Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dazed and Confused

I think I’ve run through the entire gauntlet of emotions about Saturday’s game at this point. I’ve been absolutely livid, depressed, and somewhat encouraged. I convinced myself that this was the last straw for Charlie. I convinced myself this was a sign of great things to come. I convinced myself we deserved to lose that game by screwing up the little things. I convinced myself the referees flagrantly robbed us.

In a word I’m confused. Confused enough to write a point-counterpoint article.

With myself.


YES…As I look back at the running diary I had, read the articles on the game, and read the analysis of people like Tim Prister from Rivals.com it’s plain to see this was one of the worst officiated games in a long time. The overturning of Armando’s touchdown was ludicrous; there is no way that you can conclusively say one way or the other, especially with the best camera angle (which was right on the sideline the play happened). The hold called on Sam Young on Rudolph’s 74 yard catch and run was not even close to a hold—even though Matt Millen over and over again said it was (can’t you be competent at anything Mr. Millen?). Charlie’s controversial play call on 2nd down on the final drive should have resulted in a pass interference penalty—the Michigan cornerback had his arm WRAPPED AROUND Tate’s body. On the second to last play of Michigan’s final drive there should’ve been a false start against Brandon Minor but it went uncalled. Armando Allen was called for a field-position altering/game-changing celebration penalty for simply making a “shhh” gesture. I mean when the men in stripes are stacking the odds that far against you in a hostile environment that’s just too hard to overcome.

NO…I don’t think that anyone will debate that the refs were terrible and didn’t help Notre Dame’s cause…but we put 34 points on the board and lost. The refs didn’t have anything to do with Tate Forcier running 40 yards right up the heart of the defense on 4th and 3. The refs didn’t have anything to do on the three special teams plays that changed the game—the kickoff return touchdown, the missed field goal by Tausch, and the terrible punt by Eric Maust. What lost this game was a combination of the Notre Dame defense and special teams, it can’t be pinned on the zebras.


YES…You know there comes a point where you just need to come to grips with the fact that something isn’t working. Charlie Weis is in his fifth season and he’s been given so many free passes I’ve lost count. I forgave him for 2007—the talent level was historically low. Last year I had a tough time swallowing, but before the season I was already looking to 2009 as the year to break out. Now here we are two weeks in and the balloon is already deflated. This was a game that a great coach wins. We were the better team Saturday. Clearly. We had some bad breaks go against us, but a good team overcomes them. This was a game we NEEDED to have in order to sustain the momentum we’d built with our three wins on national television since last Christmas (Hawaii, Te’o, and Nevada). Instead we were sloppy on offense (see: delay of game penalties, early burning of timeouts), undisciplined on defense (see: Tate Forcier scrambling), and terrible on special teams (see: don’t know where to begin). All these things provided Michigan with the opportunities necessary to seize victory. A Lou Holtz coached team wins this game going away. Urban Meyer’s teams would too. Notre Dame deserves a great coach. I don’t know if Jon Gruden, Brian Kelly, or any other candidate is…but after four plus years without a signature win, Charlie has proven he is not.

NO…Charlie showed exactly why Notre Dame hired him Saturday. We rolled up 500+ yards of offense in The Big House and put 34 points on the scoreboard. If the refs would’ve thrown the flag they should have on second down of that last drive (Tate’s should-have-been pass interference) we’re talking about how Charlie’s team finally turned the corner and learned how to win. If you don’t want to pin the loss on the refs it definitely falls on the other side of the ball. There are a lot of great coaches that have only worried about one side of the ball and left the other side totally up to the coordinator. Steve Spurrier never even knew who his players on defense were. Joe Gibbs allocated responsibility to his coordinators as well and that worked out well for him. Charlie did his job—he engineered a brilliant offense that overcame a two score deficit in the fourth quarter. He’s assembled an unbelievable arsenal of talent that rivals the glory days of Lou Holtz and he’s got more help on the way. The defense is still a year away and people who really looked at the front seven and realized we’d be counting on six or seven freshmen and sophomore to play significant roles should have tempered expectations for it this season. Next year every single person will be back on the two deep in the front seven. All-world defensive end recruit Chris Martin is on his way next year too. Every person at the skill positions on offense has at least one year of eligibility left after this year. Charlie has assembled something special here, the pieces are finally in place, and after October 17th we could be right back on track.


