Weis Says the Irish are Better

How much better is the Notre Dame football team from its season-opening 14-10 victory over Georgia Tech, to Saturday's 45-26 win over North Carolina? Irish head coach Charlie Weis answered that question and more during his Sunday afternoon press conference.

"It's been awhile since I've had positives to say about the return game on special teams," Weis began, mainly talking about Tom Zbikowski's 69-yard punt return that went for a score, and David Grimes 50-yard kickoff return against the Tar Heels. Thanks to Grimes, the Irish had an average start at the 32.2 yard line against the nation's third-best kickoff coverage unit.

"Our coverage teams have been pretty solid most of the year. We give up a big one yesterday which was disappointing.

"I think we are much better offensively," Weis continued. The Irish (8-1) rolled up 452 yards against North Carolina (1-8), the second-best output of the season. Last Saturday against Navy, Notre Dame had a season-high 471 yards, so the offense seems to be getting into a groove against opponents they should have no problems moving the ball against.

"I think that our defense has a lot more guys that know how to play their positions," Weis stated.

"I think that in the beginning of the year if you go back against Georgia Tech, I thought our defense played pretty stout. If you go back and really review that game, that game could've gotten away from us when we were down by 10. But I think our defense played pretty solid and I think the one thing you can talk about, you can talk about a lot of different things but it really comes down to playing more fundamentally sound to not give up big plays. I think that is probably the biggest issue we deal with on a weekly basis. That's what we'll continue to be working on."

It was just a few plays that kept the Irish defense from playing a perfect game on Saturday. The Tar Heels had just 244 yards of total offense, but 221 of those yards came on eight plays. The other 41 plays were as close to total domination as a team can get without forcing a turnover. The unit compiled eight tackles for loss and four sacks.

"For you to have to have a good game, those have to be at a minimal," Weis commented on big plays. "If they're not, you really haven't achieved your goal."

*Quarterback Brady Quinn might not be the Heisman front runner, but he is closing on Ohio State's Troy Smith. The senior's numbers are among the nation's best, completing 216-of-338 passes (63.9 percent) for 2,579 yards and 25 touchdowns. Quinn has four interceptions, none coming over the last 22 quarters. Quinn's 282.2 yards per game ranks him eighth nationally.

While Smith might be the favorite for college football's most coveted award, Weis thinks he is coaching the best offensive player in the country, and backs it up from what he is hearing from the NFL.

"Well, I haven't seen everybody," Weis said. "I haven't seen all the defensive guys. There might be some frontline defensive guy that I haven't seen yet.

"I just go by what the people at the next level tell me," Weis continued. "They tell me there isn't anyone better. I'm not in the business of having to evaluate them any more because I'm on this level. All I have to do is worry about our guys, the guys we're going against. But they tell me there's no one better."

What makes Quinn so great is his ability to not lock in on a receiver and constantly throw the ball in that direction. With the talent he has around him, Quinn has shared the love with his skill players. Four guys have over 40 receptions. Jeff Samardzija has caught 49 passes for 686 yards and eight touchdowns. Rhema McKnight has been on the other end of 52 passes for 673 yards and 11 scores. John Carlson has hauled in 45 passes for 620 yards and three scores. Tailback Darius Walker has caught 47 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown.

"It's a big testament towards him," Weis said. "To be able to spread the ball around that evenly, most quarterbacks, tie on to favorite guys and they look to them all the time. How many times have you watched a game where guys are double covered and tripled covered and you're going why is he throwing there. Usually the reason why he is throwing there is because the quarterback has confidence in those one or two players and they're trying to force it to them no matter what.

"The really good quarterbacks are the guys that don't go with a preconceived notion where I'm throwing the ball to Samardzija," Weis continued. "Now Jeff had a big day yesterday (six receptions, 177 yards, one touchdown), but the week before it was Rhema, the week before that it was Carlson.

"I think that is the greatest thing he's done since I've been here is to learn where to throw the ball despite the fact that every quarterback by nature is a gambler."

*Quinn was sacked three times against the Tar Heels and hit on several other plays. Kind of like the defense, the offensive line played well most of the afternoon but had a few slip ups. On Sunday, Weis singled out left tackle Ryan Harris for having a great game despite some of the line inconsistencies.

"What happens with an offensive line, a lot of times you watch the offensive line, you look to see where the guys that had the least amount of problems were," Weis explained. "Usually I can just look at him, and that's usually where they are.

"Ryan is a very good football player. But sometimes very good football players at that position get exposed a bunch of times. I'm not saying he had a perfect game, that everything was perfect. It's a few weeks in a row now he's just really stood out as the most consistent guy we have up there."

*Middle linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. had a team-high nine tackles, Saturday, giving him 71 for the season, which also leads the team. Over the course of the season, the 6-foot 220-pound junior has looked better each week after moving from strongside linebacker before the year.

"He has a nice feel for the position," Weis said. "Now he's just continued to make plays. At first it was due to his athleticism. Now he's gaining more and more experience on how to handle the reads from inside versus the reads from outside."

*Every week Weis talks about finding an opponent's weakness and constantly exposing it. The Tar Heels came into the game ranking in the bottom five in the country against the run, surrendering 205 yards rushing per game. However, Weis came out chucking the ball on 17 of the game's first 20 plays.

He said following the game on Saturday, that the game plan was to basically get control of the game by passing the ball, and run the ball when the game was in hand.

"I anticipated them to blitz more than they've been blitzing and I was right," Weis began. Quinn torched the Tar Heels for 346 yards passing and four touchdowns against mostly man coverage.

"In a nutshell, I didn't think they'd lay back and say okay, ram it down our throat. Just like we talked about last week when you have nothing to lose, you are going to see that more than 50 percent of the time pressure was coming. That was a way higher percentage than what they've done in any game. That's what we anticipated and that's why we threw it. Pretty good huh."

*Weis gives a weekly mental error assessment following games. He said the mental errors were in the single digits on both sides of the ball, something he appears to be pleased with.

Weis also noted that while the Tar Heels had eight big plays, the Irish had 14. He considers a big play a rush of over 10 yards and a pass completion over 20 yards.

The Tar Heels rushed for 31 yards on Saturday, including a 35-yard gain. You do the math. The run defense was outstanding.

*Walker's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him a huge component in what Weis likes to do on offense.

As freshman James Aldridge continues his growth behind Walker, pass catching isn't an area where he needs much work.

"He doesn't have the nuances of running routes that Darius has, but James has very good hands," Weis said. "James has a big upside as a receiving back."

*The Irish moved up to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the coaches' poll. Last week they were No. 11 and No. 10 respectively. The Bowl Championship Series standings, the ranking that counts, the Irish remain No. 9.

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