Sep 28, 2009, 5:15 PM EDT
There has been plenty of rumbling and grumbling about the last few games, mostly from the camp that believes the last three games should never have been this close. But the facts remain: The Irish are a play away from being 4-0, and a few tough breaks away from being 1-3, and sit at 3-1 after four games.
The same camp that buried Weis for being unable to win the close ones is now on him for the games being too close. Fans that derided his aggressive play-calling in Ann Arbor ridiculed his willingness to play the clock game against Purdue. And while usually the noise becomes static because certain “passionate” Irish fans are filled with more delusions than logic, there’s a pretty good argument to be made by the glass-half-empty camp this season.
And it was made yesterday by Yahoo!’s Matt Hinton:
The positive spin out of those escapes is that both teams remain
winners — Michigan is 4-0, Notre Dame 3-1 — and got “gutsy” efforts
from their starting quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Jimmy Clausen, both
of whom returned from injuries to throw the winning touchdown pass.
Charlie Weis said Clausen wouldn’t have played in the second half at all
if Purdue hadn’t cut into Notre Dame’s 10-point halftime lead. In that
sense, these were great efforts from two feted SoCal kids scratching
out victory in the hardscrabble Midwest, etc.
But these aren’t really inspiring wins, in general: Notre Dame’s three
wins are over teams that are 1-6 outside of their losses to the Irish,
with losses to Central Michigan, Colorado State and Northern Illinois
in that record. The Irish have barely gotten out of two straight,
three-point wins against Big Ten also-rans whose only victories are
over Toledo and Montana State, respectively, and which have each lost
three in a row after those initial cupcake dates. On one hand, the
Irish have kept alive their solid record against losing teams (they opened 5-1 against a similar schedule last year), but offered few hints — especially on defense, where they
currently rank 94th in total D and 106th against the pass — that
they’ve progressed enough to reverse the years-long skid against
winners, now at 17 losses in the last 18 games against teams that
finished above .500.
The glass-half-full counter to that statement could be multi-pronged, but I’d start it somewhere around here. To call the Michigan State team that came to South Bend the same one that played Central Michigan would be misguided. Ditto for a very game Purdue team that played passionate but sloppy football against the Irish, and came within a play of beating an Oregon team at Autzen Stadium that ran Cal out of the gym at home two weeks later.
The Michigan game is what it is: A game that snowballed out of control and should have been won by the Irish. But the most important factor for the Irish other than their health is their mojo, and two close wins, regardless of how the team played, is very good for the mojo. If the Irish manage to make it through Washington and get to their bye week at 4-1 and take a week to get healthy before USC, anything can happen.
Stepping away from the half-glass of anything constraints, games like Saturday continue to exist if only to remind people that’s why you play them. A quick rundown of the Top 25 this week will remind you that nobody knows anything this early in the season in this generation of college football.