Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
September 9, 2001
By F. Richard Ciccone
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
It's hard to recall when a Notre Dame team looked so unprepared, so rattled and so inept as the Fighting Irish did Saturday night against Nebraska.
Unless you can remember their last game against Oregon State.
It's not a disaster to start the season with a dismal performance. It's far worse to end the season with one. But Bob Davie has managed to put them back-to-back and very quickly in the 2001 season raise questions about his ability to prepare for big games.
That is a real problem since all Notre Dame games are big ones.
With that huge library mosaic of Jesus staring down at the football field one must wonder if anyone connected with Notre Dame football ever remembers that God is in the details.
Little details such as the rule that only 11 men can play at once. Putting 12 men on the field in a goal line defense didn't really hurt the Irish on Saturday. Nothing they did or tried to do worked anyway. But in the very first game of the season it's not unrealistic to expect that the coaching staff could get the right number of players on the field.
Details like snapping the ball on punts. Details like covering the tight end who seems to be the only Husker big enough for Eric Crouch to see. Details like scheduling a game before taking on Nebraska in Lincoln, at night.
Certainly some Irish stalwarts will call for an NCAA investigation of whether a powerhouse like Nebraska should be allowed to have played twice before Notre Dame played at all. Of course, after next week's Purdue game, they might be saying the same thing since what ND did Saturday hardly counted as playing.
And there will be usual whines about why Florida gets to play something like UL Monroe and Oklahoma and Nebraska toy with Troy State while dreaming of the Irish. But Notre Dame isn't ever going to have those kinds of games. Imagine what the guys with the checkbook at NBC would say when Notre Dame announced the first home game would be against Troy State.
Even if they tried that, Troy State might win. After all, what were Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin thinking when they scheduled early tune-ups against Fresno State?
Ever since the early 1980s when Notre Dame began the home-and-home season opening series with Michigan the Irish have had a difficult time stringing together an early season unbeaten mark. But the schedule after Michigan usually provided a few breathers because such perennial opponents as Purdue were usually determined but undermanned and there was always Navy.
Purdue is now as dangerous as anyone and in recent years Navy has come frighteningly close to ending the longest one-sided rout in collegiate football history. So the answer is not in the schedule. It's the coaching or the players, or both. And, as usual after one game, it's too early to know either.
After Nebraska, it's impossible to evaluate anything about Notre Dame. They botched up so many things at the beginning that whatever offense Kevin Rogers scripted never got to the field.
The defense showed some determination before the game was out of hand but the secondary seemed as indifferent to pass coverage as it has throughout the Davie regime and even in the waning years of the Holtz era.
It's also hard to gauge the strength of the defense when your opponent starts the second half running out the clock.
The offense never recovered from Terrance Howard's first play fumble. Davie may have sensed early on that no matter what he tried nothing was going to work so why not see what Carlyle Holiday could do. Not much as it turned out although he did look a lot like Jarious Jackson which is to say a lot like Arnaz Battle who did not look like Joey Getherall.
Now the debate over whether Holiday should start instead of Matt LoVecchio can begin and each time one of them stumbles the other can rush on to the field. There are teams that use two quarterbacks. They rarely do well.
When the Irish plucked their way to a 9-2 record a year ago, even the stoutest of fans had to agree they were lucky and, to Davie's credit, carved out a lot of close victories by virtue of avoiding turnovers. Whey they give away the ball three times in 10 minutes, it is easy to see what awaits them.
If Notre Dame returns from Texas A&M at the end of September with a 2-2 mark they will have a shot at a decent season, maybe 8-3 or 7-4 which should put them in a bowl game somewhere between the Fiesta and the Weedeater, the latter of which now is defunct while the former is no longer within the reach the Irish football program.
(F. Richard Ciccone, Notre Dame '61, is an author and former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, whose most recent book is " Royko, A Life in Print." He is a regular contributor to IrishEyes.)