A chance for a little payback is not far away. The Irish travel south this weekend to take on Georgia Tech in both teams' season opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:12 p.m. With most of the eyes focused on Brady Quinn and the offense, the road to a national title might lay more with how the defense performs in 2006. They've been taking notice of what's being said about them in the days leading up to season.
"ESPN loves to talk about how bad our defense is," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "It should be a good opportunity to try to prove them wrong. We still have a clip from them where they're talking about how good our offense is and how bad our defense is. I was watching it live so I wasn't too happy the rest of the day. We'll be ready to go."
"It was no big secret how the season ended," head coach Charlie Weis said. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. When you have what everyone considers a halfway decent year and you walk off the field against a team that got 617 yards on you, seriously that's not the way you want to end the year.
"You have to live with that the whole off-season. The off-season is always remembered by what happened in the last game. No one remembers really too much about the early games. It's about what happened at the end. They've had a lot of time to reflect on it and they've worked on. Now, let's see if the hard work and the tweaks in the systems can pay dividends."
The offense that the Irish defense will face on Saturday night can give them some headaches. Or at least on paper. Despite having All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson, dual threat quarterback Reggie Ball and experience elsewhere, this group ranked a dismal 103rd in scoring offense last year. The scary image is if Ball can finally be accurate for once in his career, which is a big if. With the potential problems the Yellow Jackets present on offense, Weis is glad to be playing them now.
"I'd rather face them first," Weis said. "It would be a tougher task to face them in the middle of the year. I'll give you an example. When you play Navy in the middle of the year with that offense they run, not very many teams run that. When you got one week to get ready for an offense like that, it's quite challenging. In this case right here when you have a top-flight wide receiver and quality depth at running back, big bodies at tight end and fullback, a veteran offensive line and an elusive quarterback who is a dual threat, it's never good but it's better now when you have all the extra time to scheme things if you just had a normal 20-hour work week."
A final travel squad to the game has not been completely finalized. Weis said there's anywhere from zero to four spots still up for grabs. Of those possibly going, roughly 17 of them are freshmen. Sam Young, Munir Prince and George West are a few of the obvious ones. It won't be known until game time who the others will be making the trip to Atlanta.
Also, a change has been made to the game day operations of the coaching staff. For the first time in 22 years, defensive coordinator Rick Minter is going upstairs to the press box while defensive backs coach Bill Lewis will be on the field. Last year, their positions were the opposite. When the team went into Notre Dame Stadium at night during fall camp, Minter tested his new seat out upstairs and eased into it by the second time.
"I obviously want Rick to feel comfortable calling the game," Weis said. "I know he hasn't been up in the booth in awhile. But you have a whole different aspect of the game because you have less distractions and you see the game a whole heck of a lot better. When we went into the stadium at night, we would go into the booths and work it out that way."
As for Lewis, it'll give him a chance to be more hands on with his group.
"You need two defensive coaches on the sidelines," Lewis said. "With three going up, I'll replace what Rick was doing in between series. And that is communicating with the secondary and then tying the linebackers in with the secondary in terms of coverage responsibilities."
"Jeff (Burrow) works with Bill in the secondary," Weis said. "He's up with Rick. Some of our biggest problems last year were communication problems in the secondary. The easiest way to deal with that problem is have the DB coach down on the sideline."
Today at practice, Weis was seen yelling at safety David Bruton for not participating in individual drills. The Irish head coach told his sophomore to get off the field. Bruton is listed as the backup along with Kyle McCarthy behind starter Chinedum Ndukwe. It's all part of the evaluation process that Weis is making each and every practice.
"For a good portion of practice, everyone practices at their position before going to show teams," Weis said. "A lot of times, I'm watching a position trying to make a decision about taking this guy or that guy. I have other people watching along with me. I find a guy who doesn't want to get their turns in reps, that doesn't fire me up too much."