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FEAR, FEAR for old Notre Dame. After a third straight train wreck dropped to 0--3 the team known for waking up the echoes and marching onward to victory, the Irish are on a collision course with one of the worst seasons in their storied program's history. And unless they get some semblance of pass protection, they will end the year as the biggest laughingstock in college football.
Just when you thought Notre Dame's opening-month woes couldn't get much worse, the Irish bottomed out last Saturday against a Michigan team that also had been struggling mightily. On Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage, fifth-year senior center John Sullivan snapped the ball too high, resulting in a 17-yard loss. By the end of the game the Irish had allowed eight sacks, rushed for minus-six yards (sacks count against rushing totals), fumbled six times (losing two) and thrown two interceptions. The result: a 38--0 beat-down that prompted coach Charlie Weis to say, "I'm embarrassed by that performance out there."
The implosion was just the latest for Notre Dame, which only once before has started with such a poor record. How bad have things gotten?
? The Irish have not scored an offensive touchdown and have been outscored 102--13.
? They rank last in Division I--A in rushing yards per game (minus 4.67), total yards per game (115) and points (4.33).
? They have allowed the most sacks (23) in the country.
The explanations for the precipitous drop from No. 6 in the nation last November begin with personnel losses. Notre Dame had to replace eight starters on offense, including record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn, the team's top two receivers and all-purpose running back Darius Walker. But just as devastating were the losses of three starters on the line. The replacements are two juniors and one sophomore, none of whom had started a game before this year.
Combine that with a young quarterback (highly touted freshman Jimmy Clausen) who held the ball too long more than once against the Wolverines, new running backs who failed to pick up blitzers and a coach who repeatedly called pass plays despite his team's protection problems, and it's not hard to understand how the sack total has reached a staggering number.