The Fighting Irish extended to ten their streak of consecutive losses to ranked opponents, falling to the Pittsburgh Panthers 27-22 despite a furious 4th quarter rally that was prematurely terminated by a bogus instant replay reversal which turned an incomplete Clausen pass under pressure into a game-deciding lost fumble. We'll never know if the Irish would have overcome the 4th-and-16 they faced after the incomplete pass, but it certainly would have been nice to have had the final outcome of the game decided by the players on the field rather than in the replay booth by some anonymous officials. Did anybody happen to hear what conference those officials were from?
The loss drops Notre Dame to 6-4 on the season, and means the best regular season finish the Irish can hope for is 8-4, which would require wins over Connecticut (probable) and a Stanford team that beat Oregon last week and humiliated the Southern California Trojans today (not so probable).
Prior to the season I wrote, after a lengthy analysis of the team's prospects:
For me, 9 wins is what the Irish "should" achieve in 2009, all things being equal. If they earn less than nine wins, they have under achieved and only a very, very nice Bowl win would bring Coach Weis back in 2010. If they manage to win ten games, they will have beaten the odds in my view, and the extra win would have to be credited to Coach Weis who will have earned the chance to stay on as coach. If they win eleven or twelve, that would be a superior job of coaching and you'll need dynamite (or another year like 2007) to dislodge Charlie from the Gug.So, even if the Irish win their final two games, they clearly have under-achieved against what I considered to be very reasonable expectations for 2009.
I admit I have a headache tonight. Once again the team fought hard and mounted a comeback and took a game into the final minutes. That has been their style this year. In ten games played, two have been very comfortable wins (Nevada and Washington State). The remaining eight games have all come down to the final minutes or even the final seconds. Four of those games have gone Notre Dame's way, and four have gone the other way. This team is seriously a handful of plays from being 10-0, and another handful of plays from being 2-8. It is maddening.
If the Irish had managed to score on the final drive tonight and win the game it would have been very exciting and it would have been an important win over a ranked opponent (finally!). But it would have been a win achieved despite the fact that ND was out-played in just about every phase of the game.
Notre Dame had 66 net rushing yards to Pitt's 193. The Irish averaged 2.6 yards per rush to Pitt's 6.0 yards.
While ND had more net passing yards (283 to 236), the Irish only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt and 10.5 yards per completion. The Panthers averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per completion.
Pitt averaged 7.3 yards per offensive play versus 5.2 yards per play for ND.
The Irish were penalized 5 times for 53 yards, Pitt was penalized ONCE for just 5 yards.
Notre Dame threw one interception and lost one fumble. Pitt had zero turnovers.
Notre Dame had one PAT attempt blocked, and failed on a later 2-pt conversion attempt. Pitt was 3-for-3 on PATs.
On the bright side, Notre Dame had one touchback on a kick-off, and finally had a punt return for a touchdown. It's about damn time.
The loss will only intensify swirling speculation about Coach Weis' future. I wrote at length after the Navy loss about my feelings on the matter. Yet another disappointing loss certainly doesn't change my mind that Notre Dame should give someone else a chance to lead this team. I would expect Jack Swarbrick is busily (but quietly) putting out feelers and gauging the interest level of potential replacements. Jack may like Charlie on a personal level, but he is running out of options. Weis was not his hire, but if he doesn't act to replace Coach Weis he is going to find that his tenure as Athletic Director will be bound up with a football coach hired by Kevin White. I rather expect Jack would be more comfortable sinking or swimming with a coach of his choosing rather than a coach of Kevin White's choosing.