Fundamentals, Willingham Key Words for Notre Dame

The first loss of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame highlights how the new head coach will handle losses. After the game, Weis showed why he is a highly regarded leader. He accepted all the blame for the loss and the mistakes that contributed to it.

But this doesn't mean Weis won't let the players know what they did wrong. Weis has made it a point this week to get back to the basics and fundamentals. The Irish committed 12 penalties for 92 yards, missed a ton of tackles, were out of position at times and had numerous mental errors. Whether it was botched plays or a turnover at the goal line, Weis had plenty of ammunition to unload upon his players. Offensive lineman Bob Morton, though, saw no change in Weis's demeanor.

"He dealt with it exactly as he said he would which is not what I thought he would," Morton said. "It's exactly how he said he would. It's a very business-like approach. He kept things black and white for us. Come Sunday, we had to move forward and we have a lot of things to take care of. We're working the same this week as we did the week before and the week before that. And that kind of consistency is something players are drawn to because you know what to expect."

The team assembled on Sunday to watch the game film of the Michigan State contest. It's a good bet that not a lot of pats on the back were given from the coaches to players. Junior offensive lineman Ryan Harris said the staff pointed out the errors they made and the ways to correct them in future games. But they also did a good job, according to Harris, of bringing the players back to the middle ground whether they win or lose.

"It's the same way we had to come down and focus again after two big wins," Harris said. "We have to come back and focus after a loss. And the coaches have talked about being focused no matter if we win or lose. No difference."

And about getting back to the fundamentals at practice for an offensive line that produced only a little over 100 yards rushing?

"We had a little more time to spend with our individual position coaches to work on techniques and fundamentals," Harris said. "That's the only way we can better ourselves as a team and start to do the things we want to do as a team and hopefully insure more victories to come."

The problem with getting back to the basics is the huge added weight of this week. Notre Dame's former coach, Tyrone Willingham, awaits them in Seattle as the new head coach of the Washington Huskies. Willingham recruited a lot of these players and emotions will be running high come Saturday afternoon.

Weis, to his credit, has tried to deflect every Willingham question that has come his way. At his Tuesday press conference, Weis said that if the media saw the game film from last Saturday against the Spartans, they also would be worrying about the mistakes committed during the heart-breaking loss. This is where the return to fundamentals approach comes in and it's a clever way for Weis to shrug off the obvious questions about the Willingham match-up.

As for his Notre Dame players, they had their own thoughts and statements, although they weren't too eye opening.

"I think we have the utmost respect for Coach Willingham and the staff he has over at Washington," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said. "But we're looking at everything we did last game and concentrating as a team ourselves to better improve our team to go out there and get a win at Washington.

"You have to go into the game taking a little bit away from it knowing that the coaches are going to have the team ready. That's how it is anywhere you go. They are going to try to avoid all the distractions here on the team and go out and play a football game.

"I think everyone has memories but that's a different story. That's for something else. We're trying to concentrate on winning the football game."

Harris said he has not talked to Willingham or anyone on his staff since the day they left South Bend. Will he or any his teammates go up and talk to the Husky coach before or after the game?

"I'm sure there will be some opportunities for us as players to say something if we wish," Harris said. "But that kind of depends on how the game goes and what kind of happens there.

"He's a fierce competitor and someone who is in extremely good shape. He's a disciplinarian. He's someone you have a high amount of respect for. He's someone you listen to and a good role model." Top Stories