Raising the Bar

Robert Hughes celebrates his first career touchdown in the 2007 Michigan State game.  There was a time when celebrations like this were commonplace against MSU.  (Photo - Icon SMI)
Robert Hughes celebrates his first career touchdown in the 2007 Michigan State game. There was a time when celebrations like this were commonplace against MSU. (Photo - Icon SMI)

I’m not going to sit here and play Monday morning quarterback. Suffice to say, if you told me before the Michigan game Notre Dame’s offense would account for almost 500 total yards and Jimmy Clausen would boost his three-game totals since Hawaii to Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson proportions—1,052 yards passing, 12 TDs, zero INTs, just in case any Heisman voters with an ounce of credibility are paying attention—I’d have assumed an easy win. Alas, that’s not what happened, and 11 seconds marked Notre Dame’s quick descent from a program on the rise to a .500 ballclub looking up at the Top 25.

If Charlie Weis wants to right this ship, then he needs to dispense with the press conference coach speak. Instead of talking (again) about “schematic changes,” he should have made sure the game film from the 2007 Gator Bowl was burned into defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s brain. In that bowl game, West Virginia defeated Georgia Tech 38-35, as Rich Rodriguez dialed up an offense in which a mobile QB singlehandedly exploited Tenuta’s over-blitzing and over-pursuing defense to the tune of about 300 total yards and 3 TDs. Sound familiar? This isn’t something Weis should be talking about at a post-game press conference on September 13, 2009. This is something he should have seen coming two-and-a-half years ago. That’s what good head coaches do!

I am not calling for Coach Weis’ head. He’s a good man and an excellent recruiter. And when he’s not trying to be overly clever on the field—here’s to “the Wildcat” dying a quick and painful death—he can dial up a great offensive plan. I accept the fact there are good-to-great opponents on the 2009 schedule that can and will bite us in the ass. I’m just not convinced Michigan is one of those opponents. The Wolverines have a defensive line that can and will be pushed around by good running teams. They have a secondary that, barring an officiating crew allowing their DBs to play grab-ass all day, will get burned badly and often by good passing teams. (On that note, I will buy a beer for every Ann Arbor resident of legal drinking age if Boubacar Cissoko plays on Sundays.) But my opinion of Michigan notwithstanding, the bare minimum expectation of any coach, let alone the coach of the University of Notre Dame, is that he wins the games he’s supposed to win.

It is time to raise the bar not only for Charlie Weis, but for ourselves as brothers, sisters and fans of Notre Dame du Lac. At almost the precise moment Tate Forcier completed that game-winning touchdown pass in the Big House, I started hearing the excuses. Oh sure, there was the occasional voice in the wilderness who asked “How can a team have 300 yards offense and be behind 14-3?” or “Any reason we didn’t decide to even show up for the third quarter?” But depending on whom you talked to, Notre Dame lost either because of the officiating or because of two measly play calls on ND’s last offensive drive. And then there were the obliviously naïve, hopelessly desperate rationalizations: “This Michigan team could very well end up 10-2,” “This rivalry has always comes down to the wire,” “We’ll be back because WE ARE ND,” (kill me now) and my new personal favorite, “Well, I expected us to go 10-2 anyway.”


Who here spent the remainder of their weekend dissecting the Michigan loss only to turn around and obsess over next Saturday’s game and our seeming inability to beat Michigan State? Dissect this: From September 27, 1986 through September 3, 1994, Lou Holtz compiled a 23-1-1 record versus the Big Ten. That’s one loss and one tie versus the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, IU and Northwestern in eight years, including a four-season stretch in which Notre Dame NEVER lost to the Big Ten. Many ND fans looked to the 2008 Hawaii Bowl and this year’s season-opening smackdown of Nevada as signature wins. In the 1988 and 1989 seasons alone, ND had an 8-1 record versus Top 10-ranked teams. In their bowl games from 1988 through 1993, Notre Dame beat teams ranked #7 or higher five times and beat the #1-ranked team in the nation twice.

