Navy Sinks The Irish

It really looked like the Irish had their act together. They finally started running the ball, improving over their league-last 34 yards per game to well over 200 yards. They played ball control but managed to toss the ball as well. Unfortunately, despite playing against an undersized Navy team, the defense couldn’t keep the Midshipmen out of the end zone, either, sending the game into three overtime sessions. The Fighting Irish simply couldn’t keep their 43-year winning streak alive:

It took 44 years and three overtimes for Navy to beat Notre Dame.
The Midshipmen snapped an NCAA-record 43-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish with a 46-44 victory today in triple overtime.
Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada threw a 25-yard TD pass to Reggie Campbell on the first play of the third overtime, then found him again in the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
Notre Dame cut the lead to two on a 5-yard TD run by Travis Thomas. But after a pass interference call gave Notre Dame a second-chance at the 2-point conversion, defensive lineman Michael Walsh and linebacker Irv Spencer tackled Thomas well short of the end zone.
It was the first time Navy (5-4) beat Notre Dame since a 35-14 win in 1963 when Roger Staubach was quarterback for the Midshipmen.

The Irish had a chance to win the game in regulation. They had put together a good drive in the final minutes, but stalled at the Navy 24 yard line. Faced with a fourth-and-eight, most people expected Charlie Weis to kick a field goal with less than two minutes to go. Even had it missed, it would have left Navy a long field to overcome and not enough time to cross it.
Instead, inexplicably, Weis sent his offense back on the field — and Navy sacked QB Evan Sharpley for a seven-yard loss.
Now the Irish have to face Army, Duke, and Stanford, and will be lucky to beat two of them. Even with a size advantage on the line of scrimmage, the Irish could not stop an option offense that looked like a throwback to better Irish teams of old. Navy has one of its better teams this year, but no one mistakes them for a strong opponent in Division I football, and if the Irish can’t use their size advantage to beat the Midshipmen, then it’s difficult to see how they can beat any of their opponents left on the schedule.
The Irish defense got outplayed, and Charlie Weis got outcoached. At some point, the Notre Dame AD will have to ask himself how many more games he wants to see those habits continue.

Charlie And The Goose Egg Factory

I don’t often agree with Jonathan Chait on politics, but his take on Charlie Weis and the historically bad Notre Dame Fighting Irish hits the nail on the head. The celebration of Weis as a football genius has ended in an ignominious season in which the Irish may only win the game in which they faced a walk-on quarterback. The lone highlight against UCLA came courtesy of seven turnovers in a game where the Bruins otherwise dominated, and Weis’ squad has yet to show any signs of life:

Weis’ Fighting Irish now stand at 1-7. This record is only the faintest indicator of just how awful Notre Dame is. They have lost nine of their last 10 games, by an average of 24 points. None has been close. While Notre Dame has suffered very few injuries, three of its opponents have had to play the Irish without their starting quarterbacks. Two of those teams, USC and Michigan, nonetheless beat Notre Dame by a larger margin than either has beaten any other opponent so far this year. Notre Dame’s lone win came against UCLA, which had been forced to use its third-string quarterback, a walk-on. In that game, Notre Dame compiled just 140 yards of offense, but won with the help of seven Bruin turnovers, five of them hand-delivered courtesy of the hapless walk-on signal-caller.
Just how bad is Notre Dame? Of the 119 teams in Division I-A, ND is 119th in total offense, 119th in rushing offense, 112th in passing offense, and 118th in scoring. If Notre Dame had doubled its scoring output, it would still rank 108th. If it doubled its rushing output (currently 34 yards a game), it would barely eke out Duke for 118th place.
You get the point. I should stop now.
OK, one more. Notre Dame is averaging 1.09 yards per rush this year. The NCAA statistical archive goes back only to 1999. The worst yards per carry recorded in that period belongs to a 2001 University of Arizona squad that gained 1.46 yards per attempt. So, the worst rushing team recorded by the NCAA in the last nine years was still about one-third better than Notre Dame.

