With Syracuse on the schedule next weekend, my mind naturally drifted to the last time the Irish and Orange clashed on the gridiron. Do you remember it? If the answer is no, god bless you and the Eternal Sunshine machine you managed to find. If you do remember it, you'll have visions of Greg Robinson and blown leads and snowballs and...it wasn't good. But was it the worst loss under Charlie Weis?
To figure that out, I have elected to rank every loss of the Charlie Weis Era at Notre Dame. Do you know how many losses that requires one to go over? So, so many, or 27 in five years. That's pretty remarkable when you consider he started his career 19-6, but hey those 3-9 seasons will really put a dent in any record.
There were a lot of ways to do this, but I wanted a consistent methodology or else we would be all over the place. So this is what I'm using:
Quality of Effort + Quality of Opponent, tiebreaker of How Depressing Were The SportsCenter Highlights That Night
This rubric is to try to eliminate some emotion and to also protect the 2007 team, which was such a terrible team that often tried hard and still lost by 20 points. If you're familiar with the Weis era, you will no doubt be unsurprised to find a lot of November 2008 and 2009 games near the top. I don't expect everyone to agree with these - and I know a few games are certainly going to be considered under-ranked by many - but this is simply one attempt to piece it together. I am very interested in your thoughts, so let's have a fun time in the comments (or hit me up on Twitter at @rakesofmallow) but please remember when insulting me that I'm at least attempting to use the above standard. (Emotion will take over at times, and apologies in advance for dipping into caps lock.)
Without further ado...
27) 2005 USC
Easily the most heartbreaking on this list, but you have to consider it was a tremendous effort against a team in the middle of one of the all-time great runs. It was considered such a great loss that Weis was given the ten-year extension, which is just...thanks Kevin White. I've written thousands of words and spent hours talking about this game over the years and it's started to become a little less painful, but only slightly. Three things about this before we move on:
1) People who think Vince Young should have received the Heisman over Reggie Bush in 2005 are only focusing on the Rose Bowl, which you might remember takes place after the Heisman voting. Bush essentially single-handedly won games against Notre Dame (265 total yards, 3 TDs), Fresno State (513 total yards, 3 TD) and Arizona State (193 and a score). Young is awesome, but Bush was a deserving winner. He may be, however, a human piece of garbage.
2) We watched "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" the night after this game and it helped heal the wounds. I'm somewhat annoyed that "Bridesmaids" has stolen "Hold On" because the "White Castle" version still possesses cathartic healing powers.
3) October 15, 2005 is one of the great college football days in history. This is the same day Mario Manningham derailed Penn State's undefeated season as time expired, the Pat White/Steve Slaton backfield combo debuted at West Virginia (in a triple overtime win against Louisville) and John L. Smith did this.
26) 2005 Ohio State
This often gets lumped in with the rest of the Notre Dame BCS blowouts, but I don't think that's fair. The Buckeyes outplayed the Irish, but it was still a seven-point game late in the fourth before Antonio Pittman ripped off a 60-yard touchdown to seal it. Ohio State had scoring plays of 56, 68, 85 and 60 in this game which is definitely not ideal. Darius Walker was an absolute beast here against a team that would send a whole lot of defensive players to the pros, racking up 127 yards from scrimmage and all three Irish touchdowns. Not the strongest effort but the opponent was a really good one that made the title game the next year. It gets so much worse than this in big games.
25) 2006 USC
If you have a friend who's a USC fan, send them this list, because we're going to spend a little time talking about how completely dominant they were over most of the Weis era. (Fun fact: Notre Dame is 3-1 against the Trojans since 2010 and there are 5.5-year olds who've never been alive to see USC beat the Irish in the Coliseum.) This was a very frustrating game against a very good USC team, as Notre Dame would continually score to make it interesting (21-17 in the third, 35-24 early in the fourth) and then the Trojans would immediately respond. Dwayne Jarrett had 7 catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns, and I assure you, this will not be the last time we discuss the 2006 secondary. Not a terrible defeat when you consider that USC was 11-2 in 2006 with their losses coming by a total of six points. They would have played in the title game if not for losing in their season finale against UCLA. Brady Quinn was great against a really good Trojan defense, throwing for 274 and three touchdowns while adding 74 yards on the ground as the team's leading rusher. Oh, and Quinn's 59-yard run was the longest carry of the Weis Era. Not by a quarterback, but by any player running the ball. I can't even.
