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Russell, Receivers Cheer, Cheer for Same Old Notre Dame

Web out at the SMQ Fortress of Solitude late Wednesday till now, so here's the "morning after" version of LSU's sweet Sugar Bowl romp.

Notre Dame purportedly had the proverbial "chip on their shoulder" coming into the bowl game because of incessant questions regarding a) team speed, b) eight consecutive losses in bowl games, c) an 0-4 record against teams in year end polls in two seasons under Charlie Weis, d) team speed and e) team speed. Tom Zbikowski, it was reported early in the Sugar, was "angry" at the criticism, sick of it, having to defend the same old indictments levied against the slow, stodgy Irish since time immemorial (or at least the mid-nineties, which may as well be the same thing as far as the current incarnation of ND is concerned). And he was out with his teammates to prove this is bunk, or something, which SMQ should note, technically, is not necessarily untrue; he's not sure the precise 40 times of knockout artist Zbikowski or any of the rest of the Irish or their potential track prowess, as such, other than those few reported breathlessly by Phil Steele in July (4.3! he notes for Zbikowski, less enthusiastically noting Ambrose Wooden - out vs. LSU - has hit 4.26). He does know LSU's receivers toasted the Irish secondary for 332 yards on catches of 31, 29, 58 and 58 yards that accounted for directly or preceded four of the Tigers' five touchdowns.

SMQ forecast Notre Dame to win the mythical national championship in August. To recap:

Georgia Tech: Calvin Johnson hauls in an early 45-yarder, followed by outleaping the first of many flailing corners for the Jackets' first touchdown of the season - and of the game. He's silent as Tech burrows its way into Gailey Ball.

Michigan: Expecting Carr Ball, the Irish instead find themselves trapped in Mario Manningham's Double Move Purgatory, resulting in first half touchdowns of 69, 20 and 22 yards against single coverage, the first of which burned an imprint of Terrail Lambert's shadow on the South Bend turf for the better part of the following month.

Southern Cal: John David booty throws three touchdowns to Dwayne Jarrett and connects on five passes over 20 yards, capped by a 43-yard score that accounted for yards 89-132 on the night for the aforementioned Jarrett.

LSU: The Tigers become the third top ten team in as many tries to hang 40 on the Irish on the strength of JaMarcus Russell's mechanics-busting heavability in the direction of his top targets, Bowe, Doucet and Early, who combine for 17 catches for 243 yards.

Brandon LaFell jumps on the bandwagon

It was not just that gargantuan human artillery cannon JaMarcus Russell set visions of Daunte Culpepper circa 2000 to dancing in scouts' heads Wednesday...

...his Notre Dame counterpart will graduate and become the first quarterback - the first player at any position, in all likelihood - selected in next April's pro draft having defeated one team (either Michigan last year or Penn State this year, depending on your criteria) in his career at Notre Dame, for which he's taken and will continue to take a truckload of blame. And only 43 percent of the third-Most Outstanding player's tosses actually found their way into Irish hands, easily a low seen rarely even in pre-Weis days. But Darius Walker - just 10 carries vs. Michigan, 11 vs. Michigan State, 14 vs. USC - had one of the best nights of his career, only to see it dissolve into irrelevance as the opposing offense roared out ahead. Again. And Quinn, who had 663 yards and nine touchdowns in three Irish losses, is hardly responsible for Russell's deluge Wednesday, or Southern Cal's in November, or the Trojans' eventually game-winning long ball to Jarrett on fourth-and-ten desperation in South Bend last October, or Ohio State's 342-yard explosion in the Fiesta Bowl.

If only the Irish had been so close against similarly-regarded competition this season as it was in those two games, its immediate future with eight returning starters on defense might be considered brighter, as it was, of course, entering this campaign, but those of us who bought the `defensive improvement' line prior to this season won't bite on it again - not that anyone looking closely enough should have to begin with. Going all the way back to 2000, in fact, the trend is a pretty clear one: Notre Dame's secondary had allowed at least 15 yards per reception every season except one, 2003 (its worst season in the current stretch), prior to dramatically improving that mark to 13.9 this season, from 16.2 last year.

But still the results - aided by three games, a full quarter of the schedule, against almost exclusively ground-based service academies, who threw but 47 times - pale relative to the national elite the Irish so wish to rejoin. Before bowl games this season, altogether:

Opponent Cmp. % Per Comp. INT TD Plays > 20 yds.
LSU 47.7 11.2 14 9 15
Ohio State 57.1 9.9 21 8 12
USC 53.7 11.1 10 11 19
Florida 54.1 10.5 20 10 15
Michigan 53 10.8 12 15 20
Notre Dame 54.4 13.9 10 22 21

Maybe Zbikowski was right that it's not about speed. Maybe it's mental. Maybe the schemes are too complicated, or not complicated enough, or just the wrong calls at the wrong time. Maybe it's admissions standards. But there's a difference. Michigan, you can bet, in the wake of its latest consecutive disembowlings, is wringing its hands about the fate of its secondary against top passing games, too. But, hey, at least the Wolverines burned Notre Dame.