YES…Everyone loves Tenuta’s attitude and tenacity, but his inflexibility means that there will come a time every year where he’s burned. The last five years as a coordinator his defenses allowed 31 or more points at least twice every season. Twice he’s faced a spread option and he’s given up 38 each time (note: both times his offense put up at least 34 points and lost). This week when the blitz wasn’t working he blitzed some more. The front seven was incredibly undisciplined and seemed to be on their heels the entire final drive. There is a ton of talent but it doesn’t seem to have been shaped yet. The guy only has one gear and not being able to adjust—especially to something like the spread—is only going to hinder us every year.

NO…He’s improved Notre Dame’s defense unbelievably since he arrived. There is limited talent on the defensive line right now and what talent we do have is raw and inexperienced. The blitzes aren’t effective at this point because those defensive linemen can’t even occupy the blockers so they can’t handle those who come on the blitzes. You can’t blame him for the kickoff return, you can’t blame him for Darius Fleming getting his ankles broken on Tate Forcier’s scramble, and you can’t blame him for giving Michigan a short-field on their last TWO drives. That was his second look at the spread in years and years of coaching. He’ll be ready for the next go around. And you know what? I’d like to see anyone say he’s not the man to his face. Good luck coming back with your jaw intact.


YES...If Notre Dame loses this game then you can officially call the Weis era over. We’re better than Michigan State. They just lost to the Central Michigan Chippewas. We haven’t beaten them at home in over a decade—including twice under Charlie’s watch. Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN that Weis will never feel as much pressure as he feels this week and I agree. The air in South Bend has been contaminated; lose this game and it will be toxic.

NO…Like I've said before, it seems like every game of the year is the most important game of the year. The fact of the matter is the most important game of this season that will determine the direction of the entire program for the foreseeable future is on October 17th against Southern Cal. That will be the game that lets Notre Dame fans know exactly where the team is headed. It would be the “signature win” everyone has clamored for, it would be a catapult to what could be a golden era, and it would be the moment where everyone knows the right man is in place. That’s where all the pressure in the world will be—it’ll make Michigan State look easier than taking a recruit from Stanford.


YES…This needed to be a special season. After being kicked to the ground and stepped on starting with the 2006 Southern Cal game up until the 2008 Southern Cal game it was time to come out and take advantage of the gift that was laid at our feet. We had a year where the schedule was the easiest in school history with only four true road games, Michigan was down, Southern Cal was at home with a freshman quarterback at the helm, starters back at every position of a high-powered offense, and loads of talent (albeit raw) on defense. In order to climb into the national title discussion we needed to run the table because there isn’t anyone (other than Southern Cal) that could jump us up the polls. After taking two steps forward against Nevada, we immediately took three steps back. Michigan and Nevada both exposed a chasm in the middle of our defense and it’s borderline delusional to think that the stable of backs from Los Angeles won’t do even more damage when they come to town. We’re headed for 9-3 season which some people will call significant progress. With this schedule and these circumstances that just doesn’t cut it.

NO…Tell me that before the season you wouldn’t have taken 11-1 or 10-2 with a win over Southern Cal and I’d call you a liar. Like stated previously, this season will come down to October 17th. Flaws have been exposed but there is ample time to fix them before then. There have been plenty of good signs on offense that say no matter what team is lined up against us will have problems slowing us down. If we have just one loss when they roll into town the Michigan loss will be forgotten. If we win that game then the last two years will be forgotten. Charlie’s Waterloo will be that day; it’s just a matter of whether he or his detractors will play the role of Napoleon.

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