Smoke and mirrors: Michigan exposed; Notre Dame still missing something

Posted by BrianBoru at 10/11/2009 6:37 AM EDT

I hate bye weeks during Notre Dame Football season.

That noted, let's take a peek at the Michigan Wolverines, shall we? A few blogs prior, I announced Michigan was a fraud. I said they would lose four or five games. I was never sold on their cocky freshman quarterback, who I believe has a weaker arm than New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon; his candy arm would soon be exposed, I thought.

Turns out, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez benched his diminutive quarterback Tate Forcier after he posted a line of: 8-19 passing for 94 yards and one interception — not exactly the stuff of stardom — which, if you've been watching ESPN, you would expect to see from the entertainment network's undeserving flavor of the week.

As it relates to Notre Dame, the Michigan Wolverines victory against the Fighting Irish appears exceedingly embarrassing with each passing Saturday.

Incidentally, Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez is not long for Michigan. With his abusive approach to coaching, freely tossing his own players under the bus, I expect more transfers and dissent in Wolverine land.

Shifting attention to Notre Dame, the Irish should be well rested for the big Southern Cal game next Saturday — head coach Charlie Weis gave his players four days off to decompress from the physical and mental toll of what has been the 2009 season, choosing instead to focus his attention on the recruiting trail. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I say that's a splendid idea, Charlie. Who needs that extra week of practice when your rival, a rival you've not defeated during your term in South Bend, is getting set to invade your turf?

Against all better judgement, I took a another look at the film of the Notre Dame/Washington game last week. Let it be written that this is perhaps the worst-tackling Notre Dame team that I have ever seen. If poor tackling were rewarded, Notre Dame would have to erect a separate trophy case opposite the cluttered trophy case in which their 11 National Championships are stored.

It is truly puzzling how a team full of highly-decorated athletes can perform so staggeringly short of their talent level, not even up to the task of performing the most rudimentary aspect of the game: tackling.

Heralded as a genius, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta arrived in South Bend as a man who would give the Irish defense instant credibility. Prevailing wisdom held that Tenuta's defense and Weis' offense would form a formidable tandem for Notre Dame. Of course, Tenuta's calling card, the unending wave of blitzing, has been mostly ineffective this season, seemingly a beat or two too late to the quarterback on every play.

To Tenuta's credit, he's dialed back his signature blitzing formula a bit, electing to play a more conventional base defense, featuring fewer blitzes, the past two games. As a result, the Irish defense has gone from abysmal to a hair short of mediocre — but that's still not going to cut it.

Notre Dame will need their defense to become an asset in order for them to compete at the elite level.

And what would a blog be without my latest thoughts on Charlie Weis? The Kool-Aid drinkers would tell me the man has guided Notre Dame to a 4-1 record; he ought to deserve his props for that.

But, as most of us know, all 4-1 records are not created equal. Take a glance at the teams which Notre Dame has defeated:

1) Nevada: they're horrible. Let's keep moving...

2) Michigan State: they, too, are not a good football team. And I think I'm being charitable. Notre Dame was the beneficiary of the equivalent of an unforced error in tennis, when Michigan State's quarterback, Cousins, missed a wide-open wide receiver all alone in the end zone. At present, the Spartans stand at 3-3, and they figure to lose another three or four games this season. The sad thing is, they represent the 'quality win' for Notre Dame thus far.

3) Purdue: as with Michigan State, Notre Dame came within one play of losing to this perennial Big Ten doormat.

4) Washington: a program so bereft of talent, they finished without a single victory last season. Yet the Huskies, a program, like Notre Dame, ravaged by the recruiting wrath of Tyrone Willingham, managed to come within a play or two of defeating Notre Dame.

Why then the remarkable turnaround for the Washington program this season, you ask? Coaching. In one season, Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian accomplished what Notre Dame's Charlie Weis has not yet been able to do in four attempts: defeat Southern Cal. Saturday's contest will be Charlie's fifth, and perhaps final, crack at the Trojans.

I'm of the belief that superior coaching can make a substantial difference in the absence of superior talent. Coaching, especially on the collegiate level, can sometimes hide areas where talent is a touch deficient. Sarkisian, unlike Weis, understands that college football is a game of emotion. It is not a game won within the vacuum of offensive strategy, where Playstation game plans trump all else.