For decades, the Irish had an identity as a bruising option team, dominating through the rush and adding the pass for spice. During the Brady Quinn era, the team developed a balanced attack that relied on Quinn’s arm to keep the ball. After his departure, the team can neither run nor pass, and has shown no signs of developing a talent for either.
Chait wonders how a coach as celebrated as Weis could allow his team to stumble so badly. He allows for the poor recruiting of Weis’ predecessor, Ty Willingham, but this is Weis’ third year at the helm. Weis did fine with Willingham’s juniors and seniors his first two years, but the team has utterly collapsed in a season where Weis’ signature should be stamped on the Irish.
Unfortunately, Weis’ success in the past may have been more illusory than first thought, Chait argues. The Patriots under his direction as offensive coordinator looked better than they performed. They finished in the bottom half of the league in offense for six of his eight seasons, helped by Tom Brady and the potent Patriot defense. In the three years since his departure, their average ranking has been seventh.
It’s not that we didn’t see hints of this. Weis rarely won against teams that finished in the top 25 — in fact, they only did it once in Weis’ first two seasons. When they lost, they lost big, as they did twice last season, against USC and in their bowl appearance. They looked mismatched and overrated when playing against tough competitors — and in retrospect, they looked outcoached, too.
Notre Dame fired Ty Willingham for a mediocre third season. Can the Irish justify keeping Weis at the school after this embarrassing debacle? I don’t see how they can. Chait indulges in characteristic hyperbole in calling Weis the “worst football coach in the universe,” but clearly the Irish expect more from their storied football program than praying the Rosary for assistance against Army.
UPDATE: One ND fan board questions my “motives” in this post. Folks, I’ve been wearing Irish gear longer than most of you have been alive. I grew up an Irish fan in Southern California; I can recall the grief of watching Anthony Davis running all over us in the second half of a game where we went from 24-6 lead to a 55-24 shellacking. My “motive” is that we haven’t seen an Irish team this inept in, oh, my whole life — and it’s time to stop blaming Ty for it. The “hole” in the upper class is hardly the only problem here.

College Football Season Finally Started Yesterday

After Notre Dame’s longest exhibition season ever, the Fighting Irish finally started their regular season with a win over the UCLA Bruins, 20-6, at the Rose Bowl. Coach Charlie Weis remarked how well his team prepared through their extended preseason engagements, pronouncing it one of the most successful decisions he’s made since taking the helm at Notre Dame three years ago.
Well, that’s not exactly the truth, but at least Notre Dame finally won — in their sixth regular season game. It wasn’t exactly a dominating performance, but it still counts as a W:

Maybe this will stop the laughing.
Jimmy Clausen scored on a quarterback sneak and Maurice Crum returned a fumble 34 yards for another touchdown during a 50-second span of the third quarter as Notre Dame fought its way out of one of the worst slumps in school history with a 20-6 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
It was only the second time Notre Dame had played in Pasadena. Knute Rockne’s “Four Horsemen” defeated coach Pop Warner’s Stanford team 27-10 in the 1925 Rose Bowl to give the Irish their first undisputed national championship.
This win was significant in quite a different way. It was Notre Dame’s first victory of the season and assured the Fighting Irish they won’t equal the longest losing streak in school history.
Coach Charlie Weis obviously was relieved.

