The Disaster That Was 2007 Notre Dame Football
The first two years of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame had been promising, with major bowl trips in 2005 and 2006, even if the latter year ended on a dour note. There was still a belief the Irish were going to get better, as Weis’ highly ranked recruiting classes began to take on more prominent roles. Those hopes crashed hard against reality. The 2007 Notre Dame football team had an awful 3-9 campaign. They were unranked to begin the season and never provided a reason for pollsters to rethink that.
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Jimmy Clausen was a highly touted freshman quarterback, and he and junior Evan Sharpley would alternate at quarterback throughout the year. They weren’t helped by the lack of a consistent running game, the lack of consistent receivers on the outside and a defense that was soft.
It didn’t take long to get ugly. Georgia Tech, a team that was on its way to a 7-6 season, came to South Bend for the opener and looked like a national title contender. Notre Dame surrendered 196 yards rushing to Tashard Choice. Their offensive line wasn’t any better, allowing Sharpley to be sacked seven times. The Irish lost 33-3.
Notre Dame went to #14 Penn State, and Clausen got his first start. The Lion defense was good and Weis’ game plan for Clausen was appropriately conservative—he was 17/32 for 144 yards on mostly short throws. But that only works if your receivers make plays and the defense is tough. Neither applied in Happy Valley and the Nittany Lions won 31-10
The next game was at Michigan and in a strange twist, both teams were under fire. If the Irish thought they had problems, their longtime rivals had lost the season opener at home to Appalachian State, and then lost again a week later.
But Michigan turned itself around, while Notre Dame never would and that started on this day. The Irish run defense was again run over, as Michael Hart piled up 187 yards. Clausen completed 11/17 passes, but those eleven completions got only 74 yards. Not only can you not win that way, you can’t even score that way—Notre Dame lost 38-0.
Losses to decent Big Ten teams in Michigan State and Purdue followed. Notre Dame was tasting new depths at 0-5. They finally got off the schneid at UCLA. Clausen played his usual safe game—17/27 for 84 yards, but the defense came up with plays. They intercepted four passes, two of them by linebacker Maurice Crum. Not only did Crum return one of those for a touchdown, he also recovered a fumble for a touchdown in a 20-6 win.
The losing ways quickly resumed the following week at home against Boston College. The Eagles had their best team since Doug Flutie’s senior year in 1984. Matt Ryan was the quarterback and BC was ranked #4 in the country. They led 20-0 early in the third quarter. Sharpley came in for Clausen and the Irish rallied to within 20-14, before Ryan led a clinching touchdown drive.
Notre Dame was leveled at home by USC, another 38-0 loss to a traditional rival. After a week off, another era ended, when the Irish lost to Navy 46-44. It took three overtimes, but it ended a Notre Dame win streak in this series that went back to 1963, when the Middies were quarterbacked by future NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.
The Fighting Irish were an unspeakable 1-9. These were depths never remotely tested in the Gerry Faust era, and never fathomed in the darkest points of Bob Davie’s tenure. There were two remaining games against Duke and Stanford, and the Irish at least ended the year on a positive note.
Notre Dame beat Duke 28-7, though the Blue Devils won only one game in 2007. The 21-14 win at Stanford was more impressive than the Cardinals’ 4-8 year might make it appear. This was Stanford’s first year under head coach Jim Harbaugh and they had upset USC as a 41-point underdog, the biggest pointspread upset in college football history.
The Irish won their finale with a strong game from Clausen, 19/32 for 196 yards. There was also the semblance of a running game. Robert Hughes started the game with a 45-yard run and finished with 136 yards, including a short TD run to break a 14-14 tie.
That high point was still not all that high, and what’s worse, it was the only notable moment in an otherwise miserable 2007 Notre Dame football season.