?This is Tyrone Willingham's chance to get even with his former employer. Willingham recruited the majority of players on this team. It's a safe bet that he'll have his Husky team fired up for the first few possessions of the contest. Can Notre Dame stand up to this charge? They should be able to because, quite simply, they are the more talented team. This is a Washington team that was 1-10 in 2004 and 1-2 this season. The Huskies gave up 220 passing yards to AIR FORCE. Can you imagine what Charlie Weis has in the works for Kent Baer's defense? The emotions will be high on both sides and Washington players will want to win this game for their new coach. Emotions can only take you so far. This game is not between Willingham and Weis/Notre Dame. It is between the players on the field. Talent usually wins out in the end, and Notre Dame has plenty of it.
Can the defense rebound?
The numbers were not good from the Michigan State game. The Irish defense allowed 37 of the 44 points scored by the Spartans and surrendered almost 500 yards in total offense. This was not what Irish fans saw in the first two games of the year against Pittsburgh and Michigan? Did the defense just have a bad day or are there legitimate concerns? The Washington game may not provide that answer but it can restore the confidence that was shattered last weekend in time for their next two contests vs. Purdue and USC. This unit has a propensity to give up the big play. Against Michigan State, there were 12 plays of 18 yards or more given up. Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback has some mobility and ran a 10.93 in the 100-meter dash last spring. If the Huskies can establish running back Louis Rankin (88 rushing yards per game) on the ground, look for Stanback to lure in the safeties and go for the big passing play. If they convert a few, the game could be closer than some think.
How will Charlie Weis and this team respond to a loss?
This is the first time the nation will get to see Weis be the head coach after a loss. He has preached consistency and fundamentals this week to correct the numerous mistakes that Notre Dame committed last weekend. Weis was generally in a good mood with the exception of a question here and there. The Irish were on fire late in the second half vs. the Spartans. Can this carry over? Will they let an inferior Washington team hang around? If you give a weak team hope, it only increases their confidence. Weis has even admitted the team not playing four quarters of good, solid football. This would be a good start for the group with Purdue and the two-time defending national champions USC Trojans up next on the schedule. The Irish need momentum coming out of this game and the mistakes of last week cannot repeat themselves this week.
Weis and Willingham have stayed away from providing bulletin board material for the opposing teams. The media has hyped this game up for the obvious reasons. But when the teams are broken down, Notre Dame is the superior team. Have upsets occurred in the past? Of course. But with so much riding on the game (the Willingham factor, rebounding after a loss, etc.), it's hard to see Weis and the Irish losing focus. The only way the Huskies stay in this game is if they hit on the big play time after time. The Notre Dame defense is susceptible to it but Washington does not have the weapons Michigan State possessed. The Huskies are giving up 166 yards per game on the ground. Darius Walker has to be licking his chops and expect his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game in a row. Weis beats Willingham, and the Irish get back on track before heading to Purdue. Notre Dame 45 Washington 17.