Enough is enough. I’ve spent far too much time being upset and angry about the Navy debacle and far too much time dissecting what’s going to happen when this season is over. If there is going to be a coaching change it won’t come until after the Stanford game so it’s a total waste of time and negative energy to worry and speculate on what’s to come. Fact of the matter is it’s impossible to tell at this juncture. I guarantee Jack Swarbrick has made zero decisions on Coach Weis’s future. How the team performs over the next three weeks will determine his ultimate course of action. If the Irish defeat Pitt, UConn, and Stanford then there is a good chance Charlie will live to see another year. If they slip up then there’s a good chance they’ll be an interim coach for the bowl game. The gauntlet has been laid—it’s time for this team to stand and deliver for its coach.
The first and most difficult leg of this three game stretch is against the eighth ranked Pitt Panthers. I really dislike Pitt. Why? Well, it has to do with the fact that when I went to the 2005 contest at Heinz Field I spent the day ducking glass bottles thrown by drunken morons at tailgates. It also has to do with the fact that Pitt students came over to our section during the game and yanked down a girl we were throwing up for pushups (Pitt fans, you’ll remember we did a lot of them that day), almost breaking her leg in the process. Combine those two things with the fact that their student section’s only real cheers consisted of an expletive placed in front of either “ND” or “Rudy” and you have your answer.
Ahhh the memories. You stay classy, Pitt fans.
Time to move on to this year’s clash. Notre Dame appears to be reeling after another brutal November home loss leaves the Irish at 6-3. They’re unranked and the national consensus is that at the helm is a lame duck coach. Pitt on the other hand is ranked #8 in the country, riding a five game win streak, and playing at home where they’re 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points. Sounds like a mismatch…but the Panthers are only favored by 6.5 points. Why?
Well, the one reason is obviously that Vegas doesn’t buy Pitt as a legitimate top ten team. Their biggest win this season is over South Florida, who was playing without their star quarterback Matt Grothe. The Panthers were shredded early and often by NC State—the same 4-5 squad that Duke smoked by three touchdowns. Is Pitt for real? The line says Vegas doesn’t think so.
The biggest reason the line is so tight though is the matchup of the Irish passing attack and the Pitt secondary. Pitt’s passing defense is ranked 39th in the country, allowing only 204.1 yards per game. On paper it doesn’t appear to be a big mismatch, but let’s look at the best teams they’ve played and their pass offense ranking.
Navy………….......119th (70.1 ypg)
South Florida….88th (197.0 ypg)
Rutgers……….....85th (197.9 ypg)
Louisville……....73rd (211.6 ypg)
UConn…………...41st (241.0 ypg)
Buffalo……….....31st (255.6 ypg)
NC State………...17th (281.3 ypg)
Pitt has only faced two teams ranked in the top 40 in passing offense. What did those two teams do against the Panthers’ defense?
Buffalo: 23 of 39 for 433 yards and 4 TD’s
NC State: 21 of 35 for 322 yards and 4 TD’s
Both of them lit up Pitt like a Christmas tree, averaging 377.5 yards and four touchdowns a piece. Buffalo passed for 178 yards above their season average, NC State passed for 41 yards above theirs. The Panthers’ passing defense stats have been padded because their slate of opponents hasn’t exactly been laced with high-octane aerial attacks.
Well, that’s what they’re facing tonight. Notre Dame is ranked #5 in the country with an average of 325.6 yards through the air each contest. Jimmy Clausen has been the most deadly passer in the country this year and on the outside he has two of the five best receivers in the country at his disposal. If the Panthers thought Buffalo’s receivers were good wait until they see the tandem of Floyd (125 ypg, 21.7 ypc, 6 TD’s) and Tate (118 ypg, 16.3 ypc, 10 TD’s).
This game is going to be a shootout. Pitt is going to have serious issues stopping the Irish and the Irish will have issues stopping Pitt. I was thrilled when Lesean McCoy went pro last year because I thought the Panthers’ offense would leave with him, but freshman running back Dion Lewis (126 ypg) has emerged as one of the biggest surprises in the country this year. Bill Stull has matured into a very efficient quarterback and 6-5 receiver Jonathon Baldwin is almost impossible to match up with in the red zone.
Tonight provides two huge last chances for Notre Dame—one for Coach Weis and one for Jimmy Clausen. For Charlie Weis it’s his final opportunity this year to seize the “signature win” so many say he lacks. A road win over a top ten opponent would certainly qualify as one and also be a huge step toward saving his job. For Jimmy Clausen this is one last national primetime platform to state his case for the Heisman. On ESPN this week Desmond Howard talked about this year’s race is wide open in large part because the candidates lack a “Heisman moment.” Leading the Irish to a dramatic upset victory in primetime with so much on the line for the entire program very well might vault him to the head of the pack.
I don’t know if Coach Weis will make it to next year and I don’t know if Jimmy Clausen will return for his senior season…but I do believe both of them seize their opportunities tonight.
The Irish are not going down this season without a fight.
Notre Dame 34