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Commentary: Season ends in disappointment

Bill Brink | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Isaac Newton never met Charlie Weis, or any Notre Dame football players.

If he did, he’d be in for a shock.

After he got plunked on the head by a falling apple, Newton figured out some laws of motion, the first off which says that everything in motion stays that way unless some outside force acts upon it.

The Irish were 6-2 and had the momentum to cruise to 10-2 and a potential BCS berth, at the very least a New Years’ Day bowl game. Four losses later, that momentum has dissipated.

So what outside force acted on the Irish? You could make the argument that Navy’s option attack, Dion Lewis, UConn’s run game and Toby Gerhart were “outside forces,” but the true actor that stopped Notre Dame was itself. They couldn’t finish. Newton wouldn’t know what to do with such empirical evidence.

Blame who you want, but Weis, as the face of the program, ultimately has to take the blame for the inability to convert talent to success. In the past three seasons, he’s gone 3-9, 6-6 and 6-6 after restocking the talent. Especially in light of the way the games this season were won and lost, Weis has not prepared this team to win games.

The Midshipmen started it all, running the same offense they always do and still succeeding, rushing for 348 yards and beating the Irish at home by two. The thread started loosening in the seams after that game when nose tackle Ian Williams said the Irish were out-schemed while safety Kyle McCarthy blamed the playmaking.

Against Pittsburgh, the Irish played too conservatively. Weis claimed he called the game that way because he was on the road in a hostile environment. Notre Dame mustered three points in the first half but 19 in the fourth quarter, when it was desperately trying to come back. Imagine if the Irish played with that intensity all game.

Notre Dame changed that and got going early against Connecticut, but couldn’t keep it up. Nor could it contain Jordan Todman or Andre Dixon, who each rushed for more than 100 yards. Dixon eventually scored in the second overtime to seal the win and Notre Dame lost to a sub-.500 Big East team on Senior Day for the second year in a row.

Which brings us to Stanford, surprisingly Notre Dame’s best showing of the final four games. Jimmy Clausen threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns, Golden Tate made a last-second push for the Biletnikoff with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns and the Irish established the run even without Armando Allen. But no finish. Like every other loss, no finish.

On a fourth-down attempt, the Irish let Toby Gerhart throw a halfback pass to Ryan Whalen to tie the game. Then they allowed a 72-yard drive that took 4:49 and ended with Gerhart’s third rushing touchdown of the game with less than one minute left.

Again they showed fight. Clausen completed three passes to Tate on the final drive but couldn’t score, and the Irish are 6-6 for the second straight season and have to live with the knowledge that the blame falls on them and the coaches.

With the talent the team has shown, 6-6 is inexcusable and the players and coaches know it. They also know what Newton knows: for every action there’s a reaction.

Action: Team goes 6-6. Reaction: Weis was fired. Secondary reaction: the chances of Clausen returning are slim.

“The reason I stepped on this campus was because of coach Weis,” Clausen said after the game. “To be honest, I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for him.”

I’m no linguistic expert, but the rough translation is: If Weis is gone, I’m gone.

Without Clausen throwing to him, the odds that Tate jumps to the NFL increase as well. Which leaves the Irish as an underperforming squad short a head coach, quarterback and star receiver.

As if the program didn’t have enough black eyes already, Clausen got one himself last weekend, and the program responded by banning media access not only to him but the rest of the players and assistant coaches. After the loss to Stanford, where surprisingly enough there was good (Clausen’s good game and Tate, who tied or broke several school records) to discuss along with the bad (Weis’ job, a potential bowl game, Clausen’s shiner), Weis did not speak with the media.

Of all the things the program needs from its leaders, silence isn’t one of them.

The off-season, regardless of who is in charge, should be focused on one thing: how to finish. Finish halves, finish games, finish seasons. The talent is there but the assassin’s mentality to bury opponents, to kick them when they’re down and leave no chance of a comeback, or to come back yourself when all seemed lost, hasn’t permeated the program.

Newton probably wouldn’t care much for football, but he certainly knew how to finish what he started. The Irish need to channel their frustration with their four-game losing streak to end the season into converting their opportunities in 2010 — no matter who wears the headset, no matter who’s under center.

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

Contact Bill Brink at wbrink@nd.edu