Bowl Season '08: We Get It, Notre Dame Can Beat Mediocre Teams
Back when the bowl bids were handed out, there was a rumor that the Motor City Bowl desperately wanted Notre Dame to head in for a matchup with Central Michigan. The Irish refused -- one reason being that a Christmas trip to Hawaii is more appealing than a visit to Detroit. But deep down, I had a theory that Notre Dame thought a game against Hawaii might work out better than one against the high-powered Chips.
Whether or not that theory has legs, the decision to head to the island proved a solid one: Notre Dame absolutely pasted Hawaii, 49-21, ending a nine-game losing streak for the Irish in bowl games.
Things got off to a bit of a slow start -- ND led 7-0 after a sluggish first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen took over after that, though, hurling five touchdown passes and racking up 401 yards through the air. Clausen helped Notre Dame stretch its early lead to 28-7 at halftime, and 49-14 after three. Golden Tate hauled in six of Clausen's 22 completions for 177 yards and three scores.
All in all, it was a downright impressive showing by Clausen. The Irish came out throwing from their first play from scrimmage, and basically only utilized the running game in trying to keep Hawaii's defense honest. One of ESPN's announcers even went so far as to proclaim this Clausen's "coming out party." I won't go that far -- for reasons about to be addressed -- but it was a strong showing from a QB that could be in line for a huge 2009.
That said, I'm not sure how much you can take out of this game. Notre Dame desperately wanted to get that bowl drought monkey off its back, and that showed in the way the Irish outhustled and outplayed the Warriors from the get-go. Other than that, though, this was kind of a throwaway postseason game for a program with the prestige of Notre Dame.
The Irish almost certainly didn't open any recruiting pipelines (surfing pun ... anyone?) with this trip. They had a national spotlight, but the Christmas Eve game has got to be one of the toughest for attracting television audiences.
Oh, and we're still not sure if the Irish are capable of beating a good team. Hawaii's a decent club, and has had its moments this year -- beating Fresno State on the road, holding off Nevada and nearly upsetting Cincinnati -- but these aren't the Colt Brennan Warriors from last year. Their 7-7 record still makes them the second-best team that Notre Dame beat after 8-5 Navy.
Hawaii got mashed physically in this one. The Warriors coughed up eight sacks, adding to their nation-leading total for the season, and barely flustered Clausen at all.
Some of that credit goes to Notre Dame, which executed its gameplan to perfection.
When it came down to it, Notre Dame needed this one -- of what would have been 10 straight bowl losses, this would have been arguably the worst. Instead, the Irish not only break that run, and end a two-game losing streak, but they finish above .500.
I can't be convinced that ND has turned a real corner until the Irish knock off a few ranked squads, but this provides some nice momentum into a 2009 season that sets up nicely for increased success.