This team, for one night, did a 180 degrees turn from 2004. The offense looked creative and imaginative. Pittsburgh had no idea what was coming and this showed in not making Notre Dame punt until 14:55 of the fourth quarter. Weis put in three tights ends on one play followed by three wide receivers on another play followed by a forceful backfield that contained Rashon Powers-Neal and Asaph Schwapp. The Panthers simply could not stop them.
But what else would you expect from a man with a loaded resume of proven success? Weis is considered an offensive genius by many and has the Super Bowl rings to prove it. But the way he shifted personnel in and out of the game with different formations was astonishing to watch, especially for an Irish fan base used to seeing stagnant offenses in years past. The game plans this season will put the players in positions to win. The players have to execute it and they did just that this past weekend.
The offensive line was nearly flawless. They opened up holes for the Irish backs for 275 rushing yards to set the tone. The biggest stat of the game for this group: no sacks allowed. For a team so dependent on the health of their starting quarterback, Brady Quinn, this veteran group did their job protecting their leader.
"I think they slugged it out really well," Weis said. "I've been preaching since I got here about being a tough, physical team and earn the big overtures about nasty but that's the way they played last night. I mean, they played wanting to be the ones delivering the punches, not the ones taking the punches. I give them a lot of credit for that."
Also, taking advantage of the offense's strengths was in work Saturday night. Quick hitters to Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija allowed them to use their size to overpower smaller corners. Running Powers-Neal near the goal line, which accounted for three touchdowns, is a tough chore to stop for any defense, let alone a Panther defense that was dazed and confused at the first-half offensive onslaught. Weis wasn't lying when he said he was going to put the best players in the best position to win and it showed versus Pittsburgh.
The defensive performance was better than expected. Allowing Tyler Palko to throw for only 220 yards after giving up 280 per game in 2004 was a major key to the game. After the first drive, many Irish fans grumbled ‘here we go again' when Greg Lee got behind Mike Richardson and safety Tom Zbikowski for the 39-yard touchdown stroke. To the surprise of many, they hunkered down. They allowed Lee, an All-American candidate, to catch only three more balls for 24 yards the rest of the contest. The inexperience factor did not seem relevant as the game went on.
"As they settled down into the pace of the game, you know, can't simulate the speed of the game in practice," Weis said. "But as they settled down into the pace of the game and they started gaining some confidence in themselves, it isn't like it's a bunch of inexperienced guys anymore as the game goes on, because now they are getting used to playing with each other, and hopefully each week that will be a growing process. Hey, there's going to be up and downs and downs but yesterday was a perfect example of a team gaining more confidence as the game went on."
The game was not perfect. Weis pointed out that his team committed ten penalties and there were some substitution errors on special teams. There were also a few missed tackles and you can count on the head coach letting his team know his complaints.
For one night, though, the team exceeded expectations. The Weis era could not have got out to a better start. Now, the maize and blue of Michigan awaits the 1-0 Irish this weekend in Ann Arbor. The national attention will once again be focused on how this team responds to being the underdog. Irish fans can savor the Pittsburgh victory for a week. Weis knows the magnitude of the win but their attention is now solely on the Wolverines.
It was a big win for them for an opener, but we have a long way to go," Weis said. "We want to wrap up Pittsburgh here today because after today we don't be talking about Pittsburgh anymore. You can forget about asking them questions about Pittsburgh on Tuesday because they will not comment about Pittsburgh. We'll be talking about our next opponent at that time."