Weis, to keep his team sharp and focused, was harder than usual on the Irish players leading up to last week's game against Navy because Notre Dame was a 24-point favorite. To get their attention for this game, the head coach said he was going to show the players a seven-minute video about the last time these two teams met. As Irish fans can painfully remember, Syracuse blew out Notre Dame 38-12 in 2003 at the Carrier Dome.
"That will be a very humbling experience for them and a quick reminder that this game is really about playing Syracuse as much as it is about being respectful to the seniors," Weis said. "You've got to respect your opponent."
First-year head coach Greg Robinson has not been as successful as Weis has been in turning around the fortunes of a down program. The Orange are 1-8 on the year and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Weis, who compares Robinson's defensive philosophies to Pete Carroll's, respects what the Syracuse head coach has accomplished in his career.
"We talk about guys wearing Super Bowl rings, he's got multiple rings of his own from coaching the NFL for 14 years," Weis said. "Here's a guy that's been running defense at a high level for a long time and you can see why their defense is vastly improved. In fact, they're on pace to improve in every ranking in the NCAA in every defensive category from last year to this year."
*Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is one of 10 "players to watch" for the 2005 Walter Camp Player of the Year award. The junior has put himself in this honored positioned by throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns to only five interceptions this season in Weis's offensive system. The individual award is the fourth oldest in college football and one of the other players to watch includes last year's winner, USC quarterback Matt Leinart. The winner, voted on by all Division I head football coaches and sports information directors, will be announced on December 8th on ESPN's SportsCenter at 6:00 p.m.
*Jeff Samardzija did not find the end zone in last weekend's 42-21 win over Navy. This was the first time in eight games that the junior had failed to score a touchdown, which was a new Notre Dame record. Samardzija has something to shoot for next year.
He also has some unfinished business this season. Samardzija is only 204 yards away from breaking Tom Gatewood's single-season record of 1,123 yards set back in 1970. The 6-5 receiver already has already broken Derrick Mayes mark of 11 touchdowns in one year. Samardzija has 12 with two games to go.
*There's an old saying about statistics: there are lies, damned lies and statistics. For the Orangemen, one of their more impressive accomplishments this season fits this bill.
Syracuse is leading the nation in red zone offense. Of the 15 trips inside the 20-yard line, the Orange have put points up on the scoreboard 14 times. This is a 93 percent scoring rate. Syracuse has eight touchdowns and six field goals.
But only 15 total times inside the red zone all season long? Notre Dame has scored more points in the second quarter alone than the Orange have accumulated in 2005. Syracuse gets the job done when in the red zone but the trouble has been getting there in the first place.
*The Irish passing game will be put to the test when they meet Syracuse. The Orange have the 6th best pass defense in the country, allowing only 163 yards a game through the air. Notre Dame's strength is passing the ball as Brady Quinn and his receivers rack up 328 yards a contest.
The main defender trying to thwart Quinn break more school records is Anthony Smith. The 6-1 senior free safety leads the country with six interceptions. The Hubbard, Ohio native's 14 career interceptions are third all-time in Syracuse history. Smith would be the first Orange player to ever lead the nation in interceptions. He has caught Weis's attention.
"He's one of those guys that has a nose for the football," Weis said. "Sometimes the ball gravitates to certain people. Sometimes I don't even know why. You could say, well, it's coverage schemes, but sometimes being in the right place at the right time, but for some reason the ball comes to certain people on defense. It always has seemed to be that way and he happens to be one of those guys."
*There have been a lot of changes from last year to 2005. The secondary is one of these areas. Although still giving up a lot of yards through the air (267 per game), a steady improvement has been seen from the first game of the season to now. Credit secondary coach Bill Lewis and defensive coordinator Rick Minter for the gradual increase of production from this unit.
All four are due back for 2006. Mike Richardson still has a year of eligibility left. Ambrose Wooden will be a year older and a year better. The safeties, Chinedum Ndukwe and Tom Zbikowski, have room for improvement but have a nose for both the ball and the big play. Zbikowski has five interceptions and Ndukwe has been involved in seven takeways (two interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery). If the group's off-season workouts are close to what senior linebacker Brandon Hoyte saw from them last year, it could make the unit a strength of the defense next season.
"Last season, the secondary got thrashed," Hoyte said. "All they did this entire summer was work harder than anyone else I've ever seen work. They kept on busting their humps and busting their humps. That's great because come game time, ‘Nedu is around every turnover we have. Richardson is playing great. Ambrose is playing great. Zibby is playing great. That's that same secondary that everyone else was talking about."