Bounce-Back Week

Notre Dame receiver David Grimes sat in the auditorium of the Guglielmino Complex, pulling at a rubber band around his wrist, snapping it back into his skin. "This is a bounce-back rubber band," Grimes said to the media. After the 33-3 season-opening loss the Irish suffered last Saturday to Georgia Tech, Grimes and his teammates are looking to "bounce back" against No. 14 Penn State.

"It's just a phrase we use," Grimes said. The team's leading-returning wide receiver, Grimes had just one catch for four yards against the Yellow Jackets. "We took a tough loss and we have to put that behind us, and we have to bounce back."

If any unit on the Notre Dame football team needs to have a 180-degree turnaround from Saturday's effort, it's the offensive line. The group, with three new starters, failed to execute, were out-muscled, struggled to pick up blitzes, and didn't adapt well to the speed of the game. The ugly results included, nine quarterback sacks, minus-eight yards rushing, and just 122 yards of total offense on 63 snaps (1.9 avg.).

The Georgia Tech game has had three days to marinate, and the Irish hog mollies finally got to get back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets gave them an unexpected wake-up call, and it jarred some guys.

"I saw a little sense of urgency," offensive line coach John Latina said after practice. "I think our kids, our linemen realize they have to improve greatly, and I think they understand it's going to take hard work, hard focused work. Take every rep focused, and every rep has to be meaningful and they can't take a rep for granted. I saw some of that today, not that we were perfect, but it was better."

Though the Nittany Lions are young along the defensive line, they have a veteran secondary and a system that has been in place for many years. Not to mention, led by preseason All-American Dan Connor, Penn State is continuing to live up to its name as Linebacker U. Look for them to use the Georgia Tech game as a blueprint and try and pressure freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who was named the starter by head coach Charlie Weis on Tuesday, on a regular basis until the Irish offensive line proves they can protect him.

In pitching a 59-0 shutout against Florida International last Saturday the Penn State defense allowed just 114 yards (third-lowest in the Joe Paterno era), including minus-three yards rushing. They got to the quarterback seven times, and they will be going for more against Clausen.

While the Irish prepare for that and Penn State, they are more concerned with what's going on internally, than what their opponent is going to do.

"Today was the first step," sophomore right tackle Sam Young said. "We came out a lot more physical in practice. We're focusing a lot more as far as execution. Right now, we're trying to put that game in the past. There is nothing that is going to come from it, so we're just trying to move on and beat Penn State."

"Today was definitely one of our more physical practices," sophomore offensive guard Dan Wenger said. "We got after it pretty hard today. The coaches weren't letting up on us and that's obviously a good thing. We're going to be prepared for Penn State this week."

***The Notre Dame offense had to prepare for two different offenses last week against Georgia Tech. There was the run-oriented attack engineered by sophomore quarterback Demetrius Jones, and then there was the more pro-style system the team would use if junior Evan Sharpley would move under center.

It appears that the offensive players will have less on their plate this week, as they get ready for Saturday's game with Clausen taking the majority of the reps in practice. If that makes things easier, the players and coaches obviously deflected that ideal.

"Our job is to do whatever we think as a staff to win the game," Latina said. "Is it easier, I don't know. I guess Saturday will tell. We'll find out."

"Not necessarily," Wenger said. "I'm a firm believer in what coach Weis has called up for us. The problem was with us, was we didn't perform. It's going to be the case again this week. No matter what he has dialed up, it's going to fall on us."

***It didn't take but a couple throws for Grimes and sophomore receiver Robby Parris to notice that the blue-chip recruit, Clausen, would be a big player in the four-way Notre Dame quarterback derby this spring. Weis said he performed the best of the candidates during the spring, but his summer surgery on the throwing elbow hindered him during fall camp. With the missed reps early in the fall, Clausen was never seriously considered to start against Georgia Tech. Although, he did play the final two possessions against the Yellow Jackets, completing 4-of-6 passes for 34 yards.

Clausen ran the operation well during the spring, quickly earning his teammates respect.

"I wasn't too sure if he was No. 1 coming out of it, but I definitely knew he was in the running," Parris said. "He had a great spring and he came out as a true freshman and he started doing his thing out there. He would throw the ball, take command of the huddle, he was a good leader out there as a freshman and I knew he had a chance to play.

"When I came in as a freshman I was a little tentative, and he just went out there and I don't think anything bothered him. You could tell he had a lot of confidence to him."

Grimes was anxious to see all the freshmen, particularly Clausen.

"When this kid first came in, I knew he was pretty good, and all the hype wasn't hype," Grimes said. "He was the real deal."

Weis is hoping so on Saturday.

***Weis mentioned Parris as one of the few bright spots from Notre Dame's rough loss on Saturday. The Olmsted Falls, Ohio product eclipsed his first and only reception last season, with a team-high three catches for 30 yards.

"I definitely feel a lot more important this year than I did last year," Parris said. "I'm getting some opportunities to go out there and make some plays. They gave me a chance to make some catches, and I just tried to go out there and make them proud."

***One play James Aldridge was in, the next play he was back on the sideline. And so the cycle continued on Saturday, as the Irish played five running backs against Georgia Tech. Weis referred to Aldridge as 1-A at running back alongside senior captain Travis Thomas on Tuesday, but for all runners, it's not easy to get into a rhythm on game day with lack of opportunities.

"It's kind of hard, but once the game gets going it's not a problem," Aldridge said. "Once you're in the game once, you know what the game tempo is."

Aldridge was in a similar situation back in high school. As a sophomore at Hazelwood Central High in St. Louis, Aldridge shared time with current Michigan State sophomore running back, A.J. Jimmerson.


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