24) 2009 Stanford
The final loss of the Weis Era, this was a 45-38 barnburner against a Stanford team that had baby Andrew Luck at quarterback and Toby Gerhart trucking people in the backfield. Notre Dame had a 38-30 lead in the fourth quarter because Jimmy Clausen (23/30, 340, 5 touchdowns), Golden Tate (10 catches for 201, 3 touchdowns) and Michael Floyd (6 for 85, 2 touchdowns) were f'ing incredible at football, but the defense was a Weis-Era defense had no answer for Gerhart, who had 205 yards and was a Heisman finalist. This Stanford team also had Stepfan Taylor and Coby Fleener on offense, so definitely a formidable opponent. Mute the atrocious music here and enjoy the final game of Clausen/Tate/Floyd:
23) 2006 LSU
This is not higher because 1) LSU was absolutely and totally loaded and 2) Notre Dame went down 14-0 early and had the fortitude to battle back and tie it. Now, sure, the Bayou Bengals scored 27 straight points after the Irish tied it but I appreciate the early resolve before the coaching and talent advantages kicked in. Another great D-Walk game (158 yards against a defense composed basically of NFL players) and the game that earned JaMarcus Russell a lot of money.
Side story about this Sugar Bowl: It was the same day Nick Saban took the job at Alabama, so Tiger fans were more focused on their next game with the Tide than us for most of the day. While we were exiting the SuperDome after the game, one LSU fan shouted at us "JaMarcus was a whole lot better than Brady tonight." I looked at him and replied very honestly, "Well, I'm sure Brady would have looked a lot better if he got to throw against our secondary." The LSU fans laughed, shouted "Tiger Bait" and disappeared to do whatever LSU fans do at midnight in New Orleans. They were a kind people.
22) 2008 Pitt
Sometimes you play Shady McCoy with a Jon Tenuta defense and lose in quadruple overtime? Shady had nearly 200 yards from scrimmage in a miserable game that featured zero combined touchdowns in the extra sessions. In a game with McCoy, Golden (6/111/1) and St. Michael (10/100/2) how the hell did no one score in overtime? This could probably be higher, but in retrospect knowing what we now know about the Panther running back, this makes a lot more sense.
21) 2009 Pitt
A sleepwalk performance against a very solid Pitt team (9-1 after this game and they would have won the Big East if they didn't blow a game against a Cincinnati team coached by one Brian Kelly). A boilerplate Weis game where the team couldn't run the ball (66 yards) but hung around thanks to Golden Tate, who had 9 for 113 and a touchdown in addition to an 87-yard punt return. The Irish trailed 20-3 going into the fourth and got it to 27-22 thanks to the aforementioned Golden heroics, but the game ended after Clausen fumbled with a couple minutes remaining (it looked like an incompletion and Yahoo Answers agrees). We were at this game and shouted "GRUDEN" a lot because this was essentially the end of the Weis Era (although there was still some hope, as you can see in Keith's last bullet point here). This was also the night rookie Brandon Jennings scored 55 points for the Bucks.
20) 2005 Michigan State
The first loss of the Charlie Weis Era! Brady threw for 487 yards (an insanely inefficient 487 if memory serves, although he was 55% on the day) and helped the Irish rally from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to send it to overtime. Unfortunately, the Irish did nothing in the extra session and after D.J. Fitzpatrick boomed a 44-yard field goal, Sparty scored in two plays to win 44-41. One of the great Maurice Stovall games, as he ended the game 8 for 176 and a score. Jeff Samardzija caught 6 for 96 and three touchdowns on the day. This was a perfect John L. Smith Michigan State team, as it started 4-0, blew an overtime game to Michigan and then spontaneously combusted, dropping 6 of 7 the rest of the way to miss a bowl. Fun fact: Drew Stanton, the Spartan starter at quarterback that day, started and won for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday. This game should maybe he higher? But Sparty was up 11th in the country before dousing themselves in gasoline and wandering into a match store.
