Growing Pains for Notre Dame, Charlie Weis

Notre Dame, Ind ( — If the loss to Michigan State this past weekend taught us anything it is that this can be a very good football team, but a very good football team that is going to experience some growing pains along the way. Watch the game again and at times you will see a well oiled machine move the ball at will, but you’ll also see a team fail to execute, commit costly turnovers, and commit entirely too many penalties.

Maybe we were all blinded by the 2-0 or maybe it was the glare from Weis’ 4 Super Bowl Rings that had us ignoring the fact that the secondary would still be vulnerable or that this offense would have games like this while mastering the Weis offense.

Am I making excuses for the loss? Absolutely not. There is no excuse for the lack of execution and mental errors that ended up costing the Irish the game. Rather, three days later, I’m looking for reasons why the Irish beat Michigan and lost to Michigan State.

The reason I keep coming back to is experience. The offense is still learning and is only at the beginning stages of mastering Weis’ offense. We saw glimpses of it Saturday. When Brady dropped back and had plenty of time to find Jeff Samardjiza on the first Irish touchdown you got a glimpse of it. We saw of glimpse of it when Brady Quinn dropped back and fired a 50 yard bomb to Maurice Stovall for one of his 8 catches.

We also got a glimpse of how far the Irish must go when Darius Walker pitched back a flea flicker to Brady Quinn who then badly under threw Maurice Stovall who had his man by a couple steps and had a sure touchdown if he was lead with the ball.

What if Asaph Schwapp held onto the ball at the goal line instead of extending it out trying like hell to make a play? We saw that the offense can be very good, but also still has a lot to learn.

Defensively the Irish were oh so close to a number of plays that would have completely changed the game. How much different would the complexion of the game changed had N’dukwe picked off that Drew Stanton first quarter pass and returned it for a touchdown or if Mike Richardson who have picked off one of his near misses or if Zibby could have fought off his block on Teague’s touchdown run to get enough of him as he ran by into the end zone?

The game also showed that Weis is going to experience the growing pains all first year head coaches experience. Even the training of Belicheck and Parcells goes only so far. Weis will have to learn on his own in his first year on the sidelines for Notre Dame. He’s never been the one to make the decisions of whether to go for it on 4th down or punt. He’s never been the one to decide whether to go for it or kick a field goal from say the 20 yard line with 8 minutes remaining as well.

Notre Dame fans may be leery of this since the same things were said of Bob Davie who also had no head coaching experience. Weis however is taking full responsibility to his first loss and has been very candid with criticizing himself, something Davie did not. Weis has also shown he understands his limitations by commanding the offense while trusting the defense to his defensive coordinator, Rick Minter. This is something Davie never fully understood as he tried to be involved with the offense while he was coach — something he had no clue about.

Charlie Weis will turn Notre Dame around, that I have no doubt about, but Saturday showed he is still somewhat green as a head coach. Just as the players will learn from this experience, so will Weis.

This loss hurt, because it was a very winnable game for Notre Dame. What made the loss even more frustrating were those glimpses we got of what this team can be. Charlie has seen it all along, the players who battled back from a 21 point deficit are seeing it, and we fans are being shown it and a left waiting for the day to come when they put it all together.

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