While USC, who throttled Arkansas 50-14, and, Texas, who downed mighty North Texas 56-7, both moved up, the Irish's showing down in Atlanta wasn't good enough in the beauty pageant of college football. At times, Notre Dame struggled with Georgia Tech's pressure and it might have influenced the voters to slightly change their opinions. Head coach Charlie Weis said on Wednesday night that he's glad the first test was a true one.
"I don't look at it as showing your weaknesses," Weis said about his team struggling at times during the Yellow Jacket contest. "They are a good football team. They show you things other football teams will try to do. It's almost like they're tipping you off. There's definitely a pro to someone challenging you because it's a copycat business. When someone sees something, they'll say, ‘We'll try to do this because this gave them problems.' At least you can address those things and continue to work on them so you're better when they come to fruition."
The Irish (1-0) will get a shot to show their worth again as they welcome in Penn State (1-0) to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the home opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:42 p.m. Last season's home opener was a roller coaster day. A huge comeback for the Irish was all for naught when Michigan State scored on a 19-yard run in overtime to win 44-41. Weis took the blame for that loss, saying the team didn't embrace the distractions. This season, it's a complete 180 in the approach to Saturday.
"I'll antagonize them this year like I did last year at the pep rally," Weis said about the fans. "I'll antagonize our fans again to try to get them to be extremely loud during the game. Like I said before, last year I messed it up. I did. I messed it up with all the distractions. We're really trying to embrace the home field environment this time and play into it. We've addressed this from day one of the week whereas last year I kept saying distraction, distraction. I'm going to try to not mess it up this year."
One of the points of emphasis this week in practice has been to cut down on penalties and mental errors. The offensive line in particular is probably sick and tired of not only the questions from the media but the hounding by Weis in practice. In the Georgia Tech contest, there were nine penalties on the offense, including several at the line of scrimmage. Weis said on Tuesday these were the most correctable mistakes and obviously has got his point through in practice.
"In two days, in any group drill we've done, we've not had an offensive penalty at the line of scrimmage," Weis said. "We did have one during the line period and that person still might be running. I don't know. But the line of scrimmage penalties have been greatly reduced this week."
On defense, it'll be game number two of Travis Thomas on defense. The linebacker/running back totaled four tackles in his first start vs. the Yellow Jackets, including two for losses. Thomas also carried the ball six times for 19 yards, all of them late when the Irish were trying to wind the fourth quarter clock down to 0:00. Weis said this type of two-way player could be seen in the future with the right type of kid.
"There's always a place for that," Weis said. "If you have a cornerback who runs a 4.3 40 and in high school he played wide receiver and DB, there's no reason not to spot him in there as a wide receiver. Sometimes it's a combination of linebacker and tight end. Sometimes it's wide receiver and DB. In Travis's case, it was running back and linebacker. It all depends on the person. It all depends on them. We had a guy like Troy Brown play wide receiver forever and we had a bunch on injuries in New England. He ended up playing in our nickel back for half the season and starting."
Also on defense in the Georgia Tech game, the group utilized a lot of nickel defensive back packages. With the depth in the secondary, this type of scheme can easily be used throughout the season. Weis said earlier this week it was more of the personnel the Yellow Jackets were using that dictated the nickel packages. Penn State has three quality receivers who use their speed and athleticism to turn small plays into big ones. The Nittany Lions rushed for just 74 yards last week in their win over Akron, a game that saw four new starters along the offensive line. The way the Notre Dame defense lines up is predicated on two factors.
"It's their personnel and it's down and distance," Weis said. "For example, if they put in two backs and two tight ends and one wide receiver, the odds of you being in nickel is very small. But if it's 2nd-and-15 and they put in two backs, two wide receivers and one tight end, which is not a three wide receiver package, most teams will go to nickel predicated by down and distance. Sometimes it's predicated by down and distance and sometimes it's down and distance."