Dangerous and North Carolina (1-7) football hasn't been used much in the same sentence this season, unless one said dangerous to watch. Yet at his Tuesday press conference, Weis emphatically (sounding like Lou Holtz) called the Tar Heels dangerous five times, trying to persuade the media that the ninth-ranked Irish's (7-1) opponent this Saturday is indeed a threat.
Publicly anyways, Weis' players appear to have bought into it.
"A team like North Carolina who has nothing to lose, they're just going to come in here and just give it their all," said guard Dan Santucci, who wasn't paying attention to the fact that North Carolina's only win was against Division I-AA Furman. "We know that by looking at them and watching the Wake Forest game, some of that, they have talent."
Yeah the Tar Heels played Wake Forest well in the 24-17 loss, but it was a home game, and emotionally, the team had a lot on the line. Head coach John Bunting was just informed that week he was being fired at the end of the season, and no doubt the players felt responsible and wanted to make a statement. They won't have that kind of zeal on the road against a much better opponent.
"Another loss for them would be another loss for them," Darius Walker said. "A loss for us would be damaging to what we have going on. They're really coming in here coming out swinging. They're probably going to come in and see what happens and if they can pull it off, that will be a great way to make your season by beating Notre Dame at home."
"I don't think it's really hard to convince us after watching the film of when they played Wake Forest," receiver Chase Anastasio said. "They gave Wake Forest a scare, and I think they are getting better each week after watching them on film."
The Notre Dame offense has reason to believe they are getting better after gaining a season-high 471 yards in the win over Navy last week. The offensive line generated the kind of push the coaching staff has been looking for all year against the smaller Midshipmen, as the Irish racked up 176 yards on the ground.
"To me, if you don't give up a sack and you run the ball well that's a good indication," offensive-line coach John Latina said of his improving unit. "To do it on a consistent basis, it really has to be something that happens week in and week out and that's how we have to see where we are. Hopefully that'll be the same type of result this week."
The Irish ran the ball so well behind it's "hardball" approach against Navy. Hardball is the word Irish coaches use in describing when they run right at the defense, down-hill style. Softball is when the offense runs draws and delays. On defense, North Carolina likes to go right at you without much stunting, and that plays right into the hands of the Irish. Besides Navy, the only other team to go right at the Irish defensively was Stanford, who ND rolled up a season-high 207 yards rushing against.
"Some defenses give us certain opportunities," tackle Ryan Harris said. "We're expecting North Carolina to come out with something different that we haven't seen, try and throw us off. They really have nothing to lose and they have everything to gain in beating us this week."
"It takes some of the mental part out of it," said Santucci, describing the benefits of playing hardball. "You just go out there and play physical, play hard and think about driving the guy off the ball."
The Tar Heels have definitely been driven off the ball, surrendering 205 yards rushing per game, ranking 115th in the nation.
"I think every week we'd like to take a hardball approach," Latina said. "You go in thinking one thing and if it's not working you better adjust quickly. We go into every game with multiple ways of attacking a defense because you never know the weather, you never know different conditions that happen and whether you can do this or do that. We go into an approach that we'd like to be multiple, but we'd like to be able to be hardball every week."
If the Irish aren't playing hardball they should easily be able to move the ball through the air. Quarterback Brady Quinn has been on point since really the Michigan game, and the Tar Heels rank 99th in the nation in pass-defense efficiency.
With all this evidence that the Irish should easily roll, the experienced team stays grounded. Or maybe Weis has convinced his team that North Carolina really is good.
"They're a dangerous team," Walker said again. "They are coming in with nothing to lose. I don't think so for us. It's really encouraging for me to see my teammates react the way we have. I think a lot of reason for that is that this team is very experienced on both sides of the ball, offensively, defensively and on special teams as well. We just have some guys who've had a lot of playing time, playing experience, so we all understand that just because this team is 1-7 or that they've only won one game doesn't mean they're going to play like that when they come in to play us.
Harris said that some of the older guys have had to reel in some of the younger players.
"Absolutely, I think some of the older guys, the veterans, especially the guys on the team last year who were at Stanford, who played against Syracuse who remember how teams can come out and play really tough even though their record is bad," he said.