The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Football Commentary: Irish need to take this one out back

Bill Brink | Thursday, September 10, 2009

When I was 10 years old and living in Farmington Hills, Mich., I got braces. For those of you who have never had braces, the idea is an orthodontist superglues sharp metal to your teeth. Naturally your gums don’t react to this very well.

I got the braces on a Thursday. That Saturday was the Notre Dame-Michigan game, by which time my mouth had been sliced open and I couldn’t eat, talk or smile. Then Michigan beat the Irish 26-22. I can’t think of a more miserable afternoon that I have endured since.

Because of my location, Notre Dame-USC was a distant rivalry, one my dad talked about but that didn’t hold special meaning. USC was just another team on the schedule.

But I was in the heart of Wolverine territory, surrounded by Michigan grads and fans, so that game was the game of the season.

Let’s hope the Irish think it still is.

Just as two years ago the teams had similar experiences when the Irish entered the Big House, their circumstances are similar after Week 1 this year. Notre Dame beat up on Nevada, 35-0. Michigan beat up on Western Michigan, 31-7. Irish receiver Michael Floyd and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson both made opposing defenses look silly. Tate Forcier and Jimmy Clausen both passed well. In the same vein as both teams hit rock bottom in 2007, both teams can use this game to prove they’re relevant, not just beating up on weak teams, in 2009.

Irish coach Charlie Weis said he’s not going to talk about the 2007 Michigan game, a 38-0 destruction in Michigan Stadium.

“The Western Michigan game really wasn’t that close, and that’s where we’re going to spend all our time and energy,” Weis said Tuesday.

Twenty bucks says his players aren’t following that. They remember. They remember the first snap going over Armando Allen’s head, watching Clausen get sacked seven times, Mike Hart guaranteeing a win and, like Joe Namath in Super Bowl III, leading his team there with 187 yards and two touchdowns.

That’s why the Irish players can’t approach this game like ESPN and everyone else might. This game isn’t about BCS implications. If I’m Charlie, I’m telling the kids to approach this like it’s being played in the backyard between kids from rival middle schools, not with 106,201 fans but with zero, with tires for end zones and the road as a sideline. That’s how you win this game.

Can you imagine? Notre Dame and Michigan playing in a vacuum, no fans, no television, just two rivals? Rich Rodriguez as a 12-year-old describing his coverage schemes? “Okay, Michael over there is incredible. He could catch a greased pig if someone could throw it to him. So we’re going to have 10 guys circle around him to cover him. I call it the Halo defense.”

How about 12-year-old Jon Tenuta, running this way and that, teaching zone blitzes before the kids know what a blitz is? “Robinson runs a 3.97 40-yard dash. He could run for two touchdowns on one play. To stop him we’re gonna have everyone run directly at him. Forget the rest of the team.”

Corwin Brown could be all-time quarterback so he doesn’t have to pick sides.

I’m not challenging Notre Dame’s toughness, nor saying they don’t get up for big games. But it’s my opinion that if they fuse some fire and revenge into the successful gameplan they employed to beat Nevada, a win over Michigan and successful season will follow.

By the way, last year doesn’t count. It was pouring. Michigan won’t turn the ball over six times very often. It was at home. Time for Notre Dame to perform in the Big House.

“I think because both teams were somewhat question marks going into the opening week and both had sound, convincing wins, it’s increased the interest of everyone else as it relates to the game. The trickle down effect is that it permeates to the players,” Weis said. “That being said, as a coaching staff we’re going to treat that game the same way we’re going to treat Michigan State the following week.”

Very diplomatic. Hillary Clinton would be proud.

The players need to take the George Bush approach instead: sprint pell-mell into someone else’s backyard and wreak havoc.

It might just make some poor, misplaced Irish fan smile.

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

Contact Bill Brink at [email protected]