There are occasions in which an embattled team rises to the challenge to win one last game for its outgoing coach. USC turned the trick vs. the Irish 27 years ago today, using a controversial late touchdown (easily overturned by today's replay) to sink Notre Dame
at the Coliseum in 1982 for its long-time head man John Robinson (who used a "Win one for the fat guy" call-to-arms prior to the contest).
But most teams resigned to their collective fate put forth a less-than-stellar final effort on the field – an unfortunate truth I believe awaits Irish fans tonight as Thanksgiving Weekend winds down.
All things end badly; otherwise they wouldn't end…
Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Gerry Faust, Lou Holtz, and Tyrone Willingham.
Each lost his last regular season game as Notre Dame head coach (Ara bounced back with a Bowl win). Holtz fell victim in his announced finale to the dreaded "one that got away" as a missed extra point allowed a late comeback by USC and an eventual overtime loss, 27-20, to the Trojans in the Coliseum…Holtz's first loss in 11 contests vs. the Men of Troy and an 8-3 mark in 1996 resulted in a "no-go" bowl decision by Notre Dame.
Parseghian, Faust and Willingham's squads were bludgeoned in their regular-season swan songs (Faust's in epic fashion) by national-title level opponents. Devine lost handily as well when the No. 2-ranked Irish fell 20-3 at No. 17 USC. Aggregate scores of these contests: Opponents 201 ND 64.
Bob Davie's final regular season game is the outlier among Irish coaching exists, a 24-18 makeup game (schedule on 9/15/01) win in West Lafayette over Purdue. He was fired less than 20 hours later.
Ara, Devine and Holtz went out (to varying degrees) on their own terms while Faust, Willingham, and Davie were unceremoniously dismissed.
The latter fate faces Charlie Weis, likely within 72 hours of the conclusion of Saturday's game at Stanford. Weis will not stay on the west coast for recruiting purposes per usual after the game and it is believed the bulk of his staff is aware of its fate as well.
Pre-game emotion vs. blocking and tackling for 60
The Irish will come out of the tunnel fired up tonight, of that I have not doubt – ready to fight for their coaching staff, for each other and failing all else, for their individual pride as top tier college football players on national television.
But eight consecutive November games in which the Notre Dame defense has allowed between 169 and 383 rushing yards to its opponent is no fluke (ND has a 1-7 W-L record over that span) and Stanford boasts a running back, 6'1" 235-pound bruiser Toby Gerhart, that ranks third in the nation in rushing yards and first in touchdowns scored (23). Stanford will attempt to batter the Irish front seven and safeties for four quarters Saturday night, an occurrence this defense has been unable to discourage since the October 24 win over Boston College (the Irish held the Eagles previously potent ground attack to 70 net rushing yards and 2.4 per carry).
And when the Irish bring an eighth defender into the box to slow Gerhart (and contain pile-driving lead blocker Owen Marecic), Cardinal redshirt-freshman quarterback Andrew Luck has the ability to beat the spread-out defense with both his arm and his legs.
Notre Dame will likley attempt to pick its poison Saturday night in an effort to control Gerhart and the result will be a balanced Stanford attack that has the Irish on their heels for the majority of the contest.
Then again, ND has scholarships, too…
It didn't take long to talk myself out of the bloodletting I had originally forecast for tonight's game. And unlike last Saturday's contest vs. Connecticut, I do think the Irish offense will play loose and aggressive – firing on all cylinders with Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and possibly Kyle Rudolph putting up huge numbers over the course of the evening.
Weis will have a few wrinkles (perhaps a no-huddle, 3-wide attack for the bulk of the contest) to offset the apparent loss of halfback Armando Allen (hand). The Wildcat will surely return in an effort to put the ball in Tate's hands as much as possible.
Stanford's O is tailor-made to gash Notre Dame's D, but the '09 Irish…playing with nothing to lose, will pose a 60-minute challenge to the nation's 97th ranked pass defense as well.
As for my previous assertion that the Irish will attack Stanford from the line of scrimmage for an extended period, I asked Weis (due to his team's no-huddle success) if he would consider using the approach for all or most of a particular game. And for the first time this season, the Irish head coach did not offer a clear answer to my technical question:
"I've never gone a whole game, ever, in no-huddle. I've gone anywhere from a drive to multiple quarters but I've never gone a whole game."
The past tense answer to a clearly-stated future situation question leads me to believe you might see the wrinkle tonight as the Irish attempt to keep Stanford scrambling defensively.
On a related note, Weis has repeatedly joked with the media that he has the end-all, be-all of gadget plays ready for a meaningful two-point (or one could assume, goal line) situation…be on the look-out for that tonight.
Knock me over with a feather
Nope, not a shot at the Irish front seven, but rather an unfortunate admission from this writer:
If you'd have told me five years ago this week, as Notre Dame clinched a BCS berth at Stanford in Weis' inaugural season, that the first-year coach would be on his way out today…losing 23 of his next 49 games, I'd have dismissed you a fool who's never watched college football.
Weis' first Irish team, while not without flaw, was an aggressive, disciplined, well-schooled unit with a chip on its shoulder…a team that attacked from the outset, regardless of the circumstances or opponent. They had balance, star power, and role players that came together in a 9-2 regular season that offered promise for the future.
The Irish have rarely resembled that product since (including most of 2006, another BCS-season) and though the '09 squad has fought hard each week and afforded season-ticket holders double-their-money's-worth in entertainment value, it is in the final analysis, a team that lacks on-field discipline, focus, and accountability throughout the staff and roster.
Though Clausen/Tate/Floyd give Notre Dame a puncher's chance, the loss of Allen (Allen equals plausible balance offensively) is too great to overcome, as is a leaky defense that won't want any part of Gerhart in the game's final quarter.
We'd all like to see Weis go out with one last smile after a hard-fought victory at the conclusion of a disappointing season. But those who forget the past…
Stanford 44 Notre Dame 30
On-field matchups, human nature, and program history all point to an unfortunate ending to the Weis era tonight against Stanford.
Resigned to their fate, the Irish look to play for each other and end the season on a high note