"The point of emphasis I was trying to make on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday was to get better everyday," Weis said on Thursday after practice. "Too many times you're putting the point of emphasis on one thing or another. This was just about getting better everyday. That we accomplished. Now we'll see how that comes to fruition on Saturday night."
The Irish will surely face a stiff challenge. No. 14 Penn State is coming off a 59-0 victory over Florida International last weekend. Last season, the Nittany Lions were run right out of South Bend when Notre Dame won going away 41-17. This year, the situation might be reversed. Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli was inexperienced as a starter in the 2006 encounter. Now, the senior signal caller, coming off a 23-for-28 performance for 295 yards and three scores, has a leg up on the Irish quarterback in this department.
That's because Weis is going with freshman starter Jimmy Clausen under center. Last week, sophomore Demetrius Jones and junior Evan Sharpley, with no help from the offensive line, could not get the job done. Enter Clausen, who had an offseason procedure to remove a bone spur. The freshman might have started last week if he was at full health at the beginning of fall camp. But Notre Dame fans have to wait no longer for the Clausen era to being.
The freshman will face difficult conditions in Happy Valley. A whiteout among students and fans will be in effect on Saturday for the over 107,000 fans in attendance. On Thursday at practice, the Irish pumped in crowd noise into the Loftus Center to simulate Beaver Stadium conditions at around 6:02 PM.
"We didn't have any communication problems," Weis said. "The only thing that was an issue that at the end of every Thursday practice, we run two-minute. That's really the first time Jimmy has run two-minute. Evan has been running it the past few weeks. It's the first time he was in there for it. The way we call plays and the speed which we get them in from the sideline usually gives the quarterback time to get the huddle a little tighter so everyone can hear, get to the line of scrimmage and run the operation."
Starting a freshman quarterback is just one issue for Weis this week. Another major factor to deal with is the psyche of the players after the demoralizing opening season loss to the Yellow Jackets. Last year, Notre Dame was in a similar position after a blowout defeat to Michigan in South Bend. The following week, the Irish had to regroup and go play a night contest at Michigan State. An incredible comeback allowed Notre Dame to escape East Lansing with a 40-37 win and get the 2006 season back on track.
The one big difference from last year to this year is the players. The Irish were loaded with veteran players. This season, the Notre Dame team is full of inexperience, some of which showed last week. This causes Weis to be cautious with how he approaches different players.
"You pick and choose people that you know can take it," Weis said. "For example, I might hammer Zibby (Tom Zbikowski) more than he deserves to be hammered because I know he can take it. David Bruton played well but David, although he's been in the program for a few years, has really never been in a meaningful defense. You have to feel your way through until you hit those buttons that'll get those guys playing."
One good part of the week for the players, according to Weis, was getting back on the practice field. The Irish had to wait almost three days after the loss to perform this task, as Monday is the one day a week the players have off, as stipulated by NCAA rules. Weis thinks getting back on the field, for any athlete, is the quickest way to get over a humbling defeat.
"You lose the game on Saturday," Weis said. "Saturday you have friends and family around. It's miserable. You go home, it's miserable. Your family is miserable. Your roommates are miserable. You wake up Sunday and it's miserable all over again. You go to church and everyone says, ‘What happened?' Then you come into the meetings and it's miserable there. Then you go to the dining hall and everyone says, ‘What happened?' In my case, I put away the garbage and everyone says, ‘What happened?'
"Then Monday, they don't have football and it's a whole day of classes and everyone says, ‘What happened?' For 48 hours from Saturday until Tuesday afternoon at 2:30, you're living that misery because there's nothing you can do about it physically."
When the players got on the field, Weis was pleased with the tempo of the three sessions. The Irish went first-team offense versus first-team defense a little bit this week, an obvious effect from Saturday's performance by both lines of scrimmage. The Notre Dame head coach, who pushed his players this week, wanted to find out how important it was to them to back bounce.
"For different people, there are different ways to show it's important to them," Weis said. "You have some guys that are quiet guys who all of a sudden play at a higher speed than they've been practicing at. That usually gives you evidence that they're getting ready to go."