Maybe this makes me a Weis apologist, but oh well. Some thoughts on the 2009 season and the head coach.
3) I want to start out this post by talking about blowouts. One of the complaints that I tend to see after all of our close wins this year has been "we should be blowing these teams out!! We are so much talented than (insert "lesser program" here) and yet we are barely winning these games!! Fire Weis!!," which can be loosely translated as "they have even more white guys than we do! Why are we not winning these games by 30?" Fans want more convincing wins out of this Irish program. They want a few breathers. Games where it's 27-7 in the 3rd quarter, everyone is relaxed, people are doing the wave in the stands (you know you would!), and the other team is demoralized. We all check the scores around the country and see teams blowing other teams out of the building. Examples would be Oregon beating a Washington team 43-19 that we barely beat, and Virginia Tech beating BC 48-14 when we needed some fourth quarter heroics to beat that same team.
Well, I would love those wins too, so I did some thinking. How do we get some of those fancy blowouts that everyone else in the top 25 seems to get?? What gives?? What does it take to get some blowouts??
Well, part of it has to do with the quality of your opponents. Our schedule is average this year, but the only true lightweights we're playing this year are Nevada and Washington State. Nevada has 250 pound offensive linemen, and their "vaunted" defensive ends had bodies like free safeties. In other words, Nevada doesn't have the type of personnel to hang around with a motivated and hungry ND team, and we blew them out 35-0. Same with Washington State. Washington State has zero talent right now.
The other factor is whether your opponent shows up ready to play. You know these games. How many times has a team come off a big win and then doesn't show up ready to play?? Or maybe they are in the midst of a tough year and have packed it in already.
When was the last time you could say that about an ND opponent?? Everyone gets up to play ND, even the bad teams. It's ND. It's national television. You're going to study a little harder, practice a little more crisply, pay attention in those meetings, game plan a little more carefully, and maybe get charged up emotionally. Go back and read what some of those BC guys were saying after the game. Shinskie said playing a game at Notre Dame Stadium was the highlight of his sports career, and several guys on the BC team said they grew up as diehard Notre Dame fans. BC people can deny it all they want and talk about how much more important their conference games are, but the ND game is THE GAME for a lot of our traditional opponents. Schools like BC, Purdue, Pitt, and even Sparty view the ND game as a season-defining game. They charge more in ticket prices for the ND game. Heck, Purdue put the score of their win against us on their team rings!
I could tell as soon as BC ran out of the tunnel before the game that we were going to be in a dogfight. BC was JUICED. There's just no way that ND is going to view the BC/Purdue type games the same way that they do. I won't say that we looked sluggish coming out of the tunnel (ok, maybe a little), but it was more of an all-business approach. BC came out of the locker room like Spaziani had just given them a Norman Dale speech.
Now, I can already picture some old school ND fan stomping his feet and saying "SO WHAT?! I don't care if BC was pumped. We should be MORE pumped. We should have stepped on their throats from the start and buried them so badly that they wanted to go home at halftime! That's Notre Dame football!!"
Ok, you make a good point, and I acknowledge that ND football has not had that killer instinct in a long time. If you want to blow someone out, you need those big "nail in the coffin" type plays. Like the Floyd touchdowns in the Nevada game. Or a pick six. Or a bomb. Or a slant pass that goes to the house. Or a kickoff return for a touchdown. A big punt return. Or even an off tackle run where everything is blocked perfectly and the guy is gone. If you hit 2-3 of those plays in a game, your chances of blowing the other team out go through the roof.
How many of those plays have we had this year?? I'm trying to think about it, and I can think of maybe a handful of plays like that all year. The Floyd tds, a couple of Golden Tate's long tds, and maybe one or two long runs by Kyle Rudolph. That's basically it. For whatever reason, we haven't gotten a lot of those types of plays recently. We haven't had a 75 yard off tackle run for a touchdown in probably 10 years. Honest to god, when was the last time we had a running back rip through a hole and he was gone?? I can't even remember the last time that happened. Probably the Julius Jones/Tony Fisher era under Davie.
We don't get kickoff or punt returns for tds, and our defense isn't the type of ballhawking defense that gets you a pick six or a "sack and strip" type play. Our scores usually come from long, 10 play, seven minute drives, and our defense is "bend but don't break" and that's being generous. That eats up time on the clock. Think back to that ND-BC game. There were probably 5-6 possessions per half. If you don't score on almost all of them, the game is probably going to be close.
