No Time For Panic at Notre Dame

Jason CangeContributor INovember 9, 2009

According to most accounts, Charlie Weis is still seeking a “signature win” in his five-year coaching tenure at Notre Dame.  One such as the upset win that second-year Navy coach, Ken Niumatalolo helped direct vs. Weis’ 19th ranked Fighting Irish.  Instead Weis has built a dubious reputation for conceiving signature losses among other lowlights, since the apex of his tenure in 2006. 

In 2009 the Irish have tightroped through four of their 6 victories but weren’t able to impose their dramatic fourth quarter formula against the determined cadets from Annapolis.   The common thread in those four pulse-pounding thrillers had been ND’s ability to convert late turnovers into points— but this time it was the Irish turning the ball over twice, during late-in-the game red zone opportunities.

Is Navy’s time-consuming, run assault style of offense, which amassed an astounding 348 yards, Charlie Weis’ worst nightmare?

“I really hope this doesn't come across wrong,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said, “but I think the thing that helped us this year was last year, because we knew they'd line up the same way.”

I’d say that’s a pretty scathing indictment on ND’s defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, when the opposing coach is crediting ND’s defensive predictability based on last year’s gameplan. 

Doesn’t Tenuta realize this year’s defensive squad is a shadow of its former self from 2008? 

Not to put this loss squarely on the defense, but ND’s rush defense was supposed to be the strength of a beleaguered group, which routinely pads the stats of any average passing quarterback.

Navy’s triple option causes problems for many teams, see Ohio State—but for an offensive-minded coach like Weis, with a helpless defense, it’s especially challenging. 

Offense disappoints

Still, after all the yards are tallied and the blame notices issued, how many points did Notre Dame’s defense allow? 

21 points surrendered should have been a harbinger of a comfortable Irish victory, given the return of Michael Floyd to the offense. 

Instead it appeared that ND was ill-prepared for the resistance they met while inside the Middie’s red zone.  Sure looked like Jimmy Clausen wasn’t expecting the impact which jarred the ball loose at the one yard line and left him face down on the turf for several tense moments.

Irish Special Teams also futile

ND freshman field goal kicker Nick Tausch had an impressive streak of 14 consecutive made field goals entering the game, but after their second straight home defeat to Navy, we now only remember the two he missed in the first half.  

 It may seem a cursory detail but trailing 14-0 late in the first half, the Irish were desperate for any type of score and Tausch sputtered on a 30-yard chip shot.

Navy IS a rivalry game

Is it possible that a 6-2 ND team was overconfident entering the Navy game, despite their continual brushes with defeat?

Sadly, yes. 

They breeze through a Washington State team, (which may be better suited competing in the Texas High School State playoffs), and suddenly begin to hear murmurs of BCS possibilities.

Then they forget what type of team will be visiting their house on Saturday- that being a disciplined, well-coached, six-win Navy team. Now, Weis and the boys have learned the importance of The Navy Rivarly—the hard way.

Just like ND’s other nemesis like USC and BC, Navy treats ND like a true combatant, pouring every ounce of emotion, courage and strength into battle.   

ND has proven that this year’s team has tremendous fight and desire to win but their intensity wasn’t sustained over four quarters against Navy.  In fact, all too often this season the Irish have only been able to find that extra gear in the fourth quarter—and once they do, they unleash it with amazing proficiency.

Give Navy Credit

It’s difficult to accept the notion of being outplayed by a team with far inferior talent—again.  But unlike ND’s teams from past two seasons, this unit has been able to find ways to win, making this defeat against The Mids all the more distressing.

That said, Navy was successful where all other ND opponents failed:  stopping Clausen and the offense at the end of the game. 

Boston College couldn’t do it.  USC really didn’t either—one would argue it was unstable turf that caused “The Slip.”  Purdue failed, just like Washington and Michigan State.  Michigan simply outscored the Irish, but certainly didn’t stop the offense. 

With under 2 minutes to play in the game, the Irish had somehow, again, managed to put their Heisman-caliber QB in a position to tie the game.  But it would require, yet another, incredibly clutch performance by the offense to cap off a 14-point rally, and force overtime.  Instead, Navy’s Cadets flexed their military might and insatiable drive, by pulling the unthinkable:  sacking Clausen in ND’s own end zone for a safety.

Is Pitt game another “Must-Win” for ND?

Well if the Irish care to lend any credence to the perception that they “looked past” Navy towards a more worthy adversary like Pitt, then I’d say Weis needs to inspire a full, four-quarter effort from the Irish on Saturday. 

I’m not ready to handicap Weis future with the Irish as it seems there’s a surprise around every corner with the 2009 squad.  Any time Weis’ boys reward us, there’s a disappointment in the waiting—and when ND appears defeated, the echoes are awakened.  

Yes, it’s true that ND may have been playing with house money had they entered the Pitt game with a 7-2 mark.  Now, they’ll drop to 6-4 unless they prevail at Heinz Field Saturday night.

So without deeming the contest a “Must-Win,” we can still confidently state the importance of a “Signature Win” for Weis.  The stage is set for the next chapter in this wild season:  beat 8th-ranked, one-loss Pittsburgh on the road and Weis has his “Signature Win.”


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