Football Commentary: Where’s the fire?
Mike Gilloon | Wednesday, January 17, 2007
NEW ORLEANS – The Notre Dame fans have fled Bourbon Street. The Allstate banners have come down in the Superdome. And LSU has stopped scoring. (I think).
It’s now time to look at what turned the Irish from confident underdogs into bags of Tiger Bait ready for use at the Baton Rouge zoo.
They couldn’t block, couldn’t tackle and couldn’t complete passes from one first-round draft pick to another.
Barring the burst of life that shot Notre Dame back into the game in the second quarter of last Wednesday night’s Sugar Bowl, the Domers were terrible.
As usual, LSU was marvelous. The Tiger running backs raced over and around the Irish defense. LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell threw for 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns and used his almost-300-pound body to run for another score.
The Tigers were the most talented team in New Orleans. There’s no doubt about that. Russell must have been raised on another planet – he made former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw (a bruiser himself) look like David Grimes during a FOX network promo.
The LSU defensive line, led by All-America tackle Glenn Dorsey, pushed the Irish around like most experts expected.
In the press box, the game’s lopsided outcome wasn’t a shock. The fact that Notre Dame played without any confidence with 30 minutes remaining was.
All week in New Orleans, every press conference included a mention of Notre Dame’s lack of speed and LSU’s superior athleticism. LSU coach Les Miles did his best Lou Holtz impression, smiling and praising Notre Dame’s potential. Weis did his best Charlie Weis impression, scowling and scolding a reporter who asked how Notre Dame could stay “competitive” against the big, bad Tigers.
“We didn’t come here to be competitive,” Weis snapped. “We came here to win the football game.”
It would be hard for anyone watching the Sugar Bowl’s second half to think that Notre Dame thought it had a chance to win the game.
There was no sense of urgency; no gang tackling; no realization that this was the last – and the biggest – game of the season.
Down 27-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter, Notre Dame had the ball and an opportunity to close within a touchdown. What happened? The Irish offense – which everyone agreed was the team’s best weapon – couldn’t even convert a first down for the rest of the game.
Even Brady Quinn couldn’t keep the Irish afloat. The toughest player on the field fought to keep from breaking down during his post-game interview. He’s done all he can and more this year. If there is anyone to blame for the loss, it’s not him.
All signs point to Weis.
Notre Dame played flat in every big game this season. To be fair, throw the Michigan contest out of the equation. The favored Irish were surprised by an underrated Wolverine squad.
Against USC and LSU, the Irish had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They were the underdog with every reason to play with energy and intensity. But instead of playing like a team possessed, they played with all the energy and enthusiasm of a bye-week walk through on Cartier Field.
It’s the same lack of hunger and confidence that has hurt Notre Dame for the past several years. One of the biggest criticisms of former coach Tyrone Willingham was that the Irish were blown out every time they played more talented competition. Remember the Michigan (38-0), USC (45-14) and Florida State (37-0) losses in 2003? Besides an obvious upgrade on offense, it’s hard to say there was a huge difference between those defeats and recent losses to Ohio State, USC and LSU.
In each one, Notre Dame acted as if losing was inevitable. And in each one, Notre Dame played with less desire than its opponent. If anything, the underdog should have more desire. (See: Boise State.)
Weis can sell tickets. He can woo recruits to South Bend. He can develop quarterbacks and vastly improve an offense. But questions remain about his ability to motivate players for a crucial game.
It’s been two years since the decade’s second Return to Glory began. Has anything really changed?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
Contact Mike Gilloon at firstname.lastname@example.org