Maybe that's a lack of killer instinct or whatever, but I also think it comes down to another BIG factor: TALENT!! Look at the ND roster right now. How many true difference-making guys are out there in our lineup?? We have an elite quarterback, one elite WR, one very good TE, and a great outside linebacker. Every other guy on our team is basically comparable to your typical BC or Michigan State type player. Think back to Saturday's game, and think about who we were trotting out at wide receiver. Guys like John Goodman and Robby Toma. Is there any difference between a guy like Goodman and one of those BC receivers?? Are our WHITE linemen all that much different from all those WHITE linemen on BC?? The answer is no. Our running backs our pretty good but no game breakers back there. We're trotting out multiple white guys on our defense, and the only real difference maker on our whole defense is Manti Te'o. Every other guy is pretty much interchangeable with the guys that BC had.
Our most talented player has been out for 6 weeks with a broken collarbone. With him in the lineup, the offense would be potent. Without him, the offense is more ball-control.
The other thing is that the bad turf slows our team speed down even more. Every time Armando Allen looks like he's about to rip off a big run, he slips. The bad footing turns the game into a sloppy, mudfest. It's hard to break off big plays when you have giant divots all over the field. Notice how we were this big, explosive offense early in the year, and now we're bogged down. I think the bad field has something to do with it.
BC is a good football team. They don't have all world talent, but they have steady guys who play hardnosed, intelligent football. There are a lot of BC players who played high school football in Ohio and know how to tackle and wrap up and play physical. The only thing holding them back early in the year was their quarterback play. Shinskie is a bit of a turnover machine, but he's not a bad player and can throw the ball down the field. Now that they have functional QB play, BC is a pretty good squad. Heck, I think they're better than anyone we've played this year other than USC.
Anyway, that's my take on the game. I would have loved to have blown out BC, but I don't think that should have been the "expectation." The team got it done and won the game.
2) I had a conversation with an Ohio State law student at a wedding on Saturday who happened to be high school buddies with a current ND football player, and something dawned on me. What do our players think about the whole Weis situation?? Shouldn't their feelings be taken into consideration?? I get the impression that the players on this team are playing hard to win games for their coach to save his job, and more importantly, they ARE winning games for their coach. Shouldn't that matter?? It almost feels like there are all these voices outside the program demanding that Weis goes, but the people INSIDE the program want him to continue to build the program.
I think it might be time for people to just put aside their long term feelings on Charlie Weis and let things take their course. If you think Charlie Weis is not the long term answer at ND, just step aside for now and let things play out. Water always ends up finding its level. Think about the Bob Davie 2000 team. There were a lot of ND fans/alums who didn't seem to be enjoying that season because it was perceived to be "saving" Bob Davie's job. In the end, Davie proved that he wasn't up to the job when the team got destroyed in the Fiesta Bowl and started out 0-3 in 2001 with a horrible home loss to Michigan State. Davie never really could put together any type of consistency with the ND football program, so that stretch of wins in 2000 ultimately didn't preserve his job.
If Weis is such a bad coach as some are convinced, then he'll pull a Davie and implode later this year or next year. But I really am not seeing that at the moment. Right now, the guy is winning and has the program headed in a positive direction. The team is 5-2, and staring at 9-10 wins and a good bowl game. He's also got us in position to be a a double digit win type team in 2010. When I look at the Weis situation, I don't feel like the situation is hopeless. The program remains on an upward trajectory, and nothing that has happened this year has really changed that trajectory. We have not had one game where we didn't show up ready to play, we haven't been blown out, the offense has played well, and we're beating the types of teams that have beaten us for years (MSU, BC, etc). If Weis goes 9-3 or 10-2, there's no freaking way that he's getting fired. I don't see why it's even being discussed at this point. Why are we going to try to start all over when we've already invested this much time and energy into Charlie Weis?? We're going to fire him just as he's starting to show results on the field?
Plus, he's recruiting his face off. It's not like some Tubby Smith situation. Tubby wasn't really winning big at Kentucky either, but the bigger problem was that Tubby was bringing in all these 2 star and project type guys who had no business getting a scholarship offer from Kentucky. His recruiting never really gave the fans the hope that he was going to deliver big time success down the road at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Weis is signing big time players left and right, and it sounds like we are in line to bring in several 5 star type guys again this year. How do you fire a coach who is on the verge of bringing in a top 5 class and maybe even the #1 recruiting class in the country?? If these recruits are buying in, why aren't the fans?? If Weis was a dead man walking, he wouldn't be bringing in these big time recruits.