He shouldn’t get too relieved. The Bruins wound up gaining twice as much yardage on offense, 282-140, almost twice as many first downs, and about 100 more yards passing. Unfortunately for UCLA, they also outdid the Fighting Irish on turnovers, coughing up the ball seven times while the Irish had none. Most of those came after the first-string QB for UCLA went down with a knee injury and a walk-on freshman with no college experience had to play the rest of the game, throwing four interceptions and giving the Irish defense a fumble-recovery TD.
However, it’s a win, and the Irish desperately needed it. The next two weeks look brutal for Weis’ 1-5 team. They play at home for two annual traditions. Surprising #7 Boston College comes to ND for what promises to be an unusually lopsided Catholic Bowl next week. The very next week after that, they play USC, who got stunned by Stanford and will likely lose their #2 spot in the rankings — and will come to Notre Dame looking for some redemption.
Oh, and the Irish have to play Stanford, too, in the last week of the season, and at Stanford. In between, they have three games which would normally be considered walkovers against Navy, Air Force, and Duke. This year, they can only feel comfortable about Duke. The Navy game looks like a competitive contest for the first time in decades, and the Irish will risk their 40+ year streak against them.
This team could very well go 2-10 if they don’t start playing better. If so, Charlie Weis may be looking for other work at the end of the season, and given the collapse of the team this year, deservedly so.


The Fighting Irish have to come up with an explanation of a nightmare start to the 2007 season. Last year Notre Dame got exposed as an overrated football team, but this year they look like they belong in Division I-AA, as they have gone winless in three starts — and outscored by 89 points. Winless Michigan threw off the schneid in Ann Arbor, pounding the Irish 38-zip:

The Wolverines humbled the Fighting Irish, 38-0, today in an unprecedented matchup of major college football’s winningest programs — without a win or ranking between them.
Mike Hart ran for 187 yards on 35 carries and scored two touchdowns to back up his guarantee of a victory, and freshman Ryan Mallett threw for three scores in a game that seemed over soon after it began.
“I like being in the spotlight. For the wrong reasons? No,” Hart said. “Hopefully, we’ll be in the spotlight for right reasons now.”
Michigan (1-2) avoided its first 0-3 start in seven decades, and handed the Irish their worst loss since beating them by the same score four years ago.
Notre Dame (0-3) is winless after three games for just the second time in school history, putting coach Charlie Weis in unwanted company with Bob Davie. The Irish have lost five straight for the first time since the 1985-86 seasons, Gerry Faust’s last year and Lou Holtz’s first.

Family obligations kept me from watching the game today. In fact, my aunt — the one who gave up her seat at last year’s USC game — had to be the one to gleefully tell me that the Irish had tanked yet again. I’m grateful for (very) small favors.
This puts Charlie Weis on the hot seat. Irish fans expected this to be a rebuilding year after the departure of Brady Quinn and other key seniors, but no one expected this kind of collapse. The Irish still have not scored an offensive touchdown this season, and don’t appear to be coming close to it. Irish QBs got sacked seven times and the Notre Dame offense wound up with a cringe-worthy -7 yards rushing for the game. The defense hasn’t stopped anyone all season. The team has failed in all areas.
Weis says he will go back to training-camp mode, but if he can’t turn this around quickly, the ghost of Ty Willingham will start haunting the campus. Willingham got the boot three years into a five-year contract for turning in a sub-par season. Weis now has had two full years to recruit and develop talent for the Irish, and so far it looks like Weis can’t even measure up to Ty. The firing of Willingham caused a huge outcry — and if the Irish keep Weis after a worse start than anything seen under Ty, be prepared for even more outrage over double standards at college football’s most storied program.
And guess who’s coming to eat Notre Dame’s lunch next week? Michigan State — undefeated Michigan State, who always play tough against the Irish. It makes little difference who the Irish play as long as they fumble the ball five times in a half and go backward more than forward, as Weis pointed out today. It hardly merits much concern when the team appears uncompetitive and unpoised. That starts with the coaches, and Weis will have some big explaining to do if he can’t get a win before the military academies start showing up on the schedule.
UPDATE: I had Willingham’s name in one spot where it should have been Weis. Also, as one commenter has already pointed out, the backup QB has suddenly registered for classes at Northern Illinois after skipping this game in Ann Arbor. The Domers have big problems right now, and I don’t think they’ll get much better against the Spartans next Saturday.
Still, hope springs eternal. I’m wearing my Fighting Irish t-shirt today out of solidarity … and out of necessity, as it’s my last clean shirt on my SoCal trip before I do laundry today.

