This senior class trials and tribulations are well chronicled. They've had more ups and downs than a mountain range. This year, though, the seniors are cashing in with a winning season and a top 10 ranking. Weis made it clear after the game how much this group has helped ease his transition to the college game.
"The seniors have provided such good leadership considering it would have been easy to doubt me or second guess me walking in the door because they've gone through such transition while they've been here," Weis said. "But these guys have such strong will and perseverance that they bought right into program. They've really done a great job of showing leadership. It's really made my job a lot easier."
About midway through the fourth quarter with the Irish going on defense, Weis put in a lineup that consisted mostly of seniors. Although they did allow Syracuse to drive down the field and score a touchdown, just the chance for these guys to get into a game and experience 80,000 fans cheering for them is a reward they soon won't forget.
As a capper, the seniors participated in a victory lap around the field. Led by linebackers Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays, the team started by the student section and went counter clockwise around the field to salute the fans as the band played the Notre Dame Victory March. It appeared as if the players enjoyed it as much as the fans did.
"I was neat," offensive lineman Dan Stevenson said. "It's something I've never seen done in the past. That was a good idea. It's a great way to go out. We're all proud of ourselves. We played a tough a game. We wanted to send our seniors out the right way."
"I enjoyed it but I kind of cramped up there at the end," wide receiver Matt Shelton said, who caught three passes for 62 yards. "I didn't know we were doing a circle. I thought we were just doing a down and back. I just saw guys running so it took off running."
One important sight: junior tight end Anthony Fasano, who has been rumored to be thinking about leaping to the NFL, participated in the victory lap with the seniors even though he has a year of eligibility left. Foreshadowing possibly?
*Weis's favorite play of the game was with less than two minutes to go and the offense facing a third down. Senior quarterback Marty Mooney was in the game and many expected Weis to simply run the ball to keep the clock running. But a pass play was called and Mooney threw a bullet to Michael O'Hara, another senior who was running a slant pattern. The result was a first down and a play that won't be forgotten by Notre Dame fans.
"I looked over to my left and there was a big hole," Mooney said. "Mike was wide open right in the middle of it. I kind of had a feeling he was going to let us throw one there. I was real happy he called a pass play. I thought we were just going to run it and run out the clock. I don't think you could have drawn it up any better. We were able to blow out a team that played us tough all day and then get in all the seniors to play. That's what it is all about."
Even Brady Quinn got a kick out of Mooney's pass completion.
"That was awesome," Quinn said. "That was a great way to cap off the game. Obviously, converting a big third down like that. He's got to have the highest pass efficiency rating in Notre Dame history now."
*The statistics show that the Irish racked up 420 yards of total offense on Saturday. Brady Quinn was a solid 21-of-37 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Darius Walker ran for over 100 yards for the second straight game and is nearing the 1,000-yard mark for the year. Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija both caught another touchdown.
But it wasn't their best effort of the year. A reason may have been the 6-for-17 on third down conversions. Coming into the game, the Irish had been around a 50% third down conversion rate. The offense struggled out of the gate and failed to score in the first quarter. This was the first time all season Notre Dame has been unable to do so. Syracuse actually took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. Weis saw that his players were tight and let them know.
"I went to the offense towards the end of the first of the quarter after we were floundering out there and said, ‘Relax, fellas, relax,'" Weis said. "Just when they thought you'd get on them, I said, ‘Relax and regain your composure.' We scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and got the game back under control. I think it's real important not to lose your composure when things aren't going so well. I think they did regain their composure."
Notre Dame responded with two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 14-3 lead into halftime. Quinn first hit Stovall on a 25-yard scoring strike and four minutes later, found Samardzija on a crossing route for a 29-yard catch-and-run touchdown. For the year now, the Irish have outscored their opponents in the second quarter 145-26. The players got Weis's message.
"I say we were a little tight," Shelton said. "We didn't come out the way we thought we would. I think everybody felt we let ourselves down not coming out the way we should have. Coach gave us a little pep talk, got on us and we came back."
"I felt that way last night because there is always that feeling when you want to play your very best game," Quinn said. "I think that's how we came out. Guys were tight and we weren't as loose as we usually are. It really affected us when we came out offensively at first."