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Searching for answers

Matt Lozar | Tuesday, September 16, 2003

It’s gut-check time for the Irish.

The season is only two games old and 10 games remain, but after the worst loss in 18 years, nothing appears to be going right.

The offense was nonproductive against Michigan, passing for one yard in the first half, never advancing past the Michigan 37-yard line and being outgained by Wolverine running back Chris Perry by 37 yards (177 to 140).

The defense yielded 439 yards and the strength of the team, the ability to stop the run, turned into a major weakness Saturday allowing Michigan to run for 188 yards. The special teams didn’t help either, allowing a number of long punt returns and making poor decisions on whether to run out of the end zone or take a touchback.

The Irish won’t make excuses.

“It’s a poor game by us as a team,” running back Julius Jones said. “We’ve just got to go back and look at it and get better for next week.”

“We didn’t perform and guys didn’t step up. Plain and simple, guys didn’t get the job done,” running back Ryan Grant said. “For the talent level we have, there is no excuse that guys don’t step up.”

While the defense’s only big play was linebacker Courtney Watson’s first quarter forced fumble, the offense didn’t contribute anything significant to the game. In the fourth quarter against Washington State, the offense capitalized off opportunities created by the defense by driving down the field to put 20 points on the board.

Against Michigan, the Irish regressed.

“Anytime that you don’t score any points and you aren’t very effective in anything, then I think it is always a step backwards because you aren’t moving forward,” offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “You’ve got to regroup and we play the Spartans next week.”

Michigan State comes into Notre Dame Stadium this weekend not feeling too good about itself either.

The Spartans gave up two touchdowns in the last 69 seconds of their game Saturday against Louisiana Tech to lose 20-19. Making the loss tougher to swallow, the Spartans had a touchdown called back because of a penalty, recovered a fumble inside the Louisiana Tech red zone, failed to get any points out of it and had a face-mask penalty on a sack during Louisiana Tech’s final touchdown drive.

One more thing the Spartans have to worry about is the health of their reinstated quarterback Jeff Smoker who is questionable for Saturday’s game. Smoker left the team last season to treat a substance abuse problem. He returned to the team this summer and earned his starting job.

Maybe the Spartans are just what the Irish need. No matter who lines up on the opposite side of the field, the Irish know they have to play a whole lot better than they did Saturday.