proved up to the task. After a stupid penalty nearly took Notre Dame out of field goal range early in the third, the Irish special teamers provided a big boost as ND's Brandon Walker kicked the longest—and perhaps luckiest—field goal in his life, hitting a 48-yarder that hit the crossbar and then bounced through, to knot the score at 6.

Next, it was time for the Irish defense to take matters into its own hands. First Notre Dame's David Bruton intercepted an ill-advised Bethel-Thompson toss at the Bruin 21, and with the help of a facemask penalty, returned it to the UCLA two. And this time the Irish offense did punch it in (although it did take them three tries!), as Clausen scored on a quarterback sneak to make it 13-6. Then later in the period, Maurice "Momentum-Changer" Crum took no chances, scoring himself after sacking the hapless UCLA stand-in quarterback, forcing a fumble, and rambling 34 yards to paydirt. In all, the incredible Crum had 7 tackles, recovered 2 fumbles, and intercepted 2 passes, and would have returned his second interception for a touchdown also if he didn't trip trying to make a cut. "He looked like me on that one!" chuckled a finally jovial Weis after the game, before saying how proud he was that his team had hung together during its trying 0-5 start.

True, one has to admit this victory was as much due to UCLA's bad luck, especially having to play Bethel-Thompson, who looked woefully out of place as a Division One quarterback, going 18-28 with 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles. And on the few plays when McLeod succeeded, the rest of the Bruins didn't. This was typified by the one would-be drive where UCLA had not one, but two touchdowns taken away, one by a holding call away from the play, the other on a perfectly thrown dropped touchdown pass. As for the Irish offense, the fact that they had no turnovers was perhaps its only true positive. Clausen finished 17-27 but for a paltry 84 yds., while James Aldridge was the leading rusher with 52 yds. on 22 carries as Notre Dame solidified its last place offensive ranking with only 140 total "O" yards Saturday.

Still, as Habakkuk would no doubt conclude, a win's a win, and I'm sure the Irish faithful, happy to see the Coach's and prophet's words fulfilled, will take it. On the other hand, one can't count on the oppositions first- and second-string quarterbacks being injured every week, and the Irish will need more than fortuitous field goal bounces and an all-world Mo Crum to beat the undefeated, sixth ranked Boston College Eagles when they invade South Bend next weekend. They'll need an offense, as well as the prayers of many behind-the-scenes believers to sustain it. Suffering Irish memberships, anyone?


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