Irish Face Big Test at Michigan

The Irish returned to the practice field today to begin preparation for the Michigan Wolverines. Both teams are coming off wins this past weekend. The game this Saturday in Ann Arbor will be played before a sold-out stadium and is shaping up to be a battle between two well-coached teams.

Michigan enters the contest with a 16-game home winning streak against non-conference teams dating back to a 38-28 loss to Syracuse on September 12, 1998. Notre Dame will be looking for its first win in Michigan Staduim since a 27-23 victory over the Wolverines in 1993.

The Irish offense accumulated a total of 502 yards against the Pitt Panthers and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line coach John Latina was pleased with this effort. Sophomore Darius Walker gained 100 yards on 20 carries and Coach Latina said, "Darius has great vision. He is a really good running back. The running backs have done a good job all camp, and we have played a lot of backs in camp. We have good backs, and they have good vision."

In the Pitt game, it was surprising, yet good to see the offensive line staying on their blocks and controlling the line of scrimmage the entire game. This type of effort certainly benefits the running backs.

"You always want your linemen to stay on their blocks as long as they possibly can," Latina stated. "When you have some backs that are exciting, that just helps promote you to stay on your blocks and try to do well. Sometimes you give a back four yards and that is all he gets and some backs get four yards and make eight, so a lot of backs do a lot on their own and that's a good thing."

The Irish passing game clicked for 275 yards in the opener and the offensive line did not allow a sack, which was a good day's work, but Latina knows there is always room for improvement.

"It's like anything else," the offensive line coach said, "even when you think you have had a good day of practice, then you go in and see the little things on tape that you have to improve upon. There are a lot of things we have to improve upon from the Pitt game.

"Coaches notoriously have said you get better from the first game to the second game. The guys have had the chance to get in an actual game competition and get the speed of the game and you can see the little things that need to be improved upon. And certainly there are enough of those things we have to improve upon. I know there is in the offensive line, and we are going to stress those little things that stood out in the game and just be more consistent with fundamentals."

While watching the Irish O-line manhandling the Panthers from the first snap to the last, it was obvious they were in very good physical condition and this has not always been the case in the last few years. The credit for the physical conditioning of the Irish goes to strength and conditiong coach Ruben Mendoza according to Latina.

"I have been around Ruben Mendoza the last 11 years of my coaching career and I think he does an outstanding job. So it doesn't surprise me that our kids are in pretty good shape. They [Pitt] were obviously cramping up more than us which is a good sign for us and just shows that Ruben [Mendoza] and his staff do a good job."

On many plays during the season-opener the offensive line swarmed to the ball much like the defensive players do. Coach Latina was asked if this is something they're taught by the Irish coaching staff.

"This starts with Coach Haywood, our offensive coordinator," Latina said. "This is something he wants to stress and it is a good thing. We try to get that done in practice and make it a habit for them. I thought our kids did chase downfield, and we had some screen plays, and we were downfield making some blocks. We missed some blocks but the effort was pretty decent."

While the Irish lived up to the challenge in Pitt last week, the Michigan defensive front will be a big and different challenge and will be a huge test for Latina's line.

"There is no doubt as they are highly ranked," said Latina of the Wolverine front seven. "They have good players and they do a good job of coaching them, so it is going to be a big challenge. We just have to have a good week of preparation. We have to go out and put the time and work and effort in practice and hope we go out there and play well."

Latina is in his 24th year of coaching and has gained a wealth of knowledge during his career, but he said working with new Irish coach Charlie Weis has been a pleasure this year.

"Every day for me is a learning experience with Coach Weis," Latina said. "Obviously, he has a checklist of things, little things that you might let slip through the cracks, but he has a checklist that hopefully won't let things slip through the cracks. It has really been an amazing experience I think for all of our assistants, but especially for myself." Top Stories