Tears, Tears For Old Notre Dame

In the end, the prognosticators got this one correct. Notre Dame didn’t have the speed or the strength to match up against LSU, although they made it interesting in the first half:

JaMarcus Russell thoroughly outplayed Brady Quinn and made a compelling case that the mammoth quarterback’s next pass should come in the NFL.
As for Notre Dame, it was a familiar meltdown at bowl time.
The Sugar Bowl returned to New Orleans with a Cajun-style party put on by No. 4 LSU, which dominated college football’s most storied program in a 41-14 rout Wednesday night that had the Superdome rockin’.
It also gave the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish a most unwanted spot in the record book.
The school of Touchdown Jesus and Knute Rockne now has a more ignominious distinction: nine straight bowl losses, breaking a tie with South Carolina and West Virginia for the most in NCAA history. And this was like most of the others, a double-digit blowout that showed Notre Dame still has work to do if it wants to compete with the nation’s best.

Once again, it seemed like Brady Quinn had to shoulder too much of the offense, only tonight the running game worked for as long as Charlie Weis went to it. Darius Walker had over 100 yards in the first half, but the Irish kept challenging the speedy secondary of LSU — and it turned out to be a poor choice, as the O-line had trouble all night long with LSU’s blitzing schemes.
Notre Dame has some serious work to do to bolster its program. Weis is the right coach, but they need better recruiting and a deeper, faster team. Either that, or they need to return to the kind of physically imposing teams that won them national championships in years past. What they cannot be is both slow and light, and that’s what they looked like tonight against the Tigers. They also looked like that in their two lopsided losses to Top 10 teams this season.
They showed some heart, though, in bouncing back from a bad start tonight. At the half, it looked like they had figured out LSU, having controlled the ball for much of the first two quarters and running up some yardage. All of that disappeared when LSU had a chance to make some changes at the break, and the Irish never got back in the game.
Here’s to next year. I’ll put the Irish jerseys aside and save them for the 2007 season. Thanks for a season of hard work and memories, guys.

Can Brady Quinn Pull Off The Upset?

The Notre Dame quarterback didn’t manage to score an upset against USC last month, but Brady Quinn has an opportunity to score one for the Heisman. The celebrated senior received word that he was selected as one of three Heisman finalists, but he faces stiff competition from another senior QB:

Troy Smith booked his trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony before the invitations went out. Why wait? Smith, the heavy favorite to win college football’s most prestigious award, was selected as a Heisman finalist Wednesday, along with Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. …
The senior quarterback entered the season with plenty of Heisman hype and then backed it up with brilliant play for the unbeaten Buckeyes.
Smith is fourth in the nation in passer rating (167.9) with 2,507 yards, 30 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He might be the biggest reason No. 1 Ohio State will play No. 2 Florida for the national title on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.
Quinn, a senior, was fourth in Heisman voting last season and has thrown 35 touchdown passes in 2006. McFadden, a sophomore, scored 16 touchdowns and led Arkansas to the Southeastern Conference title game.

McFadden will have no shot at the trophy as a sophomore, but it’s an impressive showing nonetheless. Arkansas has never had a Heisman finalist, and McFadden had to start the season injured. He made a spectacular comeback and made the Razorbacks competitive.
Quinn faces long odds in beating Smith. The Ohio State QB hasn’t had a bad game, while Quinn looked mediocre at best against Michigan in one of two losses this year. Quinn played his heart out against the Trojans, but watched a number of his passes fall out of the hands of his receivers. He even did something unusual — he tore off a 60-yard scramble against USC, but to no avail.
Quinn’s stats look more impressive, and he was a more important part of the team offense. While Smith threw for 2,507 yards and 30 touchdowns this year, Quinn passed for 3,278 yards and 35 touchdowns while matching Snith’s 5 interceptions. Smith has a slightly better completion rate (67%-63%) and played a little tougher schedule than Quinn this year, though.
Even if he doesn’t win the Heisman, Quinn will certainly do well in the NFL draft. His name comes up in discussions about the first overall pick, and he seems a lock to seal a multimillion-dollar contract shortly after the Sugar Bowl appearance in January. Perhaps Quinn can pull one more rabbit out of the hat in New York.

