Weis Sees Confidence Back

One of head coach Charlie Weis's biggest tasks this week was to get his team to regain their confidence before Saturday's game with Michigan State. Notre Dame should have felt good about themselves heading into the Michigan game.

After the contest, there were doubts and questions to answer about how good this team was. Apparently, Weis has achieved this tough goal and got his group to focus once again at the task at hand.

"I started to see it on Tuesday but you could definitely see it today once the whole plan is in," Weis said on Thursday night after practice. "You stand there and listen to the calls. When the defense is up, I stand behind the show offense so I can hear how the defense is reacting to what they're doing. You can see they understand the planning and they're ready to go."

The Irish practiced outdoors on Thursday, a rare occurrence. Another rarity was the full pads the team was in out on Cartier Field. Usually, Weis practices indoors in shells on Thursday. Last Thursday, though, might have been the indication that a change was in order. Weis came into the press room that day and was irked at the intensity and tempo of practice. Two days later, Michigan came into town and bowled over his team. This week, it was a 180 degree change and the result was one that Weis liked.

"One of the reasons is that when you pull off their pads-we usually go from full pads on Tuesday to shoulder pads on Wednesday to protective shells the next day-what happens is that when they have less gear on, our practices are less physical and the pace of the practice goes down," Weis said. "Sometimes I worry about how beat up we are before a game. But I figured with 48 hours from now, we have a full two days before kickoff because it's a night. I wanted to make sure the pace of the practice was up and it was up.

"There are no signs of people out there going through the motions. No evidence of that this week and I was looking for it. If there was evidence of it, there would have been repercussions."

There have been a few injury concerns heading into the contest with Michigan State. Weis said that fullback Asaph Schwapp, who did not play last week vs. the Wolverines, is "doubtful" for the game against the Spartans. The sophomore locked up his knee in the win over Penn State and has been slow to recover. Senior Ashley McConnell, who caught a touchdown last weekend, would once again start in his place. Cornerback Ambrose Wooden also has been nursing an injury, this one a hard hit to the head. He's been at practice the past few days and could still see some action on Saturday night.

"He repped a fair amount of reps today," Weis said about Wooden. "But I don't know how much we'll use him in relation to the plan. Remember now, we have 48 hours before we play. He'll be there at the game. It isn't like Asaph, which I list as doubtful. We are not putting him in that same category."

There's a few players who have made impression on Weis this past week. First, wide receiver David Grimes is coming off his best game of his career from a statistical point of view at his position. Despite his critical fumble that was recovered by Michigan and led to the Wolverines scoring to go up 20-7, the sophomore caught four balls for 48 yards. Grimes has excellent hands and has pleased Weis more and more.

"I continue to gain more confidence in David Grimes as a wide receiver," Weis said. "I don't any longer look at him as a distant third to the first two guys. Now, if I had to get in the game where one of those guys was banged up, instead of them going out there and going through three quarters I could put him in there and feel confident about what we're doing."

Another player probably won't even see the field this year. Freshman Demetrius Jones was tabbed as the show team quarterback this week to emulate Spartan signal caller Drew Stanton. He did such a good job preparing the Notre Dame defense for what they'll face on Saturday night that Jones, along with center Dan Wenger, was awarded show team players of the week. After Quinn departs for the NFL, Jones will be one of the names in the mix for the starting spot.

"It does let you see things he could do that a lot of the people can't do," Weis said. "It doesn't mean that he pulls it down and runs with it every time because Demetrius is a thrower first, runner second. He does bring you a lot of options to the table. It's encouraging to watch."

One point of contention for Weis has been the officiating. Though not specifically calling out the referees on his own, the Notre Dame head coach responded to a question on Thursday about the holding penalty differential through three games: 10 called holdings on the Irish, zero for the opponents. Weis said he had a conversation with Big 10 head of officiating Dave Perry about the discrepancy and that every week, win or lose, sends in five or more plays they think that should have been called different.

"You have to make sure when you send those things in that you're not blaming those things for why you lost the game," Weis said. "We did not lose the game because of calls in the game. But we sent in five shots-we could have sent in 10 shots- but we sent in five shots of plays that were clearly miscalls. We wanted to know what their opinions were on these calls.

"In almost every case, even with the ones where they said they might have been right, you still know they're protecting their officials in that case because on almost every case he saw what our point was. You try not to give them too many. You can't do anything about that game. You hope that in the future, you don't have that same situation.

How does he feel about the wide margin of holding penalties?

"10-0, that's a tough one for me," Weis said. "That was a tough one for him (Dave Perry), too. He said that was very unusual."

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