Irish Gear Up for Michigan

The media heard the same old canned line time after time from the Notre Dame players this week. Whether it was Brady Quinn or Victor Abiamiri or Darius Walker, the Irish were trying to work on their technique and fundamentals in practice.

Most thought it was a ploy by head coach Charlie Weis to avoid any bulletin board material directed towards Saturday's opponent Michigan. No. 2 Notre Dame takes on the 11th ranked Wolverines this weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and the game is a sellout. The rivalry between the two teams is renewed for the 34th time. According to Weis, what the players were telling the media this week was exactly what they were working on in practice.

"I've read what they have said about fundamentals and techniques," Weis said. "That was our point of emphasis all week long. I never tell them what to say or what not to say. I tell them every week what the theme of the week is. There were a lot of things in the first two games that when we play against Michigan, if we do them again, we'll lose. The whole point of emphasis on Sunday, technically and fundamentally, was to get significantly better or else we're going to lose. That was the message. Nothing more. Nothing less.

"You can play that game any way as a coach. I try to have a theme every week. It wasn't ‘Don't say anything about Michigan' because if you want bulletin board material, you come out and flatter them all week. That can work two ways. You can say how great they are or how bad they are. It works both ways with bulletin board material. That's not what we were trying to do this week."

The contest on Saturday expects to be a physical one. Michigan comes in the game averaging 249 yards per game on the ground. The Wolverine defense will try to rattle the potent Notre Dame offense by disrupting the timing of Quinn and his receivers and be physical as well with Darius Walker and the Irish running game. The high intensity hitting was evident in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday while Thursday is more of relaxed atmosphere compared to the first two days. It makes Weis confused as to what he should do as a head coach.

"I thought Tuesday and Wednesday went quite well," Weis said. "The problem with Thursday is that I start toning down the tempo on Thursdays because I don't like leaving it on the practice field. When you start toning down the tempo, as a coach you get antsy because you want to yell at them to go full speed but on the other side you're trying to save their legs so their legs are ready to go."

The major injury for the Irish this week has been Asaph Schwapp. The sophomore fullback is a physical presence in the Notre Dame rush attack. But he reaggrivated an injury in the Penn State contest that he initially sustained last week in practice. Schwapp was held out on Tuesday and only did some running on Wednesday. If he can't go, senior Ashley McConnell will start in Schwapp's place.

"From watching him warm-up, I wouldn't have played him today," Weis said. "We'll have to see on Saturday. That wasn't enough for me the way he loosened up. I told him it wasn't enough. We'll have to wait and see on Saturday."

Mix in the rivalry with the fact that both Notre Dame and Michigan are ranked in the top-11 and one has all the ingredients of a tight ball game. Ten of the past 14 contests have been decided by a touchdown or less. That means Irish kicker Carl Gioia could play a pivotal role in Saturday's game. The senior connected on two field goals last week after missing two in the opener against Georgia Tech. If it does come down to a kick, hopefully for Notre Dame fans the same scenario that enfolded at practice today repeats itself.

"He only kicked one today in practice and it was a long one," Weis said of Gioia. "It was one kick to win the game. Fortunately today, we would have won. Normally we go out and kick half a dozen kicks. We'll start at extra point, then go to the left hash, the right hash, right middle, left middle and work our way back. Today, we just put down one. No time, it was it to win the game. The good guys would have won today at long range."

Another big aspect of this weekend is recruiting. Top-ranked players from all over the country are making travel plans to be in South Bend on Saturday for the showdown. A loss or a below average performance by the Irish could sway recruits in one direction or another. A Notre Dame win might further the recruiting roll that the program is on right now. With the success the Irish have had on the field in the past year, there could come a situation where too many players want to view the Notre Dame football experience in person on the same weekend.

"You could have too many guys come in," Weis said. "I don't think that's the case. But usually when you have too many guys come in or when you're just saying yes to anyone who wants to come, we're no longer in that position. Now, it's more of us inviting them, whether it's a junior or a senior from wherever they are. The toughest time I have is when I spend a block of time before I go out to play the game talking to them and you have to talk to different levels of people in the same room. This guy might have committed already. This guy might be close. This guy might be a junior. You have to talk to them all at the same time. Really, you have different messages to tie in."


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