Irish Prepare for Bruins

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has said that usually, the first practice after a bye is the sloppiest. Not the case for the Irish, who were crisp and focused on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Weis could sense his team was antsy about getting back on the playing field. On Thursday, with his team in shorts and shoulder pads, an even better session was turned in.

"If you rated the practices for the week, today's practice was easily the best, which is unusual," Weis said. "But there was a sense of urgency among the players and for a Thursday practice it was the best we've had so far. I don't know how that correlates to how we're going to play but I'm encouraged."

The last time Weis said his team had a great Thursday practice, Notre Dame subsequently went out and laid an egg in the loss to Michigan. This weekend, the Irish won't be facing a team the caliber of the Wolverines but a solid one across the board, especially on defense. No. 8 Notre Dame welcomes in UCLA on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 p.m. and NBC will have the national television coverage. These two schools have only played each other twice in back-to-back years in the early 1960's. This will be the first time that this Bruins (4-2) team will visit South Bend and see mystique of Notre Dame football up close. They could draw experience from offensive line coach Jim Colletto, who once was an Irish assistant.

"He's a guy who has been here before and can give them a lay of the land," Weis said. "It isn't like they're coming in with no clue as to what it's like. Sometimes, there's a little bit of an aura coming into Notre Dame Stadium that gets people both motivated and wide eyed at the same time."

UCLA's defense is no slouch. The Bruins are ninth nationally in total defense and second in third down conversion defense. They've allowed just one team over 300 yards of total offense. Notre Dame (5-1) has had two weeks to prepare for the Bruins defense. With it getting later in the season, Weis wants his team to be physically dominant and he's been stressing that in practice.

"We've been banging them pretty good this week," Weis said. "That's my number one bone of contention. The first thing I have down on my call sheet is by physical. Anytime you're playing this time of year, you never know about the weather or conditions. The one thing that you can always count on is coming there ready to slug it out, figuratively of course."

There weren't any major changes to the depth chart since Notre Dame last played. Ronald Talley did leave the team over the bye week but Chris Frome was getting the majority of snaps lately at the right end position. The three defensive starters who missed the Stanford contest, Travis Thomas, Tommy Zbikowski and Ambrose Wooden, appear to be in tip top condition. That doesn't mean the backups won't be ready. They got the majority of reps last week in practice and Weis makes sure, come game time, they know the plan if they're called upon.

"I tell them to be ready because the next play might be theirs," Weis said. "Who knows when that next play is going to be. Right now, the starters are all in the locker room and the backups are going through the game plan with the coaches. We do that every week. Every week, the guys who aren't getting a lot of reps during practice stay and get reps in case they do in the game. I don't know how the game is going to go. Our job as coaches is to make sure that when they go in there, they know what to do."

For fifth-year seniors and some fourth-year ones, this last six-game stretch concludes their Notre Dame playing career. Home games against UCLA, North Carolina and Army will be the last time they suit up in front of the fans at Notre Dame Stadium. On the opposite end, there are true seniors who have to possibility of a fifth-year. Some of these names include Zbikowski, Travis Thomas, Wooden, Trevor Laws, John Sullivan, and John Carlson. Weis will talk about their futures in private conversations after the USC contest.

"The way I want these guys to think is that the fourth year guys who have a year of eligibility left and are all graduating, I want them to think along the line of what if there season is over," Weis said. "I ask a rhetorical question. The question I'll ask is that, ‘You only have six games left in your career.' It creates a sense of urgency for now. Those guys will all have appointments with me on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the first week in December.

"I already have my recruiting schedule lined up and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I won't be here. Friday we have the banquet but that weekend I'll have appointments with those guys because I don't think the regular season is the time to be talking about it." Top Stories