Regular OC Domer readers know that I have been a supporter of Coach Weis. I have applauded his recruiting, and made excuses for last year's 3-9 embarrassment. I've gone to numerous dinner parties full of USC alumni and I've talked about how young this team is and how they're going to do great things in the future. And I believed it.
But I'm not sure I believe it anymore.
Coming into this 2008 season I looked at the schedule and I genuinely felt that the Irish were capable of beating 11 of 12 teams on the schedule. Accounting for some youth and inexperience I allowed that this team would probably lose a couple of games it should win, putting us around 9-3, give or take a game. Looking back over the schedule today I still feel that going into this week's contest against USC the Irish could be, in fact probably should be, 9-2 or 10-1.
Notre Dame has lost five games to the following teams: Michigan State, North Carolina, Pitt, Boston College, and Syracuse.
In three of those games (UNC, Pitt, SU), the Irish had the lead and control of the game at halftime (or later), and then vomited all over themselves. Does anyone really dispute that Notre Dame should have won those games?
Clearly Michigan State was a better team than Notre Dame. And we were never really in the Boston College game due to numerous costly turnovers, although I still cling to the belief that we should have found a way to win that game.
But if this team had only won the games where they had significant second-half leads they'd be 9-2 today.
What the heck happened? Why were the Irish badly outplayed in the second half of each of those games? What the heck is going on the Notre Dame locker room at half-time? Are they all taking a nap? Stuffing themselves full of pizza and warm milk? Or are we just getting seriously out-coached?
When we lost to North Carolina and Pitt, I was deluded enough that I could eventually console myself with the thought that although the losses were total nightmares, at least we were competing and losing very close games to pretty good football teams. But then 2-8 Syracuse came to town.
Just to be clear: Yes, the loss to Syracuse does supplant the loss to Pitt as the worst loss of the Charlie Weis era. I don't care how young this team is, or how cold it was, or how close were were to hitting a late field goal to win the game. There is no way a Notre Dame football coach in his fourth year at the University should bring to Notre Dame stadium a team and a game plan incapable of beating a 2-8 Syracuse squad.
When Notre Dame is playing freakin' Syracuse, Coach Weis should be able to win the game with Nate Montana at quarterback leading our scout team against the Orange. There is no way that Notre Dame offensive linemen should be pushed around by players from Syracuse. Yet that is exactly what happened.
After the Michigan State loss I had thoughts about the Irish running game that I think are still relevant today:
But I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get, I don't get WHY THE FIGHTING IRISH OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME STILL CAN'T RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!!?????? I just don't understand it. I'm not going to analyze match-ups and videotape and break down the X's and O's of why. That shouldn't be necessary because I hold it as an article of faith that NOTRE DAME SHOULD BE ABLE TO RUN THE FOOTBALL!! We should be able to recruit talented, large, smart football players and teach them to consistently push around the smaller, less talented, less smart players from other schools. That our offensive linemen can't consistently win the battle at the point of attack is a FAILURE.Our starting five offensive line consists of three juniors, one senior, and one freshman. That isn't really a very young unit. If they can't win the battle at the point of attack against Syracuse, we have a serious, serious problem. What I don't know is (1) Is Coach Weis' scheme just totally neglectful of the power running game? (2) Is offensive line coach John Latina simply incapable of teaching our players how to run block? or (3) Are our players really just less talented than the players at schools like Michigan State, Boston College, and Syracuse?
And this is not new for 2007 and 2008. Even when the Irish were having great offensive success and winning a lot of games in 2005 and 2006, they could not consistently run the ball. I've been saying since the Brady Quinn era that if your best short yardage play is the quarterback sneak you have a real problem. Even when Darius Walker was putting up decent numbers, he wasn't doing it via the power run game. It was mostly draw plays, and it was mostly on his own after dodging defenders in the backfield.
I don't know if it's Coach Weis' system, or offensive line coach John Latina's ineffectiveness, or the players we've brought into the program - but Notre Dame football will not be a credible Top-10 team until we can line up and reliably run the ball for 3 or 4 yards even when the opposition and everyone in the stadium knows it's coming.
What is clear is that something has to change. Either the scheme and offensive philosophy has to change to place more value on the power running game so that we can control the ball and the clock to protect a lead, or we need to find a coach or coaches that have proven themselves capable of teaching large young men how to run block. I called for John Latina to be fired last season after the Irish lost to Boston College, when I wrote:
Well, unlike Coach Weis, I am not an offensive guru. But I can see pretty clearly that our offensive line can't block. Run blocking or pass blocking we are playing very, very poorly. Often our guys are just getting beat. But it seems that just as often our guys are missing assignments and letting defenders go completely unblocked. True, there are some young guys on the line getting their feet wet. But Sullivan, Duncan, and Turkovich are veterans of the system and Sam Young now has roughly twenty starts under his belt. If those guys can't figure out who to block by now and at least put a helmet on them, then they are not being coached very well. And this is not a new problem. Under Coaches Weis and Latina the Irish have NEVER been able to run the ball with authority. Our best short-yardage play for two years has been the QB sneak. Even when our running game has worked, it has usually been Darius Walker running draw plays. [...] Coach Weis certainly bears his share of the blame, but so does offensive line coach John Latina. Notre Dame may not have the best talent along the offensive line, especially in the upper classes, but there are MANY, MANY teams across the country who are getting far better play from lesser talent than Notre Dame has. The difference is coaching. If for no other reason than to show he takes the problem seriously, Coach Weis has got to give John Latina his walking papers. A new offensive line coach is certainly not going to make matters worse.I was right in 2007 that Coach Weis needed to find a new O-line coach, and it's painfully obvious that I'm still right. Only now, Coach Weis needs to make that change (and probably other changes) if he is to have any chance to save his job. I don't envy Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. He's been on the job for all of four months and he has a very tough decision on his hands. He will either cut Charlie loose and be faced with the job of finding a suitable upgrade, or he'll keep CW and spend the next year having to defend the poor performance of his predecessor's hire. But that's why he gets paid the big bucks.
If it was my call, I'd give him another year, provided he could present a serious plan for addressing the team's glaring deficiencies (i.e., at the very least getting a new offensive line coach). After all, as ugly as it is, this team really is close to being 9-2 right now.
If Swarbrick decides to keep Weis I'll support him, if Charlie is let go I'd be okay with that too. However it goes, the Irish are my team, Notre Dame is my University, and I'll be sending in my Sorin Society donation at Christmas time.
But I'm done defending Charlie Weis. How can you defend the indefensible?