Today's game should be about pride
Another loss. And more questions.
That has become the week-to-week look at the Notre Dame football program as it heads into the final two games of the season and the last home game today for 2009.
Charlie Weis' future at ND is certainly in doubt. Weis told a new conference earlier this week that he had not heard from any of the "higher ups" in the Notre Dame ranks about his future so he is going about "business as usual" and preparing for Connecticut today and Stanford next week, and then back to recruiting.
If those in charge follow the reasoning used when Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were let go then Weis' dismissal is a sure thing. All three coaches have the same winning percentages at .513. Davie and Willingham were let go because the program did not show any signs of improvement. Davie got five years, Willingham just three and Weis is finishing is fifth.
What started out with great promise for Weis has fallen to mediocre at best the last three years. Weis, as I said last week, is a great offensive coach and it shows with his teams. But he is not a motivator and does not put fire in his teams. One person suggested to me is it because he comes from pro ranks where motivation is not a big item since the players are all paid very well to do a job. The players know what their job is and the coaches formulate the game plan.
At the press conference Weis said, "I don't think that any decision has been made, because I probably would know - and I don't know." He added, "So with that being said, full speed ahead."
It's not a good situation for any team to prepare for an opponent with the cloud that is hanging over the ND program. Expectations for nine or 10 wins are gone and the fate of the coach in serious doubt. But the ND players have to rally around themselves and their coach this week and next, just for the pride of it.
My last comment is I hope that Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has learned from the past when Davie and Willingham were let go. The missteps made in the entire process of finding a replacement made it laughable. Willingham's hiring appeared like he was the last choice available and Weis's coming in was only after other individuals "reportedly" were offered the job and turned it down.
If Swarbrick has decided to make a change then he should have the replacement ready to step in the day after Weis is let go.
Today the Irish face a Connecticut team that is 4-5 and going through a rough year, including the death of one of its players.
Starting cornerback and team leader Jasper Howard was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of Oct. 18 while attending a dance on campus during the Huskies' homecoming weekend. An arrest has been made in the incident. The team has dedicated the remainder of the season in Howard's honor. A win at Notre Dame stadium after all the UConn team has gone through would be a real big plus for them.
UConn is led by running back Jordan Todman who has gained 854 yards on 159 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. Backing him up is Andre Dixon with 744 and 158. Starting QB Cody Endres (154 yards on 98 attempts and six scores) is injured and his backup is Zach Frazer, who will start today. Yes, he is the same Frazer who came to ND with high hopes from Mechanicsburg, Pa., only to fall on hard times. He transferred to UConn and will be starting today. He said in an interview he always wanted to start a game in ND stadium, but never dreamed it would be for an opponent of the Irish. Top receiver is Marcus Easley with 26 catches and 559 yards and five scores.
The Huskies also have a pair of former TIMES NEWS area players on the roster. Marian grad Mike Ryan, whose brother Jamie was a former offensive lineman at Notre Dame, has started the last several games at left tackle. Ryan, who is redshirt sophomore, has been a key part of UConn's potent rushing attack. In addition to Ryan, Lehighton grad Robbie Frey had been a key special teams contributor until a season-ending injury against Rutgers. Frey, who is also a redshirt sophomore, had the first kickoff return for a touchdown of his collegiate career against the Scarlet Knights prior to suffering his shoulder injury.
This is the first meeting between the two schools.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES: UConn is the 65th different team to play the Irish in ND stadium....With Weis' future in doubt the focus of many Irish fans is on recruiting. Weis, I believe, got a fifth year because he has been a very good recruiter, although he has not done very much with the talent he has brought in. The South Bend Tribune asked national recruiting analyst Allen Wallace what it means to recruits in such a situation. He believes most of the recruits who have committed to ND will stay with them. He says those who are on the bubble are waiting to see what happens. He also claimed that some will come even if Weis is fired because a new coach brings a new set of opportunities and change. He also said it is important for ND to name a new head coach as soon as possible. Wallace was also critical of the Irish in that he said they have recruited good offensive lineman and have one of the best offensive line coaches in the country in Frank Verducci, but Weis has pretty well abandoned the run game. He said ND opponents ignore the Irish running attack and focus almost solely on Jimmy Clausen and the fine ND receivers....Some Pitt stats. Clausen was 27 of 42 for 283 yards with one score and one interception. Armando Allen rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries. Golden Tate caught nine for 113 yards and Michael Floyd seven for 107....Pitt put pressure on Clausen the entire first half making him "run for his life"....In November under Weis, ND has lost nine of 12; another loss to a rank team (12th in 16 games for Weis); another loss to a Top 10 team; a school record eighth straight after Weis won his initial Top 10 clash at Michigan in game two of his ND career....Tate now has 22 career TD catches ranking him second on the ND all time list; he also surpassed the 13th 100-yard receiving in his career which ties him with Thom Gatewood for the school record. Also, Tate is tied with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown on the Irish career receptions list. He should move to number one today....What's going on with the defense? Last week another terrible performance. The defense allowed a 53-yard third quarter run by backup running back Ray Graham to set up another Pitt score. Poor tackling was the reason. Later RB Dion Lewis dashed up the middle and wasn't touched until he got a high five from his teammates in the end zone. Then the poor pass defense, which has been a problem all year, including the fade route in which QB Bill Stull hit Jonathan Baldwin for a 36 yard score which CB Darrin Walls couldn't defend. Walls is no rookie. Pitt got 429 total offensive yards in the game, Stull was not stacked once and the Panthers had no turnovers....Eight Irish games now have been decided by seven or fewer points...Some of the names being circulated concerning a possible replacement for Weis include: Bob Stoops of Oklahoma; Jim Harbaugh of Stanford; and Brian Kelly of Cincinnati. Stoops was approached after Davie was let go and turned the job down. Those pushing Jon Gruden lost that chance when he signed a new contract with ESPN to continue on its Monday Night Football broadcast team. Forget Urban Meyer of Florida. He turned it down before Weis and now has a long-term and very high-priced contract. Others thrown into the mix include Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Boise State's Chris Petersen. The Irish need a person with good college experience and a "name"....Another note, in the Pitt game ND outscored the Panthers 19-7 in the fourth quarter and Navy, 14-2, but still lost those games....The ND program has really faded. At the end of October there was talk of a BCS game. Then the Navy loss and now Pitt. ND can still get a Gator Bowl bid but must win today and next week. Both very in doubt. It's the final home game for the seniors and maybe Weis. The team knows that and Weis and his staff know their jobs are on the line. One would think ND is a lock to win today with those things on the line. But remember last year's last home game with Syracuse. A team with eight losses comes into South Bend and beats ND. Today is a real toss up. I picked ND in my preseason picks but with the state of the program is in today, anything can happen.