Some Notre Dame players were close to tears after losing to Michigan State on Saturday. That emotion, part of the baggage attendant to the first 0-4 start in Fighting Irish football history, was fine with head coach Charlie Weis.
Some Notre Dame players were close to tears after losing to Michigan State on Saturday.
That emotion, part of the baggage attendant to the first 0-4 start in Fighting Irish football history, was fine with head coach Charlie Weis.
It told him his players still cared in the wake of the 31-14 defeat.
“When you look in some of their faces, and you see them to the point where it’s that important to them, that’s when you know they’re the type of players you want playing on your team,” Weis said during his Sunday morning teleconference. “Sometimes it’s one guy, sometimes it was two guys, but there was a bunch of them yesterday that looked like that.
“That is a very, very strong positive when it’s that important to that many people.”
The negative that comes with the positive is the lack of results. At 4-0, which Michigan State advanced to, the Irish would be giddy. Even at 3-1, they would be pleased.
But 0-4 is unfathomable, and it could get much worse. Notre Dame plays its next two games at Purdue and UCLA, then hosts Boston College and Southern California.
There’s an outside chance the Irish will be 0-8 entering the home game with Navy, which hasn’t beaten Notre Dame since 1963.
UCLA, which beat Washington on Saturday night, finished the game with a walk-on at quarterback because of injuries to its starter and backup. The Bruins host the Irish on Oct. 6.
The Boilermakers are the immediate problem. They’re 4-0 after scalding Minnesota on Saturday night, and have in Curtis Painter the best quarterback the Irish will have yet faced.
Given the paucity of pass defense – Michigan State’s Brian Hoyer threw for four touchdowns while going just 11-of-24 – Painter might paint the Irish secondary with scores.
Poor pass coverage has been a recurring theme in the six consecutive losses dating back to the end of last season, games in which the Irish have allowed 218 points, or an average of 36.33 per game. In those six losses, they’ve given up 13 touchdown passes, including eight this year.
That’s one more reason Weis wants to run the ball. The Irish did so against the Spartans, at least in the first half, when they gained 76 yards. The production was limited to 41 rushing yards in the second half, when they were shut out.
“I don’t think fatigue was the issue,” Weis said of the second-half fade.
Asked what the issue was, Weis said, “You watched it.”
He was especially displeased with special teams, remembering that the Spartans brought the second-half kickoff back to the Irish 45, setting up a touchdown that, with the extra point, put Michigan State ahead by 10 points. That kind of uphill climb is too much for the Irish these days.
“In that situation, you’ve got to make the play,” Weis said. “You’ve got 11 guys going down there on the kickoff team. Somebody has got to go ahead and make that play.”
The last Michigan State touchdown was scored on a semi-broken play, a break that usually stone-faced Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said was planned all along.
He couldn’t completely hide a smirk when explaining that Hoyer’s dropping the football on natural grass under pressure was part of the deal, when it clearly was not. But some reporters bit on the quote as much as Irish cornerback Maurice Crum bit on receiver Kellen Davis’ first move en route to the end zone.
All of this was witnessed by Demetrius Jones, back on campus for perhaps the last time.
The South Bend Tribune confirmed the rumor that Jones, the sophomore from Morgan Park High School, was in the stands for the game. As it turned out, he wore his No. 3 jersey, not unlike a few other fans in the crowd of 80,795. Whether or not he’s still enrolled at Northern Illinois is unclear.
-- The Daily Southtown