19) 2007 Boston College
18) 2007 Michigan State
17) 2007 Purdue
16) 2007 USC
These are all moral victories of varying degrees. Let's just do some quick hits:
- 2007 was such a weird season that Boston College was 6-0 and number 4 in the nation coming into this game. A Brian Smith pick six off of Matt Ryan made this 20-14 in the third quarter, which felt amazing before BC eventually won 27-14. The Eagles went 11-3 in 2007 - their best season in the last couple decades - and ended it playing against 7-6 Michigan State in a December 28 bowl game.
- Sparty only led 17-14 at the half which in 2007 felt like we had just won the national title. The Irish were held scoreless in the second half and Michigan State won 31-14, but Notre Dame did have a 7-0 lead so another small positive.
- Purdue won EIGHT GAMES in 2007, so you're seeing how the stars aligned to have a terribly thin depth chart going against a bunch of opponents who were playing well. Golden Tate Runs Deep was discovered during this game, which again, felt like heaven after the offensive woes earlier in the year.
- USC won 38-0, yes, but it was only 7-0 late in the second when things started to unravel. The Trojans were 11-2 with two losses by a combined 8 points. My friend Patrick and I got a photo with the Song Girls after this game, so it will always have a fond place in my heart.
15) 2007 Air Force
"Notre Dame got blown out by Air Force and it's not near the top?" is a question you're probably asking, and it's a fair one. But consider that Air Force was 9-4 in 2007 and Notre Dame actually scored some points in this game. (It was tied at 10 before the Falcons ended up winning 41-24.) You also have to consider that things are going to get a lot, lot, lot worse. Still, Weis's offense gave up six sacks and rushed for only 58 yards, so definitely some negatives. Jimmy had one of his first really good games here, going 22/40 for 246 and three touchdowns, so you can hang your hat on that as a positive.
14) 2007 Penn State
This was Clausen's first career start, coming on the road against a packed Beaver Stadium crowd bent on revenge after the Irish embarrassed the Nittany Lions the year prior. He had little help and was pounded to bits, as Travis Thomas and Armando Allen combined for 23 yards on 14 carries and there was a would-be touchdown dropped into an endzone interception. Darrin Walls gave Notre Dame an early 7-0 lead on a pick six (PSU quarterback Anthony Morelli was not good) but the Irish were terrible in every phase of the game, giving up a punt return for a touchdown that tied it up after Walls' score and committing 14 penalties for 97 yards. This maybe shouldn't be that high considering the Lions ended up 9-4 and it was a tough road crowd, but I'm biased because the Penn State fans were so, so awful and it would have been glorious to beat them again. Also, this is no longer technically a loss due to the Sandusky sanctions, so we've got that going for us.
13) 2007 Georgia Tech
The mental scars are still strong from this one, which could probably be a lot higher if you wanted. We found out that Appalachian State had defeated Michigan on the way into the Stadium and everyone was riding high with that season opener enthusiasm. We were going to see a cool new offense with Demetrius Jones and just kidding never mind everything was terrible. Notre Dame ended up with -8 yards rushing. Tashard Choice had 196. If this box score is to be believed, Evan Sharpley had NEGATIVE 58 YARDS RUSHING because he spent the his time in the game just getting sacked. Weis played three quarterbacks and none of them were even remotely prepared. The Yellow Jackets beat Notre Dame 33-3 but fans were so unhappy with that year's Tech's team they fired Chan Gailey at the season's end. You shouldn't know your whole season is going to be a debacle after one half of play, but that is what Weis set us up with.
[Obvious disclaimer when discussing 2007 is that many smart people knew things were going to be tough considering how poorly Willingham recruited. Part of that season's embarrassment is on him, no doubt, but when you consider how 2008, 2009 and Weis's tenure at Kansas went (I'm comfortable discussing it in the past tense), it seems more than possible a better coach would have not spent their summer dicking around with a spread they didn't know how to run and just stuck to the basics in an attempt to minimize the fallout from the depth chart famine. There is only one 2007 game remaining on this list - and you know what it is - but this comment needed to be on the record.]
