October 2008 Archives
UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 28, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with Coach Weis and then questions.
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: As we get ready for Pitt, they come in here 5-2. They opened up with a loss. They ran off five straight before losing to Rutgers this past week.
One thing that stood out for me as you started to do your research, they've been on the road for three games this year and won the three games on the road. So their two losses both came at home.
Dave Wannstedt, obviously it's his fourth year as head coach. And some of the guys I know well. For example, Matt Cavanaugh, who is their offensive coordinator, also the quarterback coach.
Their offense is scoring some points, just under 29 points a game, and rushing for over 162 yards a game and 233 passing, both put them in the top 40 to 50 in the country in both those categories.
Offensively they're averaging just over 400 yards, which puts them in 37th in the country. And the one stat that really stood out for me is they've been in the red zone 25 times. They've scored 23.
That doesn't mean nearly as much to me as 18 times of those have been touchdowns. So 72 percent of the times they get into the red zone they've scored touchdowns.
And an example, a microcosm of their season last week against Rutgers, they scored 34. Because of how the game went, they rushed for 138 but they threw for 348. They had 486 yards offense last week.
Big issue will be made of Stull this week. Obviously he was injured and knocked out of the game and carried off on a stretcher with a reported neck injury, concussion. He stayed overnight.
I don't know what his status is going to be. I know Dave's not going to be in the business of telling anyone what the status is. So we have to be ready for both he or Pat Bostick to play.
The big difference is Stull obviously has more experience. But Bostick is a very similar quarterback, and they don't have to change what they're doing just because they're changing who their quarterback is.
Their whole offense centers around McCoy. I know he's a sophomore, but he's definitely one of the best backs in the country. He's leading scoring in the country. Averages 12 points a game. I mean, he's averaging 5.6 a carry. Actually, 5.2 a carry for the season. Rushed for 5.6 a carry last week and four touchdowns. He's got 14 touchdowns already. In addition, he's tied for second on the team with receptions.
So he can run and catch. This guy is a complete back. And he's very, very good. When they want to give him a break, they have a perfect change of pace in Stephens-Howling 5-7, 180. More of a scout back type. And he's a good complement to McCoy's running style.
Collins is their fullback. They love him. He's been starting there for three years. Usually you get fullbacks that are slugs. He's not one of them. This kid is a good athlete and has ability to be a receiver out of the back field.
At tight end, there's really three guys that show up. Byham is their returning starter at tight end. And Dickerson they use him. He's a converted wide receiver. He played a little linebacker, too. But he's a converted wide receiver that they converted into a tight end. He's more of a receiving tight end.
If they want more of a blocking tight end they'll use Pelusi. So all three of those guys will end up showing up in the game. Wide receiver, they play three or two deep at both Z and X. Kinder and Turner will be the respective starters at Z and X.
Kinder is a smart veteran receiver, and Turner is a returning starter who led Pitt in touchdowns last season. He's got good speed and catches the ball well. But in addition to that, you're going to see McGee when they wind up in the slot. He's got good speed. Porter is listed as their third Z. But in last week's game, he was second on the team with catching, four catches for 109 yards.
And, of course, we all know about Jonathan Baldwin. Obviously he fits up way in the depth chart and plays more and more. We were heavily involved with recruiting Jonathan. He's a tall kid. Has deceptive speed. Big guy, runs well, has good hands, good hoops player. And you can see a lot of those skills transferring to the football field.
Offensive line, they just lost Houser to an ankle for the year. But that didn't seem to bother them too much, because they just moved Davis, who is the most experienced offensive lineman, who was their left guard, they just moved him into center and moved Williams into left guard.
And so I think that that's how they'll start. Pinkston will be left tackle. Williams will probably play left guard. Davis obviously moves into center and Malecki and Thomas will man the right side.
On defense, Phil Bennett, first year as the coordinator there. And they're giving him 3.6 a carry which is a good stat rushing and only giving up 309 yards a game on defense, which is 32nd in the country. In addition they have 21 sacks, 12th in the country. On the defensive line, the lone senior on the defensive line has played -- he's played in every game for the last four years is Duncan at nose tackle.
He'll man the inside along with Mike Williams. They'll play Mustakas at both those two inside positions. But Williams and Duncan will man the inside.
At their left defensive end, we'll see Sheard, and at the right defensive end we'll see Romeus. He's a big -- he looks big and long on tape. He uses his hands well and has good quickness coming off the ball.
I like their front four. And a guy who really makes their defense tick, I really think, is their middle linebacker. McKillop. I think he's a leader on defense. I think he's a good tackler. He's playing Mike, which is a nurse scheme, a guy who gets to make a whole bunch of plays. He's physical and productive. When they go to nickel they don't take him off the field.
On the strong side, they'll use Williams, who runs really well. And on the weak side they'll use Ransom, who is a good athlete, runs around well. And they'll keep Ransom on the field when they go to nickel. So McKillop and Ransom will stay on the field.
At corner, they have Chappel, who is the shorter of the two guys. Runs real well. Playing at the field corner. And Berry playing at the boundary corner. We'll talk about him as a punt returner in a couple of minutes. Berry has good speed, and he's not afraid to play physical, come up and hit you. He can turn and run.
They've mentioned repping both Gary and Fields this week. Fields already plays the star in nickel. So if we're in multiple wide receiver sets, he'll already be in the mix as is. But I think both of those guys are getting a little time at corner as well.
DeCicco, a very good tackler, strong safety. And Thatcher, who is also a good tackler and one of the leaders of their secondary, looks like a good athlete. He can run well. He'll be in the free safety.
They don't list special teams coordinator, but it's pretty easy to see who they're winning with. Conor Lee is a pre-season Luke Groza Award candidate. He's never missed a PAT at Pitt. And this year he's 11 of 13 on field goals.
I think they're pretty reliable when it comes to kicking field goals. They don't ask him to kick off. They use Brytus to do that who is a lefty. Excuse me. They use Briggs to kick-off. Brytus is the punter, who is a lefty. Long snapper is Estermyer. He handles both long and short snapping. And when it comes to returning, you'll have Stephens-Howling back their with Wright on kick return. And Berry will handle the punt returns.
Q. What is your experience in playing against winning teams that are coming off from a loss? What happens to a winning team when they're coming off of the loss?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: It's usually a very good rallying cry, especially when you're going on the road. So talking about with Pittsburgh, I can feel pretty confident that Dave right now knows that this team is 3-0. He knows they're 3-0 on the road. He knows that Rutgers hit them with some big plays in the game. Rutgers completed 14 passes in the game. Six of them went for touchdowns. What are the odds of those stats coming up?
It just doesn't happen that way. So, I mean, they just hit them on a day, Rutgers made the plays. Give them credit. They're going to go in saying we can't give up the big play and we just play our game. They like to run the ball with power, and they have just the back to do it with.
And I think they kind of -- they'll take an us-against-the-world mentality, we have to show everyone we're going to Notre Dame, it's on national TV, let's go get our respect back that we've got knocked down a little bit after the Rutgers game.
Q. Assuming that of your 12 opponents USC is the most talented team, in terms of man for man, where does Pittsburgh rank?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Usually you look for glaring weaknesses personnel-wise. You look for big holes. Not that every player, that every 11 starters are the same, but they're solid on offense, and they're solid on defense. And they're pretty good on special teams, too.
Now, there's some teams we'll play where we look and say, hey, they're good on defense but they're not very good on offense, or vice versa. But you can't say that about this team. Like their defense has been really spearheading a lot of their wins right here. Their offense last week goes ahead and has 500 yards in offense and scores a bunch of points.
I think that with this running back that they have together with their defense and their special teams, they have a chance to be good in all three facets. So, therefore, I think that they're very good across the board.
Q. Bowl eligibility on top 10 this week, or is that too low of a goal?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: No, I think a complementary game is really more the most important thing we have to deal with. Because I think that they want to have -- they want to feed 25 the ball, and we're going to have to show that we can stop them or else it's going to be a long day for the Irish.
Q. Where is Robert Hughes in the mix of running back, and it's as if he's taken a step back from the way he was performing at the end of last year? Has he been banged up?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: No, I think we just go and practice by what we see in practice and it goes into the game. Basically the way this has been going here for a while now is Armando, and the stuff we're doing with Armando, the first back-up for that package has been Robert.
But in the other package, the pound-it package, James has kind of taken over the lead in that one. So Robert's kind of -- he's the guy who plays both packages, but right now the two guys who are playing in those roles are playing very well in those roles.
So you know how it is. When somebody all of a sudden gets something going, you're not looking to take them out just to take them out. So that's where he is right now.
Q. Bob Davey, in the broadcast, was talking about, was commending you for being a game plan coach and that you learned that from Bill Belichick. Was there a time in your career where you were more along the lines of, say, Lou Holtz where it was this is what we're going to do and we'll come at you, was that a Parcells type approach?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I'd say back in the early '90s maybe, you'd have a system, you'd trap people to fit that system and that's what you did. But the game has changed and at least the people I'm around have been changed to try to be on the -- people say use the word "cutting edge" but try to be kind of a little ahead of the curve so that each week you come in, you still have your foundational plays, but how you're going to attack each opponent from a week-to-week basis, I think that maybe mid-'90s or so that came into play.
Q. With McCoy, you talked about him a bit already, what about him stands out the most? Is there something that he does better than anybody else in the country?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I haven't seen everybody in the country. But I know there's very few running backs that run inside and out equally as impressively. There's a lot of guys that are like cut back, bounce out runners, or there's guys that pound it like Ringer, for example. Ringer is not a guy who really spends a lot of his time on the edge.
Almost all of it is hitting it straight up field and getting through there and running with power and spinning off and keep on going. That is not the same running back we have here, because this guy can run inside and run outside, and they give him an opportunity to do both.
Q. Were you involved recruiting him at all at any point?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: We were at that school. But we went our separate ways.
Q. Looking at Aldridge, is part of why maybe he's running so well right now an urgency factor with him, the fact that he's a junior and has two sophomores behind him?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I think for about the last month, Michael, in practice he's getting better and better every day. He's been better when we go against the first defense when he's gotten reps doing that. He's been better in practice, and he's been running with power in practice and Coach Haywood has rewarded him by giving him more opportunities on the field.
Q. Obviously playing Pitt was your first game here. Do you think back to that at all?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Just my son being a wise guy, walking off the field. That's about as much as I remember. Feeling pretty good walking off the field and having him shoot me down right off the bat. Welcome to college football. That I do remember.
Q. Just two quick questions, where is Grimes at right now?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Actually, he came to us yesterday and told me he thought he was a full go. So I told him I'll watch tomorrow and see whether I agree with him or not.
So today may be a good day for us to figure out if that's where he is. So he intends to go this week, and we'll see how those spasms are acting when he's out there in practice, because I really don't know the answer until after I see him running around out there.
Q. And just with Brian Smith, you said he was having a cognitive test; is he fine?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: What we'll do, we'll make sure we limit his contact early in the week so that he's fresh on game day. He'll be practicing today. So he's not being held out of practice. But we'll take it in such a way where we just don't bang him around.
Even though he had a very, very mild concussion, I'll still -- the more time the better when it comes to those things.
Q. We haven't talked a whole lot about Dan Wenger this year. I suppose maybe that's a good thing. How is he holding up?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: First of all, he's done a nice job managing the offensive line, because the guy up front is still the quarterback of the offensive line. Even though he doesn't have the responsibilities like we put on Sully last year to make all the Mike calls, because Jimmy handles that now. He still coordinates the calls up front. He's done a nice job going -- we've been going in and out of a lot of modes from shotgun to underneath, from empty to not empty.
And he's handled those things, knock on wood, but he's handled those things very well to this point. And you're right, with an offensive lineman the less you notice them, the better they're playing.
Q. He obviously had some big shoes to fill; you mentioned Sullivan. Were you confident he's able to hold his own and obviously he's doing it?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: He helped ease that anxiety with me with the last couple of games of last year. So just like a lot of these other guys, last year he got those last couple of games when Sully was out, he was in there at center so we were already well on our way at that point.
Q. Has the offensive line as a whole, I think you had five or six combinations, different starting combinations last year. Have you been able to just run the same unit out all this year? How nice has that been and what does that do for the team?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: You start to develop some continuity. And that's one thing with an offensive line. You know, the more continuity you have, it usually means the play will continue to improve. And that doesn't mean you can't get some guys in there like we've gotten Trevor more and more reps as time has gone on.
At least he's being eased in there instead of throwing in there. And I think that we've been, the offensive line has led to a lot less mental errors and a lot more continuity with the offensive linemen.
Q. Last week you described Mike Turkovich as one of the most pleasant surprises. Why do you use that and what has he done?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Originally, when they brought him in here, he was a tackle. And he struggled some at tackle. I moved him in at guard because he's a big physical kid. He can handle three techniques that are on his nose because he's strong.
But this year, as you looked at our depth chart and you looked at, well, Sam's going to start at right tackle, and it looks like Chris is going to start at right guard and Wenger is going to start at center. And looks like Olsen is going to start at left guard. Well, the only position you really had a spot was left tackle. So what we did was we put him out there together with Paul. And Paul got a little banged up. And then Matt was out there. He was a little banged up, too.
So we really needed, we really needed Turk to step up and play. And what he's been able to do, as you notice, we haven't had to spend a lot of time giving a lot of extra help with either of these tackles, which has allowed us to spread out more on offense than you saw us at any time last year, because they've been able to hold their own pretty much one-on-one out there. So that's why I was very pleased with how he's progressed.
Q. Did you expect him probably more likely to be the back-up there more than the starter?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I didn't know whether he'd be a back-up. But I thought we'd have to give more help to him than we've had to give him. So I thought that Sam would really settle in nicely at right tackle, which he has. And I thought that if we had to give help it would be on the left side, but hasn't turned out that way.
Q. Can you talk about what he's like personality-wise?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: He is wired for sound. I have a couple of guys like that, they'll come across as quiet, mild mannered, reserved, when you talk to them. But he's wired. And there's a couple guys, like Danny, we were talking about him, another similar personality.
They don't come around boastful or loud or anything, but they are very, very intense, like you look at them and you think they're going to pop a blood vessel when you're talking to them sometimes.
Q. When you look at the season, a lot of people thought these next two games, both teams ranked before last week, would be a key determining how well you do. Did you talk to the team about -- I know you take it one game at a time, but did you talk about this is a chance to prove and to kind of let the national spotlight, not spotlight, but just let people see where you and who you are?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I only talk about the game that we're playing. But I do tell them the magnitude of each game and I really try to cut it down into the basics. But it's like this: They want to be a top 25 team. You've got to beat the good teams that are on your schedule. I mean, it's really pretty simple. So you've got a team like this coming in here that's a nice solid team that's coming in and playing at home.
You've got to beat them. And we'll worry about BC, we'll worry about them next week.
Q. What did Charlie say to you as he came off the field to put you in your place?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: He said -- I forget exactly the verbiage, but it was something like "Nice game, dad. Crummy second half, huh?"
And here I'm feeling pretty good first game as a head coach, feeling pretty good about myself. And how old was he at the time? So do the math. I'm drawing a blank. But that's what he says. We were walking off the field and he goes, "Nice game, dad." He goes, "Crummy second half, huh?" I said let the naysayers and second-guessers begin. He's a leader of the pack.
Q. Pitt's been pretty effective this year at blocking kicks and punts. Most of them kicks. When you run a fake punt that you did against Washington later in the game, how much of it is if they do this we're going to react with this and how much of it is perhaps future scouting because you realize Pitt is so effective?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: When we put a fake in, it's only pertinent to that game. So when we put a fake in -- you know, when we put a fake in, it's to try to help win that game, to help put a game away or to make a game-changing play in the game.
Now, the effect that you have is what you're talking about, but you do not call it to create the effect. You call it to help put a game away. That's why you call it. But obviously when you've had a couple of fakes this year that have both gone for good yardage it causes special teams coach to address it.
Q. Have you found that usually after a fake or something like that the other, the opposition perhaps doesn't go all out the following week?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Well, they definitely are more alert for it. But I'll give you an example. We got hit -- I guess it was probably the second game against Michigan when they had that spread punt formation with the lefty punter, started to run to his left. He ended up keeping it running for a first down.
Was it Michigan? I think that's the game it was. The next time, instead of rushing just the two guys that we were rushing, we rushed more to make sure that didn't happen. Well, that's a typical compensation thing that you end up doing so that you make sure you don't get hit with one again.
Well, this team this week uses that same formation again. So their punt formation. So they're going to look through and say, hey, if Notre Dame does this, we have ourselves a play. So now, because they used the same formation, you now have to compensate. You have to say, okay, well they watched the tape. We can't do that because if we do we're going to get hit with the same thing we got hit with the last time.
Q. Suddenly Brandon Walker has converted three straight field goals. One beyond 40 yards. What would you say has been the most instrumental in improving -- Walker's presence and headlines?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I think it's been a positive. That's helped. I think that he's worked hard, first of all. I think his teammates have never given up on him. I think which has helped him. Because they very easily, when things are going bad, kids can turn on you, which they never did.
So those two things happened. And then I think having a solid competitor in practice that puts some pressure on you to perform, I think that helped, too. I think all those things have attributed to him moving forward and becoming a much more effective kicker.
Q. Harrison Smith started in the nickel package. He's been on the outside. He's had sacks. What do you see his future as far as with David Bruton?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I see him as a free safety. That's where I see him. He might have to drop a few pounds. I told him, "You're going to have to lose a little weight and get a haircut." I told him those are the two things that will probably have to go together for him.
But I think that the one thing that he can do for us is -- he's one of those rare people who can play deep or drop down. This year we needed him to drop down. And that's what he's done. And he's really helped us. But I think that -- I see his future more in the secondary.
Q. Is a trip to the barber shop also recommended for Trevor Robinson?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: It's recommended for Charlie Weis, Jr., but he happens to be going today, as a matter of fact. There's some one I can control. There's others I can't.
Q. I brought this up briefly on Sunday, but it was such an infatuation when Rocket Ismail was here. He was also used part time in the back field specifically as a closer in the fourth quarter. You moved Golden Tate to punt return, used a couple of reverses just to get the ball in his hands. Is it just too much on the plays for him to also kind of learn, perhaps, as a running back?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: No, he'd love to do it. And that's where his roots are. In high school he really was a running back. So would he be capable of doing it? Could I get him in there and run toss sweeps with him? You betcha I could. But I like getting Jonas Gray some reps there, and I like to get Robert Hughes a few more reps there.
I've already got four running backs I'm trying to get reps to. Could you do that? You definitely could do it because it wouldn't take much, because that's where his roots are as a player.
Q. Just overall defensive line play, how do you see that position evolving for you?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: First of all, it all starts inside, and I think that Kuntz has been a nice solid player for us.
