If Saturday’s loss to Michigan in the Big House had a familiar feeling for you, it should have. Notre Dame’s been in this position before.
A 1-0 Notre Dame team went into the Big House to take on Michigan, with a veteran quarterback on the heels of an impressive victory, against an overmatched opponent making its first trip into Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish got off to a good start with a small lead at half-time, but were held scoreless in the third quarter, and found themselves trailing as the game entered the final quarter.
Notre Dame’s veteran quarterback would go on to lead Notre Dame to a go ahead score, with less than five minutes remaining. The Irish ended up getting flagged for excessive celebration on the two point conversion, and Michigan ended up scoring the go ahead touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. Notre Dame had a last ditch effort come up short, with the game ending on a little bit of a clock controversy.
Sound familiar? It ought to. I’m not talking about Saturday’s 38-34 loss to Michigan though. I’m talking about Notre Dame’s 26-22 loss in the Big House in 1999 under then head coach Bob Davie.
Notre Dame started off the ’99 season with a 48-13 win over Kansas. The Irish ran for 363 yards as a team and cleared the benches in the fourth quarter. The win left some Notre Dame fans concerned with certain aspects, but for the most part, there was a lot of optimism surrounding a 35 point victory to start the season.
The next week Notre Dame traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines. After jumping out to a 14-9 lead at half-time, the Irish were outscored 10-0 in the third quarter, before Jarious Jackson threw a 20 yard touchdown pass to Jabari Holloway. On the ensuing two conversion attempted, Jackson connected with Bobby Brown who was flagged for a very questionable excessive celebration penalty.
Wolverine quarterback Tom Brady rallied the Wolverines, and led Michigan to a go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes left. Jackson responded by leading the Irish down the field to the Michigan 12 yard line, but time ran out after it appeared Notre Dame had converted a first down that would have stopped the clock. The clock continued to run with no measurement for the first down and the game ended with Notre Dame fans complaining about officiating and missed opportunities.
Ten years later, we’re in almost the exact same position. Jimmy Clausen led Notre Dame back from an 11 point deficit in the fourth quarter only to see Michigan march back down the field for the go ahead score. Armando Allen’s taunting penalty was eerily similar to Bobby Brown’s excessive celebration penalty with both coming on two point conversion attempts and severely impacting the field position game.
Both games were filled with plenty of officiating and clock issues that had Notre Dame fans clamoring about the Big 10 officials on the message boards. The only difference here was there weren’t any “blogs” back then, and there were only a handful of forums – UHND being one of them.
Notre Dame sits at 1-1 and can go in one of two directions. The Irish can rebound this weekend, and beat a Michigan State team that limps into Notre Dame Stadium after losing at home to Central Michigan last week. Or, the Irish can squander the opportunity to get their season back on track, just as they did in ’99 when they fell to Purdue on the road the following week, in another game that they probably should have won.
The 1999 season went south pretty fast after the Michigan loss. Notre Dame followed the loss to Michigan with losses to Purdue on the road and Michigan State at home. While the order of the games differs in 2009, the Irish will face the same two opponents the next two weeks at the same locations.
That 1999 season was very characteristic of the Bob Davie Era – the Irish were good but not good enough on most Saturdays. Instead of finding ways to win games that season, they usually found ways to lose games. Late season losses to Pitt and Stanford on the road, and Boston College at home, were all winnable games in which the Irish lost to teams with inferior talent.
Adding to the parallels between these two seasons were some pre-season national championship expectations. In ’99 Bob Davie was entering his third season in South Bend and the Irish were coming off a 1998 season in which they were able to improve on their win total from 1997. The magical third season and the steady improvement shown on the previous two seasons had expectations pretty high for Notre Dame.
After the Michigan loss though, things began to unravel for Notre Dame, and every Saturday became an adventure for Irish fans. In ’99 Bob Davie and Greg Mattison couldn’t fix an Irish defense that gave up points in bunches. Oklahoma under first year head coach Bob Stoops scored 30 points in a 34-30 Notre Dame win; Tennessee put up 38 on the Irish in Knoxville; Pittsburgh rang up 37 in a 37-27 Pitt win; Boston College scored 31 in a 31-29 win in South Bend; and Stanford scored 40 to cap off the season with a 37-40 Irish loss.
Will 2009 be different? Notre Dame certainly has more talent now than they did in 1999, and has an offense that can put up a lot of points. If Notre Dame doesn’t bounce back this weekend when rival Michigan State comes to town, the parallels will continue to be drawn to the ’99 season.
Hopefully for Notre Dame and Charlie Weis, history does not repeat itself again this weekend and the Irish bounce back with a win over the Spartans.