Complementary Gameplan

NEW ORLEANS- Notre Dame's Charlie Weis has mentioned numerous times how highly he thinks of the outgoing seniors. On Tuesday at his press conference before tomorrow's Sugar Bowl game versus No. 4 LSU, Weis called them "a special group of guys." To earn the victory, the Irish will have their work cut out for themselves. But Weis and his staff knows what it'll take to pull the upset win.

"It's important that when you're playing against a team as talented as LSU, for you to win the game you need to understand that you need to play a complementary game," Weis said. "Too many people don't understand what complementary means. It's when offense, defense and special teams have a team plan, not a three-unit plan. You can't separate them. You have to put them in sync."

All three facets, according to Weis, must work in unison for Notre Dame. This could entail a ball control offense to keep the defense off the field. Special teams must cover punts and kickoffs extremely well to win the battle of field position. The defense will have to get off the field on third down and apply pressure to LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell to keep the Tigers attack off balance and out of rhythm.

Can the Irish point to a game this year where this plan was perfected? Weis said on Wednesday that in his opinion, his team has not played a contest where all three facets played good together. He's been selling this point to his team all week long and Weis hopes that Wednesday night in the Louisiana Superdome will be a good time to put it on display.

The closest might have been Penn State. Notre Dame pounded a young Nittany Lions team 41-17. Going into fourth quarter, the Irish held a 34-3 lead and were dominating the stat sheet. Kicker Carl Gioia hit both of his field goals while punter Geoff Price put two of his three boots inside the twenty yard line.

One thing is for sure though: LSU is better than Penn State. The Tigers are 10-2 on the year and peaking at the right point of the season. Led by Russell on offense and a dominating defense ranked No. 2 in the nation, LSU might be the best team not playing in the national championship game. Weis knows the challenge is great but it's one that his team is preparing to take head on.

"It's not like we're coming down here to New Orleans for the festive atmosphere," Weis said. "We're coming down here to win the football game. We know we're coming into the game against a formidable opponent against not only one of the best teams in the Southeast Conference but the country. Our team really needs to win this game. Not just want to win the game but needs to win the game."

The win would be the first over a top-25 opponent this season for Notre Dame. The two losses have come against No. 8 Michigan and No. 3 USC. It's the fourth and fifth defeats since Weis took over last year. He's made no secret that the preparation for the Fiesta Bowl was not to his liking. Weis has tweaked the schedule a bit and allowed his players more freedom. Players have participated in shorter, quicker practice sessions and been spotted at various venues in New Orleans enjoying themselves and taking in the culture of the eclectic city. Weis believes his team is in the right frame of mind to prevent of relapse of other defeats.

"With the exception of the USC game last year, the other four losses I thought we were tight at the beginning of the game," Weis said. "I don't know how we'll play but I do know that we won't be tight at the beginning of the game."

The Irish better not be flat. LSU has followed a pattern of battering their opponents early in contests. The Tigers have outscored teams 122-20 this year. An early lead, followed by the relentless pressure of a great defense, is a mixture of defeat for opponents. In losses under Weis, Notre Dame has a bad habit of falling behind in the first half. It takes the Irish out of their game plan and forces them to play catch up.

"When a team has outscored their opponents by over 100 points, which they have, you have to understand what it'll take to adjust to the tempo of the game," Weis said. "First of all, you're playing on Field Turf, not grass. Second, it's a hostile crowd. Therefore you can't take advantage of the snap count like you can at home.

"There's a number of factors to factor in. The bottom line is when you game plan, the first quarter doesn't get away from you. Everyone needs to play back into what we were talking about to win the game and make sure it's not 21-0 before you start adjusting to the speed."

Can Notre Dame play this complementary style? If they haven't done it yet this season, how can they expect to do it against a talented and deep LSU team? Questions abound but Wednesday should provide a forum to see if the Irish can answer the challenge.


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