I’m not saying this year’s Notre Dame team is great (although their offense might be). I’m just tired of the people who lead and follow this program not expecting greatness. Lou’s teams treated Michigan State like a glorified scrimmage. After his first-year loss to MSU during which ND was still emerging from its Faust hangover, Coach Holtz would go on an 8-0 win streak versus the Spartans in which his Irish won by an average score of 31-12.

Score 31 points and win by 19: there’s your bar, Coach Weis. Don’t tell me at Tuesday’s press conference about Michigan State being solid along the interior and how their loss to Central Michigan was misleading. Just go out there and beat Sparty…badly.

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  1. Everybody here makes a valid point or two.
    I just want to BEAT MICHIGAN STATE!
    I have sat next to their fans at games ( unfortunately)
    and am NOT impressed. Forgive me if this sounds snooty, but it is what it is. Has MSU really won every time at home since 93??
    I remember the 36-14 win in the Holtz era.
    Good running game and scoring on every opportunity.
    A field goal, running out the clock, grinding up time,
    frustrating Sparty and hearing their fans ( not a class of people I like too much) complain and sigh. I was rather silent and perhaps indifferent then, but I WILL say –they have some fire with the head coach there.
    ND MUST be hungry for this win —and must do everything they can to get the win.THAT means–controlling the line of scrimmage and being on FIRE on the sidelines –in the officials FACES if we have too.
    Anything for a WIN–
    ANYTHING—for a WIN — something which should have happened last week.
    ( I am still pissed off after losing to Michigan when ND should have won)

  2. Great comments regarding Lou’s teams against the Big 10. Powerful line play was too much for most of those teams especially as the Irish ran out the clock with first down after first down.

    However, we became spoiled with that dominating, run, run, and more run type of play-calling. Even Lou opted for change and Ron Powlus was the future. Our dominating line play has never been the same. NEVER!

    Lou’s teams also had some glaring defensive flaws, especially in the secondary. He also constantly fooled with the defense and his coordinators. To his credit, he got the job done most of the time.

    While I would love to see the results Lou had I am also thrilled to see the wide-open offense with great skill players. This type of wide-open type of offense will continue to attract the BEST talent in the country.

    The defense is not making the same progress as the offense; and yet, I feel we will see improvement game to game. So far, I see an overly aggressive group of linemen and linebackers being taken advantage of.

    I am not bashing or giving up on Charlie. GO Irish!

  3. The one thing people are failing to realize about the state of ND football is our weak link is the d-line. We are starting mostly first year starters who are making mistakes. CW did not recruit well on the d-line the first two years and Willingham didn’t recruit at all. This d-line and linebacking core are going to have growing pains which is what we saw on Saturday. If we fire another coach we will start at square one again since Lou left. ND can not start over again and make another coaching error such as Davie and Willingham. This defense will get better, the talent is there. The offense is one of the best in the country and should be able to get us through until SC. The game on Saturday was lost due to a special teams error and a soph running back fumbling on the 20 yard line. The game was sloppy with all the penalties and will be taken care of this week. The Irish will win and they will continue to get better. If we put CW in the grave who is going to want to coach here. We already tried to get Urban Meyer who chose Florida. The ND administration made a decision to sign CW for a long time, it was either a great move or will put ND behind for many years to come

    1. Jack,
      I completly agree with your assesment, particularlly in our defensive recruits. Try as he may, CW couldn’t land a top defensive tackle, so they loaded up on DE’s and linebackers. It gives us alot more speed than we have had in a long time, but we have no ‘anchor” in the middle.
      Nick Saban face the same problem at Alabama. But he search the Junior College circuit and came away with a 6’2″, 360lb monster call Mount Cody. That guy was the differance maker for their team last year. But as we all know, ND does not acept JC transfers. So yes, for us it’s going to take some time.

