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Football Commentary: Time for Weis to raise the curtain

Ken Fowler | Friday, September 14, 2007

Something needs to change.

Michigan and Notre Dame are in the dumps, and it’s not good for either. One of these teams will win Saturday, and everyone will know its first victory was over an underperforming giant.

Lloyd Carr may be on his way out at Michigan, but to think Notre Dame’s problems aren’t similar to Michigan’s is simply false. The truth is, both schools’ coaches need to do some soul searching.

We’ve heard Charlie Weis say he wanted to keep it close against Georgia Tech and go into halftime with “a chance to win” against Penn State.

But Weis wasn’t hired to give Notre Dame a chance to win. He wasn’t hired to keep it close. And he wasn’t hired to run a mediocre program.

Mediocre programs go 6-6 against tough schedules. “Six and six” isn’t good enough, and mediocre coaches at the most tradition-rich football school get fired.

Luckily, Weis isn’t a mediocre coach; he’s just harnessing his thespian side and playing one. He’s convinced himself that he’s a director of a long-term play with a short-skilled cast. He figures his actors will develop, but he’s resigning himself to dress rehearsals instead of debuts because he’s unsure when the players will be ready.

This week, it’s time to raise the curtain.

Weis has no excuse for handicapping the offense again. He’s been trying to avoid blowouts, and he has failed twice.

Weis’ star, Jimmy Clausen, is ready, and so are most of the supporting players. Weis should view the game like this: Right now, trying to beat Michigan is like trying to please the parents of third graders in a school play. Most scenes can be fumbled, but one or two crisp acts will overcome everything. Michigan seemingly wants to be beat, so long as you show a little effort – at least, the Wolverines’ loss to Oregon made it feel that way.

But, with Weis trying to minimize turnovers, Notre Dame hasn’t shown any true effort to win. With the lone exception of a no-huddle drive in the fourth quarter against Penn State, Notre Dame has played eight quarters of the most boring and conservative, frustrating and painful football you’ll ever see. Strong defense finally crumbled because of the ineffectual offense against Georgia Tech, and the same fate befell the squad in Happy Valley. It must change.

There are conflicting camps about Weis’ flaws this season. One says either Weis’ game planning or his play calling have been terrible. To those who ascribe to this view, Weis has an uninhibited up-side as a coach.

The other says Weis’ offense requires too perfect execution for uninterrupted offensive productivity. To this camp, Weis’ problem is systemic: His offenses will always struggle badly in rebuilding years.

In truth, the two arguments are not mutually exclusive. Weis probably has a little of both flaws.

Sure, his offense is complex, but he’s also admitted to dumbing down the schemes and play calling against Georgia Tech and Penn State. Unless his complex offense consists of a dizzying array of swing passes to Armando Allen, we haven’t seen how these young and inexperienced players can execute an offense some claim is the problem.

Of course, the logical counter-argument is that he’s had to dumb down the offense precisely because it is too complex. But that argument fails insofar as Weis needed only a spring and summer to implement his offense with new players when he first arrived. Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley and all but a few freshmen have had at least one full season in Weis’ offense.

Weis simply hasn’t given his offense a chance to show if it can execute his plays. On Saturday, that must end. On Saturday, Weis must tell his players he trusts them. On Saturday, Weis has to coach to win – not coach to try (futilely) to avoid a blowout.

Notre Dame doesn’t have to win. But Weis needs to let the Irish try. Good things only happen when you’re willing to take a chance.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author andnot necessarily those of The Obsever.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu