News and Notes 8-31-2005

*Irish fans hope a repeat of last year's five-touchdown performance by Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko does not occur Saturday night. This was one of the many instances where the Notre Dame secondary got roughed up in 2004. Head coach Charlie Weis knew he had to build back the confidence of this unit, especially with the Irish opening up with the Panthers.

"I think they are much more confident in their own playmaking abilities, a), and b) they trust the coaches," Weis said. "The schemes are going to put them in a position to make plays. Right now they are confident and I think that's one of the issues walking in the door here. Their confidence was a little shattered and sometimes you have to deal with a psyche of a player. It's an integral part of getting them ready go."

Much of the same receiving core is back from last year's Pittsburgh team. All-American candidate Greg Lee is head and shoulders the best of the bunch and will be a prime target for Palko. Tight end Erik Gill is best remembered among Notre Dame people for his catch and run in last year's game to set up the game-winning field goal. Gill is a big target at 6-5 and is on the John Mackey Award watch list for best tight end in the nation. Junior Joe DelSardo and sophomore Derek Kinder, whose only career reception was a touchdown versus the Irish last year, round out Palko's receiving targets that will try to test Notre Dame's secondary. Defensive back coach Bill Lewis knows it will be a challenge for his group.

"We've looked at their receivers in terms of their ability," Lewis said. "They have some talent. It is well documented that Greg Lee is among the best receivers in college football. He is going to present a challenge but there are a group of other guys. I've been especially impressed with their tight ends along with Greg Lee. They have had other receivers play a role at different times. They are a very solid group as a whole with a couple of very outstanding players with (Erik) Gill and Lee being two of those."

*Weis has finalized the travel squad to Pittsburgh but did not release any names. Of the 15 spots that were open as of Sunday, it appears that seven players have booked their seats to the Steel City.

Also, because Notre Dame is an independent, they do not have any set rules on how many people they can dress and travel to a game. This gives Weis the added advantage of taking any player he thinks can help the team win a game. But with the eight extra spots not taken, it appears that there are no free rides to away games.

*Many will be eager to see what plays are called when Notre Dame gets the ball. Weis has earned the title of offensive "genius" in his ability to exploit match-ups. One thing Weis does do is script plays although he prefers to keep them to a limited amount.

"I don't think you can stick to 25 plays," Weis responded when asked if would script that many. "If you script to 25, it doesn't give you the chance to react to what they are doing. All of a sudden, it's halftime and you haven't made any adjustments yet. That's why I try to keep it to about 15. There are times when they're not working, I won't get to those 15 either."

Weis will not tell his players the first 15 scripted plays until right before game time. This is so the word does not get out to announcers, fans or the opposing team. Weis reflected back on a story about telling his NFL players early Saturday morning what the scripted plays were going to be. The word got out and Weis knew something was up when he went back and looked at the film and heard the announcers mention watch out for something real big here at the beginning of the game. The story produced the loudest chuckle of the interview session.

The plays are scripted to get a feel for what the opposing defense wants to do in certain situations. If the Irish run this play, what will Pitt do in response? It is a chess match of sorts.

"Sometimes you call a play not knowing whether they are going to work or not but sometimes that play is setting up another play," Weis said. "You might look at it as, ‘That's a dumb call.' It might not even effect anything until 20 plays later when that play is setting up another play and it might be a big play. There is a whole thought process to it."

*The Irish's opening few games have been well documented. After the Pittsburgh opener, Notre Dame must travel up to the Big House to face a Top 5 team, the Michigan Wolverines. This is why the Pittsburgh game is so critical. A loss in the opener would send an 0-1 Irish team to face Michigan the following week, no easy task. Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood wants to take it one step at a time but hopefully make it a good first step.

"One of the things you do that is real important Saturday is to have a stepping stone from which you can build upon because right now you only see your team and how they are going to do," Haywood said. "But let's go out and see, as we go out and test ourselves, who we are against the 22nd ranked team in the country."


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