  4. Cold fact:Michigan had better coaching Saturday. MSU likely has better coaching this Saturday (at least on special teams!). Sixteen times the last few years. You can’t raise the bar because the expectations of the team are set by the coach.

  5. McSweeney, you have encapsulated every point I could have ever put down regarding the state of football at Notre Dame. Raise the bar is right on!
    And I think the stats of Holtz versus the Big 10 is the most telling of all.

  6. Unfortunately, younger Irish fans do not know what it’s like to have a coach like Holtz. In 88′ alone four teams (Michigan, Miami, USC and West Virginia) would have been undefeated had it not been for ND. Many want to point to Weis as a recruiter but he isn’t even close to what Lou was bringing in. When ND decides how high the bar should be set will determine how long Weis stays. If their happy with 9 – 10 win seasons (maximum) Charlie is safe. If they want to win National Championships he’ll be gone this year.

  7. Also, let’s get as many Irish players into the game as possible!!! We don’t know what each player can do until he has played significant time in all situations!!!!!!

  8. I want to finally see this team play violently and fast!!!!!! Get them on the run and keep them on the run!!! GO, GO, GO and don’t stop until you and your team crosses that goal line CHARLIE WEIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I’ve been an Irish fan all my life and actually attended the last (until Hawaii) great ND bowl win against TAM in the Cotton Bowl when I was 9. The whole week before the game, fans were allowed to watch ND practice at SMU. Being a neighborhood kid and a die hard fan I got to attend one of the sessions, even getting within a few feet of Coach Holtz while he drilled and coached the players. Watching ND play when I was younger under Holtz, there was definitely a different fire and spirit, mostly from Lou himself. I will admit that seems to be absent these days as Weis is more of a tactician and strategist – some think that belongs only in the pros, but obviously college football has changed in the last two decades, and dare I say, CFB has definitely become much more competitive. That I think is the big difference between then and now. So many more teams, styles of play, and, most importantly, a greater dispersement of the country’s finest players. Would Dez Bryant have played at OK state in the 80s and 90s or arguably the country’s most talented running back rack up yards in Berkeley? I doubt it. College football today is not the college football of the 80s and of the Holtz era – ND is not going to get the best recruits or have the absolute best talent on both sides of the ball (especially the most mature talent). ND doesn’t just have to compete with the Michigans and Miamis and Texas’ of the recruiting world, but also the West Virginias, the Utahs, and the Oklahoma States. This is not to say that such things are not impossible, but that right now, these dreams are not so easily unattainable. Yes, ND must be much much better this year and shouldn’t lose such heartbreaking games with a more experienced squad, but sometimes things take time, and usually more time than we want. Weis definitely has these players pointed in the right direction and Clausen looks like the QB he promised he would be and ND looks like they’re playing harder than they have in years, but they’re still young and unproven and therefore prone to mistakes and mishaps – thinking to the contrary only creates specious dreams. I anticipate a great season, and more importantly a more mature and confident team, which I hope will be represented by a sensational game against M State, where the players forget about last week’ heartbreak and more importanly learn from last week’s big mistakes.

    1. I don’t buy into the “It takes X years to turn around a program” line. Pete Carroll took over for Paul Hackett, after Hackett’s 6-6 and 5-7 seasons in 1999 and 2000. After a 6-6 year in 2001, Carroll went 11-2 the following season and hasn’t looked back.

      In a similar vein, how long did it take Urban Meyer to turn Florida around? Granted, Florida’s talent level wasn’t as depleted. But how about Nick Saban? It sure didn’t take Alabama long to return to national prominence after years of mediocrity. And now we have RR, in his second year, who just beat Charlie, in his fifth, with a freshman QB and a supposedly empty cupboard, after a terrible first year.

      The coach determines the intensity level and expectations of the team. I’m not saying the solution is an easy one, but I don’t believe it takes five years to get there. And what happens when the recruiting starts to slip after so many subpar seasons?

