SOUTH BEND, Ind. – At least the traditions are still there.
Touchdown Jesus peeked from its pedestal behind Notre Dame Stadium’s north stands. The leprechaun kicked his black Adidas heels on the grass where Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen galloped into immortality. Masses of green “Together as One” T-shirts swayed. The Victory March played.
The motto adopted by a Notre Dame team that lost eight offensive starters from a year ago, including first-round draft pick and campus heartthrob Brady Quinn?
Tradition never graduates.
The reality now facing Coach Charlie Weis after Notre Dame’s offensive ineptitude during a 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday?
Experience sure as heck does – and the Fighting Irish (0-1) are in need of a jolt of between-the-hashes competency before a schedule that includes Penn State (Sept. 8), Michigan (Sept. 15), UCLA (Oct. 6) and USC (Oct. 20) turns into a bloodletting.
“Today,” Weis said, “I will be more than happy to sit here and say I did a crummy job.”
Notre Dame finished with 122 total yards after months of Roswell-like mystery surrounded which wonderboy would take this hallowed field to replace Quinn. Weis wouldn’t tip his hand when questioned numerous times about the matter after summer training-camp workouts, attempting to roll the possibilities through Georgia Tech Coach Chan Gailey’s mind like a slot machine stuck on ‘Spin’:
Would it be freshman Jimmy Clausen, who cruised into town in 2006 driving a Hummer limo and announced his commitment down the road from here at, of all places, the College Football Hall of Fame? (He finished 4-of-6 passing for 34 yards.)
Would it be junior Evan Sharpley, whose career so far has been spent on the sideline like the 80,795 Fighting Irish fans in attendance each home game: watching Quinn light up the scoreboard. (Sharpley finished 10-of-13 passing for 92 yards when he could actually throw it. He was sacked seven times.)
Or would it be sophomore Demetrius Jones, a scout-team stud who was twice named “show player of the week” last year because of his ability to give the Fighting Irish’s defense a decent sneak peek at the opposing quarterback to come?
“I’ll be honest with you folks,” Gailey said of the outcome. “I didn’t see this coming.”
Turns out Jones won the job and finished 1-of-3 for four yards passing and with 39 yards on the ground. But those statistics are just semantics.
Jones was pulled late in the second quarter with Notre Dame trailing 16-0 and Weis’ game-plan imploding like failed courtship. Sharpley came in and later, in the fourth quarter, Clausen experienced his first collegiate live action with the outcome long determined.
Needless to say, the search for a Notre Dame quarterback continues.
“Georgia Tech has a defense that blitzes and moves guys around a lot,” Notre Dame senior center John Sullivan said. “When they execute well it can be a long day for an offense, and that’s what happened to us today.”
Weis said he should know by Tuesday who his starting quarterback will be next week when Notre Dame travels to Beaver Stadium to face AP No. 17/USA Today No. 18 Penn State. The Nittany Lions will look to avenge last season’s 41-17 drubbing in South Bend.
Not that Notre Dame needs anything extra to worry about.
As cleanup crews dispersed through the empty stadium’s aisle ways and darkness cloaked north-central Indiana, one thing stayed the same since Saturday afternoon sprung hope eternal on a new college football season: The Fighting Irish’s end zone remained empty.
“Unfortunately,” Weis said. “Georgia Tech got the best of us all day.”