Sunday, September 05, 2010

A day for Notre Dame? "Kelly's green" trumps Boilermakers' "Hope" 23-12

"You are already satisfied, you have already grown rich; you have become kings without us...We are fools on Christ's account...we are weak but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute" --1 Cor. 4: 7-13.
"I saw a lot of kelly green shirts. It's cool. It was nice to have that crowd of 81,000...[so] obviously into it, rooting for your team" --Fighting Irish Coach Brian Kelly, when asked what struck him the most about coaching his first game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Sitting in Mass Saturday morning, and listening to the day's first reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, I contemplated not only what a fool I had become for Christ but also for His Mother, especially when it came to Notre Dame. I mean, if the secular die-hard Fighting Irish fan looked foolish over the past two decades for believing that the Irish, a team that was once (and actually a dozen times) the king of college football, still had a shot at the National Championship during this era, how much more foolish must I look, especially after Father Jenkins sold out Notre Dame's name in exchange for (King) Obama's prestige, for claiming the Irish are still playing for Our Lady? Still, as long as that gold-seeker Jenkins leaves Her atop the Golden Dome, I know She remains Notre Dame's #1 fan, and if She so chooses to be foolish, then so do I...

After a fitful start against the Boilermaker middle-of-the-pack Big Ten defense, the Fighting Irish scored on their last three first half possessions (albeit just one touchdown and two field goals) and took a seemingly secure if not totally safe 13-3 lead into intermission. Of course, when our son, Patrick, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, cautioned that the Fighting Illini earlier had held a 13-3 halftime advantage only to succumb to Missouri 23-13, it did raise a little concern. Still, after ND QB Dayne Crist capped a fine opening third quarter Irish drive with a five yard TD pass to T.J. Jones to give Notre Dame a 20-3 cushion, the game felt much more comfortable, and when Crist then hit All-American candidate Michael Floyd with a slant inside the Purdue five yard line on the next Irish possesion, the game appeared to be over.

Instead, Floyd fumbled just before he reached the end zone, and although the bend-but-not-break Irish defense stopped the ensuing 15-play, 7-minute Purdue drive with an interception at the Notre Dame three yard line, on the very next play Purdue pinned the Irish with a safety, and when the Boilermakers then cut through the now exhausted Irish defense for its only touchdown of the day, the 20-12 score made it a one possession game. But while Purdue QB Robert Marve (31-42, 220 yds, 2 Ints) proved competent running the slow-strike offense, he was far from marvelous on his long throws, and after a couple of bombs to open receivers that could have tied the game fell incomplete, Irish kicker David Ruffer's third field goal of the day finally put the game away, and all hope for Purdue Coach Danny Hope was now over.

For the most part, Irish QB Crist (19-26, 205 yds, 1TD) looked crisp in his first start, but his overthrows of Floyd and Kyle Rudolph in the end zone did not immediately make fans forget Jimmy Clausen, let alone have anyone annointing Crist as savior. Similarly, Floyd showed flashes of greatness, but the game-changer's biggest game-changing play on Saturday (his fumble inside the Purdue five) nearly changed the game the other way. Armando Allen (18-93 yds, 1TD) finally rushed like a college standout, if not a future pro, and the fact he was being pushed for playing time by freshman Cierre Wood (7 rushes for 58 yards) didn't hurt. The defense, with four sacks and two interceptions, played faster than Weis' squads, but speedy leader Manti Te'o flew past more tackles than he made. Indeed, the most notable improvement of Kelly's team over Weis' was the special teams; not only did surprise starter Ruffer nail all three of his three field goal attempts (including a 46-yarder) but the Irish made several long returns and kept the Boilermaker return game in check, something Charlie's charges continually failed to do.

As for playing for Our Lady, the results were also mixed--at best. The team did Sing "Notre Dame, Our Mother" after the game was over, but when the announcers said they were singing it to the student body, rather than in honor of Our Lady, no one corrected them, so I assume that most players (if not the coaches) believed this error to be true. In addition, I did not see the players lift their helmets to the Dome (again, in honor of Our Lady) fearing it would be seen as a sign of excessive celebration by their freshman coach rather than the symbolic tribute to Mary that it is supposed to be. I do not doubt that Coach Kelly has the makings of a successful Irish coach, or that he is sincere when he says that the Notre Dame job is something special. But like many cafeteria Catholics (and greedy trustees) they overlook the obvious and fail to grasp that the reason for Notre Dame's specialness is Notre Dame, and not the gold that lay beneath Her feet. And so, until someone stops me, I will continue to play Christ's fool and remind them. In the meantime, Kelly has Michigan (who, with the help of QB Denard Robinson's record setting 197 yards rushing, 186 yards passing performance that blew out Connecticut, who beat the Irish last season) to worry (if not pray) about, and it will take more than a sea of kelly green to faze the Maize and Blue.

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