Weis' Week

Notre Dame is ranked 8th in the Harris Poll and 9th in the AP and Coaches Poll. This isn't Notre Dame baseball or soccer we're talking about here. It's the Irish football team that is back into the Top 10. A year makes all the difference and, apparently, so does a change in coaching philosophies and attitudes.

Charlie Weis was brought into Notre Dame to restore the lost legacy that was slipping away from one of the most historic college football programs in the nation. For one week, and hopefully many more weeks to come, that legacy is back. The top-ranked, undefeated and two-time national champion USC Trojans will be strolling into South Bend this weekend looking to continue their dominance in a rivalry that has been as one-sided as it gets the last three years.

Pete Carroll and his team have dominated Notre Dame in recent seasons. For fans, it's frustrating to watch a team with more talent do whatever they want whenever they want. It's as if their offense has a Play Station 2 feel to it. Remember all that talk in the off-season about how much USC would miss former offensive coordinator Norm Chow? Foolish. The 2005 Trojans are averaging 640 yards per game (291 rush, 349 pass) and over 50 points a contest.

There are a lot of scary weapons in this offense but maybe the scariest thought is that with these exorbitant statistics, USC has yet to be "on" for four quarters. They blew out Arkansas 70-17 but most of their starters were on the bench early in the fourth quarter. First half-struggles have been a problem the past three weeks only to be remedied by dominant second half performances.

It would appear that the Notre Dame defense's weaknesses play right into the Trojans' hands. A lack of a consistent pass rush by the Irish defensive line gives Matt Leinart all day to look for Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith or Dominique Bird. If Notre Dame blitzes to make up for this, it leaves these receivers one-on-one with the Irish secondary. Michigan State didn't seem to have a problem exploiting the holes in pass coverage. Can Notre Dame learn a lesson from that loss and stop the big-play capability of USC?

We haven't even begun to talk about Reggie Bush. He's the ultimate weapon. Bush can use his blazing speed to break off an 80-yard run or blow past pass coverages for backbreaking touchdowns. Bush averages 8.6 yards per carry, 14 yards per reception and has six touchdowns on the year. LenDale White averages more rushing yards per game (123 to 120) and has more touchdowns (10 to 8) on the season than his heralded running buddy.

Aren't these the same thoughts heading into the Florida State game 12 years ago? That 1993 team, led, by Charlie Ward, was supposedly the "Team of the Century." They had a quick strike offense and a stifling defense spearheaded by All-American Derrick Brooks. The Seminoles came in undefeated but left South Bend with a 31-24 loss.

Weis and his staff will have their hands full game planning for this contest. Where do you start? Or does it come down to who has the ball last? Weis's offense has astounded even the non-Notre Dame fan. The creativity of his mind is amazing to watch and it's been lighting up scoreboards from Pittsburgh to Purdue. The best example of the improvement from last year to this year is Brady Quinn. The junior quarterback is a completely different player, is being mentioned in Heisman discussions and has seen his stock rise on the NFL Draft board.

Weis made a comment last week about being shocked that Oregon did not mix up their formations too much when playing the Trojans, relying on a lot of the same shotgun sets. Weis is unpredictable in his play calling and any team, let alone USC, has their hands full in trying to decipher the "genius's" patterns.

This game shapes up to be shootout. The hype and anticipation heading into the game will be fun to observe. ESPN's College GameDay will be live on campus Saturday and Cold Pizza has a show here Friday. It's a safe bet that Woody Paige and Lee Corso, two "experts" who predicted Notre Dame to have a losing season, can count on receiving less than warm welcomes.

This kind of friendly banter and national attention is what makes this week all the more special. The eyes of the college football world will be peering intently on what transpires Saturday afternoon. The week should be fun, too. The options are plentiful: the Weis press conference, the pep rally, meeting some of the old legends who'll be returning to South Bend and watching Corso, as you know he will, put on a Trojan hat when he picks USC to win the game. This atmosphere is college football at its finest, and Charlie Weis deserves the lion's share of the credit for putting the Irish back in this position.

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