Head coach Charlie Weis held his weekly press conference Tuesday to discuss Saturday night's opener at Georgia Tech. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:12 p.m. down in Atlanta and ABC will carry the game live on television. Weis can concentrate and talk about an actual opponent instead of banging each other around like the Irish did in fall camp.
"There's an excitement of your players going against someone other than yourselves," Weis said. "That's always exciting. Going on the road, for me, is always exciting. Going against a top-flight opponent is always exciting. This is a good football team we're going against. Don't expect anything other than this team showing up with a high-level of energy by the players and fans. This will be a hostile environment we're going into and a tough task. That excites me as a competitor."
The side story to the Yellow Jacket matchup has been the progress of Tropical Storm Ernesto. It was a hurricane earlier in the week but has been downgraded the past few days and is churning just south of the Florida Keys. The projected path of Ernesto has it going up the eastern seaboard, sparring Atlanta of high wind and rain. With the weather, one can never know. Weis wants safety first but said that he thinks Ernesto will have little impact on their flight and game preparations. The Irish are planning to fly out of South Bend on Friday.
"I go on multiple sites everyday," Weis said about checking the weather. "I check Notre Dame weather and then check where we're going. I do it and I have a couple of my guys do it, especially Chad (Klunder), who is the operations guy and worrying about the flights. We always track them for potential weather problems going into a game."
As for the actual game, one name constantly keeps popping up: Calvin Johnson. And why not? The 6-5, 235-pound junior wideout brings a variety of skills to his game that makes it hard for opposing secondaries to over him, including a reported 45-inch vertical leap. Johnson caught 54 balls last season, good for 888 yards and six touchdowns. He accounted for over 40 percent of the passing game and drew 16 pass interference/defensive holding calls. The numbers could be higher if his quarterback, senior Reggie Ball, was better than the career 49 percent passer.
"Anytime you have a receiver the caliber of this guy, he makes all the other skill guys better," Weis said about Johnson. "Everyone ends up paying so much attention to that guy that there are a lot of other people that reap the benefits. There are some potential pitfalls.
"He's big and fast. He's not small and fast. When you're big, fast and athletic, it's the trifecta. It isn't just the speed you worry about. It's the size you worry about. When you're playing with a corner that's 5-10 and he's 6-5, it's a problem."
On defense, Yellow Jacket defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will try everything in his arsenal to slow down a Notre Dame offense that averaged 36 points per game in Weis's first season. Georgia Tech's front seven is the strength while the secondary might be tested as the Yellow Jackets must replace three starters from last season. In 2005, Georgia Tech was 22nd in the nation in total defense, including 14th in sacks and 20th in tackles for losses. Weis is complimentative of Tenuta's system.
"First of all, they have a great scheme," Weis said. "They have a lot of confidence in their scheme and players. I think a lot of defense is when your players know what to do and can do it at a high level. He's had success for a long time. I'm not the only one saying that. There are a lot of people saying good things about Jon. We can talk about blitz zoning and bringing pressure. Bottom line: they have good players and play a good scheme."
Just like last season's opener at Pittsburgh, Saturday's game is at night. That's a lot of time for Notre Dame players to sit and think about the contest. But with all the travel time, meetings and pre-game meals to consume, it makes it easier for Weis to control what his players do and watch on television.
"They don't have any time to watch any shows," Weis said. "The night before the game, by the time we get there and get checked into the room and go have dinner and then have meetings, it's pretty close to time to go to bed. I don't think there is a lot of time on Friday night. That leaves Saturday morning. I also tie up Saturday morning, too. There are a lot of those shows that they're missing too."
With a full Saturday morning and afternoon to burn, does Weis get a chance to watch any of the contests going on around the nation?
"I watch them myself," Weis said of the games. "I do the same thing. Some people get a nap. There are different things people do. One of the ways I stay loose is to flip on a game. If there's one on, I'll probably be flipping it on. I'm the worst person to watch a football game with because all I do is analyze the game. You wouldn't want to watch a game with me."
Saturday will kick off year two under Weis. Last season, there were a lot of unknowns as to what the team would look like and how they would perform. A lot of these concerns were put to rest after the beating Notre Dame laid on Pittsburgh. What will Irish fans see this year? As far as the coaching aspect, Weis said there have been a few tweaks to his approach as he becomes more familiar with the process.
"I don't know if I'm better," Weis said from this year to last year. "I'm different in the fact that there were things going into the season last year that I didn't have a total grasp of. We prepared in a very similar way to Georgia Tech that we did for Pittsburgh last year. There's been a lot of similarities as far as that goes.
"But I think that I'm trying as best I can to be a little bit more patient than last year because I understand we have two levels of players out here. I have the experienced players and all these young pups in here at the same time. A lot of times, it forces you to bite your lip. The young quarterbacks are not going to know the same things as Brady Quinn knows. You can't talk to them the same way or expect the same things out of them. When you have 28 new guys, you have to understand you have a class system."