The last two weekends have been hard on the Irish faithful, and that definitely includes me. At this point the program appears to have departed controlled flight, the nose is pointed at the deck and it is accelerating. I expect we'll start seeing the parachutes deploying after the Stanford game. Two weeks ago the Irish were a fringe BCS contender and today the National media is wearing out the "will Weis be fired" stories for the 3rd consecutive November. Needless to say, that sucks!
I'll talk briefly about the Pitt game, which I attended, then I'll wrap up with a few thoughts on what may or may not transpire in the next couple of weeks.
On to the Pittsburgh game. For starters Heinz Field is a very nice facility that also happened to remind me exactly why I prefer old school on campus college football stadiums to the commercialized versions of the NFL. Between the Jumbotron, constant piping in of music, fake panther growls and other such BS it was like the whole crowd was glued to the giant screen instead of the game. When I'm at a game I'm only looking for the basic information. I want down and distance, and I want the clock. And with all the computer animated panthers, commercials, silly games and 8,000 announcements you could hardly pick that basic information out of it all. Not to mention the Pitt band may as well have not shown up, because I never heard them during the game. I heard plenty of pump it up jams though! Heinous. As for the Pitt fans those sitting around me were actually pretty knowledgeable and nice to talk to. I did get a couple of "F You's" from the Pitt students walking up the ramp but overall the fans in Section 539 were all right. Granted they had the lead they whole game, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Observations on the game itself.
-Whoever "released" ND out of the tunnel did it too early as the Pitt players were still all over the field jumping around etc. As soon as I saw Brian Smith make a beeline for the Pitt sidelines with his head bobbing I got a bad feeling about how the game was going to go.
-The theme for the whole game pretty much stuck to the script for the season. A handful of big plays given up by the defense, the OT's struggling in pass protection against a 4 man rush, a few key penalties and some heinous calls by the replay officials all combined to sink the Irish despite another valiant attempt at a 4th quarter comeback.
-Armando Allen ran the ball well all night. With Pitt bringing 3-4 and dropping 7-8 it looked to me like Armando could have had a career day had the Irish not fallen behind and abandoned the run.
-The defense actually held up pretty decent in the 1st half. They held following the roughing the punter penalty and gave up one TD on back to back long passes to Baldwin who made an amazing catch for the TD.
-On the 1st series of the 3rd quarter Floyd had a huge drop on 3rd down at Pitt's 20. He looked like he's still knocking the rust off a bit and to be fair he also looked to be getting held a lot on his routes which was never called. ND punted and on the next play Baldwin hauled in a badly under thrown Stull jump ball for a big 51 yard gain that ultimately led to another Pitt field goal.
-The Irish followed that up with a 3 and out and one of several bad punts. A few plays later Pitt HB Ray Graham got loose on an impressive 53 yard scamper full of missed tackles down to the Irish 2. Graham converted for six on the next play.
-Clausen led a nice drive right back down the field, overcoming a Duncan holding penalty, and scored on the 1st play of the 4th quarter.
-Pitt answered with a Dioin Lewis 51 yard TD run and things were looking bleak.
-Clausen came back and led another nice drive that ended with a TD pass to Golden Tate who dragged a defender into the endzone.
-The defense held for a 3 and out then Tate made one of his most impressive plays of the year by running the punt back for a touchdown to pull the Irish within 5. The Pitt crowd fell silent after that one and the Irish had all the momentum.
-Pitt flipped the field on another long pass to Baldwin over the middle that the replay officials held up. I watched it again when I got home yesterday and still don't think he caught it. The D held after that and the Irish got the ball back on their 20 after the punt.
-Pitt was on the ropes at that point and the stadium was really quiet. The Pitt fans all had that look of impending doom on their faces. Then on 2nd and 1 from the Irish 42 Wenger got called for a chop block and that was the beginning of the end. The next two plays were standard for the season. On 2nd and 16 both tackles got beat and Clausen had no chance to complete the pass. On 3rd and 16 they got beat again, and Clausen got the pass off while going down. That was when the replay officials jumped in and made sure that Clausen would not get a 4th shot at converting. Despite the fact that Clausen had thrown the ball 10 yards forward, and it had been called incomplete and blown dead on the field before Pitt picked the ball up the replay officials called it a fumble recovered by Pitt. It was easily one of the worst calls I have ever seen. The officials were bad all night. It wasn't quite as blatant as the Michigan game but it was pretty close.
-One other thing. Every time the Irish defense swaps personnel I wonder what would happen if ND just went with a standard D line vice the rush end rotation etc. If we just rotated Ian Williams, Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman at the tackles, let Ethan Johnson and KLM play their natural positions at DE all the time and let the linebackers be linebackers would the DL be better? Neal and Fleming get pressure sometimes but more often than not they seem to get stifled by offensive tackles that outweigh them by 60lbs. It seems to me that most of the dominant defensive lines in college football play two big tackles and have big disruptive defensive ends. I don't see any speed r
ush personnel swaps on other teams, maybe I'm just not paying close enough attention.
Offensive Game Ball- Golden Tate. The kid is an amazing talent.
Defensive Game Ball- N/A
In the end the Irish just couldn't quite pull it off. I have to say the way they keep fighting is admirable, especially considering the amount of controversy surrounding the team at the moment. They can say they just focus on the next game all they want to but there was a tremendous amount of added pressure on this team heading into Pittsburgh and I thought they definitely looked a little tight early. That said they still went down swinging in the end.
As for all the speculation surrounding the future of one Coach Charlie Weis I still don't care to contribute to any rumors or bag on the guy. Coming into the season I thought this team had enough talent to turn the corner to the point that this "controversy" wouldn't be in play for the 3rd consecutive November but it is what it is. I will say that if the powers that be are going to make a move it is imperative that they get it right. To call this is a major decision would be a gross understatement. Any potential candidates must not only be great recruiters with a proven ability to coach kids up, they must also be able to quickly adapt to the Notre Dame culture and become a part of it. It is arguably the most unique head coaching position in all of college football and it comes with some serious restraints and expectations. This is no time for a tier 2 expirament. I'll talk about the pending decision more as things materialize over the next couple of weeks.