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.”
Again, people: RAISE THE FREAKING BAR!
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.