– Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis in his post-game press conference after a 38-34 loss to rival Michigan.
Weis was answering a question regarding the too-familiar Notre Dame post-game refrain of "where do we go from here?"
The Irish head man last gave that speech after a 38-3 loss at USC last season. Weis and his players used the question as a rallying cry during preparation for last year's bowl victory and now, two games later, the program is again at a crossroads – needing to take a major step forward this Saturday against South Bend nemesis Michigan State.
But first, a look back at a wild Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor:
Hole in the Bucket
Understandably, the first question posed to Weis referenced the team's leaky run defense, a unit that has played sub par football in both a 35-0 win and 38-34 defeat.
"As a matter of fact Jon (Tenuta) and I have already had a discussion on that…schematically there's a couple of things we're going to have to change that play more into our personnel – not that we ever call things that don't play into our personnel – but things we've seen, the pros and cons of our own players after two games, there's some tweaks we're going to have to make, especially (regarding) those inside rush lanes that existed."
The Irish allowed 218 rushing yards including a key 31-yard untouched scamper by Wolverines quarterback Tate Forcier on 4th and 3 to begin the game's final period.
The Irish caught a bad break near the 6-minute mark of the fourth quarter when Michael Floyd's gashed knee removed him from the remainder of the contest, including the decisive final offensive series. But the team's touchdown-maker should be ready when the Spartans hit South Bend on Saturday.
"He took 15 stitches in his knee," Weis informed the media. "He's a little stiff and a little sore but he doesn't have damage to his knee – other than the 15 stitches. That in its own right is ‘damage.'
"He landed on that track…his knee hit that hard surface when he landed and he cut his knee open.
"But when they were on that last drive (Michigan) he came up to me and said if the game went into overtime he was ready to go."
The two-year knock on junior half back Armando Allen's progress has been two-fold: he doesn't break the big run and he's too easily tripped up by a single defender.
Allen still hasn't broken off a big run – though his 24-yard carry in the first half against the Wolverines now ranks as a personal best – but the junior put to bed concerns about his ability to pick up the tough yardage with a 21-carry, 139-yard rushing effort against the Wolverines: a performance that included several key third-down conversions and the would-be game-winning touchdown run and subsequent two-point play.
"I think it's a combination of the blocking and #5 (Allen) carrying the ball," Weis said of the improved Irish running attack.
"The blocking improved in the run game between Week One and Week Two significantly and (also) at the tight end position. We were riding that #9 (sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph) pretty hard about his run-blocking in his first game.
"The receivers blocked better; the tight end blocked better; the line blocked better…but I think that #5 had a heck of a game running. A couple times yesterday he made yards out of will. We might have had a hat on a hat but he really did a nice job."
The University of Michigan ranks as one of the top 10 institutions of higher learning in the field of physical sciences and mathematics. I'm more of a "words kinda guy" which might explain why I don't understand this new-age Ann Arbor counting method:
"First it went from 11 to 10, then I complained and it went to 9, so I guess I should have kept my mouth shut," mused Weis regarding The Big House's unfriendly game clock.
"It went from 11 to 10 to 11 to 9 – maybe I shouldn't have said anything and we'd have thrown a Hail Mary with one second left…they (the officials) gave me an answer that I understood. They said (Irish kick returner) Theo Riddick touched the ball. I'm going to take their word for it so that's where the two seconds (the came off the clock – the latter just prior to Notre Dame's ensuing snap) came from.
Weis was asked a follow-up question regarding the 11-10-11-9 clock movement and responded with this good-natured quip:
Irish Illustrated: "What human being is actually making that decision?"
Weis: "It's gotta be that same guy that called Armando out of bounds…"
A Baker's Dozen, Perhaps?
The bulk of Sunday's posed questions concerned crucial calls made against the Irish. And though Weis was clear that the Irish as a team were responsible for the loss, he was obviously displeased with the timing of a few game-changing calls by the game's officiating crew.