The guy who has probably played coming into this year, he came back when Justin came back, he hadn't played a whole heck of a lot. So I hadn't really known exactly what we were going to get out of him. And he's had a nice solid year, too.
Now, Ian, I think Ian has been caught into one of those years where there's been so many spread teams out there where he's spanned himself off the field as well as many times has been on the field, because we like to get Ethan on the field. And those guys, they've got more pass rushability when you're in that position.
But I think between those guys, between those guys, those four that I mentioned who have gotten the majority of the snaps, okay, I think that they're going to have their work cut out for them this week.
I think that they have a major challenge. They have a major challenge for them this week because in addition playing three wide receivers, this team's going to get a lot into 21 and 12 and even what I call 22, which is two tight ends and two backs and just try to pound away and say you're going to have to stop us.
Q. Darrius Fleming, when you were recruiting him, you guys were running a little bit different defense. I think he thought he was going to be kind of a traditional outside linebacker, now he's lining up and rushing the passer and so forth. He seems to like it. Seems to be good at it. Can you just talk about his evolution?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Actually, when we recruited him we told him that the easiest way for him to get on the field on defense the first year would be to rush the passer. So playing outside linebacker, a hybrid, you know that's something that you evolve to. Usually if you can get a freshman that can get on the field to help you do one major thing, whether it's stop the run or rush the passer, then you're well on your way to getting the guy on the field a whole bunch of times.
I think he has a very bright future, because he plays with power, and he's got fast twitch and I think he's going to be an excellent player.
Q. Ray Herring. You had lot of safeties on the field Saturday, a lot of them pretty productive. I think Ray had one tackle going into that game and ended up with six. Can you talk about that?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: He played better on special teams, too. We had the conversation on the bye week. Ray and I had a sit down on the bye week about production.
And I said, you know, you've been around here for a while and now you're right on the cusp of being on the field on defense and on special teams. And I'm looking for numbers. I'm like you guys, I'm looking for production when you're out there. And I think that we're starting to get some out of him.
Q. In terms of Jimmy, what's the next step in what you're hoping to see out of him this year?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Well, I think that I'd say as an offense and a passing game, I was generally -- I was okay with the first quarter and okay with the third quarter. Really didn't throw the ball after that first drive in the third quarter. But we can't have a second quarter where we leave that many points on the field like we did. Because there's going to be games where if you leave points on the field like we did in the second quarter on Saturday, you're going to end up losing.
So I think that that's the next step is to make the most of every scoring opportunity, make sure we don't sell ourselves short.
Q. Charlie, after four or five weeks of running mostly no-huddle, how would you evaluate how that's evolved?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Well, we have two different tempos when we do this. One is a methodical, we're not worrying about the pace. But because we don't flip our wide receivers and they just stay out there, the outside guys, you gotta give a lot of credit to those guys because those guys have had to learn to play the outside of two-by-two and three-by-one right and left. So they're really playing two different positions with everything they're doing.
But I've been very pleased that ever since midway through the Michigan State game, when we started going to a more up-tempo game as far as no-huddle goes, we really haven't been truly stagnant at any time.
We've had a change of modes to get it from one thing to another thing. But, overall, I've been generally pleased with how the guys have handled it mentally.
Q. You used to use or you have used going from a huddle to no-huddle as kind of a change of pace to spark the team. Is that what you're talking about?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: No. The other thing is when you're in a two-minute pace, you're still no-huddle, but now everything is quick (snapping fingers) as soon as the ball is down, boom, you're going because you're trying to put the pressure, you're trying to put the pressure of the speed of the game on the defense rather than just lining up in the formation.
The advantage of lining up in no-huddle is just passing out the information, is the fact that everyone can see what the defense is going to play before you even come out of the huddle because you're already out of the huddle.
The quarterback doesn't have to wait around to see what they're going to do other than rotating the safety down late or walking a linebacker in and bringing them late, that's about the only things that are left to be seen right there.
So I think that there's two different tempos. One where it's just a methodical tempo and the other one where it's up-tempo.
Q. Is it more challenging or easier from a play-calling standpoint?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: It's easier from a play-calling standpoint, but what you have to do, it's caused us as an offensive staff and organization to be much more refined to particular into the number of things that you end up doing, because you can only run so many things from each formation, because then you'd have too much volume and you'd never be able to get them all practiced.
Q. Can you talk about the players on Saturday night; they're all happy with the results but they seem unsatisfied with how they went about getting it? Is this team still in the learning process of being able to be as consistent as they need to be?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: You didn't talk to anyone on defense, then.
Q. Guys on offense.
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: When you say that, you were only talking to the offensive guys. I think that what you're saying is actually a good thing, not a bad thing. When guys get aggravated when they score 33, that's a good thing. That's not a bad thing. When they get aggravated that in that same second quarter I'm talking to you about, you know that they left points on the board because you think about it, how did this game go, touchdown, touchdown, interception, field goal to start off the first half. Then the second half, touchdown, field goal touchdown.
So I'm not worrying about how it ended up in the fourth quarter. We're trying to run out the clock. The one stagnant part was in that second quarter.
Q. As far as McCoy goes, you mentioned Ringer there a little bit, they don't seem to use him the number of carries as much as Michigan State does; but with the uncertainty they have at quarterback, do you feel like you need to be prepared for even more of McCoy than you intended?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: We'll get a whole bunch of him, but both Dave and Matt for that matter. They have total faith in Bostick. If Bostick is their quarterback, they're not going to worry about not being able to throw the ball. They're going to throw the ball. They're going to give the horse -- they're going to feed him plenty, whether it's 25 times or 35 times. He's going to get his touches. But they'll do whatever they have to do to try to win the game. They're not going to all of a sudden say we're not going to throw the ball.
Q. Kind of a luxury, but to have somebody like Jonas, I'm assuming, play McCoy this week, I would think it would be beneficial.
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: He'll be wearing a big old 25. So just you might as well look at him this week and call him McCoy instead of calling him Gray because that's who he will be this week in this practice.
Q. You talked about the pound-it package with James. Do you feel like you're finding a rhythm there, and what would you attribute that to?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Usually when we go into that personnel group, James and Asap run the game, the teams we're going against knows that there's a good chance, higher chance it's going to be run and pass.
Of course, you can never just sell out because it could be a play action shot that you're throwing at the same time. But when they know you're going to run it and you still run it effectively, that sends a very good message, because they know you're going to run it, and you're still running it and gaining yards.
So definitely, when you're spread out, you could be running it, you could be throwing it, the odds are a lot more in the defense's favor that you'll get a heavy dose.
Q. Anything execution-wise, what are you doing now than --
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: We're just playing more physical.
Q. I'm just wondering whether it's pro or college, if you've noticed, is there a characteristic or two or three of a Dave Wannstedt coached team?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: I think by nature there's two things -- well, three things that have already stood out by teams that I've gone against with him. First of all, defense. They're going to play a four-three defense and play a lot of cover four, and they're going to make you have to nickel and dime them or throw over the top. Unfortunately for them they got caught last week on some play action shots in the Rutgers game and got beat over the top. But most of the time you're going to have to be very patient when you're going against them, because that's the way they play defense.
Offensively, they like to run the ball and they like to run it with power. And with this running back they have, it kind of fits right into the personality of what he would like to do.
And, lastly, he's always been affiliated with teams that are sound on special teams and have pretty good specialists, and I think he's accomplished both those things with this team.
Q. How do you address, if at all, the issue of possibly becoming Bowl eligible mathematically this weekend?
COACH CHARLIE WEIS: Basically, the way I look at it, they already know that. The players, I give them enough common sense to realize that the magnitude, if they win this one -- they already know they're in. I'd like them to be thinking along the lines, let's beat Pittsburgh and then we'll worry about Boston College and let's beat Boston College then we'll worry about Navy.
I like to stay the course, but they know the ramifications of each game. And one thing is being Bowl eligible and the other one is how good a Bowl. So one thing is just getting in, getting in the tournament. And the other one is how high are you going to get seeded.
So I think that first things first, you want to get in where you know you're going to go somewhere. Right now I'm just playing one game at a time to try to get as many of those Ws as you can to put yourself in the best position come the end of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
End of FastScripts
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday that there might be some lineup changes this week in the wake of the 54-34 loss Saturday to Rutgers.
However, he was extremely cryptic about how many and what the changes will be.
He also refused to name a starting quarterback for the game Saturday at Notre Dame (5-2). Redshirt junior Bill Stull left the loss to Rutgers with a concussion and stinger in the third quarter and was replaced by sophomore Pat Bostick. If Stull can't play, Bostick will make his first start of the season, but both quarterbacks have been made off-limits to the media this week, so Wannstedt's decision might not be known until Saturday.
One thing Wannstedt made abundantly clear was that regardless of who starts, the offense will not change much.
"Everyone will want to discuss is the status of Bill Stull," Wannstedt said at his weekly news conference. "The quarterback situation is that Billy was at practice yesterday observing things. We're just going to take things with him day to day. Everything we've received from Billy and everything that we've received from the doctors has been nothing but positive, so that's good news. It has not been determined whether he will play or how much or what his status is this week -- that will be made at a later time."
Bostick threw a key interception late in the game when he tried to throw across his body while rolling out to his left. That play all but sealed the Panthers' fate.
"We didn't do one thing different Saturday when he came in," Wannstedt said of Bostick. "It's unfortunate that he made three nice throws and took us down the field and then he got some pressure in his face and we had the turnover."
Not knowing which quarterback will start will make preparation a little more difficult for the Panthers (5-2), but if Bostick is the starter, expect the offense to have a healthy does of running back LeSean McCoy and a controlled, safe passing a game.
As for the other personnel decisions, there could be a lot of things changing or hardly any.
"I'm not going to give you a whole lot of other personnel issues at this time because right now we're still working through some possibilities at a couple other spots," Wannstedt said.
There will be some shifting in the offensive line because starting center Robb Houser was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Wannstedt did concede that C.J. Davis would move from left guard to center, but Wannstedt didn't reveal his replacement yesterday. The logical choice would be senior Dom Williams, who was the starting left guard the last time the Panthers played Notre Dame (2005), but reserve tackle Lucas Nix could get a look there as well.
Davis said he's fairly confident Williams will get the nod because he's the most experienced player at that position and because he came into the game after Houser was injured. That was the first time Davis had taken snaps in a game in his career
"I think it will be Dom Williams playing left guard and I'll be playing center," Davis said. "When I came in 2005, he was the left guard, so I feel like he's ready to be plugged in there and we'll be ready to roll. I felt like we did OK [last week]. It was good for us to get that quarter in last week because this week we have a big game against Notre Dame."
The other areas that could see changes are in the secondary -- which was torched for 371 yards and six touchdowns by Rutgers' Mike Teel -- and at punt returner, where Aaron Berry has struggled and had a costly fumble against the Scarlet Knights.
Reserve cornerbacks Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed likely will get some extended looks in practice this week and split some time with Jovani Chappel. At safety, Elijah Fields might play more than he has had in recent games.
"I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that we're going to have changes," Wannstedt said. "But we are evaluating everyone on what we're doing and who we're dealing with."
NOTES -- Wannstedt was asked if he thought Notre Dame will look at the tape and try to duplicate what Rutgers did. "Yes, I would. Notre Dame might throw it 60 times against us," he said. ... The Pitt-Louisville game Nov. 8 will start at noon at Heinz Field and will be televised on WTAE as the "Big East Game of the Week."
Pitt has had some fairly bad defensive performances the past few years, but given the opposing offense the Panthers faced yesterday, this one likely will go down as one of the worst.
That's because Rutgers, which entered the game ranked 97th in the NCAA in total offense and 115th in scoring offense, did what it wanted with little resistance and rolled up 442 yards while dishing out a 54-34 spanking to the Panthers in front of a homecoming crowd of 51,161 at Heinz Field.
The Scarlet Knights amassed 371 passing yards as quarterback Mike Teel broke a school record by throwing six touchdown passes. He is the fourth player in Big East Conference history to accomplish the feat. In the Scarlet Knights' previous seven games, Teel had thrown a total of three touchdown passes.
Before yesterday, the Scarlet Knights' top offensive output against a Division I-A defense this season came in a loss against Navy when they scored 21 points. Furthermore, Rutgers (3-5, 2-2 Big East) had averaged 13 points per game in its first three conference games.
"I really thought that coming into this game, that this would be a 17-10 type of game one way or the other," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "This is the most disappointing defensive performance since I have been here. And the only thing they did different than we thought -- we expected them to come out running the ball and they came out throwing it. We didn't get much pressure on them, and they ran right by us, just right by us.
"So, it was very disappointing from a defensive standpoint, particularly with the guys we have and how we have played to this point as a defense."
On top of the loss, the Panthers (5-2, 2-1) also might be without starting quarterback Bill Stull for a few weeks after he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a neck injury when he was hit trying to throw a pass. Stull was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to Presbyterian Hospital for testing. A Pitt spokesman said Stull was awake, talking and moving when he left the stadium.
The news wasn't so good for starting center Robb Houser, who was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with what Wannstedt said likely is a broken ankle. If an MRI confirms the break, Houser will miss the rest of the season. Starting left guard C.J. Davis will take over at center, and senior Dom Williams will fill in at guard.
The Panthers' defensive breakdowns overshadowed another stellar performance by tailback LeSean McCoy, who ran 26 times for 146 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Pitt also wasted a big day from freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who had five catches for 81 yards.
The Scarlet Knights torched the Panthers' secondary play after play after play as Teel completed 14 of 21 passes for six touchdowns and one interception, The Scarlet Knights had two receivers, Kenny Britt (5 catches, 143 yards) and Tim Brown (4 catches, 132 yards) with at least 100 receiving yards. The Scarlet Knights' first two scores came via passes that covered more than 60 yards, and two others from Teel were longer than 25.
After the game, the Panthers' defensive backs said Rutgers' passing success stemmed from play-action working well. But the puzzling thing was the Scarlet Knights didn't run the ball well -- they finished with 30 carries for 71 yards, and the running game usually sets up play-action passes.
"We just didn't make any plays," said cornerback Aaron Berry, who was torched for a 79-yard touchdown pass from Teel to Britt.
"We knew they were going to take shots, we just didn't execute and make plays. I know I misjudged one, and that's on me, but Teel did a good job and threw some good balls..
Pitt safety Eric Thatcher added: "Their play-action was good, I guess you could say, but we didn't flat out cover -- we didn't cover on the back end, we didn't give the front seven enough time to make plays and that is what we have been doing all year. We've been covering good all year, and today we just didn't cover. "
The Scarlet Knights came out throwing, and the Panthers' defense played most of the first half on its heels. But Pitt's offense kept the Panthers within striking distance as McCoy scored three first-half touchdowns.
Rutgers led at the half, 34-24.
But McCoy scored his fourth touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown run with 8:58 left in the third quarter to pull the Panthers within 34-31. Pitt then forced a three-and-out and a Scarlet Knights punt, which seemed to shift the momentum.
But Berry fumbled the punt, and Rutgers recovered it at the Panthers' 36. One play later, Teel hit Brown with a 36-yard touchdown pass. Pitt never really recovered.
Here's an update on Stull ...
I know the author of the following story from my days working on the West Coast. I didn't expect to be quoted, however. You might find her take on Tyrone Willingham's days at Notre Dame worth reading.
Analysis: Ty's struggles are like South Bend all over again
Futility at UW seems to affirm Notre Dame firing
People in South Bend, Ind., still talk about Tyrone Willingham, who has been gone from Notre Dame longer than he coached there.
When you coach at Notre Dame, the talk doesn't stop at the borders of St. Joseph County.
Bill Diedrick served as Willingham's offensive coordinator for seven years at Stanford and Notre Dame.
"When you coach at Notre Dame, because of the national appeal, half the country loves you and the other half hates you," Diedrick said.
When things fall apart on your watch at Notre Dame, then, it must feel like the whole world is against you.
Willingham is the kind of man who doesn't let things fall apart, but after three strange years as head coach of the Fighting Irish, he was fired.
With Willingham keeping specifics to himself, exactly what went wrong at Notre Dame is left to speculation, but recruiting woes, subpar performances and an inability to connect with the fan base are usually cited as factors.
Whatever went wrong for Willingham in South Bend seems to have manifested itself at Washington. The UW likely will give the coach a pink slip at season's end.
After three-plus seasons, Huskies fans have joined in the chatter, voicing their displeasure as much with the product the coach has put on the field as with his stoic demeanor and puzzling explanations.
With an 11-31 record and just two home wins against BCS opponents, Willingham may feel the world stacking against him yet again.
Irish recruiting woes
In January 2002, Willingham left his comfort zone at Stanford. Suddenly, as Notre Dame's first black head coach, he was in the national spotlight playing on the country's biggest stage.
"They started out winning their first eight games, rocketed into the top five and everybody loved Tyrone," longtime South Bend Tribune Notre Dame beat writer Eric Hansen said.
After a 10-3 season in which "we just played great defense," Willingham said, things took a turn.
"That third year, recruiting was just horrible. It went downhill so quickly," Hansen said.
Willingham's class of 2004 included no five-star recruits and just three four-star prospects. Rivals.com ranked the class No. 32 in the nation.
His final class was going nowhere when he was cut loose. It ended up finishing 40th in Rivals.com's rankings.
"To be an aggressive recruiter, you have to send text messages and make promises with a wink, and that's just not Tyrone's style," former Stanford athletic director and longtime Willingham supporter Ted Leland said in an article in Wednesday's Chicago Sun-Times. "He doesn't wink. He doesn't promise anything."
Willingham considers that a compliment.
"That would be my take on it -- that he is saying I am someone who goes into the home and will not say or do something, or commit to a kid something that is out of the realm of us providing," Willlingham said.
Willingham recruited Seahawks rookie tight end John Carlson to Notre Dame, and Carlson was one who appreciated the straightforward approach.
"He's someone that I viewed as a role model, and that was important to me in selecting a school," Carlson said. "He was someone I felt I could learn from on the field and off the field. He's one of the reasons I chose Notre Dame."
But the polite approach didn't work in most cases.
"His last two recruiting classes were the worst in Notre Dame history, and that is what really led to his demise here," said Neil Hayes, who covers Notre Dame for the Chicago Sun-Times and used to cover Stanford football for the Contra Costa Times.
Willingham's recruiting at Washington has been scrutinized after below-average classes in his first three stabs. His signing class of 2008, though, was a home run. Scout.com ranked it No. 14 in the country.
Problem is, Willingham is quickly burning through that class. A dozen of the 24 members of the class have played.
Losing is not common at Notre Dame -- or at Washington, for that matter.
Before Willingham arrived in South Bend in 2002, the Irish had four .500 or worse seasons in the previous 20 years.
Willingham's three-year record was 21-16. After his 10-3 debut season, his teams put together records of 5-7 and 6-6 and never won a bowl game.
What was astounding, though, was how Notre Dame lost.
In 2004, the Irish lost to USC by 31 points, to Purdue by 25 points. The year before, they lost to Florida State, USC and Michigan by margins of 37, 31 and 38 points, respectively.
These losses really got people talking.
"All the stuff that people liked about him changed," Hansen said. "His being quiet and stuff? The first year it was, 'He's introspective.' Then it turned into, 'He's guarded.'
"Then they had these thunderous losses, and Tyrone didn't have an explanation."
A previously strong defense evaporated, and the offense, despite being led by young quarterback Brady Quinn, struggled to put up points in Diedrick's West Coast system.
Tailback Julius Jones, now with the Seahawks, played for Willingham in 2003.
"My last year, we didn't start out too well," Jones said. "I guess at Notre Dame they don't really wait for you to get things going. You have to come in strong and continue to make the program strong. I guess they felt we weren't making the moves we needed to be making. I don't really know."
Without answers or improvement, the talk grew into a full-fledged chorus of frustration.
"After an 8-0 start, his performance was marked by blowout losses, lack of in-game adjustments and rapidly deteriorating recruiting," said Scott Engler of NDNation.com, an Irish fan site. "Coupled with his withdrawal from the community and refusal to change out his coaching staff, his support started deteriorating midway through year two and spiraled downward to a minority by late 2004."
Of the losses piled up on Willingham's Washington résumé, there have been 12 of 20 or more points. Four of those blowouts have come this season.
Coaching at Notre Dame puts coaches into a different realm -- one several former coaches call a fishbowl.
"The one thing as the head coach at Notre Dame, you have to understand that you're a national figure," Irish coach Charlie Weis said. "Whether you like it or not, OK, you are. And that there's good and bad that comes with that.
"You're the head coach of one of the finest universities in the country, and whatever you do is going to be scrutinized, positively or negatively, and it comes with the territory.
"Probably one of the more disheartening things about it is the fact that you no longer have any personal life because with that job comes ... every time you're in public, you're like a marked man."
Willingham seemed to withdraw in the fishbowl while fans looked on.
"They thought he spent too much time on the golf course," Hansen said. "Whether that was the case or not, I don't really know."
But the perception became the disgruntled fans' reality, and the talk continued.
"He had a terrible media policy," Hayes said. "He considered the media the enemy, and how can you care about someone you don't know? He won't let you know him. Then the minute things go bad, he becomes an easy target."
With the perfect storm of recruiting woes, mounting losses and the disconnect, Willingham was unceremoniously fired before the end of the 2004 season -- just three seasons into his five-year deal.
Carlson still can't explain it.
"You can have so many pieces of your puzzle and for some reason things just don't come out right," he said. "I felt that we had the weapons. I felt that we had the coaches. I felt that our scheme was a good scheme. For some reason, we lost."
That was when Notre Dame fans escalated from being upset with Willingham to downright hostile toward the man.
"Still, to this point, he wasn't viewed any differently by Notre Dame fans than Bob Davie or Gerry Faust," Engler said. "Failure is not a sin.
"The real tipping point for many Notre Dame fans and alumni was allowing (broadcaster) John Saunders to play the race card on national television."
During the Sept. 24, 2005, ABC telecast of the Notre Dame-Washington game, Saunders suggested Willingham's dismissal was racially motivated. Willingham didn't challenge Saunders on that opinion.
"He didn't throw stones," Hansen said in Willingham's defense. "He didn't fuel that fire ... but when it started playing out in the national media, a portion of Notre Dame fans wanted to defend their school and the only thing that could justify his firing was if he was a complete flop at Washington."
Irish fans, then, are taking delight in the coach's struggles, but others don't get that.
Huskies offensive line coach Mike Denbrock coached with Willingham at Notre Dame and doesn't understand the animosity.
"I think it's unfortunate if they do feel that way because Tyrone Willingham, in my opinion, did a lot for the University of Notre Dame," he said.
Jones, who admitted he hasn't talked with Willingham in about a year, said, "He talked about winning off the field, that's one thing I do remember him saying a lot: 'We're going to win on the field and, more importantly, off the field.' He's a good teacher in that aspect. Things just aren't working out too well for him this year. It's sad."
Kim Grinolds, managing partner of Huskies fan site Dawgman.com, said, "There's a lot of unhappy people out there. Huskies football has always been about the fans, and there's just a lot of stuff out there. There's a disconnect -- there really is."
Willingham's media policy is the tightest in the Pac-10 Conference. Boosters and invited guests must sign in to watch practices and sign a waiver that nothing from the session will be elsewhere divulged. James Cornell and his father, Steve, were actually banned from practices during fall camp after James posted on Grinolds' site that one coach was "hands-on" and another a "stud."
Former Huskies kicker John Anderson penned an intense letter castigating Willingham and posted it on Dawgman.com.
"When you're not winning and keeping people away, it's kind of like if you don't know, you always think the worst," Grinolds said.
So the talk continues in King County, as well as St. Joseph County, as Willingham's past and present collide, putting the coach in the most uncomfortable of positions -- twisting in the wind.
Here is the transcript from Charlie's Tuesday press conference.
October 21, 2008
COACH WEIS: A couple things before I get to Washington, a couple personnel issues. Paul Duncan this morning had his hip -- he had cartilage repaired in his hip. He'll be gone for the year. We had that done this morning. We had several questions about this over the last bunch of weeks, and we decided over the last week to go ahead and have that done, so we had that done this morning. He's fine, and everything went well. But he'll miss the remainder of the season.
David Grimes, you'll have him tomorrow. He's had this nagging back injury for a while, and I would list him as doubtful in this game, so when you get him tomorrow, I'm sure his status will probably still be in that same situation.
And then Luke Schmidt is still out indefinitely. That's still the case.
I know one of the things you guys need to do a lot of times when we have practice is who's around, who's not around, so I'm trying to save you from having to do that. I'm not anticipating anyone else not being out there and being full go and ready to go.
So on to Washington. Obviously Coach Willingham is in his fourth year there at Washington, and let's talk about their offense first. Tim Lappano, who's their coordinator, was also their quarterback coach, I know he coached for a little while with the 49ers with Dennis (Erickson) in 2003 and 2004.
They're throwing the ball very well, even after they lost a main guy. They're throwing the ball for over 215 yards a game, and they're doing a nice job on 3rd down. I'd like to say better than us. They're converting about 50 percent on 3rd down, so they've done some nice things there.
(Ronnie) Fouch had to take over. He's a red-shirt freshman, had to take over at quarterback when (Jake) Locker went down with that thumb injury. He started the last couple games now, and in the last game he started, he threw for 276. One thing from watching him, because you don't have as much information -- even though he did play games last year that we had a chance to go back and see, he does move and slide in the pocket well, and he's tough and will hang in the pocket, and obviously he's got some production, especially this last game.
Running backs are in a little bit of a state of flux. The freshman Terrance Dailey had a big week last week, really -- there's been so many guys banged up, I really hadn't been that familiar with him, but he had a really good game here. He had 16 carries for 102 yards and one for 59 yards.
But there's been a bunch of guys banged up. For example, (David) Freeman had a high ankle sprain and he didn't play last week; he might play. (Willie) Griffin was getting a lot of time but he didn't get much time last week, but part of the reason why was because Dailey was having such a big game.
Homer will be the fullback. He also plays a lot on teams, and we'll see (Michael) Gottlieb and (Kavario) Middleton both at tight end.
Now, at wide receiver, they play about five or six guys at wide receiver. (D'Andre) Goodwin, he's definitely the go-to guy. Last week he had five catches for 136 yards. He's got 32 catches for the year for over 450 and averaging over 14 yards a catch. He has good hands; he goes up and gets the ball. He adjusts well to the ball in the air. He's a nice receiver.
(Devin) Aguilar will play over there at his position. He's tough, and he catches the ball in traffic, so you'll see him in there, too.
Over at Z, (Alvin) Logan, (Jermaine) Kearse, (Tony) Chidiac, they'll all play. Chidiac is more of a slot player when he goes in. Logan will probably start at the Z, another red-shirt freshman. A lot of freshman playing, because Kearse, he's a freshman who plays, too. Chidiac plays in the slot more than anything else. He has good hands, and he's tough.
And when they put (Jordan) Polk in the game, 82, he's their fastest wide receiver, but he's also their gadget guy. They do a lot of stuff, and they run fakes with him and fake sweeps with him and reverses, and he's got good speed and he's got make-you-miss ability. He's 161 pounds, but he's got that jitterbug mentality where he can make some guys miss. He's tough to bring down.
One thing about their offensive line, and you'll all see it as you're looking at it, they're very, very large people. They're very, very big. As a matter of fact, they average just under 330 pounds per guy. Their left tackle is (Ben) Ossai, he's 332, he's a big body with long arms. (Jordan) White-Frisbee, he plays left guard, he's 368, okay. And anytime somebody is 368, you know they're about two pounds under four bills because that's usually -- having been a heavy guy my whole life, that 368 probably doesn't do him justice. He's a very large man. But the thing about him, he plays with good strength, he's big, he's massive, and he tries to play physical.
(Juan) Garcia, their center, is one of the smallest guys at 305. Now, he was granted a six-year eligibility, so this is his third straight year where he's starting every game at center, so he's been obviously the experienced guy out of the group.
Now, I think (Ryan) Tolar will end up being at right guard. When (Casey) Bulyca went down, who had been the starting right guy - he had season-ending surgery last week - Tolar came in, and he ended up starting for him at right guard. He's only 321 so he's one of the smaller guys.
And at right tackle, (Cody) Habben, another 6'6", 316 guy. So one thing with them against us, we have some definite issues to be dealing with with an offensive line that is this big.
Now, on defense, Ed Donatell, who I've known for quite some time, is their defensive coordinator. Let's start with their defensive line.
I think the first person you really have to talk about is (Daniel) Te'o-Nesheim, because he is a guy who will play defensive end. They'll list him as a defensive end, but when they go to nickel they put him inside as a three technique. He's a very disruptive player; they'll slide him inside and out, and he plays hard.
Their nose is (Cameron) Elisara. Their three technique is (Senio) Kelemete, and their weak side defensive end is a little smaller guy in Darrion Jones.
Now, at linebacker before this past week against Oregon State they had been playing a whole bunch of different guys at linebacker, but this week it looks to me like they settled in because (Donald) Butler had been moving all over the place, but he's settled in at the Sam linebacker in the last game. He tries to play very physical. (Trenton) Tuiasosopo settled in at Mike linebacker, and (Mason) Foster settled in at Will linebacker. He's as productive as anyone they have right there. He will make a whole bunch of plays.
But those three guys before had been part of a rotation, but this last game against Oregon State, they played most of the way, the three of them.
In the secondary, the two corners are Richardson and Forrester. Both of these guys were former safeties that they converted to corner, so they're rough-you-up type of guys. They're very physical. The third corner that will show up in the game is (Vonzell) McDowell. They usually play him inside as the nickel when they do go to nickel.
Nate Williams is their strong safety, one of their best players. Like last week he led the team in tackles. I think he had 11 tackles in the game.
And I've seen three different guys at free safety, (Victor) Aiyewa started last week, but I've also seen (Tripper) Johnson play in there, and (Johri) Fogerson I've seen, too. Fogerson I believe last week had a virus, but I'm expecting him to be back here this week.
On special teams, Brian White is their special teams coach. He also coaches tight ends. You've got (Jared) Ballman who place kicks. He really does everything. He punts, kicks off and kicks. Every once in a while they'll put (Ryan) Perkins in there. I think he tried like three field goals as another field goal kicker.
(Danny) Morovick is their long snapper, and when it comes to returner, Polk and (Quinton) Richardson are their primary guys on kickoff return. Aguilar or Goodwin will probably be back, one of those two guys will probably be back as their punt returners.
Q. With Rudolph, just because of obviously the lack of numbers at tight end, do you treat him and Joseph (Fauria) any differently during the week in practice? Do you maybe not use him as much because of lack of numbers?
COACH WEIS: No. I mean, they rep -- Kyle gets almost all of them, and Joseph gets the leftovers. You always have to be concerned with guys in practice wearing out and things like that. So we make sure that he doesn't get too much to get worn out in practice. But other than that, we need to get him ready to go, especially to build chemistry, both in the blocking game and as a receiver.
Q. He seems like a real quiet kid, too. Is he like Carlson in that respect?
COACH WEIS: Well, they're quiet personas, but they're very intense football players. He's got a lot of John in him, which is a good quality to have. I mean, football is really important to him, and he doesn't have a quiet persona as a player.
Q. I know you guys are coming off of a loss, but this is the first time you're playing a team that's 0 and 6. Do you kind of have to stress certain things to make sure they don't necessarily look to Pittsburgh?
COACH WEIS: Well, for us, Pittsburgh is way down the road for us, because really having the break when we've had it, having it at this time right now, you really have time to kind of, okay, we've raised the bar from where we were two months ago. Two months ago we were here. Now at the halfway mark of the year, we've raised the bar to here. So now that's where we're starting from now. We're not starting from back down here again.
So now you've raised the bar to here, so really, Washington is the first opportunity you have to take a step forward from where you've raised that bar.
Q. And just with Will (Yeatman), obviously his status his changed since the last time you've talked to us. If you want to take us through that.
COACH WEIS: There's nothing I can say. I mean, he's not here for the rest of the semester, and we'll look forward to having him back in January.
Q. The comparisons between the programs between Ty and you are out there. Does any of that ever reach you? Especially last year, it seems to almost reach national obsession levels during the year.
COACH WEIS: I think the only time that that really, in my case, came into play is when we were playing them back in 2005, because it was so soon after the change-over. But I think that once we got past that game, I think that both he and I were happy to get past that game.
As far as analogies, we've gone our separate ways from there. I think that that was probably the one hurdle that we both had to get through, just so we could get through it. But I've gone my way, he's gone his way, our programs have, as well. I think that was a bigger hurdle to go through than any analogy that's taken place after that.
Q. Even deep down there's no feeling on your part when you go out there this week, because it's there with your fans, I have to win this --
COACH WEIS: In 2005 it was definitely there. You could act like it wasn't there because you felt like -- like this dog-and-pony show that we always talk about, that's how I felt at the time. I don't feel that way now.
Now I feel like, hey, it's the second half of the season, we need to get off to a good start, we've just had a nice long weekend off. We've got to get off to a good start, and Washington happens to be the team we're playing.
Q. And do you feel for a fellow coach then when you can just see their program get off to an 0-and-6 start? You were there a year ago.
COACH WEIS: Was anyone asking that question last year (laughing)? I never wish bad on anyone. It's kind of funny because my wife and I were talking about Mike Nolan last week, and we were just talking about it, I like Mike Nolan, I respect him, we have the same agent, and I was talking about it's important as you get involved in coaching to never wish bad on another coach. I mean, that's really a bad thing, because when you do that, you're wishing bad on him and his family and his assistant coaches and their families, before you even get to the players that are in the program. So I always wish goodwill on everyone.
Q. When you got into college coaching four seasons ago now, fourth season, three years ago, did you realize, you knew how important recruiting was. Did you understand how closely it was followed by fans, by media now and so forth? I mean, your recruiting is mainstream now.
COACH WEIS: No, I didn't realize -- first of all, I knew that I was going to like recruiting, so that wasn't going to be the issue. Okay, what I didn't realize is the magnitude of the internet. I mean, you can't do anything without it being on the internet, and recruiting is just one of the subjects.
Now, that's only -- recruiting happens to be the subject we're talking about, but it's no different than if I go to the movies, to the multi-cinema on Friday night, I mean, your personal life is -- the internet is part of that, too.
But as far as recruiting goes, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there's multiple people that know about it.
Q. Following up on that a little bit, do you take advantage of a coach on a hotseat? Does it make you a little uncomfortable taking a people into that situation where I know you're coming off a loss, but complacency could be an issue under the circumstances?
COACH WEIS: Complacency on our part?
COACH WEIS: I think that would be the first -- we have already addressed that issue right off the bat this morning, about Washington -- we can't worry about Washington because we've got more problems worrying about us. We've had time to go ahead and analyze us and see where we are and get well-rested and all those other things, and we're just dialing up the schedule, and Washington is up first.
So I think that in a normal case, if this were like in the normal flow of things where you had just finished a game and now you're, boom, going into the next game, that could have been the case. But because of how the framework worked out where you ended up having a bye before that took place, I think it kind of alleviates -- kind of downplays the possibility of that coming to fruition.
Q. What about the atmosphere that you're going in? Usually you go into an us-against-the-world situation. I'm not sure that is physically the atmosphere this time around.
COACH WEIS: But at the same time we're going away from home and we have to go win. So there's always -- in the next four weeks we're playing three times on the road, so this happens to be one of them. So I think that it also gives you a good opportunity to set a tone for the second half of the season by going somewhere and beating somebody on the road.
Q. Shifting gears to Michael Floyd, everybody has talked about all the positives that he brings to the field. You said you didn't think that he would adapt as quickly as he has, and I'm sure he showed that he was very, very good right from the beginning. But what have been some of the things that he has had to adapt to, that he has had to learn?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think that physically you're never as concerned about a guy physically as you are concerned about them mentally. Let's not confuse mentally with intellectually because they're two different subjects.
The number of -- the volume of stuff that you're given in this offense at the wide receiver position, especially when we're running no-huddle and they have to be able to play both outside positions that are different positions based off of the formation. One time he's one position, and the next time he's another position based off whether we're in right formation or left formation or three by one or two by two. So to have a kid at a young age without having been exposed to all your terminology and all the idiosyncrasies, to be able to play at this level this quickly, you know, is a pretty positive statement.
Q. You've talked about his personality before. I mean, he's the kind of kid that doesn't say a whole lot, or in the heat of battle is he a little bit more conversive?
COACH WEIS: I think he's not afraid to talk if that's what you're saying. I think a lot of these guys come across very professional, but I think that he's got some of that in him.
Q. With David (Grimes) out, is it a (Duval) Kamara/(Robby) Parris kind of combo coming up?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, both those guys will get a lot more action this week, and we're working them both in those roles, as well.
Q. With your tight ends, situation kind of at least you got some finality to the situation, first of all, do you feel compelled that Joseph (Fauria) needs to play? And secondly, do you need a guy like (Mike) Ragone to come out and help them in practice or talk to them in meetings and so forth?
COACH WEIS: No, we don't need a player to come out and help coach them. That we don't need. And we believe -- we're confident that if Joseph had to play in the game, we'd be just fine.
We're still in the same boat, though. Do you play him just to play him, to get him some time? Do you play him in case when you do need him, when that time comes, you're not just throwing him to the wolves. So we're going to keep finessing that situation until we're forced to make a decision.
Q. You wanted to take a look at some of your young guys during the open week, and I wondered if somebody jumped to the forefront to the point you might use them or consider using them.
COACH WEIS: I'd say there's about three or four guys that we believe if we had to get them into the mix, we could get them into the mix. But at this point of the year we're going to try our best to not go in that direction unless we have to.
Q. Anybody jump out at you that you said, wow?
COACH WEIS: Well, let's just throw an example on offense and an example on defense. Let's do that. Let me group two guys on offense and talk about one on defense, because -- let's talk about both the young wide receivers.
Okay, now, both the young wide receivers, meaning John (Goodman) and Deion (Walker), have made significant strides from when they first got here, to the point where if I had to play them in a game, I believe they would do just fine. Okay, if I had to play them in a game, I believe -- now, I would not have said that at the beginning of the year. But at this point right now, if I had to play them in a game, I think they would do just fine.
Now, because I've got some big bodies on the defensive line, and let me take Kapron Lewis-Moore. He's a very athletic guy who athletically we could get on the field right now. But is he going to be as good or better than the guys that are already out there playing? It's not a question of whether he'd be good enough to play. The question is do we gain anything from that being the case.
But they're three guys that if we had to play them this week in a game, I'm convinced that all three of them could play in a game and do just fine.
Q. My obligatory Tyrone Willingham question. Do you guys know each other really other than just saying hello, and have you talked at all since the last Washington game?
COACH WEIS: No, we don't know each other very well, but we're cordial when we see each other. But no, I don't call him and he doesn't call me.
The last time I saw him, I think, was last January at the (AFCA) coaches' convention. But other than that, we don't call and ask how the families are doing or anything like that.
Q. Is pass right still in the play book?
COACH WEIS: It's still in the play book, but it's still and vivid and sad memory.
Q. In your self-analysis or your team's self-analysis that you've done during this bye week, talk about red zone offense and some of the things you've tried to do there.
COACH WEIS: What I want to do -- in case I had this question about self-scout. I've kind of put Michael (Haywood) and Corwin (Brown) on call for the self-scout questions, because I made the staffs do due diligence and all I did was reap the benefits of being able to read the summary. I would prefer if you don't mind if you guys would direct those questions today towards Michael and tomorrow towards Corwin because you might get into that a little bit more particular. I would be more general and they would be more specific. Fair enough?
Q. In terms of the running game and talking about that, you mentioned Washington's size, but they've had the same problems running the football consistently as you have. What areas have you tried to tweak during the two weeks?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, they had two issues. Number one, okay, they've had a whole bunch of running backs get hurt. But number two, their best runner -- one of their best runners was their quarterback who got hurt.
For them to be able to make an analysis of their running game, a lot of it had to do with when No. 10 went down. So that is a whole separate set of circumstances.
As far as us, one thing that we've had to do is as we've evolved over the last month is put our team in the best position to win, and that's what we will continue to do. And whatever puts us in the best position to win, okay, running or throwing, that's what we're going to do, because ultimately our No. 1 goal is making sure we win the game. And we need to do better than we did the last game, because the last game it wasn't good enough.
Q. Finally, might as well build on the Ty Willingham questions, when you encounter him or you're going to encounter Bob Davie this weekend who's doing the game, is there any kind of bond there because they're two of the few people who know what it's like to stand on that Notre Dame sideline and go through the pressures, or whatever the experience is?
COACH WEIS: You know, when I call people up, I usually like to talk to the guys who left here with a good taste in their mouth. And when guys leave here before they're ready to leave, they're not the people that would be the best people for me to talk to.
It's not that we're not cordial; it's just not the best situation. I don't want them to feel they have to say something, and I really don't want to ask them. When I have a question to ask somebody who's been in that boat, I call Ara (Parseghian) and Lou (Holtz), because they were here over a decade, and I just feel those are the guys that can kind of guide me the best.
I feel bad for other people, but the bottom line is when people leave before they want to leave, it's never a good conversation.
Q. You talked about raising the bar. Can you talk about what you addressed with the team, like what type of goals in the second half you may have set or what particular areas you want to raise the most?
COACH WEIS: Well, there's two obvious ones that you could state, but without getting too specific, the two obvious ones are the fact that unlike the first half of the season where you played four games at home and two games on the road, the second half of the season you're going to have four games on the road and two games at home.
So I think that the first thing you're going to have to do, and it starts this week against Washington, is go away from the can you win on the road question mark and start making the statement that you can. In other words, I want to eliminate the question mark and start doing something about it. And I think that this week's game gives you an opportunity to start in the right direction.
Secondly, I think that it's really important in the composition of the schedule to realize there's no more byes here now. This is six weeks here, not like let's play to that four-day weekend off, and I think what they need to realize is we've gotten to the point we are now to put us in a position where we can make this season into a pretty solid season, you'd better get off to a quick start, or else you could find yourself wallowing around just like we were at different times last year.
So we want to make sure that the second half of the year start is just as important as the first half of the year start was.
Q. Speaking of where you're going, have you mentioned a Bowl yet at all?
COACH WEIS: Not at this point. I think that right now the most important thing you have to worry about is quick start against Washington on the road. And I think that that's enough to fill their plate.
Q. One more question about Rudolph. I assume when the season began in August, you never thought he would play as much as he did. Talk about what he's developed the most and what you've been impressed by and what he's developed.
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, he moved up the depth charts in a hurry. He moved up the depth charts in a hurry around here similar to Michael Floyd that we were talking about before. He was handling this stuff at a much faster pace than we thought was actually going to take place. So we've always been a staff -- we go by what we see. I mean, it was pretty obvious in practice that this guy was going to be in the mix, and he wasn't going to wait long before he was going to be in it.
That being said, what I really like with the kid, and I forget who said it, Michael might have brought it up, he has a lot of John Carlson in him, and I couldn't think of a better person to emulate or to replicate than John Carlson. You know, that quiet, intelligent kid that comes across just as a very humble person, who as a football player is a fierce competitor. And I think that you can't give any more glowing analogy than comparing him to a guy like John.
Q. You guys had a nice stretch of a couple games going where you hadn't turned the football over until North Carolina. Are there things in particular, and if so, what are they, that you tell Jimmy (Clausen) and the skill players just about the importance of retaining possession?
COACH WEIS: Well, I mean, each guy is their own separate entity, but between myself and Ron (Powlus) and Michael (Haywood), Jimmy has probably heard more than he wants to hear at this point, okay. But Jimmy is a very prideful person. He wasn't too fired up about how that last game went.
You know, you've just got to, across the board, do a better job of taking care of the football, but it starts with the quarterback because he has the ball in his hands on every single play.
Q. Is there something in practice you can do to work on that, because --
COACH WEIS: Well, depends on the subject. If you talk about strip sacks, we do work on that almost daily. We work on strip sacks almost daily. So that was one issue. That was one of the turnovers. Another turnover was just a misread and the other one was a miscommunication, so all three things were separate issues.
Q. In terms of setting the tone for the second half of the season, does it all come down to the start you get off to at Washington, or are there certain other things that you're looking for to see can this team make a jump from being a decent football team to a good football team?
COACH WEIS: I'm looking for the same thing you're looking for, to tell you the truth. But the difference is I don't want to count on hope. I'm counting on it happening. I'm counting on us going from decent to good. So it's my responsibility, along with the assistant coaches, to kind of guide these guys to help make that happen.
Q. Some of these mistakes, does he almost have to make them and learn from them to move past them as opposed to just working on it in practice?
COACH WEIS: Well, you never want to make mistakes. I mean, it isn't like you're rooting to make a mistake. But probably the most telling thing, Jimmy in that last game, not to go back to the last game, was after throwing that interception for a touchdown, shortly thereafter leading us down the field and going back and getting a touchdown back. And only really good players can do that, because usually they'd be shell-shocked, like oh, no, here we go. Your eight-point lead just went down to one, but shortly thereafter it's up to eight points again.
So that's the signs of a guy who has a chance of being very, very good. It isn't like I'm going to go out and practice him throwing interceptions or getting strip sacked. But at the same time, it's how they respond -- the bigger question is how they respond when it happens than it actually happening.
Q. You talked a couple thematic things about winning on the road, fast starts. Were those Xs and Os, or are there a couple things that stand out, we need to be better here, here and here?
COACH WEIS: That is a definite yes is the answer to that question. We'll talk Saturday afternoon about -- well, let's see, Saturday evening, we'll talk about it then.
Q. As far as Duval (Kamara) goes, it seemed like North Carolina could be a big moment for him in terms of how he plays. Do you feel like he got out of a funk or a slump or whatever you want to call it a couple weeks ago?
COACH WEIS: Well, he obviously had an opportunity to make plays, and he made them, okay, which now his confidence arrow is pointing up, where it might have been flat-lined or even going down some. So with a guy like that who's got a world of ability, when his confidence arrow is pointing up, that's a good thing. It's another weapon we can get on the field and get him the ball.
Q. And lastly, aside from getting some younger guys some reps, what are you feel like you got out of last week? Obviously you got out on the road and recruited a little bit. Where do you feel like you guys are right now heading into this week?
COACH WEIS: Well, there are really three main things that you were trying to get done last week, okay. Number one is you wanted to analyze where you were. Number two, you wanted to practice a couple practices really hard and physical practices where some of the guys who don't get as many reps would get significantly more reps at what we do so you could go and evaluate where we are at this point right here.