Actually, I Had A Fabulous Time …

… marred only by the butt-kicking that came at the end of the day. As CQ readers know, I went to USC — to enemy territory — to watch the Fighting Irish get swamped out by a charged-up Trojans football team that may have an outside chance at the national championship, and might just deserve it. If you watched the game, you’ll already feel my pain, but let’s just say that the Irish have executed better on both offense and defense, and that these Trojans may not.
But a funny thing happened to me in my incursion into enemy territory — I made a few friends. My uncle and I spent all day at USC and the Coliseum, wandering around campus and taking in the sights. We watched the Trojan band practice at the track & field stadium for about an hour or so, went to the sports awards hall, and basically wandered around the campus for over three hours. My Irish jersey and cap got lots of attention, but the teasing was all good-natured and friendly, and often followed by welcoming chats. Other Irish fans said hello, apparently looking for the moral support we would need in the evening.
When we returned to the van for some tailgating, we sat on our own for a while, eating a couple of Subway sandwiches I picked up, until we needed to move our stand-alone awning to free up parking space. We were going to pack it up and watch TV in the van until the game started, but the family behind us insisted that we join them and bring the awning. Mike, Dina, Sharon, and Don also insisted that we share their food and drink, and we spent more than two hours doing just that, enjoying Don’s barbecued ribs and shrimp and Dina’s candied apples. We had nothing to bring ourselves, but they didn’t mind sharing a bit, and we had a wonderful time shooting the bull and teasing each other about the game. Sharon and Don do a little traveling now and play golf, while Mike and Dina went to my alma mater, Fullerton State, a few years after I did. (They did better than me — they graduated and went to law school.) We exchanged pictures of our kids and talked about our families, and let me tell you, I enjoyed every last minute of it.
Everyone we met was there to have a good time and enjoy one of the classiest rivalries in college football, and that’s exactly what we all did. Someone had to lose, and this time it was us … but something tells me everyone won in the end.
Here’s a picture of our new friends:
And here’s a picture of my uncle and me at the game. The man who took the shot told us that we should have paid him for it, and even though he was joking, now I see why; it’s one of the best pictures I’ve taken in years:

Off To Watch The Irish

I’ll be leaving in a few minutes to drive to the Colisseum to watch Notre Dame take on USC in the biggest football game of the year. Somehow in the last 24 hours, this turned into an early-morning trek, as my uncle and I will spend the day tailgating before we stagger up to our seats in the stadium. I’ll take plenty of pictures and have more reporting for you later …

Scarce? Expensive? Count Me In!

According to ticket brokers, this weekend’s matchup between USC and Notre Dame (hereafter known as the Dark Forces and the Holy Warriors, respectively) has broken records for demand. Only two other games have created this kind of demand in the last six years, and it may not be over yet:

So, you’re not a big-time USC athletics donor and you still need tickets to Saturday’s USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum for less than the down payment on a luxury SUV?
Steve Lopes has three words for you: “There aren’t any.”
Lopes, the USC senior associate athletic director who oversees ticket operations, said the school has only a handful of tickets left — and they are reserved for athletics donors with last-minute needs.
Fighting Irish fans don’t have it any better. Notre Dame officials say this game is the most-requested road game in school history. Josh Berlo, director of ticket operations, said his office fielded 33,251 requests — and that’s only from the alumni and benefactors who participated in a ticket lottery last summer.
With three days to go, the game is already the No. 3 college football game in StubHub’s six-year history — exceeded only by the 2006 Rose Bowl and last week’s Ohio State-Michigan game — according to a company spokesman.