12) 2008 UNC
I am hard-pressed to think of a game/season/coaching tenure that turned on one play as much as this game/season/coaching tenure. Notre Dame went into the half in Chapel Hill up 17-9 after a late field goal by the Heels and were getting the ball to start the second half, offense humming at peak efficiency. First and ten from the Irish 29 and Clausen (who had been spectacular) threw a horrid pick six on the very first play to make it 17-16. Notre Dame responded and made it 24-16, but those were the last points they'd scored in a 29-24 loss. Here's how the rest of the drives went:
- Clausen fumble.
- 4th and 7 at the UNC 27 only gets four.
- Clausen interception.
- Some really weird fumble thing where I'm pretty sure Mike Floyd was down but they didn't call it and UNC ran out the last 11 seconds.
The Irish were 4-1 and leading a solid UNC team on the road and just completely fell apart, blowing this game to slip to 4-2 and then going 2-4 the rest of the regular season before a redemptive win in the Hawaii Bowl. Sorry for the poor quality, but here's the pick six to start the second half:
11) 2008 Michigan State
Just a miserable no show performance where a 2-0 Notre Dame team got absolutely bullied in East Lansing, losing 22-7 and giving up 201 yards rushing on 39 carries to Javon Ringer. Sparty ended up 9-4 but this was just a suffocation of Weis's offense, with only 16 yards rushing. Here are the rushing stats for that game (not counting in the various sacks of Clausen, which netted -31 yards):
James Aldridge: 4 for 13 (3.3, long of 9)
Robert Hughes: 5 for 9 (1.8, long of 7)
Armando Allen: 6 for 8 (1.3, long of 4)
GOLDEN TATE: 1 for 24
Also, freshman Mike Floyd was already beast mode, catching 7 for 86 and a touchdown. One of my favorite things about Brian Kelly's tenure is nobody can simply bully the Irish anymore and Mark Dantonio needed a fake field goal in overtime (THAT CAME AFTER THE PLAY CLOCK EXPIRED) to avoid going 0-4 against Kelly.
10) 2009 USC
At the time, this was just a frustrating, heartbreaking loss, as Duval Kamara slipped in the end zone on what would have been the tying touchdown in a 34-27 defeat (The Irish had trailed 34-14 earlier in the fourth). Three things make this less acceptable in hindsight:
1) USC was 4-1 and number six in the country coming into this game, but were starting a true freshman (Matt Barkley) and only went 3-3 the rest of the regular season before beating Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. We just assumed this team was as dominant as previous versions and the Irish had upped their game, but in reality the Trojans had just slipped toward Notre Dame's level.
2) Southern Cal tight end Anthony McCoy had five catches for 153 yards, abusing Harrison Smith in the most one-sided game of Marco Polo ever played inside or outside of a pool. Clearly Smith, who became a first round pick and NFL starter, had a lot of talent but was completely hung out to dry by atrocious defensive coaching.
3) The game ended when time ran out after 3rd and goal at the USC four-yard line, which is annoying but acceptable until you realize NOTRE DAME HAD TIMEOUTS LEFT. Also, the refs decided to put a second back on the clock after second down or the game would have ended there. Just gross time mismanagement within the decided schematic advantage.
A lot of great Irish performances in this game (Clausen and Tate, obviously), but Robby Parris came through all game long, including converting a 4th and ten late in the game where he got absolutely destroyed on a personal foul. This was the last crack the Irish had against Pete Carroll and they let it slip away. Very frustrating.
9) 2008 USC
38-3. Notre Dame didn't get its first first down until the last play of the third quarter. They had 91 total yards of offense, and in an upset, more rushing (50) than passing (41). The defense forced three turnovers (two picks off of the Sanchize), so there is the one positive to hang your hat on. The Trojans were 12-1 that year and were really awesome (linebacking corps of Cushing, Matthews and Maualuga, for example) but less than 100 yards of offense is just the next level of embarrassing in your fourth year running a program with Clausen at quarterback.
