College Football

September 23, 2007

Tough Times

Charlie Weis has a mess on his hands, but with the issues that Notre Dame has on offense, there are no quick fixes

FEAR, FEAR for old Notre Dame. After a third straight train wreck dropped to 0--3 the team known for waking up the echoes and marching onward to victory, the Irish are on a collision course with one of the worst seasons in their storied program's history. And unless they get some semblance of pass protection, they will end the year as the biggest laughingstock in college football.

Just when you thought Notre Dame's opening-month woes couldn't get much worse, the Irish bottomed out last Saturday against a Michigan team that also had been struggling mightily. On Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage, fifth-year senior center John Sullivan snapped the ball too high, resulting in a 17-yard loss. By the end of the game the Irish had allowed eight sacks, rushed for minus-six yards (sacks count against rushing totals), fumbled six times (losing two) and thrown two interceptions. The result: a 38--0 beat-down that prompted coach Charlie Weis to say, "I'm embarrassed by that performance out there."

The implosion was just the latest for Notre Dame, which only once before has started with such a poor record. How bad have things gotten?

• The Irish have not scored an offensive touchdown and have been outscored 102--13.

• They rank last in Division I--A in rushing yards per game (minus 4.67), total yards per game (115) and points (4.33).

• They have allowed the most sacks (23) in the country.

The explanations for the precipitous drop from No. 6 in the nation last November begin with personnel losses. Notre Dame had to replace eight starters on offense, including record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn, the team's top two receivers and all-purpose running back Darius Walker. But just as devastating were the losses of three starters on the line. The replacements are two juniors and one sophomore, none of whom had started a game before this year.

Combine that with a young quarterback (highly touted freshman Jimmy Clausen) who held the ball too long more than once against the Wolverines, new running backs who failed to pick up blitzers and a coach who repeatedly called pass plays despite his team's protection problems, and it's not hard to understand how the sack total has reached a staggering number.

If Notre Dame doesn't turn things around quickly, it's staring at its worst season since 1963. The Irish need a victory over improved and undefeated Michigan State in South Bend this Saturday to avoid the first 0--4 start in the 120-year history of the program. And with games at Purdue and UCLA and against Boston College and USC next on the schedule, an 0--8 start isn't out of the question.

"We have to make a lot of changes," right tackle Sam Young says, "because we're not getting the job done."

That much is obvious. Now comes the hard part.

ONLY AT SI.COM Gene Menez's Heisman Watch.

Three and Out

1 Florida QB Tim Tebow was stunning in his first SEC start, producing 360 total yards in a 59--20 rout of Tennessee. Even if their young defense struggles at times, the Gators should be able to win shootouts.

2 After dealing with the death of coach Terry Hoeppner in June, Indiana (3--0) has played surprisingly well. Under coach Bill Lynch, the Hoosiers rank 20th in total offense.

3 Keep an eye on Tulsa. With new co--offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, whose hurry-up attack met resistance at Arkansas, the Golden Hurricane rolled up 595 yards in a 55--47 win over BYU, a team that had allowed a combined 491 yards to UCLA and Arizona.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (CLAUSEN)DROP IT Weis (inset) watched as Clausen and the Irish fumbled six times. PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (WEIS)[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)