ND/USC Aftermath: Vengeance Falls Short

Make that eight straight rubies that have been adorned on the Jeweled Shillelagh.

The seven year famine of ND victories continued this past Saturday in South Bend.  The game was much like many of the games we’ve seen all season from the Fighting Irish: fall behind, have a comeback, and have the game decided on the last play.  This time however, Clausen and company fell just short of upsetting USC — literally.  Kamara slipped on his quick out route and Clausen’s pass was right where it should’ve been; however, Kamara was not and USC stormed the field in victory…for the second time.

And that’s probably the most painful thing about this game.  It had all the makings of perfect and appropriate revenge for the 2005 “Bush Push” game.  USC storms the field in victory, the clock reads 0:00 and the Trojans have the lead, until further review that is.  Carroll stood at midfield (as he pretty much did the entire game…) and stared down the Pac 10 official awaiting the final ruling from the Big East replay officials — the very same officials he requested to not use in 2005.  And the final verdict was announced, answering the crowd’s chant of “one”.

Our greatest wish had seemingly come true. Despite being down by 20 just a quarter prior, we now had a chance to let USC feel our pain from 2005, and watch as they posted pictures of a scoreboard showing them as the victors for years to come.  We could literally take a victory they thought they had.

Weis called the perfect play, Clausen made the perfect pre-snap read, and Kamara made the perfect cut to ensure his defender had no chance to make any play…it was just coming out of that break when issues began.  As Jimmy’s ball fell to the grass that ate up Kamara, USC escaped a possible monumental upset (or if you want to listen to Carroll they “beat ND twice”…like I needed another reason to hate you…), and ND Nation doubled over in agony of yet another gut-punch delivered by our rivals from Southern Cal.

No one wanted to claim a moral victory: not the fans, not the players, and not Weis, who now is 0-5 against the Trojans.  The Irish did indeed avoid yet another embarrassing blowout, an outcome that looked all but certain at the start of the fourth quarter.  They fought valiantly.  Clausen proved that his Heisman hype was indeed legit.  Even the woeful defense stepped up and got a turnover.  However, in the end it was all still the same as the last seven years had been — USC wins, ND loses.

And now, some Irish fans are lighting the torches and grabbing their pitchforks to echo a familiar chorus from last season: “Fire Weis.”

However, much like last season, I highly disagree with that opinion at this point.  Sure, no one is happy with an Irish loss, no matter how close or how respectable the game might have been and I don’t even want to suggest that.  To be back where all of ND Nation wants to see the Irish again, these are the kind of games we have to end up winning.  There is simply no doubt about that.

However, here are the facts: Weis has taken a team, comprised now completely from his recruits, out of the ashes of a horrendous 3-9 season and a mediocre 7-6 season, and is now staring at a very strong possibility of ending this season 10-2 and going to the third BCS bowl of his tenure.  He has shown yet again, that he does know what he is doing with the offense.  What was an utter joke in 2007, and inconsistent in 2008, is now one of the most feared offensive attacks in the whole nation — one that even USC’s top ranked defense could not stop.  And let’s also not forget, Clausen has gone from potential bust to potential Heisman candidate.

This doesn’t happen by accident folks.  Credit has to be given to Weis for this, there is simply no way around it.

Now while that is all in Weis’ defense, here are the facts that still loom over his head, and could potentially spell his doom (yes, even in this season): our defense is ranked in the bottom of the nation and seems to have no direction.  We’ve gone from 4-3 to 3-4 and now to come hybrid of the two from the looks of things this season.  We’ve changed defensive coordinators/philosophies a total of three times in Weis five years.  Minter was fired and Corwin Brown was brought in to implement a 3-4 scheme.  Then later, Tenuta was hired to bring in his blitz happy package and this year was named co-defensive coordinator (however, he does indeed call the plays).  Despite all this change though, the defense is getting worse and what we are doing now clearly is not working.

We can just take a look at the USC game for the most recent examples.  We were unable to rattle the second true freshmen QB we faced, and not only that, we had our blitzes backfire in big ways three times.  Twice we were burned on the same play: a third and one play action pass to a USC TE, and both times those huge gains set up easy USC TDs.  Then we gave up a TD on a corner blitz…which completely backfired as the corner that blitzed was then able to turn around and watch his receiver running all the way to the endzone on a screen play.

Our blitzes seem to surprise no one and the counter-punches are delivered far too easily.  While Weis has kept his focus on the offense, he is still responsible for both sides of the ball.  Continuing to allow such disasters to continue is not acceptable by any means.

Then we have another big issue that Weis has faced the last two seasons: falling flat against teams we should beat continuously at season’s end.  I’m going to be brutally honest here, if we have a repeat of last season’s end in the next few games, Weis should indeed be fired.  From this team, I expect nothing less than a 9-3 season at worst with a very respectable bowl bid.  Falling short of that is absolutely unacceptable with the talent we have on the field and the schedule we have remaining.

Weis has far from failed this season, and winning out, plus winning a bowl game would go a long way in securing his job and such an end to this season would be a great success.

The fact of the mater is that ND’s season is far from over and Weis has not done enough this season to merit losing his job.  Yes, it flat out sucks that we’ve lost to those Southern Cal bastards eight times in a row and Weis is responsible for 5 of them.  I understand the frustration, but frustration doesn’t merit knee-jerk reactions.  Ask Auburn how their coaching change has treated them right now: they have a higher scoring, yet still inconsistent offense and now their defense, their strong backbone for years is now is a shell of its former self.

Weis had two years of awful Willingham recruiting to recover from and he has done that.  He is still managing to bring in said recruits, and hopefully this recruiting class will see the defensive studs that we badly need.  The cupboard is stocked and soon could have a surplus at this rate.  You flat out don’t fire someone that is able to recruit like that and put together what could very well be a 10-2 season on top of that.

Now if we come out completely flat against BC next week, I may be singing a different tune; however, we don’t need to jump off that bridge until we arrive there.