Yesterday was a very bad day for the Notre Dame football program.
For the first time in the Weis era, this football team was unprepared, did not execute, made far too many mistakes, and was completely outclassed and outcoached by an opponent. In short, Weis looked like Willingham yesterday.
Now don't get me wrong. The honeymoon may be over, but I still have far more confidence in Weis than I ever did in Willlingham. However, this team's performance yesterday was an abomination.
Notre Dame lost any shot at the National Championship.
Brady Quinn lost the Heisman Trophy.
Notre Dame probably lost their best chance to sign the best recruiting class this year, as visiting recruits such as Joseph Barksdale can't be that excited after their visit yesterday.
And to top it all off, the road for this program only gets tougher going forward. Unless Notre Dame can begin to play with a lot more discipline, the Irish will lose to USC at the end of the year, and could even lose to UCLA or Michigan State. Or both.
9-3 not good enough? Right now, it might be too much to ask for this team.
I just want to win a bowl game.
Doomsday predictions aside, this game wasn't as bad as the score looked. Don't get me wrong, even if the Irish don't turn the ball over 5 times we lose that game. Michigan had a defensive gameplan that made Brady Quinn look like he was a freshman again. Michigan pounded the ball down our throats, exposing our run defense as the weakness of this football team. However, if the Irish didn't continually shoot themselves in the foot, that game would have been much closer.
Let's look for a moment how that game plays out if the Irish and Wolverines are even in turnover margin:
Michigan had one turnover that led to 7 Notre Dame points, Notre Dame had 5 turnovers which led to 24 Michigan points. So, subtract 17 points from the Michigan score, and we get a more accurate view of how this game would have played out - Michigan 30, Notre Dame 21. A respectable 9 point loss.
More importantly, the entire dynamic of the game shifted in Michigan's favor far too early in the game, forcing Weis to abandon the running game and allowing Michigan to play dime defense the rest of the evening. Without the massive rash of mental mistakes, the Irish could have won that game.
Not to take too much away from the Wolverines. They were as much responsible for those turnovers as Notre Dame. Also, the Wolverines dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. While Notre Dame's defense did enough to keep the Irish in the game, the Wolverine's pressure took our offense out of the game.
So now what? Brady's confidence is shattered; he was responsible for 4 of the team's 5 turnovers. Samardzija got completely shut down by Leon Hall, and has become an afterthought in the All-America race at receiver. Rhema McKnight played an embarrassing game in which he dropped far too many balls, and gave up on plays that could have changed the game; he spent all day worrying about getting injured rather than worrying about how to help his team win the game. Our defense played a solid game, but also displayed the lack of discipline that burned us against Ohio State last year (exhibit 1: Mario Manningham's 69-yard TD reception where he broke free from everyone, getting a 10 yard cushion all the way to the endzone). Darius Walker was ignored by Coach Weis, and rushed for only 25 yards. Which brings me to Coach Weis.
Coach Weis has been outcoached before (Tressel in the Fiesta Bowl), and has been matched several times (Carrol, Carr, Smith). But this is the first time that Weis has looked completely lost. He did not have his team ready, and did not have any focus. He never had his team in position to win the game, and did not make any significant adjustments on offense. He looked like Willingham, stubbornly sticking to the game plan that he came into the game with. While I'm not ready to jump off the Weis bandwagon yet (he is still a better recruiter and representative of the university than Willingham or Davie), I do think that he needs to make some major adjustments to his coaching style.
Weis is still an NFL coach. In the NFL, a loss like this doesn't really matter. In fact, every team in the NFL loses at least one game every year (no perfect records since 1983). A loss isn't the end of the season, as all you need to do is be good enough to make it into the playoffs. And once you are in the playoffs, you just need to get on a roll. There is no playoff system in college football, and one loss like this destroys any chance at winning a National Championship.
Weis also hasn't figured out how to coach his team at home. Weis is still undefeated on the road (6-0), but an unimpressive 5-4 at home or neutral sites. I'm not sure what he is doing wrong, but something has got to give.
Final game note: I really do hate to complain about referees (as I say for the third straight week), but has anyone ever heard of a kickoff team get called for a block in the back? Kick teams aren't blocking anybody, they are trying to shed blocks.
Block in the back against the kicking team? Give me a break.
One highlight from the weekend: seeing Jerome Bettis at the pep rally and getting this great picture during pre-game in the stadium:
Once again, the tailgating yesterday was a lot of fun. Thanks again to the Stoltes for setting up the tailgate. And a big thank you to my beautiful wife Becky, for coming out to tailgate with me. It made the loss much easier to swallow.