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2003 team making its mark

Matt Lozar | Monday, November 3, 2003

Tyrone Willingham promised Notre Dame fans a “new Irish football team” at Friday night’s pep rally.

What he didn’t mean was for that new team to become No. 2 in all-time winning percentage.

What he didn’t mean was a team that lost three consecutive home games for the first time since Gerry Faust in 1984.

What he assuredly didn’t mean was a team rivaling those only remembered in Notre Dame lore for their embarrassing marks.

The 1956 team coached by Terry Brennan went 2-8. The Irish lost three straight times at home by a combined 87 points, including a 40-0 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma. Willingham’s total is 74 points, with the capper being Saturday’s 37-0 embarrassment.

The 1960 team led by Joe Kuharich, that also went 2-8, is the only Notre Dame team ever to lose four straight home games.

It seems much longer than only a year ago that the Irish were at their peak of the “Return to Glory” and the Savior of South Bend was ready to make this program a top-10 fixture once again.

Florida State handed Notre Dame its second-worst home shutout loss ever, the first home shutout since 1978 (a streak of 150 home games), its first-ever loss on All Saints Day, its third 30-point loss this season. The only other time that happened was 1956.

Unfortunately the list goes on, and it’s not pretty.

Look at the past 10 games. The Irish are 2-8 in those games, just like Brennan’s and Kuharich’s teams, with four of those losses coming by at least 31 points. They have been outscored 306-133. That beats the 1956 team that was outscored 289-130 and the 1960 squad who lost 188-11.

Opponents have scored 68 unanswered points in Notre Dame Stadium since a Brady Quinn to Anthony Fasano touchdown pass with 4 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the first quarter against USC.

It got so bad Saturday students were doing push-ups for first downs. Students sang “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling,” as the final minutes ran off the clock since the band’s halftime show was the highlight of the game.

Florida State tried to give the Irish a post-Halloween treat by handing them two safeties to negate the shutout, but the defense acted as if the Seminoles had just given them an unwanted trick. When fans saw that, they left faster than minors at a bar raid.

And it wasn’t just new things Saturday. The Irish showed they haven’t learned from previous mistakes.

For the second time this season, officials caught the Irish with 12 men on the field coming out of a timeout. Yes, a timeout where the whole team goes to the sidelines and gets its assignments personally from the coaching staff.

Receivers were dropping balls and running third down routes short of the first-down marker, passes were extremely erratic, defenders didn’t wrap up their tackles and stupid penalties were made.

The first half was so bad the Irish had more penalty yards (67) than offensive yards (66) and only one first down.

How could Willingham and the coaching staff let this team get to this absolutely atrocious state? Granted, this team was nowhere near as good as its 8-0 record last year, but is it really as bad as its 4-9 mark in its last 13 games?

Willingham doesn’t think so. He saw a team that “came out with some energy and some fight,” and played hard to the final whistle.

Going out and giving your best, even when it’s not apparent, isn’t what Notre Dame fans want to hear.

Fans are used to losing two or three games in a season, not per month. That Notre Dame mystique Bobby Bowden talked about being apparent in 1993 is now as common as a male in a female dorm after parietals. Teams should be calling up Kevin White and begging him to play in South Bend.

But Willingham and the Irish haven’t hit rock bottom just yet. That could come next week.

A loss to Navy, a 6-3 Navy team, would make Notre Dame 2-7 – both last happened in 1963.

That would make Willingham and the Irish the “new team” they don’t want to be.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Matt Lozar at [email protected]