Plus, the whole "If Clausen wasn't on this team, we'd be awful" indictment of Weis is a false argument. The only reason Clausen even came to ND is because of Weis!! If Weis wasn't here, Clausen would be starting at USC right now and winning the Heisman. Weis has turned Clausen into one of the best quarterbacks in the country and the type of guy who can carry you to a win on any Saturday. Why doesn't he get credit for that?? I don't see how Clausen's success should be viewed as some sort of asterisk for Charlie Weis' record. If Weis wasn't the head coach at ND, we'd probably be trotting out some Matt Lovecchio type QB and losing to BC or Michigan State by two touchdowns.
Perhaps my opinion on Weis will change (it does on practically a weekly basis), but I find myself zagging every time the "Fire Weis" crew zigs. I have done that with Mike Brey in the past, and I think that's where I'm at with Charlie Weis. He's not doing any damage to this program, he's recruiting well, he's winning games, the players are playing hard for him, and the program does appear to be headed in the right direction. I don't see any reason to even be talking about firing the guy right now. Until ND gets serious about doing all of the other things to be a big time football program, we might as well ride it out with Weis and see where things go. If he melts down over the next couple years, the same names that we're talking about now (Meyer, Kelly, etc) will be there down the road.
Finally, I wonder what it must be like to be a Notre Dame football player who was recruited to Notre Dame by Charlie Weis. Think about a guy like Dayne Crist who came to Notre Dame SPECIFICALLY to play for Charlie Weis and to learn how to become an NFL-caliber quarterback. The guy hasn't even started one game yet, and yet he has to hear constant reports about how his head coach is on the verge of getting fired. There are people talking about Charlie Weis like it's inevitable that he'll be gone by the end of the year and open speculation about the next head coach at ND. How would you feel if you were Dayne Crist and wondering who your head coach is going to be for the next 3 years??
Lou Holtz once said that you're never really off the hot seat at a place like Notre Dame, so I'll be the first to say that Weis is always one loss away from being on the hot seat. I also am certainly not saying that Weis is above criticism. There are plenty of things about Weis as a head coach that are worthy of criticism. But on the whole, I can live with him as the ND head coach right now. If that makes me an enabler, so be it.
1) Finally, I'll end with some thoughts on the 2010 Notre Dame football schedule. I'll post it again for a frame of reference:
Sept. 4: PURDUE
Sept. 11: MICHIGAN
Sept. 18: at Michigan State
Sept. 25: STANFORD
Oct. 2: at Boston College
Oct. 9: PITTSBURGH
Oct. 16: WESTERN MICHIGAN
Oct. 23: at Navy (at Meadowlands)
Oct. 30: TULSA
Nov. 6: (Bye)
Nov. 13: UTAH
Nov. 20: ARMY (at Yankee Stadium)
Nov. 27: at USC
I know Mike covered this topic (and I agree with every word he said), but I must say that I'm SHOCKED by some of the responses that he got to his post. If you think the 2010 Notre Dame football schedule isn't an abomination, I don't know what to tell you. That schedule makes a Penn State schedule look downright adventurous. We're playing FIVE mid-majors next year!! FIVE!! What other major football program is playing five mid-majors in one season?? The answer is none.
Think about this schedule if it was reversed and we played all of those cupcakes in the beginning of the year. Let's say we opened with WMU, Army, Navy, Tulsa, and Utah. How is that any different from a typical Penn State schedule that opens with 4 cupcakes to start the season before Big Ten play?? And it's not like we make up for it by playing a bunch of juggernauts in our "conference" stretch like the SEC teams do. How many big time programs are on this schedule?? The answer is two: Michigan and USC. We used to play 3-4 every year. How many ranked teams are on that schedule?? I would guess we'll play 2-3 ranked teams at the end of the day, and maybe as few as 1 (USC).
That schedule is middling at best. I don't care what the computers or Sagarin say. I can see it with my two eyeballs. We're playing 2 major programs, 5 mediocre programs, zero interesting new opponents, 5 mid-majors, and only 3 true road games. THREE!! What other program is only playing 3 road games?? If we're going to only play 3 road games, why not go one step further and just play zero road games??
I keep hearing the "Penn State and Ohio State play those types of schedules. Why shouldn't we?" stuff from our fanbase. Huh?? Since when are those schools our models for anything we've ever done?? Why not just turn into football factories and pump our players with HGH as well?? Because Penn State plays four MAC snacks every year, it doesn't make me want to do it.
Compare that to what USC is playing year in and year out. USC usually plays ELEVEN BCS schools every season and sometimes 12. They play 5-6 true road games. Between ND and their typical Pac 10 schedules, USC is usually playing one of the toughest schedules every year. They truly embody the "Anytime, Anywhere" spirit that ND once stood for. I'm embarrassed that we can no longer stand side by side with USC and project that image as a school that will always try to play the toughest schedule that we can. It's even more egregious because we are an independent and can't rely on a built-in conference schedule to give us some tough games.
