As Justin alluded to I made a rather knee-jerk reaction after Saturday’s loss. Now that I’ve allowed my head of steam to dissipate I’m ready to attempt to tactfully express my feelings on what transpired. Here goes.
What I saw on Saturday didn’t mark a regression from what I’ve witnessed over the course of the previous eight games this season.
Over the span of games prior to Saturday’s debacle, Notre Dame showed itself capable of overcoming nearly any obstacle: several multiple possession deficits in the second half, 16 years without a home win against a rival, seven straight losses to a rival, countless missed chances to punch the ball in from inside the five yard-line, multiple possessions from the opposition inside the 10 yard-line (including two in a row), nine consecutive bowl losses, and probably a few more quirky statistics or intense game situations I’m forgetting.
What little momentum was gained by those achievements was squandered and left on the field last Saturday during Notre Dame’s 23-21 loss to Navy.
No, what I saw on Saturday was not a regression but rather the startling reality of an unfocused team.
This is not an admonition of things to come. Dating back to Weis’ first year at the helm of the Irish ship he clearly portrayed himself as commander of an often gritty but not always suited for battle team.
Let us examine a few case points by season:
2005 – an overtime home opener loss to MSU after manhandling Pitt in the season opener; a flat and uninspired performance against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl that led to another loss
2006 – embarrassing home loss to Michigan in a game that wasn’t close after the first five minutes of play; lackadaisical effort in the Coliseum against the Trojans in the regular season finale; another blowout bowl loss in the Sugar Bowl to LSU
2007 – failed attempt at converting personnel designed for a pro-style offense into an option attack that lead to a defeat against Georgia Tech; atrocious 38-0 shutout in Ann Arbor to Michigan; first loss against Navy in 43 consecutive attempts; loss to a second academy (Air Force) for the first time since the 1940s; zero wins in first five games of the season; 58 sacks surrendered over the entire season (a record for most at the time); another hapless effort (and shutout) versus arch-rival USC at home; worst record in school history at 3-9
2008 – blown leads at North Carolina, at Home against Pittsburgh and Syracuse (a team that won 2 games all year!); ineptitude again at USC (no first down until final play of third quarter)
There are probably many things I have left out of this list but forgive me as this was all from memory. For a more extensive list please visit this lovely piece from the fine gentlemen at NDNation (they’re always on top of their game).
My point is that the loss to Navy, while shocking, should not be too much of a surprise to the Irish faithful. With Charlie Weis as head coach there hasn’t been much ‘fight’ in the Fighting Irish.
The head coach is supposed to rally his troops and focus them on the task at hand. But Weis’ teams have been anything but focused.
To be sure, his men have challenged that stigma this year by winning three of 5 games in the closing minutes of battle.
But there remains an uneasy aura that Weis-led teams cannot get up for big games when it matters the most.
I have always liked Charlie Weis as a person and admired his willingness to transform his stubborn personality. After all, he has not hesitated to dismiss underperforming assistant coaches (see John Latina and Jappy Oliver) or alter part of his coaching philosophy (from no hitting in practices to demolition derby).
Make no mistake about it – his personality will not be the reason for his departure. His win-loss record will.
I’m not sure what the powers that be have in store for Weis but I know that a few more losses this season will only add to the case against keeping him on the payroll.
I hope he pulls himself up from last weekend, leads the Irish to victories in each of its final regular season games, and closes out the year with a Gator Bowl victory.
As Weis said at the start of the year, though, “don’t tell me about expectations, show me.”
It’s now or never for Weis. A win this weekend against Pittsburgh, which would qualify as Notre Dame's first against a top 10 opponent since Weis' first year win at then #3 Michigan, will almost certainly buy him one more season.
Losing is not an option. Time to make it happen.