Will Darius Walker bust loose for 150 yards and a few touchdowns? Will Maurice Stovall finally fulfill his potential and help Brady Quinn gain confidence in the new offense? How will the veteran offensive line perform? Will the Irish run it more than they pass or the other way around? You can bet on Weis being unpredictable in his play calling and some of these questions being answered. After getting to know one another at spring ball, the rigorous summer conditioning program and more than three weeks of fall camp, Weis is rearing to go.
"We are looking forward to finally strapping it up and going against somebody else," Weis said. "It's been quite some time for these players since their last game, and a lot has transpired in that time frame. And I think that right now they are really looking forward to getting on the bus, to get on a plane to Pittsburgh to go against a formidable opponent on national TV.
"I know the team is excited and I know the coaching staff is excited. I think we are trying to handle this professionally like a business trip. We know that we're going against an opponent that's well coached, and we know that they have a lot of ability on all three facets of the game, from offense, defense and of course their specialists are quite extraordinary. We're really looking forward to the challenge that Pittsburgh presents us."
There is also a lot of uncertainty with Pitt's new coach, Dave Wannstedt and what he'll do to stop Notre Dame's offensive attack. He retained last year's defensive coordinator, Paul Rhoads, and they have contrasting styles. Wannstedt is more conservative and preventative of the big play while Rhoads wants to blitz more. Wannstedt played for the Panthers in the early 1970's and is in the same position as Weis: back coaching at their alma maters and trying to attain more success than their predecessors. Wannstedt has sized up the Irish and is impressed with the talent and experience on the offensive side of the ball.
"I've got to start with their offensive line really," Wannstedt said. "I think that those guys have been together for awhile, and they've got an experienced quarterback. They've really got all eleven (starters) back. And they've got Darius Walker, and he played most of the time last year. So they've got everybody back on offense. A lot of athletic ability, a lot of speed, but it's probably going to come down to the quarterback. It usually does in high-energy games. And it may not be the great plays. Usually in early games, it's usually not the team that makes the most great plays, but it's usually the team that makes the fewest bad plays."
The Notre Dame coaches have consistently said they will put the best players in the best positions to win games. It is all about matching personnel to their strengths for this staff. Last year, the offense struggled to find their rhythm. In some games, like the Pittsburgh game, they put up 38 points on the scoreboard although in a losing effort. In other games, like the BYU game, they scratched and clawed their way to 17 points versus a 5-6 team. Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood doesn't do the comparisons between 2004 and this year's squad.
"I really don't spend much time comparing our offense to the offense that was here previously," Haywood said. "But we're going to be New England from the last several years. We're going to try to execute effectively and try to put our players where they can have success. The things we are asking them to do are the things which God gave them the athletic ability to do. We provide them with better opportunities and the ability to turn the bad plays into good plays."
The Irish also have a huge asset in the form of Bill Lewis and Bernie Parmalee, two coaches who were with Wannstedt in Miami last season. Weis has said that if he has any questions on what the Pitt coach will do in a certain situation, he simply walks down the hall and asks Lewis. The door has been open to everyone.
"Each coach individually has had meeting with Bill Lewis," Haywood said. "We go in there and pick his brain about different issues and that is first and 10 plays, second and medium, second and short, second and long. Bill Lewis has been a large asset for us. We have to be prepared for whatever they give us."
All the questions will not be answered on Saturday night. Generalizations cannot be tagged for the entire season. Whether or not Notre Dame wins on Saturday night, the Weis era will continue to build back the program's legacy. The fans are not expecting an undefeated first season from him. In the mean time, Weis can look to more than just the scoreboard at Heinz Field to assess his team's growth.
"It basically comes down to whether our players actually were mentally prepared and that shows up on the field; did they play hard for 60 minutes, which will show up on the field," Weis said. "There's some glaring, glaring obvious things that happen. And just like when you watch the game and you're sitting there watching, saying, well, this happened, this happened, we obviously see the same thing what happened, and then have to go pound ourselves again the next day when we have to go watch it on tape all over again.
"Right now it's time for us to go ahead and start playing and start to play crisp and start getting some production and start hitting somebody else, and then play hard for the entire game, because there are things that I'm really looking for: Mental, physical execution and playing hard for 60 minutes."