Commentary

Weis guys: Notre Dame decides to start season over

Updated: September 16, 2007, 10:33 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- FireCharlie.com?

Anything is possible after the latest Notre Dame double-bagger-ugly defeat to previously awful Michigan, a 38-0 loss so grotesque that Irish coach Charlie Weis announced afterward a Turn Back the Clock promotion for his team.

Charlie Weis
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoNotre Dame coach Charlie Weis didn't like anything he saw in a 38-0 loss against Michigan.

Sept. 16 magically becomes Aug. 6.

"We are going back to our first day of installation of training camp," said Weis, who took nearly 40 minutes to emerge from the Notre Dame locker room. "That's what we're putting in [Sunday], just as if it were the first day of training camp. And everything is even steven, like it's the first day out there and everything's up for grabs."

Usually these postgame talks last a handful of questions. Weis didn't budge from his seat for the next 25 minutes. When a Notre Dame sports information department official tried to end the extraordinary session, Weis politely cut him off.

"No, no, we're not going to be in a hurry," he said. "I'm going to stay here and take it."

And he did, orchestrating the order of questions and reminding everyone, "I'm not going anywhere, fellas. Relax."

Notre Dame doesn't appear to be going anywhere, either. There were two green-jacketed reps from the Capital One and Champs Sports bowls, but they didn't bother to stop by the Irish locker room. Can you blame them?

Somewhere, sometime Notre Dame has played worse than it did Saturday in the Battle of the Oh-fers. But it will take football archaeologists years to uncover the skeleton of a worse-looking loss and -- if the Irish don't learn how to score something called an "offensive touchdown" -- a worse-looking season.

Suddenly a once-incomprehensible 0-8 Notre Dame start is a possibility. Meanwhile, revitalized Michigan (1-2) begins its Big Ten schedule here next Saturday with the warm memory of beating the gold specks off the Irish.

The numbers are enough to cause NBC -- Notre Dame's personal network -- to reach for a plugged-in toaster and a tub of freshly drawn bathwater. The Irish are 0-3, which has happened exactly once before in school history. If they lose to undefeated Michigan State next week, they will own sole possession of the Lord Voldemort record: that which we do not speak of -- an 0-4 beginning.

"We have to worry about Notre Dame," said Weis, who made it clear he planned to use all four hours of the available Sunday practice time. "I can't worry about Michigan. I can't worry about Michigan State. I gotta worry about Notre Dame. I gotta worry about me. I gotta worry about my coaching staff. I gotta worry about my players. And you want to know something? Justifiably so, after you lose a game like that, the scrutiny that you come under after a game like that has to be expected. It just comes with the territory."

Weis said he was "embarrassed" by the performance and, in one of the great understatements, that the Irish were "heading in the wrong direction." He blamed himself first, then went down the checklist of problems. Space limitations prevent me from providing you with all of them.

I gotta worry about Notre Dame. I gotta worry about me. I gotta worry about my coaching staff. I gotta worry about my players. … after you lose a game like that, the scrutiny that you come under after a game like that has to be expected. It just comes with the
territory.

--ND coach Charlie Weis

In short, Notre Dame hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in the past 12 quarters, 14 if you include last season (and five consecutive losses, if you do the same). For Weis, the offensive scheme master, this is beyond belief. Had someone predicted this three weeks ago, "I'd probably been willing to bet every dollar I had that they'd be wrong, and I would have gotten wiped out," he said. "My wife wouldn't be talking to me. I'd probably be divorced right now."

Actually, there might be some Notre Dame followers thinking about filing papers. Irreconcilable differences.

The Irish offense is at or near the bottom of every meaningful NCAA statistical category. And the Irish defense isn't doing much better. ND has lost its past five games by 20, 27, 30, 21 and 38 points.

Against Michigan, which statistically has one of the worst defenses in the country, the Irish rushed for minus-6 yards. They averaged 1.4 yards per play. They fumbled six times and lost two of them. They threw two interceptions.

In the first half alone, Notre Dame committed three turnovers, gave up six sacks, committed five penalties, had minus-45 rushing yards, averaged 0.4 yards per play, had two snaps sail over the quarterback's head and gave up 31 points. But at least give Weis credit for not sugarcoating his halftime chat with the team.

"Fellas, it's 31-to-nothing," he said. "The odds of winning the game when you're down 31-to-nothing when on the road at Michigan are slim to none."

Then he told them he was going to watch the second half of the game "to see exactly where we stood."

If it matters, Notre Dame held Michigan to seven second-half points. Big whoop. By then, the Wolverines were beginning to clear their bench. It was a day to earn monogram-jacket points.

"I thought we did some good things out there today," began embattled Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose own bizarre postgame news conference included an appearance from honorary Michigan man Russell Crowe.

You expected him to high-five everyone? Not Carr's style. He did the Carr SOP, which is to act as if the shocking opening-game loss to Appalachian State never happened … and the Oregon debacle didn't happen … and the"Fire Lloyd" T-shirt stand a few blocks from Michigan Stadium wasn't doing boffo business before kickoff.

"We made some progress, and hopefully we can take some of the things we did today to continue to improve as a football team."

Jimmy Clausen
Bill Fundaro/AP PhotoQB Jimmy Clausen was sacked eight times, leading to Notre Dame's rushing total of minus-6.

Or they can just ask tailback Mike Hart for another one of those victory guarantees he made for the Notre Dame game.

Hart, a senior, said a week ago that the Wolverines would beat the Irish. He did his part, rushing 35 times (most of them behind left guard Adam Kraus and left tackle Jake Long) for 187 yards and two touchdowns.

"I knew coming into the game I was going to perform because you can't say something like that and not perform," Hart said.

Hart's running made it easier for true freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett. Mallett completed only seven passes for 90 yards, but three of those passes went for touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception and didn't get sacked.

"It was everything I dreamed of -- a win," said Mallett, who was subbing for injured Chad Henne. "That's all I wanted in my first start."

Notre Dame is dreaming of the same thing. But with upcoming games against Michigan State, at Purdue, at UCLA, Boston College, USC, Navy and Air Force, a sleep disorder could be a more likely option.

"Going back to the drawing board," said Notre Dame fifth-year center John Sullivan.

Actually, going back to Aug. 6 and training camp.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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