Loss Sends Irish Back To Basics

ANN ARBOR - Chapter one of Notre Dame's football season was a tough read. Chapter two didn't get any better. Chapter three on Saturday afternoon, was the worst.

By far, the absolute worst.

The Irish (0-3) suffered their third-straight lopsided loss to start the season, this time at the hands of a struggling Michigan (1-2) team, 38-0.

So what does Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis do now. To begin fixing the assortment of issues, Weis told the media the team will be going back to training camp on Sunday. Back to basics. The beginning of actual installation. Ones versus ones and so on.

"The team's heading in the wrong direction," Weis said. "And the only way I know when the team is heading in the wrong direction, the only way I know to fix it, is to come out swinging.

"Obviously, I'm embarrassed by that performance out there."

As Weis alluded to, for the third straight week of the season, the Irish football team, especially the nation's worst statistical offense, did not look any better than the week before. As he said, it actually looked like both the offense and defense regressed, which in the current state of the program, was tough to do.

Hungry for a victory, the Wolverines capitalized all afternoon on the same mistakes that Notre Dame's been making all season. Most of it self destruction. There were the typical negative plays on offense. There were three turnovers. There were mental mistakes leading to penalties. And there was one play where the Irish failed to gain a yard, on 3rd and 1. And that was all in the first half. Michigan, and senior running back Mike Hart took advantage of all of that, and sealed the game before halftime, leading 31-0 at intermission.

"Obviously, when you lay the ball on the ground, turn the ball over three times in the first 17-and-a-half minutes of the game and lead to 17 points, we obviously started the game the wrong way," Weis explained. "The defense was on the short end of the field, similar to our opening game.

"We're turning the ball over," Weis continued. "Forget about going three and out. If you're turning the ball over and giving the defense a short field, you're in for a long hard day. That's exactly what we got."

Read with caution.

On the first play of the game, center John Sullivan sent a the snap over the head of running back Armando Allen, who was lined up at quarterback, for a 17-yard loss. Pinned at its own 1-yard line, Notre Dame went three-and-out, setting the Wolverines up for great field position. The Irish defense held, but Michigan got a 39-yard field goal from Jason Gingell, and the rout was on.

On the second play of the next drive, quarterback Jimmy Clausen was stripped by Donovan Warren, who also recovered the ball on the Irish 21-yard line. Six plays later, Hart, who made the bold guarantee that Michigan would win last Saturday, scored his first touchdown of the day from two-yards out. The Wolverines led 10-0 with 7:34 remaining in the first quarter.

"You could feel like the air being let out, because what you're expecting, how you're expecting the game to start, isn't going that way."

Hart lived up to his end of the bargain, running for over 100 yards for the 22nd time in his career, tying Anthony Thomas for first all-time on the Michigan list. The NCAA's active career rushing leader ran for 187 yards and the two touchdowns. He became Michigan's third all-time leading rusher with 3,866 yards.

Following Hart's first touchdown of the afternoon, things kept snowballing for the Irish in the second quarter.

Both teams forced a punt, and Notre Dame appeared to have great field position on its fourth possession, as Tom Zbikowski returned a punt into Michigan territory. But a clipping call on Travis Thomas, had the Irish starting on their own 25. Clausen, who was sacked eight times on Saturday, was hit again for a five-yard loss. Three plays later, it was Allen fumbling, turning the ball over to Michigan on the Notre Dame 38-yard line.

A pass interference call on cornerback Terrail Lambert, and a 22-yard completion from freshman Ryan Mallett to Mario Manningham, set up Hart's three-yard scoring run.

Trailing 17-0, Clausen was picked off on the next drive, trying to force a pass to David Grimes between three Michigan defenders. The Michigan Fight Song was playing soon there after. Mallett threw his first career touchdown pass, a short throw that Greg Mathews ran 26 yards to pay dirt with.

Mallett, who was just 7-of-15 passing, for 90 yards and three touchdowns, hit Adrian Arrington for a five-yard score with 25 second remaining in the half.

How dreadful was it? Notre Dame had 11 yards of offense on 31 plays. The Irish came into the game with minus-eight yards rushing. That mark was at minus-53 yards rushing at halftime.

Weis tried everything, even a fake punt. Allen, James Aldridge and Junior Jabbie all got time at running back. He moved guys around on the offensive line, moving Sam Young to left tackle. He substituted in Eric Olsen, Matt Carufel and freshman Matt Romine. Just as the season's gone, nothing has worked.

Three games into the season, the Irish have yet to score an offensive touchdown. A bet Weis would've taken against before the season.

"I probably would be willing to bet every dollar I had that they'd be wrong and I would've gotten wiped out," Weis said. "My wife wouldn't be talking to me. I'd probably be divorced right now."

Michigan matched the 38-0 whipping they put on the Irish in 2003, in the same place, the worst loss the Irish have faced in the series. It's the first time Notre Dame has lost the first three games of the seasons since 2001. They finished 5-6 in Bob Davie's final year.

Michigan added the final score, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Mallett to Mario Manningham, on its second possession of the second half. From there, they just tried to run the clock out.

Notre Dame finished the game with only 10 first downs, minus-six yards rushing and only 85 yards passing. Michigan gained 379 yards of offense, 289 of it coming on the ground.

Aldridge ran for 51 yards on 10 carries, nearly all of it coming in the fourth quarter. Clausen completed 11-of-17 passes for 74 yards. Evan Sharpley entered the game with 13:08 remaining. He was 2-of-5 for 11 yards.

"You want to know something, justifiably so, after you lose a game like that, the scrutiny you come under after a game like that has to be expected," Weis explained. "It just comes with the territory. It's like when you win, it comes with the territory. Right now, you have to establish a work ethic, and you have to come out swinging. That's what I'm going to do, figuratively because I don't play, and I'm going to find enough guys that want to come out swinging with me."


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