A New Season

Irish head coach Charlie Weis is referring to the BYU game as the first game of the second half of the season. Although the Irish have played six games, the coaching staff considers the remaining games as a clean slate and the opportunity to start off fresh. This is the message that has been delivered to the players. So all focus from this point on will be on the Notre Dame home game this Saturday against the BYU Cougars with the kickoff set for 1:38 pm South Bend time.

The steadily improving Cougars [3-3] come into this game with a two-game win streak having downed Colorado State last Saturday 24-14 to even their Mountain West Conference record at 2-2. This team is averaging 423 yards per game with 317 of this yardage coming through the air.

Notre Dame is on fall break this week, which gives Coach Weis and his staff the chance to change the regular routine.

"Obviously, if you're starting the season over, and you're treating it like your home opener, you put in a more of a training camp mentality," Weis said. "I let them sleep in some. Give them a lunch. We're starting earlier than we normally do; we start at 1:00 instead of starting at 2:30. Because there is no school this week, you have no restrictions on how much time you can have them. We're using that time wisely. That does some unique things both offensively and defensively, especially the punt formation that they use.

"It's not a training camp as in beating them down twice a day or being with them 24 hours a day, but it's more to know what's going, so it gives them an opportunity to get going. That's what we need to do. We need to get going."

The performance of the offensive line has been a big factor in the success of the Irish thus far and there is always the possibility of a letdown, but line coach John Latina said he doesn't expect that to happen.

"We have a theme, this is a new season, second half of the season and we want to start the new season off on the right foot," Latina said. "The first game and we got them at home and we want to hammer that home and get our kids to buy into that because that is real critical that we look at it that way. Hopefully we will get some kids excited about that new beginning and playing at home and having the opportunity to win at home. That's going to be real critical this week and as we go down the stretch of the rest of the season."

Coach Latina admits the O-line has shown improvement this season, but like all good teachers, he isn't satisfied. "I want them to be perfect and they are far from that," Latina said of his offensive line. "I don't think we are as physical as we need to be yet. I don't think we're maybe as efficient doing some things, some things we are doing okay, but that is a part of football. It's hard to be perfect in the game of football. I think our kids are focused, and I think they have a great attitude about themselves. I think they are real serious about being good, and I think they have improved throughout the year but there is still a lot of improvement to be made individually and collectively.

"So I want to see us to continue to improve. I want to see us continue to get more physical. I want to see us continue be more efficient in our offense assignment-wise and fundamental-wise. Sometimes you come out of the game and feel like you did bad and the film says you did okay. And sometimes you come out of game and feel real good and the film says boy you have a lot of work to do. So we look at it and study it and critique the films and there is still a lot of improvement to be made by our group and I expect that to get better."

Although the players have a different schedule and a little more free time this week, this does not necessarily hold true for the coaching staff.

"Our work day is still a long day. We get the players a little earlier because they don't have classes," Latina said. "So we have to make sure our day with them begins a little earlier so we have to be finished with our projects and assignments a little earlier, but if you don't have time to do it on the front end, you do it the night before and you know going into the next day what you have to have done. So it's a typical work week for us."

Outstanding wide receiver Jeff Samardzija is in tune with the Irish coaching staff and likes the idea of a new season and the upcoming home-opener.

"It's going to be great and that is how we are going to approach it, and I think that is what we should be doing," Samardzija said. "I think the team is getting ready for that and it's everything that we should be doing. I think that everything that has happened in the past should be put behind us, and the only thing we think about is what is going to happen this weekend as this is the most important game right now."

Samardzija said he believes the different schedule and extra time this week is beneficial to him and his teammates. "It can be if you approach it right," Samardzija said when asked if the extra time will be an advantage for the Irish. "It can either be kind of a distraction, but not in our situation, but I can see where it could pose a problem where guys kind of maybe drift off and they get a couple of hours here and there to go and be on their own and they don't kind of concentrate so much.

"I don't think that is going to be the case here as this team is real good at taking the extra time we have and applying it to our opponent and learning the little extra things that you might not have had the chance to get through the regular school week."

Senior center/guard Bob Morton has turned in solid performances this season and he too is looking forward to the new season. "I really like it and think it is something you have to do," Morton said of the new season approach. "At the very beginning of the season people always look through the first six games anyway, so we put a cap on that and that part is over.

"Let's start again. Let's completely start anew and let's get amped up for this game just like we did for the Pittsburgh game--same kind of mentality and let's go out there and dominate, and I really think it is going to be beneficial for us going into this game."

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