"What was everyone talking about when we were rolling into Stanford?" Weis asked at his Tuesday press conference about last year's game. "‘They're done. They've thrown in the towel. You're going out there and going to whoop up on them. You're going to a BCS game. No problem.' You have a Thanksgiving Day dinner and then next thing you know, you're fighting for your life. There's evidence.
"Players aren't dumb. They read the papers. There is evidence from last year of how it was a dog fight and we were fortunate to win it. That lasts for a day. There's a number of ways you challenge them on top of that to make sure they're not overconfident."
As Irish fans can remember, it took a last minute drive and a Darius Walker touchdown to beat Stanford last season on Thanksgiving Day weekend. It saved Notre Dame not only national ridicule but a trip to the Fiesta Bowl and millions of dollars for the university. The situation is a little different this season as the Cardinal head east to face the Irish on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 p.m. and NBC will have the television coverage.
It's not just the winless record. It's the manner in which Stanford limps into the contest. Head coach Walt Harris has had his hands full this season with injuries. Last week in a 31-0 loss to UCLA, the Cardinal were without their two starting wide receivers and starting backfield. One injury, starting fullback Nick Frank's cervical spine condition, is so severe he had to retire from the game all together. They are six to last in scoring defense, third to last in total defense and dead last in rushing defense. Stanford has had trouble running the ball, ranked 100th nationally but can air it out as they are 58th in Division 1A with 202 passing yards per game, mostly because they've been had to deal with big deficits early in the game.
"From what I understand, they've had a whole bunch of guys get banged up on offense," Weis said. "I can go right down the list. All of a sudden, it breaks your offensive continuity. No one knows that better to me. When it happens, you don't go out and say it because coaches don't make excuses. There are obvious things you look at when there are breakdowns and one of them is continuity."
Weis, an offensive guy, certainly respects Harris's play calling abilities and doesn't think he'll have to resort to trickery to get points on the board.
"I don't think Coach Harris believes he has to go to gimmicks to win the game," Weis said. "He is one of the most sound, fundamental coaches in football. He's been coaching a long time. I knew him back when he was with the (New York) Jets. He doesn't have to use gimmicks. Does that mean he won't try things on special teams or offense and defense to create a play? I think sometimes you have to create a play."
A quick look at the schedule has a possible favorable run for Notre Dame in the next six games. The Irish don't have a ranked opponent left until the November 25th meeting at USC. Of those six games, four are at home. Another positive: after the Stanford contest, Notre Dame gets their only bye of the year to rest bodies for an extra week.
"We have a chance this week to end the first half of the season on the rise," Weis said. "This game is very important. This game isn't one where you'd be content just to eek by. You have a chance to go into an off week on the rise. That's why this game is so critical. You're playing a team that would love nothing more than making their year by beating you."
The one big injury concern for Notre Dame still rests with Asaph Schwapp. The sophomore fullback has been out the past three weeks because of a knee injury. In his place, senior Ashley McConnell has done a decent job, especially last week in contributing to Walker's 146 rushing yards. Schwapp injured himself in the Penn State contest when his knee locked up. He did not travel with the team to Michigan State in order to get treatment on it round-the-clock. It didn't help too much because Schwapp didn't play the following week in the victory over Purdue.
Schwapp is eligible for a medical redshirt since the injury occurred in the second game and it is a choice for him and Weis to consider. The scenario would be similar to what wide receiver Rhema McKnight went through last season when he got hurt in the Michigan contest (second game of the season), sat out the rest of the year, had surgery and got another season added on to his eligibility. If this is the path chosen, Schwapp would have three years remaining at Notre Dame. A final decision is close to being made.
"His injury is one that will be with us the entire year," Weis said of Schwapp. "The question is this: can he play with it or can't he play with it? I'm about at that point, after this week, that we'll make the decision. If he can play with it, we play and go through the year and fix it after the year.
"It's an old injury. It's not a new injury. It's either can you play with it or can't you play with it. If I feel he can't play with it, we're better off getting it fixed."
Despite Schwapp's absence, Weis has been pleased with McConnell in the lineup.
"I think he's been solid," Weis said of McConnell. "He's been solid in blitz pickup. He's been solid in lead blocking. Really, it hasn't been a noticeable difference with him in there than Asaph being in there."