      1. Totally agree. Weis doesn’t have any excuses for not coaching an intense, talented, and efficient team this year. Anything different would reveal his inability to innervate a group of young players. The Michigan loss was dissappointing, but it was a great game. The talent of Forcier and the coaching of RR have certainly paid off for the Wolverine, and it’s not as if the cupboard was bare. Lloyd Carr was a talented recruiter and many of his recruits are maturing into fine players – his last two full classes are juniors and seniors and that showed Saturday along the offensive line and the back field (Minor). Weis has had to completely reform a barren team. This is the first year since 2006 that he’s had more than three starting upperclassmen on offense and four on defense. But granted, it all rides on this Saturday. If they can grow from the loss and win Saturday then the players have matured and Weis is coaching in the right direction. If not, then deficiencies will be evident.

  10. A Win vs. Michigan St will change all our attitudes. I am hoping we do get that “nastiness” attitude and goal now (for me at least) go into USC 4-1. The D needs some help. I am still taking one game at a time.

  11. Frankly, what needs to happen is a hurry-up offense.

    Seriously, we haven’t beaten Michigan State in South Bend since like the 1990s. This is insane. We need to come out and hurry up and score as many points as possible. I know, Weis tries to do this every week, but it seems as though we can hurry up and score more points particularly with Floyd, Allen and last week’s Mr. Hands (who I still believe is one of the best receivers we’ve ever had).

    And, on defense, we need some major revisions. I don’t know exactly what those revisions are — perhaps less predictability, better tackling, etc. — but we cannot give up 38 points.

  12. Hopefully this is just one of those games where there was an amazing confluence of bad luck. No doubt Charlie could have picked some better plays on several occasions, and the blitzing scheme was not working. However, this game could have been won if any of several turns went for and not against the Irish. Most notably the injuries:

    – If Michael Floyd hadn’t been hurt, he would have caught that last 3rd down pass: game over. Why do they have that track there anyway? A premier field should not have areas near the field that can injure players trying to make plays.
    – If Allen hadn’t been hurt, I think he would have gotten us that next first down. He was running hard and downhill all day. He is definitely improved and likely to play on Sundays if he keeps that up.

    If we had gotten any of those questionable calls from the refs, we would have won. Including the no call against the corner being beat by Tate on the last 2nd down. However, why is Jimmy throwing the ball up for grabs to Tate, he’s a playmaker, but not tall. Why not throw it long and let him run under it?

    The real killer was the kickoff return. you can’t give away points, (& momentum) like that.

    This is it for Charlie. This offense is too good to be on a bad team. It’s now or never for him.

    1. The comparison of Forcier to Harbuagh is pretty ridiculous in that article since the two are completely different quarterbacks. The only similarity they have is that they both play for Michigan. He could have at least compared Forcier to a dual threat QB. Heck, even Drew Henson would have been a better UM comparison. Forcier is a good QB and to label him with a “peashooter” arm is the kind of reaction that gives Notre Dame fans a bad name.

      1. I agree that the assessment of Forcier was harsh. But I do think Michigan is not as good as we made them look.

        To me, the one thing lacking from the coaching staff is inspiratinoal leadership. Think of Ara, Rockne, Lou, Gene Hackman’s character in Hoosiers, John Wooden. These are coaches who inspire at the very basic level.

        Weis doesn’t do that. I hope he learns soon. I think the point of that article is that unless it turns quickly, the chances of more failed expectations are real and no one can be happy about that. The ND football program needs solid footing.

    2. C-Dog, where were you in 1988?
      The last time ND won something of sigificance on a football field?
      That was 21 years ago. 21 years!
      There are ND fans out there who have never seen ND win a championship in their life time. The artical you point to may be harsh, but it speaks the truth. Sadly the culture of college football, and what it’s founding fathers invisioned as it’s contribution to a full and well rounded College curriculum, based on teamwork, fairness, and sportsmenship, has evloved into a big money grubbing,”win at all cost” business. Where those who still abide by those same values set down by the same founders so many years ago, find themselves at a distint disadvantage, and on the outside looking in. So what do you do? Do you compromise your princables in pursute of the holy dollar. The same principals that distinguish Notre Dame as a place of higher learning and moral value?
      I want to believe that success in major college football is still possiable without having to lower your standards or sell your soul to the devil. After 21 years and counting, and in today’s college sports culture, I’m not so sure it’s still a possiability.