For example, Dayne Crist. I mean, Dayne Crist, I said that (last week) sarcastically about his arm being sore; his arm might have been sore by the end of the week with how many balls he ended up throwing, which is a good thing, because other than that, he's not -- he's really running third. Evan (Sharpley) is running second, he's running third. There's not many reps for the third quarterback, and there's not many reps for the second quarterback.
And last but not least, I think the players needed some time off. They needed some time physically and mentally to get away from the place. The coaches utilized it to go out there and go recruiting. They at least got Sunday off anyway, and got back because we used last Wednesday as Monday -- they got to use Monday as a preparation day, and thankfully everyone had to be back here for breakfast by 8:30 this morning, and everyone was in attendance, thank you for asking. So I didn't have any mystery people that I had to worry about disciplining after a four-day weekend.
Q. Real quick, with David's injury, is it structural? Is it just sort of a muscle spasm type thing he's not getting over? Is there any detail you can get us about that?
COACH WEIS: You know, what they do is sometimes when you have these spasms, they do things to try to get the spasms to go away, and the problem is they haven't gone away. The only thing that really helps at this point is rest. So you're in a catch-22. If he goes out there, he's not full speed. So I told him today I decided I'm going to rest him until they go away.
Now, the sooner they go away, the faster we'll play him. He knows this is not about holding him, and he knows as soon as he's healthy we're going to put him in there. But at this point until they go away, I think that he'd be a lesser player than the guys that are behind him.
Q. I wonder if you could describe a little bit about the environment of coaching Notre Dame, especially the contrast between the first and second years.
COACH WEIS: Well, the one thing as the head coach at Notre Dame, you have to understand that you're a national figure, whether you like it or not. Okay, you are. And that there's good and bad that comes with that. You're the head coach of one of the finest universities in the country, and whatever you do is going to be scrutinized, positively or negatively, and it comes with the territory.
Probably one of the more disheartening things about it is the fact that you no longer have any personal life because with that job comes -- every time you're in public, you're like a marked man. And I'm not saying that that's all negative. That's just the facts of life.
So I think that that brings an added set of circumstances that most other people don't have to deal with, because most times you're scrutinized for how your players play or how they do in the classroom or do they get in trouble. You're scrutinized for those.
But in addition here, you just have -- there's so many people that follow Notre Dame to either root for us or root against us that you have to realize that you're a public figure, and that's the way it goes.
Q. With this game being in Seattle and Coach Willingham's history in both programs, can you talk a little bit about how these programs are going in completely opposite directions, and especially from the Notre Dame side and how you've been able to kind of turn that around?
COACH WEIS: I'm not going to speak for him or his program, other than the fact of me getting ready to play them this week. I really don't know any of the idiosyncrasies that are involved there. I can just talk about us.
We're 4 and 2. We've had some bright spots; we've had some negative spots. I think that we have a bunch of players that are getting better across the board. I feel very good about the development of our players right now, and I think that the expectations internally have grown exponentially from where they were, because no matter how many times you tell the kids and set goals for them, until they get a little taste of success, it's tough for them to actually see the same vision that you have.
But I think that that's the direction we're heading, and as far as I'm concerned, we can't get there fast enough.
Q. With Jimmy Clausen, I'm sure a lot of it has to do with experience, but what's the biggest change you see in him from last year to this year?
COACH WEIS: Well, it's been a composition. The biggest thing that I'm going to talk about to your question is going to be mentally. But I think that physically he's so much a different specimen physically than he was at any time last year. When he walked off the field last year against Stanford, he weighed 194 pounds, and he's -- well, I don't know, after this weekend he might be over 220, I don't know. But he's been between 215 and 220 this year, been able to withstand a totally different game physically from where he was at any time last year. He's got zip on the ball. So all the physical attributes are much improved from where they were at this time last year.
But probably, without a doubt, the two things that I see the most significant progress, okay, are his mental pickup of our offense and his leadership. Because his leadership is something that really has grown more this year as the year has gone on and at a faster pace than even I might have expected. You know, he's really turned into a guy that the offense turns to. Before he just happened to be the guy playing quarterback.
Q. And with that mental pickup, how much more does that allow you to kind of open up the play book this year than last year?
COACH WEIS: A whole bunch. And every week there's more. We added a package last week, and we'll add more this week and we'll add more the next week. Every week -- we won't throw away any of the stuff we have, but it will just be a continuous add-on because the more we can handle, the more flexibility, the more problems you can present to those guys calling the defense.
Q. I was just wondering if you could talk in general about what the biggest differences are between your team this year and last year and what enabled you to get over that hump after what happened last season?
COACH WEIS: Well, the first thing is, I want to be careful when I answer this question because when I say it -- when I answer the question, I don't want to be making excuses for us having a dismal year, because it was dismal.
The one thing I can say is that there's a bunch of guys on this team that last year really got their first year of true playing experience. Some of them were freshmen that are now sophomores, some of them were sophomores that are now juniors, some of them were juniors that are now seniors. I've got this guy Mike Turkovich playing left tackle that is really playing very well for us that played some last year that has been one of the most pleasant surprises on our team.
But I think that what usually happens is those guys -- after their first year of playing, regardless of what grade they're in, usually their second year of playing is when there's the most significant progress, and I think that fortunately for us, a lot of those guys that are playing for the second year have really stepped up.
Before you talk about the freshmen that have complemented us, I think the most significant thing is those guys that are now in their second year playing. A lot of them have made significant progress.
Here's my take on Notre Dame at the midway point. Any thoughts?
October 16, 2008
BY NEIL HAYES email@example.com
Take off the hard hats and sweep up the sawdust. If the first half of Notre Dame's season has taught us anything, it's that the heavy construction phase of the rebuilding process is nearing completion.
There's still plenty of finishing work to be done, but a 29-24 loss Saturday at then-No. 22 North Carolina proves the Irish can compete with nationally ranked opponents -- a big step forward for a team that failed to compete for much of last season.
Notre Dame is idle this week, which offers an opportunity to acknowledge that the program appears on schedule for a return to the national stage in 2009 and 2010. If this team continues to improve, it has a chance to end the regular season where it left off -- in 2006. In other words, if everything goes right, the Irish will sail into 2009 as a Top 25 program with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback that must prove it can defeat BCS-caliber teams.
Returning to square one is a major accomplishment, considering the program didn't hit a bump last season so much as it fell into a crater. It also puts any lingering disappointment about this season's 4-2 record in perspective.
''I just feel disappointed for the team that we're sitting here with two losses at the halfway mark,'' coach Charlie Weis said. ''That's really what surprised me. Everyone else's expectations were lower based off how last year went. But I'm disappointed to be sitting here at 4-2 right now, very disappointed.''
Burying the ghost of 2007
The Irish could have defeated Michigan State and North Carolina, although, as Weis will acknowledge, that means little in a bottom-line business. It's up to Weis to set the tone for the program and ratchet up expectations inside the locker room. In the long view, however, this season was never about this season. It's about obliterating memories of last season. It's about the program positioning itself to contend next year and beyond.
You must reach base camp before you can begin an ascent, and that's what the Irish are doing this year. The path gets progressively steeper and more treacherous. Notre Dame has lost an NCAA-record nine straight bowl games, and although that streak could end if the Irish prevail in a lower-tier bowl this season, the ultimate goal is for Jimmy Clausen to take the team where Brady Quinn couldn't.
That means competing for a national title, and as encouraging as Notre Dame's performance has been during the first half, the difference between competing with North Carolina and defeating the truly elite programs is more of a chasm than a gap.
There are two reasons to believe the Irish are closing ground. Team speed is one. The disparity in speed during Notre Dame's 41-14 Sugar Bowl loss to LSU after the 2006 season was striking. Few may have realized it then, but help was on the way. The quicker, faster athletes whom Weis has recruited are emerging, and that should help the Irish compete against top SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12 foes in coming years.
The second reason is the most obvious. Weis is turning Notre Dame into Quarterback U. Clausen already has proved to be a great equalizer. Where would the offense be, if not for his ability to execute out of multiple-receiver sets? Clausen's ability to put the offense on his shoulders has rescued the Irish and should make him a legitimate Heisman candidate next season.
Super recruit Dayne Crist is warming up on the sideline. Clausen's success only will enhance Weis' reputation as a quarterback guru, which should draw more blue-chip recruits and ensure continued star talent at the most important position for years to come.
''[Clausen] was exposed to about every form of pressure known to mankind last year because teams saw a wounded animal, and they were going for the kill,'' Weis said. ''We've started to remedy that across the board. He was exposed to so many things that he would not have been exposed to. So now, when they're happening, they're repeat occurrences. They're things that he has already seen, which puts him in a position to make a lot less mistakes.''
The dangers of feeling satisfied
Weis undoubtedly will be deep in his bunker, studying his team's first-half tendencies and second-half opponents, while his players are given the luxury of a long weekend. Weis must be and will be vigilant. The improvement seen thus far can unravel in a heartbeat. The moment you assume you've arrived is the moment you realize you're further away from your goal than ever. Trust Weis to drive that point home to his team again and again.
''There's a whole bunch of areas that we're going to have to improve on,'' he said. ''We're starting to get better in a whole bunch of areas in a hurry. We have holes across the board that we're going to have to improve on if we're going to make a serious run at winning a whole bunch of games this second half.''
A 4-2 record might not satisfy Weis and impatient Notre Dame followers. Considering where they've been, however, and where they appear to be headed, it's not such a bad place to be.