"That game left a lot to be desired…I'm not blaming the officiating for the game, but let's start with Armando's (an Armando Allen touchdown catch-and-run was overturned when the replay official deemed Allen stepped out of bounds at the Michigan 22-yard line. Notre Dame later settled for a field goal…a four-point swing).
"I watched that tape 100 times this morning; just like I watched it when it happened; just like those two guys (officials) that were standing right on top of the play when it happened; and from what I understand, the TV copy on top of it (confirms Weis' belief)…I still haven't heard anyone tell me that there's any evidence of Armando stepping out of bounds. The way I (understand the rule) is there's supposed to be conclusive evidence (for an overturned call on the field)."
Weis continued, "I'm not going to complain about the holding calls because I watched them and every one of them. Even the ones that (were questionable) you could see evidence of them calling holding. You could see evidence. That's (another) four-point swing in its own right (a holding call on Sam Young that nullified a 76-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph)."
"What I don't want to do even though I'm unhappy with certain things (calls) that happened in the game…we had plenty of opportunities to win the game. So you don't want to come out of a game that's hard-fought by both teams and use the officials as a scapegoat.
"Am I happy with the officials? No. But then you're saying the only reason why we lost is they blew these calls (and that's false), and on most of the calls in which Notre Dame fans (would be upset) I can understand why they (the officials) made them."
After a film review, college coaches generally send a few questionable official rulings (or non-calls) to the NCAA for further clarification, though not as formal complaints.
Weis will continue this practice, though with a possible twist following the game in Ann Arbor:
"I just send in plays," explained Weis of the process. "I don't make any formal complaints, ever.
"I just send in handfuls of plays…it's just that ‘handful' is longer than it would normally be…I'll just ask for explanation.
"I'm not going to get tick-tacky (in his review of the day's officiating crew) but there are some things that I just don't get."
Bobby Brown, Redux
IrishEyes asked Coach Weis about his pre-season meetings with NCAA officials and the explained standard for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the college game (noting that both Golden Tate and Tate Forcier "showed the ball" while crossing the goal line on touchdowns – an act that seems more inciting toward an opponent than the "shh" sign Armando Allen flashed to the Michigan student body.)
"I meet with the Big East officials, not the Big 10 officials…
"I think if they called Armando's ("shhh" penalty as unsportsmanlike) and considered that taunting, then they should have called them all taunting. That's the general impression I get.
"They called it and we'll learn from it. We won't be going "shhh" again….that we won't be doing. (We're) kicking off from the 15-yard line now. That little "shhh" was 15 yards of field position.
Pet Peeve/Soap Box Alert: There were several instances of taunting (including blatant hand gestures) from both sides throughout the contest, especially between the Wolverines defensive backs and Irish wide receivers, none of which were deemed "unsportsmanlike."
Though Allen should have known better (or simply asked 1999 Irish receiver Bobby Brown about the need for post-touchdown decorum in The Big House), and allowing that the NCAA needed to crack down on excessive and needless celebration (not to mention post-play taunting and posturing by players after garden-variety plays), the inconsistency regarding penalties called vs. penalties deserved is, at best, ridiculous.
Next time you watch a college football game, take note of the nearest official after a touchdown and his immediate, over-the-top scolding/reprimand he presents to the touchdown-scorer, regardless of the player's reaction.
Who Would You Trust?
The vast majority of Irish fans are likely still fuming over Weis' perceived nonsensical approach to the game's final offensive series. The Irish coach shared his thought process on Sunday.
"On first down, we ran a play to left for the first down and he (Armando Allen) gets banged up and comes out. So we run the play to the right with (Robert Hughes) and we gained about six inches on the play.
"Once they saw Armando come out, all of a sudden those guys (Michigan's safeties) that were coming down during the (snap) count were now lined up at the line of scrimmage. So they adjusted based off of who the half back (Allen no longer in the game) is the same as I (adjusted).
"Now all of a sudden they're loading up the box (the area near the line of scrimmage) because (Allen's) not in there anymore, which changes (the offense's) mentality, but still, its 2nd and 9.5 (with just over 2:30 remaining) so you really have a couple of alternatives: run the ball again and make them use a timeout, and then maybe or maybe (not) convert on third down.
"Or you call a play that you've completed almost every time you've thrown it in the game. You call it again and you throw it to one of your best players (Golden Tate)… which looked to me like I should have gotten a little help on that one…"
(Weis was hinting at a perceived pass interference penalty on Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren that was not called).
Though most football fans understand (whether they agree or not) that thought process, it was Weis' final comment on the situation that was most telling.
"If you (Weis) felt they had no chance at moving the football, then we could play most of the game conservatively. I felt the way the game was going back and forth – I felt that the offense most of the day with the exception of not scoring enough points early in the game, and spitting the bit in the third quarter, I thought (his) offense had control of the defense.
"I felt that it was an opportunity for the offense to put the game away."
Incidentally, the long pass to Tate was actually originally intended as a short pass with a route adjustment, if Tate's defender (Warren) played press coverage (which he did). The adjustment was for Tate to run a deep fade route.
"That was a short-pass that was adjusted based off the coverage," Weis explained. "If they play off it's a short pass if they play press he fades adjusts."
Analysis: Personally I was less upset at Weis' approach to "win the game with his offense" than most Irish fans. Given the inability of the Notre Dame defense to contain Wolverines quarterback Tate Forcier for most of the contest, I think attempting to secure a win with two first downs (rather than run the clock and punt) was the correct approach.
To be blunt, I'll write what Weis could not say about his defense on Saturday:
Notre Dame would not have stopped Tate Forcier and Michigan with what would have been no timeouts and two minutes remaining (had Notre Dame run the clock rather than passed) because Notre Dame's defense was incapable of tackling or bothering the freshman quarterback by the end of the game. Period.
However…without Michael Floyd in the contest I do question the likelihood of success throwing a timing out-route to freshman wide receiver Shaquelle Evans in Floyd's stead. Perhaps Rudolph, in space over the middle, one-on-one against a linebacker or run-focused safety would have turned the play-caller's reputation from late game "fool" back to "gunslinger" as we collectively mope over our Monday coffees.
Final Play Confusion
With 10 (or was it 9?) seconds remaining, Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen took the snap, dropped back and hit Golden Tate over the middle for a 27-yard gain near the Notre Dame 47-yard line. With one timeout remaining (and with the benefit of clock stoppage after first downs in the college game), Tate attempted to get to the sideline rather than simply fall to the ground, offering the Irish offense a chance at a Hail Mary pass for their final play.
"The plan was to try to get the ball to about midfield and get out of bounds so we could take a shot at the end zone," explained Weis immediately after the contest. "You can fall on the ground and of course I'm yelling ‘get down, get down, get down…' but (he's) an athlete in that situation and he's thinking that he might have a chance to take it to the house right there.
"It's one of those situations that you practice and if you have one second left you have a jump ball play and you can at least throw the ball to the end zone. We had a timeout we were trying to spend right there."
A crestfallen Tate reflected on his performance and the final seconds.
"I caught it and saw some field but I should have actually (fallen) down. I thought I had more time than I really did. We still had one timeout…"
Tate reflected on two uncharacteristic dropped passes in the game's fourth quarter (the Irish, Tate, in fact, scored a touchdown on the series regardless of the errors).
"Just lack of focus on my part. I don't know why and how I didn't manage to get a PI (pass interference call) or even catch it, but it's a lack of focus on my part. I'm honestly sick to my stomach right now."
More Big 10 Justice on the Horizon
In an odd twist, Notre Dame's bi-annual trip to Michigan represents the only road contest in which Notre Dame encounters the home team's conference-affiliated officials. Against other Big 10 schools, a road game is officiated by a Big East crew. When a Big 10 school visits Notre Dame, Big 10 officials come along, replacing Notre Dame's loose Big East affiliation.
Apparently Michigan (only Michigan) has a (current) 25-year contract stating nothing but Big 10 referees can officiate a game in The Big House.
The Irish face two more Big 10 opponents over the next two weeks in Michigan State (Big 10 officials in South Bend) and at Purdue (a Big East crew will call the game in West Lafayette).