Heat on Irish as they try to erase memory of defeat

Navy Football

November 14, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

The team is coming off a 3-9 season, one of the worst in the program's long and legendary history.

The coach is starting to feel the heat, despite a 10-year contract and a reputation built working on Super Bowl champion teams.

The quarterback has not lived up to the hype that followed him from high school, when he was considered the No. 1 prospect in the country.

Notre Dame (5-4) will be in Baltimore tomorrow to play Navy (6-3) at M&T Bank Stadium as a tenuous 31/2-point favorite, riding a two-game losing streak and trying to erase the memory of last year's triple-overtime loss to the Midshipmen in South Bend.

"I think that as you evolve into the world of college football, there's many learning experiences you go through," said Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, in his fourth season. "That being said, as the pieces of the puzzle keep on coming together, there comes a time when all those pieces of the puzzle seem to fit and mesh just right, and when that happens, I'll let you know."

Whether it happens this week or even this season, and whether Weis is around to see it happen in the future, remains a question.

Though athletic director Jack Swarbrick said this week that no decisions will be made until after the season, there seems to be a growing sentiment that the Fighting Irish will have to finish strong for Weis to be retained.

Bob Davie, who was fired at Notre Dame after five years despite a 35-25 record and three bowl appearances, including one Bowl Championship Series game, said on ESPN on Tuesday night, "If you lose to Navy back-to-back, it's going to be a difficult situation to ever get over that."

After facing Navy, Notre Dame plays Syracuse at home and Southern California in Los Angeles.

Asked whether tomorrow's game is a must-win situation, Weis said: "I think that this is a critical game for our team for two reasons. Not just the goals of the season, it's coming off the last couple of games. I think it's part of that as well.

"You have a disheartening [four-overtime] loss against Pittsburgh. Then you go against [Boston College] where the defense plays one of the best games and offense and special teams play pretty lousy games. I think it's pretty important for the whole team for this week."

It is also important for Weis, whose first two teams went to BCS games but whose record his first three years (22-15) was only a fraction ahead of predecessor Tyrone Willingham (21-16) as well as Davie (21-16). Willingham was fired after three years.

"I really felt that Notre Dame would be a very good, solid football team," former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, an analyst for ESPN, said in a telephone interview this week. "I honestly felt that they would win 10 games. I just can't believe that Charlie would be in trouble with a 10-year contract and a young football team and everyone coming back."

The biggest issue for now remains the offense and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Weis announced Tuesday that he would take over the play-calling, saying it had to do more with the fact that offensive coordinator Mike Haywood was going to miss a couple of days of practice to attend a funeral than with the team's poor performance in a 17-0 loss at Boston College last week.

Clausen, who chose Notre Dame over USC and Tennessee, threw four interceptions against the Eagles.

"You know, just the nature of playing football. You want to make a play on every single play," Clausen said. "Sometimes it's not a play that can be made, and you've just got to either drop the ball down, run the ball or even take a sack. I think the more you play, the more you get comfortable."

Weis can sense that his team is pressing.

"I think we have guys that are just trying to make a play and they're trying to do too much," Weis said "So that goes away from my premise that you're supposed to just do your job. Then when you start trying to do too much, then you start forcing it and bad things happen."

NAVY (6-2) vs. NOTRE DAME (5-4)

When: Tomorrow, noon

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 1090 AM

Line: Notre Dame by 3 1/2

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