BY SHANNON O’KEEFE
NOTRE DAME INSIDER
Notre Dame lost its second game of the season against Penn State on Saturday, 31-10. This marks the team’s fourth consecutive loss, each of which was by 20 points or more – a new school record.
So let’s review. Notre Dame is 0-2. They have yet to score an offensive touchdown. The team currently leads the nation in a series of worsts: worst rushing offense; worst total offense; worst sacks allowed; worst tackles for loss allowed. The rushing game had zero yards on 26 carries against the Nittany Lions, and the rushing yardage total for the season-to-date is an abysmal minus-8 yards. Not surprisingly, this week’s loss to Penn State and last week’s loss to Georgia Tech make up the two worst team-rushing performances since 1965 -- yet another worst to add to the list.
The team was plagued by penalties, totaling 14 infractions for 97 yards. The greater plague was the general malaise of the offensive line, which contributed greatly to the penalty total with four offside calls and two delay-of-game penalties, in addition to allowing six sacks on their young quarterback.
Numbers don’t lie, it’s true, but they don’t tell the whole truth either.
Jimmy Clausen looked poised and confident in his debut start. He completed 17-of-32 for 144 yards, including a fourth-quarter pass to Robby Parish for 35 yards. More than that, he looked capable of taking the team somewhere. Out of mediocrity and into a future, which while still troubled, has a glint of promise. He connected with freshman Armando Allen at halfback for several short passes early in the game, but the Irish who were unable to convert on 14 of 16 third down attempts, were forced to punt 10 times and were also unable to capitalize on Tom Zbikowski’s 47-yard punt return, which led to three points instead of the expected seven.
The other qualified positive was the defense. Under first-year coordinator Corwin Brown, the defense looked improved from their first effort against Georgia Tech. Being on the field for the majority of the game left them looking tired as the game went on, but they put in a solid performance, highlighted by sophomore Darrin Walls’ electrifying 73-yard interception return, which gave the Irish their first and last lead of the game -- and only touchdown. Beyond Walls’ return, the Irish also had two fumble recoveries.
Still, if the Irish hope to have a chance against Michigan this week, they’d best get their offensive line in check and their young, talented quarterback protected. Even sophomore Sam Young, who looked promising at right tackle through his freshman year, was beat several times and contributed to an offensive line lacking strength and vitality. Somehow imbuing their receivers with height and athleticism would also be a plus. There were several passes that may have worked with Maurice Stovall or Jeff Samardzija, but David Grimes just doesn’t have the ups. And how about some rushing yards? Travis Thomas may provide leadership and life skills to his young teammates, but he’s certainly not producing any yardage. An overhaul of the running game seems to be in order.
Notre Dame has a four more days to get it together before taking on an equally battered Wolverine team at the Big House. Here’s hoping they do.