"There are definite things that I'm not reaching as much for," Weis said Sunday afternoon inside the auditorium of the Guglielmino Complex. "I think, starting with the defense, I thought that our rush defense was much better this week than last week."
In the opener, Yellow Jackets running back Tashard Choice ran for 196 of Georgia Tech's 265 yards. Weis pointed out, that against Penn State (2-0), 100 of the Nittany Lion's 164 rushing yards came after the midway point of the fourth quarter. He also noted, the longest run the defense gave up was just 12 yards. Austin Scott ran for 116 yards on 28 carries, but 53 of those yards came on nine fourth quarter runs, against an Irish (0-2) unit that seemed to be on the field most of the night.
After throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the 59-0 victory over Florida International last week, Anthony Morelli completed 12-of-22 passes for just 131 yards. He had a touchdown, and an interception that Irish sophomore Darrin Walls returned 73 yards for the first score of the game. Notre Dame limited Penn State to just four passes over 10 yards, and playmaker Derrick Williams had just two receptions for 14 yards. The 51-yard pass to Chris Bell accounted for virtually the whole passing attack.
"I thought there were some guys on defense that played pretty well," Weis said. "I thought the secondary played pretty well and I thought the two inside linebackers, as in (Joe) Brockington and (Maurice) Crum played pretty well, and I thought Laws and Kuntz really stepped it up and played really stout for most of the day."
Brockington and Laws led the Irish with 10 tackles. Kuntz had eight tackles, and Crum and Tom Zbikowski each had six stops. Zbikowski was credited with two forced fumbles, one recovered by Brockington and the other by Laws, but after reviewing the film, Weis said junior safety David Bruton caused one of them.
***When your offense is only good for 144 total yards, zero of it coming on the ground, and just three points, Weis didn't have many positive things to say. However, the first-career start by Jimmy Clausen, with 110,000 screaming fans in his ear, has him very encouraged.
"I think the most encouraging thing I have to talk about is the play of the quarterback," Weis said. "I think that was a difficult place for him to start. We all knew he had obvious talent, but I think he never got rattled. I thought he showed great poise for a first year guy. He starts off 12-for-16, being most short stuff, but I think the beginning of the game and the end of the game bodes well, because I thought he showed very good composure for the first time, first rattle out of the box.
The nation's consensus top-recruit in last year's recruiting class, Clausen completed 17of-32 passes for 144 yards. He had one interception coming in the fourth quarter in the end zone, that bounced off the out-stretched hands of receiver Robby Parris. The previous play, classmate Duval Kamara dropped what would've been Notre Dame's first offensive touchdown of the season.
With what was happening in front of him, Weis thought Clausen made the right read with most of his decision making.
"I think he is poised beyond his years as far as seeing," Weis said. "I'd say the entire night, the volume of passes that were called, there were only a couple times the whole night that he was looking in the wrong direction."
***Notre Dame rushed for minus-eight yards against Georgia Tech, and followed that up with zero yards against Penn State. The Irish gained 55 yards, but saw 50 of those yards erased by the six sacks. These are the worst two rushing performances an Irish team has had in the last 42 years.
"Well first of all, not that this excuses it too bad, but you remember sack yardage goes against your rushing yardage," Weis said. "That doesn't mean I'm doing cartwheels over the running game, I mean I'm with you. If you're asking me to state the obvious, the obvious is that our running game is inadequate at this time. It's a subject that will be continued to be broached. The problem is, it was broached last week. We got back to some fundamental runs that we didn't handle very well at the point of the attack. Too many times, whether you're running it inside or you're running it outside, if you don't handle the point of attack, it doesn't bode well for success.
"That is something we're going to have to not only address, we're going to have to get significantly better at or else people will be teeing off on you all year on the same thing."
***The rushing and passing woes can mostly be directed at the entire Irish offensive line. Before the Sugar Bowl last year, Weis spoke highly of his young offensive line. But with three new starters in the trenches this season, the Irish rank dead-last in the nation in rushing and sacks allowed. For the second straight week, the Irish line struggled with the speed of the game, and reading where the blitz was coming from.
When asked what he is seeing positives from his young line, Weis said he'll have to "refrain judgment."
"I'll say after the first two weeks, I'm not really doing cartwheels about how we're playing. I think that's going to be a combination of coaching, and playing. We have to put them in a position to produce, and they have to go out there and do it. At this point, I'd like to hold on that, because I'd say after two games it will be tough for me to sit there and throw a bunch of kudos for how great we're playing."
***Michigan running back Michael Hart guaranteed a victory over Notre Dame this coming Saturday in Ann Arbor, after his Wolverines suffered their second straight loss of the season, a 39-7 whipping by Oregon.
"If I was watching our games the last two weeks, I might have made the guarantee myself," Weis joked.
"I can't be worrying about Hart. I have to worry about the guys that are going to be sitting in this room. I'm sure he said it for the right reason, not the wrong reason. I'm sure he said it to build confidence in his players. Will I say it to my players, come on, of course I'll say it to the players. Anyone that wants to give you a lay-up, you're going to use the lay up."
The last time Michigan opened a season with two-straight losses at home was 1959. Both the Irish and Wolverines enter next week's game with four-game losing streaks.
***Weis pointed to first and third down being huge issues offensively against Penn State. The Irish were a lousy 2-of-16 on third down, but Weis said that was because they weren't very good on first down."
We spit the bit on first and third down," Weis stated.
On the evening, the Irish had ten negative scenarios on first down, three incomplete passes, and one run for no gain. Of those negative scenarios, two were procedure penalties, one was a personal foul call, one was holding, and one was a delay of game. That was five of Notre Dame's ridiculously high 14 penalties. There was also two passes for negative yardage, a rush for a loss, and two sacks.
*** Several times last night, Clausen had plenty of time to throw, but couldn't find an open man down field. He also had no receivers to check down to, as Weis said that he kept running backs and tight ends in to help protect.
"When you lose flare control because you involve them in protection, you really don't give (Clausen) that safety valve of someone to drop the ball off to. That did happen a couple times in the game where the flare control would come open too late for him really to be able to utilize it."
***Just like the game, special teams play provided some bright spots, and some low points.
"I thought our special teams was hot and cold," Weis said.
Zbikowski's 47-yard punt return in the third quarter set up the Irish's only offensive score, Brandon Walker's 22-yard field goal. Zbikowski ran the punt back to the five-yard line, but the offense failed to punch it in.
Geoff Price had nine punts for a good 44.8 average.
The Irish units were not good in coverage. Williams returned a punt 78 yards for a score, tying the game at seven. A.J. Wallace returned the opening kickoff of the second half 68 yards, setting up a field goal. Penn State pushed its lead to 17-7.
***Weis said the Irish cut their mental errors in half from the first game, but obviously that wasn't good enough.