Wolverines Zap the Irish

The critics easily moved to the other sideline on Saturday afternoon. Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and his team came into Notre Dame Stadium with all the heat on him and his program, with its steady decline from national prominence. But after the 11th-ranked Wolverines easily handled No. 2 Notre Dame, 47-21, Carr and his players have left the doubts about their team behind in South Bend.

Those doubts were left with Charlie Weis and his Irish program.

Moving just as easily from one sideline to the other was the hoopla of being in the National Championship hunt. Though it's early in the season, the Wolverines (3-0) zapped nearly all the excitement out of a promising Notre Dame (2-1) campaign in roughly four hours (thank you NBC commercials).

There were always doubts about the Notre Dame defense, and deservedly so (not enough playmakers), but there is a scratch-your-head concern about the offense. This was supposed to be the best offense in the country coming into the fall. With a bevy of weapons led by Heisman Trophy candidates Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, and with Weis, the offensive mastermind at the controls, Notre Dame should have had no problems posting 28-plus points weekly, right? But somehow, a unit with nine-returning starters and a few more veteran players in the mix from the most prolific offense in Irish history a year ago, have looked more like a group of guys that have never worn the same jersey together before.

"I don't know, you're guess is as good as mine," Quinn said after the game when asked about the offense's inconsistencies. "I wouldn't necessarily call it inconsistency, I think if anything its just about our offense getting a rhythm. And again when you play teams with different defenses there are different variables throughout different defensive schemes week to week, so a lot of times you try to match up the best you can, plan, and obviously we didn't execute the way we wanted to.

Penalties, mental mistakes, bad passes, dropped balls and more penalties finally caught up with the Irish against a formidable opponent. The Irish were whistled 11 times for 84 yards. Turnovers, reared its ugly head, five of them Saturday, was one thing ND avoided in its first two contests.

"We didn't start grooving like we normally do and it's kind of tough," Samardzija stated.

To be honest, the Irish offense hasn't grooved in any shape or form since a 38-31 victory over Stanford last season, a span of four games.

Against lesser teams this year, Georgia Tech and Penn State, Notre Dame's problem of finding consistent rhythm on offense wasn't a big deal. That defense that could never do anything right played well, the offense made a few plays and the team was able to cover up glaring concerns.

The thing is, the players and coaches were just as confident in the offense busting out against the Wolverines as the fans and media were, judging by the Irish winning the coin toss and electing to receive. Quinn was picked off by Prescott Burgess, who ironically was his second-leading receiver on Saturday (two interceptions for 66 yards and a touchdown) and watched it get returned for a 31-yard score. An ugly three-and-out followed, as did a day of pain and frustration.

"We came out flat and obviously the first drive hurts," Samardzija said. "You come out and take the ball in the first half and you want to put some points on the board, move the ball and stuff. But we have to bounce back. We just played a team that came out hot, they played good and you have to give credit to them."

The Irish struggled to a measly 245 yards of offense including just 10 on the ground. Darius Walker, who burned the Wolverines twice for over 100 yards gained only 25 yards on 10 carries.

Quinn, who saw his standing in the Heisman race take a huge hit, was 24-of-48 for 234 yards three touchdowns and three interceptions. In his defense he had a lot of balls dropped, but he also missed a lot of passes including a deep ball to Rhema McKnight that could have put the Irish back in the game in the third quarter.

McKnight had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown but the drops stand out more.

Weis went no-huddle, he went four receivers, five receivers, ace formation, I-formation, nothing worked consistently.

"I tried just about everything in this game…They were stuffing us pretty good…We tried just about every little thing to get going," Weis explained.

Leading up to the game, Weis gave the team the theme, basics and fundamentals. After the game, the theme sounded like it switched to laying an egg.

"I was surprised that we collectively, from me on down, laid an egg," Weis said. "That's what I'm surprised at. I expected us to have a better performance than we did, and we didn't."

"To go out and lay an egg like that is real discouraging," Walker said.

The offense better figure out things quickly before heading out to East Lansing next Saturday to take on Michigan State (3-0) and mobile quarterback Drew Stanton.

"Were going to come in tomorrow, we're going to go over this tape, we're going to get ready to work Tuesday against Michigan State because you don't want the same thing happening again. Just go lay another egg. Go up to East Lansing, the same thing will happen to you all over again."

Now that would really zap the season.


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