Irish in Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS- The Notre Dame football team has landed in the Big Easy. The Irish are prepping for the Sugar Bowl contest against No. 4 LSU. Head coach Charlie Weis has relaxed the schedule up a bit for his players to enjoy the trip more so than last year's Fiesta Bowl. Despite the easing of the grip and a late curfew for the team last night, they know the penalties for misbehavior.

"I had bed check last night," Weis said at his opening Sugar Bowl press conference on Thursday. "It was late, but they know if they are not there they are going home. Case closed. Non-negotiable. I don't know if there were people running up the stairs two minutes beforehand, but I did bed check and everyone was there sleeping or faking like they were sleeping."

The Notre Dame players might be having nightmares about what awaits them. LSU is 10-2 on the season and statistically dominant. Offensively, quarterback JaMarcus Russell is the nation's third most efficient signal caller. Defensively, the Tigers are No. 2 overall and third against the pass, which is the strength of the Irish offense. It all starts up front, led by All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Off the corners, LSU has Tyson Jackson and Chase Pittman. They've combined for 14 sacks on the season and are a big reason why the Tigers are No. 6 nationally in sacks per game.

"You can't fall asleep on any of those guys on the defensive line for LSU," Weis said. "Pittman gets a great deal of production coming off the edge and you always have to be concerned with that, but I think their front four is formidable."

On Wednesday, the Notre Dame team experienced a little bit of everything, on and off the field. Weis had them involved in a community service project to get a sense of the vast destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is still struggling to fight back to normalcy. Its population is down to 180,000-250,000 from a 450,000 pre-Katrina level. Weis got to see the devastation first hand last year during a recruiting trip.

"What our players have seen are not nearly as bad as some of those areas are," Weis said. "I think that everyone that comes down here should get on a tour guide bus and really go through and see this is what they're talking about. A year later you go through and it is unbelievable to see what you see.

"Look at the water lines and to me that is the scariest thing. To realize the water was that high is scary thought. I'm not to second-guess anyone. I am just happy that The University of Notre Dame is here together with LSU, which seems to be the perfect matchup to get some cash flow into this city."

After this, the Irish went to the New Orleans Saints training facility to lift and run, treating the afternoon like a normal Sunday during game week. Weis made mention again of the different practice schedule for this year's bowl game as opposed to last season's. In the next two sessions down here in New Orleans, for a brief period the first team defense will be going up against the first team offense.

"The practices will be physical but shorter because what I've done is I've taken one of our so-called physical periods and moved it into a walk through tempo prior to practice," Weis said. "Staying in tune with my cutting back but I expect high energy in return."

The defense, in particular, had better come prepared. Since Weis has been at Notre Dame, this side of the ball continually gives up big plays. The teams who have beaten the Irish the past two years have scored 44, 34, 34, 47 and 44 points. The theme: the defense has not gotten the job done in big-time games. With Russell's efficiency at the quarterback position, numerous running backs to hand the ball off to and a great group of wide receivers, led by Dwayne Bowe's 11 touchdown receptions, the Irish group will once again be tested by a challenging foe. Weis isn't putting it all on the defense. To pull off the upset on January 3rd, Notre Dame will have to be picture perfect in all phases of the contest.

"The answer I am giving on defense holds true for offense as well," Weis responded when asked to evaluate the defensive staff and players. "We have had some high moments and some low moments. I think that for us to win this game and beat a formidable opponent like LSU we can't come out there and be inconsistent on any one facet of our game - offense, defense or special teams or we'll have no chance."

***Weis did have some good news to report. He stated that the trainer has told him that everyone is "full speed and ready to go." This includes safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who injured his knee in the loss to Southern California. The senior had his knee scoped after the game and, according to Weis, will be put in at the safety spot first to truly see how good the knee holds up. Ndukwe was second on the team in tackles to Maurice Crum. He totaled 86 on the year, including 22 in a win over Air Force. Top Stories