"If you would have heard the roar on the plane when the K State/Texas game was announced when we landed, I started to send Ruben (Mendoza) back there to find out what was going on," head coach Charlie Weis said on Sunday. "Literally I turned to Ruben and I said, ‘Go and find out what's going on back there.' There was literally a roar in the back of the plane when that came out. These kids are dialed in just like the rest of us are. They know what's going on."
The Irish took care of their business on Saturday as they handled Air Force 39-17 in Colorado Springs. Then, the upsets started to take place one by one all afternoon and into the evening. Couple this with No. 3 Louisville losing on Thursday night to undefeated Rutgers and it springs Notre Dame to No. 5 in the Coaches poll and No. 6 in the Associated Press. The BCS standings will be announced later today on FOX. One thing is for sure: the Irish, left for dead after a 47-21 home defeat to Michigan, have quietly kept winning while other one-loss teams fall by the wayside. This has put them back into the national championship discussion with two contests remaining. Next order of business: beat Army this weekend at home.
"They know that we are basically in the playoffs now," Weis said. "That's how I presented this on Friday night. I said yesterday was the first round of the playoffs. So we're going into the second round of playoffs this week because, not to give an NFL analogy, but I think that's where we are right now and I think that's the way I'm trying to get them to think.
"I think you've got to win the second round. I think that's what too many teams tried to do yesterday from what I was watching. They got knocked out in the first round. I think you'd better win the second round and not worry about the third and fourth round yet."
The biggest news from the win over the Falcons was the injury to tight end John Carlson. The senior tight end hurt his knee when offensive lineman Ryan Harris fell on him on a stretch play. Carlson had been having a breakout year and on pace to break Ken McAfee's single season reception record, nabbing 46 balls for 621 yards and four touchdowns. He actually caught a 1-yard score before the injury occurred. Weis said he'll know the extent once he meets with the doctors later on Sunday.
His replacement didn't do too bad. Fifth-year senior Marcus Freeman caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Brady Quinn to give Notre Dame a 33-3 advantage in the third quarter. Freeman, primarily used in blocking situations, has four receptions on the season for 60 yards. His role, along with freshmen Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman, will now dramatically increase.
"He's been solid all year," Weis said of Freeman. "It's just that a lot of balls haven't come in his direction. So a lot of times when a guy doesn't have a whole bunch of catches, people correlate that with not having a good year. Just like (Ashley) McConnell has had a pretty good year but it's not like he's touched the ball a whole bunch of times.
"David Grimes, until a few games ago, was wallowing away in anonymity, and then he has a couple of big games and all of a sudden, David Grimes is coming on as our third wide receiver. Sometimes it's just when the ball comes in their direction. But I think he's been solid as a blocker all year. That's one of the reasons why we've had such a large amount of multiple tight end packages because of our confidence in Marcus."
This upcoming game will be the last for the seniors on the Notre Dame team. Players such as Quinn, offensive tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Derek Landri will run out of the tunnel and onto the field for the final time on Saturday. It should be an emotional weekend for those involved, especially with the BCS implications involved with the Irish. Weis can use the Senior Week theme to keep his team focused.
"All of their parents are coming in for the pep rally," Weis said about the seniors. "And we introduce them. They come walking up with their parents for the pep rally, all the seniors.
"I think it would be tougher if there were a couple of weeks to go and you really didn't have something of substance to grasp on to. But their parents are coming in. This is it for them. This is their last hoorah. I think because you have that area of focus, it gives you as the coach something to lay out for them that they can say."