      1. I was there for the 1988 season. Every game! They were good guys and just plain worked their hearts out. They were happy to do it too.

      2. That team had magic. You could feel it. They flat out refused to loose. Holtz left no stone unturned. Made great half time adjustments. ND with Tony Rice running the option lead the nation in rushing. But their defence was the difference. Man could that team hit.
        21 years past.
        “All glory is fleeting”
        Gen. George S. Patton.

  13. I would complain about refs or talk about issues with this or that on play calling etc., but excuses? No, you are exactly right. When you play for ND or coach at ND, or do anything related to ND, as Holtz said, you represent the Mother of God. For the outsiders who intrude, yes Notre Dame is French for OUR MOTHER ( that’s Mary the mother of Jesus ).
    So that includes excellence in performance, impeccable integrity off the field. And while sometimes individuals come up short, that’s the bar. You are exactly right, the bar must be raised.
    Frankly, I was sick when I saw the outcome. ND overcame odds to win in the past. Just as the Irish overcame persecution for being Irish and Catholic, Notre Dame overcame beat out the cheaters not just in football, but in life. An ND alum named Todd Tucker wrote a book about how ND students took on and wipped the KKK who came to South Bend in the 1920s. Where is that spirit to defend our honor now? We need that back.

  14. Amen, if Notre Dame got up for every game like they do for the USC game, first of all no one except SC could compete with us. We always come out of the gates ready to play, and we compete with the “great” USC until their depth pulls through. Every game on our schedule is like a rivalry, we play the same teams year in and year out, lets show them how great this team can be and blow them out.
    Michigan State is a team that we always allow them to stay in the game and they only make one play in the end to win. We have to get up big on them early and keep it on them. With our offense we should end up with at least 49 points which MSU cant handle, they will fold. Let’s make an example of them for once.

  15. The play calling at the end of the game is what ultimately made the difference. Our defense had no answer and we were zipping the ball down the field with reckless abandon with 5 minutes left in the game. The run game was working and the clock continues to run…. Oh, Charlie! What were you thinking???

  16. Mac – that gets to the heart of the matter. I always had the sense that Lou’s public comments were playing to the press and overly trumping up the opponents. But privately to the team and coaches he had an entirely different message and different preparation. With CW…I am not so sure the public and private are that much different.

    Raise the bar, shut your trap and show us on the field. This was the theme right? CW, Brian Smith can’t even make through two games honoring the theme. There are leaders on the team, but real leadership, essential leadership is missing. Bounce back, pick yourself up, prepare, perform, execute and go to the next game and do it again.

  17. I stumbled upon the last half of the new Melrose Place a couple of nights ago. I was fully expecting to hate that show but I don’t. Have you see it yet? bMail me.

    j to the b to the d double-o d 5

    P.S. I’m almost positive that you wrote a great article.

  18. We need to go out and have a strong showing
    against MSU. If we show them the respect they deserve for
    beating us so consistently then I don’t think we’ll take
    them too lightly and let yet another game against the Spartans
    slip out of control. I’m confident we’ll play well.

    I like your post very much overall (although
    let’s leave that UM player alone already, the
    game is over let’s move on), but again I think
    we only beat them big if we take the Spartans seriously
    as they deserve to be taken, too often ND fans and our team arrogantly
    dismiss them and look what has happened recently.
    Same exact thing happens again and again against BC.
    We should have high expectations, but that doesn’t
    mean we have to be arrogant (that’s just a general comment, not directed at anyone in particular).

