Terrible. Heartbreaking. Atrocious. Those are just a few of the adjectives that describe what took place in Ann Arbor yesterday. After having (somewhat) calmed down, here are my general thoughts on the debacle:
The Officiating: Simply put, this cost Notre Dame the game. Yes, there were plenty of things Notre Dame did to give Michigan an opportunity to win, but if the Big Ten officials don't call back Armando Allen's screen pass touchdown, this is a whole different game. In fact, the margin of victory for Michigan (four points) is precisely the difference between the touchdown ND would have had and the field goal for which they were forced to settle. Here's the thing: I can see why you would want to review that play - Allen's foot was close to the line. However, upon reviewing it upstairs, there is no way any reasonable person could reach the conclusion that his foot was out; nevermind that it was so conclusively out that the call on the field ought to be overturned. Add in any number of absurd holding calls and pass interference non-calls, and there's your game. This is a travesty. Both teams battled too hard to have a game come down to biased officiating. These men deserve to be fired.
Charlie Weis: Very much a mixed bag on this one. On the one hand, Charlie Weis - Offensive Coordinator, did a pretty terrific job. Hard to argue with 490 yards of total offense and 34 points; and, while people can debate the merits of throwing the ball with the lead and two minutes to play, Shaq Evans was open. A better throw and nobody's debating this point. Also, for the most part, Charlie called a very good offensive game (Statue of Liberty play, anyone?). Still, he is not merely Charlie Weis - Offensive Coordinator, he is, primarily, Charlie Weis - Head Coach and, in that role, it is hard to give him much credit. This was a game Notre Dame absolutely should have won. They were the better team all day and there's no reason they should have come away with a loss. Worse, depending on how the team responds, this is the type of loss that can unravel an otherwise promising season (particularly with a talented and angry Michigan State team coming to town next week). Keep in mind, it was Notre Dame's come-from-behind win against Michigan State in 2006 that destroyed the Spartans season that year and led to Coach John L. Smith's firing. Simply put, we will know all we need to about this team and the future of Coach Weis at Notre Dame by next Saturday night.
Brian Smith: Allow me to blunt - shut the fuck up. Smith's comment before the game that Michigan was "stupid" for starting two freshman quarterbacks lacked both class and commonsense. Worse, after Tate Forcier shoved it right down the throat of Smith and his colleagues, the comment seemed phenomenally asinine. Brian Smith's a good football player, but he really needs to keep his big mouth shut when reporters are around.
Jimmy Clausen: There is no one for whom I feel worse than Jimmy Clausen. This kid went out and did absolutely everything you could possibly ask to get a win and the team really let him down. 336 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 60% completion rate in a hostile environment is a good day for any QB. It's a complete shame that ND wasted such a great performance.
Michael Floyd/Golden Tate: Yes, Tate had a few uncharacteristic drops, but combining for 16 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns is still a pretty solid afternoon. I just hope that Floyd's injury is minor and he's back out there next week.
Armando Allen: Definitely a banner day for Allen. Just when people (including me) were wondering whether it should be Jonas Gray getting the majority of carries, Allen comes out and cranks out 139 yards on the ground at nearly 7 ypc. Great game for Armando and something to build on as the season moves forward.
The Secondary: I said it last week, and I'll say it again, Notre Dame's secondary is wildly overrated. Tate Forcier is going to be a good quarterback, but allowing a freshman in his second collegiate game to throw for 240 yards, 2 tds and a 70% completion rate all without his best receiver is unforgiveable. While everyone's been wailing about the rush defense (which definitely created its own cause for concern), the secondary has been Notre Dame's dirty little secret. A unit that was supposed to be among the best in the country has been terrible in its first two outings.
The Rest of the Defense: Did a nice job in the first half containing the run and really limiting the effectiveness of Michigan's offense. Then, in the second half, the wheels came off. My charitable read is that some of it was exhaustion brought on from the no-huddle but, whatever the case, they played a very poor second half against a very average offense. Tenuta really needs to make some tough personnel choices this week. If what we've heard about Notre Dame's improving depth being a benefit to the team is true, this is the week it needs to manifest itself.
Summary: Contra college football punditry, Michigan is not a good football team. They are quite average and, under no circumstance, should Notre Dame have lost this game. Just when we thought that the travails of the last two years, particularly the collapses of 2008 (UNC, Pitt, Syracuse), were behind us, we find out that this team really isn't much different than last year's version. Sure, their stat lines look better but, ultimately, they still don't have the ability to put a game away and they still make incredibly stupid mistakes at the worst possible times. While I don't want to be a defeatist and give up on the season two games in, having watched this team the last few years, I am not filled with abundant optimism with regard to their ability to rise to the occasion. Still, most of the games on the schedule are still very winnable and the potential, however remote it may seem ths morning, of a BCS bowl still exists. As I said earlier, this week's game against MSU is going to be a referendum on whether Charlie can, or should, continue on as Irish coach. I only wish I had any sense as to the answer.