8) 2009 UConn
A second consecutive Senior Day loss as a favorite, this one to a team who had lost one of their best players earlier in the season to a fatal stabbing. (For real, please refer to video below for the level of emotion the Huskies were playing with that day.) The Irish fell 33-30 in double overtime, giving up 231 yards rushing to the Huskies, who started Zach Frazer at quarterback. Frazer began his career at Notre Dame but transferred out to escape the pre-2007 logjam with Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley and Jimmy Clausen. Randy Edsall called this the "best win" in UConn's program history, which was cool for them. It should be noted that the Huskies were not bad in 2009, going 8-5 with a bunch of close losses and a bowl win over South Carolina, but red zone woes (David Ruffer made field goals from 20 and 23 yards) and another blown fourth quarter lead did in the Irish. I thought this would be higher when we started but nope it gets so much worse.
7) 2009 Navy
This is another one I assume a lot of people will want to see higher because it was a home loss to Navy, but the Midshipmen went 9-4 that year, coming close to a win at Ohio State and absolutely torching Missouri in their bowl game. Also this seemed worse at the time because Notre Dame was 6-2 and on a bit of a hot streak, but in hindsight this was just the first step in a four-part Weis denouement that ended the season 6-6. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate combined for 19 catches, 273 yards and two touchdowns. Navy loss aficionados will be interested to know that the first turnover of this ugly game was a fumble forced by one Ram Vela. Oh, and Vela also had an interception at the goal line when Jimmy drilled St. Mike in the back with a pass. (Seriously, watch it here. In fact, watch all of the highlights because this game is completely bonkers. Jimmy fumbled at the one on a scramble and Nick Tausch missed field goals of 30 and 41 yards.) We'll get to him again in a bit but I think it's possible Notre Dame football did some horrible thing to Vela's family and he spent his whole life getting revenge.
Random aside: My then-roommate Steve and I watched this game at my sister's apartment in State College. We tailgated before Ohio State/Penn State and then had to walk approximately seven miles to get back to her place. Steve was checking the score on his phone as we were trudging back and when he told me Navy had already scored, I just assumed he was joking. He was not. Thankfully Penn State also got whipped that day so everyone was so depressed that night the only option was to get very drunk after a trip to the Creamery. Taylor Swift also hosted "SNL" that evening and it was not good.
A BRIEF INTERLUDE: I got tired of shuffling up these next six games. They are all awful. If you wanted to slide them around some, I am not going to fight you. I realize giving up at the top kind of defeats the purpose of ranking things but my soul is essentially broken at this point, and knowing what I'm going to have to write for these games has left me a cold, empty shell of a man. On that cheery note, let's continue.
6) 2008 Boston College
Total and complete suffocation at the hands of a decent but by no means great Boston College team. The Eagles were solid in 2008 (9-5, division champs) but they weren't "Win 17-0, force five turnovers and earn the only shutout in the history of the series" good. This was an offensive abomination, as Clausen played perhaps his worst post-2007 game with four picks, including one returned for a touchdown. This was also th sixth straight win by BC over the Irish (and their last, thankfully). You might be surprised, but Notre Dame was outrushed 167 to 66 and didn't run a single play in the Eagle red zone. Just a total system failure from the offense on a night the defense played fine (BC had only 246 yards of offense). An underrated and oft-forgotten embarrassing classic.
5) 2007 Navy
The game that ended the 43-year winning streak, a triple overtime 46-44 loss that saw Notre Dame attempt a two-point conversion run with Travis Thomas that everyone in the Stadium knew was going to fail except for Charlie Weis. Let's go back to the end of regulation for a moment, with the score tied at 28. Notre Dame had the ball at the Navy 24 with 45 seconds to go. It was 4th and 8, so do you try a field goal from 41 yards? You certainly do not. You elect to have Evan Sharpley attempt a pass, and then this happens.
Ram Vela out of nowhere. Robert Hughes' brother was killed earlier that week and his first quarter touchdown run and ensuring celebration with his teammates might have been the highlight of the 2007 season. Navy was decent that year (8-5 in Paul Johnson's final season before he took the Georgia Tech job) but this was a very winnable game. The one positive? It led to my favorite Stuffing The Passer tune:
(I know a lot of people want this to be higher because it ended the streak, but considering Navy won three of four in the series starting with this game so it's not like that run would be approaching fifty games this season. A win here would have just delayed the inevitable.)
