Posted by BrianBoru at 9/28/2009 2:30 AM EDT
Upon a day of reflection on Saturday evening's thrilling victory against Purdue, I have fallen back into cranky pessimist mode.
Before I touch on my concerns, it must be noted that Jimmy Clausen is quickly becoming a Notre Dame legend. Clausen, playing with a debilitating turf toe injury, demonstrated remarkable poise as he engineered the Irish to victory in the closing seconds.
Searching for another positive, I thought the offensive line — except Sam Young — played pretty well. The off-season addition of offensive line coach Frank Verducci has proven to be an exceptional hire.
Forgotten running back Robert Hughes ran with a conviction not seen since his 2007 freshman campaign.
Defensively, the Irish managed to catch a few lucky breaks, benefiting from the erratic play of Boilermaker quarterback Joey Elliott. That is not to say, however, that the defense didn't improve. Emerging playmaker Darius Fleming harassed Elliott from his defensive end position all evening.
Offering yet another stellar performance, ubiquitous wide receiver Golden Tate demonstrated his versatility as a part-time tailback, weaving his way through a sea of black jerseys and into the end zone, staking Notre Dame to a 17-7 lead late in the first half.
It would be the final points the Irish would score — until Clausen's end-of-game heroics.
Now, as promised, the ugly:
Leading 17-7, late in the third quarter, Irish head coach Charlie Weis elected to go for it on fourth down and ten at the Purdue 35 yard line rather than punt the football and pin the Boilermakers offense deep in their zone.
The Irish offense had been banged up, playing without the services of dynamic running back Armando Allen (out with an injury) and all-everything wide receiver Michael Floyd. As previously noted, quarterback Jimmy Clausen had a bum toe, relegating him to spot duty for most of the game. This left the Irish with inexperienced Dayne Crist to helm the offense. And though Crist had led the Irish offense on a pair of earlier scoring drives, it was evident, based on the number of rushing plays called — at one point 19 consecutive rushing plays — that Charlie Weis did not feel comfortable designing many passing plays for his greenhorn signal caller.
Here was the situation for Notre Dame and Weis: You're on the road. You are leading by ten points late in the third quarter. You have the momentum. You have called upon your inexperienced, albeit talented, quarterback to throw very few passes up to that point in the game. Weis, understandably, did not have the same amount of confidence in the passing game with Crist under center as he did with Clausen.
Why then roll the dice with all the momentum your charges had staked you?
Even more disquieting was Charlie Weis' post-game admission that he intended to "spike the ball" and "kill the clock" on third down — with 36 seconds remaining — and the team already at the line of scrimmage.
That public acknowledgement is yet another reason why Weis is in over his head at Notre Dame.
There was absolutely no reason the Irish would need to spike the ball, forfeiting an extra opportunity to win the game.
Continuing with the concerns, for the third consecutive week the Irish were one play away from losing the game. All three of their opponents were average. Michigan will be exposed as a fraud sooner than later — they escaped with a narrow victory in yet another referee-marred game involving Indiana University on Saturday.
Watching Notre Dame this season, you never know what to expect. And that is the problem.
One problem gets fixed, another problem crops up. The offense starts out quickly, seemingly off to the races — then it stalls behind a series of head-scratching play calls.
Absence a very good defense and special teams, this program will remain adrift — on the periphery of National Title conversation.
That, unfortunately, will not happen until a change is made because Charlie Weis' strengths are confined to the offensive side of the ball. He arrived at Notre Dame as a career underling — never before asked to be a leader.
Like it or not, this football program is still struggling to gain traction with voters in year five of Charlie Weis' regime. Consequently, despite its victory against Purdue, Notre Dame remains unranked. In fact, the Irish actually dropped a few spots on the dreaded Others Receiving Votes list.
Based on Notre Dame's Houdini-esque escapes the past two weeks — against middling Big Ten programs — I don't blame the voters for their skepticism.
Charlie Weis has painted himself into a corner as a result of the past two forgettable seasons.
Bluntly stated, Notre Dame must win every game remaining if they are to get the sort of respect they are seeking. Do I think it will happen? No. There are just far too many areas of concern which have yet to be corrected.
However, at Notre Dame, anything is possible. The Irish could upend Southern Cal, riding the crest of that emotional victory all the way to a BCS Bowl game.
Losing five consecutive games to Southern Cal would be absolutely unacceptable.