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Football Commentary: Defense deserves better offense

Ken Fowler | Monday, September 17, 2007

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There was Tom Zbikowski, taking accountability.

The fifth-year senior strong safety with eight tackles – including five solo – took questions and said he needed to do more. Sure, he wasn’t beat deep even once and was in the mix all day, but the team – his team – didn’t perform.

There was David Bruton, taking accountability. The junior but first year-starter at free safety said he felt like he was making too many mental errors. The man who got beat once for a touchdown but has played even better than his predecessor (Chinedum Ndukwe, who is now in the NFL) took some of Notre Dame’s problems on his own shoulders.

There was the defense, taking accountability.

Corwin Brown has come to Notre Dame and changed everything. The defense underperformed Saturday, but not by much. It broke a few times, but it hasn’t been given anything close to a chance all season. Opponents’ drives seem like their beginning on the Irish side of midfield more often than not.

And yet the defense seemingly never quit. Yes, Terrail Lambert’s pass interference was a penalty of frustration, one of laziness. But where was he the rest of the game? Raeshon McNeil took over at the cornerback spot for most of the remainder of the game.

This defense deserves an offense that can score – let alone, an offense that can threaten to score or help the field position battle.

Instead, what the defense has is an offense without leadership.

Let’s look at the guys who are supposed to be the role models for the group.

Where was Travis Thomas Saturday? The fifth-year senior captain cost Notre Dame 31 yards with a 15-yard clipping penalty that negated Zbikowski’s 16-yard punt return into Michigan territory.

Where was John Carlson? The fifth-year senior captain and preseason All-America tight end cost Notre Dame its biggest pass play of the day by getting alligator arms and allowing freshman Jimmy Clausen’s pass to sail through his hands because a Michigan safety was about 10 yards away.

Where was John Sullivan? The fifth-year senior captain cost Notre Dame any early momentum by beginning the game with a snap over freshman Armando Allen’s head, a snap that led to a 17-yard loss and the Irish having a second-and-27 from their own 1-yard line seconds into the game.

Where was any offensive veteran stepping up to help the young kids?

Nowhere.

When talent graduates, you need guys who can corral the young players and find the best in them. On offense, Notre Dame has forced the worst to come out of its inexperienced but talented freshmen and sophomores.

At this point, Charlie Weis has to stop thinking about what he owes his fifth-year guys. Irish fans shouldn’t complain if he benches John Carlson in favor of Will Yeatman, who has been a better blocker – and a bigger asset to the team – in three games this season. No one should complain if John Sullivan takes a seat in favor of Thomas Bemenderfer, the junior transfer from Northwestern who grew up in Mishawaka.

And no one should complain if Travis Thomas takes a game or two off because of his poor play and stupid penalties.

In fact, people who care about the program should complain if Weis isn’t willing to make a change from the veterans to younger guys. Some of the veterans have had their shot this year and failed. If they can’t get the job done or help the younger guys develop, then what’s so great about experience?

Nothing.

That doesn’t mean that Weis’ job should be safe and the coaches aren’t to blame. Offensive line coach John Latina has as many four and five-star players as any coach in the country but the worst line in Division I. If that doesn’t warrant a firing, nothing does.

But more than any thing else right now, Notre Dame needs a leader on offense. It needs a wholesale change – and not just swapping a few offensive linemen from play to play. If the offense sputters next week, Weis needs to send in the entire second string for a series or two to shake things up.

Veterans deserve nothing. The defense deserves better.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu