It would be nice to pair our non-existent preview of the Pitt game with a non-existent review of Saturday's debacle. No Irish fan is feeling good after the 36-33 four overtime loss to the same team that marked the start of the Charlie Weis era.
Watching Conor Lee's kick go through the uprights and win the game for Wannstedt, I was as upset, disappointed, disgusted, and frustrated as any loss in the past 3.5 seasons. It was a kick to the gut that still has me in a foul mood. And yet, it was one of the games that I predicted ND to lose back in September. In fact, when I finished my position previews I listed Pitt as the second most talented team on ND's schedule. So what made Saturday so maddening?
What bothers me is that while I put ND behind Southern Cal, MSU, UNC, and Pitt talent and experience wise, those rankings don't include the coaching factor. And, quite frankly, if the goal is a national championship, you need a coach who can beat teams that may have a talent or experience edge. So far ND is 0-3 in those games this season with a defensive juggernaut in Southern Cal left. Sure, three of the four games are on the road, but winning away from home is another mark of a top notch coach.
Still, the season is not over. I'm not throwing in the towel on Charlie at all and won't spend any time worrying about his future or that of any assistant until after the season is over. There are plenty of things to discuss and dissect in the coming weeks that have to do with the play of the team. However, I have to acknowledge what I see as a growing segment of ND fans that have reached their limit and are mentioning the name Weis with Faust and Davie more than any other former ND coach.
If there is a microcosm of the loss to Pitt and why it stings so much, it was the 4th and 1 at the end of the game. (Thanks to the fantastic news that ND home games are now hosted on hulu.com, we can quickly, easily, and legally embed any play from the game.)
The play starts with Notre Dame taking not one, but two straight timeouts that brought back Davie-era clock management shudders. Then, ND decided to go for the 4th and 1, despite the fact that not making it would leave Pitt only about 20 yards away from a very makeable field goal for their excellent kicker. The play call was a go-for-broke play-action call despite the fact that ND's short yardage game has been rather successful as of late. (then again, it looked like it was the same play call that Quinn completed to Carlson against MSU on 4th down in 2006. When a play like this works, you're a hero. When it doesn't, you're a goat.) And finally, when the ball is snapped and Pitt didn't sell out to stop the run, Clausen is left to try and outrun Pitt's unblocked linebackers for the first down marker. The play didn't lose the game for ND, but the series of events surrounding it were a definite shot of negative deja vu for ND fans.
Where ND goes from here, nobody knows. But after Saturday, the team is going to need to play with more confidence than can be found in the fanbase.