This notion that playing a big time schedule hurts your ability to win a national title is completely laughable when you look at who has won the title the last two seasons. When Florida won the national title last year, they played Miami (FL), Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, and Alabama in the SEC title game. Six legit heavyweight programs that bring in top 20 recruiting classes year in and year out, and that didn't seem to stop them from winning a title. Take a look at LSU in 2007. They played Virginia Tech, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee. Five heavyweights, and they won the national title.
Take a look at what Georgia is playing this year. They play Oklahoma State, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech in nonconference plus LSU, Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn. There are heavyweights up and down their schedule. Why are we playing FIVE MID-MAJORS, only three road games, and only two heavyweights when so many other schools are playing 5 or 6 of those types of teams every year?? Don't you want to EARN our path to the national title game instead of scheduling our way in??
We're closing down the year with five mid-majors in a row before the USC game. How is that going to prepare this team for the USC game?? Do you really think those games with Army and Tulsa and their 250 pound linemen are going to have us ready for the speed and power of USC's defensive line?? It'll be like the 2006 game all over again when we loaded up on service academies and were completely unprepared to go to battle with SC. Call me crazy, but I thought we would be building toward the USC game and be battled tested by the time we get out there. Right now, I would say there is a 0.0% chance of winning that game because we'll be puffed up on cupcakes and won't even be remotely ready to take on USC.
I'm not averse to playing 2-3 midmajors a year by the way. I think we should open with a Tulsa/Nevada type team every year, play Navy of course, and then sprinkle in one more Army type game. I could MAYBE even live with one more Utah/TCU/UConn type one off game against a decent lower tier team that would just love to come to South Bend and play us. But to play 5 in a row and only play 3 road games and only have two big time programs on the schedule is a disgrace to what ND is all about.
Now maybe the 2010 schedule is an aberration and we're going to get better schedules in the future, but what evidence has Swarbrick given that he has any plans to do such a thing?? He's locked us into a long term deal with Purdue, signed up for home and homes with Syracuse and BC, given no indication that Stanford and Michigan State are going anywhere from the ND schedule, and he's throwing out strawman arguments left and right about how unreasonable the alums are. Does that sound like the profile of a man who plans to bring back ND's tradition of playing challenging schedules??
If anything, the Purdue announcement is more disturbing than the Western Michigan thing. The fact that we just locked in for 10 years with Purdue and all of those games are going to be in the beginning of the year is a sign to me that there is absolutely ZERO creative thinking coming out of the athletic department when it comes to football scheduling. We just locked into 10 years with a lower tier Big Ten team instead of using that spot for some big time home and homes. Why not take a few breaks and play them 6 out of the next 10 years?? Why not insist on a 2 for 1 setup with them where we play 2 games at home (or even three) for every road game we play down there in West Lafayette?? Why not use them for our neutral site game?? It's Purdue!! They have no leverage with us. We could tell them to take a hike or that we'll only play them in a 2 for 1 setup, and they'll have no choice but to take it. Purdue NEEDS the ND game to sell tickets. If we offered them 2 for 1, they'd take it. But we don't even ask.
I could live with the 2010 schedule if Swarbrick simultaneously announced that we were playing a home and home with Alabama in 2014 and 2015, Texas in 2016-2017, Miami (FL) in 2018-19, and LSU in 2020-21. And while he's at it, throw in an announcement that we're taking a break from Stanford and setting up a 1-1-1 deal with somebody like Georgia Tech with one home, one away, and one neutral in Washington DC or the Meadowlands or even the Georgia Dome. Now THAT would be the type of leadership that I'd want to see.
The most annoying thing about the new scheduling policies is that I feel like the administration is being dishonest with me. They're trying to sell this new policy as some sort of challenge ("Utah is a BCS team!! Tulsa is on the rise!! Our alums are so dumb that they can't see that scheduling Tulsa is the same as scheduling Texas.") instead of what it really is. A money grab and an effort to pull a Penn State and maybe stumble into the BCS title game by virtue of an easy schedule. I can't stand the phony salesmanship. Don't sell me on Tulsa. I've been a Bengals fan for 20+ years. I've seen the Bengals try every possible bogus angle to sell me on what they're doing for 20 years. I can see a smokescreen all day long. Don't even bother trying it. I'd rather just see Swarbrick come out and admit it. "Yea, I'll admit, I hate what we're doing to our brand name and our reputation, but we really need the $10 million that the home games bring in. Maybe we even get lucky and sneak through the schedule if there are enough cupcakes on there." I wouldn't like it, but at least I would respect Swarbrick for coming out and being truthful about what we're doing.