Nov. 19, 2010
By Bob Socci
This wasn't exactly one of those Peter Finch moments.
You know what I mean, if you've ever seen the late actor's unforgettable rant as Howard Beale in the movie Network.
"I'm mad as hell," Finch declares, his eyes bulging at the camera, his voice raging to America from his television news set, "and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
I wouldn't necessarily go that far. And certainly didn't this morning, between sips of extra-bold coffee and mouthfuls of high-fiber cereal.
The morning paper was opened in front of me, when I grabbed my Blackberry to check email. Thankfully, as I opened the link to a newspaper story forwarded by a friend, my boiling point was well out of reach.
Still, what I read, scrolling through the text, caused me to crunch my Kashi whole grains into obliteration.
On the eve of Army-Notre Dame, in the same city where Grantland Rice wrote of the "Four Horseman" in the most famous lead in sports writing history, a present-day scribe hopped aboard a dead horse. Again.
Last month, after Navy outplayed Notre Dame in every way conceivable, 35-17, Al Lesar of the South Bend Tribune all but labeled the Midshipmen a dirty team.
How else, Lesar and his Tribune headline editor implied, could the Mids dominate the Irish at the line of scrimmage and well beyond? Must have been those darn "chop blocks!"
Either by intention or ignorance, they confused perfectly legal cut blocks with chop blocks, which are banned by NCAA rules. In my blog for this website on Oct. 26, I wrote about the enormous difference between the two, deconstructing their erroneous and egregious line of thought.
I even suggested revisiting the great Notre Dame teams under Lou Holtz, who cut opposing defenders down in an option offense brilliantly orchestrated by Tony Rice. Of course, I also could have asked if present-day Irish players totally refrain from blocking defenders below the waist, i.e. cut blocking.
Do their running backs never block low to upend a blitzing linebacker? How about sweeps and screens and ends around? There's never anyone pulling or leading by diving at the legs of a defensive player?
Unless "no" is the answer, any way you cut it, a cut block is a cut block.
Anyway, getting back to Lesar's latest, there appear to be two principle story lines as Notre Dame prepares for those option-based, cut-blocking Black Knights of the Hudson.
One, their meeting is a referendum on Navy-Notre Dame. And two, the Irish aren't really worrying about "cut blocks," even as they seem to obsess over them.
Regarding the second, first, that's what Coach Brian Kelly has been preaching.
"We're not going to be talking about (the cut blocking) as much as we're going to practice and execute," Kelly said early this week. "The guys know what to expect from it this time around.
"I don't think we'll overemphasize it. They know the schemes. This is strictly about, again, controlling the line of scrimmage (more) than worrying about cut blocks."
Said blocking schemes should be among the least of Kelly's concerns.
Navy didn't repeatedly establish a new line of scrimmage; Alexander Teich didn't plow through countless missed tackles or combine a sensational catch with a remarkable run; and Ricky Dobbs didn't drive defenders backwards into the end zone because of cut blocks.
Jabaree Tuani, playing with two bad shoulders, beat guard Trevor Robinson on a sack with a swim move, not a cut block. Same goes for Tuani pressuring quarterback Dane Crist into a late first-half interception. Nobody on Notre Dame, far as I could see, got cut on that play.
Did a cut block enable Jared Marks - formerly a third-string nose guard, spelling one of the SIX injured Navy starters unavailable to face the Irish - to stop Crist short, on a 4th-down quarterback sneak?
Most galling is how Lesar parenthetically notes a knee injury to nose guard Ian Williams vs. the Mids. However, he never mentions the nature of Williams's injury, which, according to Kelly, was not caused by any block. Therefore, an uninformed reader is left to connect dots that can't be connected.
Regarding his other main premise, we quote: "A dominating effort against Army could reinforce the notion that the loss to Navy was a fluke."
This, I'm certainly not going to take anymore.
With all due to respect to Army - and, from me, such respect is immense - victory over a team striving for its first winning record in 14 years hardly dismisses losing to someone else for the third time in four tries.
There's no such thing as a fluke, when the winner chooses to score 35 points.
Navy led Notre Dame, 35-10, after three quarters. The margin shrunk mainly because the Mids' only concern thereafter was to run out the clock, not run up the score.
Readers, whether objective or subjective, deserve better. So do the Midshipmen.
And so do the Black Knights. Should they prevail, let's hope Lesar et al give Trent Steelman and Jared Hassin what they fail to give Navy's Dobbs and Teich - their due.
For the record, Lesar concluded by writing: "It's just football. Thinking only complicates the game."