    Lets have a good game, with no injuries, and let’s take back
    ND stadium from these guys!

    GO Irish, Beat Spartans!

  19. Where’s the fire?
    I’ve been watching ND football since Ara was coach. Having the home team being favored by the ref’s is nothing new in football. But Ara could could see a screw job coming right out of the gate. And he wouldn’t stand for it.
    Many times I watched Lou Holtz throw his headset and hat down and get in an official’s face. If the head referee won’t listen, you get the back judge or the line judge. But you don’t just stand there with your arms folded looking endlessly at your play chart and take it. Your players are watching. They take your queue, if the coach gets pissed off, more likely than not the players will too. If the head guy won’t stand for it, his players will follow his lead. And if you just stand there…. well, you get the idea.
    Last night was the first NFL Monday night football game of this year. Ex-coach John Gruden is now part of the announcing crew this year. They showed a film clip of “Chucky” during his coaching days. Part of that clip included him giving the ref’s hell. And I mean HELL!. I hope someone else saw it too!
    I hope CW saw it. If he didn’t, could someone please sent it to him.
    The next time there is even a questionable call, I want to see him in the ref’s face. I don’t care if he has to burn a timeout to do it. I don’t care if it costs his team 15 yards. I don’t care if he gets tossed.
    Just get in the game damn it!

  20. amen brother! BOUT TIME!! this is notre dame football, we should expect a shutout of nevada, not thinking its proof that we are a contender. And i’m getting awfully tired of playing a poderpuff schedule. when are we gonna have a tough schedule again? thats the only way to get back on top in my opinion. sure we take some bumps and bruises with a schedule like that, but at least there wont be any talk of being overrated

  21. Holtz once said during his era that players aren’t ready for the field at Notre Dame until their junior season.

    So we’re just going to hold this team to those era’s standards and expect not to be disappointed?

    1. “Holtz once said during his era that players aren’t ready for the field at Notre Dame until their junior season.”

      I don’t even know what this quote means other than it’s total crap. The ’88 National Championship run came on the backs of a HUGE contingent of underclassmen at the skills positions: Tony Brooks (So), Rodney Culver (Fr), Rocket (Fr), Tony Smith (Fr), Ricky Watters (So), Derek Brown (Fr).

      1. Yeah, but if you ask Lou what was special about that team he’d say and has said senior leadership.

        Have you seen any senior leaders for the last three years?

  22. it’s a pity you are no longer posting in the Football Forum. Aside from jabi and a few others it’s been overrun by heathen.

  23. Hats off to you good sir. Its about time someone on this site wakes up and realizes these crappy schools and rebuilding programs shouldnt be competing with ND.

  24. I am really interested in seeing how the team responds from here. We need to see Charlie’s “nasty” team he spoke of when he got hired.

    No more near misses with Navy.
    No more last second losses to Syracuse.
    No more blowouts given up to USC.

    Its time to start looking like an elite football team again. Charlie – your “get out of jail” card was just used up on Michigan.

    1. I can’t agree more. As a long time ND fan, I am sick and tired of loosing games we should have one. Since Lou Holtz, ND football has been on the decline. Why? I believe it’s due to horrible coaches over the years.

      Charlie Weiss is over rated and Saturdays loss to Michigan is just another example of poor play calling from a coach who supposedly is an “offensive genius.”

      Well, tell me this Coach Weiss, why in the hell would you throw the ball with under one min. left in the game?

      By the way, where was this “blitzing” defense everyone was talking about? Why didn’t ND put more pressure on Mr. Forcier?

      I am tired of the excuses! I am tired of Charlie Weiss! He may be able to recruit, but he lacks the ability to motivate college football players like Holtz did. This isn’t the NFL Chalrie!

      If he looses again to Michigan State then in my opinion the party’s over for Charlie.

  25. Mac, we dont agree on politics, but when it comes to ND, I think we are shoulder to shoulder. I only wish I could have expressed my feelings about this team that way.

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