DISGRACE IN ANN ARBORposted by John Vannie
After the game, Coach Charlie Weis told the media that Notre Dame would start over with a training camp mentality. Presumably, competition for every job will be reopened and the team will attempt to discover forgotten core competencies such as blocking and tackling. The question is how well the players will respond to this challenge, and if Weis truly holds sway over the team in the aftermath of Demetrius Jones’ sudden defection and the string of blowout losses dating back to last November.
This contest featured another dead on arrival game plan by Weis. Allen was the Irish third player in three games to take the opening offensive snap, and this week’s gimmick produced the worst result yet. Rather than high school level attempts to confuse an opposing defense, Notre Dame would be better served to repeatedly run five basic plays in practice until it gets them right. Defensively, the Irish simply quit under the weight of a hopeless situation and the pounding of the Wolverine offensive line.
Michigan was able to start three of its four first quarter possessions inside Notre Dame territory and build a 17-0 lead. Clausen was intercepted as the game moved into the second period, and the Wolverines burned the blitzing Irish for a 24-0 advantage. Clausen was penalized on the ensuing possession for intentional grounding and delay of game. Remarkably, Travis Thomas converted the first down on a fake punt, but Michigan’s Shawn Crable blew up a screen pass and sacked Clausen on consecutive plays to force a real punt.
Mike Hart took over at this point and ran through the dispirited Irish for 187 yards. Notre Dame could not even mount a scoring threat in the second half against the Wolverine third string players, and Weis mercifully pulled the plug on Clausen while he was still able to walk off the field. Many freshman and reserve players received their first taste of game action for the Irish, and players such as Matt Romine and Thomas Bemenderfer distinguished themselves with notable effort and energy.
Meanwhile, there is no miracle cure for Notre Dame’s fundamental problems. The team completed its third straight game with negative rushing yards and no offensive touchdowns. Doubts about Weis are emerging despite his early success on campus. The schedule should get a bit easier in that the next three opponents are not as good as the first three, but the Irish won’t beat them, either. Michigan was winless in its first two starts and looked quite vulnerable coming into this game, but Notre Dame made them look like the 1985 Chicago Bears.
A brief but mostly unnecessary review of the key elements that determined the outcome:
Will Notre Dame be able to run the ball? No, at least not in a forward direction.
Will Hart be able to keep Michigan from third and long situations? Definitely.
Will Notre Dame give Clausen time to throw? On the rare occasions when they did, he held onto the ball too long.
Will the Irish be able to contain Manningham? Not really. The Irish secondary played its worst game of the season.
Which team will commit costly turnovers and penalties? Don’t ask and I won’t have to repeat myself.
Which freshman quarterback will best execute the game plan? Mallett, but in Clausen’s defense there wasn’t much of a game plan to execute.
Field goal success rate. It didn’t matter.
As I watch Clausen take a beating while the rest of the team looks so painfully inept, I’m reminded of the 1989 Dallas Cowboys and their rookie quarterback, Troy Aikman. That team finished 1-15 and was the laughing stock of professional football. A few short years later, Dallas had stocked its roster with talented players and surrounded Aikman with a powerful offensive line, a workhorse running back and tall, sure-handed receivers. The defense was also rebuilt with athletic, fast and dominant players.
While Weis has done a credible job of recruiting in the past two seasons, it has become a test of faith to believe that he is capable of turning around the Irish. Clearly, his learning curve as a head coach is much steeper than most believed when he was hired. Patience will wear thin as the losses continue to pile up, and the true measure of Weis’ ability will be the way this team finishes the season. Real leadership must emerge from the ranks of the underclassmen and a foundation of fundamentals must be established for future success. Notre Dame fans can only hope that the worst is behind them.