Down the drain
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
September 8, 2007
It's scheduled for Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The two winningest programs in Division I-A history are not just both 0-2, they are so pathetically 0-2 that Duke and Temple are laughing.
The Irish lost 31-10 here Saturday night, which had less to do with Penn State looking like a good team than Notre Dame being an almost incomprehensibly awful one.
A true top-25 team would have beaten Notre Dame 222-0. Penn State was, for most of the game, lousy – turnovers, bad play calling, terrible execution. Notre Dame was just worse.
In this one, the Lions had the luxury of playing with no sense of urgency. Notre Dame's offense isn't so much weak as just nonexistent. It's like boxing a man with no arms – even if you have trouble swatting flies, you like your chances eventually.
"So many three and outs," said Irish coach Charlie Weis, whose offense stumbled and bumbled to 10 consecutive futile drives before Penn State felt so bad for them they committed a penalty to get the chains moved. (It was quite a collegiate gesture.)
"It was just sputtering after sputtering," Weis said.
Notre Dame scored 10 points. One was an interception return for a touchdown. The other was when Tom Zbikowski returned a punt to the Penn State 7. When he stepped out of bounds so close to the end zone you could see his frustration because deep down he knew there was no way, no how Notre Dame could score a touchdown, even sitting first and goal.
And they didn't, kicking on fourth and 5.
The Irish offense hasn't scored a touchdown all season. You'd call that its most embarrassing shutout except that Notre Dame didn't manage a single net yard rushing in this game.
And you'd call that the Irish offense's worst stat, but it actually is an improvement over last week, when Notre Dame rushed for minus-8 yards against Georgia Tech.
So, Big Charlie, what's wrong?
"That's a good question," Weis said. "I don't have the answer."
Personally, I had full faith that Weis was a top-line coach and that once he got talent throughout the program – recruiting is strong – he'd get the Irish back into the big time. I still believe this, actually, and I was one of the few sober people within 10 miles of State College on Saturday.
But Weis is testing everyone's faith right now because it isn't just a lack of talent that is Notre Dame's problem. It is the lack of execution, the sloppiness, the silliness, the sheer disorganization of the team.
A well-coached team at least maximizes what it has. This team minimizes.
Even on the rare occasions Notre Dame actually did something positive (say freshman Jimmy Clausen completing a 43-yard pass); the Irish shot themselves in the foot (called back due to a hold).
For most of the game Notre Dame was penalized for more yards than it gained. The Irish finished with 14 flags for 97 yards, often critical errors at the absolute wrong moment.
For fun, let's rank our five favorite ridiculously terrible Notre Dame penalties:
5. The hold on a touchback.
4. The offsides following a delay of game.
3. The needless facemask on a sack that would have forced fourth down.
2. The personal foul when they tackled the Penn State punt returner before he could even make a fair catch.
1. The delay of game following a timeout.
We probably could have made this a top 10.
"That was miserable," Weis said.
This entire game was. Penn State put on quite a show, a jammed and jumping overflow crowd in all white. But they mostly watched a tractor pull of a game, stops and starts and blown gaskets.
Weis only could offer praise for the effort of his defense and the potential of Clausen, Rivals.com's top-rated recruit.
"Although I'm not doing cartwheels," Weis said.
And just when you thought nothing could be uglier than the Notre Dame offense.
In all the weeks in all the stadiums of all the teams I've ever covered, Notre Dame was the worst high major college football team I've ever seen. Of course, I haven't seen Michigan in person this season – yet.
"I can't be worrying about Michigan," Weis said. "(But, these days,) it doesn't make a difference what your name is."
Two of the biggest names of all time (if not the biggest) meet next week in what for decades has been a great rivalry with national implications. Instead we'll find out who's better, Michigan's collapsing program or Notre Dame's down in the dumps one?
In ESPN's "Bottom 10" rankings last week the Wolverines and Irish were labeled the fifth- and 10th-worst teams.
It turns out they were overrated.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Sunday, Sep 9, 2007 12:58 am, EDT