Why Notre Dame Couldn't Beat Michigan

Neil WaechterCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Charlie Weis looks on during the second half against the USC Trojans at the Memorial Coliseum on November 29, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. USC defeated Notre Dame 38-3.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

1. Coaching

I've been a pretty staunch Charlie Weis supporter, right up until the Syracuse debacle of last year. And I still think with his work ethic, we could eventually win a championship if he continues to make the changes needed as he recognizes them. But Saturday's loss can be laid at the feet of the coaching staff first and foremost.

Weis is a gambler, and frequently makes decisions that don't make sense if you step back and look at the big picture. For a coach that comes from the NFL, he sure hasn't learned much about winning games.

I have not heard a single rationale defense of why we were throwing a pass with the ball and the lead with two minutes left in the game. It's just inexcusable. Good teams are able to run the ball on first and second downs, and then keep the defense guessing on 3rd-and-short as we try to move the chains and end the game.

The fact that we threw a pass on second down in that crucial situation is flat out the wrong call.

And that wasn't his only mistake. Numerous times we had difficulties getting the play off. As the self-named offensive coordinator, it is Coach Weis' job to make sure that the play gets in to the QB with plenty of time before the snap.

The unnecessary timeouts and delay of game penalties came back to haunt us in a game that came down to the wire.

2. The Officiating

I really hate to complain about the refs. Other than the Bush Push, which mostly upset me because of the magnitude of the game, my general position is that you play the game with the calls that are made, and that if you play well enough to win, the officiating won't change that.

Not so on Saturday.

I watch a lot of football, pro and college, and this is the first time I've ever seen a game in which the officials appeared to be actually biased.

There were, by my count, five unequivocal pass interference penalties against Michigan that were not called. And they were often in critical situations that changed the game.

Especially on the ill-advised second down pass. Call that interference penalty, and the Irish win. Talk all you want about "letting the players play" but these penalties exist for a reason and you CANNOT allow a team to consistently hold one of the receiver's arms back while the pass is in the air.

I've also rewatched the play where Sam Young was called for holding on Kyle Rudolph's 79-yard catch, and there was no hold. It was a spectacular block that drove the defender into the ground.

There was also the missed call on the Armando Allen TD. I watched that play in HD on a big screen, and the sideline view of that play clearly shows that Allen did not step out. There certainly was nothing resembling indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field.

And don't even get me started on the two seconds run off the clock on the kickoff. And don't give me the BS about how rare it is for a last second Hail Mary to work—I saw the Broncos pull off a stunning win on Sunday, and Green Bay also had a last minute pass play that made the difference in the game.

And with a wideout like Golden Tate—we may not have won, but we should have had the chance.

But what really pissed me off—and the reason that I think that the refs were biased—was how the refs blew Coach Weis off at the end of the game and sprinted for the tunnel, not even considering taking a second look at the clock.

If it was only one, two, or even three of those problems, I could deal with it. But what I saw out there was clearly home cooking. Notre Dame was repeatedly and systematically robbed of its advantages in this game by the refs, and it cost the Irish the game.

If this game were reffed by a truly neutral officiating crew (say, from the Big 12?) the Irish win this game handily—by as many as 20 points.

3. Fundamentals

I almost appended this to the coaching segment above, but I saw a clear lack of fundamental breakdowns by Irish players in this game. Poor tackling especially killed us, and it allowed an inferior team to hang around in a game they had no business hanging around in.

Tate Forcier, if he bulks up, will eventually be a very good quarterback for Michigan. But he's not a superstar in the making, and certainly not a phenom.

We made him look good by taking poor angles and arm tackling. Forcier slipping from the grasp of ND defenders was not because he's a beast who reads the defense well, it's because the ND players who were put in the right position by the play call and didn't have the fundamental skills to make the play.

And that, again, falls on the coaching staff. For all of the talent and experience we trotted out on the field, these players should not be making those kind of bone-headed mistakes.

A classic example was on Forcier's TD run, where the safeties did not shuffle down the line with the ball, and Kapron Lewis-Moore over pursued, did not break down and failed to keep his hips squared to be able to make the tackle, or force Tate back inside to the defense.

4. Michigan

I wanted to put this section in to give Michigan credit.

While they got plenty of help from the refs and Notre Dame repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot (much like Michigan did for us last year), ultimately they did what they had to do to win the game.

With two minutes left in the game, they drove down the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown with little time left on the clock. They had a good game plan, and with a couple of breaks, put themselves in a position to win the game.

And they did.

Final Analysis

No excuses. We were 24 points better than Michigan, but we lost the game because we apparently still don't know how to win.


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