Weis Faces Tough Task

Head coach Charlie Weis faces a monumental task this week in trying to rebuild his team's confidence. Rival Michigan pasted Notre Dame last week at home. With so many expectations for this season, a 26-point defeat was certainly not in the minds of the Irish faithful.

The Notre Dame players, who committed five turnovers and 11 penalties in the loss, certainly didn't expect it. Weis has already dealt with the toughest part of this rebuilding week.

"I think the most challenging part of my job already took place," Weis said. "The most challenging job that you have as the head coach is about the 36 hours right after the game took place because it's not about X's and O's. It's about the psyche of the team. That is the most important thing you need to do, okay?

"If they see you wither at all, if they see you're on the fence, you lose them. You have to very matter-of-factly, come in there and say, 'Okay, here is the way it is, here what is we have to do.' Don't vacillate at all. I think that's what they've seen."

The road to recovery won't be an easy one. No. 12 Notre Dame travels to 3-0 Michigan State this week, a team that's beaten the Irish seven of the past nine times. Kickoff is slated for 8:13 p.m. in East Lansing and ABC will carry the game on television. Last season, the Spartans came into Notre Dame Stadium and upset the Irish 44-41 in overtime. After the contest, Michigan State players planted a team flag into the ground at midfield. The incident has become a rallying point for revenge to some. Weis is trying to focus on his team's improvement.

"I think we have to put the flag incident and the Michigan game behind us," Weis said. "If we use something like the flag incident for motivation, that lasts for about five minutes once the game starts. Once you start hitting in the mouth a few times in the game, that stuff is over with. You can use all sorts of quotes and things on the board to get you through the week. The bottom line is that we need to play better. We need to play better than we did last week or we're going to lose."

The fact that it's a night game, Michigan State is undefeated and the road crowd being amped up for a second straight upset should help the players recover from the Wolverine hangover.

"They've owned us," Weis said. "You're playing them on the road on Saturday night. If that doesn't get your attention, then you're not a competitor. That should get your attention."

The Michigan loss had a different feel to it. For starters, it was a 26-point loss. The three other losses in the Weis era have come by a touchdown or less. The last time Weis was part of a staff that got soundly beaten was back in 2004 when New England went into Pittsburgh and got blown out by the Steelers. As the offensive coordinator that day, Weis took his cues from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. One item from that season that may calm Irish fans: New England went on the road the following week and beat St. Louis. Also, the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. Weis, now as head coach, has the job description this week to get his team to forget Saturday's blowout loss and refocus on the next opponent.

"I think when we got back there, the one thing we did do before anything else, the first thing we did was address the team," Weis said after the 2004 loss to the Steelers. "We said, ‘Look, fellas, this is not a funeral we're going to, okay, this is a football game we just lost. We have another opportunity to go out and play.' The next week I remember we went into St. Louis, who was supposed to be pretty good. We stomped them.

"I'm not saying anything like that is going to happen at Michigan State, but that's what the follow-up of that game was. Everyone had written us off. You just lost there. You just won 21 in a row. I think if you go back and check, we went into St. Louis on the road the next week. It wasn't close because the players, different, pro players, different mentality, but I think I tried to address the team very similar to how Bill handled it at that time."

The numbers don't lie though for Notre Dame. The offense was considered to be a strength heading into the season after averaging 36 points per game in 2005. But it's not been an explosive sight so far through three games. The Irish are 60th in scoring offense, 68th in total offense, 102nd in rushing offense, 88th in sacks allowed and 68th in passing efficiency offense. They tell a painful story of inconsistency. Weis likes the fact that he's got veterans on this side of the ball to turn around the team's fortunes.

"Statistically, there's room for vast improvement," Weis said. "Here's what I do know: we have a bunch of good football players on this team and we have a bunch of players who have shown to be resilient when negative things happened before and I expect the same thing to happen this week."

Defensively, the Irish are in for a tough week. Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton can do it through the air and on the ground. He's led the Michigan State team to third nationally in total offense. Last week, Michael Hart powered his way for over 100 yards rushing and a touchdown. This week, Notre Dame will face the nation's fifth best ground attack. Running back Javon Ringer is 12th in the country with a 118 yards per game average. Stanton chips in 64 yards a contest as well. In the passing game, the Spartan signal caller has a bevy of weapons to throw to, including 6'6" wide receiver Matt Trannon, who burned Notre Dame last season for two touchdowns. It's a well-balanced offense as well. Michigan State averages 258 yards on the ground and 248 through the air. Weis said it's pick your poison.

"Michigan State has a diversified offense," Weis said. "Let's start with their offense. If you're trying to do too much, they have too many weapons, starting with their quarterback. This is a top-line quarterback now. I mean, they can run it, they can throw it, they can spread you out. They have a lot of weapons. They can beat you a lot of different ways. If you're trying to do too many things, all's you do is open yourself up for mental breakdowns."

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