4) 2007 Michigan
Something that gets lost in discussing this game is how the Wolverines ended this season: 9-4, ranked in the top twenty with a bowl win over Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer. Yes, they came into this game 0-2 with a loss to App State and a blowout at the hands of Oregon, but this was the start of a pretty night little rebound. For those who think this game should be higher, you have a lot of ammunition. The first snap wasn't catchable. Michigan outgained Notre Dame 379-79, 25 first downs to 10, 38-0 on the scoreboard. Jimmy was battered and broken, an entire game and season summed up by this photo. And the guy who was going to start at quarterback - Demetrius Jones - didn't make the trip, which in hindsight was an incredibly wise decision on his part. Completely demoralizing in every way, which is impressive considering the first two games of this season were also blowout losses. I think this game was the first time Rakes ever got linked to on Deadspin (original recipe with Leitch and everything), so that's fun.
3) 2009 Michigan
I've gone back and forth on the placement of this one but honestly think it might be the worst of the Michigan losses because 1) It came against a Wolverines team that didn't even make a bowl and 2) Made the world think Tate Forcier was a Heisman candidate for a couple weeks. I was at a Notre Dame wedding in South Bend as this game was going on, and as the priest who married both the couple and the bride's parents finished his speech, Notre Dame went ahead with five minutes remaining and the group of tables that had just been monitoring texts/gamecasts erupted into raucous cheers, making the priest think he had such nailed his speech. (Maybe he did, but no one at our table was paying attention.) We made it out to the hotel bar just in time to see Forcier break everyone's hearts. Pretty cool tactical decision by Weis late in this one to attempt two passes instead of forcing the Wolverines to take their last two timeouts, which proved very useful on their final drive when they needed both of them after a sack and a short completion.
Relevant notes: Golden and Floyd combined for 16 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns while Armando Allen had 139 yards on the ground. Big thanks to Jon Tenuta for this one.
2) 2006 Michigan
When polling friends about this list, a lot of people were steadfast that 2007 Michigan was the worst, which leads me to believe they do not remember this game. Notre Dame was 2-0 and ranked second in the country and they were completely and totally destroyed, losing 47-21 and it was not that close. Pick a phase of the game and Michigan dominated in it, battering Brady Quinn and picking him off three times, running Mike Hart wherever he wanted to go and sending Mario Manningham on lonely explorations of the Irish secondary. Yes, the '06 Wolverines would go on to reach number two in the nation and play in the Rose Bowl (where they lost, because they're Michigan) but this was such an embarrassing performance. How do you not have a team prepared for a matchup of top eleven teams, especially if that other team HAPPENS TO BE MICHIGAN.
1) 2008 Syracuse
Notre Dame lost 24-23 on Senior Day to a team that had already fired its coach. What do you even say to that? Some notes:
- Syracuse had fired its coach before the game started.
- Syracuse finished 2008 3-9. They were 87th in FEI.
- Notre Dame was favored by 19.5 points.
- Adrian Dantley's goddamn son threw the game-winning touchdown pass.
- Mo Crum, Jr. called it the worst loss of his career. He was a fifth-year senior who was there for the last year of Willingham and the first four years of Weis. That means a lot coming from him.
- SYRACUSE HAD FIRED ITS COACH BEFORE THIS GAME STARTED.
- Notre Dame was outrushed 170-41 by Syracuse, who was 2-8 coming into this game and had already fired their coach.
- Syracuse was down 23-10 going into the fourth and came back.
- Golden Tate had seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, because the only constant through all of this is Golden Tate was amazing.
- Instead of trying to get closer for a game-winning field goal attempt, Weis had Brandon Walker attempt a 53-yard kick as time expired. Walker's career long was 48 yards and he had missed a 49-yard kick on the prior possession.
I don't think anything is more embarrassing than this Syracuse game, but as you can see, there was quite a bit of competition. The one thing this exercise did was make me realize how fortunate we are to have a competent team with a competent coaching staff. If you are for some reason not enjoying the 2014 Irish, why don't you re-read this and realize just how far Notre Dame has come as a program.