NOTRE DAME, IN (UHND.com) – A change under center was not enough to jump start the anemic Notre Dame offense on Saturday. In fact, the Irish failed to score a single point in Evan Sharpley’s first career start while getting blown out by arch rival USC to the tune of a 38-0 shutout – their largest margin of victory over Notre Dame in the history of the rivalry.
“Well, it was a butt kicking today,” Weis told the media after the game. “You could say, well, the game was pretty competitive for the first half, but I didn’t feel the game was very competitive in the second half.”
That was an understatement.
After playing fairly competitive football for the first half, a series of miscues and missed opportunities opened up the floodgates for USC.
With the score tied at 0-0 at the end of the first quarter, a short USC punt hit gunner Munir Prince in the arm with the Trojans recovering at the Notre Dame 10 yard line. On the ensuing play, Mark Sanchez threw the first of his four touchdowns when Fred Davis hauled in a spectacular one handed grab.
On the next series, the Irish defense was still keeping the Trojan offense in check when David Bruton blocked a USC punt setting up the Irish offense at the USC 29 yard line.
The Notre Dame offense, which sputtered all day long, could not capitalize, and four plays later, Brandon Walker’s 40 yard field goal attempt was blocked. After being set up with prime field position, the Irish offense gained just six yards and could not add any points on the scoreboard.
Those two series pretty much summed up the entire game for the Irish. The defense played tough for about a quarter and a half, but the offense could not put anything together to keep them off the field while gaining just 165 yards of total offense including a meager 48 on the ground. In fact, the Irish offense recorded a three and out on five of their seven first half drives.
Sharpley, who got the start in place of Jimmy Clausen, did not fair much better in his first career start completing just 17 of 33 passes for a mere 117 yards with no touchdowns and one garbage time interception.
He didn’t look much like the quarterback we saw in the second half of the Purdue and Boston College games. Rather, he held onto the ball too long at times which contributed to USC’s five sacks. Sharpley also locked onto his primary receiver more often than not which resulted in crowded passing lanes.
Despite Sharpley’s struggles, Weis was quick to defend his junior quarterback, “’I’m not trashing Evan now after one game,” Weis said in response to who he sees starting the Navy game. “I would imagine Evan would be the guy going into the next game because just like I don’t think when I go back and watch the tape, I don’t think I’m going to find enough evidence that he’s the sole responsibility.”
Still, Weis was seen coaching up Clausen on the sidelines at the end of the game. “What I said to him is if you ever want to be a good quarterback, how much it slows down when you’re on the sideline, that’s how slow it’s got to be when you’re playing because that’s what the great quarterbacks do.”
Joe Montana, however, could have started under center for the Irish on Saturday and it probably would not have matter much. The offense simply could not move the football with any sort of success of consistency from start to finish. It took the Irish until the fourth quarter to gain their first rushing first down of the game. Had Notre Dame not picked up a first down on the ground, it would have been the first time the Irish ever failed to do so.
From here the Irish will have a bye week before finishing off the season with a stretch of four games that would be considered “gimmes” in a normal season, but considering how this 2007 season has unfolded, no game should be considered as such right now.
The bye week is something Weis sees as a positive for this team. “Probably the best thing for this team is they don’t play this week,” he told the media. “That’s probably the best thing for this team because they’ll practice through Wednesday and they’ll get a weekend away from here, and we’ll get an extra day of practice the week of the Navy game.”