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New squad needs old Weis

Ken Fowler | Monday, September 3, 2007

Charlie Weis, where are you?

Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija graduated, Darius Walker left, and the offensive genius disappeared – at least for now.

And the reason seems to be totally unbefitting of the uber-confident Weis.

Notre Dame’s head coach, though he spends most his time as the de facto offensive coordinator, decided to stick with a cockamamie idea to compensate for a lack of confidence unbefitting of his self-proclaimed New Jersey bravado.

Weis was afraid. Because of elbow surgery and rehabilitation, Jimmy Clausen was not ready to start at quarterback, and Demetrius Jones beat Evan Sharpley for the job. But it’s clear that Weis wasn’t comfortable with his most important player. After the loss – Notre Dame’s worst since the abysmal 2003 campaign – Weis talked about how he wanted to minimize the passing game to avoid turnovers.

Weis thought he could run all day on Georgia Tech’s heavy-blitzing defense. John Tenuta, the Yellow Jacket’s defensive coordinator, shut down opponents last year with up-the-gut pressure. There was one major exception to Tenuta’s success: West Virginia.

The Mountaineers used the spread option to tear through the Georgia Tech defense in the Gator Bowl, which West Virginia won 38-35.

Mountaineers quarterback Pat White threw for 131 yards and ran for another 145. Backup tailback Owen Schmitt, in for speedy Steve Slaton, ran 13 times for 109 yards, and West Virginia finished with 311 yards on the ground.

So Weis met with West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, probably to swap offensive strategies. But Demetrius Jones isn’t the established threat that Pat White is, the Notre Dame running backs haven’t proven themselves, and Weis decided he could beat Georgia Tech without throwing passes to keep the Yellow Jacket front seven off-balance.

Worse yet, Weis didn’t give Jones a fair chance to prove himself. Twenty-seven plays, five called passes, three attempts, one completion. That’s not the way to let your new “starter” know you have confidence in his passing ability. Nor is playing all three scholarship signal-callers in the first game.

When it came down to crunch time, Notre Dame’s three quarterbacks threw 22 passes, with fifteen completions – with no interceptions.

A scared Weis – maybe unsure in himself, maybe unsure because of what he saw in practice – hamstrung his team.

“We were hoping not to get into a game where we had to throw it a whole bunch of times,” Weis said. “You know, we thought that going against Georgia Tech, especially with our experience level, we thought that the best way to go against them was to run the football.”

And why was that?

“I knew that they have a very sound defensive scheme and they have good players,” Weis said. “So we figured they were going to be getting after us pretty good and one of the ways we felt we could try and slow down and neutralize them is try to run the football and try not to have negative plays.

“…But in reality what we are trying to do is we felt we could keep the game relatively close and play in a more intermediate type of game, rather than, you know, throwing bomb’s away and turning it into a home run game.”

That doesn’t sound like the “nasty,” confident, “6-6 is not good enough” Charlie Weis who replaced a middling coach with a penchant for blowout losses two and a half years ago.

It sounds like a coach unsure what he should do, who he should play and how he should act.

And a day later, new Charlie was as perplexing as he was immediately following the loss.

“I think whoever the quarterback is, you have to build the offense around that guy,” Weis said Sunday.

“…You still have to utilize the skills of the person you’re using at quarterback.

I still have to wait and see which direction we’re going to go and set it around what that guy can do because there’s no sense trying to do something the guy’s not capable of doing.”

Charlie, it’s time to make up your mind.

Weis appears to be trying to minimize his losses. He said he picked Jones because, Weis believed, Jones’ offensive package gave Notre Dame the best chance to win. He said he would use that same logic when picking a starter for Penn State.

But now he’s talking about picking a quarterback and then determining the offense based on the quarterback. The circular logic is maddening, and it seems all designed to minimize his risks.

Weis wants to have the best quarterback on the field, but he also wants to have the best offensive package.

At some point, Weis must realize that trying to fit those varying pieces into the same hole is the reason why the offense was pathetic. At some point, Weis must make a decision to stick with an offense or stick with a quarterback and do what his team does best.

Trying to do both leads to doing neither, and Weis’ former self knew that.

The Charlie Weis who stuck with his bread-and-butter against vaunted USC in 2005 made his players play to a level they haven’t reached since.

The Charlie Weis who pulled out gadget plays against the Trojans in 2006 and reckless fake punts against LSU in the Sugar Bowl this January has seen his team blown out three times in a row.

The old Charlie Weis needs badly to come back if Notre Dame wants to be successful.

And he needs to come back now.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu

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