This all, of course, leads back to Charlie Weis. It has been my position that Charlie Weis will not lead Notre Dame to a National Championship. Given the data points at our disposal: an overall coaching record of 31-22 during four-plus seasons, several ignominious defeats to opponents with lesser talent, (e.g. Navy, Syracuse, Boston College, etc.), no 'signature win' to date — unless you're counting the 2005 defeat against Southern Cal.

As I watched the past few Notre Dame victories, I immediately realized that it was not an euphoric feeling after each victory but instead a feeling of relief, paired with an uneasy feeling that I was watching the Irish continue to commit the same penalties week after week, a sloppy trend that most would expect to be a distant memory in year five of the Charlie Weis regime.

In my estimation, as well as many other Irish followers, this Notre Dame team does not appear to be playing to their potential. Sure, Jimmy Clausen is playing like a superstar. Ditto Golden Tate. However, there's something missing (aside from the magnificent Michael Floyd) from this Notre Dame team, this Notre Dame program.

Perhaps Charlie Weis ought to be focusing on that missing element instead of whining to the press about his club not being ranked. That is not to say that there are not a few undeserving teams which are ranked in the Top 25. Witness Penn State — an unmistakable imposter.

But Charlie Weis can blame only himself for the Irish being unranked. Had he taken care of business, defeated the middling Michigan Wolverines, and thumped the teams he should have thumped, his Notre Dame squad would indeed be ranked. Had I Charlie's ear for even a moment, I would suggest that he learn to win by a comfortable margin against vastly inferior foes before he begins chirping to the media about the injustice of Notre Dame remaining unranked. Startling as it is, Weis does not appear as though he comprehends the idea that narrow victories against bottom-feeder opponents will not impress many voters.

Do you want to get ranked next week, Charlie? Go out and beat Southern Cal. Entering this season, was it not you who said that you were "done talking" and that your mantra for this season would be "all action"? Your ill-timed call for respect does much to illustrate that your mind is not focused on what is now the most important game of your career: Southern Cal.

Thing is, Mr. Weis, most Notre Dame fans have seen this act before. We're not buying it anymore than the voters are; we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop — when Notre Dame loses to either Pittsburgh or Stanford this season. Or, of course, Boston College...

On that note, here is how I see the rest of the season unfolding:

I will go ahead and predict an upset against Southern Cal. Why? Wayne Fontes, er, Charlie Weis is due. Actually, I've no good reason to believe Notre Dame will defeat Southern Cal. Perhaps the ghosts of Rockne and Gipp et al will spring up from the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium to provide an extra man or two for the Irish as they seek to upset their rival. Maybe Matt Barkley, the Trojans freshman quarterback, will hiccup against the Irish and toss a few interceptions.

In any event, if Notre Dame wins that game, they will most assuredly lose to Boston College. The Eagles are a mediocre team; they are a mediocre football program. Year in and year out, there are fewer than three players on BC whom Notre Dame would recruit.

Though, against the past three inept Notre Dame coaches, they simply beat Notre Dame on game day. Given the wide gulf of talent separating the two programs, losing to Boston College is criminal. It should never happen at Notre Dame.

Under the scenario which sees Notre Dame splitting its next two games, the Irish would be 5-2 heading into the Washington State game on Halloween. Barring the Cougars taking the field strapped with automatic weapons, the Irish should move to 6-2, with a tussle against Navy on the horizon. The Midshipmen know they can beat Notre Dame. They ended the Irish's streak of 43 consecutive victories back in 2007, nearly upsetting Notre Dame last season as well.

Notre Dame closes the season with Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Stanford, in that order. None of these three teams will finish the season ranked. Pittsburgh and Connecticut, two members of the piteous Big East Conference, waltzed with each other this afternoon, with the Pitt Panthers eventually squeaking out a last-second three-point victory. I expect one of these teams to defeat Notre Dame.

Finally, the Stanford Cardinal. I would not be surprised to see Cardinal back Toby Gerhart run for 200 yards against this soft Notre Dame defense.

I expect Notre Dame to finish 8-4 this season. Would that be enough to terminate the Charlie Weis Experiment? It certainly ought to be enough. We shall see...

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