Fortunately for me, my aunt gave up her ticket so that I could see the game live at the Colisseum on Saturday — and she didn’t even charge me a dime for it. Of course, I had to agree to come out to California, but that was hardly a big sacrifice. She’s going to tailgate instead during the game along with my mother and other family members, and we’re making it an all-day affair. We’ll tour the campus, eat lots of grill, watch some other college football games on TV as a warmup …. and then head to our end-zone seats for the big show.
Of course, I’ll be outnumbered in the stands, but apparently not by much. Over 30,000 Irish fans will invade the Colisseum for this event, and I’ll have plenty of company. I’m planning on wearing my green Irish jersey to the game, which my uncle will attempt to counter by wearing as much crimson and gold as he possibly can don. It should be a raucous good time.
So who will win? Both teams have only one loss, and both teams have had moments where it looked like they would have more. The Trojans just came off a tough game against Cal, while Notre Dame had a couple of warmups against Army and Navy. Brady Quinn has really hit his stride while John Booty still seems to be struggling. I’m picking the Irish by a touchdown, but it will probably go down to the wire like it did last year.
One last item: I’m thinking about blogging the tailgate, if not the game. I have to find out what power facilities will be available, but if I can do it, I will.

When Irish Eyes Are Blinking In Disbelief

After the drubbing Notre Dame took from Michigan at home last week, we wondered how the Irish would respond on the road against Michigan State tonight. For the first half, the answer was: more of the same. The Irish could not move the ball and the smaller defense could not stop the Spartan offense. Michigan State put up 17 in the first quarter while the Irish stalled repeatedly, and had the same lead at halftime when Brady Quinn began to find his rhythm again, 31-14.
However, Charlie Weis sent his troops back onto the field with something ringing in their ears, and from the way the Irish played in the second half, I doubt it was Have A Nice Day. Notre Dame suddenly started playing ferocious defense and Quinn’s offense gained real traction. After trading touchdowns in the third quarter, the Irish scored 19 unanswered points in the fourth, one off of the first of two interceptions, to stun the Spartans, 40-37.
This comes a year after the Spartans spiked their flag into Notre Dame’s field after a tough win in South Bend. Today, the Irish ruined the remembrance of the ’66 Spartans victory tie with ND and the retirement of Bubba Smith’s jersey. The emotional boost for the Spartans didn’t outlast the halftime break.
The Irish refused to panic, even if I started reaching for my remote after Quinn threw one interception for an easy TD. Quinn wound up throwing 5 touchdowns and going 20-for-37 for 319 yards, with only the one pick. They only rushed for an anemic 44 yards, although some of that came from the need to pass in the second half. The defense may have come of age in the second half, stiffening against a Spartan rushing attack that gained 247 yards, almost all of it in the first two quarters.
The Irish made the adjustments they needed and shook off the embarrassing loss from last week. They didn’t quit, not even when the Spartans answered their first TD in the third quarter with one of their own. Notre Dame remembered who they are in the second half, trouncing the Spartans 26-7 in the final 30 minutes. They are now 3-1 and looking at a schedule that they can run, at least until they play the #3 Prophylactics in their final outing at USC. They have an excellent chance to win a BCS bid, especially if they start playing up to their potential. The comeback win in East Lansing should give them the confidence they need to mow through the rest of their opponents this year.
UPDATE: Yes, that ’66 game was a tie. Sorry — don’t know what I was thinking; I must have been giddy from the comeback. As pointed out in the comments, this was the notorious tie that Ara Parseghian took rather than try one more drive to win the game. His strategy was rewarded with a national championship, but Ara took a lot of flack for that decision. And it’s East Lansing, not Battle Creek. Yeesh. Should have finished my victory Guiness before posting!
UPDATE II: Tyrone Willingham has quietly turned Washington around, starting 3-1 with a victory over UCLA tonight. I like Ty, and I hope he can make the Huskies tough in the Pac-10. Looks like he’s well on the way.